Thursday, April 16, 2009

Communing with Nature

Although not a nature nut himself, my husband (aka Daddy) has noticed that I start getting considerably grumpy when my own exposure to the out-of-doors runs low. Maybe this is why he has, somewhat hesitantly, agreed to go camping with me four times now. Three of those were with both kids, even. Turns out, the kids love camping. And once I get past the inevitable psycho-grumpiness that comes with planning a camping trip almost entirely on my own, but for three other people, I love camping too. Because of that, I'll go out on a limb here and say Daddy's getting somewhat fond of camping himself.

I wanted to try and go camping more than once this year, so I targeted Spring break as a likely time to go. I even went out and bought camping books. I did my research and found places I thought would work well for us. They have to have bathrooms, preferably with showers, even if we're not there long enough to use them.

I found the perfect place for camping over Spring break. It's a little state park near the volcanoes - Mt. Lassen and Mt. Shasta - way up north. It's a long drive, but everything else about the park sounded perfect. The scenery was supposed to be top notch. The campground was nice, even had bathrooms, but tent sites weren't reservable before May. My logic was that the reservation calendar suggests there aren't enough visitors earlier in the year to warrant reservations, so we shouldn't worry about it.

I checked the weather reports for the area. Since the park is up in the Cascades, I didn't expect it to be balmy, but there wasn't any sign of snow and it looked like the daily highs were in the mid-60s, dipping down to the low 30s at night. No problem. With four of us in the tent, it should stay warm enough, I figured.

Originally, I'd planned to leave on Easter, after our Easter festivities in the morning. But the weather reports started looking a whole lot less favorable. There was mention of rain and it was starting to sound cold. A cold front was going to move through right as we were in the middle of our trip.

Daddy dutifully noted that the park also had cabins for rent. I'd forgotten this little tidbit...probably because I deemed them too expensive for camping. And they're really pricey considering they're little more than a single room with a single set of bunk beds. No electricity. No running water. But...the clincher was that each tidy little cabin features a propane heater. I quickly envisioned myself cursing my own thrifty-ness while freezing my rear end off in our tent and gave Daddy the go-ahead to book a cabin. I also decided that based on the weather report and my own desire for a mellow holiday, we'd leave the morning after Easter instead. Naturally, this also appealed to my thrifty less night to pay for the spartan little cabin.

So, Monday morning, we set off for the mountains with at least five hours of driving in front of us and A Wrinkle in Time playing on the iPod. I'd forgotten what a truly strange and oddly religious book that really is, but Smunch really seemed to enjoy it.

The kids were thrilled when I pointed out Mt. Lassen and explained that it was a volcano. I mean, how cool is that? About an hour from our destination, we drove by Mt. Shasta, looking much more like a volcano, rising directly from the valley floor and covered in snow.Finally, just before 4 o'clock in the afternoon, we arrived at McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park and found our cute little cabin in the woods. We were one of only three groups of campers in a campground with more than 150 campsites, so we were virtually alone. There was another family in the cabin across from ours and some tent campers next to the bathrooms.As soon as we unloaded the van, we were off to see Burney Falls, the big draw of the park. In the olden days, when people used film in their cameras, I can only imagine how many entire rolls of film were dedicated to this one waterfall. It is truly spectacular. Apparently, Teddy Roosevelt once called it the eighth wonder of the world. There's a certain sense that no photograph can ever really capture it. It's that fantastic. And it totally felt like we'd somehow cheated when I realized the overlook for the falls was 150 feet (feet!) from the parking lot. It seems to me that such a sight really ought to take more effort to see.So we took the loop trail around the falls...down to the bottom, over the river and then up to the top and back over the river again. The kids had a fantastic time. They were just thrilled to be out of the car.(Mam's a whole lot happier than she looks in this photo, but the lighting was nice.) And despite all the photos I'd seen of the falls, I was still impressed.In fact, I was so impressed that I took off right after breakfast the next morning, while Daddy washed breakfast dishes and the kids played Sorry! in the cabin, to take more photos of the falls in the morning light. After all, it was only 150 feet from the parking lot!Turns out that photos of the falls are much like the falls themselves. A constant amount of water goes over them at all times of year and it's always about 47 degrees. Photos are always pretty, but never as pretty as the real thing. Lighting doesn't change enough to make a huge difference to a photographer as amateur as I am.

