In a secluded and peaceful setting along Highway One, Harmony Headlands State Park adorns the stunningly beautiful Central Coast in San Luis Obispo County.
Human occupation along California’s Central Coast dates back at least 10,000 years. The native people, ancestors to today’s Salinan or Chumash people, lived along the costal bluffs and further inland. They traveled seasonally up and down stream drainages to take advantage of the various food, shelter and took resources needed for survival.
The arrival of Europeans forever changed the lives of the native people. Recruited into the mission system, they succumbed to diseases to which they had no immunity. Those who survived became part of the labor force that built the missions and later worked on the ranchos. Today the Salinan and Chumash people are working to revive their ancient languages and cultural traditions.
The mission period began in 1769 with the arrival of the Portolá expedition. California was then a part of Mexico, a colony of Spain. In 1821, Mexico gained independence from Spain, and in 1833 the missions were secularized. Lands formerly owned by the missions were granted to individuals. Rancho San Geronimo, which incorporated part of what is now Harmony Headlands State Park, was granted to Rafael José Serapio Villavicencio (later shortened to Villa), who raised cattle. Rafael’s son, Roberto, continued ranching until the mid-1860s. In 1883, the ranch was acquired by Robert Logan, who in 1901 sold it to Joseph Righetti, a dairyman. In 1912, Righetti sold the property to Armando Storni. The Storni family operated a dairy on the ranch until the mid-1960s.
Chinese Kelp Harvesting
Between 1890 and the mid-1960s, Chinese immigrants harvested kelp along the San Luis Obispo County coast. They burned competing species of seaweed from rocks in the intertidal zone to allow the favored species, Ulva, to thrive. The kelp was harvested, dried and shipped to China by way of San Francisco.
Becoming a State Park
An investment firm purchased the Storni Ranch in 1975 for subdividing into home sites. However the plans did not materialize. In 2003 the American Land Conservancy bought the acreage and deeded it to California State Parks.
Grasslands – Non-native and native grasslands and coastal scrub are the most common vegetation in the park. The San Luis Obispo morning glory, California buttercups, blue-eyed grass, goldfields, owl’s clover, yarrow, coyote bush and lupine thrive here.
The flat terraces of the bluffs are dominated by native purple and slender needle grass, meli grass, wild rye and California oatgrass. The steep north-and west-facing bluffs have the largest community of native grasslands and coastal scrub in the park. In spring, wildflowers bloom profusely.
Scrub – Coastal sea bluff scrub – including seaside daisy, California aster, goldenbush, lizard tail, coast buckwheat and sea pink – grow along the terraces on bluff faces and in other eroded areas. Some shrubs may be dwarfed by the constant wind and salt spray.
Rocky outcrops – Lichen-covered outcrops lie scattered among grasslands and scrub. Ferns, dudleya. Indian paintbrush, miner’s lettuce, golden yarrow, California sagebrush and coast buckwheat flourish.
Wetlands – In these low places where water accumulates, plants such as sedges, willows, rushes and aquatic grasses grow in profusion.
Riparian corridors – These waterside areas are home to ferns, willows and cattails.
Ponds - The manmade ponds are fed by rainwater and runoff from surrounding hillsides, support freshwater marsh habitat with rushes, sedges and willows.
Emergent wetlands – These low-lying areas – wet about half the year – are home to a variety of freshwater marsh and wetland plants, including sedges and rushes.
Sea mammals are a welcome sight and sound along the intertidal areas. Sky-hunting northern harriers swoop down to seize their favorite meal – meadow voles.
Typical grasslands species include California ground squirrels, brush rabbits, skunks, coyote, mule deer, several varieties of mice, raccoons, and, less commonly, badgers.
The endangered California red-legged frog and the southwestern pond turtle, a species of special concern, live in this area. Black-bellied salamanders, Pacific tree frogs, California alligator lizards and California king snakes thrive.
Seabirds, shorebirds, songbirds, raptors, and waterfowl call this place home. Abundant grasslands and rolling terrain bring plentiful small game to attract peregrine falcons and golden eagles. Among sensitive avian species, brown pelicans, double-crested cormorants, white-tailed kites, black oystercatchers, long-billed curlew and Heermann’s gulls can be seen.
Climate – Summer is warm and dry with morning fog and winters are cool and wet. Wind and fog keep temperatures moderate. Dress in layers to accommodate changeable weather.
Harmony Headlands State Park will entice nature lovers, picnickers, photographers, artists and bird watchers. From the parking lot, the one-mile Headlands Trail offers panoramic ocean views west to the marine terrace grasslands.
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