The Camping Part of the Trip

WHUFU Trip: March 2019 - Spring Break | 0

Thursday (Mar 28) 

This really is Leavin Day. The sky was clear on the morning but it didn’t last. Good for me that I got my water system operational (i.e. I filled up the tank) before the downpour started. Bad for me that I didn’t finish up the rest of the outside work – packing stuff in the rear and un-hooking the electricity. I waited a while for the rain to stop, but it never did. It rained pretty solid for the next four hours as it turned out. So I got pretty wet doing those things, then it was time to go. I am taking a different route home, no I-80 at all! I’m going the old Harbin Hot Springs route without going to the springs.

First stop is Santa Rosa Library. As mentioned above I was thwarted by a puzzle thief at the Petaluma Library, so I still need the March 3d puzzles. Downtown Santa Rosa is quite user UN-friendly, especially in a heavy downpour. The meters will eat up your change really quick – $1.50/hour = a big fat 2 minutes for a nickel! They don’t take credit cards, it’s either download their app (in the rain) or go to a website – NOT user-friendly!

Did I mention that it’s still pouring rain while I stand there are read the fine print?! I cobbled together about 40 minutes worth of change, and hopped around the corner to get my business done. Fortunately the copier took dollar bills. I would have gotten a sandwich down here also, but the meter situation was just too much.

Stopped at a sandwich shop on the way out of town, got a hot one for here and a cold one to go. Then plug into curvy, slow Calistoga Road to get over the mountain to Calistoga. Somewhere on this road the rain finally stopped. It’s been nice ever since.

After Calistoga comes Middletown, home of the now re-opened Harbin Hot Springs. I gave serious thought to spending a night there, but did not. I rolled straight through town on 29 through Lower Lake, then along the east side of Clear Lake to good ole Route 20, which will take me to:

Cowboy Camp:  

Set up as a horse camp, but regular horse-less citizens can camp here also. Plenty of horse shit around, so it appears to get used.


When I wheeled around the corner here I was shocked to see that 6 people in 4 vehicles were already camped here.

The other campers were all in the parallel parking, so I still got my preferred pull-in spot under the tree, so I was happy.

They were very sociable and nice, but I missed my feeling of solitude...

looking down Route 16 from the closed campground at Cowboy Camp

Cowboy Camp is a really pleasant little spot a couple of miles off 20 on route 16. It’s set up as a nature display area and a staging area for horse trips into the Cache Creek backcountry, which is open federal land and quite extensive. Overnight camping is allowed, I’m guessing for the horse people to sleep overnight before their excursions. It’s pretty darned handy for non-horse people also.

As described in the Spot inset, it seems the word is out on Cowboy Camp. There were six other campers there in three groups. One was a lone wolf like me, in one of those ute little teardrop trailers. Another was three “hunters”, in quotes because the didn’t show any signs of hunting anything. All they did was sit in lawn chairs and run their mouths for the entire time I was there. The third was what seem to be a homeless couple, living in their RV because that’s all they got. Since this is still off-season, the actual campground in the bottomlands is still closed off, so we were all in the visitors parking. I fear the place will become a homeless encampment and the BLM will decide they don’t need this grief and will ban camping.

Anyway, back to tonight. I backed into my spot and took a little nap. After I opened my door to re-engage with the world I yakked with the hunters for a while because I couldn’t avoid it. Then took a nice walk the up the valley and back. That was my big night at Cowboy Camp.


Those fellers were very nice, but they made my stay less comfortable. Every hour of daylight I was there they sat in their lawn chairs thirty feet away, in a direct line of sight to my van door with nothing better to do than watch me go about my business. So it wasn’t much fun for me to hang out, so I left pretty soon after getting up. It was the polite thing to do to walk over and say goodbye, so I did. Even that took about 10 minutes because they DO love to talk, Eventually I disengaged and headed on east on Route 20 to breakfast at Granzella’s.

River Road just north of Colusa

At breakfast I checked Chico real estate, and for the heck of it, Colusa real estate also. There was a really interesting looking place in Colusa, so that was my first stop. The new main street of Colusa is Market St, which is Route 20. But one block closer to the river, looking right at the 40′ tall levee is the real Main Street, the historical hub of that river town. Part of a lovely old red brick commercial building has been converted into living spaces. It looks really, really cool, and because it’s Colusa it’s quite affordable. Sadly though, also because it’s Colusa it’s really hard to convince myself I could live here, regardless of how charming and elegant it is. Fun to think about though…

I loves the back roads, so I did NOT take Route 45 north out of town. Instead, at the corner of Market and Bridge I took a left and crossed the Sacramento River on the old bridge to follow River Road north. It was super fun and super pretty. Many of the fields were flooded.

LLano Seco Unit:  

Infrastructure is all new they say. Pretty happening little spot on a warm November Sunday afternoon. Eight-ish vehicles there when I arrived. There's a bathroom and a viewing area at the parking lot.

There were lots of birds right there - mostly pintails, widgeons and shovellers. Also in the distance snow geese, the other goose, a flock of cranes overhead, and across the road, a flock of swans!

Then there's a short, 1/3 mile walk out to another viewing area. Pretty sweet little spot. On hte walk was a group of grazing curlews that were kind enough to not fly away as I walked pretty close.

I thought I was doing just a drive-by on my way to the main Sacto NWR auto loop, but this was so cool I spent the afternoon here.


Quickie stop today, but I'm entering it to note that there were still thousands of *snow geese*still here almost into April! When I got there they were standing around on the little walking path, but I was blessed to see them all take flight and whirl around a bit then re-land off the path. What an impressive sight!

killdeer nest is very well camouflaged.