The aforementioned stable temperature and flow, however, does not apply to said photographer. It had been about 25 degrees outside when we woke up and although it may have been approaching 40 as I went to the falls, I took off my gloves to take pictures and by the time I surfaced at the parking lot, my hands felt like someone was hammering spikes through my fingernails. Yikes. One nice thing, however, the parking lot was completely empty. I was all alone out there with a spectacular waterfall. Cool.

When I got back and everyone was all bundled appropriately, the backpack supplied with water, snacks and binoculars, we took one of the hikes the camp host had recommended. The first part of the very flat trail led to the "Pioneer Cemetery" where some of the early settlers of the area were buried.Few of the original gravestones are still there, but it's a fascinating little graveyard. Many children were buried there, not suprisingly, leading to a discussion of advances in medical care since the 1800s.

From the cemetery, we headed down the trail to Lake Britton. It got colder and windier as we walked, but it was still sunny and beautiful.Just as the trail opened up at the shore of the lake a big bird flew across our path, not 20 feet from us and about head height. "Whoa," I said. "A bald eagle!" Smunch cried. And he was right. I think we must've scared it from its perch by the lake. Too bad, we probably would have had a great view of it if we'd sneaked up on it. As it was, the view was incredible, but short-lived. Far too short lived to get a decent picture. We tramped around the lake for a little while, trying to see if we could find where the eagle went. We didn't and the wind off the lake was particularly brutal. Hard to tell though, huh?We headed back, seeing a lot of deer, including the one at the top of this post, along the way. A fire clearly burned through this area not too long ago. You can tell that some of the trees must've acted just like burning chimneys.Of course, there was very little warmth to be had by the time we got back...except for that blessed cabin heater. I made chicken soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. The kids ate in the cabin. Daddy and I ate in chilly peace. Well, sorta. The family in the neighboring cabin had departed and both the ground forces (pictured) and air force (Stellar's jays) were in our campsite in droves.They were annoying, but mostly hilarious in their bold efforts to get to our food...any of our food. In fact, they weren't even that picky. During our hike the first afternoon, they'd raided our campsite and chewed through a couple of plastic bags containing things like...clean plastic utensils.

In the afternoon, we took a different trail, this time along the river, to the lake for a letterboxing adventure. It was still intermittently overcast and windy, but now it was also intermittently snowing...just a little. We found our boxes, saw some wood ducks and Mam and Daddy saw another bald eagle. Then we set back out for camp and a dinner of hotdogs and BBQ chicken sandwiches with baked beans and broccoli and cinnamon apples with berries for dessert. Funny how you never really get to see this side of our camping trips...but we're far too busy to be snapping photos...and it was still snowing off and on.

The tent campers packed up around 5 o'clock, apparently done with being frozen, and left their tent by the dumpster. We put the kids to bed and stayed out by the campfire as long as we could stand it. I was exhausted after sleeping very little the first night. Too worried about Mam falling out of the top bunk she'd claimed. Every little noise woke me up and had me shining my flashlight up there. But the second night, Daddy and I slept in the bunks and I slept well.

We had ideas about doing some sort of activity in the morning, although getting home at a reasonable time started sounding good. As if it agreed wholeheartedly, the battery in the van was dead when we tried to leave. The camp host had to jump start us and then we couldn't stop for a while anyway. Instead of doing anything near the campground, we opted to stop at a historic adobe in Red Bluff, where we had a nice lunch, accompanied by a completely different kind of begging critter.Yes. That's a chicken. Or "shicken" as Mam would say. And if you don't think it looks like it's begging, that's just because you weren't there. We had a nice picnic and took a quick tour around the quaint little (very little) adobe, which the ranger opened just for us. It was far from a busy day there. The park with the adobe was named after William Ide, who was the first president of the Republic of California. Bet you didn't know that. I didn't. I'd never heard of Mr. Ide. Turns out, he probably never lived in the adobe either, it's just a name they attached to it. And then we set off for home, arriving just in time for dinner. Dinner at a nice, warm restaurant.


Calibelle said...

That's the kind of trip that your kids will remember! Nice pictures.

Barrett, Melinda, & Angel Trinity Adams said...

FUN! Wow, I love the pics of those falls...just beautiful! Nature is gorgeous, even though I don't get out to it that often. We took Trinity camping once, and she loved it. I'm glad you guys went and made such fantastic memories.

mommieN. said...

OK, I get that it was cold, but still -- WOW. I read about trips like this and my heart starts to pound. That sounds like SO much fun -- challenging, but peaceful. Then again, there's got to be *warm* beautiful camping somewhere too....something tells me you already have that one planned too!