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Thursday, December 12, 2013

That's It. I Quit. I'm Moving On...

This morning I could see my breath in the warehouse at work. All day.

It's been cold in our neck of the woods this last week, and I know I come off as a whiner when I complain about it. Temps in the 20's are highly unusual for our area, and we've had them several days in a row now. I realize this is balmy weather compared to the below zero temps they've been getting in the midwest and back east. But, geez louise, what the heck are our exorbitant taxes paying for if not good weather?

It was a combination of the cold, and Adele's version of Sam Cooke's "That's It, I Quit..." song on the radio that took me back to the worst camping trip we've ever taken.

It was 1997, and work had been crazy all summer. When we finally got an opening in the schedule to take a vacation it was already well into September, an iffy month to go camping in the mountains. We looked at the map and settled on going north, but opted to stay out of the higher altitudes. We figured with a little luck we could catch the end of the good weather we had been having that year.

It started out so promising: we packed up the truck (pre-camper days), loaded up our two dogs and headed north. First stop was McArthur-Burney Falls State Park, one of our favorite places. It takes just five hours to get there from here, a nice drive up Highway 5 and then east on 89 from Redding. When we pulled in it was a beautiful afternoon, temps in the 70s, warm enough to sit around the picnic table eating chips and planning the rest of the week. We walked up to the falls and took a few pictures, marveling at the way the water comes right out of the cliff side.
The dogs lounging in the campground at
McArthur-Burney Falls State Park.

Burney Falls

The next morning was cool, but hey, it was September, no surprise there. We packed up and decided to take the adventure route over the mountains on our way to Lava Beds National Monument, located in the northeast corner of California. We hadn't ever been and it sounded like fun. We had plotted a course over the mountains in order to see if we could find a place I remembered as a kid: Little Glass Mountain, made almost entirely out of obsidian, was up there somewhere.

Little Glass Mountain on Google Maps.
Doesn't it look like a cool place? Yeah, we
never got there.
(Fun Fact: The railroad bridge that was featured in the movie "Stand by Me" is located just north of McArthur-Burney Falls along Hwy 89. Here's a really bad picture as viewed from the road:)
Railway bridge where the boys almost died in "Stand By Me"
There's a series of Forest Service roads that wind around the backcountry, eventually leading out the other side of the hills over to Medicine Lake and Lava Beds. We took the turn and wandered around a while, stopping in to see an ice cave, and letting the dogs run around in the stubby forest area. We had started out with sunny skies, leading us to believe it would be a warm day. As we dawdled along it became increasingly cloudy the higher we climbed, and it was getting a bit chilly.  We hopped back in the truck and decided to get up and over in case it decided to rain or something (the roads at this point were mostly dirt.)

It didn't take long until these weird clumps started coming down out of the sky. Is that? Nah. Can't be. Wait. Is that what I think it is?

Really weird looking rain...
...turned to this in just a few hundred feet.
Sure enough, it started to snow. The second day of our "summer" vacation and it was coming down pretty good.

We drove a bit faster and made it up and over before the road was closed, although I don't know how we would have known it was closed, not having seen anyone all day. We came down out of the clouds to sunny warm Lava Beds and breathed a sigh of relief. We had outsmarted Mother Nature! We had outrun the storm!

Lava Beds National Monument is a big park, packed with caves and hiking trails to explore on your own or with a tour. It's one of those out-of-the-way parks that doesn't get the visitors it deserves, but that works to our advantage; it doesn't get nearly as crowded as other parks in California. There's a nice campground there and we found a spot without having a reservation.

Dogs hanging out in the nice little campground in Lava Beds. The foliage on that side of the mountains is limited to juniper and other more hardy plants that can make it in the harsh environment.

We plopped down our chairs and went off to explore the caves. Since we had the dogs with us, we had to make short trips into the more accessible caves, leaving the dogs in the truck. It would have been fun to go down a little deeper and explore them further, but we didn't want to leave them too long. Most of the caves have bats living in them, and some of them were closed to allow the bats some privacy during hibernation.

The next morning was warm and sunny, a perfect day for a hike. We settled on exploring Captain Jack's Stronghold. It's an area of jumbled lava rocks with a lot of nooks and crannies perfect for hiding out from the law. During 1872-1873 the US Army chased the Modoc Indians into this area, outnumbering them 10 to 1. They were able to hold the Army off by hiding in the rocks and ambushing the soldiers as they came through.