I took a few minutes to enjoy the Llano Seco Unit of the Wildlife Refuge on the way. It’s a lovely little wildlife viewing area on Seven Mile Road twenty miles out of Chico. There was a nice old couple here with their binocs and cameras. I talked to them, and I’m sure glad I did, because the fellow pointed out this bird nest right next to the ramp to the viewing platform.

At Travis AFB the other day, turns out this is military style, not just Army Corps. I love it.
Today’s plan is to check out a few houses in Chico again. By the time I get to town it’s around 3 pm, which is pretty much the worst time of day to drive around. I spent some time stopped watching school buses unload, a lot of time stopped watching a crossing guard at a busy, wide street while tween kids took their sweet fucking time crossing. By the time the kids were all safely on with their lives it was full-on regular rush hour. So then I spent a lot of time at red lights and trying to make left turns. Is it always rush hour in Chico nowadays?

I drove by 3-4 interesting houses, then I’d had enough of that s–t, so I started the one hour drive to my campground, Due west on the road to Orland, the Maps-approved way to get from I-5 to Chico(which I never take).

West of I-5, after a few miles of more of Valley flatness, the hills started, and I saw my first Army Corps-standard road sign, that distinctive gray with white Helvetica letters and white top-bottom borders – love that style! Made me feel right at home.

Black Butte Lake Campground:  

Due west of Chico, about 12 miles on the west side of I-5 is Black Butte Lake. There are two ACE campgrounds. This one is the main one, with a nature preserve and large recreation area. Open all year, on a point of land jutting into the lake, quite scenic. This campground is closer to the lake.


North of 20 and west of I-5 in the Valley is not on the way to anywhere so I never go there. But thought I would give this place a try, and it's quite nice!

Very, very pretty here in a wet spring, lotsa wildflowers on the way in. The check-in gate just opened for business today. I'll bet this place is busy in the summer.

Black Butte campground is very nice.

What a nice place! It’s the first Army Corps campground I’ve encountered that has a normal “iron ranger” check-in kiosk like every National Forest campground in the country. Turns out today is the last day of off-season, so starting tomorrow you must check in at the gate.

My spot at Black Butte campground. Great place to hike!

There are two big loops to the campground. They both look great. The first loop is parallel to the road on the east side. The second is at the end of the road and has panoramic views in all directions. On this mild and overcast day in March, panoramic view is clearly the way to go – I posed up on the west side to get the best sunset! If I am lucky enough to come here in the summer, the other loop with the possibility of afternoon shade will be the way to go.

I did a real nice evening stroll along the roads and up and down the hills. When I was leaving the park I saw a sign for an extensive trail system off to the northwest. Oh well, next time.


Army Corps campgrounds have style.

This morning I noticed that all the “traffic control “rocks are beautiful, shiny jet-black basalt. I suppose they have a lot of that around here, maybe that’s all they’ve got around here! But I choose to thing it was a design choice made my the Army engineers when they laid this place out. They look great against the vibrant green spring grass.

It’s a perfect warm, sunny spring day, and it was hard to leave. But I did at 1 pm checkout time. This is the year for spectacular blooms all across central California. I did not see that, but there were lots of flowers. Mostly yellow, with some blue red and purple thrown in.

Leave the federal area and coast down the gentle hill to I-5 and Orland. It has some breakfast options so I decide to eat here rather than an hour later in Chico. I find a real nice bakery/restaurant on this side (west) of the overpass, the aptly named I 5 Cafe.

This is Saturday, so there are open houses in Chico. But they close at 3, and between starting late, eating, and driving I missed them. Not big deal really, I drove by and peeked in the windows. The ones at really good prices are cheap for a reason. Then get on 9th Street East till it turns into 32 and make the very pretty but tiring drive to Chester:

Jeffroe's Fruit Stand and Pie Shop:  

My friend Jeff lives and works in Reno until Memorial Day, then he commutes to Chester every weekend to run his fruit stand / pie shop / ice creamery / burrito place. It's really fun to hang out here.


Still a ton of snow - like three feet in some places - up here, so I had to sleep in the front parking lot. It was not noisy though ... no trucks! Jeff says that's a winter weekend thing. In the summer the logging trucks start at 4 AM.

deep snow at the gate to Jeff's backyard

Party time at Jeff’s! The snow is still three feet deep in most places, so I will be sleeping in the front parking lot of the fruit stand. His good friends from Oroville are also up for the weekend, so we all sat around a little table in a clear spot in his yard and drank vodka cocktails till 6-ish. Then Jeff and I walked down the highway about 300 yards to the neighborhood bar and grill to watch a little NCAA basketball (Virginia-Purdue, heck of a game!). The Oroville folks grilled up some burgers while we were gone. We took too long so they were a little overdone, but we were so wasted by then that it really didn’t matter.


my Saturday night sleeping spot

Pretty hung over this morning, kinda rough getting going. The drive-thru coffee place in East Chester failed me again. Went there once years ago and enjoyed it, but it’s been closed for like the last four times I’ve tried. If there were other choices I wouldn’t care… So onward to Susanville, to have coffee with breakfast at the Courthouse Cafe. I liked this place back in the day when it was over by the courthouse. I guess everyone liked it, since they moved to a larger place on the highway!  I got chorizo con huevos, and it was not good – overcooked and did not sit well in the ole tummy. But it was breakfast!

The rest of the drive was too familiar. I was VERY pleased to make it back to Nevada without having to get diesel. 18 gallons X $.40-50 is getting into serious money! Even with the diesel stop I was home by three-ish.