“Keep close to nature’s heart and break clear, once in a while, climb a mountain, or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
~ John Muir
Every year, my immediate family, which consists of my husband, son, and myself, take wide-ranging trips together. We travel across the country, including to New England to visit our extended families, or throughout our sunkissed home-state of California. While not all camping trips, we enjoy pitching a tent and sleeping under the stars more than staying at a stuffy hotel or fancy resort.
This year, we didn’t let a pandemic stop us from enjoying our ritual summer adventures into the wilderness. In fact, it provided an urgent need to get away and take a walk in the wild. This blog post doesn’t cover every family road trip this summer (I’ll reserve Lake Tahoe for another time.) Yet here’s a quick snapshot of recent places we enjoyed.
A Little Piece of Heaven and Big Piece of our Hearts
This warm, crystal-clear lake in the Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area of Northern California holds treasured memories. Last month, we once again returned to the place we spent so many camping trips through the years, then later in life with a child of our own. Whiskeytown Lake goes way back to the late 70s for my husband. He helped spearhead a yearly party that was christened, “The Ripper.”
I was first introduced to The Ripper by a group of ski pals in 1995 after moving to California. This yearly party involved a group of seventy or more friends coming together at Dry Creek Campground, pitching tents and partying day and night. Activities included music and dancing around the campfire, super cruiser party boats, water-skiing, and floating on a PFD, gourmet-style dinners cooked by my husband and a good friend; both culinary artists. The Ripper still goes on now, but with a smaller, younger crowd. For twenty-one years, it had been my husband who organized the trip.
We have only been to The Ripper once in the past seventeen years since our son was born. This reflects how life changed since becoming parents. We cherish memories of the big party but feel an even deeper gratification with our small family camping adventures.
The trip to Whiskeytown Lake this summer with our son was not to Dry Creek Campground; reserved for large groups. Over the past few years, we’ve discovered our own family-style “Ripper” at Oak Bottom Campground. It averaged 105 degrees at Whiskeytown, so we stuck to water sports including kayaking, paddle boarding, and swimming. For hours we’d sit in the shade admiring the natural beauty of the water. We watched herons on the banks, ospreys in the trees. Maybe even witness a bear if we’re lucky. A friendly Yogi scouting with Boo-Boo for a nice pic-a-nic basket.
Every night at our family campsite, my husband carried on his tradition of cooking a meal that puts the typical hotdogs-on-a-grill camp-style dinner to shame. Only, rather than host seventy or more people, he cooked for our happy family of three. Delicious dishes were full of veggies, pasta, creamy and cheesy sauces, chicken and shrimp skewers, eggs, fruits, and other delights.
It was heartbreaking seeing canyons and ridges above the lake with blackened trees, the area still recovering from the Carr Fire of 2018. But the shoreline greenery and thriving wildlife brought a renewed sense of hope.
The environmental destruction I witnessed while enjoying nature with my child, connects deeply with the narrative of my novels. Here’s an excerpt from my soon to be released book three of the masks trilogy:
I realize my child isn’t just a person. He’s a place. A vast eternal place where the present I am living and the past I remember and the future I long for all exist at once. In a rush of sensations; a love so deep it’s indescribable.
My son is this lake… He’s the ocean and the sky, the Lake Tahoe mountains where I met the man who brought him into the world with me. He’s… the world to me. This world— where those in power have failed to act against climate change…
Lassen Volcanic Erupts into a “Blast”
Manzanita Lake Campground
We then drove an hour East to a campground we’ve been to once before and loved so much we had to go back. Manzanita Lake Campground is in Lassen Volcanic National Park. The simple, rustic charm and peaceful setting are like doing a thousand Yoga classes at once.
Hiking and fishing were two major activities at this campground—well, fishing for my husband and son while I read a novel and worked on my writing. Then it was hiking for us all.
The first day we hiked eight miles on Manzanita Creek Trail. It’s a wooded hike through moderate slopes and valleys, winding through serene forests and lush meadows of wildflowers. It curves around soothing streams and ends in another big meadow. A nature lover’s dream.
The second day, we hiked a steeper, yet shorter four-mile trail called Chaos Crags. I found the variety of terrain enjoyable. Pink, glittering rock crunched beneath our feet at an 8,504 ft elevation. The big attraction is a snow-melt lake at the top. Yet, it was disappointing to see the lake dried out, another sign of climate change. But the views of the mountain ridge and invigorating exercise were worth the hike.
On our last night at this campground, a rowdy college-age group arrived, and I thought, There go our peace and quiet. Yet, as they played violin and sang, it provided the perfect vibe to dance around our own campfire, ending the Manzanita Lake experience on an epic note. It’s all good.
Fly Like an Eagle (or an American White Pelican)
Nestled in the undeveloped beauty of Lassen National Forest, Eagle Lake is a hidden jewel of pure serenity.
Here, I felt even closer to nature. Long, relaxed moments and no Internet connection gave me time to contemplate humanity’s encroachment on the habitats of wildlife. There were more flora and fauna than people. I saw dragonflies smaller than ants, frogs that could fit on a quarter, and tiny snakes that look more like worms. My days began with solitary walks around the 5-mile trail rimming the lake, while my boys went fishing. I stopped to admire simple things, like the artwork of wildlife etched onto the benches along the path.
We stayed at Christie Campground. From our tents, we saw a patch of the sparkling lake through the trees, with ethereal sunlight peeking through the dense canopy. It looked like an alluring mirage in the distance.
We walked through meadows of sagebrush to get to the beach. The lake is a shock of blue amid a tawny shoreline with mud patches that show the lake is receding because of global warming. The three of us went on long family kayaking excursions, paddle boarded, and lounged on the shore. I also fit a daily SUP (Standup Paddleboarding) Yoga routine into the meditative mix.
Each adventure we went on involved an extra walk through the natural environment between destinations. We’d hiked close to twenty miles already, but we rounded off the trip with another trek through the Osprey Overlook Trail. This short, one-mile hike is as beautiful as the lake itself, a combination of sand and wooded terrain through the forests. A few sections were steep enough for me to be happy I used my hiking poles.
One angle of the lake from the trail at elevation looked heart-shaped to me. It seemed only fitting I’d see it this way, while nature soaked my soul with love.
When we got to the top, the scenic views offered a gorgeous vantage point from the opposite side of the lake from our campsite. I hadn’t realized the lake was this large, 13-miles of simple beauty.