I am leaving the family in Petaluma today and with the plan of reuniting tomorrow at the campground. As mentioned above, Chad’s family, the MacDonald’s, have a short but sturdy tradition of camping Labor Day Weekend at a campground on 101 north of Leggett. They reserved the place Thursday through Sunday, but sadly for them no one is able to show up on Thursday night. After a more complicated negotiation than you would think, we agreed that I could show up on Thursday and enjoy it on my own. So here I go.
Early afternoon is a good time of day to avoid congestion on 101 through Santa Rosa, so I have a pretty nice drive. Dinner is a Burger Me burger in Hopland – pretty good burger, but IMO not the amazing experience the reviews would have you believe. Easy, familiar drive up past Ukiah, past Willets. The bypass road there is still new enough that I’m a little thrilled by it. Driving through Willets was a drag.
When I finally drove past the Peg House on one side and Standish-Hickey State Park on the other, I knew I was close. It turns out to be right across the road from the Confusion Hill tourist trap! Check in with the office, a longer and more annoying process than it needed to be, then drive down the hill to see where I will live for the next five days and four nights.
Right across the highway from the Trees of Mystery, a few miles north of Leggett. On the map it looks like it's right on the Eel River, but it's a mile or so, dusty, steep hike to get to the river.
Full-featured family campground.
So much stuff to do here! The bar is very nice to have. Happy hour 3-6 every day!tonight:
First night lots of dogs, somebody is barking somewhere most of the time. Barking dogs weren't noticeable after the crowded hit on Friday.
Getting registered was a bigger pain in the neck than I thought it would be. Once you are IN they seem committed to making sure everybody has a good time. But they are pretty authoritarian and fussy about letting you in.
We have two spots reserved – 11 and 11A. They clearly subdivided a single site into two as a kind of a scam to charge twice for one spot. 11 is an electric/water, no sewer RV spot, and 11a is a tent spot – no electric. I parked in the 11a slot and ran my extension cord over to the utility post for 11, and that worked out great.
I set about enjoying all the parks here. Enjoy the swimming pool – no one there Thursday afternoon. It will be a madhouse the next three days. Take a nice shower. Shoot hoops at the basketball for for a bit. Then later, head up the small hill to the main building to see what the pub is like.
Other than that the theme for tonight is fucking barking dogs, all the time, everywhere. The lovely RV couple next door is on the way home from acquiring a 6-month old German shepherd pup. Big, lively dog with no idea what’s going on, that barks at everything. Thank heavens they are gone tomorrow. Directly across the dusty road is a van with a single (very cranky looking) women with a little yapper dog. So, big dog next to me barks at tree branches, little dog over there barks at every person or god forbid, dog that walks past. Those dogs are bound by dog law to bark back, so there you have it.
Next door folks did their best to keep their confused teenager dog occupied and thus quiet, but the cranky woman across the way did not appear to give a shit if her dog barked forever. It was still barking when I went to bed. Friday, as the place packed with people and activity this was no longer a problem, but I was kinda apprehensive that night.
The pub is quite nice! A little bar and a few tables inside, then tons of tables and chairs and benches outside. I have eaten a small dollop of the pot chocoltes I brought, so I spend the evening effortlessly staring at the party lights on the deck. :)
I’m gonna call today Labor Day Weekend Eve, because basically it is. I spend the morning hanging out, mostly in the hammock. I walked up to the office to grab some of that coffee I saw last night. They were overcharging disgracefully for it. They charge for every possible thing I come to find. I made my own black tea instead. I have no propane, but I am plugged in to power, so I microwaved up a cup of hot water. Very nice!
First to arrive were Gayle and Paige – Chad’s mother and the older of his two younger sisters. They arrive from Eureka about 1:30. They are the bosses of this show, so Gayle’s little hatchback is full to the brim of all our infrastructure for the weekend. Tables, ice chests, propane stove, tents, … We all got going on unloading it all, getting it organized and set up. I melted back into the background for the “organizing phase”. I’m pretty sure the ladies didn’t want or need some dude helping them decide where to put stuff.
The Martha crew – Martha, Chad, two toddlers (now 3 and 5), and 6th grade Tyler and his buddy Dino – surprised me by arriving about 3:30. Their house is being Air BnB-d tonight and for the weekend, so by contract they had to be the heck out of their home by 1pm.
Now it’s a party!
The little kids play at the cool playhouse then go to the pool a couple of times. Ty and Dino go to the basketball court many times. Hamburgers for dinner, then hang out around the fire. No expeditions to the bar tonight, I got bored with all the family reminiscing pretty quick and went to bed around 10. They were still yucking it up as I went to sleep.
SaturdayFor your visualization, we are camped quite a bit above the Eel, not on it. Along this stretch of 101 the river is in a 4-500′ canyon, so getting to the river back are kind of an ordeal and require some planning. There is a dirt road a few yards from our site that is the official path to the river, which almost nobody uses. There is a paved road that starts off 101 at the paved parking lot for the campground office that everybody uses.
