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Closed Sand Dune Areas

Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes

Devil's Slide Guadalupe Dunes
Devil's Slide is on the far right. The Guadalupe Dunes are closed to vehicles.


California's Central Coast

Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Preserve sits at the southern end of the vast 18-mile-long dune field that begins near Pismo Beach. The Preserve is located between Pismo (Oceano) Dunes State Vehicle Recreation Area in San Luis Obispo County and Point Sal State Beach in northern Santa Barbara County. The dunes complex has also been designated as part of a National Natural Landmark (NNL) by the Department of Interior (National Park Service).

The south end of the dune complex is bordered by Mussel Rock, a 450-foot promontory jutting out into the sea. The area by Mussel Rock is also known as the Mussel Rock Dunes. 

Managed By

  • State and County park property
  • National Wildlife Refuge (NPS)


The Gaudalupe-Nipomo dune complex covers about 18 square miles (north and south of the Santa Maria River)

Date of Closure:  1982

Type of Closure: Permanent

Reason for Closure

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service created the 2,553-acre Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge

Historic Off-Highway Vehicle Use

Devil's Slide - 1971 Four Wheeler Magazine
Devil's Slide - 1971 Four Wheeler Magazine

GaudalupeHillClimb-1.jpg (49876 bytes)

The photos above are used with permission from Gerard Forgnone. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited.

Gaudalupe Dunes (south of Pismo Beach) - Devils Slide   Gaudalupe Dunes (south of Pismo Beach) - Devils Slide
Devil's Slide - Photos provided with permission from the Lee Family.

Other information: 

Shooting, camping, horses, dogs, and off-road vehicles are not allowed in the dune preserve.

The Rancho Guadalupe Dunes are notable as the backdrop for Cecil B. DeMille's 1923 production of The Ten Commandments, for which the legendary director built massive sets and brought a cast of literally thousands to this sea of sand. Once filming finished, DeMille buried the sets in the dunes (you can see remnants of them at the Dunes Center in Guadalupe).

Endangered or Threatened Species:

The refuge was established to protect breeding habitat for the endangered California least tern and the threatened western snowy plover. The refuge also provides habitat for other endangered species, including the California tiger salamander (recently listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act), California red-legged frog, Morro blue butterfly, shoulder band dune snail, and 16 rare or endangered plant species.

GaudelupeDunes-6.jpg (57537 bytes)   GaudelupeDunes-5.jpg (55359 bytes)   GaudelupeDunes-8.jpg (43037 bytes)


Other Photos:

Rancho Gaudelupe Dunes Preserve - Looking south   Rancho Gaudelupe Dunes Preserve   Rancho Gaudelupe Dunes Preserve   Rancho Gaudelupe Dunes Preserve - Looking north

Rancho Gaudelupe Dunes Preserve   Gaudelupe Dunes - Sand Mine just outside the preserve

History of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes

Before 1982, you could ride OHVs from Oceano to Devil's Slide.

History of Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge
Southern Pacific Railroad line completed from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

1920-30 European beach grass introduced to keep sand from blowing onto railroad tracks.

1934 A portion of Pismo Dunes set aside as a State Beach including the 500-acre Dune Preserve.

1938 Mobil Corporation acquires 2,550 acres of Guadalupe Dunes.

1948 Oil discovered in Guadalupe Dunes.

1956 California State Parks proposes establishment of great State Park, extending from Point Sal to Pismo Beach.

1959 State Parks recreation survey rates Nipomo Dunes Complex high on places in need of protection.

1962-63 PG&E proposes construction of nuclear power plant on dunes near Oso Flaco.

1964 PG&E purchases 1,121 acres in Nipomo Dunes and begins planning for the development of a nuclear power plant.

1966 Opposition to development of sand mine industry.

1969 Santa Barbara County Parks Department acquires 26 acres of lands south of Santa Maria River and designates it “Rancho Guadalupe County Park.”

1971 Off-Highway Vehicle Division established – funded with fees collected from issuance of off-highway vehicle licenses.

1972 Passage of California Coastal Zone Conservation Act and creation of California Coastal Commission to provide for orderly, long-range conservation, use and management of the resources of the coastal zone.

1973 Gordon Sand Company obtains permit for sand mining.

1976 California Coastal Act mandates all public agencies to protect rare and sensitive habitats of plants and animals where they are known to occur.

1976 California Department of Fish and Game study shows that trampling of marsh vegetation by cattle, use of marsh and riparian vegetation for feed and eutrophication of runoff waters by waste products have all led to a general decline in habitat quality of Santa Maria River lowlands. Same report refers to water quality problems at Oso Flaco Lake associated with fertilizer and pesticide runoff.

1976 California Department of Fish and Game study declares Santa Maria River lowlands one of the most important wetlands in the state in need of protection.

