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Post #53: Musical campsites

August 9, 2020

We’d had a wonderful one-month stretch at home, with family visiting for much of it, but now we were ready to explore again. We’d been told by several friends of an area called the Lakes Basin, full of dozens of clear mountain lakes and located about ¾ of the way from where we live and nearby Lake Tahoe. At an elevation of between about 6,500 and 8,800 feet it’s covered in snow most of the year but there’s a window from May or June until perhaps September when it’s accessible. It was going to be hot at home again so the thought of 6,500+ feet of mountain air plus water sounded refreshing. We hadn’t been kayaking nearly enough this year so we decided on a three- or four-day trek with the kayaks as well as our usual hiking gear. It’s great to be able to do both and we knew that usually where there are beautiful lakes, there’s great hiking.

We left by mid-morning on a Sunday not wanting to get to the area too soon because we were hoping to score a nice campsite that had just been vacated by weekenders. We’d read in lots of places that the Lakes Basin area does not allow dispersed camping—you have to stay in a designated campground, though many are on lakes and some are even free.

After only about two hours of driving, we turned off into the first free campground called Snag Lake but found the shallow lake to be less than beautiful with lots of stumps along the shore. We left a kayak there in case we got skunked down the road and went to Goose Lake a mile or two away. A sign there said 4×4 was required even though the campsites were only a couple hundred feet from the main road. We parked above the 4×4 road and walked down to find a nicer lake with a vacant campsite. Susan stayed and prepared lunch there to “hold” the site while I went back to Snag Lake and retrieved the kayak. Upon my return, Susan spotted me from a few yards in front of the truck so I could find the best route down the steep, rocky and narrow path. It took a lot of turns to avoid the sharp rocks and finally get us facing the direction we wanted in the narrow space. The price was $10 using our senior pass.

The campsite was a few yards from a pretty little lake but it was a bit small and the campsites were close together. So after lunch we decided to walk up the main road a little farther to check out another campground just in case it had even better sites. It was a longer walk than we thought. 

Just as we walked down the steep winding entrance road and saw the campground, we heard thunder and quickly were caught in the first raindrops. We sprinted to the only shelter, a forest service pit toilet.

Taking shelter where we find it

Fortunately, there was an overhang and we watched the rain come, which soon turned into pea- and marble-sized hail. That would have been painful, we thought. 

We smiled at our luck even if it was just a pit toilet

After awhile, one of us said the storm was slowly slowing and we tried to come up with other phrases using the same root words as adjective and verb or noun. Fastly fast? Highly high? Fittingly fitting? Frankly frank? We laughed and thought we were very clever.

A half hour later the rain and hail stopped and we explored the Gold Lake campground. We were encouraged by some empty sites so we kept walking along the long campground road that followed the shoreline of a much larger and quite beautiful lake. We spotted a perfect site situated only a few yards from the lake. But now we had a dilemma. The truck was almost two miles away (uphill, I should add) and someone would have to go get it while someone else would lounge around the picnic table at the campsite, probably eating chocolates and sipping champagne. I was volunteered to walk and said I’d be back in 45 minutes. Normally, we don’t like playing musical campsites but we’ve gotten pretty good at knowing how to pick them and when we find one that checks all the boxes, we move. So, I walked to the truck (did I mention it was uphill all the way?), climbed the steep rocky hill and drove to the new campground.

When I got there, Susan said she’d had to shoo away three people who also liked the campsite. Poor thing, after the rain, the temperature had dropped 20 degrees and she was shivering in a sleeveless shirt and shorts. And there were no chocolates or champagne. We’d both sacrificed.

Our spacious lakefront campsite
Clouds retreating over the lake

We decided we’d stay for at least two nights so we paid $20 (just $10 per night for lakefront living!), unloaded the kayaks and explored our campsite. We went down to the lake a few steps from our site and watched the now-retreating clouds, then wandered up a short trail behind our truck and realized just how spacious and relatively private our site was. 

View of our campsite and the lake from the hillside behind us
Ahh, the good life
Susan was the first to remove her shoes and I quickly joined her in the surprisingly warm shallow water

Once we’d gotten our lay of the land, we took our folding chairs to the tiny pebbly beach in front of us and relaxed, something we’d promised we’d do here. We’d hoped to find some dispersed (read: quiet) camping but our beautiful lakefront site seemed fairly isolated and the lake was surprisingly warm enough to soak our feet, so we were pretty sure our site would do. 

We were doubly sure of our site choice when we launched the kayaks for a sunset cruise on the still lake and followed a mother duck and four ducklings as they mimicked her every move while she taught them the ways of the water.

Charles's red kayak in setting sunlight
Mother duck and two of her ducklings from a distance. We couldn't get too close or they'd rush away
Hair still damp from getting caught in the rain but both of us grinning because of the indescribably sublime feeling of floating on a gentle lake

The lakes of the Lakes Basin were surrounded by granite peaks and the Gold Lake shoreline consisted of large jagged boulders that were perfect for exploring by kayak.

An evening stroll to the far end of the lake revealed a small dam built to control overflow during snow melts. 

View from the dam
It's great to see children exploring the outdoors
This young girl handled her kayak better than many adults

The large sites at this campground were an ideal choice for families and a number of them were filled with multiple tents and small campers. On the way back, Susan chatted from a socially-safe distance with a couple of precocious children. We also watched a father on his SUP (stand up paddleboard) and his young daughter kayaking.

Later, the sun set fully behind the granite mountains, which excited Susan enough for her to head to the shore again to get more great photos.

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