Oso Flaco Isn't Painful

The trail through the arroyo willow and oaks. 

The trail through the arroyo willow and oaks. 

"Let’s go to Oso Flaco.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Let’s go to Oso Flaco,” proudly proclaims my Ever Planning Another Adventure Husband.

I winced thinking “that sounds painful.” And I paused while my brain kept searching, searching...

Is it rising to a higher level of spiritual consciousness? Is this a country I haven’t hear about? Maybe a Karma Sutra position?  A day spa, a concert, a performance venue, café, auditorium, hot spot, dinner club, gallery, conservatory, institute, infirmary, or maybe a medical clinic? 

“But will it hurt?”

“We could do it as a day trip.” He replies, beaming with anticipation.


My friends Google and All Trails helped me figure it out.

In Spanish it means skinny bear, and it is a coastal California State Park trail. The complete title is Oso Flaco Lake Trail. It is just north of the small town of Guadalupe, and according to the Dunes Center, "it is one of the most scenic natural areas all along California's coast. 

Cormorants, the lake and the dunes at Oso Flaco

Cormorants, the lake and the dunes at Oso Flaco

“Oso Flaco Lake is part of the former Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Preserve, operated by The Nature Conservancy. The area has been transferred to California State Parks, and is now part of the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.”

According to San Luis Obispo Visitor's Guide, Oso Flaco is an ancient name given to the lake by the Spanish in 1769. It is where they killed and ate a skinny bear. That sure sounds like it hurt for the bear. 

We painfully woke at 0500 and it was very dark. The drive is almost four hours long, and we pass several Fresno favorite spots: Paso Robles, Morro Bay, Cayucos, and Pismo Beach.  My husband’s motivation for the trip was to see two warblers that he needs for his life bird watching list. Me, I am always happy to have a chance to see, hear, and smell the Pacific Ocean.


The coastal access and parking are on a dead-end road flanked by fields of truck crops and hoop houses covering strawberries. This is hardcore California heavy-duty agriculture land.  We pass brilliant green field after field with rich brown dirt, all punctuated with turquoise farm worker portable toilets.

It wasn't log ago that there were no toilets in the fields. 

It wasn't log ago that there were no toilets in the fields. 

Oso Flaco Parking Guard Chicken

Oso Flaco Parking Guard Chicken

The parking lot and trailhead were well signed and patrolled by a welcoming chicken looking for handouts. In addition to a trail map, the bulletin board informed us to be aware of mountain lions and report any bear sightings.

Oso Flaco Lake is recognized as an important migratory bird location. I’m a Reluctant Bad Birder. I call blackbirds starlings, and I mistake turkey vultures for red tail hawks.  Real birders roll their eyes when I say "look is that a falcon or an owl?"  But, today I was able to identify coots, cormorants, mallards, herons, cinnamon teals, white pelicans, western gulls, and goshawks.  Birds putter under and around the boardwalks. At the lake and on the shore, birds vie for fish and so do people. The air is filled with squawks, tweets, squeaks, peeps, flirts, chirps, blurts and an occasional splishy splash of a catch.

My Ever Planning Another Adventure Husband looking for birds. 

My Ever Planning Another Adventure Husband looking for birds. 

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An extensive boardwalk is well maintained and meanders above the lake, through the dunes and  dumping onto the coastline. Along the route, there are benches to sit, and places to secure your tripod or spotting scope, or space to take a contemplative moment to reflect.  

There is something about seeing the waves on the beach that always seems to call for a moment of silence. A minute to respect the land, to honor the people who were there before us, a time to be outside of time and space, but in the here and now.

I like broccoli. 

I like broccoli. 

Oso Flaco is a place where the broccoli and beach are separated by dunes.

“An' I got to thinkin', on'y it wasn't thinkin', it was deeper down than thinkin'.” 
― John SteinbeckThe Grapes of Wrath

In this place, I couldn’t help but recall “The Grapes of Wrath”; the historic and current struggles of farmworkers.

Mallard duck butt. 

Mallard duck butt. 

All the hard labor in the broccoli at my feet.

I like broccoli, and berries, and the food from this land.  

Adjacent were the dunes, shifting in the wind, unstable for walking.  

Rambling along the boardwalk built to cross unsettled ground.

A natural lake filled with birds and fish, and people looking for both.

And at the end, the beach, timeless, constant, peaceful.

Wind and waves washing out human strife.

A story of convergence; California ecology and history.

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The Oso Flaco mystery is solved.

If your husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, best friend, fiancé, son, daughter, sweetheart, or significant other ask you if you want to go to Oso Flaco, say “yes.” 

It won’t hurt.

And you might hear history in the waves.

