Montaña de Oro

A savage, seductive hidden treasure on California's Central Coast

Perhaps in few places elsewhere is the majesty of earth meeting sea so breathtakingly savage as this wind and wave sculpted promontory jutting into the Pacific between the tiny town of Los Osos to the north and the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant to the south.

 

Ever vigilant - a troupe of cormorants, like the Fremontia flower named for one of California's early explorers, proves once again that being elegant is natural, and vice-versa.

Located at the furthest southern corner of the California Central Coast, Montaña de Oro features a seven-mile long shoreline comprised of sandy beaches along the sand-spit to the north, and rugged cliffs and headlands to the south. The central and southern parts of the park also feature a number of small coves with rocky shores and tidepools, the most prominent and accessible of which is Spooner's Cove.

It happened like Marlon Brando told Superman. When you're done learning the complete history of our culture in these tubes, I want you to put them back at Montaña de Oro where they will stay clean and perfect.

Of course, they couldn't have known a nuclear power plant was going in around the corner. But its spectre startled a conservation consciousness. And since, due in large part to the magnificence of the Californa Coast typified by Montaña de Oro, the public voted in a Coastal Commission to watchdog development on the coast.

Montaña de Oro - At first, you might be led to believe the Mountain of Gold refers to that once plentiful and highly coveted metal which attracted so many adventurers to California. But, the name was probably bestowed by the Spanish explorers of the Central Coast, who visited during Spring when the hills are gilded with the blooms of poppies, goldfields, and tidytips.

In fact, the sea churns gold as well with its ochre rocks, remnants of ancient lava flows, and you can almost hear Vizcaino exclaim, "Holy Mother of Mary! The gold is coming right up out of the ocean! Montalvo was more right than he knew!"

Perhaps nowhere else is there such an abundant and biodiverse ecosystem within such relatively small confines, for Montaña de Oro State Park covers only 8,000 acres, most of which are undeveloped. California voters passed a park bond act that will allow for more acquisition for the park.

Inland from the shoreline is an ancient wave-cut terrace that was long ago uplifted violently from the ravaging edge of the surf and now appears as a grass covered coastal plain, sweeping away from the ocean and then curving sharply upward to 1,500 foot high hills. A short but strenuous switchback leads up Valencia Peak, from which you are treated to nearly 100 miles of coastline from Point Sal in the south to Piedras Blancas in the north.

One of the most popular park jaunts is the Bluff Trail which follows seacliffs for 2.1 miles from Spooner's Cove to Grotto Rock, with spurs leading down to Corallina and Quarry Coves, both known for their excellent tidepooling. Sea otters, whales, dolphins, and sea lions are frequently spotted offshore, along with myriads of sea birds.

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At the far southern end of the park, Coon Creek Trail follows a riparian habitat for 2.5 miles through groves of California live oak, willow, big-leaf maple, box elder, black cottonwood, and Bishop pine, dead-ending at an ancient grove of incense cedars. Those on the lookout for the rare native weasel would do well to choose one of seven creek-crossings along the way and wait quietly for a glimpse of these elusive creatures. Of course, the local raccoons are far bolder as ad hoc Campground Hosts, frequently stalking the picnic areas at dusk for leftovers from the day.

A unique feature of Montaña de Oro is the long sand-spit that separates Morro Bay from the ocean. Built a few years ago, a boardwalk accommodates both walkers and wheelchairs and winds down to the beach. From there, those with strong calves for sandhopping can stroll for miles along the dunes and shore beachcombing, surf fishing, bird watching, meditating, and marveling at the awesome natural beauty.

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Photo by Jack Ellwanger, PelicanNetwork

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Photographs by Joy Greenberg and Jack Ellwanger 

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