Montaña de Oro State Park

My morning at Montaña de Oro was beautifully overcast. The grey clouds turned the ocean into the color of light sea glass. The giant waves crashed against the rock outcroppings, spraying the salty water up in the air. The trail I walked with my friends hugged the coast of the state park, which consists of over 8,000 acres. We would climb down off of the trail to explore out onto the hundreds of rocky peninsulas that stretch out like fingers from the cliffs. This was definitely the highlight of our trip. Climbing over these outcroppings is not for the faint of heart. The rock is Miguelito Shale and the formations are 5 to 6 million years old. The rock comes up at an angle and is in layers. It is very fragile and breaks away easily. When climbing up to the top of one of the ridges the rock broke away from our hands a few times, reminding us that we have to proceed with caution. At the top we would watch the waves crash around us (or in one case on us).

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The well kept trail is surrounded by long grass and wildflowers. There’s a multitude of wildlife throughout the park but on our couple hour walk all we saw was a couple of squirrels, but they were cute squirrels. And of course it wouldn’t be the coast without a few seagulls perched on the large rocks.

In terms of sea life spotted a few couple sea otters with the help of a passing couple who were watching them through binoculars. There are tide pools at the parks but I have yet to find them. Everywhere I looked, the waves were crashing too hard on the rocks for any sea creatures to live there. The mysterious tide pools are said to have star fish, red and purple sea urchins, black abalone, anemone, sea mussels, and shore crab. There are signs that warn against taking any of the creatures out of their habitat.

Montaña de Oro has many different facets. There is camping, walking trails along the coast, hiking on Valencia peak, soft sand beaches, rock outcroppings, tide pool, equestrian trails, and more. The possibilities for activities are nearly endless. There is traditional camping as well as equestrian camping to accompany the equestrian trails that are throughout the park. To book a camp site visit the state park’s website. There is also the Spooner Ranch house that houses historical exhibits and has been renovated to show what the house may have looked like when the Spooner family lived there.

What I love to do is take a few hours and walk the trails along the coast, and just look out on the ocean to my right and up at the fog covered mountains to my left. But many people take full advantage of the parks long winding trails and the hike up Valencia Peak, which is 1,347 feet tall. There was also a brave group of kayakers who conquered the large swells and returned to Spooner’s Cove in one piece.

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There were so many things about the park that is easy to miss. Even thought it is one of the first things you see when you enter the park at Spooner’s Cove, the Spooner Ranch House is a great little piece of history that can be easily overlooked. Montaña de Oro is celebrating its 50th anniversary as a state park, but the history of the park goes back much farther. One of the park docents, Ileen Murta, talked to me about the parks history which starts in 1892 when the Spooner family started leasing the property.

The Spooner’s, Alden B. Spooner Jr., his wife and their three sons, started a dairy farm on the 9,000 acres (with six mile of ocean front), and named it Pecho Ranch. The family eventually bought the property and incorporated it. Mr. Spooner passed away in 1925 so the three boys ran the ranch, until 1945. They had Japanese tenant farmers until World War II when they were forced into internment camps. Because of this the boys could no longer afford to keep the ranch so they sold the property to Oliver Fields, who turned the ranch house into his hunting lodge. Fields then sold the property to Irene McAllister, who changed the name of the ranch to Montana De Oro.

The Spooner family in their Sunday's best.
The Spooner family in their Sunday’s best.

“Apparently ‘pecho’ is a Spanish euphemism for boobs and she didn’t like that name for her property,” Murta said.

McAllister named the ranch Montaña de Oro which means “Mountain of Gold”, in Spanish. It was named after the golden wildflowers that bloom in the spring. She bought the property to, as we would say, “flip it”, to sell it for a profit, according to Murta. This didn’t work out for her and she became bankrupt in 1960. The state wanted the land so they bought the property in 1965, 50 years ago.

Montaña de Oro is about thirty minutes down Highway 1 from San Luis Obispo. It is an easy drive, a straight shot ending at the Spooner’s Cove. It is the largest state park in California with over 8,000 acres (seven miles of shoreline) and gets over half a million visitors a year. People from all over the world come to Montaña de Oro for the abundance of activities there are to do at the park and the assortment of wildlife. It is important to note, there are no dogs allowed on the trails. It is usually overcast in the morning, leading to cooler weather so wear layers.

Ciara Padjock, a second year at Cal Poly, learned about the park through a hiking book her parents gave her and has been coming ever since.

“I come out here pretty frequently because it’s pretty,” Padjock said. “My dad comes to hike every time he visits.”

Padjock wasn’t alone in her love of the park, Nile Fritz, from San Diego has been coming to the park for over 40 years. He said he enjoys is because “it’s beautiful, and more wild.”

To learn more about Montana De Oro and the history behind the park, check out this online brochure.

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