Oso Flaco Lake Natural Area is a CA State Park. Access is permitted dawn to dusk throughout the year. Parking is $5 per vehicle. Trailhead begins through the white gate.
Leaving the parking lot, enter through the white gate. Having come to see dunes, you might be surprised to find yourself in this wooded area! The trees you can see are arroyo willows and wax myrtles evidence that a dune complex is 'not just sand'. Both of these species need generous amounts of water to flourish. They are being sustained by Oso Flaco Creek, a 'riparian corridor', which means a bank or area relating to a natural watercourse . The canopy and understory support an incredible array of life, look for spanish moss hanging from the tree limbs and listen for songbirds.
Stinging Nettle Urtica dioica.
Looking into the understory notice (but don't touch!) the tall plants with serrated leaves, and in the spring, small whiteflowers; these plants are Stinging Nettles. Nettles are perennial plants and can found almost everywhere there are disturbed soils. All species are covered in fine hairs which, acting like miniature hypodermic syringes can deliver a good dose of formic acid, the same chemical found in fire ants. If you accidently brush up against it with bare skin, a white rash will quickly appear. Ironically, its juice when prepared properly is a good remedy for treating nettle stings! High levels of vitamins and minerals are concentrated in the leaves and young nettle tops can be cooked and eaten like spinach or made into a nutritious and flavourful tea.
Racoons Procyon lotor
Racoons are readily observable in the area but it is advisable to enjoy them from a distance. As they can often be aggressive, particularly if they are escorting their young, we advise you not to approach them. The scientific name, lotor, means the washer. When living by water, raccoons have been seen holding their catch submerged before eating it. Racoon tracks are abundant on the causeway and easily identifiable. If there are moist patches, look for a print that looks like a small human hand.
Hooker's Evening Primrose Oenothera Elata ssp. hookeri
A member of the fuscia family, this tall (2-8ft) plant has showy bright yellow flowers. Some species only open their flowers in the evening but in this area the 2 in flowers can be seen open at all times of the day. Laterly rediscovered for its pharmaceutical properties, for centuries, Native American tribes ate the leaves and its roots as a food, as a painkiller and as an asthma medicine.The generic name is derived from oinos (wine) and thera (a hunt), an old Greek name as the roots were consumed, much like olives today as a prelude to a good glass of wine.
A Reed, a Rush or a Sedge?
With the lake now coming into view, notice the change in vegetation with the addition of the tall lakeside plants. A dominant plant is the Tulle. Roll one of these plants between your finger and thumb and feel the triangular construction. Can you feel the edges. Now you'll never forget what kind of plant it is, because..
Sedges have edges
and rushes are round
and reeds are hollow right down to the ground
These plants played a very important part in the lives of the indigenous people who lived in the area, the Chumash. Using them to build houses, weave baskets and to make all manner of mats and ornamental furnishings.
Pause just before mounting the bridge and notice that the lake is on both sides of the causeway connected by the culvert which runs steadily throughout the year
Why 'Skinny Bear' lake?
The lake has been called Oso Flaco - which means 'skinny bear' eversince 1769 when Portola's expedition passed through. The reason for this can be attributed to a fateful meal shared by the explorers. The group saw, shot and subsequent ate, a skinny bear they had seen on the shores of the lake. When the men awoke in the morning - two of them didn't, they were dead! The tale's bizarre ending seems to have been a result of the Chumash who had adopted a clever way of dealing with rogue wildlife. Their practice was to hang tainted meat which when consumed would cause the animals to sicken enough for them to be unable to hunt. With the inabilty to feed came the inevitable wasting that would have led to our 'skinny bear'. It would appear though that the bear's flesh had enough residual toxins to have also dispatched our ill fated explorers to a quicker demise.
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