After our time at Slab City to remind us of what we miss about green and forests and being the only people for miles around (yes, Willow is people) we made it a point to choose our next destination to remedy that. The San Bernardino National Forest has numerous camping opportunities which meet that need. We were drawn to so-called Yellow Post Sites as they were supposedly “fire safe” camping spots in remote areas that are marked with a single yellow metal post. No restrooms, no water, no facilities. Just a dirt road and a fire ring (which we were not allowed to use this time of the season).
We stopping by the Forest Service’s Mill Creek Work Center to pick up the latest MVUM, ask their opinion on where some great places to disperse camp in relative seclusion were and get a Fire Permit. Even though the regional signs said Low Fire Danger the Forest is still a bit fire-shy after the huge Lake Fire burned 10,000 acres of the Forest in 2015 and so no outdoor wood or charcoal fires were allowed, at all. Only chemical or propane stoves could be used if you have a free California Campfire Permit which we now did. It is good for the year in all National Forests so I expect we will have need of it many more times to come. Our tried and true MSR Dragonfly stove fit the rules in effect and so off we went.
We headed up Highway 38 towards Angelus Oaks. The two Yellow Post sites we were originally considering were the Thomas Hunting Grounds site and the Clark’s Ranch site. The Thomas site was closer and easier to get to and had five first come, first served sites. Clark’s Ranch was father and harder to get to and had only one site so, of course, we chose that one and hoped we would be the first to claim it and have it all to ourselves. Our usual modus operandi is to arrive at any camping location early in the week so as to miss the weekend traffic and crowds.This being a Monday we expected little competition. The fact that rugged dirt roads lead to this spot and a high clearance vehicle is recommended should also filter out several classes of motor vehicle from reaching this spot as well.
Past Angelus Oaks we finally reached Barton Flats and turned off onto Glass Road which wound its way down and into the valley towards the Forest Service Road we were looking for. It was a nice, mild, sunny day but the farther down the road we went the darker and cooler it became due to the thickening tree cover. It was like passing through a magical portal and entering a different world. At a small turnout we found the entrance to Forest Service Road IN09. Within several hundred meters this road came to a fork where we could choose to head off on IN54 or stay on IN09. The map we picked up at the Mill Creek Work Center showed that IN54 would eventually bring us to IN64 which is the road the Clark’s Ranch campsite is on. After a couple of miles of less-than-smooth road we came to our next fork. IN54 continued on and up to the right while at the same time devolving into more of an ATV trail than one suitable for road-going vehicles. We wanted IN64 and that turned off to the left and farther down into the canyon.
As is usual with AT&T we sadly watched our bars of service keep dropping off the farther we continued down IN64 until they disappeared completely about a 1/4 mile from where we eventually found the actual Yellow Post of the Clark’s Ranch campsite.
As we are setting up camp we can hear a slight hum in the air coming from a specific direction further down the road we came in on. Once we reached a good stopping point from our camp set-up duties we wandered in the direction of the hum to see what was causing it. Soon enough we can smell this intoxicating sweet, fruity, honey smell and hear the hum getting louder with each step we take.
Finally we figure out that this singular, white blossomed tree is a bee bonanza and the sound is from the thousands of bees going about their bee duties all over this fragrant standout.
After days of smelling mostly dust and dog this was a most welcome change in sensory perception. Behind that olfactory treat was a small field which held limitless fascination for Willow. We walked through a break in the old fencing and could immediately tell that the field was a common layover point for animals great and small. With her nose to the ground running hither and thither Willow pretended she was a Bloodhound and vacuumed up as much scent info as she could.
I left her to her enthusiasms and walked back over to the campsite to finish setting up. No sooner had I finished the standard setup tasks when she trots back over to take a celebratory dirt bath and signal her approval of our latest stopping point.
The views from the camp run the gamut from snow-covered peaks in one direction to ridges receding in the distance behind ever-changing shades of haze as you look further down the valley.
With snow nearby we thought it might get cold at night but we never needed the sleeping bag. It got down into the low 40’s and the blankets on the bed in the shell can handle that with no problem. The next morning we decided to take a closer look around the area. With Willow following her typical criss-cross search pattern we eventually came across some rocks that seemed too regimented to be natural.
One small section of the floor has tile left on it and it dawns on us that we have found the remains of the Clark family’s shower.
After our little exploration around our campsite area we settled in for an extended, days-long bout of catching up on our reading and going through the thousands of pictures we have taken over the last few months and culling all the crap pics out. This was mostly done from the comfort and beauty of our ENO SingleNest hammock. I got through three books (Red-Tails In Love, The Talented Mr. Ripley and reread the classic A Tale Of Two Cities) and three magazines (one Wired and two Mojo).
