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Hiking: Morro Bay

The Morro of the Story

October 16, 1994|JOHN McKINNEY

Morro Rock, the much-photographed Central Coast icon, official State Landmark No. 801, and the "Gibraltar of the Pacific," isn't the only morro in town.

Eight more morros--mini volcanic peaks--are linked with the famed rock in a chain that stretches from San Luis Obispo to Morro Bay. A couple of these morros (all of which are taller than photogenic but relatively puny Morro Rock) offer great short hikes.

Geologists say the nine morros originated as volcanoes beneath the sea that covered the area a million years ago. After the sea and volcanic explosions subsided, erosion began dissolving the softer parts of the mountain around the volcanic rock and left the nine volcanic peaks standing above the surrounding landscape.

Among the more prominent and visible morros are Islay Peak east of the San Luis Obispo County Airport and San Luis Mountain towering above the Madonna Inn. The two of most interest to hikers are Cabrillo Peak and Black Hill, both in Morro Bay State Park.

Cabrillo Peak, a 911-foot morro, has a terrific 360-degree view.

At the base of the peak are rolling grasslands with two miles of trail. Quarry Trail was so named for the rock quarried here and crushed for local roads. The Park Ridge Trail explores a group of minor peaks. Striking Park Ridge Rock is a state park ranger training site for cliff rescues. Live Oak Trail meanders among the predominant oak along the San Luis Obispo County coast.

The adventurous will bushwhack up trail-less Cabrillo Peak. A few faint zigzag paths made by use, not design, help the intrepid hiker, but it's a make-your-own-way kind of hike to the top. Allow yourself plenty of time to climb.

From Cabrillo Peak, the panorama includes Morro Rock to the west; the Irish Hills and Los Osos Valley to the south; the chain of Morros going east; the Santa Lucia Mountains and the southern Big Sur backcountry to the north.

To reach the trail head for Cabrillo Peak: From U.S. 101 in San Luis Obispo, take the Morro Bay/California 1 exit and travel 12 miles north to the outskirts of Morro Bay. Take the signed Morro Bay State Park/Montana de Oro State Park exit and follow South Bay Boulevard. In three-fourths of a mile the road forks; the right branch leads to the main part of Morro Bay State Park, but fork left and continue on South Bay Boulevard another half-mile to the Cabrillo Peak dirt parking lot on the left (east) side of the road.

Also consider the easy three-mile round trip hike up Black Hill, located in the main part of Morro Bay State Park. Black Hill, the last peak in the volcanic series before Morro Rock, has a trail that tours through a little of everything--chaparral, eucalyptus, oaks, pine and coastal scrub. From the mountain's 640-foot summit, you can see Morro Bay Estuary, the sand spit and the hills of nearby Montana de Oro State Park.

Be sure to check out the morro exhibit at the excellent Morro Bay State Park Museum, which also boasts some terrific natural history displays and offers a grand view of Morro Bay.

Quarry, Live Oak, Park Ridge Trails Where: Morro Bay State Park, Cabrillo Peak near Morro Bay. Distance: 2 to 4 miles round trip; 900-foot elevation gain to top of Cabrillo Peak. Terrain: Volcanic "plugs," native grasslands, coastal scrub. Highlights: Grand Morro Bay and Los Osos Valley views. Degree of Difficulty: Easy hiking around peak; short, but strenuous off-trail climb to top of peak. Precautions: Wear long pants in brushy areas off-trail; watch for ticks. For More Information: Morro Bay State Park, Morro Bay, Calif. 93442; tel. (805) 772-2560.

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