How is it that staring at a rock is so good for the soul?

One of my favorite movie scenes is from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  In this Spielberg classic, Richard Dreyfuss begins obsessively potato sculpting the 5,114 foot Devil’s Tower.

I read somewhere that one reason we are fascinated with rocks, large and small, is that they serve as the memory for our planet, holding the fossil records that tell us about the journey of time.

Maybe that’s why when walking around Morro Rock, a 24-million year old volcanic plug, I felt like speaking in hushed tones.

Morro Rock, Morrow Bay, CA

The prehistory of Morro Bay connects to the Opispeño Chumash settlements near the mouth of Morro Creek dating from as early as the Millingstone Horizon (6500 to 1500 B.C.).

Face in the Morro Rock

Morro Rock is one of  “Nine Sisters,” extinct volcanic peaks stretching in a nearly 12-mile straight line from Morro Bay to San Luis Obispo.

For centuries this has been the site of countless Native American sacred rituals, and although no longer as openly accessible to the Native Peoples, it is still considered important in the cultural lives of the local Chumash.

Ledge on Morro Rock

Morro Rock was designated a California Registered Landmark in 1968, and is now a bird sanctuary for the Peregrine Falcon. I didn’t happen to see a Falcon, but apparently the gulls feel an affinity for the 581-foot monolith–as do I!


Morro Bay sits approximately mid-point between Los Angeles and San Francisco, making it the perfect location for a weekend with my Bay Area cousin and her husband.

Wineries, wildlife sanctuaries and some of the most beautiful vista points along the rocky coastline–perfect for photo shoots and picnics–were investigated for a family reunion scheduled for June.

rocky face of Morro Bay Rock

Fresh water from the mouth of Los Osos Creek opens out into the saltwater creating an estuary that is both a national and state preserve, supporting the most significant wetland system on California’s Central Coast.

View of Morro Rock across wetlands

As much as we tried, we still weren’t able to view all 800  acres of wetland, nor identify the more than 250 species of land, sea, and shorebirds that call Morro Bay home.

And we only scratched the surface of  botanical wonders like the Los Osos Oaks State Reserve with 800 year-old Coast Live Oaks…

Oak at Los Osos Oaks State Reserve

But remember–we’re coming back in June. I’ve already scoped out the areas I want to revisit more closely!

Morro Bay is only about three hours from Los Angeles. It’s going to be my new de-stressify zone.  I think you can begin to see why!

Sunset over Morro Bay


I highly recommend reading THIS ARTICLE which includes a wealth of information about Indigenous Religious Traditions associated with the history of Morro Rock. It comes via a course taught in the Religion Department at Colorado College by Bruce Coriell, the College Chaplain. The accompanying detail is very easy to digest and provides wonderfully rich information for anyone interested in knowing more than I can share in a typical blog post. 

62 thoughts on “How is it that staring at a rock is so good for the soul?

    1. I sure did! Wow! I’ll be sharing more from there, too. The only “sad” thing was that the wildflowers just weren’t blooming! No rain, no poppies! Or just a few. But I’ll tell you that as many times as we’ve driven through Morro Bay, I did NOT know that Montana de Oro was there until this trip. I can’t believe we’ve missed it all these years. That’s definitely where I’m going back in June! The views from the bluffs are not to be missed! 🙂

    1. I’m sure you’re right…there must be many stories told around that beautiful rock! 🙂 We have always had lunch in Morro on our way to our family in either Big Sur or San Francisco. But I think I want to get everyone to come and meet in Morro Bay and make that OUR family’s second home, too!! It’s a great place.

  1. Mike Johnson

    My picture of this “rock” is my wallpaper for all e devices – that’s how I pause to enjoy life, breathe lighter!! Thank you for the in depth discussion, I will share with my Morro Bay mentors.

    1. Hi Mike! Thanks so much for sharing with me! You have obviously absorbed some of ‘magic’ of the Rock and so good for you for keeping the photo so readily available! I may do the same thing…it’s a great symbol of strength and endurance that leads to wonderful life object lessons! I want to do more reading about the interests of the Chumash people and their ties to the Rock. The articles I read were a little confusing to me because I wasn’t necessarily reading with chronological history. Your mentors may be very well-versed in this…if you happen to know more, or learn something along the way, do let me know. I’m doing some research, too, but it’s often hard to get “just the facts, ma’am.” It’s a sensitive topic.

      So glad to hear that C is safe…we were concerned!

