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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.



May is National Bike Month

May is National Bike Month.

I like to use my bike to get around.  I do not have a demanding schedule, and in the event of bad weather or the occasional flat tire, I can call my husband to come and get me in the F-150.  Or I can walk – Chico isn’t so big you can’t just walk.

I call my bike “Myrtle the Turtle” because she is green and slow but she always gets me where I want to go. She is a 1956 Raleigh Superbe, I picked her up at a Deseret Industries thrift store back in the 1980’s. She has been my commute bike ever since. 

I took Myrtle to work today.  The morning was bright and cheerful, I figured I’d be home before the rain set in. I didn’t count on the wind, which started to pick up about 11 am. 

Sheesh!  Did you ever notice, when you ride a bike on a windy day, the wind seems to be coming right into your face no matter what direction you’re traveling. When I got home I looked like Little Richard.  Wooooo-oooo-ooo Bay-beeee!

Cycling isn’t always the practical way, but I work it in whenever possible.  It’s free compared to the costs associated with a car, and it’s a good work out. The best thing is, there are routes available to bikes that are not available to cars.  I’ll say, Chico has a lot of nice bicycle amenities, bridges, trails, etc.

Frankly, you are the only one who can guarantee your own safety – be careful out there.

If you are new to cycling or new to Chico, Chico Velo is a good resource for route information. They have lots of socials where you can meet other riders and learn the ropes of getting around town.

Of course their big event is the Wildflower, coming up at the end of April.  My husband rode in the century as a high school kid, and we participated with our kids in the “Child Flower,” a shorter ride over to Durham Park, which I would recommend. You don’t need a fancy bike to do that route, just good brakes and tires, water and a snack. Child Flower registration is only $20 per rider and I believe you still get the official bandanna with the route map printed on it.….html

Get out there and enjoy your wheels! 

Mt Lassen – I haven’t been able to get up there yet this year, but here’s some pix from old trips

Someone has been searching posts about Mount Lassen so I searched a couple of my faves. 

Here’s one from June 2012 – we went snowboarding at Diamond Peak – it was  the last good snow before the drought.

Here’s a road trip from June 2015 – the snow was not good enough to board, but we had a fantastic day.

We can see the mountain from a spot on Hwy 32, and it’s covered with snow right now. 


Get out there and try something new – 395 vacation in a bag!

You can pick up a variety of baked goods at Erick Schat's bakery, or you can pick up a bag of bread mix and make your own.

You can pick up a variety of baked goods at Erick Schat’s bakery, or you can pick up a bag of bread mix and make your own.

It’s good to meet new people and try new  things. When my husband and  I moved our son into college housing, we met his girlfriends’ parents.  They live in Southern California.  You meet the nicest people through your kids.

What we have in common besides our kids is, we both enjoy a quick “395” vacation. Hwy 395 cuts across the “back” of California, hitting some of the most incredible natural wonders in the state.  No matter how many trips we make, we always find something new.  We look at the map and old tour books, and sometimes we just wander. We find stuff that has been lost down old roads, forgotten. We follow signs that sound interesting, like “Punch Bowl” (an abandoned open pit pumice mine) and “Obsidian Dome” (one in a chain of “modern” volcanic eruptions).  Once we pulled over to have lunch and found ourselves in an old dump – six Ford Model T’s stood in a row, their chassis rusting into the ground. 

Tracy and Jim like the fishing. Hwy 395 boasts some great fishing holes, right along the road. They also like to try something new every time they drive up, so they pulled over in Bishop  and checked out Schat’s Bakery. The menu is hard to resist. Besides sandwiches, they have a very nice selection of cookies and other baked goods. They sell mixes too.  Having heard I liked to make my own bread, Tracy picked me up a bag of Schat’s special sheepherder’s mix.  

I get into a rut sometimes. I been making my bread a specific way, having a routine that starts the day before with grinding wheat berries and feeding the starter. I try to bake a fresh loaf  about every three days – when my son was home, it  was every other day.  With the heat of Summer, I have been getting up about 5am to get the bread done by 9am – it has to sit for about an  hour and a half. Oftentimes I wake up with my hands in the dough, wondering if I did everything right. It always turns out okay, but some loaves turn out so much better than others I can’t help but wonder.

