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Poly Land Revisited: A Field Guide

A Thesis
Presented to the Faculty of
California Polytechnic State University
San Luis Obispo

In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree of
Master of Science in Biological Sciences

Danielle De Rome
March 1997

Poly Canyon is located in what ecologists refer to as cismontane California (that part west of the Sierra Nevada) in the California Floristic Province. It is nestled in the lower coastal foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains at the southern end of the South Coast Ranges. It is located west of Cuesta Pass at the northern end of the city of San Luis Obispo. It occupies 2.9 square miles (1,856 acres; 752 hectares), mostly the State lands of California Polytechnic State University and also the private lands of Serrano and Cuesta Ranches. The elevation ranges between 260 feet at the junction of Brizzolara Creek (the main waterway of Poly Canyon) with Stenner Creek and 1486 feet at the top of the ridge above the railroad tracks.

The Poly Canyon watershed is part of the San Luis Obispo Creek watershed. A watershed is all the land which collects water for a stream, river, or lake. Brizzoara Creek joins with Stenner Creek to flow into San Luis Obispo Creek. Brizzolara Creek is fed by springs, seeps, and runoff. It is an ephemeral stream, flowing constantly in winter, but only intermittently most summers.  The Canyon is most easily accessed by Poly Canyon Road from the Cal Poly Campus. Poly Canyon Road begins at Perimeter Road, opposite the Fisher Science building, between the dorms, the staff parking lot, and the Transportation yard.  Other ways to gain access are through the Cal Poly Horse Unit, along the railroad tracks (with careful attention for passing trains), or from the Los Padres National Forest along the dirt road leading from Cuesta Ridge West. It is recommended that individuals have partners and ample drinking water for their excursions in the Canyon. There are numerous footpaths and trails criss-crosing the Canyon.

If driving or riding in the canyon, please be aware of speed limits and restrictions regarding trails and roads. Common sense and respect for the needs of others go a long way toward promoting enjoyable experiences for all who use the Canyon.

The geographic scope of this field guide is the portion of Poly Canyon watershed above Cal Poly's main campus (the junction of Poly Canyon and Perimeter Roads), i.e., the more natural area of the watershed. Elevations range from 400 feet at the campus end of Poly Canyon Road to 1486 feet at the ridge. The area totals approximately two square miles (1,256 acres; 509 hectacres), by planimeter.