The Wolf Creek Gazette online
 
From page 1 ...
We arrived at Rat Farm just at sunset. In the dwindling
light we looked the place over with concern because, as we were driving
in, an old man in an old pickup truck informed us that the levee had broken,
the lake was draining and lowlands were flooding. He said, "you ain't
gonna get out there in that thing", pointing to the rooftop canoe.
Horr pond, Ajumawi Lava Springs State Park
We were so heartened by this encouragement, we pressed on to Rat Farm and inflated the kayak that was to be our pack boat. 

At dusk the boats were loaded and we shoved off into unknown territory.

The water was like glass with the moon reflecting to our west and
flashes of dry lightning in the east. A very special boating experience
for its beauty and solitude. I had committed the area map to memory and so headed toward Horr pond campground, the closest.


Click to enlarge
Next thing we know, the paddles were hitting bottom and we were in very shallow water. In the moonlight, we could see the little islands that ring Horr Pond as well as the signs identifying park property. We managed
to get back to deeper parts and continued skirting the line of islands.
Not knowing exactly where the other campgrounds were, we continued
to run aground as we inched along. 
 

Hours later (watching the moon get lower and lower was a sure sign that much time has passed),
I heard running water as we paddled near a cove. The campground next
to Horr Pond is Crystal Springs-could this be it? I looked for a campfire.
I listened for voices. I hoped for a sign. I didn't think lightning
counted as a sign.

Nothing but black, silent treeline. We were startled by a horrendous
noise to our left. Sounding like a hundred paddles hitting the water
coupled with wild cries, we stopped and waited for it to end.

"Yikes," said Brushy Bob. "What is that?"

"Piranha," I replied. "Don't worry about it."

After the third occurrence of this noise, we realized that it
was a flock of waterfowl, who were surprised by our night-time visit.

We finally reached the springs but then made the mistake of trying
to land. Due to the broken dike, the water level had receded and rocks
of all sizes bumped and scraped the canoe. Awkwardly, Bob climbed
out of the packed boat and over the rocks to disappear into the reeds.
I waited, half asleep. "Hey, there’s a campsite here!", the excited
voice echoed from the darkness. Indeed, he said, his flashlight had shone on
the sign of  campsite number 4 next to a path leading off into
the trees. "Thank God" I thought, albeit not quite believing our good
fortune and not quite believing Bob.

I mean, what were the chances? We had never been here before, had no
idea of the landscape or distance between sites or where the campgrounds
were in relation to the shore, or anything for that matter. Just a
map copied from the internet.

This was exciting! I navigated through the rocks (and only one foot
got wet), then up the slope to the trail to see for myself. The view
was candy to my tired mind. A fire ring, bear box and table stood
waiting for us, surrounded by thick, rustling vegetation.

Thick? Rustling? Wait just a goldarned minute! Just what sort of critters
inhabited these lonely woods? Abigail ( a dog sort of person) kept trying to check out these bushes.

Brushy Bob kept leaving to unload the boats and I kept picturing a rabid
Gentle Ben roaring out at any second to devour me. Fire! I needed fire!
I concentrated on this task and soon had a feeble campfire flickering.
My eyesight is so poor, Bob told me NOT to help him, but to stay
in camp and tend the fire. Which I did all the while trying to ignore
the bushes moving as I sat next to the campfire with my trusty Swiss
Army knife out and ready: All 2 inches of blade. It's 2 a.m., I'm
in a place I've never been before, I can't see diddly, and I think
my measly knife will defend me.

Well, no wild animal attacked us, we got the tent up and the supplies
unloaded, and enjoyed discussing this amazing feat we just accomplished.

The next morning the strong odor of cat urine awakened me. Did our
cat, Kitt, mark on the tent in revenge somehow? What was this stink?
It was everywhere, the whole campsite reeked of it. Maybe this is
the exact spot where all the local mountain lions came to pee, I thought,
only half-joking. Maybe Camp #4 was the mountain lion buffet. X marks,
the spot, so to speak.

With the bright morning sun, we could see what our camp looked like.
It was a bit different than our imagination created from last night's
rock-tripping, reed-slashing, mud-sliding adventure. The camp was
ringed by large cedar trees next to a small meadow extending to the
water and ending with marsh reeds. We had a clear view of snow-capped
Mount Lassen beyond the lake. The meadow was filled with butterflies
of every color as well as electric-blue dragonflies.

A squirrel rustled out of the bushes to peek at his new neighbors.
He looked like a mean one.

Never play poker with a squirrel; 
you'll lose your shirt.

Later that morning, the ranger drove up on the service road and greeted
us. We had a nice chat, all the while hoping he would not notice Abby (California state parks tend to have arcane rules regarding dogs who camp).