So this mix just seemed too good to be true – just add water?

I could not believe this would work, it just seemed too easy.

I could not believe this would work, it just seemed too easy.

But I trusted Schat, so I went for it. You will never get anywhere if you don’t try something new once in a while. The recipe was different in several ways, starting with, pour the warm water in the bowl and  then dump in the mix.  Usually I start with my wet starter “sponge”, adding flour and water in portions.  But I try to follow instructions the first time I do something. So, I took it slow, stirring in the flour – luckily the instructions said it would be a dry dough, it was really  hard to knead at first. “variable” is an important word – when I didn’t think I could get the dough together I started wetting my hands with warm water until it got sticky enough to stay together. It was a dry ball, but I could feel it was alive and rubbery, starting to fight back as I struggled to push it together. Within five minutes of kneading my arms were done and I laid it out for half an hour with a plastic bag over the top of the bowl.

It didn’t rise like my dough, but I could see it was pushing itself into a little dome. After half hour I formed it into a round loaf and set it aside again for an hour and a half. This time it pushed itself up into a little peak, raring to get into the oven. It was fun watching it take shape – it was definitely alive.

And here it is, a very authentic looking loaf of sheepherders bread!

And here it is, a very authentic looking loaf of sheepherders bread!

The outside was very hard, and the loaf was very heavy. That kind of worried me, but it looked  and smelled fantastic.  All we could do was let it cool and see what we got.

And here's what I got - look at this beautiful bread!

And here’s what we got – look at this beautiful bread!

The crust was chewy and delicious, the inside soft and rubbery, full of tiny holes. Perfect! I usually use some whole wheat in my bread, so this was different – I couldn’t wait to try peanut butter and jelly! It toasted perfect, the crust very crispy. We ate it down to the last heal, and today I’ll make croutons out of that.

And then I’ll feed my starter and get ready to do another loaf of my own bread. It’s nice to have a  routine, but it’s nice to bust out of it once in a while. 






Really Phil? Early Spring?

Every year I look forward to Groundhog Day, whether I am hoping for Early Spring or Extended Winter, I like the idea of a rodent predicting the weather. 

Groundhog Day apparently stems from German tradition. In America the natives made their predictions based on the behaviors of other rodents, primarily the muskrat. It’s true –  the old people predicted the length and harshness of the coming winter based on the size of their neighboring muskrat “push-ups” – the mud, stick and grass lodges muskrats build along marshes and streams, in which they can spend a frozen winter, even using the mound as food in the late months.  

Creatures who live close to the Earth must know – for one thing, they can feel the temperature and texture of the dirt. For another,  as humans observe them, they observe the insects. Each in turn.

This year I am disappointed with Phil’s prediction – early Spring. I was hoping for at least six more weeks of snow. My husband reminds me, – Spring can bring snow too. I hope so. 

Yesterday we took a day off to hit the slopes at Shasta.  As a child I went with my family to Shasta in the Summertime. We camped, hunted, fished there, and rode the Huff and Puff a couple of times before it was put out of operation in 1971.  But I had never snowboarded Shasta before yesterday.  

Sugar Bowl in Tahoe has more features, oftentimes more snow, earlier and later in the year, and they used to have a very affordable mid-week pass with lots of promotional deals like points to use for free food and other goodies. That all ended with the last couple years of poor snow. Sugar Bowl is under new management, they’ve raised prices, cut the deals, and for a while, they weren’t opening their main lodge during the week, meaning, no bathrooms.   By the time they wised up and re-opened the lodge, we had got disgusted with the mismanagement, and stopped buying our yearly passes after 20 years. 

We find, we had got into a rut. Now we can spend the same amount of money we spent on the pass, and although we can’t make as many trips, we can get out there and try new places, do new things. Last year we had a few good trips all the way down to Mammoth Mountain, in Southern California, and we’ll probably keep that tab open. But, Shasta finally got some snow, so we decided to see what we’d been missing.

