Saturday, December 31, 2011


Six months into my State Park trips I finally made it to one of the State Beaches on the closure list. Morro Strand State Beach is a mile and a half stretch of pristine, swimming and surfing beach, with the south end of the beach ending at the iconic Morro Rock.

The beach can’t actually be
closed of course, especially since there is another non-state park entrance at Morro Rock. The affects of closure at this beach will be the shutdown of the campground, the elimination of ranger services, restrooms and trash cans. People will still have access to the beach. The concerns are – as usual – vandalism, garbage, drug use and fire.

At a recent town hall meeting in Nevada City about the closure of South Yuba River, the question was posed, “Without Park Services, how long do you think it would take before `South Yuba becomes an undesirable place to take your family?” A member of the audience shouted out, “One weekend.” Sadly, this is probably true.

Roxy and I strolled through the campground and chatted briefly with the camp host. He relayed stories he’d heard of a State Park that had recently closed up in my neck of the woods, and that the results were disastrous. I wonder which park he was referring to. Although the campground was sparsely populated on this gorgeous holiday week, he assured me that in the summertime it was always full. I have no doubts that is true. This stretch of beach is gorgeous.

As with many patches of central coast beaches, the habitat includes nesting grounds for the endangered shorebird, the snowy plover. Thus, dogs are not allowed on this stretch of beach. The path down to the water was postered with children’s drawings urging the public to “save the snowy plover.”

Wintering birds were a-plenty today. Black Brants (small geese from Northern Canada) munched on shrubbery while Curlews stuck their long bills into the sand looking for food. There was the usual variety of gulls (many of which were hatched at Mono Lake,) terns, grebes and of course the Snowy Plovers darting in and out of the foliage, quickly sprinting across the sand.

The grand focal point at this beach is course, Morro Rock. The roundtrip walk to “the rock” and back is 3.2 miles. The sand was wet and packed hard and flat, so the walking was easy. The beach was exceptionally clean, not just of trash, but also of shells, seaweed, driftwood and other ocean generated spew.

When explorer Juan Cabrillo first saw Morro Rock back in 1542, it was a much greater, rounded dome than the slim rock we see today. It was also an island, located about 1,000 feet offshore. In the late 1800s, harbor builders expanded Morro Bay’s entrance. Sand shoals piled up between the rock and the beach, creating what geographers call a tombolo, a sand split that connects and island to the mainland.

Although the sun was out, the temperature was only around sixty degrees, and the breeze was cool. This, however, did not keep away a few dedicated and/or youthful belly boarders, surfers and wind surfers. That would have been me as a kid. It was never too cold to go swimming. The last quarter mile of the beach – right at “the rock” – allows dogs if you enter from the town of Morro Bay. I guess the Snowy Plovers have no habitat in that little stretch. Two energetic canines gleefully chased their “kids” through the surf.

Directly across from the rock is the Morro Bay Power Plant, drawing almost as much visual attention as the rock itself. The hillsides beyond the beachfront have several clumps of houses. Whenever I see hillside villages like these, it always reminds me of ancient Greece, or other Mediterranean hillside habitats. My mind wandered, as I wondered if in another 1,000 years, humankind will be curiously digging the rubble of these hillside homes, searching for clues of how life was lived in 21st century California.

The Central Coast Natural History Association provides park programs, lectures and school tours. I was one day late for a talk on Peregrine Falcons. Rats!

I returned from my walk and shared a snack with Roxy. We then hopped into the car and drove to the beach entrance by the rock, where Roxy was allowed to run and play while we watched the sunset,. Both Venus and a crescent moon hovered directly over Morro Rock, giving us a sparkling view to end our day. And then, on to our next adventure.

Hope to see you at the parks.



  1. Love the photo of the dogs chasing the kid... GREAT! I have read on some RV forums about parks closing and the vandalism that takes place afterward. How sad! Why are some people so uncaring of the land??? I don't understand it. Oh well... Love how your day here at Morro Rock ended with the crescent moon and Venus shining down on you.

  2. Longtime user of the campground and am devestated as to the closing! Can local economies really bear the loss of 5-7000 campers a month from this park alone? Truely sad a part of my childhood is gone.

  3. I believe the SRA the camp host was referring to was the Peninsula Campground at Folsom Lake. One of my favorites, and during the summer you could only get a site with a reservation. It was always full! I never understood why they closed it.


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