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.