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Chapter #377: Morro Bay, CA - Fire Season 2020 - December 17, 2020


Morro Rock, chipped away and hauled away to make breakwaters up and down California still stands as the largest monolith on the California coast - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Morro Bay - During a Health Crisis and Fire Season

In mid-August 2020, we took our annual RV trip to Morro Bay, California. Having stayed at the Morro Dunes RV Park many times before, we knew to make our reservations eleven months in advance. For the entire summer, Morro Bay is a wildly popular vacation destination. With so many travelers escaping the heat of the nearby San Joaquin Valley, all the large RV sites are booked many months in advance.

Jim McGillis and Carrie McCoy standing before a smokey sky at Morro Bay, summer 2020 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)This year was even worse. A week prior to our arrival, a dry-lightning storm of unprecedented size and ferocity had swept up California’s Central Coast and across the San Francisco Bay Area. Fires burning in coastal and inland California had created a vortex of smoke that covered almost the entire state. In the weeks and even months to follow, smoke repeatedly drifted out to sea and then back onshore, as if controlled by a tidal force.

When we arrived at the RV Park, there was a smoky haze in the air. Being optimistic, we decided that it was no worse than what we had recently experienced at home in Simi Valley, California. From any perspective, breathing foul air is not a pleasant or healthy pastime. Encountering both poor air quality and an unprecedented pandemic, our vacation on the Central Coast felt risky at best.

Given the circumstances, we decided to curtail strenuous activities. Instead, we elected to enjoy the relative peace and quiet of our campsite and the nearby beach. While at camp, we were comfortable sitting
outside without masks. Soon, that became problematic, as neighbors and dog-walkers wanted to stop and chat. If we had no masks nearby, it Our Cougar fifth wheel in a shaded spot at the Morro Dunes RV Park, in Morro Bay, California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)became a question of how far virus particles might travel in the open air. Was it a risk to talk to someone standing ten or fifteen feet away?

Looking back, as a super-wave of virus infection now sweeps the nation, I would probably have been even more cautious than we were. As Bob Dylan once sang, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”. Now, it is late fall and as Joe Biden says, “We have a long dark winter ahead of us”. Reflecting on my under-reactions at that time, I am now inclined to be even warier of personal interactions and potential viral infection.

On our first full day in Morro Bay, we walked to the beach. Out in the open, we were ready to don our masks whenever a human got within
As the afternoon wore on, smoke from California wildfires again filled the air in Morro Bay - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)fifty feet. Most people were respectful and did the same. Some people, both then and now appear oblivious to the dangers of infection, or even defiant. I read about some people’s perceived restrictions of their “freedom”. To me, freedom includes unfettered free speech, the right to peacefully assemble and the right to seek redress of grievances. Freedom does not include the right to ignore legitimate public health warnings or to infect others with our bad breath.

Later on, we took a driving tour of the waterfront area. There, we were astounded to see hundreds, if not thousands of people dining, drinking and socializing in groups both large and small. Rather than participate in what we knew was risky behavior, we drove to the south end of Morro Bay. There, we enjoyed time sitting together on a bench, while observing
A Biden Works For Iowa poster that I picked up in Nevada - Click for larger Image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)the sailboats and paddle boarders. Luckily, Carrie and I get along well with each other and can observe dangerous behavior from a distance, rather than partaking of it ourselves.

During our time in Morro Bay, we enjoyed watching the virtual Democratic National Convention (DNC) on TV. It was as enjoyable as not watching the Republican National Convention (RNC) the prior week. Seeing quick video shots of delegates casting their votes from venues across the nation was interesting. From the advent of motion pictures in the 1920s, the national conventions have always looked the same. They featured star spangled bunting and long, obnoxious political speeches. In this new format, the convention was far more fun. For once, there were no bloviating politicians using their two minutes of fame to command the
Congresswoman Gina Titus casts the Nevada Democratic Convention delegates vote for Joe Biden - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)floor at a packed convention hall.

By the second day, smoke from the Northern California wildfires filled the air. Undaunted, we headed north on California Highway 1 to Harmony, (elevation 175 feet and population 18). In the distant past, Harmony featured a dairy farm and post office. Today, there is a pottery shop in the old milking barn and across what once was the old highway, the Harmony Glassworks stands as an interesting curiosity. If you arrive at the right time, the gas-fired kiln will be roaring and glowing inside like the fiery disk of the sun. Masters and apprentices alike might be shaping molten glass and using a blowpipe to expand each glass vessel into the desired shape.

An artist works with molten glass at the Harmony Glassworks, in Harmony, California - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)On the day of our visit, just to the north of town, an impenetrable wall of smoke hung in the air. While Carrie stayed in the hermetically sealed safety of the truck, I donned my mask and made my way into the Glassworks. After lurching around the shop, almost gasping for breath, I located and purchased a coveted Harmony souvenir t-shirt. Once back in the truck, we fled south to escape the worst of the smoke pall. Arriving back in Morro Bay, the air was still unhealthy, but not deathly, as it had appeared north of Harmony.

Determined to enjoy ourselves, we walked to the beach to observe the sunset. Looking seaward, Morro Rock was to our left and the sun was
setting directly to the West. Zooming in with my camera, I could see a The sun and smoke combined to make a cartoonish image of Donald Trump peeking over the top of a red hot stomach in the sky - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)strand of smoke crossing the disk of the sun. Looking at the images later, I could see that the smoke had filtered the sunlight in an animated way. In one photo, the image a red-orange human stomach appeared on the surface of the sun. In addition, a cartoonish image of Donald Trump appeared to be peaking over the stomach. In another image, the plasma that flows directly from the sun was clearly visible.

After four nights, we were tired of breathing smoke and ready to head south to Ventura County. As we passed through San Luis Obispo, smoke hung like fog in the trees. In Santa Barbara, it was still smoky. By the time we reached home, over three hours from the start, Simi Valley was still a smoky mess. For the next several weeks, unhealthy air became part of our daily lives. Some days were so unhealthful, we did not
The blazing inferno of the glass kiln in Harmony, California looks much like the sun during our smokey visit to Morro Bay - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)venture outside. Now, four months later, the air is clear again, at least by Southern California standards. Still, the combination of fires and high winds made this the smoggiest year in decades.

We already have reservations for a return trip to Morro Bay in the summer of 2021. Let us hope that California does not have another horrendous fire season or a viral pandemic anything like that of 2020. Adding to that ominous air of uncertainty, Morro Dunes RV Park remained closed for the entire month of December 2020.

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