In the past week we had only seen one Forest Service Ranger drive by and wave without stopping in a nice, stock Jeep Rubicon (I know… heresy to admit that as a Tacoma owner). The only other disturbance we had was when a Fish and Game hard ass invaded our camp to ask who we were, where were we from, what we were doing, what are our plans, how long are we staying, what weapons we might have with us? The whole nine, intrusive, jack-booted-thug yards. Hand on sidearm because Willow approached him all waggy-ass and happy to meet him. “Well, no, nice Mr. Ranger Sir, we have no firearms with us as this is California and that would just be plain silly. Have a nice day sir.” What a Douche. Every generalization about cops that turns people off and gave fuel for one of the best and most covered classic rap songs in history was on full display. I am most definitely not the demographic that song was written for but I still love and have it and many covers of it on all my electronic devices.
Except for the sound of the woodpeckers pounding and chatting away and the wind through the trees the only other, regular sound was helicopters. Lots and lots of low and slow flying helicopters criss-crossing overhead dozens of times a day. At first we thought we might just be in a regular flight path and then, after Mr. Hard Ass made his appearance we thought maybe they were looking for some criminal type that had fled into the mountains. Only when we finally got down out of the mountains a week later did we find that they were actually searching for some overly adventurous hiker who had fallen and gotten herself stuck and needed rescuing. Even though she was trespassing in a closed portion of the forest we still wish her a speedy recovery.
After several days of reading and relaxing but without any connection to the world at large we had no idea what is happening outside our four green walls and blue ceiling and Internet withdrawal rears its ugly head. Has the Zombie Apocalypse started? Meteor slammed into Earth somewhere? What idiocy has been spouted by a politician? Who knows! Since AT&T doesn’t exist at this campsite (and oh so many others we frequent) we decided to take the Tacoma and see if we couldn’t find another good site but with the added bonus of not being completely cut off from the rest of the world.
I didn’t want to pack up camp because we might just not find anything suitable and so cleaned up a bit and left our road-going life behind to hopefully not be messed with by any interlopers who might come along. We headed down IN64 until we came to a fork in the road which gave us the option of continuing to the left on IN64 or heading to the right onto a lesser quality of road (IN64A) and what looked to be an eventual dead-end according to our map. As a general rule, when given the choice and all things being equal, we take rights at forks, choose the rockier road and, because I was never an A student and Willow is not exactly a rocket scientist…we’ll take that A now thank you very much.
Almost immediately the road gets worse with axle-deep/tire-wide ruts and basketball-sized rocks strewn all over the place. Cool. The Tacoma likes to play in this kind of stuff. We don’t need 4-wheel drive or locker or low gears just a steady and judicious use of the brake pedal and a lower gear as we let gravity pull us down the mountain.
After a couple of slow, tricky miles we finally come out at the bottom of the mountain. Right in front of us is this sign.
Sorry for the poor photo. In addition to the bold rules, the top part of the sign that you cannot read mentioned something along the lines that this is one of those relatively rare streams that are home to wild native California Rainbow Trout. Cool!
We walked over to the creek itself because, well… the dog insisted. It was not a hot day but she took one of her patented World Class Wader© twirls in one of the little pools that peppered the heavily tree-shaded route of the creek.
We trompes around a bit, took a few pictures of my pretty girl doing her doggie thing and then headed back towards the Tacoma. Along the way we came across an old, stout, rusty steel frame thing that I think might have been used back in the day by someone quarrying river rocks.
If I am correct, when this contraption was in active use the sloping face was completely covered in the steel mesh you can see on its left side. Dump trucks or other heavy machinery with a bucket or bed full of rock would dump their load on this and only the wanted 4 inch or so sized rocks that fit through the screen would fall through to then be collected for landscaping or whatever use they wanted.
If we didn’t know any better we would think someone could come, cut the thing up, drag it out of there and recycle it for a pretty penny, NOT that we are advocating anything remotely like that, nope, not at all.
Heading back up the mountain we ended up needing almost all of the Tacoma’s 4×4 and lower-geared capabilities. Going down was a matter of careful steering while keeping gravity in check with the brakes. Going up we couldn’t fall over rocks and through ruts we had to daintily drag ourselves up and over and having 4-wheel drive to push and pull up and around obstacles was a good thing.
We arrived back at camp and were relieved to find our gear unmolested by human or other animal in our absence. Of course, the main impetus for our little day trip was a failure. Except for a little area we found where AT&T begrudgingly offered a weak and sporadic 3G signal on the way down the mountain, we found no reason to relocate our camp and so just resigned ourselves to being out of touch for the time spent there. It really wasn’t all that bad. We had books, music, the company of a variety of avian life in the trees surrounding our camp and enough peace and quiet to decompress and detox from the usual busy, noisy, overly connected life. Plus, Willow had some burrowing critters to keep a close, nose-in-the-hole watch on and I had the fun of watching her twitch with the anticipation of the hunt.
Reluctantly we finally had to pack up our camp and continue the trek back up towards the San Francisco Bay Area for a house/cat-sitting gig. We are not sure where our next stop will actually be but think we will stay in the next National Forest to the North of this San Bernardino NF that offers us a compelling spot.