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Sand dollar with barnacles in the waves. 

How to Hide from Horrendous Heat?

Living in the San Joaquin Valley is sometimes challenging. The air quality isn’t always healthful and in the summer it gets blazingly sizzling, oppressively hot. The kind of hot that gives you cabin fever and you long for a cool breeze that isn’t pushed through vibrating, oscillating, rotating machinery.

An all too typical screen shot for Clovis, CA.

An all too typical screen shot for Clovis, CA.

Yesterday is was over 100 degrees in Clovis. Tomorrow,  it is again going to be over 100 degrees and the weather forecast for the next 10 days has the thermometer over 100 degrees. Too hot to handle has a different meaning when you live in the Central Valley. We take it literally. So, I do what our fellow Fresnonian’s do, hide from the heat by heading to the coast. Walkabout is my way to manage those moments of not loving what's up. On walkabout,  I can remember how fortunate I am to have the flexibility of mobility.  

Montaña de Oro State Park. 

Montaña de Oro State Park. 

How do you hide from horendus heat? Take a hike on the headlands.  Head to the coast for a hike on the bluffs of Montaña de Oro State Park.

But first, we need food.  We take the two hour and 45-minute drive directly to downtown Morro Bay and Shine Café.

This place is worth the drive. 

From their website: “Established in 1998, Shine Cafe is known for serving fresh vegan cuisine featuring local and organic ingredients for its loyal customers and the countless tourists that cross Highway 1 looking for vegetarian-friendly alternatives. With a generous selection of breakfast items, entrees, soups, salads and smoothies, our cafe is perfect for a quick bite or a full meal that will genuinely satisfy you.”

Sacramento Vegan, (http://sacramentovegan.blogspot.com ) you would be proud of us and you simply must go here and have not one, but several of their vegan items! Everything is vegan, and unapologetically, wonderfully, beautifully executed. We arrived before they opened and there were already three people in line ahead of us. You could smell all the vegan goodness in the air as we waited for our turn. The vegan tostada and the tempeh tacos were astonishing, and we never missed the meat or cheese. The juice line was slow, but you know it is good when the wait is longer than the meal. We loved sitting and people watching while enjoying a healthy guilt-free lunch.

One of our favorite hikes is near Morro Bay and in Montaña de Oro State Park. The Bluff Trail is a hike on the California headlands allowing coastal views north to Morro Bay and south along the shoreline. The path is wide, easy, well maintained and you can stay far from the dreaded poison oak. Sunscreen is a must even in the fog because you are out in the open ocean air.  To add a little distance and a change of view, we added on Coon Creek Trail, a five mile out and back that follows a creek up the coastal canyon to meet with the Rattlesnake trail. Some people run, but today we chose to stroll and enjoy the view. 

I feared that there would be hundreds, thousands of Valley residents lingering after the long Fourth of July holiday, but it seemed to be the normal summer crowds. Los Osos was buzzing, the State campground was full, and we needed to squeeze into a busy parking area.

But once on the trail, all was right with the world. The sky was that wonderful coastal moist mixture of blue and patches of residual marine layer overcast. It felt like naked freedom to be outside and not sweat from the overbearing heat. There were people crowed on the main beach, but after a while, the crowd thinned and we found ourselves alone with the cormorants, dark-eyed-juncos, western gulls, and California quail. The Bluff Trail was in bloom with native plants and invasive weeds side-by-side. California poppies made it a complete California coastal postcard picture ready for a Sunset Magazine cover.

We are so fortunate to live in Central California! It's hot, but we can drive a few hours, sometimes only a few minutes and be in an entirely different climate and biotic environment. Don’t like the grasslands? Drive to the forest. Don’t like the city? Drive to the wilderness. Don’t like your neighborhood? Drive to the coast.

While hiking on the Bluff trail in Montaña de Oro State Park, I was so thankful for the vision and wisdom of the rich person (or people) who made the donation to keep this part our California Coast un-developed and open for public use. There are still wild stretches where you can hear the crashing of waves, watch the pelicans fly in formation, and not see or hear human development, all within a short drive. You can smell the ocean, get sand in your toes, and you can feel the moisture in the air, all without commercial development. 

Tomorrow it is going to be again heartbreaking hot. I can’t drive to the coast every day and I can’t live on the beach, but I can recall how proud I was to live in California where there is still an opportunity to walkabout to the coast and breath in the clean Pacific Ocean air. 

The campground was full, so Eggburt had to stay home this trip. 

The campground was full, so Eggburt had to stay home this trip. 

A coastal cone for my "Cone Collection" exhibit in September at Fresno City Hall. 

A coastal cone for my "Cone Collection" exhibit in September at Fresno City Hall.