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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Where to see wildflowers in Northern California

For the past year my friend Dana and my Hubby have both been wanting to photograph a meadow full of blooming California Poppies.  When I Googled "best places to view california poppies northern california" a link to the "Top 10 locations of California poppy meadows and fields" came up on page one. That's how I learned about Bear Valley Road, located three hours north of San Jose and just across the interstate from the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge we visited in January.

So Dana, Hubby and I left San Jose at 6:30 AM thinking we would arrive just as the flowers opened up for the day.

Disappointingly, we discovered despite reading that mid-April is the best month to visit, we were too early in the season this year for poppies. I think we saw fewer than a half dozen poppy plants on the entire 14 mile drive. Since then I've discovered there are wildflower hotlines that you can call to learn what is in bloom and where.

Despite the lack of poppies we saw quite a few wildflowers that day. From the top row: Lupine just barely beginning to bloom, Cream Cup, and Stork's Bill Filaree. Second row: Bird's-eye Gilia. I love the blue pollen on the stamens of this flower. It's so striking and different. Third row: Tidy Tips, Broad Leaf Filaree, and Red Maids.

So, instead of the miles of orange blooming poppies I'd envisioned in my head we found two large meadows awash with thousands of small purple and white bird's-eye gilia, pale yellow cream cups and deep yellow tidy tips. It was still beautiful and I'm glad we went. . .

The question is do I make the 6 hour round trip drive again to try to see the poppies this year? Or do I wait until next year to go back?

To reach the meadows you'll take Interstate-5 to CA-20 BUS West which meets up with HWY 20 which you'll stay on for approximately 18 miles. At Bear Valley Road you'll turn north (right) and travel approximately 14 miles on a dirt to semi-paved road to reach the fields of flowers. Be aware that after heavy rains the dirt road can wash out so waiting for calm weather may be advisable.

You'll know you're close when you see this sign by the American Land Conservancy. All of the land on Bear Valley Road is private property so be respectful and don't trespass. The barbed wire fences won't stop you from getting great photos. Just park your car and walk right up to the fencing to take your pictures.

Beyond the flowers you can drive to the end of Bear Valley Road and turn right on Leesville. There we found the most picturesque farm and pasturelands.

The cattle and horses had plenty of grass and hay to eat.

With my 14-140mm zoom lens with the focal length set to 14mm.

And the same shot taken with a focal length of 140mm.

Happy cows in California.

As we headed back we happened upon three loose cows alongside the road.

Aw, a mother and her recently born calf.

He was so cute scampering after his mama.

What a surprise!

As we headed back towards HWY 20 we saw a roadrunner! Not this one, another one. I didn't even know we had them in Northern California. It ran in front of our car carrying something in its beak. It looked like a small mammal, maybe a large mouse or small mole.

We laughed it would be funny if we saw a coyote next. And then someone said it would be even funnier if a big rock fell on our car after seeing the roadrunner and a coyote. Just like in the cartoons. LOL

As we drove along Bear Valley Road I spotted another roadrunner on the hillside beside us. Then another! We stopped and were able to take a few photos from the car, through the barbed wire fence.

The Greater Roadrunner can run up to 26 mph.

That same day we were also shocked when we spotted western burrowing owls. I had so many pictures of them I had to split the day into three posts: This one about the wildflowers, the other about the owls and one yet to come about my second visit the the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge. If you're a bird lover Colusa is a definite "must see" stop.

After our day of sightseeing and picture taking we stopped for lunch at Granzella's Deli just before the entrance back onto Interstate-5.

Granzella's has a whole lot of olives! There were so many flavors to choose from and an open olive bar where you can sample them. I only tried one and liked it so much I purchased a big jar of the Hot & Zesty olives. I'm going to use them with pasta and maybe make my own green olive tapenade from scratch.

For lunch we ordered from the deli. Dana and Hubby had sandwiches and I had macaroni salad and 2 deviled eggs (4 pieces), and a small mint chip gelato. All were very good. But oops! I was so hungry I forgot to take pictures for you!

We sat here in this small dining area near the center of the store. There's also a sit down restaurant if you want something more substantial than deli food. In the back there's a sport's bar filled with dozens of stuffed (as in taxidermied) animals including two polar bears. Peeking in it reminded me of going to the natural history museum as a kid. Adults who hunt will most likely enjoy the ambiance. For a vegetarian like myself, or vegans, all of the animals may be a bit much. I'll be sticking with the deli on future visits.

The Sutter Buttes photographed in January 2012.

After never visiting the Central Valley it's now becoming one of my favorite places. I'm already looking forward to going back again. If you've never been there I'd definitely recommend making the trip up. We even spotted some motels and inns in Williams and said it would be neat to go up and spend the night so we can one day take pictures of the Sutter Buttes at sunrise. If we do you'll be the first to know here on the blog when I post the pictures :)

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