When we stopped of at the Groveland Forest Service office to ask about free camping opportunities we were lucky enough to be attended to by a Forest Service Ranger. Sidearm in holster, green Forest Service approved ballistic vest on, he knew the area like the back of his hand and was happy to share his time and knowledge with us. We indicated are top priorities were “peace and quiet” and “a strong AT&T signal.” That second one got a laugh out of all the employees in the office as they too understand the high suck factor that is AT&T in beautiful, out-of-the-way areas. He pulled out the large, quality, paper MVUM that they freely give out and showed me a few options. The little mark he pointed to farthest away from where we were standing at that moment was the Anerson Flat area.
We had time and so decided to not take the most direct route so we could check out some of the small Forest Service Roads on the way. The main, popular season when many off-road and campsite areas officially open up is between April 15th-18th. Since it was still off-season when we were here many Forest Service Road gates are locked or have vehicle restrictions now but there were enough open that we spent a couple of hours just slowly 4-wheeling through steep, narrow, muddy “roads” seeing what beauty the area had to offer off the beaten path. One plus of off-season camping is that campsites that might charge a fee during the open season are free right now. That was the case with Anerson Flat.
Once we stopped mucking about on the Forest Service off-road trails we started towards the actual camping area. Along the way we saw a marker and stopped to see what it was all about.
Next to the marker was a foot path winding its way up the side of the hill there and a sign warning us to stay out of the cave.
Now normally we might take that as an invitation to, at least, walk up the path and see what all the fuss is about but we wanted to get to the campsite and set up since it was supposed to dump rain later this evening and setting up (or taking down) camp in a downpour is less than ideal. Little did we know at the time that we would have to do just such a sub-optimal job the next day.
When we got to the camp it was a wide open area with one group campsite to the left right as you drive in and then seemingly just one other spot across the road from the vault toilet. The last people who had used the group site had apparently used the ground right in the camp as their bathroom and toilet paper littered the area so, no, we are not going to set up our shelter and hang out around someone else’s ground level sewage storage. We drove past the campsite to see if we could find a nice place to dispersed camp outside of the campground proper and almost got stuck a few times when the mud puddle we thought was shallow and flat turned out instead to be deep and steeply slanted. With a quick shift of the Tacoma into 4-low gearing we prevented ourselves from getting bogged down and were able to slip, slide and slosh our way free of that insidious trap.
With the day getting late we decided to head back and just use the designated campsite spot. On the way we saw a little unmarked road (we later found that it was named 19DC160) probably 100 meters past the campsite and turned off to see what was available. Sadly, once we turned the first corner it opened up into a nice meadow surrounded by trees but someone else had beat us to it and had already set up camp. Not wanting to bother them we u-turned and headed back out the way we had come in and continued on those last hundred meters or so to the campground. With no other easy options we decided to take advantage of the one other official campsite spot. Besides being a short 50 meters to the vault toilet there was a small stream flowing by all of 25 meters or so away. As an extra, added bonus someone had left a nice pile of campfire wood right next to the fire ring so we thought we might take advantage of that later.
As we were setting up the shelter and getting things situated inside it started to rain. We picked up our pace but still had a good amount of our stuff get wet. Still, once the setup was complete there was still some daylight left so we decided to take a walk around and explore. With me in my Arc’Teryx gear and Willow in her Ruffwear coat we ambled over past the vault toilet and into the meadow that was green and shiny from the rain.
There were a few interesting, large, cracked boulders that dotted the landscape around the meadow. I tried to coax Willow up onto one to take a more interesting picture but she was having too much fun sniffing around to help me with my photo opportunity.
Since it was wet and beginning to start to get dark we turned back towards our campsite to make dinner and batten down the hatches for the coming storm. Once food was consumed and everything looked like it would survive a good rain storm we got situated in the camper shell for the night and I caught up on some reading with the help of my headlamp and Willow immediately fell asleep and started snoring.
