Road Trip: Lakes Basin area has enough to keep you busy for a few trips

My husband and I took a road trip up into the Sierra yesterday to meet our son and his girlfriend. We wanted a spot about halfway between Reno, where they attend college, and Chico, so we decided to show them an area we hadn’t been since our kids were very young.

We spent a lot of time rambling the Sierra Nevada when the kids were little. My husband was working a lot in towns like Chester, Quincy, even tiny towns like Portola and Graeagle, all along the Highway 32 and 70 corridors, right in the heart of the Gold Country.  We went with him, or met him after work, and headed to some motel or camp ground to spend the weekend.

One place we liked was the Lakes Basin Area in Sierra County – full of scenery, fishing spots, campgrounds, and a good trail about every hundred yards along the highway.  We spent a wonderful weekend at the Lakes Basin Campground, an old resort where you will find the ruins of an old motor lodge, with what’s left of the stone foundations from the little cabins now used as campsite boundaries. A creek runs through the camp, and they cemented a central section of it, I’ll guess back in the 1920’s, just like the city of Chico cemented that section of Chico Creek we call “One Mile” or “Sycamore Pond”.  You can walk right down into the creek on a set of old worn cement and granite steps.

There are trails and incredible features in every direction, my husband decided on one spot before we left so we wouldn’t whittle away the day trying to decide. We couldn’t remember if we’d been to Frasier Falls before, so we decided that would make a nice hike on a hot day, the trail following the creek through the shady woods most of the way.

The road was sketchy, very narrow and windy, like one guy said in an online review – just when you think you’re lost, you get there. The falls are just a short hike from the parking lot.

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The trail is beautifully maintained, with rock work dating back to the 1920’s and 30’s in some places. This was one of the only paved trails we encountered, a short, shady hike to a magnificent spectacle.

 

There are nifty benches made of split logs and stumps around every corner. While there are steep spots on the trail, it’s one of the easiest climbs I’ve made, particularly compared to the road in.

It was Sunday and this is a popular area with people from all over the world, so we weren’t surprised to encounter quit a few people on the trail, a friendly crowd.  A quarter mile up the half-mile trail, we found the creek had dried up, and a bunch of garter snakes were lounging around a hole with wet mud in it. A pair of water ouzels, aka American Dippers, circled the little mud hole in dismay, and seemed to be asking us, “Where the hell is all the water?”

That, and some bear turds found near a woman’s tent earlier that morning, were the topics on everybody’s mind.

But who cares, I’m thinking, the scenery here is fabulous!  And the trail was so smooth I could actually look around instead of watching the ground for trip hazards. My feet are trip hazards, I’m about the clumsiest person you ever found yourself carrying out of the outback.

And get aload of the viewing platform – it’s so weird to drive gravel roads for-ev-er and find a place like this out in the middle of nowhere.

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The trail led right up to this little fortress on the mountain side, from where we could view…

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About the driest waterfall you have ever seen. But still, really, magnificent.

We stood on the platform unsurprised, and not even that disappointed.  We could look around at an incredible expanse of some of God’s best handiwork.

See the tree stump to the lower left – a sign on the viewing platform declares this is a lucky tree stump – about 30 feet tall, standing just off the platform from the side of the canyon –  and if you can pitch a tiny rock or a coin and land it on the flat top you will have good luck. We must have spent 10 minutes searching the ground – curiously empty of any small pebbles – for stuff to throw at that stump. It wasn’t as easy as it looked.

As hikers ascended to the platform we gave way and headed back down the trail. Back on the other side of Frasier Creek, we found a small, unimproved but well-worn trail to the top of the falls.  We saw a family frolicking out there, so we joined them.

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My husband snapped this shot of me and my son’s girlfriend Jackie walking above the falls. See there in the upper left is the viewing platform with the lucky tree stump standing in front of it like a marble pillar.

Don’t you just feel like a gnat in a place like this?

We walked into the creek bed, still wet, with tiny puddles trapped in holes in the rock, buzzing with mosquitoes. It was noon, and about 100 degrees. As we walked back we heard a man complaining that he’d brought his dog for a swim, he’d have to go to the lake to find some water. We saw a lot of dogs on this trip, there are a lot of dog-friendly trails. We talked endlessly of bringing our dogs next time.

So we decided to head to one of the lakes surrounding this spot – the closest was Bear Lake.

The trail to Bear Lake is longer, riddled with loose rock and tree roots, but worth the work. There are stretches of hot, dry tramping, but a lot of the trail winds through low, wet woods, lined with lush greenery, including ripening thimble berries. I found a couple of ripe ones, they were so sweet.

And suddenly the lake appeared out of the woods.

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The water was perfect, we were sorry we had not brought our swim suits.

We had been here when our kids were small, at  this exact spot near the trail head. The memories flooded over me through the entire trip, I felt like I’d forgotten half my life.

Something I remembered very vividly about camping in this area were the petroglyphs we found just outside the Lakes Basin campground, right on the road in. Now they are marked with fencing and a board walk and signs.

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There are human scrawlings on this stone.

There is a sign that catalogs the markings made on this stone, I assume they used some sort of technology. It’s hard to see them with your naked eye, but once you’ve taken a look at the sign you can actually pick them out. I saw several of the pictures very clearly. 

These are right on the road, but apparently there are more along a trail with more signs, near Elwell Lodge, a private resort with “rustic” cabins available for rent by the night or week. 

In the midst of all this geological and human history, we found the time flew by. Suddenly it was 2 pm and we had to hit the trail home. It’s at least 2 and a half hours drive, and we’d left the dogs behind. In future we hope to include them.

We all made promises not to let another 20 years go by before we went back.

 

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