I’ll tell you what we hadn’t been missing – Bay Area and LA people. Tahoe stinks of the Bay Area, that was something we’d just gotten used to – rude asshole city people, screaming at their kids, avoiding eye contact as they shoved ahead to grab a cafeteria chair right out of your hand, etc. 

At Mammoth we experienced the LA crowd – different, but still obnoxious. Where Bay Area people are always uptight, the LA crowd is more relaxed, but both are demanding and, wow, just plain GRABBY. They will shove ahead of you in line, they will butt their way onto your chair or your table in the lodge, they will have loud conversations across your face without so much as a “so where you from Hon?”

I had not thought for a long time how annoying those people were until yesterday.   Northern California people are nicer. You can talk to them and they don’t act like you just exposed yourself, that’s something right off the bat.  All day yesterday I was not cut off once, nobody “buzzed” me, not even a skier. 

At Shasta the runs were beautifully groomed – on a Monday, that’s worth noting. At Sugar Bowl they stopped grooming the runs on weekdays because they want to save them for the weekend crowds. At Mammoth they stopped grooming during the day after an inebriated woman ran into one of the groomers and the resulting lawsuit cost the resort a pretty penny. Grooming makes a lot of difference for a person like me who is not that skilled. 

The weather yesterday was almost perfect – sunny slopes and temperatures in the 30’s, no wind. There had been light rainthe previous night, so there was no powder, but the grooming was adequate to keep the deck nice. 

No, I didn’t take my camera, sorry about that. One thing that always strikes me about  Mt Shasta is how WHITE it is, just gleaming like toothpaste. The resort lies below the summit, so you are staring up at that face – it seems alive. 

And, from various points, you can see Mt. Lassen gleaming in the distance. Maybe that’s the next road trip, I’ll have to start wheedling my husband to take me up to Lassen again. 




Sierra snow pack in good shape – I think it will keep up in 2016

The Department of Water Resources has given the Sierra snow pack a good prognosis – that is, if this weather keeps up into Spring. 

I think it will.  “The Baby” is colicky this year, been throwing regular temper tantrums, a trend that is hard to stop if it rolls over January 1.

I sure hope so. My family taught me to snowboard, no small deal, and last year they replaced my crapped out snowboard – bought used, and then used and used again! It was an older model, short for speed, but an old crate when it came to powder.  As I’ve learned more every year, I find, it’s the powder, screw the groomed, that makes it all worth while. 

Ever been sank in a snow powder bank? Don’t panic, cause you’ll start to get hot in your snow clothes down there. It’s a good thing to have your cell phone in a high zipper pocket, so you can get to it. But sometimes it’s quicker and less humiliating to get yourself out.  Unstrap your paddle foot, start kicking the snow in front of you to get a good foot hold, and then slide that board up, straight up, not sideways. Yes you can do it!  Start crawling with two hands and one foot, and hold that board straight up with your other foot. Don’t slip cause you will likely get buried deeper the second time. As soon as you can get your face over that snow, start hollering, but keep crawling, cause chances are nobody is going to hear you.

Sure, you can unstrap both feet, but good luck ever getting your board out of there. 

After that happened to me twice, my family got me a new, longer board. The short “lunch tray” model we’d got at a garage sale is for ice boarding, pretty much, sinks like a rock in powder. Who woulda known? Last year I had to learn to use my new much longer board, and it was sketchy. It’s like driving an SUV after you had a VW bug.  Turning, sometimes I get the front end caught in the snow – I have taken quite a couple of tumbles.

The first time, I took a turn too fast, did this sideways helicopter crash, right at the bottom of the lift, where everybody stood watching in quiet amazement. When I flopped up and landed right on my butt, several people applauded. I looked at them, my head still spinning, snow driven into the vents on my helmet, and said, “I meant to do that.” And I got up and walked into the lodge and got myself a straight shot of Stolichnaya.

The second time was head over heels. Head over heels. Head over heels. I thought it would never stop. Again I landed perfectly on my butt, my husband sliding along in front of me, completely oblivious. All around me people blew by, as though they saw stuff like that everyday. I was shaken pretty good, but my neck didn’t really start to hurt until the next day.

What, you want to live forever? 

