Monday, March 31, 2014

Tide-Pooling at Montaña De Oro State Park

Date: 8/31/2013
Place: Montaña de Oro State Park, Los Osos, California
Length: about 2 miles
Coordinates: 35.272858-120.888755
Difficulty: easy

We had just returned from a busy road trip to Southern California and Grandma Quail was due to go home a day after Labor Day. It was the first Labor Day weekend in a long while that we didn't have any travel plans for.
So we traveled without making any plans :-)

Going to Morro Bay on Labor Day weekend without a plan means getting the last available hotel room for the most outrageous rate. Camp sites were not available at all. We nevertheless, we went there and had a wonderful time.

On this visit to Morro Bay, we dedicated a full day to hike in Montaña de Oro State Park, just south of Morro Bay. We arrived there by late morning, and had some time for the low tide so we hung around the visit center and appreciated the wind-swept cypresses,  

and their dwellers.
Turkey Vulture stretching out
The visitor center overlooks a nice sandy beach. It looked very inviting but be were interested in tide-pooling so we headed along the road to the trailhead of Bluff Trail, about 50 yards away from the visitor center.
Montaña de Oro beach
The entire Bluff Trail leads to the south end of the park's coast. We didn't hike all of it. Just wanted to do the tide pools and loop back.
Bluff Trail - the loop we did labeled yellow. Map segment scanned from MdO SP brochure.

The trail meanders along the cliff line and through a thick coastal scrub. The bushes were coated with spider webs off which hung their webbed lairs, decorated with plant debris and hulled insects.

The coastline of California is considered one of the most beautiful in the world. I admit I didn't see too many world coastlines to be able to compare but even so, I agree all heartedly with that statement.
Montaña de Oro coastline
The Bluff Trail provides ample viewpoints on this gorgeous coast, with all of its coves and inlets.

Every now and then I had the opportunity to step down below the cliff and get closer to the water for a different point of view.

The sound of waves lapping at the shore is one of my favorite sounds of Nature. I truly regretted not having camped there on this trip. Perhaps next time.

On top of the cliffs, decorating the gray scrub, some yellow late summer bloom.
Seaside Wooly Sunflower (Eriophyllum staechadifolium)
Eventually we got to the area of the tide pools. Before going down I looked longingly at Morro Rock, way across the bay.
Morro Rock
The tidal zone is a complex and very interesting habitat. A narrow strip of shore that is overrun by the ocean and then gets exposed again in a regular cycle according the cycle of the moon.
When the sun adds its gravity pull to the moon's there is a King Tide and the flooded area is maximal.
Pacific Brown Pelicans in formation over the ocean, across from the tide pools
Life at the tidal zone has evolved to withstand this circadian rhythm of flooding and exposure. Different creatures inhabit different layers of the tidal zone, perfectly adapted to a certain level of flooding  which is now optimal for them. When the tide is lowest, more gets exposed.
Algae in the air
 I've been to the ocean many times, but I honestly can't recall ever seeing so many algae species before.
How many algae can you see?
Some marine animals simply shut themselves off until the water returns.
Mussels shut themselves against dryness
For others, low tide is the perfect time to go exploring.
Hermit Crab 
When the ocean recedes there are pools left behind in the rock depressions. These tide pools host a rich plethora of marine wildlife.
A tide pool
Whoever is left behind is trapped in those pools until the tide comes back in.
Tide-pooling, or observing the wildlife in the tide pools is one of the best activities I can think of for nature-loving children.
The skeleton of a sea urchin
Tide pooling isn't just children. Me, Papa Quail and Grandma Quail too were having a great time wandering about the pools and looking for marine treasures.
Aggregating Anemone
I always love watching the stars. Even the underwater ones.
Starfish (Pisaster ochraceus)
So beautiful.
Starfish Starfish (Pisaster ochraceus)
Occasionally I lifted my head from the pools and looked about me. The ocean, as always, carries its own beauty to the shore.
In the more protected area floated this western gull. As we sat down for lunch it approached us and became very insistent about being fed.
Western Gull
Feeding wild animals can be tempting, but it is a bad idea. They become dependent on human food, which isn't necessarily good for them and often not even good for us). They lose their natural fear of humans and can get hurt by or even hurt people in their quest for more food. This gull might have been fed by people before. We didn't give it any.
Cormorants on a rock near the tide pools area
Soon, we ourselves became subjects of interest for some very annoying flies that lurked on the sand and took every chance they had to roost on our bodies.
Luckily, they didn't bite. But they did make us finish our lunch in a hurry. Not yet ready to leave the tide pools we left our packs on the beach and continued exploring.
Rock Crab peeking from its hiding place
Rock crabs were all over the place. I find these shy creatures fascinating. I cannot understand how their genus name ever became synonymous for one of the most horrific illnesses there are.
I'm a cancer too. Whatever that means.
Just above the strandline, the rock is dry and bare. Layer upon layer of perfectly sedimented rock, like leaves of a billion years old book.
Time doesn't stand still and the tide reversed itself. By the time we started thinking about going on with our hike most of the pools were already reclaimed by the ocean.

We went back to the Bluff Trail and continued our loop, in view of the hills.

Papa Quail, as always, was after the birds. There were plenty of them in the scrub, but none too yielding. Still, he got some.
California Towhee
We didn't continue the entire length of the Bluff Trail. After about 1/2 a mile from the tide pool we looped back towards the trailhead.
Loggerhead Shrike
I was satisfied with photographing flowers,
California poppy entertaining a visitor
but when opportunity presented itself, I was happy to take advantage of it.
By the time we made it back to the visitor center the sun had vaporized all of the morning clouds. We took a short break and headed uphill on our land hike on the hills of Montaña De Oro State Park.

Man thanks to members of the California Wildlife Appreciators for their help in identifying the animals!


  1. very nice :-)
    ...and I'm still not getting messages. I also checked my spam, they're not there.

    1. I checked the follow gadget and sure enough, there is something wrong with it and I'm not sure when it'll be fixed. Did you try the follow by email widget on the sidebar?

    2. I have put there 2 email addresses, and Moti did as well...

    3. I think I found something. waiting for your next post to see if it worked :-)

    4. Soon. If it doesn't work I'll delete that widget and try to upload it again, or another one.

  2. Looks like a great spot, and a wonderful way to spend the non-planned day :-)

    1. That's right! And it's not too far from you either :-)

  3. that was a very interesting trip.
    It was a good idea going there - even without plans :-)

    1. The Morro Bay area is always interesting. I don't think I'll ever get tired of that place :-)