Saturday, January 22, 2011

up the hills and in the trees

1/15 Morro Bay State Park and checking in on the Monarchs

It was a blustery day and mrs. a-go-go was afearin' for her allergies with all dust and pollen kicked into the air. She did what she could to keep most of the particles at bay with a bandanna but it drew all sorts of peculiar looks from the bikers on the trail.
Having never poked around the trails East of South Bay Boulevard in Morro Bay State Park this cool winter day seemed like a good time to start. This state park covers a large area between the town of Morro Bay and Los Osos/Baywood Park. It extends East into the hills and includes most of the sandspit enclosing the bay. South Bay Boulevard heads almost due north from Los Osos Valley Road in Los Osos and drives right up the middle of the park area. There are at least two places to park off the East side of the road that have trail head access. We were looking to explore the hills so we took the first gravel paved turnout North of Turri Road. This put us right at the start of Park Ridge Road. There is a gate and enough space to park a few cars next to a trail head sign and information board. That rock lump, by the way, is curiously named Tiki Rock.
Our walk took us up to the peak of an unnamed hill. We followed Park Ridge Road most of the way with a few excursions left and right investigating where the unnamed tracks went. Most of the trails into the hills are reasonably well labeled and a small map on the information board gave us some idea where we were headed on Park Ridge Road. This is a popular area with the mountain bikers and that traffic has created some traces that wander off in unnamed directions, but most of the coast scrub here is low and you are unlikely to get disoriented. Bring some layers. It can get windy cold and damp any time of year. We didn't go though we were tempted to follow further on the trails heading every which way. I'd like to have a good topo trail map along if were going to wander more so I'd have some idea where we'd end up. The views over the bay and the small grass filled valleys between the hills are pretty and there are flower and mushroom surprises if you look for them.
It's a good place for a short hike uphill to get your feet warm even if you only take a hour or so.

After our walk in the hills we took the opportunity to check in on the monarch butterflies in the near by Monarch Grove.
There are quite a few places on the California coast where the monarch butterflies can be seen hanging around from about October to February. One of the larger ones near us is in the Pismo Beach area but Morro Bay has its own grove at the end of the aptly named Monarch Lane. From Los Osos Valley Road going East through the town of Los Osos, just past where the road jogs left and the name changes to Pecho Valley Road, take a right turn on Monarch Lane. At the end of the lane there is a sign and a trail head leading into the eucalyptus trees. We saw a few butterflies darting here and there and there were a few clumps high in the trees but I have seem far more on other visits. Maybe most of the butterflies had moved on or its possible this is a bad year for the monarchs but I have heard that the numbers of these butterflies in the groves have been steadily decreasing. The coastal California eucalyptus groves are just one stop in the multi generation migrations of these critters. Housing developments and other losses of habitat here and all along the monarch's path have had quite an impact on the number of butterflies that make the journey.
The path through the trees will take you out to the sandspit and the sand dunes if you have itchy feet and want to continue your own migration. Hopefully the shortage of butterflies on our visit was due to most of them having itchy feet. Perhaps most of them had moved on early this year and there will be better years to come. We'll come check in again soon.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