  2. This post and that article were very interesting, Debra. I can’t see how a compromise will ever be reached. Declaring it off-limits, though, doesn’t quite sit right with me. Surely there’s a way to allow Native Americans access to a small part of the rock for their rites without disturbing the falcons or causing a stampede of people rushing to the summit. I certainly hope so, anyway. Thanks, Debra, for another great post.

    1. I agree with you, John, about the opportunities for the local Native Americans to have access to Morro Rock without such dire restrictions. I haven’t done extensive reading on the subject–not even close–but I picked up on some kind of inter-tribal conflict that may also have created a “halt” to particular ceremonial activities. I would really like to know more, and may see what I can learn. I think all over the country, probably the world, we are in such a time of struggle between environmental concerns and “people needs” and I find the challenges really interesting. I love it when I read of individuals or people in leadership with the ability to keep both in reasonable balance. I don’t see it acted out too often, but when I do, I know it’s possible! 🙂

  3. Hi Debra,

    Thais a great post.However much we may detest the idea, change becomes inevitable. What you have written about is the visible stress of the change that is occurring. The great part is that you hold the awareness of the stress and that itself would allow for optimal way to go forward.



    1. Shakti, Thank you so very much for this comment. I think you’ve said best what it is I so often feel, yet struggle in communicating. You’re so right. I feel that we in California have been given a great gift in natural beauty, and because of supporting a very large population we do place a lot of stress on the environment. It’s going to take a toll, but we at minimum need to appreciate what we have, and do what we can to care for it. I really appreciate your stopping by and leaving such a thoughtful message. Debra

    1. I love to think about the people that lived somewhere before me, and what they may have contributed; perhaps left behind for me to learn. It also makes me realize my own responsibility to do the same for future generations! 🙂

  4. The day we saw the Morro Rock was an interesting day. We were staying in Paso Robles, and it was the transition day to work our way back to Santa Barbara for our flight. I recall going from Paso to Hurst Castle, to a nearby beach for the seals, and then stops in Cambria (lunch), Cayucos, Morro, Pismo Beach (for sunset and dinner), before sleeping in Santa Maria after a full day. Having an afternoon flight gave a chance to stroll through Solvang as well before getting back to Santa Barbara.

    1. Oh you got to do the whole she-bang, Frank! Great trip!! We did go into Paso Robles, of course stopping at several of the wineries along the way! 🙂 You can easily picture how much there is to do…Cambria and San Simeon are two of our favorites, too. I’ve been to Hearst Castle a dozen times over my lifetime, but I think in June we’re going to take the garden tour. If I could get my kids to move with me, we’d live up that way! 🙂 I’m not moving further from my grandchildren. LOL!

      1. … and our trip was after 3 days of wine tasting in Paso! (To bad you didn’t know that I have about three posts about tasting in Paso.

        Meanwhile, we did have one full day … and that was our first trip to that area.

  5. So, it is sort of like the one off Oceanside, Oregon.

    Lewis & Clark wrote about those in their journals.

    This looks like the perfect place to destressify, Debra. I love that word. I think I will steal it. Like you, I need to get out in nature to destress. I love to wander in the woods.

    1. Thank you so much for the links, Andra! I would love to explore further up the coast. It seems that every time I round the corner there is somewhere else I want to go and explore. I think that’s built into each of us!! I think de-stressify needs to be in our vocabulary. I don’t know that it is actually one of Glinda’s hybridized words in ‘Wicked,’ but that’s how I associated it. Either she really said it, or it just fits! 🙂

  6. What a great post, Debra – landscape, wildlife, history, ritual and even controversy in one package. I enjoyed both your post and the article you linked to and shall look forward to future visits with keen anticipation.

    1. I’m glad I have those with whom to share my enthusiasm, Perpetua. I have been through the town of Morro Bay for decades–on my way to somewhere else! This trip was so lovely because we really saw it, almost for the first time! I have lots to share…thank you for being my “almost captive” audience! LOL!

  7. thanks for taking us along debra … it looks like a sacred place … i look forward to your return to learn more … those big volcanic rocks seem to anchor us so deeply into the earth … very relaxing!

    1. I think we were so exhausted from a busy schedule that upon arriving at Morro Bay I needed very badly to let down. And then to have the beauty of Morro Bay and the permanence of Morro Rock to stare at–you could see it from wherever we were standing at any given time–it became a symbol for something deeply rooted and solid, quite the contrast from our hurried, frantic activity level. I have made it a symbol to hold onto and to use as a quieting place, whether I’m there or not! I know you understand that concept! Fits well with some of the concepts in yoga, doesn’t it? oxo

      1. exactly debra … the yoga nidra training i did emphasised the need for practitioners to find that safe secure solid place that they can picture/feel at the start of each practice, so that if they get into any tricky thoughts/memories/feelings they can always reference the deeply rooted safe place, and not feel overwhelmed ..