So today, the second full day at the camp for me, first for everyone else I am going to walk to the river. Tomorrow we are all driving to the really nice beach in the state park. So today is the day for me to hike around here to see what there is to see.
It was a great hike! I kind of just wandered off down the trail, woefully unprepared for anything. I nibbled a teeny bit of my pot chocolate bar before I headed out, which I think gave the day a little more drama than it otherwise might not have had.
I headed down the official access (dirt) road that almost no one uses. Here was my key blunder … I had retrieved my old river booties out of the far corner of my van storage where they sit untouched for years at a time, but decided not to carry them because the felt heavy. What a dumbass! That changed everything once I was down there.
The Eel River up here is a pretty small actual river,10-30′ across, but is generally embedded in a very wide (100 yards or so) dry riverbed of large rounded stones. Walking on that shit is exhausting even in good hiking boots, but in crappy 5 year old flip flops it’s pretty rough for a 70 year old man. Where my road let out the river formed kind of a small swimming hole. There were exactly two people there. You could hear whooping and hollering from downstream, and if you stood in the right place you could see kids on a bluff on the far bank jumping off on a giant rope swing. Clearly downstream is where the action is.
The way the river runs here, the easy path downstream is to cross the river here, pick your way among the small boulders around the corner and (presumably) then cross back. I had walked down in my old hiking shoes. So, take them off, put on my paper-thin old flip-flops and ford the stream. I went a 30-40 yards in the flip flops, then just couldn’t do it any more. So I sat on a rock and put the shoes back on and pressed on to the place to ford the stream back to the side I belong on. Man I really coulda used those river booties.
This is where it got weird. The stream was pretty rough right there, and I didn’t really trust my balance to walk across, so I had to sort of crab-walk across. No problem, except that I would get wet, and I’ve got my phone with me. Uh oh!
I buttoned up my phone in my shirt pocket. I splashed the bottom of the pocket a bit but it worked well enough until the deepest part of the ford. I ended up grabbing the front of my shirt in my teeth, to hold the phone pocket up by my head and managed to scrabble the rest of the way. I sure it would have been pretty comical to watch. I blame the pot chocolate I ate.
The road back up is steep and long, but if you take it slow, no big deal. It was a little confusing at first, because it goes under the dramatic bridge on 101 just north of the campground. But then the road switchbacks back under the bridge, so it all works out.
When I got back to camp, a full on picnic was happening, A friend of Paige’s, and a whole family full of Chad’s friend have showed up from Eureka for taco night in the redwoods. WhenChad’s friend’s car arrived, management swooped in on their golf carts in a matter of minutes. Chad had to pay $30 for a guest permit. Like I said, the place is fun but management is kind of dickish. Anyway, the tacos were great, the visiting kids all got to go to the pool and a good time was had by all.
After the visiting family left the rest of us filtered up to the bar area for Karaoke Night! That was pretty funny. A couple of the random emo teenagers I’d seen shuffling around the area we up and sang a couple of random emo 80’s songs. It was very cute.
I thought I was going to settle into a mellow morning, but that was not to be. While I was boiling my coffee water, folks started agitating to get going on our planned expedition to a nicer swimming hole. As noted yesterday, river access here is a pretty exhausting ordeal, maybe 1/2 mile and 400′ elevation! The river isn’t that awesome when your get there, then after you make the grueling walk back that cool clean feeling you had down there has become sweaty exhaustion.
The whole crew went. I rode with Chad’s mom and older sister, Gail and Paige. Chad’s younger sister Ariel and boyfriend Eric rode in his extremely cool 1992 Jeep, and the Chad-Martha clan, The Petaluma contingent rode in their minivan.
The plan – Martha’s plan – is for all three cars worth of us to drive 6 miles south to Standish-Hickey State Park, fork over the $8/car, drive down the access road to the river side camping loops, where there is a pretty cool swimming hole. It was eventually very fun, but somehow most of us missed the part where there was a 3/4 mile or so walk to get there. So by the time we got to the swimming hole, most of us were hot and cranky. Most of us pulled out of it pretty quickly, except the teenagers. They stayed mildly cranky, but hey, they’re teenagers.
I immediately gravitated to my favorite part, the upstream end, to plant myself under the little rapids as the pour into the pool. Free massage!
The day turned out to be pretty fun. It really is a nice swimming hole. Martha and especially Chad are pretty neurotic about poison oak, so they had a little freak out that Rylan may have wandered into it, we all had fun.
As mentioned above, there is a happy hour from 3-6, so after we got back to camp I took my shower, gathered up my relaxation aides (book, magazine, puzzled and phone) and headed up the hill. I posted up on one of the little four-sided picnic tables above the bocce court and had a really pleasant afternoon. Tyler and Dino were hanging out there when I got there. They left and around 5-ish all the MacDonald ladies showed up to play bocce. Chad was with them, but he spent most of the time tracking Rylan. Behind the bar is a little rec room with air hockey and a tv area where kids movies were playing all day. Rylan was easy to keep track of after that.
I had two happy hour beers and returned to camp around 7-ish, the MacDonalds stayed up there till eight or so.