1980 U.S. Fish and Wildlife report describes the Nipomo Dune Complex as “the most unique and fragile ecosystem in the State of California” and ranks it #1 on a list of 49 habitats in need of protection.

1980 U.S. Secretary of Interior designates Nipomo Dunes as a National Landmark.

1982 Coastal Commission offers The Nature Conservancy easements on Leroy Trust property adjacent to Santa Maria River; one for public access and one for habitat protection.

1983 Pismo Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area established; Oso Flaco Lake closed to off-road vehicles; State Parks signs agreement with Unocal to manage 280-acre parcel in Callender Dunes area as buffer zone. West Main Street entrance to the Mussel Rock Dunes closed to off-road vehicles; regulated through staffed guard station funded by Santa Barbara County with funds from Shell Oil conditional use permit.

1984 Santa Barbara County Local Coastal Plan adopted. San Luis Obispo County Local Coastal Plan adopted. OHVs prohibited except for the fenced Pismo Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. Formation of People for Nipomo Dunes National Seashore. The Nature Conservancy prepares a habitat protection plan for the Guadalupe Dunes.

1986 Coastal Conservancy approves Phase I of the Nipomo Dunes Enhancement Program including disbursement of $715,000 to The Nature Conservancy for acquisition of 567 acres of coastal dune habitat adjacent to wetlands of the Santa Maria River mouth. Release of funds for this acquisition contingent upon development of management agreement between The Nature Conservancy and Santa Barbara County that called for:
   1. A statement establishing the Santa Maria Valley property as a wildlife and recreation preserve, permitting only those uses that will be appropriate to maintaining sensitive resources on the property.
   2. An agreement to adequately assure the continuation of the manned gate at the entrance of West Main Street, or some alternative to the manned gate, in part to prevent off-road vehicle use of the subject property.
   3. An outline of a resource inventory to be conducted on the subject property to identify sensitive resources, including wetlands and endangered and/or rare plant and wildlife species and to develop a plan to protect and enhance such species.
   4. Acceptance of responsibility to implement Phase I of the Nipomo Dunes Enhancement Program, which may include a program of revegetation and other improvements to benefit sensitive dune wetland resources.
   5. A plan for controlled access to allow passive recreational use consistent with the protection of sensitive resources as identified in the above-described inventory.

1987 Mussel Rock Dunes parcel acquired by The Nature Conservancy including property leased to Gordon Sand.

1988 California Wildlife, Coastal, and Park Land Conservation Act (Proposition 70) passes providing the Coastal Conservancy with up to $10,000,000 to acquire lands within the Nipomo Dunes Complex, including $750,000 for restoration and public access development The Nature Conservancy and Santa Barbara County enter into agreement whereby Santa Barbara County purchases property from The Nature Conservancy and leases it back to TNC to manage under terms of an approved agreement between TNC and Santa Barbara County. Unocal reports first incidence of odors and oil on the beach in the Guadalupe Dunes.

1989 State Coastal Conservancy approves Phase II of Nipomo Dunes Enhancement Program, acquires 2,550 acres of Guadalupe Dunes from Mobil Foundation, and provides Management Plan which will define the restoration, access and management goals for that property and others within the Nipomo Dunes Preserve.

1991 Management Plan for the Nipomo Dunes Preserve approved by State Coastal Commission, State Coastal Conservancy, Santa Barbara County, San Luis Obispo County. The Nature Conservancy enters into a Concession Agreement with OHV Division of State Parks for management of Oso Flaco Lake Natural Area. The Nature Conservancy secures grant from Coastal Conservancy for visitor center and other access improvements.

1992 The Nature Conservancy begins implementing approved management plan including fee collection system, restriction on dogs and horses. Santa Barbara County Supervisors rescind entrance fees at the West Main Street gate three months later.

1993 The Nature Conservancy conducts first Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes docent training course.

1997 The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center established as non-profit center; takes over visitor center and educational programs from The Nature Conservancy. The Nature Conservancy approves 2,550 acres of the Mobil Coastal Preserve to be transferred to FWS.

1999 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued first in series of planning updates to solicit public input into establishment of a national wildlife refuge (NWR) of the Central Coast.

2000 Final comments on proposed Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge (GNDNWR). In August GNDNWR is established. In December there is a dedication ceremony for the visitor center and the new refuge.

2001 Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM) signs lease agreement to manage Rancho Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes County Park as a preserve. UNOCAL finishes clean-up/restoration on 5X site. Coastal Conservancy acts on two offers to dedicate conservation easements on 6000 acres of Leroy Trust land in former Guadalupe Oil Field.

2002 Unocal acquires former oil field from LeRoy Trust and begins effort to establish conservation easement over entire 2,700 acres.


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