and it was a bit longer this time

1/9/2011 Los Osos to the Morro Bay sandspit
The day was bright and clear, but the chill of the wind kept us wrapped up. In the previous post we visited the long sand spit that encloses Morro Bay. This time, with more time and no threat of rain we could explore further into the dunes and along the beach. The cold wind was our constant companion except when we hid behind a dune for a lunch break.
More plovers were out for the day dashing around at the edge of the surf joined by a few godwits and curlews stabbing at the wet sand. Large parts of the inland dunes are roped off to reduce human traffic in the snowy plovers' nesting areas. If you go I hope you'll heed the signs asking people to keep out of these areas. In addition, it's worth noting at the trail head the warning signs posted about the possibility of stumbling onto unexploded munitions from the 1940s. For a few years around the second world war the sand spit area was used for military training exercises. Left over mortar rounds and small rockets could be buried in the sand, so beware of digging around any rusted metal objects you stumble on.
Outside the stretches closed to make room for plovers' eggs the dunes offer huge open areas of lunar emptiness punctuated by tall hummocks topped by scraggly dune plants.
The slopes of sand were too much for the boy a-go-go to pass up and he made good use of his toboggan. The dunes drift in the wind and make the kind of ripples one expects in a desert scene, but many patches of sand were remarkably firm. I suppose this is due to the constant damp of ocean dew. Wet sticky sand was everywhere just an inch below the surface.
Scattered in the lumps of blowing sand we spotted lots of things slowly bleaching in the sun. We didn't see and munitions but there were plenty of bleached bones of small birds and other critters. We carried back to the parking area two bags full of plastic trash and there are plenty of scattered bits of broken bottles slowly being softened into sea glass. There were few other people out on the spit with us but the place a certainly has seen lots of human activity.
There are shanties built of driftwood and other debris here and there among the dunes, and the bits of charred firewood make it clear that people have camp outs now and then. Officially this is a no camping area but I can see why it's so irresistible. we didn't make the trek all the way to the mouth of the bay so there may be another update to this post sometime. It's five miles one way from the parking area to the end. Someday we'll make it a whole day and an even longer walk.

Friday, January 7, 2011

long walk will be longer next time

12/22 Los Osos to the Moro Bay sandspit

The rain has been giving us some cabin fever so every time there is a break we run out for a short bit of outside time. The rain letup on the afternoon of the 22nd and a walk on the sandspit outside Morro Bay sounded like a good idea. The sandspit offers a long beach walk with usually few people, and the farther you walk the fewer still.

Los Osos Valley Road becomes Pecho Valley Road in the town of Los Osos and will take you into Montaña de Oro State Park. Past the park entrance .8 miles turn right on Sandspit Road and there is a small parking area and a well marked trail down through the dunes. Once on the beach you can walk Northish toward Morro Rock all the way to the opening of the bay. It's about 5 miles one way so you can make this a long walk if you are up for it.

We didn't have the energy or the daylight to go the distance that day. The clouds made for an early twilight and we were on our way home by 4:30. It's a marvelous place. You may be lucky enough to see a phalanx of shy Plovers running in the surf and if you dig in the sand you'll turn up some of the biggest sand crabs ever.

Get ready for a long walk and we'll see you there when the weather gives us a long break.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

hey guess what? more mushrooms!

Fiscalini Ranch, Cambria, CA 12/30

The red capped Amanita muscaria rears its head.
You guessed it. We made a visit to the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve mentioned in the previous post and the mushrooms were still at it. We'll have to go for another visit on the heels of a rain in the spring because many of the crazy fungi that we saw were well passed their prime. None the less, I had to write a little about the red speckled devil pictured above.
It's Amanita muscaria also called the Fly Agaric or the Fly Amanita, and it can be a whopper! We saw it just emerging, as in the top photo, still covered with the white speckles of its veil; and we saw it flattened into its later state as a broad polished bronze platter. The last one below really was the size of a small platter and gleamed in the sun like metal.
I had seen pictures of this monster but never in person. Its red and white speckled cap has been the model for countless mushroom cartoons, but I had no idea about its history. This seductive devil is poisonous and hallucinogenic and a short bit of research turns up all sorts idiot adventures. You can pick the thing up and poke it but don't fool with eating, nibbling, or licking it unless you are willing to risk some gut wrenching pain. The effects are unpredictable from person to person, and can vary wildly by region, season, and even by individual mushroom. But wait there's more! The fly part of the name comes from the use of the mushroom to attract and stupefy flies. Didn't even know a fly could be stupefied. And, get this, the mushroom can concentrate vanadium from the soil! Vanadium, by the way, is a rare metallic element that is valued as an ingredient in steel alloys... stick THAT in your pipe and smoke it.

Maybe this is going to turn into a mushroom blog some day... The more looking and reading I do the more fascinating these devils are.


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