LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
In Southern California, this year's super bloom has transformed the deserts and prairies into stunning mosaics of yellows, oranges, reds and blues. It's also drawn massive crowds toting selfie sticks, trying to capture this quick burst of beauty for their social media feeds. NPR's Kirk Siegler sent this postcard from the tail end of the bloom at the remote Carrizo Plain National Monument.
KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Just 2 1/2 hours northwest of Los Angeles, I'm in another world, bouncing along an old jeep road in the remote Temblor Range with my pal Michael Jackson - no relation. He is a professional photographer and amateur explorer.
MICHAEL JACKSON: The rainbow that these hills were for the last month is pretty much gone. I still find them beautiful, even when they're stark.
SIEGLER: It's Michael's seventh trip to the Carrizo Plain since mid-March, when the bloom first started. He loves documenting the changes.
JACKSON: Other than the shapes of the hills, it doesn't look like the same place at all. It's like it's between paint jobs.
SIEGLER: There are still some purples, the lupines, the hillside daisies and, on the floor of the plain itself, a huge carpet of yellow, hundreds of acres. Down here, the plain is massive - daunting, even - 40 miles long, 15 wide and ringed by mountains, with the San Andreas Fault cutting through it all.
JACKSON: If you go up on that ridgeline of that mountain and the light is right, it looks incredible - same from up in these mountains.
SIEGLER: Carrizo Plain has been protected federal land since 2001, but there are few amenities - even signs or marked trails. So in this little field of fading purple, you can see the Instagram masses made their own trampled trails.
JACKSON: People find their own way. But it's a shame to see it so cut up. And I think it takes the flowers a while to recover. As you can see, they're just gone from some of these areas, as if...
SIEGLER: Crowds have mostly thinned out now too, along with the bloom. So Michael is back to training his lens on the old decaying ranch houses, with their collapsed roofs, the Depression-era pickups and plows just abandoned in the fields.
JACKSON: I think life out here and in these places has always been really hard. The elements are all so extreme. You know that from all your time in North Dakota...
SIEGLER: Right, right.
JACKSON: ...And Montana. People have this idyllic image of what it's like up there, to have a little house on the prairie. The answer is brutal. (Laughter).
SIEGLER: Beautiful - but out here, the afternoon sun is already brutal. In a few weeks, the temps will be in the hundreds and all the flowers scorched - fuel for summer range fires.
Here's the map. You guys can have...
UNIDENTIFIED HIKER: Oh, I didn't look at that.
SIEGLER: At a trailhead, hikers are reapplying sunscreen and topping off water bottles. We notice a family in a minivan that looks a little unprepared. Michael seems to be the expert out here. Everyone is asking him for tips.
JACKSON: And if you do go for that walk, bring a lot of water. It's hotter than you think.
UNIDENTIFIED HIKER: OK, I see.
SIEGLER: Oh, and by the way, we've seen two rattlers today.
JACKSON: Be careful of the rattlesnakes. You got your kids with you. And it's hot enough. They're out now.
SIEGLER: The woman asks where the best place is to still see the super bloom. There's really no good answer.
JACKSON: People want a quick panacea for finding the most beautiful stuff. But a place like this is different every day.
SIEGLER: We've driven up to the rim of a steep canyon.
JACKSON: This is where I took my favorite photographs this year.
SIEGLER: There are still a few fields of yellow across from and beneath us.
JACKSON: I was here before it bloomed, here after. And I can tell a bigger story about this place now.
SIEGLER: That bigger story is about nature's impermanence, he says. It's artwork, constantly evolving, even though most people won't see it out here once the super bloom fades to brown. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, at the Carrizo Plain National Monument.
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