Mark in one of the crannies (or maybe it was a nook) in Captain Jack's Stronghold.
Looking out over the lava beds in Lava Beds.

We walked around the two mile loop, following the trail of interpretive signs and goofing around in the caves. In among the lava rocks it was actually hot, and we started to get a little sunburned. We could hardly believe our luck with the weather. We checked out a few more caves on the way back to camp, had a nice dinner and went to sleep.

Sometime in the middle of the night it got cold. The wind started up and if it weren't for the dogs keeping us warm we would have needed more blankets than we brought. We got up to discover ice forming in our water bottles, and had to stand to eat during breakfast because the metal picnic benches were just too cold to sit on. We shivered our way through the oatmeal and figured it would be a good day to explore some more caves, out of the wind.

Ice had formed during the night on the grass near our camp.
The photo is blurry because the wind was blowing constantly, making it hard to focus the camera.

We pulled up to the first one, got out and got halfway down the ladder when we heard a huge racket coming from the back of the truck. Back up the ladder, back to the truck to discover the dogs were fighting. Seriously fighting. We pulled them out of the truck and separated them, taking them on a little walk to let them cool off. "What the hell are you guys doing?" we kept asking. They didn't answer, but really, they didn't have to.  Miserable cold and too much togetherness does not a fun trip make.

We went back to camp and tried to make the best of it. A fire was out of the question; the wind was howling and some suspicious clouds were coming in. After consulting the map for awhile we decided the best thing we could do was head south in the morning and try to outrun the storm. The weather band guy said snow was on it's way. (This was before all the handy devices we have nowadays: we were actually functioning without GPS, cell phones, or any of the other electronic gadgetry--save for a WeatherBand radio--that's available today. The good ole days...)

That night it got colder, if that was possible, and in the morning we ate breakfast in the truck cab. The wind was so cold it blew right through every stitch of clothing we had on. And believe me, we were wearing every stitch we had packed. Our dogs were shivering and looking just as miserable as we were. It was time to leave.

We packed up and headed south on the eastern side of the Cascades, which turned into the eastern Sierra Nevada farther south. The weather was improving, but in our rearview mirror we could see the dark clouds getting darker, and following us in an ominous way. As we drove I was flipping ahead in our California Camping book, looking for promising campgrounds. We pulled into one just outside of  Susanville that looked great. Just as we pulled in we noticed all the other campers were packing up to leave. We asked a group what was happening and they told us that snow was on the way, and they didn't want to get stuck up there that night. Great.

Back in the truck, we drove all the way down to Lake Tahoe. Surely it would be nice there. It's always nice there all the way through October!

We pulled into Sugar Pine State Park just as the rain started to fall. We checked in, certain it would clear up anytime. We made camp, stringing up tarps off the back of the truck to make a dry spot over the picnic table. The light rain turned to heavy rain. Puddles formed on the tarp and would cascade down on us when we bumped the support poles. The dogs were soaking wet and looked like they might turn on us at any moment. We were soaked and chilled to the bone as we tried to make spaghetti, the pot of water filling with cold rain faster than it could boil. Mark and I tried to stay positive: Surely this will clear up. Tomorrow's got to be a better day.

That night was spent in the back of the truck, tossing a turning with two wet, muddy dogs trying to climb into our wet, muddy sleeping bags with us. By the time the sun rose (we assumed it rose, it was still pouring rain) we had both come to the conclusion that we had had as much fun as we could possibly wring out of this trip. We were done.

We threw everything in the back of the truck, not even bothering to properly pack things knowing we'd just have to open everything up to dry it out, and headed for home. It started to snow in Tahoe City and didn't stop until we got to the other side of Donner Pass.

"That's it,
baby, I quit.
I'm moving on..."

So maybe I'm a weather wuss. I know people who purposely go out in the snow for fun. I know our hearty neighbors to the north have way more rain in a month than we see in a year. But you know what? I don't care. Vacation should be enjoyable, and having cold rain run down the back of your neck, boots filling with water, is not enjoyable. I'd rather get a sunburn than frostbite any day.

That was the first and hopefully last time we ever came home from a camping trip early.  If it happens again I'm heading straight for home, where I can watch the rain come down outside the windows, a cup of hot chocolate in my hands and a neck that's dry and warm.