Few nature visits may boast such view and lore.
The El Moro Elfin Forest in Los Osos lay immediately southeasterly of the Morro Bay estuary. It’s just 90 acres in size, but includes a number of complex ecological communities like the pygmy oak woodland and the coastal dune scrub. The land is owned by San Luis Obispo County Parks and California State Parks and has been cared for since 1994 by the Los Osos/Morro Bay Chapter of Small Wilderness Area Preservation. The chapter works hard to keep invasive plants in check, monitoring the more than 200 plants of plants while securing erosion control where it is needed. If you’re a birdwatcher, you may find as many as one hundred species including rare birds, as well as some rare butterflies and snails.
There are no vehicles allowed in the preserve, but there are several trailheads via the streets numbered 11th through 17th in the breezy Baywood Park subdivision in Los Osos. Driving north along any one of these streets, you can’t miss the dead end in the south line of the preserve. Of course, be ever-courteous to the residents who live along these access roads. At the end of 16th Street you will find the only designated handicap parking and wheel chair access along the south line of the preserve, as well as the only trail into the preserve that is a boardwalk. The other streets provide access to soft sand footpaths which climb from limited parking at the ends of the streets to join with the boardwalk at the top of the hill. The sand isn’t much of a problem, nor should it be surprising—the hill is actually a huge, ancient sand dune! Dogs are allowed on leash, but unfortunately, there are no restroom facilities.
At the crest of the hill, three hundred feet to the north from any of the access streets, you’ll find the highest elevations in the preserve and the reward of a grandiose view to the northwest across Morro Bay estuary into the clear waters of the bay itself and its lovely marina, the green Morro Bay Golf Course and the stupendous Morro Rock which is some 3.5 miles distant.
The boardwalk is elevated about two feet off the ground, is built solidly, maintained well and is thoughtfully engineered by the California Conservation Corps—hard workers they are!—for wheelchair access as well as trail runners. A few stair steps are to be found at certain points along the boardwalk in order to exit the sturdy planks onto sand footpaths. For example, one of these paths will meander through native scrub vegetation to a narrow entryway nearly hidden by the evergreen leaves of the pygmy oaks. In Indiana Jones style, you can burst into a sunlit vault beneath a sheltering canopy of coast live oaks (quercus agrifolia) supported by their twisting tree trunks climbing from the forest floor. The sense of space is surprising, given the little thirty-foot diameter protective dome you can stand in. It hardly seems possible for such interior space to exist; seen from the outside, it seems a little pygmy forest, indeed. But by the same stretch, one can easily imagine Hobbits and dwarves running around in this place of seeming enchantment.
Throughout the 0.8 mile boardwalk are interpretive graphics that recount a young Chumash girl’s stories growing up in her small village among the pygmy oaks. Evidence of her way of life is still visible, if you know where to look. Chumash shell heaps still lay abundantly in places around the bay and forest, leaving no doubt there was a considerable population here. One of these midden areas can be seen around the bend in the boardwalk near Siena’s View, where the photo left was taken. By some counts, around the time of the Spanish arrival in the 1500s, estimates of 10,000 to 15,000 Chumash lived in the central coast area; the Chumash range was also considerable, including the Channel Islands and Santa Barbara to the south and inland nearly to the San Joachin Valley.
SLIDESHOW-GALLERY 1: FAVORITES ALONG THE BOARDWALK
Photos by Barbara Swanson. Click on the little ⇒ arrow button lower right of the film strip for enhanced views of the photos.
SLIDESHOW-GALLERY 2: FAVORITES ALONG THE BOARDWALK
Placeholder photos by Lee. Click on the little ⇒ arrow button lower right of the film strip for enhanced views of the photos.
INTERACTIVE AREA MAP
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