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Carrizo Plain National Monument

Carrizo Plain National Monument. Bureau of Land Management.
Carrizo Plain National Monument. Bureau of Land Management.
Established: 2001
Location: Central California, just off the southwest edge of the San Joaquin Valley, between San Luis Obispo and Bakersfield
Size: 205,000 acres

Special Features and Perspectives

Sometimes called America's Serengeti, the 205,000 acres of the Carrizo Plain National Monument is the largest undeveloped remnant of Central California's grassland ecosystem. The Monument also boasts dramatic geology--a segment of the San Andreas Fault--and a rich cultural past: Native American sites and art that are thousands of years old.


Illegal collection of artifacts, digging and damage to ruins threaten the Monument. The BLM lacks adequate staff and funds to prevent vandalism and educate visitors; the most remote sites cannot be regularly patrolled. Another problem is exotic plants, which crowd out native grasses, and hundreds of miles of livestock fencing that thwarts the movement of pronghorn antelope; pronghorn cannot jump fences.

A Wildlife Haven

Steep mountains rim the vast grasslands of Carrizo Plain. Elevations start at 2,300 feet at the southern end as the plain gradually terminates in the Temblor range and the San Andreas Fault. The area offers the largest remaining contiguous habitats for many endangered, threatened and rare species of animals, such as the San Joaquin kit fox, the blunt-nosed leopard lizard, the San Joaquin antelope squirrel and the giant kangaroo rat. Many rare plant species thrive on the Plain, including the California jewel-flower, Hoover's wooly-star and San Joaquin woolythreads. And, the Monument offers critical habitat for pronghorn antelope and Tule elk, native ungulates that were hunted to extinction by the late 1800's but were reintroduced in the 1980s. Birders love Carrizo Plain, where more than 100 species of waterfowl and shorebirds thrive thanks to intermittent pools and glistening 3,000-acre Soda Lake, a winter haven for thousands of migratory species.

Geological History

Traversed by the San Andreas Fault, the area provides a wealth of opportunities for scientific learning. Geological studies within the Carrizo Plain National Monument have enabled reconstruction of earthquake events over the last 2,000 years. The Monument is also distinguished for its world-class fossil assemblages.

Human History

Humans have traded, traversed, or lived on Carrizo Plain since roughly 11,000-9,000 BCE. Chumash and Yokut tribes frequented the area in prehistoric times, and the Chumash left behind creating Painted Rock, a 55 foot rock formation which rises majestically from the grassland and is adorned with some of the most spectacular rock art in North America. The rock is a sacred site to Native Americans, as are many other sites in the region. Other ruins include lithic flake scatters, temporary and extended-stay camps, house and possibly seasonal village sites, pictographs and petroglyphs, and remnants of agricultural activity, all testimony to several thousand years of occupation by various indigenous groups.

Buildings and structures of the Spanish Colonial, Mexican Republic and California Republic can also be found, including a petroglyph believed to be a Spanish Crest carved on a sandstone boulder at Painted Rock. Later settlers left remnants of homesteads, farms and mining operations on the plain. A century of ranching and farming as the dominant land use also introduced aggressive Mediterranean annual grasses, sometimes crowding out native grasses.

Management of the Monument

Carrizo Plain National Monument is owned and cooperatively managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the California Department of Fish and Game and the Nature Conservancy. These agencies are developing, with public input, a Resource Management Plan to guide the use and protection of the National Monument. Currently the BLM is writing a draft Resource Management Plan (RMP) and Environmental Assessment which they plan to have completed by the summer of 2004. For more information contact the BLM's California Bakersfield Office.


BLM Bakersfield Office
California Department of Fish and Game
California Native Plant Society
National Audubon Society
The Nature Conservancy
Sierra Club San Luis Obispo

Updated December 2003