  8. This is the kind of post that gets my finger itching to google about and learn more – and to visit in person. How exciting it must be to explore Morro Bay! It gives one a sense of permanence to think of rocks as memory keepers. I need to share you post with Tom, who loves rocks beyond comprehension, spiriting them away in suitcases when he thinks I’m not looking. tee hee A most wonderful post, Debra, and I beg your forgiveness for being rather erratic in my reading these days.

    1. Hi Penny. I now want to know what Tom does with the rocks he spirits away! Do they end up in your garden? There is something very compelling about some of the pretty ones I see when I’m on a nature walk of sorts, and it is tempting to bring them home with me! Because we have always traveled through Morro Bay on our way to another more northern city I hadn’t honestly observed how relatively easy it is for us to make that trip. We are just at three hours south, making this a lovely more frequent destination. And please don’t think a thing about any “erratic reading” practices, Penny. I’m really having my own trouble with time! I frequently think that if friends and family knew how much time I actually devote to blogging they’d be shocked…and at that, I can only do so much! I completely understand your thoughts here. oxo

      1. Most of them end up in the garden, Debra, though he does try to sneak them into the general decorating. Sometimes, just to humor him and annoy me, friends bring rocks over and put them in the garden just to see if we notice. It’s a good thing those rocks have memories, tee hee.

    1. I love sunsets, Marie. We have so many trees in and around my home that I can’t usually “see” the sunset. When I can be at the coast and really enjoy one, that’s what I do…I linger over it! 🙂

  9. Alice

    Not sure what it is about rocks. I love to find them and I love to put them in a garden, and I love to sit on the big ones! I think of Madeleine L’Engle’s ‘star-gazing rock’ and:
    David McCord’s “This Is My Rock”

    This is my rock,
    And here I run
    To steal the secret of the sun;

    This is my rock,
    And here come I
    Before the night has swept the sky;

    This is my rock,
    This is the place
    I meet the evening face to face.

    1. Oh, Alice! I’ve never heard this beautiful poem before. I love it! Thank you for sharing it. I must make a copy of it to enjoy again and again. I don’t think I’ve taken advantage of finding a sitting rock, and that could be my next quest! Thank you…you’ve given me a smile. 🙂

  10. Acceptance of how wonderful nature (the non-human world) is opens the door to so much more, but only for those who have decided that profit is not the only god. Staring at a rock is good – staring at the birds, etc, flying past the window is better 😉 They are all a part of our natural world and deserve our love and respect!

  11. I certainly enjoy rocks in all kinds of forms and shapes. Haven’t been to Morro Rock, though, but it looks like a great place. No wonder it’s been a sacred place for Native Americans. Great pictures, Debra.

    1. California’s central coast is a photographer’s bonanza, Otto. My attempts to capture what we experienced fell a bit short of what I hope I will be able to shoot in the future. Traveling with other people I wasn’t quite as patient with my camera as I will be when we go back in June.

      I’ll soon be sharing some photos from the wine country as well as along Hwy. 1, the curving, rocky beaches, with gorgeous panoramic ocean views. I know you would simply love this part of the state. It’s a photographer’s ideal! Thank you for stopping by and enjoying Morro Rock with me. It’s very special!

    1. I think from time to time we could even go to Morro Bay for a Saturday lunch, Meg. It’s only three hours from home, and I don’t know why we haven’t done that before. So perhaps there will be many more posts about this beautiful area. I seem to have found myself identifying with it more than I would predicted! Thank you for showing interest…that spurs me on. 🙂

  12. Rocks have always had an allure for me as well.. it’s their satisfying solid heft in the hand, the feeling of being grounded and connected to the earth. What beautiful photos, Deb.. am I the only one who sees a face in profile in your second photograph? How sad they cannot access a rock that was once theirs. I can see why you’d choose this site for a reunion.. it’s just stunning! xx

    1. Barbara, you are the first one to mention the face!! I saw it, too, and deliberately didn’t mention it because I was curious to see if it would be detected. I think the angle of the rock looks very much like the profile of a man and I have determined it to be a Native American– spirit of the people who have loved the Rock and still consider it sacred. I’m so glad you saw it, too! 🙂

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  14. Tom McCubbin

    I’ve been visiting SLO County for many years. Never get tired of the sights and wonders. Thanks for posting!

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