When I first heard about Camp Mather, a city run family camp near Yosemite, for San Francisco residents, I thought it sounded like a bad cross between the Catskills and a low-rent Club Med. In theory, I hate organized activities and en masse vacationing. It didn’t help that our close friends who I adore, who are British (cue Monty Python accent) raved about it saying how one can bring rugs, flags and ‘fairy lights’ and decorate your cabin; it sounded dismal to me. Yet, many of our close friends, people we love and admire, cool families with kids our age, said it was fantastic. So we took the plunge last year, did the lottery in January and got a spot. We had a lot of fun and although we felt we hadn’t drunk the Kool-Aid we decided to re-apply this year. I decided if it weren’t my ‘only’ vacation it was a great thing to do as a family and the kids loved the autonomy. We got in and decided to go again this year and had a stupendous time! It helped that we formed a little clique with two other families, hiking, hanging at the lake and shared cocktails at one of our cabins most nights.
We took two great hikes to waterfalls. One to the Hetch Hetchy reservoir where the temperature peaked at 107 and we saw a bear!! I was awestruck, I have been hiking and backpacking for my whole life and I have seen a lot of bear pooh, but this was amazing. The kids were rightfully scared and as we all banged rocks together I snapped a few pictures with my heart pumping. The kids named her ‘Ruperta’ after a Korean couple alerted us to the fact that it was a momma and a cub!
Every day we swam multiple times in the beautiful Birch Lake, the pool or a river stream. We played badminton, ping pong, volleyball, and tennis. Both boys rode horses (well the little one a Burro named ‘Tweety’) and did archery and other activities. My husband and I took a sunset ride which was lovely. I get anxious doing Lego or knitting but I LOVE making lanyards; go figure… very meditative. One day I worked on making beaded dragon flies. The area is full of gorgeous blue and red ones. In the evening after dinner I would go for a swim and the dragonflies would dance around me on the surface of the water. I practiced yoga every day; it helped that a couple in our posse own a yoga school and we were able to squeeze in a few sessions. The cabin for a family of four, with all meals included was about $1400; not cheap but I must say for what it was the food wasn’t so bad. The cabin is rustic and you need to bring your own bedding, but that was fine by me; we now have a ‘Mather Bin’ in our garage. Tent spaces are also available for about $900 for a family of four, food included. We may do the camping option next year, but it is quite dusty/dirty and I kind of like the no-frills nature and privacy of the cabins. You can get coffee starting at dawn; which is great for those that get up that early. I loved getting my morning Joe and sitting in our hammock reading my current novel. In true SF spirit most people bring wine to dinner which is eaten on a terrace and often linger till the kitchen staff has to kick you out. We biked everywhere and you find a rhythm to your week pretty quickly. There are hippie residues like Tie-Dye (which is so fun) and you can really make of it what you want.
The camp, originally created for city workers and now open to all SF residents, has been around for many years. Many folks came as kids and now bring their kids. Best of all the natural surroundings are stunning! Mather is 20 minutes from Yosemite and many go off the grounds for day trips. People can also pay a day rate and swim in the lake and partake in activities; I ran into a Dutch family who had done this.
Another fear I had was forced relentless socializing. Both my husband and I are very social but we feared it would be too exhausting… but you know it was great. There are plenty of people you know peripherally, others you develop random acquaintances with in the bathroom, on a horse ride, on the dock or floating around the lake on a floaty; I even went to BINGO night. My ten year old found a few buddies, dudes actually, and although he was still a fervent pollywog catcher, I can see the tween years fast approaching. Family camps exist all over the country, I definteily recommend it as a summer option. The only bummer was on our last day with the car packed tightly and the bike rack on we backed into a tree and smashed our back window and hatch to the tune of $2000; apparently we weren’t the first city slickers to do this. But you know, I think we’ll be back.