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Long BM is the 3rd highest and 2nd most prominent summit in the Caliente Range found in the SE corner of San Luis Obispo County. Caliente Mountain takes first in both categories and as an HPS summit ensures that Long BM will continue to be ignored and officially unnamed, just part of the sweeping scenery one gets from the loftier summit. But with prominence of over 1,000ft, it manages to garner some modest attention from a few highpointers and others, too, it turns out.
I was camped in a remote part of the Carrizo Plain National Monument, a BLM wonderland of no fees, few rangers, miles of obscure dirt roads and virtually the place to oneself. I had expected the hike to Long BM to be a longer one, starting from Soda Lake Rd that runs down the middle of the monument. The side roads turned out to be dry enough and navigable enough by low clearance vehicles that I managed to get to less than two miles of the summit before finding a place to park and spend the night. It would be a fairly short outing to go to Long BM and back, so with time to spare I decided to do some additional hiking in the area along the ridgelines peppered with old ranch roads that make for some easy traveling.
Starting from the primitive campsite where I'd spent the night, I headed across the road I had driven in on, cross-country towards the summit ridge. I was aiming for an old ranch road above Padrones Spring I had indentified on the satellite view beforehand. The cross-county in the lower stretch was steep but not difficult thanks to light vegetation. I reached the road in less than 15 minutes as dawn was breaking upon partially overcast skies. The clouds would gain momentum as the morning went on, blocking any chance for a actual sunrise. Once on the road it was a simple matter to follow it to the crest where the road forks and the one in the summit's direction ends at a fire ring that has seen some use. A use trail follows from there to the summit and in only 45 minutes I was atop Long BM. There were the fallen remains of a survey tower, a benchmark and to no great surprise, a register left by John Vitz in 2007. More surprising was that there were something like 20 entries on the three pages that had been used, suggesting it's more popular than I would have guessed.
It was while taking in the views from the summit that I decided to make the day longer by hiking out to a point to the south that I found striking from Long BM's summit. It looked like more roads and use trails could be used to reach the point a little more than a mile to the SSW. Though quite dry, the hills along the way have rugged and colorful geology that easily kept my interest. The hike made for a nice stroll, taking another 45 minutes' effort. There was a tattered flag atop a pole found at the lower point marked 3,963ft on the topo map. It would probably be visible from the orchards and ranches in Cuyuma Valley below to the south, and I suspect it was a local resident who installed it. There was no plaque, register or other identifying feature to offer more information.
It took another hour to retrace my steps, returning to the van parked out on the Carrizo Plain where I'd left it. A few small drops of rain fell during the last part of the return, but it was only a tease and no real rain developed today. Though the hills and surrounding plain are still quite brown, I noted that new growth was just starting to pop up through the sand and dirt all around. The place might actually look green in a few weeks, but if it doesn't rain more, it won't last long. I drove back out to Maricopa, a sleepy oil town that hasn't seemed to keep up with its bigger neighbor to the north, Kettleman City, with the recent fracking boom. For more than 100 miles on either side of SR33 heading north I saw the bustle of a resurgent oil industry, trucks and heavy equipment at work, drillholes being sunk and far more people than I've ever seen on a dozen trips down this road over the past 30 years. If we get some more rain in the state, I think I'd like to come back to the Carrizo Plain for the wildflower displays. In the meantime, it was time to return to San Jose and resume the other half of my life with family...
This page last updated: Wed Apr 2 12:40:50 2014
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