Heading north from Santa Barbara on The 101, Hannah and I hug the coastline for some twenty miles before veering inland past the towns of Los Alamos and Santa Maria. With credit card points, we will spend the night at a Quality Inn in Pismo Beach 80 miles north; fortunately our room is available at 9A so we stow our luggage and seek out a coastal bluff trail. Though January is both the off-season and the rainy season in California, the weather gods didn’t get the memo. Today is our third day in the upper 70s without a cloud in the sky since we arrived from New England.
From Pismo Beach, it is a 45 minute drive through this residential and strip mall part of San Luis Obispo on Los Osos Valley Road. Soon we are weaving through a coastal forest to the Montana De Oro State Park. Though we see a sign for the park, we pass dunes between us and the beach for miles with no sign of a visitor center or admission gate. Fear not. The park headquarters at the old Spooner Ranch House lies at the end of the road.
Arriving at 10A, we meet two women who have just hiked three hours to and from 1300′ Valencia Peak. That is a hike for next year; today we want bluff hikes with crashing waves and steep cliffs. Lacing up our hiking boots, we walk 300 yards on a paved road that leads us to the bluffs above the Pacific Ocean. With seven miles of coastline, Montana De Oro will give us two miles of bluff trail hiking this morning.
Though it’s a midweek Thursday in January, we are not alone on this summer-like day. Beach goers hang out at Spooner’s Cove while others are here and there hiking the Bluff Trail. Though Montana De Oro gets half a million visitors a year, today there are no crowds and few trail bike riders.
In just five minutes we are at the top of the cliff with striking views of crashing waves to the north. Montana De Oro means “Mountain of Gold” which comes from the golden wildflowers found in the park. This year we see no such flowers as the land is parched and dry due to the ongoing drought. With cliffs, sandy beaches, canyons, and hills, Montana De Oro has something for every nature lover.
Weaving in and out of the steep cliff peninsulas as we hike south, I am struck by the relentless snow white waves that keep coming and coming. It is one spectacular view after another. We have hit bluff hiking oro (gold).
Hiking in shorts and tee shirts, we get all the sunshine we can ask for while friends stomp through the snow of our driveway with our mail and to feed our cat Sadie.
On the trail we see a mother, her mom, and daughter. We talk and eventually learn the nine month old’s name is Siena. With another grandchild on the way, Hannah and I are looking for names to send Molly and Tip’s way. Molly and Tip are old school in that they won’t know the gender of their baby until the bambino is born. Playfully, they have come up with a baby pool, something similar to a March Madness bracket, for people to see if they can guess the names Molly and Tip will pick for our new grandchild.
Occasionally there is access to the beaches beneath the cliffs. The bluff trail itself is entirely level some 60’ above the shore below. Soon we see a young father, his Dad, and a 15 month old resting at a picnic table with their bikes parked nearby. When we leave and Hannah realizes we haven’t asked the little boy’s name, she returns and finds that it is Kiernan. If you are wondering about my leading baby’s names: Carly and Johnny. You heard it hear first. It’s going to be a girl. Rachel? Caroline? Julia? Quinn? I’m grabbing at straws.
After walking the beaches of Santa Barbara and Summerland, CA, we finally hike the bluffs above the relentless ocean for over two miles in what literally is paradise.
Up and down the coast, California is fantastic at reinforcing the danger of the public feeding the wildlife. This gull expects a treat, but it will not be from us.
The trip back to the Spooner Ranch House takes the Pecho Valley Road for a little over a mile. Rather than return, we spot in the distance what looks like more trail. We will soon discover that the Point Buchon Trail lies just south of us on the Pacific Ocean. Stay tuned. We are on our way.