A California jounral, Part I: Morro Bay

August 13, Saturday:  Leaving from Phoenix by car in about an hour for California.  Goal is to reach Monrovia by nightfall.  Plan to spend time in Moro Bay, Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo.  Also shooting for a visit to the Hearst Mansion and a one-night camp out on Santa Cruz Island, the largest of the Channel Islands south of Santa Barbara.  Hope to close out the 18-day trip hiking n Sequoia and King’s National Parks . . . . We departed at 1 o’clock but after 47 miles turned back at Wintersburg Road.   Car troubles.  The undercover shield in front of the 2006 Honda Civic began to disintegrate west of Avondale.  After a while the plastic shield scraped along the pavement making a terrible screeching noise.  Stopped three times to cut parts of it away with the knife on my Leatherman.  Finally, fearing the whole fender might break loose — even after trying to hold it together with duck tape, we did a U-turn and returned home.  We’ll reload into Nebra’s 2002 Prius and give it another go early tomorrow, driving straight through to Moro Bay.  Later at home watching the George Clooney film, “The American,” his character stopped alongside the road to kick at his Italian car when the cowling in front came loose.  It was not exactly the same as the Honda but close enough to make the scene seem eerie.

Morro Rock from the balcony of our motel room

August 14, Sunday:  Morro Bay.  Reached here a bit after 7 tonight.  Driving time was 9 hours but we stopped five times along the way.  That turned the length into almost 12 hours.  Our longest stop was in picturesque Fillmore, a farming community in the bustling Santa Clara Valley along California 126.  You would never guess a tragic flood swept through here in 1928 when the St. Francis Dam broke killing 450. The valley is wonderland of agriculture:  citrus and avocado groves, truck farming, nurseries.  All just west of Six Flags Magic Mountain theme park.  At Ventura, temps hit 68, a far cry from the 108 at Palm Springs a few hours earlier.  Later between Solvang and Santa Maria, another agricultural area emerged:  mile after mile of neatly layed out vineyards along the east side of 101 highway.  From our third-floor room in the motel at Morro Bay I can see only a glimpse of the ocean but there is a splendid view of Moro Rock along the bay.  Too tired to even eat supper.

August 15, Monday:  Morro Bay. Sunny and cool, high 61 F.  Drove north 30 miles in early afternoon to take a tour of the Hearst Castle, high on a mountain above kelp-clogged San Simeon Bay.   It was the large and ornate western home of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, the Rupert Murdoch of the early 20th Century.  Hearst died in 1951, and the Castle is now operated by the state of California.  We took the sold-out tour of the Upstairs Suites, which included the library.  Disappointing.  After you’ve seen one bedroom,  you’ve seen them all, and the run-through of the large library was uninformative and too short.  A wasted $25 in my opinion.  This evening we suppered at Shawn’s on Main.  This is the birthday of Nebra’s father, Fred, who died in 1999, and we aimed to make a memorial of the meal.  He would’ve been 81 today.  A native of Omaha, Fred would’ve liked our idea of having steak and beer in his honor.  The best we could to do was “Beef Milanese,” and an ale, Golden Wheat, brewed in Santa Barbara.  The waitress shot a photo of us to officially memorialize the occasion.  We did a short walk through downtown streets in the dark afterward.   Morro Bay, to our surprise, is deadsville.  Just about everything shuts down at 9 o’clock.  We stopped at a liquor store to buy an LA Times.  I mentioned to the clerk how early the town turned to a graveyard.  “And this is California!” I exclaimed.  The clerk who’d worked at a liquor store in LA said simply, “This isn’t a part of California.”

August 16, Tuesday:  Morro Bay.   Cool all day, in the 60s.  That’s about 45 degrees less than in Phoenix today.   Clouds so low they shrouded the tops of the three 570-foot smokestacks at the Dynegy Power Plant on the north.  Awakened by the incessant squawking of a Western gull on the roof.  Birds are everywhere — terns, pelicans, gulls — but few people astir, even along the waterfront restaurants and boutiques on Embarcadero.  A merchant told Nebra, “This is the start of our quiet season.”   The school term began this week.   Morro Bay Boulevarde slopes gently down to the harbor where dozens of modest boats are docked.  I counted 70 others moored in the bay.  On the other side of the water are gray sand dunes and Morro Bay State Park, a spit of land and a bird-watcher paradise.  The Boulevarde itself would not be spectacular if not for the eucalyptus trees lining the street and lighting it up with their red, orange and pinkish flowers.  Not long ago, locals voted for what they thought was the city’s tree, and strangely it was not the red eucalyptus but the Monterey pine.   The street’s highlight for me was seeing the old-time theater marquee at the Bay lit up at night where “The Help” is showing.   Business must be good, even in this down economy, for almost every store has a tenant.  Just no customers at this point in the season.  In late afternoon, we hiked to the summit of Black Mountain.  The waitress at Shawn’s on Main wrote directions for us.  It’s only 665 feet above the sea but has stunning vistas of the town, she said.   You reach it by driving out on South Main and wiggling through the golf course until you reach a small parking lot on the side of the hill.  It looked to us like the clouds were breaking up at last, so we hastened up the mostly-dirt path, only a quarter mile to the top.  But our luck was bad, and the vista was obliterated by even more clouds moving in with a mist.  Another time.  We ate in tonight.  Nebra got a salad at Albertson’s, and I grabbed a footlong at Subway.  Tomorrow is moving day, to Pismo Beach, a short distance to the south.

August 17, Wednesday:  Morro Bay.  Cloudy, cool.  Checked out of the Ascot Suites before noon.  We leave having not seen sunlight since Monday.  But the cool air has been wonderful.

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