The Mystical Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes
The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes is the second largest in the state of California, encompassing an 18-mile stretch of spectacular coastline on the California Central Coast from Pismo Beach in southern San Luis Obispo County, to Guadalupe in northern Santa Barbara County. The Dunes Complex consists of several distinct regions, each managed by different organizations that are used for various purposes. Pismo State Beach-North Beach Campgrounds is located at the northernmost part of the Dunes and is run by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Pismo State Beach-Oceano Campgrounds is located further south near the town of Oceano. The Oceano Campgrounds, like the North Beach Campgrounds, is run by the California Department of Parks and Recreation and has a nature museum on site.
Home to many endangered plants and animals, much of the Dunes has been set aside for conservation. However, much to the consternation of many locals and environmentalists, a sizable portion of the Dunes is utilized for Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) use, a highly controversial matter. This once pristine, 5.5 mile strip of sandy coastline is the only State Park in California where vehicles can be driven on the beach. These vehicles, which kick up a multitude of pollutants and particulate matter into the air, include quads, dirt bikes, and four-wheel drive vehicles.
The Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area, located south of Oceano, also offers its 2 million annual visitors the opportunity to camp and horseback ride on the beach. The Oso Flaco Lake Natural Area is a California State Park located north of the city of Guadalupe. Visitors to the Natural Area can walk along the mile-long boardwalk that follows the creek, passing across Oso Flaco Lake to the ocean. The Dunes Center, located in the city of Guadalupe in a restored 1910 craftsman bungalow, is an agency developed to promote the conservation of the Dunes ecosystem through education, research and cooperative stewardship.
The first inhabitants of the Dunes were of the Native American Chumash tribe. Although early Spanish maritime explorers noticed the Chumash settlements, Europeans did not travel through the Dunes until 1769 when Don Gaspar de Portola’s expedition traversed the area. In 1923, the epic Cecil B. DeMille movie The Ten Commandments was filmed at the Dunes. Remnants of the film set are still buried deep within the sand, victims of the force of decades of wind. The Dunes are famous for a group of mystics, artists, nudists, writers, and hermits known collectively as the “Dunites” who inhabited the area from the 1920s until the 1940s. Not unlike that of the Sedona, Arizona, New Age thinkers, the Dunites believed that the Dunes possessed creative vortexes of energy.
During the same time, oil companies were snapping up Dune land and, in 1948, oil was discovered. Unocal began operations in the Guadalupe Oil Field in the 1950s and over the course of the next 40 years, some 18 million gallons of petroleum leaked under the Dunes. It took until 1994 for the company to publicly admit the spill and begin the cleanup process. Today the Dunes remains a wonderful place to visit and photograph, and still maintains a very unique mystical, magical quality.