I inquired about paying our fees, and he said, "I'm the supervisor
and not set up to take money so if the ranger stops by here he'll
take care of it. We are very short-handed right now, so if you don't
see him, it's on us." And off he went. Well, this place was getting
better and better: No hassles, no payment, no problem. "Yeah, this
could be our new residence" Bob stated with a wishful grin.

Emboldened by our near-impossible success so far, we, the intrepid
explorers, set out to uncover the remaining mysteries of Ahjumawi
State Park. There is an old saying that I never really understood
till now. "Curiosity killed the cat".

First on the list to visit was Ja-She campgrounds to the west. Following
the dirt service road for a mile, we heard the sound of a waterfall.
After passing many lava rock piles, including one with a large bear-sized
cave, we arrived at a wooden bridge over a rapid. On the eastern side
of the rapid was a tranquil pond surrounded by trees and the outflow
side a wide marshy, rocky cove leading to the main river. 

The water was so clear, Abby was watching the fish swim in between the rock
outcropping. Just beyond the bridge, the remnants of a hunting lodge
or cabin had stood. All that remained was the stone chimney. Next
to that was a state park interpretive sign. 
The sign, or rather billboard, explained the theory of why these springs exist. It's unproven, but  geologists believe this water flows underground through porous basalt (lava) rock from Tule Lake, near the Oregon border, before resurfacing
here in Fall River Valley. 

We explored the campsites next, there being only three at each campground. Ja-She’s sites were all attractive,
nestled under trees among natural rock-wall formations. They even
had a concrete boat ramp, although the trail from the water to the
camp was much longer than at Crystal Springs.

Back at the "old campstead", and after a lazy nap, Bob said, "I'd
like to check out those rocks right over there behind the camp. There's
a small trail leading that way." I watched as he climbed over a large
boulder and dropped out of sight. A half-hour later, nagging memories
started to fill my mind. His navigation skills just simply, well,
don't exist. 
One time, he went to Napa accidently, he was supposed
to be in Novato. We now joke about it,

 But still ...

Two hours later, thoughts of broken ankles, legs or snakebites occupied
me. I wandered as far from camp as I dared, to holler out and listen.
Emergency plan 1 was ready: Hike to ranger station past Ja-She and
get help if he has not shown up by sunset.  Not once did it occur to
me that after nightfall, it may not be open. Didn't the supervisor mention
being "short-staffed?"

I kept busy, I went and checked the boats, and while gazing out over
the lake, a new thought struck me like a brick: Landmark, blue, large,
can be seen from a great distance. This calmed me down considerably.

Almost three hours later, I was remembering the time he got lost climbing
Mount Pearl, a small hill near French Meadows. He somehow ended up
on the larger hill next to it. We had let him go ahead as he was filming
the expedition and wanted to capture the party (myself, Julie and
Joel) as we ascended. He finally saw us on the meadow top, waiting
and calling, and rejoined us. (Julie and I had taken inventory of
our first-aid supplies while calling for Brushy Bob, and discovered that
between the two of us, we had a total of: one band-aid!)

The big, blue lake is useless if Bob is hurt and can't walk to it.

Then I hear footsteps on the road and there he is, looking very tired
and sheepish. Since he wasn't dead, I decided to kill him!

I grabbed the bottle of French snakebite tonic instead and took a swig, then another. 

"I thought I had turned back toward camp but after a
mile I realized I was headed straight to the Oregon border," Bob
said.

I took yet another swallow, a good one.

"Did you look for the lake and blue water at any time?" I asked.

"No, the terrain was too rugged, but I did see a great blue heron
that I talked to, but at that time I didn’t know I was lost, so didn't
notice in what direction he flew."

He had a sign and didn't even realize it! (Herons are waterfowl.)
Bob said he tried to follow the old wisdom that "moss grows on the
north side" and that didn't seem to work. I guess moss grows anywhere
it damn well pleases. Finally, he noticed the area was getting drier
and realized he was hiking away from water. he added, "I saw zero signs of any human intrusion-ever. It was amazing, no old roads, no camps, no logging, not even deer trails, anywhere."

Out of this experience was born a camping pact: At no time will I let him wander off without me, period! This pact will soon be tested
on our next trip in September. Hell Hole reservoir is created out
of a granite gorge. Rocks, lots of them and Bob just loves rocks,
especially granite. But that's the next story.
I hope he likes the new leash I bought for him.

Brushy Bob tows K-79 supply kayak.
World's funniest pun:
Was Paul Bunyon a lumbering giant?

Best camping joke:
Q: What's so great about camping?
A: It's in tents!