Camping sauvage, wild camping, dispersed camping, whatever you want to call it. It’s not for everyone—the lack of loos puts many off—but if you are into getting away from the zoo-like atmosphere at some campgrounds and have an all- or four-wheel drive car, it can be a spectacular option.
I first was introduced to this in France, driving a tiny tuna can, Renault-5 company car with Plasti-Chenaux—a window fixture company—written across the white car in blue and red. We camped on beaches, on farms and in public spaces often asking if it was all right with the farmer or property owner. It felt wild and crazy to this city girl, but waking up under plum trees or near the crashing waves was memorable.
Cut to many years later and after many a backpacking trip, we now—with two kids in tow—enjoy both hauling our gear on our backs and packing the car to the gills with all of our ramshackle gear and hitting the road. We have camped in the desert, in the mountains, and it is always an adventure. It’s not easy and certainly takes some effort, but with two strapping boys now able to do their share, this trip seemed extraordinarily gratifying.
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Last month the Rim fire, Burning Man and the closing of the Bay Bridge meant our planned Labor Day backpacking trip to the Sierras was in question. Finally, after much discussion we opted to head for the Snow Mountain Wilderness Area about 110 miles north of San Francisco in California’s Lake County.
Armed with outdated maps and hopes of some lake swimming, we hit the road ready for our adventure. Stopping at a ranger station, we got the skinny on the trails and hoped to hike to some small waterfalls. We were told the driving was rough to get to the trailhead, and included fording a river, which sounded exciting till we got to it and panicked.
We promptly set up camp and found a swell swimming hole, as we were to wait till the next morning when the other half of our party was to arrive. Once our big group was assembled, we decided to spend the day at a big lake before attempting to ford the river again.
The driving was dusty, long and we made a few bad choices. Desperate to swim in a lake, we headed for Lake Pillsbury, which sounded enchanting, but was, alas, quite a depressing scene. Lake Pillsbury is a man-made lake in Northern California, situated an arduous 33 miles east of Ukiah in the Mendocino National Forest. Reviews were mixed, but as the the temperature climbed, we just wanted to cool off. What we found was a dried up, somewhat scungy car-camping scene, with campers and giant garbage bags full of empty beer and soda containers all smooshed together in the seedy campgrounds. The bathrooms, cute store and expensive gas were welcome, but this was not what we had in mind for our backpacking adventure; we didn’t even want to swim in the lake.
Finally we decided to return to the small menacing river and attempt to get past it with an all wheel drive Subaru Outback.
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The other day I accompanied my daughter’s 6th grade class on a field trip to Calaveras County where we wandered among the big trees (giant sequoias) and camped in the forest by a meadow in one of California’s pristine state parks. I expected awe and inspiration, and a lot of kid fun, and I got that. But I also got some things I didn’t expect.
That’s usually the way with travel. You have some notions about what you’ll experience and at some point the path diverges and you end up someplace you hadn’t planned. A side trip in Calaveras County took me to the Fiji islands, the California 6th graders gave way to a Fijian Sunday school, and I was left awed by the redwoods and the sea. Continue reading »
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Katniss from The Hunger Games, Hawkeye from The Avengers and London’s 2012 Olympic Archery Competition have all given the ancient sport of archery a jolt. Kids and adults across the country are smitten with the idea of using a bow to shoot an arrow.
A recent New York Times Fashion & Style article explores the trajectory of the sport given the cultural craze. From Staten Island to San Francisco, sales of kid-size recurve bows have more than quadrupled this year!
Whether you have a Robin Hood fan, a small Cossack (a kid into ancient weaponry) or you just love fun, free, urban family activities, you’ve got to check out the Golden Gate Park Archery Range in San Francisco when you’re visiting the city. It’s a beautiful and well-maintained piece of park real estate, near the beach. It’s easy to park and accessible by public transportation. It’s always open for folks with their own archery equipment. If you’re looking to try it out as an activity, you can swing by the nearby Archery Pro Shop, where you can sign up for lessons, rent or buy bows or investigate other equipment. You can also buy bows and arrows on-line. Continue reading »
Beyond the sleek Silicon Valley exterior, there are many small towns with plenty to explore in this California region famous for technology.
