HUMAN IMPACTS ON THE NATURE OF THE CANYON
It is possible that prehistoric people, from whom
the Chumash descended, inhabited the local area and
used Poly Canyon as long as 9,000 years ago. The Chumash
subsisted primarily on marine organisms, but made
annual migrations inland to forage on seasonal foods,
primarily seeds. The seeds, such as acorns, chia,
and islay, were collected and ground, using bedrock
mortars and pestles, or stored whole. As mentioned,
the Chumash may have used fire for hunting and agricultural
development, but none has been documented in the Canyon.
Chumash probably did not have any large living site
in the Canyon as they would have needed more flat
areas. There are very few large, flat rock outcrops
in the vicinity of water to be used for bedrock mortars.
time of Spanish exploration lasted from the late 1500s
until the early 1700s, and Mission San Luis Obispo
de Tolosa was founded in 1772. With local settling
of the Spanish, the first crops were planted, and
herds of cattle, sheep, and horses were brought. When
California became a Mexican territory in 1822, mission
lands were divided into cattle ranches using natural
features for boundaries. Rancho Potrero de San Luis
Obispo (Figure 12) bordered on the west with Rancho
el Chorro and, on the southeast, it roughly followed
the Arroyo del Potrero. It was given to Juan Alvarado
and María Concepción Borondo in 1842. The creek was
later named Brizzolara Creek, after Bartolo Brizzolara,
a prominent local. The name has been recorded as "Brizziolari"
Creek on some government documents such as U.S.G.S.
soils maps. The land passed through several ownerships
and eventually to Sylvia and Dorothy Peterson. The
Petersons grazed cattle on their ranch. Their houses,
which stand just northeast of the Botanic Garden,
are still used.
statehood and the Gold Rush came in 1848 and, with
them, a local expansion of cattle and horse ranching.
There is an incipient, abandoned mine in Poly Canyon,
doubtfully productive (at least for precious metals).
San Luis Obispo was organized into a town in 1856.
The stagecoach line through San Luis Obispo from Los
Angeles to San Francisco was completed in 1861. Cattle
ranching declined with the drought of 1862-1864. Many
ranchers were forced to sell off portions of their
land, often to dairy farmers who were beginning to
prosper. In 1876 San Luis Obispo was officially recognized
as a city, and the Pacific Railroad line over Cuesta
Grade was completed.
Poly was established in 1901. Between 1901 and 1903,
Johnson Ranch, a cattle ranch, was purchased by the
College. This brought into State ownership the road
winding through the Canyon (now "Poly Canyon Road"),
land halfway up the Canyon, and the surrounding hills.
The area was also called "Curlew" Canyon from about
1930 to 1935 after a caretaker of Johnson ranch. Alfalfa
and poultry were raised just below the Canyon. Hogs
were penned near the Canyon entrance and were allowed
to forage throughout the Canyon. From 1946 to 1950,
the University razed all the Johnson Ranch structures.
the southeastern border of what was the Peterson Ranch
and the northern border of what is now the Botanic
Garden, Cuesta Ranch (the "Miossi lease" on agricultural
maps) was a Mexican land grant whose original owners
were unable to afford its upkeep. In the 1870s it
was homesteaded and eventually purchased by the Goldtrees.
In 1876 they built a house and established a dairy
farm on the west-facing slope where the cypress grove
is (east of the Peterson Ranch houses). In 1902 Frank
Tate bought the ranch, then in 1917 sold it to Ben
Miossi. Mr. Miossi built a new house on the "front"
of the property (in Cuesta Canyon) and, around the
time of World War II, converted to cattle ranching.
The old Cuesta Ranch structures in Poly Canyon were
slowly taken apart by vandals and by Mr. Miossi, who
used what materials he could for his new ranch. The
current owner, Harold Miossi, was born on the property
and continues cattle ranching today.
1948, Dr. Robert F. Hoover proposed establishing a
native botanic garden for use by botany and ornamental
horticulture classes. Sixty-five acres south of the
fence line with the Peterson Ranch were acquired in
1955 for this purpose. The area includes western and
eastern slopes of Poly Canyon extending to the west,
and north-northeast-facing slopes (refer back to Figure
1). Numerous non-native specimens were eventually
planted in the botanic garden, against Dr. Hoover's
the Canyon is best known as Poly Canyon and it includes
lands belonging to both the State of California and
the Miossi and Serrano Ranches. (The Serrano Ranch
runs along the western fringe of the Canyon.) The
Botanic Garden is under the care of the Biology Department,
and classes such as Field Botany use it regularly
for educational purposes. Other parts of the Canyon
are also used frequently by classes in the Biology
Department. Plant and animal identification and natural
history walks are a regular part of Canyon life, and
species inventories have been the subject of many
senior projects and special problems. Numerous studies
on plant community structure and the relationships
among plants and animals are performed, particularly
in the "Ecological Study Area" on the southwest-facing
slope just west of the Creek above the cattle yard.
Every spring, jars and long-handled nets identify
entomology students on the hunt for elusive insects
for their class collections.
ten-acre Design Village was purchased by the College
in 1950-52 from Sylvia and Dorothy Peterson. It is
located just southwest of the Peterson Ranch house.
The Architecture Department has used this area, also
called "Design Village," for the construction of several
experimental student projects. (refer back to Figure
Animal Science Department uses the Canyon mostly (95%)
for grazing beef cattle and occasionally for grazing
horses and calving. Grazing lands are seeded with
departments make use of numerous natural features
in the Canyon. Classes such as Introduction to Soils,
Soil Morphology, Water Quality, Range Management,
Geology, and Recreation Administration's Environmental
Education use the Canyon regularly. These departments
have had numerous students work on senior projects
and/or special problems in the Canyon. During the
annual open house (Poly Royal), the Recreation Administration
Department has hosted environmental education programs
for fourth and fifth graders in the Canyon.
landfill (refer back to Figure 1) has not been used
for dumping waste products since the mid-1970s. Redrock,
used in surfacing Cal Poly roads and corrals is extracted
from the landfill, and fill dirt, such as sediments
accumulated after floods, are put into the site. The
County of San Luis Obispo, in conjunction with the
Environmental Health and Safety Department on campus,
checks the landfill for leakage of old waste products
and other environmental hazards on an annual basis.
aside, the Canyon is used daily. Students, staff,
faculty, local residents, and visitors stroll, hike,
jog, ride horses, mountain bike, fly kites, picnic,
and birdwatch in the Canyon. Figure13 shows the trails
in Poly Canyon.