What do you do when your town gets engulfed by smoke so thick it causes all Bay Area schools to shut down? If you answered: abandon your home and adult children and head south, you are our kind of people. Actually, the heading south plan was a happy coincidence because I made reservations months ago. It just timed out nicely as an escape plan.
Our district got word Thursday that we’d be shutting doors the Friday before Thanksgiving Break. That was a very good call, as smoke from the “Camp Fire” 150 miles to the north was creating officially hazardous conditions. Of course, all we had to deal with was the air, so our hearts are with the thousands who lost their homes or loved ones so suddenly. We left around noon and kept driving until we’d covered about 180 miles. It was then that we could say the escape was a success. That is just a huge area to be affected, so it gives a sense of how bad the burning has been. Also, it’s hard to deem a situation like this “lucky,” but it did mean we got to start the 5 hour drive at noon rather than 3, so our arrival caught a nice sunset, as opposed to darkness and cranky time.
We got to enjoy 5 straight nights for this trip, which meant we knew we’d need the generator as well as the Barker (portable grey water tank). Both worked quite well I must say, which means there are no limits to stay length providing there is a dump somewhere on site. The Barker is our third portable tank. The first was too small. It had two wheels and was heavy enough to be difficult to drag. So we used it once and gave it away at a rally. The second was huge and towable. The hugeness made it very annoying to bring along and the disconnect always resulted in a bit of spillage. So we used that one once and gave it away to new Alto owners. I think I can say this one represents a happy medium. Don’t get me wrong, dumping the tank this way isn’t fun and Dory’s plumbing is so low to the ground that you have to slosh and snake the water through the hose and up into the tank. However, once it’s there, you are in no danger of spillage, unless the hose pulls clean off the connector fitting, which it did. But now that the clamp has been very, very tightened down, it’s not a bad system. It has a floating thing to tell you when it’s full and it looks like a full dump of Dory’s grey tank pretty closely equals a full 16 gal Barker. The generator worked as expected and kept us topped up even though we were in full shade.
We got in a couple of hikes around Morro Bay. The first was at Montana Del Oro State Park and is a beautiful stroll along the bluffs. Richard rode there and says that was a beautiful ride with not too much climbing. We checked out the sites at the Islay Creek Campground, which is described as “primitive.” There are vault toilets and some water tanks, but definitely no hookups. It was ok, but not so pretty that I’d go out of my way to stay there instead of Morro Bay. It does feel a little more removed though and there are a couple of sites nicely spaced apart from the others. No view of the river, but a short walk to the beach. Also, the Visitor Center is a preserved museum of the Spooner Ranch House with lots of antiques and artifacts nicely displayed.
Another hike was up the Quarry Trail whose trailhead is on the road to Los Osos. This one offers views of the bay, but you can’t get all the way to the old quarry. You can see it though and the scenery is pretty along the way. Except for the little climb in the beginning, it is a short and gentle trail.
On one of the warmer days, I was able to get in a paddle. Morro Bay is a lovely place to bob around, but one does have to be careful because the whole thing is very shallow. If you’re not careful (like on my previous trip), you can get yourself stuck in a bog. Many times I tried to paddle over to flocks of birds floating on the water, only to realize they were not floating so much as standing. It wasn’t too shallow for mammals though and I spied several otters adorably munching mollusks and rolling around in the ripples. At one point, I got an eerie feeling I was being watched. The feeling was confirmed when I heard the unmistakable sound of heavy breathing coming from behind me. I spun the boat around and saw an entire gang of seals right behind me. There were at least six, maybe more, creepily following in my path. They didn’t even seem terribly embarrassed or apologetic when I pulled out my phone and told them I’d be posting their faces on social media. Cheeky.
Another set of mammals we were delighted to spy were a pair of Altoistes who have gone above and beyond in their search for the ultimate Alto solar set up. They’re impossible to miss if you know anything about the group and Richard texted me excitedly when he was out on his bike and saw them drive by. If it’s an Alto 1743 covered in solar panels, pulled by a Tesla, it’s got to be these folks! We had a great time chatting and later went out for dinner at the nearby Bayside Cafe. I’ve said it before, but I absolutely love meeting Altoistes in real life.
On our last day, Richard got in a longer than expected bike ride and I actually got some work done. It was lucky he had service, because he had neglected to factor in the earlier setting sun. It was serendipitous though because after I drove out to pick him up on the road, I made a bee line for the sunset. And what a glorious sunset it was. The sky dazzled with deep oranges and yellows over the ocean, and suddenly, as I was basking in the scene, I spotted what could only be dolphins (or perhaps porpoises) hopping along the horizon. The moon glowed overhead and someone on the beach quipped, “Man, it’s like a Disney movie!” It was. All it lacked was inspirational background music, but it brought happy tears to the eyes nonetheless.
We would gladly have spent another week down there, but Thanksgiving called and we were already topping the Worst Parents of the Year List for having ditched our offspring in the smoke. So home we came and by that time, it had started to rain. We totally pulled an air quality cheat and have no regrets. We again recommend one of our favorite restaurants: House of JuJu by the Bay, where Richard got to spend his birthday dinner.
Here’s a note on perfect Omnia birthday cupcakes: wait for the steam. Set the timer for the upper end of the cooking range (like 25 min at “medium”), but don’t turn off the flame until you see steam start to come out the vent holes. That took an additional 8 min after the timer went off and will vary depending on what you’re cooking, where actually the “medium” flame level is, and the weather (seriously). But once that steam happens, you can be pretty sure it’s gonna be done. Turn off the flame but keep the lid on for another 10 min to finish the job. As always, start the cooking with 3 minutes high flame for just the base. Then put the oven on the base and start the cooking timer. Leave it on high for the first 1 min of cooking time, then turn it down to “medium.” Cupcakes and muffins work really well in silicon muffin cups set on the wire rack.
Morro Bay remains one of our favorite areas for extended stays. There is so much to do and explore. With the addition of a generator and the Barker, we basically have no limits and it sure was nice to not pack up and move for a while. Note to future self for next year’s Thanksgiving travels: really think hard about driving back on Wednesday. You will not be the only one with that plan.
Total miles: 236.3, 17.6 mpg, 4 hours 52 min. Site 122. No hookups and in the shade. The sites in the upper loop are more woodsy, but not really private. The dump is easy to get to with a portable tank. LTE for both of us all around the area. At Montana Del Oro, some of the more private(ish) sites: 27, 28, 1. No running water in the bathrooms. Spotty or no cell service, but wifi at the Visitor Center.