A Past to Recover: Service at Carrizo Plain National Monument, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14083A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Enjoy spring wildlife viewing in the California savannah 
  • Work to clear invasive plants, establish controlled areas, and spruce up visitor areas
  • Contemplate the history of human occupation at Carrizo Plain, from Pictured Rock to century-old ranches


  • Six nights camping in the compound of an historic ranch
  • Seven days of hearty, vegetarian-friendly meals prepared by an expert cook
  • Guided introductions: local geology, archaeology, history, flora, and fauna


DatesApr 27–May 3, 2014
StaffSuzanne Ferguson
Photo: Alan Schmierer

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Carrizo Plain is one of our newer national monuments, nestled between southern California’s Caliente Mountains to the west and the Temblor Range to the east. It is traversed by a notable section of the San Andreas Fault and includes Soda Lake, a “glistening bed of salt." If it is a wet winter, our trip will take place at the close of wildflower season, but if it is dry there will be a wealth of birds and small animals to watch: amusing rabbits and brisk antelope squirrels. Other wildlife can be seen in the sky and on the ground, including several species of hawks, perhaps a Golden Eagle, pronghorn antelopes, and Tule elk in the foothills.

The Project

We’ll do whatever will be the most help to the Monument staff in their ongoing efforts to upgrade the site, protect resources, and enhance visitor access and enjoyment. Tasks might include installing interpretive signs; weeding and monitoring invasive plants including yellow star thistle, horehound, and tamarisk; installing and/or modifying fences; clearing a spring; or doing general maintenance work at the visitor center or near the archaeological site.


We will be quartered in the compound of the former Washburn Ranch, an area not open to the general public, which will provide us with a kitchen, showers, and an area for gathering in the evening. We’ll gather at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 27th, at the visitor center, then caravan into camp in time to set up camp, get acquainted, and reconnoiter the area before our welcome dinner. We’ll have four work days, supervised by Monument staff, and one full day off for hiking, wildlife viewing, botanizing, and deepening our knowledge of the Carrizo Plain. A guided trip to see Painted Rock, within the newly designated National Historic Landmark district, is a likely excursion. The trip ends after breakfast on Saturday, May 3rd, allowing you plenty of time for additional sightseeing within the Monument or elsewhere in southern California on your way home.



Getting There

For a site so unspoiled, Carrizo Plain is surprisingly easy to access. From I-5, one takes Exit 257, then SH-58W all the way across the Temblor Range, continuing past McKittrick about 30 miles to the Soda Lake/Carrizo Plain Road. From there, turn south and proceed past the Monument boundary (about seven miles) then another seven miles to the Goodwin Education Center.  From the west, take SH-58 E from U.S. 101 at Santa Margarita. (Complete driving directions are on the official Carrizo Plain website, where there is also a warning not to rely on MapQuest or GoogleMaps or vehicle GPS--and a graphic photo of what can happen if you disregard the warning.) With care, two-wheel drive vehicles can be used for this trip. Our base camp is accessed by an unpaved, but well-maintained, road.

Accommodations and Food

We’ll be tenting in the compound of the former Washburn Ranch.  As noted, there are showers (although water must be strictly conserved) and a kitchen that will allow our cook to indulge us with delicious vegetarian-friendly meals—and meat “versions” as appropriate to the group. With the assistance of camper-helpers, she’ll provide high protein, nutritious, and imaginative meals and snacks suited to the work projects and campers’ needs and preferences. (Those with food allergies and/or strong preferences should contact the cook to be sure we can accommodate your needs prior to applying.)

All breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks are included in the trip price, beginning with dinner on April 27th, and ending with breakfast on the final day, May 3rd. Please bring a few hard-sided, reusable containers (mess kit, Tupperware, water bottles, etc.) for packing lunch to take with you to the work site each day. Within our budget, we strive to choose food options that are organic and create the minimum amount of waste. There is clean drinking water available at the campsite.

Trip Difficulty

The work, under supervision of BLM staff, can be moderate to strenuous, depending on the terrain and weather conditions; no one will be required to work beyond his or her comfort level. There will be variety in the work projects, so that people can trade off strenuous for less strenuous tasks. Although there may be some hiking from staging areas, mostly we will carpool to the different work sites each day.

Equipment and Clothing

Sturdy boots and heavy leather gloves are a must and long-sleeved shirts and long, sturdy pants will protect from thorns and sharp twigs.  Bring a hat to shade from the sun, a bandana or two, and a warm cap and jacket for the crisp mornings and evenings.  You’ll need a three-season tent with fly; a camp mattress or pad and sleeping bag comfortable into the low forties, personal towels, toiletries, and a good sunscreen.  The daily temperature range will likely be into the high 80s in the afternoons, and possibly as low as the  40s at night. A full gear list will be sent to registrants.

Cameras, binoculars, and a small telescope for star-gazing (if someone has one) will be welcome additions!

Work tools and instruction in their use are provided by the BLM staff.


A plethora of valuable information on the history, ecology, and geology of the area, along with a beautiful photo gallery is available on the official website of the Carrizo Plain National Monument at http://www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/fo/bakersfield/Programs/carrizo.html


  • Deutsche, Craig., Another Place and Time: Voices from the Carrisa Plain. Craig Deutsche, 2013.
  • Foster, Lynne, Adventuring in the California Desert. Sierra Club Books.  
  • MacMahon, James, Deserts. Alfred A. Knopf.
  • Bossard, Carla C., John M. Randall, Marc C. Hoshovsky, Invasive Plants of California's Wildlands. Available free online at http://www.cal-ipc.org/ip/management/ipcw/online.php


The Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about conservation and sustainability of resources, both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers and aided by a salaried staff, and encourages grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward greater understanding, advocacy, and participation in the goals of the Club.

On the Carrizo Plain trip, in addition to learning more about both the native, re-introduced, and invasive species, we will be working in an area of fragile beauty, helping to restore and preserve it for others to enjoy. Our expert supervisors will initiate us into the lore of this high-desert plain transected by one of the major fault lines of the world and of the people who have lived there in the past: native Americans who left their history in pictures and potsherds and settlers who farmed and ranched here.  We will have some evening programs on conservation and conservationists and “conservation moments” of reflection during the work day.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.

While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.



Suzanne Ferguson has been staffing Sierra Club Service trips in Florida and the far West since 2005, often as a cook but also a leader. While she loves her home ground in southwest Florida, she really looks forward to Service Trips that incorporate the natural and cultural legacy of California—from the mountains to the seashore. She has been coming to Pt. Reyes since 1963, and anticipates an exhilarating experience contributing to its future.


Mollie Dean feels it is a privilege to get behind the scenes in national parks with the knowledgeable park staff plus enjoys the experience of cooking for the interesting people who volunteer on service trips. She hails from Minnesota where she bikes, gardens, and reads.

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