Friday, April 13, 2012


My previous post told about my experience renting a beach house on California's Central Coast that was privately owned, but I want to let folks know also, that there is a campground adjacent to the beach that is part of the California State Parks System. You can make online reservations by going to or even download a special "app" for that purpose, onto your beloved smart phone.

I was delighted to see that the Pismo Beach State Park had a Nature Center, because I do volunteer work at a similar facility near where I live, through the Arkansas Master Naturalist organization ( ).

One of the first things I learned from the volunteer at the Pismo Beach Nature Center, was the origin of the word "Pismo". The Native Americans that originally lived there noticed that there was a black, sticky, tar-like substance prevalent in this area. They call the substance "pismu", and an example of that substance is being held in the volunteer's hand. She said they used the pismu in various ways, including the construction of their water craft. It is one of the things that set apart their watercraft from the stereotypical "birch bark canoe" that one often envisions with Native Americans.

With later generations of inhabitants, this part of the coast became well-known for a type of bivalve mollusk, Tivela stultorum, that goes by its more common nickname, Pismo Clam. It lives on sandy beaches and requires the high oxygen content of the surf. Due to over harvesting in days gone by, the sport of "clamming" is now regulated. This collage shows that the person wanting to harvest the Pismo Clam is required to use a "pitch fork" like the one shown, and it must have a measuring device attached to it, so that the clammer can quickly check to see if the clam meets the legal size for harvest. That is because the clam is slow-growing, and takes four years to reach 4.5 inches. If the clam does not meet the size guidelines, it is to be reburied, with its opening pointing towards the ocean. A clam can survive up to 20 years or more, if undisturbed.

The Nature Center has numerous animal mounts of mammals found in the Central Coast ecosystem.

Likewise, there are avian mounts of the various birds one might spot on a walk around the park, and along the beach. You can obtain a bird check list at the Nature Center.

Since I had just photographed a big mass of kelp that had washed up on the beach that morning (top photo), I was glad to be able to see the display at the Nature Center that illustrated all the ways the Native Americans used the kelp, plus the role that kelp plays in today's marine environment. I have had the opportunity to do scuba diving in a kelp forest of the California Monterey Peninsula, and can attest to the fact that it is an "other worldly" experience!

The name of the people group that originally lived here is "Chumash", and the Nature Center has several displays that teach about their culture. In the middle photo, the two volunteers are standing beside a miniature model of a Chumash dwelling. It was made of materials easily gathered along the coastal lagoons/marshes. The lower photo shows there was also a reproduction of some of the "rock art" that has been found on some of the bluffs and caves surrounding the beach.

The facility also has a small nature store that sells specialized educational and interpretive material, relating to the natural history of the area.

Video presenatations are available, and in addition, special programs can be given for campers, school groups, or other organizations, upon request.

The word "Monarch" is very familiar to me, since that is the name of the little community in Arkansas where my mother was raised. Seeing the publicity that this area receives because of the "largest monarch butterfly over-wintering site in the U.S.A.", it got me curious as to whether my mom's homesite might have taken its name from this butterfly. You can see lots of photos, plus plan YOUR visit to the Pismo State Beach Monarch Grove, by going to .

Beside the Nature Center, one will find an interpretive garden, that is also maintained by state park volunteers. I was amazed at the size of this yellow coreopsis that was growing there! A list of plants in the garden is available at the nature center.

Also adjacent to the Nature Center, is the 1.5 mile Guiton Trail, where one can get good views of water and riparian inhabitats. The trail gets its name from Harold Guiton---an early developer. He recognized the importance of the Oceano area as a natural and recreational resource, and in the mid 1930s donated nearly 5 acres of property along the lagoon to California State Parks. Through his efforts, Pismo State Beach, was created. I want to extend my thanks to Mr. Guiton, and other philanthropists/naturalists who had the foresight and generosity to ensure that such areas have been preserved for generations to come!

The Arroyo Willow is the most dominant tree growing around the lagoon. With water readily available, the roots need not grow deep, but are wide spreading and shallow. The Chumash early Native Americans used the willows for food, medicine and shelter.

The lagoon is a popular area for birds. There are numerous Mallard Ducks here because the lush vegetation provides both food and protection.

A short distance away, closer to the ocean, you can see different species of birds beside the surf. Seeing the examples of the amazing diversity of God's creation on display inside the nature center, as well as the nearby grounds, was a reminder to give praise to my Creator, like these words in Psalm 104:24 from The Message that say "What a wildly wonderful world, GOD! You made it all, with Wisdom at your side, made earth overflow with your wonderful creations." Encouraging the next generation to pull themselves away from their electronic devices, long enough to observe this wildly, wonderful world around them, is one of the reasons I volunteer to help with student groups visiting the state park near where I live, and hopefully, you will consider doing so, as well. If you would like to volunteer in the Pismo Beach area, just contact the Central Coast Natural History Association at for more information. Just before I sat down to write this blog, I received a desperate email from our local Master Naturalist leader, pleading for additional volunteers to help with the hundreds of school kids that will be visiting our local state park for school field trips this spring; so I will pass on that plea----PLEASE HELP!! (You may phone the Gaston Visitor's Center, 870-445-3629 for more information on volunteer opportunities.) No matter where you live, there is a place for you to volunteer to help train up future generations to be good stewards of our Earth and all its inhabitants. To do so will ensure that those who follow in our footsteps will have "miles of smiles"! Tricia

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