The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Morro Rock

Morro Rock, at the mouth of Morro Bay, is a large chunk of volcanic rock, over 20 million years old, a result of long-extinct volcanoes along the California coast.  It is one of the Nine Sisters - a chain of similar large volcanic peaks located in San Luis Obispo County - and may represent locations where the continental plate moved over a volcanic hotspot over the eons. 

Of interest to me, Morro Rock is often held to be a sacred place to both Chumsh and Salinan peoples, and given its looming presence at the mouth of Morro Bay, it would be surprising if it weren't.  Unfortunately, like many elements of Native Californian Religion, the importance of Morro Rock is largely preserved through an oral history that has been damaged due to the impacts of Spanish colonization and the post-Gold Rush Americanization of the region. 

When I was in graduate school, I would pass by Morro Bay and see Morro Rock whenever I drove north to visit family in Modesto.  I always thought that I should stop off some day and have a look, but never did. 

Last Saturday, I had the day to myself, and decided to take a drive out to the area, stopping to spend a good part of the day in the town of Morro Bay itself.  The rock, which was once essentially an island off-shore, is now reachable via an artificial sandbar and walkway.  I drove out and parked next to it, and spent some time walking around the 1/3 or so of the rock that has walkways.  Climbing on the rock is prohibited, as it is a bird sanctuary, and given that large slabs of rock often fall off of it's nearly vertical surfaces, climbing on it is not particularly safe, anyway.

Given the history of the area, it was appropriate that, as I drove by the narrow estuary that is Morro Bay itself, I saw a strange canoe in the water.  My first thought was "hey, that looks like a Tomol" the unique Chumash plank canoe.  As I drove, I came to the boat launch, and saw a sign indicating that there was a meeting of Chumash elders that day, meaning that I had, in fact, seen a Tomol.

This was particularly exciting for me as the Tomol has long been prominent in my mind because there are strong arguments that the advent of the Tomol canoe allowed frequent trips across the Santa Barbara Channel, allowing some rather important trade routes to be more reliably opened, sparking the growth of Chumash culture after AD 1000.  I had seen the canoes hanging in museums and in illustrations, but never in use - but here were two of them being paddled around the bay by a group of Chumash elders.  And here I was, perfect timing, with a camera in my hand.

Anyway, I am very happy that I finally decided to visit Morro Bay.  What's more, I discovered that it is only a 2-hour drive from home (for some reason, I had always thought it was a longer drive), which means that getting out to the beach for a day trip is going to become more feasible for me.


Evan Davis said...

I wonder if it would have been beneficial to chat them up? Or would comparing stories probably lead to insults?

Anthroslug said...

They were all out in the water when I was there. But it's not a bad idea to talk with them when you have the chance. Some dislike archaeologists, but most are willing to talk if they think that you are on the level with them.