Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Sue and Mo at Harris Beach
Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Monday, January 19, 2009

A January reprieve

Lake McSwain

Sometimes I am more aware of the delights of living in California than others. January is one of those times, when most of the country in mired in cold and snow, the northwest is inundated with rain, and camping isn't the first thought on your mind. Instead of nestling in to a warm fire and gray skies for the 3 day weekend, as I might have done in Oregon, Mo and and I headed out for a little bit of peace and quiet in the California foothills.

My only requirement this time was that I really really didn't want to cross the central valley once more. We searched around for local camping spots, and after narrowing down the possibilities, came up with Lake McSwain. It turned out to be a lucky guess. The adjacent reservoir and camping area at Lake McClure wasn't nearly as inviting as our little family campground by the narrow lake between the Exchequer Reservoir and Merced Falls. Lake McSwain is just a reservoir as well, but being long and narrow, in spite of the drought, the water levels weren't as low as the bigger reservoirs and we enjoyed the lake view from our camp site.

Lake McSwain is a little hidden secret and has the reputation of being known as the very best fishing lake in California. This may be due to the elaborate trout, king salmon and Florida largemouth bass stocking programs. Or perhaps it is because so many fish call the lake home, including rainbow trout, black bass, spotted bass, bluegill, crappie, catfish, salmon and shad.

The campground itself was delightful, with lots of choices and plenty of space between sites, and wonder of all wonders, not one single night light to be found. The skies were dark and full of stars until the quarter moon rose long after midnight. We chose not to bring wood, since it is buried in snow at Mo's house in Rocky Point, and that was a good thing as well, since campfires weren't permitted anyway. The park lent itself well to short but delightful walks around the lake, long sessions of reading novels and knitting, and our favorite big breakfasts, even without the fire.

There is a road that continues past the campground to the bigger reservoir, and we took a long walk east along the road on one morning, walking down the hills to the waterside for Abby to enjoy her swim. The landscape is rough and steep, but the campground itself is gentle and welcoming, and not too crowded. Most of the people there seemed to be families who were fishing, and we saw lots of stringers of big trout on lines. There were lots of dogs as well, and the extra 3 bucks that is charged for a dog must be bringing in a good amount of change for the park.

We watched the sun rise and set for a couple of days, and thoroughly appreciated the silence of the place. Quite a surprise. There was also an area with sewer hookups, but it looked much too much like a typical RV park with sites lined up in rows, close together. We were grateful for our open spaces, walked around and wrote down our favorites, and made lists and mental notes of future winter camping days that very likely may be in this happy little place.

This little campground was only 45 miles from home, and on the way back we took a few side routes and discovered another little gem along the Tuolumne River. The campground borders the Tuolumne River with great kayaking access, and huge Valley Oaks. Turlock SRA

Next time we will bring the kayaks, which we missed having along on this trip, but they were left behind in Oregon. I will be glad when everything is in one place, the bikes, the kayaks, the motorhome, the baby car, all together so that if we go somewhere spontaneously we can still have all our toys with us. For now, though, a simple little weekend trip was just the ticket.

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