On Phoebe’s bookshelf rests a red box with a flower print lid; inside are her treasures from past outdoor adventures. From time to time, she gently takes out each specimen, arranges them in a row and examines them with her magnifying glass. Today, she asked me sweetly, “Mommy, can we gather more sea shells for my collection?” After an hour of the usual hustle and bustle to get out the door, we were driving up Hwy 101 past Santa Barbara on our way to Gaviota State Beach.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by a gregarious park ranger who gladly showered me with pamphlets about the natural history of this beach and a few others nearby. He suggested some hiking trails and told me about a 95-degree hot spring in the area. I listened and visualized his directions for future reference, but today was a day for shells. When I venture out with Phoebe, I strive for simplicity.
The ranger informed me that the beach was named “Gaviota” after a seagull killed by soldiers on an 18th century sailing voyage to find the port of Monterey. I wondered what could be so spectacular about the death of a bird that it would inspire someone to name a place after it. Looking through the pamphlet, I saw a surprising number of habitats listed: oak woodlands, grasslands, chaparral, riparian, freshwater aquatic, freshwater marshes, coastal strand, coastal salt marsh and marine. (1) Sixteen of the wildlife species and six of the plant species that occur in the area are threatened or endangered. (2)
Incidentally, I came across the website of an organization called the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County which states, “Guarding against over-development of this last rural stretch of coastal Southern California is our biggest challenge.” (3)
After changing into our swim suits and slathering on sunscreen, we walked under the railroad trestle and out on to the pier. There, we were treated to a nice view of the beach on one side and rugged rock formations on the other.
The sediment is a part of the active Santa Ynez fault and was uplifted approximately 5 million years ago during the Miocene epoch. (4)
A friendly stranger offered to take our photo before we headed down to the sand.
I became a bit distracted with snapping photos of wildflowers before Phoebe tore me away to fulfill our intended purpose.
There was little variety of shells to be found in the area we settled in, but what we lacked in diversity we made up for in quantity, unearthing dozens of shiny blue abalone shells. One piece featured a spectacular blend of colors and had a natural hole in it, perfect for use as a necklace pendant. I fell in love with it and tucked it away in my beach bag. That was the only shell that ended up coming home with us; Phoebe was happy to use the rest to decorate the sand castles she dreamed would be permanent.
What was is your favorite “treasure” found in nature?