On January 12, I hiked in the Coon Creek area of Montana de Oro State Park with my wife, Virginia, and 11 year old daughter, Kinley. I'd been wanting to get back into that area for a while as there was a prescribed burn there a few months ago and the trail has only recently been re-opened.

If you have never hiked in an area that has recently burned, it can be initially somewhat shocking. Since the fire in Coon Creek was very recent, portions the area looked almost completely charred and blackened. However, fire is a natural (and integral) part of the ecosystem in our coastal areas. Virtually all plants in our coastal eco-ystsems have eveolved with fire and some plants even need fire in order to reproduce. It was amazing for me to see, only a few weeks after the fire, that already some of the sage brush and willow trees that were 100% burned had started the process of sending out new growth.

It is also quite common for there to be tremendous wildflower displays in the year or two after a fire in our coastal ecosystems. I'm looking forward to returning to Coon Creek in the late spring to see this display.

After hiking up Coon Creek, we returned to the trailhead and ventured out onto the Point Buchon Trail, which gave us access to a spectacular sinkhole that has collapsed over a sea cave as well as Coon Creek Beach. Along the way we saw a pair of American Kestrels (a small falcon) by the path. We also saw multiple pods of grey whales just off Point Buchon. Some of the whales were only a bit past the surfline and we could see their backs clearly as they surfaced.

What a day! We witnessed fire ecology close up, hiked to a beautiful beach and saw some great wildlife. SLO County is truly a great place for the outdoors lover.

Respectfully submitted by John Flaherty, owner of Central Coast Outdoors.