A very large rock jutting out of the Pacific Ocean just off
the shore of Morro Bay, CA. A 21 million year old volcanic plug,
it is 576 feet high and (according to my estimate based on
pacing off half of its perimeter) 2700 feet around
its base. Named by the Spanish conquistador Juan Cabrillo,
morro is apparently a Spanish word for nose (though the only
word I've ever heard for nose is nariz).
It is one of nine such volcanic peaks between Morro Bay and
San Luis Obispo, CA which are collectively known as The Nine
Sisters; Morro Rock is also known as the Gibraltar of the
Pacific. It is actually the shortest of the nine (the tallest
being the 1,599 feet Bishop Peak) but is the most impressive
and well-known because the others are lost among the
hills of the central California coast, while Morro Rock intrudes on
the eye because of its nearness to the land (being about 400 feet
from the shore) and its very un-islandish aspect ratio. It is now
connected to the mainland by a causeway allowing vehicle
traffic but historically access was possible only during low tide.
Notwithstanding the twenty one million years of weathering and
erosion, it can be seen to be a single immense rock, which is
another aspect of its grandeur. Of course there are cracks and
fissures everywhere, and the hardy scrub vegetation around the
base, in places attempts an assault up the side, but for the most
part fails to get more than halfway. The rise of the rock is so abruptly
vertical that there is usually only three or four feet of land around it
for the various plants (including three cacti in one place) to grow.
An area about 100 feet long, on the southwest face, is noticeably
concave. At the bottom, a scratchy grey beard grows out, consisting of
thousands of square feet of rocks ranging from several inches to
four or five feet across (and not just a few of the latter; the area is
impassable to any travellers except those on foot, or a sure-footed
mountain goat). It then tails off to become a quarter-mile breakwater
built during World War II using material quarried from The Rock.
The Rock itself is a designated preserve for the endangered
peregrine falcon. As such, it is illegal for people to climb on it,
though one may drive or walk the narrow road around one side,
leading to a vista point and ending at the lunar landscape at the
breakwater. I've never seen a falcon there, but there are nooks
high up which are said to be the type of place they like to nest.
The falcons' eggshells have become too thin to produce viable young;
several nestlings are implanted each year by Cornell University in
an attempt to repopulate the species.
Apparently, some geologists theorize that the Sisters were actually
produced in the area of South America, because the makeup of the
rock is unique for this area, and the only similar rock known is there.
I don't know if those geologists are considered crackpots by
the kinds of geologists that you would want to have over to your dinner party.
I've been to Morro Bay several times in the last ten years, but May, 2002
was the first time since I've been a noder. It occurred to me, as I was walking
around the Rock, that noders may be more observant people than average,
simply because they're on the lookout for something to write about.
The Rock is so huge, that I was startled at one point, looking at a
chunk that will probably fall off in the next ten thousand or so years,
and then realizing that even though it looked like not much of anything
in that context, it would have covered the house I grew up in.
I remember that last time I was here, I saw a squirrel running around the
scant vegetation where some of the fishing boats tie up. To this writer who's
always lived in the city and thought squirrels lived in the woods, this seemed
odd. This time, I was on the rocky shore on the leeward side of the rock, and
was watching three squirrels running about. For some reason, even though
the vegetation around the base of the Rock was less than a hundred feet
away, I found myself wondering why they were there and what they subsisted on.
One of them was raised up on
his haunches, worrying a morsel of food he'd found somewhere. The other two
eventually came sniffing around my shoes, which made me wonder if they're used to receiving food from tourists.
Later, on the other side of the causeway, but still in a totally rocky environment,
I found that there were hundreds of them, and considerably more
skittish around me than had been the first few. I still had to wonder
what could sustain such a population, and why they lived
in the rocks next to the water.
I noticed that the adults looked, for the most part, on the fat side, while
the young ones, comprising about one third of the total, looked trimmer. A
good thing, too, because occasionally a seagull
would swoop and the baby squirrel would have to run for its life across the
dirt to the protection of a niche in the rocks. The fat elders wouldn't have
gotten away, but I never saw a gull take an interest in them.
Returning from the far side of the Rock, I saw the unsurprising
explanation for the well-fed status of this out-of-place population: an
elderly woman was distributing the contents of a five-pound bag of
peanuts. In this situation, the squirrels had no reluctance to approach
their giant benefactor. She was mildly annoyed that the grownups were
getting most of the handout, and kept calling to the little ones to
fetch the ones she aimed toward them. She was greatly annoyed at the
seagulls who were trying to get their share. I guess she wasn't a bird
person. I found the sound of thirty squirrels in four square feet, all
chipping away a peanut shell or chewing up the nut inside, and
occasionally fighting over one, to be a chittering like I've never heard
The pelicans gliding overhead took no interest at all.