Pismo Beach to Guadalupe Beach

August 17: San Luis Obispo County Pismo Beach to Guadalupe Beach. 22.8 miles

Yes, that is the correct mileage.

We are in an area presenting a distinct cultural clash. A portion of the state park in the Nipomo Dune complex has been given over for the use of off-road vehicles. There is little coexisting with these machines. They are destructive of the dunes and, even though their drivers probably bring money into this area, seem destructive to the Pismo Beach area in general.

Now the paradox. All along our walk, often the back beach has been off limits because of the snowy plover. This is the area in which it nests. In any broad beach area with dunes behind it, a rope fence with signs has told us to keep out of the dry sand. The birds, once hatched, are not fed by their parents but must forage for themselves. Their food is the flies that can be seen on decaying seaweed. The decaying seaweed is closer to the water, but never have we been told there was any problem with the safety and sanctity of the birds, if we kept to the wet sand. So we have hiked miles and miles of wet sand all down the state’s coastline without causing the little birds to go scurrying.

Here we have an area where the dunes and back beach are being torn up by gasoline-powered off-road vehicles. The noise can be heard for miles; the areas they operate in are devoid of vegetation. Acres and acres have been destroyed as any sort of a natural habitat for the “fun” of uninhibited joyriding.

Yet here the wet-sand beach in front of these activities is more restricted than any point on the coast that we have seen so far. We are not allowed to walk the wet sand of this beach. Bedlam reigns around it but no one can walk this beach.

So we have a problem. A big problem. We are offered a vehicular ride through this restricted area but that seems absurd and contrary to our mission, and it is declined by our county Coastwalk coordinators. That’s why we are forced to walk 22.8 miles.

There is no real need to recite most of the route. Suffice to say we did a great deal of road walking and at best, it was unpleasant. We finally turned back and walked towards the coast at Oso Flaco Road. It was nice to be regaining our friend, but the northwesterly wind was right in our face the entire way. Once at Oso Flaco Lake, we took the boardwalk which crosses the lake to the beach and headed south through the soft sand. The area around this lake was formerly open to off-road vehicles, but has been rehabilitated and attracts abundant wildlife. The boardwalk was built by volunteer labor and takes us through lush dune vegetation.

5 miles or so down the beach, we waded the San Maria River and walked to the Guadalupe Dunes parking lot and the end of a long, long day. (Jon Breyfogle; photos by Linda Hanes)

Left: Entrance to Oceano Dunes Off-road vehicle area. Right: Boardwalk across dunes at Oso Flaco Lake.