The Morro Dunes form a barrier spit separating Morro Bay from the Pacific Ocean near Los Osos, California. The northern end of the sand spit is a protected area called Morro Dunes Natural Preserve and is a northern extension of Montaña de Oro State Park. Montaña de Oro means “Mountain of Gold” in Spanish and refers to the golden wildflowers found in the park. The park is located 6 miles (10 km) southwest of Morro Bay and 2 miles (3.2 km) south of Los Osos.
When Europeans first arrived in the 1500s, the Chumash Indians inhabited this area in many small coastal villages between Morro Bay and Malibu. The Chumash depended heavily upon the sea for food but also traded among villages. In 1769, Don Gaspar de Portola marched his troops north from San Diego to establish new territory for the king of Spain and this began the Mission period. The coastal people were moved inland and most died from European diseases. Rancho Cañada de Los Osos was granted to Victor Linares on December 1, 1842, by Governor Juan B. Alvarado. In 1845, the rancho was sold and combined with Rancho Pecho y Islay to form a 32,431 acres (13,124 ha) land grant that was used mostly for grazing sheep. The property rights for the land then changed hands several times after California became a territory of the United States. In 1965 the Rancho Montaña de Oro property was purchased by the State of California for a state park and until recently had the longest undeveloped coastal area of any publicly owned land in California. The park has 8,000 acres (3,237 ha) of diverse ecological habitats including sandy beaches, coastal plains, canyons, and hills including Valencia Peak with an elevation of 1,347 feet (411 m).
The Morro Dunes are part of a private land purchase converted to a protected natural area and annexed to Montaña de Oro State Park to preserve the threatened Western Snowy Plover and the Morro blue butterfly. Morro Dunes Natural Preserve is within the Los Osos coastal dune complex that includes habitat for several endangered species including plants, mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, and butterflies. Significant plant resources include coastal sage scrub, dune scrub, Morro manzanita, and maritime chaparral. Read more here and here. Explore more of the Morro Dunes here: