Plan A for the 4 day weekend: beach side site reserved at Clear Lake for perfect kayaking. Plan B after the first wave of storms closed down the park last weekend: reserve any site available anywhere, just to have somewhere to go. Plan C: hookup site opens up at Morro Bay and we snag it! Plan D upon arriving there in the middle of an evacuation: the parking lot place up the road that happened to be taking in stranded campers. Get it? Strand! (I may still be punchy after a 7 hour terrifying drive home in dumping rain)
Ok, so this weekend did not go the way we planned, and we had planned several versions of it. The thing is, even though the entire California coast was due to get pummeled by some “catastrophic” storm, we weren’t going to be thwarted. Sure, all the news and weather reports indicated there was going to be a whopper of a system moving in, but we screamed, “No way! We have episodes of “Lost” we need to binge watch! And we can’t possibly stay home for four straight days!” So we talked ourselves into thinking Morro Bay wasn’t going to get hit as bad as Southern Ca, and how bad could it really be anyway?
Friday really wasn’t all that intense in terms of rain, but it was quite windy. I could definitely feel Bruce getting blown around, but the MDX AWD system handles brilliantly. And there was never a single time I felt Dory sway. Aerodynamics matter, people! We took Highway 25 from Gilroy based on a Google Maps suggestion and that turned out to be a very good thing. Apparently, Highway 101 closed for a while, due to flooding. But we ignorantly carried on in a cell service dead zone until we were practically there. When we got to the road to the park, we saw immediately that it was under at least a foot of water and very closed. So we went around to the other entrance where we were greeted by another road closure, plus police. Apparently, there were downed trees and power lines in the Morro Bay campground and we were going to need to leave the area. One very helpful police officer told us that Morro Strand was still open and might have sites for evacuees. This was around maybe 6pm, so we were feeling a little anxious.
I doubt that the poor state park ranger at Morro Strand had ever needed to do so much, to accommodate so many, so quickly. She was awesome, but also clearly frazzled. She set us up with a place near the entrance that was basically a really big parking space. And that worked just fine because Dory is totally self contained and has a propane heater. Once the curtains were closed, the only thing we noticed was some gentle shaking from the wind.
Saturday we were able to move to a site with hookups and that meant we could run the microwave for hot chocolate and take hot showers for as long as we wanted. Pretty much all we did that day was watch downloaded TV, stare at the rain through the windows, and talk about how happy we were not to be in a tent.
Sunday we managed to get tickets to a tour of the art at Hearst Castle. That is well worth it! We were in a group of 8 and got lots of fascinating stories about the pieces and how they came to be there. It’s lucky that Richard and I have avoided being obscenely wealthy, because it seems to do something to your mind. The sheer number of recovered European, centuries old, works of art is mind boggling. The tour guide told us that Julia Morgan, architect and collaborator with William Randolph Hearst, had to give the order to cease acquiring more pieces because their warehouses had simply run out of room. One of the highlights for me was a huge painting hung in one of the master bedrooms. From any standing position in the room, it appeared large, but sort of washed out from the glare of the light through the windows. Then he explained that it had been painted for a cathedral in Spain and was meant to hang 25 feet above the ground. He let each one of us sit on the floor, right in front of it, and told us to then look up at it. From that angle, the colors became rich and vibrant. The shadows on the faces made sense. It was breathtaking and awe inspiring and not something you ever would have thought staring at it straight on. There were so many others; ancient greek vases, Renaissance and pre-Renaissance portraits, enormous tapestries, 16th century chairs and tables, it was endless. One thing that was common throughout many of the rooms were the Spanish wooden ceilings. Apparently, Hearst sent people all over the Spanish countryside to purchase these ceilings from churches and estates looking to renovate. They were then mounted directly onto the concrete ceilings of the castle. The one and only downside of the tour was the “exciting” descent in a bus down the narrow, windy road, in the rain. The road simply disappears from time to time and you’re pretty sure you’re going to roll off a precipice and die. Otherwise, thumbs up!
Monday we started what we thought was going to be maybe a five hour drive back. Then we hit flooding on 101 that stopped us for a while. Then we hit traffic. Then it really started to pour. After 6 hours of this, and knowing there was at least another hour to go and it was already starting to get dark, I had to pull off the road. We hadn’t planned to be driving past dinner time and we were both hungry and jittery. After pulling into a parking lot and retreating into Dory for some sustenance, we braved it again. Just as soon as we made it to San Ramon, I decided to get the hell off the freeway and use surface streets the rest of the way. It was just too nerve wracking trying to maintain at least 50 mph in the dark when it’s pouring and you can’t see sudden pot holes or huge pockets of water on the road. It is crazy wet out there and we saw canals full to the brim with water where I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything more than a pathetic stream way down at the bottom. There were huge trees down everywhere and we saw many that had obviously been freshly cleared from the highway. Yikes. Glad to be home safe.
All in all, I’d say we were both surprisingly pleased by Morro Strand, even though we’d previously written it off as being a parking lot. It is right by the ocean, and though the sites may not be pretty, or private, you can see the waves and get to the beach easily from any site. It is also nearby great restaurants, like House of Juju, China Dragon, Surfside Pizza. Richard notes that he liked the toilet paper they use, so there you go. There are no showers there, which is no problem for us. Non hookup sites have good solar and there are no trees to blow over. It is, however, a very long drive. Even without rain.