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.

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