Sunday, July 23, 2017

Return to Morro Bay

There's this quaint little fishing village on the Central Coast of California called Morro Bay. At the mouth of the bay is a giant rock (pictured above) called Morro Rock. You can't climb it (anymore), but you can drive right up to it and park. The side that faces the bay and the town is lovely, with gulls wheeling in and out and otters splashing just feet from shore in the bay. The majestic backside of the rock faces an angry ocean that, day in and day out, minute by minute, slams into it, demanding to be let in. The rock just sits benignly, never wavering.

Many years ago, when my children were little, the man I unfortunately married took me to Morro Bay. Fortunately, I didn't let our mutual disdain for each other keep me from returning. I used to go often, especially when my daughter became a young adult and could watch the house while I traveled. Then all the kids were grown and gone, and I had to find housesitters every time I went somewhere (which was particularly difficult when I lived in a cabin in the wilderness).

This past week, I left Thomas, Purrl, and Sugar Plum in the care of The Grandson, and I headed off to Morro Bay for the first time in several years.

Most women my age don't travel alone. I get that. I don't worry about my safety as much as I worry about getting a decent table at a restaurant. (Many's the time I've been seated in crappy little cubbies by the kitchen, by the bathroom.) But in Morro Bay, I know where to go. The Great American Fish Company, on the Embarcadero, has a tiny table in a corner at the far end of the restaurant, and they try to save it for singles. The south side of the place is all windows that face the ocean, so this was my view when I first sat down:

This is what I ordered (baked potato, sauteed mushrooms and a dinner salad):

While I ate, I watched a sea lion swim past. Far out in the bay, I could see otters wrapping themselves in seaweed. (They anchor themselves before drifting off to sleep, floating on the water.) A couple of young Great Blue Herons roosted temporarily on the rail outside the window, but when they looked in and saw people, they flew off. (I can relate.) After I finished my meal, I walked outside to one of the docks and took this photo of Morro Rock:

Mostly when I think of visiting Morro Bay, I daydream about visiting this magical place, Montana de Oro state beach in Los Osos, just south of Morro Bay:

There's a trail that winds along the bluffs for two miles, and it is one of the most wonderful places I've ever hiked. I've seen whales there. I've seen two otters making... baby otters. (Sea otters mate face to face, unlike most other animals.) This time, I saw a female sea lion. The photo I took of her is from too far away to post here; she was looking a bit stressed, so I didn't want to get any closer than standing on the cliff above her. I often see rattlesnakes along that trail, and I did this time as well. Mostly what you see as you walk there are sea caves:

They're amazing and mysterious and alluring--and probably deadly if you get caught in one and the tide comes in. I just look and take pictures. I don't explore.

After my four-mile hike, I was pretty hungry, so I stopped at the Hof Brau (another favorite spot in MB) for some clam chowder in a bread bowl. I've been ordering that same delightfully simple and delicious dish at that establishment for a couple of decades. It's always as wonderful as I remembered it. While I ate (looking out at Morro Rock), I noticed this woman sitting on a bench with her labradoodle:

I asked if I could take her photo, and she agreed--then asked me to take a picture for her, since, she told me, "I'm a photographer and I'm always the one taking the pictures." She handed me her phone--yes, she handed her phone to a perfect stranger--and I walked away with it, back into the restaurant to take one for me and one for her. When I returned, I took several of her and Ruby, her dog, from a side profile, looking out to the ocean. She thanked me, and wouldn't you know as we talked I learned she's a teacher (second grade) and has a Master of Fine Arts degree. She writes books. Ha. Funny how I was drawn to her. She also has a great story about Ruby (of course). Years ago, she was mauled by a German Shepherd. After that, she feared dogs until a friend talked her into a desensitization experience of sorts with the friend's Great Dane. She agreed, fell in love with the dog, and decided to get one for herself. Ruby is the sweet, mellow companion who now goes with her everywhere. In the twenty minutes we sat talking, she never stopped stroking Ruby's head and ears, occasionally stopping to tell her what a great dog she is. This brief interaction with the woman and her dog was one of the highlights of my trip.

In the summer, Morro Bay is often foggy in the morning. Sometimes the rock is hidden:

But by late afternoon or evening, the fog clears out.

The photo above was taken just before sunset. I'd gone down to the beach to sit and write, and I watched as the shoreline became flooded with people, lovers flocking in to walk on the beach, hand in hand, and witness the day's end.

Morro Bay is a magical place for me, still. What makes it a memorable experience each time is the solitude. In 48 hours, I watched no TV (which, for me, means no morning or nightly news coverage). With the exception of the woman and her dog, I spoke to no one except restaurant servers and store proprietors. Alone with my thoughts and with no distractions, I tend to write up a storm, filling pages in my journal. Understand, I am lonely and homesick every moment of every day when I am traveling. I know in advance I will experience those feelings of wanting to be with Thomas and the girls, wanting to sleep in my own bed, wanting to be in my house and my kitchen to make a decent cup of tea. But always I return with a story. Thanks for sharing this one with me.


  1. My very favorite "unknown" place in the world. Morro Rock, aka the American Gibraltar, is an amazing sight. Or site too. I wondered about it since I first heard the Beach Boys' "California Saga" in the early '70s.

    "Have you ever been north of Morro Bay ..."

    My wife was hospitalized with a nervous breakdown in early 2005, and after she was released, we started doing occasional special weekends. One of the first was Morro Bay, where I actually had what I still consider the best meal of my life -- Chilean Sea Bass -- at one of the restaurants on the water. I don't know if we'll ever make it back, but I sort of hope so.

    Keep up the good work, Kay.

    1. Mike, I am so sorry--I had no idea about your wife. I hope she is on the sunny side of things these days. I honestly believe that traveling there on a regular basis has kept me from being lost in the vortex of depression... especially when my kids were teenagers.

      And yes, the seafood there... it's indescribable. I'm still a vegetarian after 15 years--except when I go to Morro Bay. Then I'm a pescatarian. Thanks for reading me....