If you’re looking for a getaway, outdoor fun, sun, and maybe some wine tasting, the small town of Los Gatos is a great choice. Set in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, this affluent hamlet, with a Victorian downtown, is a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of urban living. As you drive into town, you pass Netflix headquarters, and you realize, this is perhaps where the 1% live, a notion that was confirmed at the stylish Purple Onion Café, where at 10 a.m., the place was hopping with expensively clad moms chatting and nibbling, post workout. The Illy coffee and yummy breakfast items made with cage-free eggs, local produce, and freshly baked whole-grain breads were tantalizing.
For lunch, a traditional Irish pub with Americanized pub grub, was a more down home option. C.B. Hannegan’s was bustling with business folks and families; the outdoor garden was so pleasant and portions big enough to share. The beer choices were impressive and International, with 15 on draught. Continue reading »
Cue the Deliverance Music.
It was July 4th weekend so we were expecting crowds, and save for a few kayakers and boat enthusiasts, we pretty much had the river to ourselves. We had planned a moderate backpacking trip but when one in our party had abrupt knee surgery in April, we opted to paddle to our campsite instead of forcing the kids to hike with packs a la the Bataan Death March. The preparations were similar to a backpacking trip, but we could bring comfy pads and a cooler. I was concerned about tipping the canoe, but my friend hails from Minnesota and has done this sort of thing before.
A recent October trip to Yosemite and Mariposa County, CA followed a huge rain storm. The robust waterfalls thundered all around and the scenery was more striking than I had remembered from my last trip at the end of July. Autumn colors enhanced the spectacular vistas and there was a crisp feel in the air. Not more than 50 yards from the trail two rutting male deer banged their antlers together putting on a great show. I had packed for winter; fleece, down jacket, hat and gloves. It was in the 70’s and I was in a sweat during the day; the weather can be so changeable. I was stressing before I left, worrying about whether I needed chains or not for the drive up; instead I swam in the hotel pools and applied sunscreen liberally.
My first night I spent at the Tenaya Lodge, right outside the park. The Tenaya had the feel of a Park Lodge, animal heads on the common room walls, giant beams and an outdoorsy style, but was considerably fancier than a rustic lodge. The bed was big and comfortable but unfortunately I slept poorly due to the altitude and a late night specialty coffee (decaf) that I suspect had more alcohol in it than I could tolerate. Elk was on the menu (which my kids were excited about) and I would love to take my family back to explore all the Lodge’s offerings.
Now is the time. The crowds are gone, the days are clear and warm and the nights are cool to cold. Mosquitoes and just about every other flying insect have bedded down for the winter or perished in the chill. Campsites are available. And Yosemite’s vaunted Tuolumne Meadows is as beautiful in the fall as ever.
I spent the 4th of July holiday weekend there, my first visit in 25 years, which told me a couple of things: just how quickly time can pass and a quarter of a lifetime can slip beneath your feet; and how short-sighted I’d been to allow so many years to drift away without making the simple four-hour-plus drive up from San Francisco. I swam in Tenaya Lake, fished the pools and streams that fed into it, got some strikes in the Tuolumne River as it wound through the meadows, and later, at Cathedral Lake, saw a trout with a head as big as my fist emerge from the depths to strike my lure repeatedly before losing interest, too smart to be caught by an occasional fisherman like me. Continue reading »
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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. Continue reading »
I like city driving; not freeways, but I can handle the Marin route out of San Francisco. So, I have made the trip to the Healdsburg area in Sonoma County three times in the last few months. Recently, for a birthday party at a lovely B & B called the Gipson Bed & Breakfast, owned by an old friend and his wife.
I had been to the same spot last summer for an epic 50th Russian Dacha birthday party, where many guests camped and a Russian BBQ ensued with a zip line, trampoline, bubbles, pool, jacuzzi and pogo-sticks for the big and little kids and of course shots of vodka and blinis for the hearty adults. This time it was for a five-year-old’s party, the daughter of my friends, the innkeepers.
Healdsburg lies at the crossroads of three of California’s most famous wine growing appellations: Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley and the Russian River Valley. It is surrounded by more than 60 wineries and is a favorite Sonoma Wine Country destination. Continue reading »
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