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A Paradise with Paradoxes
The first sighting of Morro Bay is surprising. Out of soft pastel hills rolling to the sea, giant smoke stacks rise unexpectedly.

It is a paradox that something so man-made, so industrial, can signal the presence of a place so beautiful.

New Nature Trips in Morro Bay
 

Once past the shock of the power plant, this intriguing bayside wonderland reveals itself in one delight after another. Morro Bay is one of the most environmentally rewarding places on the California Coast.

Morro Bay has become famous for its out-of-place power plant. It was built in the 1950's when California was booming, and there was not much worry about environmental aesthetics. It looks bad, but it brought jobs and people here. Some people said the incredible seafood available here would make Morro Bay an important spot on the gastronomical map. In time it became a seafood lover's treasure chest.

From end to end, this curious seaside town is full of memorable places to eat seafood... a sublimely marinated mussel with a slab of applewood smoked salmon on one end to a royal feast of abalone on the other - and unpretentious eateries all along the way with excellent clam chowders.

From the Marina you may row across the bay to the sand spit where secluded dunes, seashore, and wildness abound. Morro Bay State Park accommodates campers and the seasonal Monarch butterflies which winter in the eucalyptus grove. The Park has a public golf course and a short trail to the top of Black Hill, where the town and coast from Montaña de Oro to Cayucos can be viewed.

 


Photos left and above by Joy Greenberg

Another paradox is the great conical rock holding sway at the end of a long sandy peninsula at the mouth of a spectacular bay and estuary rich with wildlife. With flatness all around, it rises 578 feet above the sea, and is a symbol and sentinel.

Morro Rock, the signature trademark of Morro Bay, almost ceased to exist not long ago.


Photo by Jack Ellwanger

Up until the 1950's, it was being chipped away to provide stone for road construction. Then one day, it dawned upon them that The Rock was not growing back, and if they didn't stop excavating, there would be nothing left!

Now, of course, it is protected. Climbing is prohibited due to the danger of falling. And birds call it home again, like our namesake mating pair here (photo at right). At times, several pairs of peregrine falcons are nesting upon it.

The Rock went from road fill to treasure. Now it is considered the Gilbraltar of California.

The rock has been a symbol of the California Coast since Cabrillo spotted it in 1542. Before that it was a place of great significance to the Chumash Indians. And, for the time even before that it is the subject of lore for Asian travelers. It is said a Chinese team of explorers captured this scene in an ink dye illustration to depict their wanderings in California and kept records of the culinary delights here. In Baja California there is an old legend from the Indians that this was where the country to the north began, and they believed people from Japan lived there.

Morro Rock was the symbol for one of history's hottest election battles, each side trying to appear more favorable to Morro Rock preservation. The man who won, Leon Panetta, went on to become one of American history's greatest conservationists. He was instrumental in volumes of crucial legislation and public battles to stop the wanton destruction of California's wondrous coast.

Photo by Joy Greenberg

The seafood is still legendary.
 

Morro Bay offers a variety of activities for all ages and abilities. In the Marina, boats, kayaks and canoes can be rented by the hour or day, and several cleaning stations for fishermen are available.

All of Morro Bay is a bird sanctuary and nature preserve. Peregrine Falcons nest on Morro Rock. Great White Egrets and Great Blue Herons nest in the trees along the Bay. Flocks of rare white falcons inhabit the great sand-spit in front of the little town. Bands of sandpipers and all sizes of shore birds dance up and down the surf line. No guns are allowed in town because the birds are a national treasure. Morro Bay is one of the ten best places in America to see birds.

Across from the golf course is the Morro Bay Natural History Museum which offers a spectacular vantage point of the bay and its wildlife, including the nearby Great Blue Heron rookery, where life-mated pairs return every year to raise their offspring. The variety is so abundant that the museum interpretive display is a must for those intent upon shore bird identification.

A giant chessboard on the sidewalk may seem a novelty, but it is a practical pastime for the Morro Bay Chess Club.

Morro Bay is a great place for families to introduce their children to coastal ecology.

There's a nautical theme playground at the south end of the town's waterfront esplanade.

Near the Natural History Museum there are wonderful story kiosks about the area's wildlife. It all makes Morro Bay truly rewarding for families to visit.


Children look closely at a Monarch in the grove by the bay.

Photos of the children (left) and the sailboat (above) by Joy Greenberg


Photo by Susan Farrar

Morro Bay is an important winter home for Monarch butterflies. There are three sanctuaries here. These incredible critters leave their summer homes in Canada in late Summer, and after flying more than a thousand miles begin arriving in California Coastal habitats in late August.

Monarchs mating in Morro Bay
Photo by Marie Smith. Click the image for a larger version.

A citizens' group, Coastal Alliance Against Plant Expansion in Morro Bay questions the expansion plans for the Duke Energy power plant.

EPI is a Morro Bay environmental watchdog group that keeps on top of public policy issues. Contact EPI


To learn about the challenges for protecting and restoring the Morro Bay estuary, visit:
Morro Bay National Estuary Program

a website about peregrine falcons at Morro Bay - angel fire


See our story about Montaña de Oro


San Luis Obispo County is famous for expansive wildflower scenes such as this near Pozo.


Audubon Society of Morro Coast has interesting bird outings regularly. Second Saturday of the Month features a different walk each month. For April, 2003's Second Saturday, the group will meet at the main entrance of the Sweet Springs preserve on Ramona Avenue in Los Osos. Call John Perkins , 805 528-0540, or John Nowak, 464-0717 for more information. Rain cancels.

Birding around the Estuary is a special walk April 5. Led by Bill Bouton. Meet at the east end of the Morro Bay State Park Marina parking lot 7:30 a.m.

A nice birding page featuring Morro Bay

Grizzly Bears, symbol of the state of California, used to live around here. When hunting them was allowed by law toward the end of the 1800's - it only took 10 years for the great creature to be eradicated. The last wild California Grizzly was caught on the eastern side of the Hearst Ranch. It was ransomed to the Hearst family for $10,000. It spent its, and its species' last California days in a zoo. There is now a foundation dedicated to restoring Grizzlies to isolated habitats in our state: California Grizzly Foundation


Joy Greenberg, a free lance writer and teacher based in Atascadero, contributed to this story.


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