We were awoken at around 3am with rain pounding hard on the shell and the shelter that we had set up right next to the Tacoma. A quick peek outside let us know everything was still in place and doing okay and so we both went back to bed. The rain was loud enough that I had to use a second pillow over my head to block out the noise but eventually sleep won out over rain.
A few hours later we got up to a continuing downpour. Less than ideal conditions but gore-tex overcomes rain most of the time and I needed to begin my morning coffee ritual. I put Will in her coat and let her out to go do her morning sniffabout and I went into the shelter to perform the offering to the coffee gods. Once the lovely, rejuvenating, hot beverage was in my Klean Kanteen insulated pint glass I sat in the shelter and started to read some more and enjoy the morning with Willow on her pad at my feet, looking out the shelter flap and staying dry.
The rain was still pounding on the shelter so loudly that we didn’t hear the arriving cars until they were almost at our campsite. Willow heard them first and alerted me with the single bark that is her way of telling me that something is close. I took a quick peek out the shelter window and caught a glimpse of two cars passing by heading towards that little side road where that person had set up camp before us. We thought little of this development until about half an hour later when, at 9am sharp, all hell broke loose.
Apparently, this was the weekend for this group to get together and go shooting and waste as much ammunition as fast as possible. I could make out hundreds of rounds of .22, 5.56 and probably 30-06 or .308 being fired in more than one general direction as you could hear the booms getting louder or quieter depending on what direction they were shooting in. Now when I go shooting in National Forests in Oregon we go to one of the many places where you are allowed to quarry rock and sand that dot the area and are nowhere near a campground. We have no desire to annoy people wanting to enjoy the great outdoors. After about a half hour of this racket with Willow cowering in fear and shaking uncontrollably I decided that I better go have a talk with the group.
I walked the hundred yards or so up the road and over to their site. As I approached they stopped shooting and gave me a quizzical look. Four guys, dressed in surplus German Army uniforms, drinking some crap, Lite American Lager by the caseload and shooting at paper targets propped against the base of some trees all of 10 meters away. Let it be known that my conflict resolution skills are less-than-smooth but I know that one of the general tenants of public speaking is to try to get the crowd to smile and hook them by opening with a joke. So that is what I did. It seemed that “Hi Fellas, that’s not very sporting to shoot at a tree 25 feet away with an M1A, ha ha” was not as funny as I thought it would be. So, I figured I’d better get right to my point which was twofold. One was “How long do you guys plan on keeping this noise up?” The answer with a smirk – “All day.” Two, “Do you know it is illegal to shoot in a campsite, which you are, or anywhere within 150 yards of a campsite?” “I have not heard of that rule.” “You not knowing the rules doesn’t mean they don’t exist.” “If you don’t like it you should just get the fuck out and camp someplace else.” And with that I decided nothing was to come of this interaction, asked them to please not shoot in the general direction of our campsite, about faced and walked back to our camp hoping to not get a bullet in the back.
It’s a shame that I didn’t have one of the paper flyers with the rules about shooting in the National Forest with me or I would have happily handed it to them so they would not be such ignorant and dangerous douche nozzles. It is also a shame that no AT&T signal (or any cell signal for that matter) existed at the campsite or I would have attempted to contact a ranger and have them inform the shooters of the rules. I later found out that the only number published for the National Forest is the main office number, which is, of course, closed on weekends. Apparently there is no possibility of anyone ever doing something illegal or dangerous on weekends because why would law enforcement be needed on a weekend? Perish the thought. Kind of lame.
So, we decided to quickly pack up our camp and take their advice to “get the fuck out” and camp someplace else. Everything became a bit of a mess as it was still lightly raining and most of the stuff in the shelter was getting wet as I transfer it back into the shell of the Tacoma and the shelter itself is sopping wet and dripping onto our bedding after I quickly folded it up and stuffed it in there so…a less-than-ideal end to our time at Anerson Flats. Hopefully the next place we camp at will be a little more to our liking.