Walking to New Familiar Places

Morro Bay State Park Museum of Natural HIstory

If life is a story, the walk around Morro Bay State Park’s Museum of Natural History would be several chapters of mine.

Many years ago, maybe when I was not even a teenager, I traveled to this area with my parents. I remember being surprised at the golf course adjacent to the park, only to turn around and see there was something more to explore up the hill towards the bay. The stone pathways, the eucalyptus grove, the muddy beach seemed to mix into a jumble of memories about a place where so many things that shouldn’t be together existed side-by-side.

Then there were the visiting years, when I would escape the heat of the valley with my own young family. On long walks from the town of Morro Bay, through the nesting heron rookery, and up the stone walks, we would spend time in the Museum itself. Reading the history and looking at the photos gave us some good information and a rest stop. After all, we had a long walk back into town.

Today’s walk, though, is longer and more solitary. As a woman approaching seventy, I climb up past the museum onto the crumble of sandstone paths with only an occasional step-worn stone to steady me. The routine of walking to the back of the museum, around to the side on the path that winds nicely above and along White Point, then down to the estuary marina, is now a part of my life. I sit often on the wooden bench looking over the stone border wall to the tides coming in and then leaving the bay. I see people putting their kayaks into the water at the end of the public launch and watch pelicans hunting above the schools of fish. But I have not ever walked up to the crest of the hill. I think I remember knowing that you can walk it. I just never thought that I would.

Today, I turn left onto the uphill path instead of following the worn path I had always followed before. I will treat myself to a new version of this walk and a new view at the end of the pathway. It’s not as safe a trail as the other, having less traffic and more rubble. I reach several places where the route ahead is unsure. It’s certainly less marked. But eventually, the path reveals itself and I find that there’s a wide marked area to welcome me at the top, and one last treat that out-surprises that first impression I had of this area so long ago. The view.

What can I say about a view that extends farther than I ever would have guessed? How do I write about the freshness of the air? I am really not able to describe the vitality of this perch from the top of a hill I knew about, but had never visited. I think it’s better that you go there yourself.

Walking Morro Bay’s Park Ridge Trail

Over the shoulder of the town of Los Osos is the Pacific Ocean. Shielded by a sand spit, Los Osos hides from that deceptive and ill-named body of water that is not peaceful even when it appears calm, as today. I walk at low tide east from the Pacific and watch the ocean’s fingers snake their way to the back of Morro Bay until the sand sucks out the sea water and becomes a soupy mess. It pulls your shoes off if you venture out in a kayak at the wrong time of the tidal day and need to step out to unstick your ride.

But today, as I walk away from the coast, I head toward Park Ridge Trail in Morro Bay State Park. It’s nice to watch the ocean from a distance. The path rises and falls around a hill that gives a magnificent view of the saltwater marsh in the shallow end of the bay.

Imperfect wildflowers lay along the path and up the hillside. Taller than me, the golden yarrow shines bright and the tiny baby blue eyes brush my boots. Some plants are vivid today, but remind me that the wildflower season is past prime. Cow parsnip, morning glory, sticky monkey flower, milk thistle and purple salsify are saying their goodbyes.

The hills today still carry the mist from the coast, making the air mild and my cheeks refreshed. The sun here is powerful and insistent, but waved away by the breeze. A green blush on the hillside won’t be here next time I walk this path. Even today, weeks since the last rain, the hills are streaked with golden. A change has come about from winter’s green. The waving ends of aging grass and flowers sway over the crest of the hill, a fading springtime pastel against the blue of a balmy sky.

I walk on a path that has been visited recently by a run of bicycles and many feet. A diligent maintenance crew has kept the main paths broad. Smaller, happenstance cutaways lead to places I didn’t prepare to see today. Most are made by adventurous hikers who know the area better than I. Once I get past the first hill, I realize how broad and expansive is this parkland. There are a dozen break-off paths, some posting legitimate signs: Quarry Trail, Crespi Trail, Chumash Trail. The named trails are blazed by the park maintenance crews, but many others are side-lined single walking jaunts that lure me to break the rules. But I know it’s best in all ways to stay on the cleared paths. Safer for me and safer for the creatures who live here on the hillside.

I see some of these: little rabbits, a couple quails, a buzzard flying above. I hear others:  a scampering away as I turn a bend, a swish around a tall bush, several bird voices I can’t identify. I also see many off-shoots of trails that these creatures have made, so small I am not even tempted to change my route. Running under, next to and through thorny vegetation, they seem to head toward a cleft of water that I hear but can’t see.

Getting to know this area, I have been so entertained by the sea: the constant sound, the soothing beach sand, the shallow tides I can slip my toes into every day year-round. I have been facing west for years, in wonderment at this ocean home. Happily today, I am discovering a walking buffet to the east. I can’t wait for my next ramble through these coastal hills, and wonder why my feet have been so long in walking this way.