Man Camp: Montana de Oro

That's right. Man Camp. 

Last weekend my friends decided they needed to get out of the office and dash off into the wild unknown, well unknown to us at least. So I booked a campsite at a place called Montana De Oro State Park. We left LA late on a Saturday morning. We planned to leave at the ungodly hour of 4AM to chase the sunrise, but Friday nights have a way of thwarting productive Saturday mornings. Alas, we found ourselves victims of the latter. Hydrating immediately after waking, I grabbed my bag and threw my camping gear into the car. I left my house to meet up with my friend Nico. We loaded up my car with his gear and headed to pick up the last member of our weekend expedition. Tim loaded up the last of our equipment and we embarked. We headed north on glorious Highway 1 better know as PCH. We blazed up the pacific coast highway as we left the city lights behind us.

Debating whether heading straight to the camp site or stopping at landmarks along the way, we opted to to take the scenic route. I remembered a spot towards land's end, a place unlike any other I've visited on the coast. I suggested we stop there to hike down to a secret spot. The guys agreed as we drove parallel to the vast Pacific Ocean to our west. I took an offramp to a side road and followed the winding coastline to an undisclosed location.  I want to tell you where this is, I really do. I just can't.

Maybe Tim can. No?

Guess not. You'll have to find this one for yourself. 

Well then. Let's suffice to say that its a great place to be. It's the type of place that you have to stumble upon. To get there, crawl through the hole in the fence. Cross the train tracks and keep going. The trail picks up again a little further north, down the railway and cuts through a ridge line full of tall grass and coastal plants. As the vegetation gives way to a cliff and a breathtaking view of the pacific there's only one way left to go.


Secret Spot from Freeman's Collective on Vimeo.

Straight down a stone face to the wet sand below. We walked around the shoreline slowly gaining our bearings. Heading north with the Pacific to our west a stone seawall rose in the distance. Walking in silence we came to a halt to take in the artwork coloring the stone into canvas. Some could take offense to graffiti work. I am a fan.

We climbed over the open-air art installation and walked across the remnants of the World War Era entrenchment of steel and concrete. Decades past that time had all but forgotten, the stone ruins crumbled into the churning sea below. Small pebbles and stones sinking into the dark sea beneath. As we approached land's end and another colorful stone came into view.

After spending sometime contemplating the day's options, we decided to head back to the car and continue on our journey north. We made good time and soon arrived in San Luis Obispo. Here, we stopped at a local grocery store to pick up food and supplies for the night to come. Once equipped for the weekend ahead, we continued on our way into Montana de Oro State Park.

We passed through Morro Bay, a spectacular vista granted a direct eye shot to Morro Rock in the distance. It rose out of the sea into a shrouded crown of clouds. As we followed the road we entered a giant grove of Sycamore trees that reached from one side of the road to the other connecting in a tunnel of branches and leaves above us creating a natural tunnel for us to pass.

We dropped into a valley of lush greens that opened into sandy bottom paths. Trucks with horse trailers attached lined the road side in patches peppered across the coastline. I watched a man ride his horse along the hillside, gracefully guiding his steed through the long grass. I couldn't contain myself and burst out, "Riders of Rohan! What news from the Mark?" It couldn't be helped. Too many rounds playing the damn Lord of the Rings drinking game. That's another story.

We dropped into a valley where a stream had carved a wide canyon that ended in a wide open sand spit of beach. The cliffs to the south rose out of the ocean as the waves battered against them. Sheered by the massive force of the sea and the endless march of time, the stones shined in the late afternoon light.

We arrived at the campground in late afternoon, but still had ample daylight for hiking. We set camp quickly after agreeing upon a site approximately a half mile from the beach. Setting up the tent and securing our valuables in the car, we grabbed our hiking gear and packs. As we headed out of the park we stopped at an old ranch house the state had converted into a ranger station. The white paint aged to a tattered almond hue from the sea salt and wind. I grabbed a map and stuffed it into my pocket. I already knew where I was headed. The drive in had given me a vantage point of a sheltered cove to our west. We embarked down a dirt path towards the sea.

Nico stepped swiftly to an outcropping of rocks that jutted out into the dark channel facing the horizon. It was no matter. He walked out across the rock at some points walking over water in the tide pools. As he came to the end he raised his hands and commanded the sea to him as it exploded across the rock face and splashed above him.

I looked to the south to see the towering cliffs shine in the golden rays of sunlight that pierced the gray sky above. The light streaming down to color the stone shoreline as a wave smashed itself across the rock face. This is real life.

I walked closer to the edge and smiled as a kayaker paddled into view. I took aim with my camera.

I continued to the water's edge and looked across the deep channel cutting through the cove. The cliffs rising in the distance, bastions against the pounding surf sheltered this little harbor from volatile ocean.

I see waves far off in the distance, breaking where the point no longer has harbor from the open sea.

I wanted to try out some of our new equipment. I had planned on composing a time lapse sequence of the beach below us. Tim, Nico, and I decided to headed to the north of the beach to the high point to gain the best vantage point to view the cove. We walked out of the beach and up into the hillside along a horse trail made of sand and tall grass. I looked again taking full view of the cove before me.

We walked along the beach towards the westward bluffs and looked upon the sprawling sands before us.

The light of the afternoon sun glimmered in the distance, a warmth emulating from the hillside as a cool breeze whipped through the tall grass casting a radiance that glowed upon us. A soft hum began, by whom I'm not sure, but it's the anthem to Gladiator. The song breaks out among us and I hear some one say, "My country! My wife!" My arms to my side as my hands touch the gentle tall grass now golden in the rays of the evening sun.

I stopped to admire a cactus gleaming in the sun.

As we climbed the cliffs out of the cove the trail opened up to tall grass glowing in the light of the setting sun.

The horse trail at this point led us to the top of the bluffs granting us a vantage to the rocky cove below. Nico and Tim dropped quickly down an embankment to check out tide pools below us. I sat down to take in the view and set my camera on a tripod. The guys couldn't contain themselves. Freedom is an intoxicating drink.

The harbor opened up before us and we sat down to enjoy the last rays of the fading light.

The next day we headed north to Morro Bay to hike around the area and visit Morro Rock. The best part of this trip was the wildlife we encountered on that day. It was brief, but it was worth the trip to the north. A family of sea otters floated on the canopy of a giant kelp forest. I pulled out my zoom lens and headed to an out cropping of rocks that allowed me to get closer to the animals.

Sea otters, the teddy bears of the sea, they're pretty much the cutest things in the ocean and we got to drop by there harbor side hang out.

All in all the trip couldn't have been better. We walked and talked with the locals who gave us a history lesson on Morro Bay and the surrounding area as well as lecturing us on the importance of conservation. . It felt good to leave only my footprints and take only my pictures. If you get a chance, visit this place. You won't be disappointed.

Every Adventure Begins With One First Step. Step Swiftly. - Freeman's Collective