John Muir once exclaimed, “At my feet lay the Great Central Valley of California, level and flowery, like a lake of pure sunshine, forty or fifty miles wide, five hundred miles long, one rich furred garden of yellow Compositae.” The yellow flowers covered the valley like liquid gold. There are few places left in California where wildflowers bloom like they did when John Muir saw them in the second half of the nineteenth century. One of those places is Bear Valley.
When Bear Valley was threatened by residential and agricultural development in the 1990s, Harriet and ALC helped save its thousands of acres of spectacular wildflowers. I make the journey as often as I can to see the swathes of wildflowers that adorn Bear Valley most years. The best months for seeing the wildflowers are usually March and April. I first visited in April 2010 and have returned the same month in 2016 and 2019. A fabulous display!
Located about two hours north of the San Francisco Bay Area near where Highways 16 and 20 intersect in Colusa County, Bear Valley is largely undisturbed. Managed for limited cattle grazing, the valley is habitat for many rare native wildflowers including the Star-tulip, Adobe lily, and Serpentine butterweed. The California Native Plant Society considers it one of the foremost wildflower displays in the world. The wildflower area covers approximately 5,000 acres on the valley floor. The remaining acreage is oak woodlands on the surrounding hills.