Screw me – I can’t wait to get back out there. Like the 60 year old Japanese woman I met at the top of the bunny hill one year. She had taken up snowboarding late in life, like me,  to follow the kids. The first trip she fell and broke her tailbone. Her husband, an engineer, had designed this comical but very practical looking “diaper” for her to wear, all padded in the ass, and there she was again. Go Babeeee! We had a very nice afternoon together, speaking pidgin English  and Japanese all day, gesturing, laughing.  I can’t remember her name, or any of the words she taught me, but I remember the way she threw her head back when she laughed, like she was taking a big mouthful of Life and chewing it up.

Taking the rainbow tour of the Eastern Sierra

My husband and I just went on a barnstorm tour of Highway 395, down to Mono County.  Any time you want to get out of town, got a couple of days and a few hundred bucks burning a hole in your pocket, I’d recommend a 395 vacation.  Go “off season” and the hotels are remarkably cheaper.

We went to see our son, take him some birthday presents, hang out with him for a couple of days over his birthday. He attends a neat little community college near Bishop. Every time we visit him there we meet more nice people. He works at his dorm and now he has a job doing the sound board at the local theater. They are currently running the play, “Of Mice and Men.” This is not my favorite work, not even my favorite work by Steinbeck, but the cast, a mixture of local amateurs and some Los Angeles professionals, was worth an evening.

It’s a difficult play with some language and situations, but they pulled it off really well. I’ve always hated the ending – I won’t spoil it for you – but that’s my son’s big moment – he has to do the lights and sound when George plays out his final act of devotion to his friend Lennie. My son has to do his part just right, or it will look dumb, and I’m real proud he understands how important his job is.

My son lives in a huge caldera. Having grown up with Lassen and Shasta, we had thought we lived in a volcanic area, but the Eastern Sierra is like the Land of Giants. Every time we go down there we try to take in something spectacular. We’d seen this sign along the road again and again – Obsidian Dome. Sounded so cool, my husband just shook his head – “oh, it’s probably a 20 mile drive to Boredom…” he kept insisting. “Those exciting names can be a real let-down.” 

But I kept wearing on him, and then the kids chimed in,  and this time he actually thought of it himself. We set out from town and within 15 minutes we were in one of the weirdest moonscapes I have ever witnessed. 

This is a ginormous pile of obsidian. Like a giant's toy pile.

This is a ginormous pile of obsidian. Like a giant’s quarry. I’m down at the bottom telling the kids, “get off there!” The rocks are like broken glass.  

I’m sorry I didn’t remember my little digi-cam, my husband took this picture with his phone. You just have to see this place to believe it. My son climbed that pile, looking at each rock, saying, “look at this! look at this!’  Some were solid, some chipped apart in his hands to reveal shiny black wet-looking volcanic glass, ranging in color from deep dark black to fiery red. Some was sharp enough to cut our skin, but we were careful.

This dome is part of a chain of explosions that only happened about 500 years ago. Wow, that’s not very long ago.  A “dike” of lava running crisscross underground encountered an underground river as they ran along together, and wherever the lava came into contact with the water, steam blew through the rock and created craters spread out for miles in line. At Obsidian Dome, the lava came pouring out of the ground, creating a huge dome.

Yeah, in my child mind, I expected a big shiny round dome, like the top of the state capitol building in Sack-o-tomatoes. Ha ha – the lava solidified immediately on contact with the cold air, and broke like glass, into shards. You can see the flow lines, all bent and twisted, different kinds of rock layered together like candy. 

Trails lead into the center of the rock pile. It’s exactly what I imagine the moon looks like. 

I was shocked how close this wonder is to the road – in fact, now that we knew what we were looking for, we could see it from the road, along with another, smaller dome to one side. We will most certainly revisit this place, I think we only saw part of it. There’s a creek called “Glass Creek,” that’s got to be good.

Whenever we leave I have a kind of anxiety attack, I hate being so far separated from my son. But it was raining, and that cheered me up – I wondered if it was raining in Chico. As we got out on the road for Bridgeport, we noticed a big rainbow.

I don't too often see the top of a rainbow.

I don’t too often see the top of a rainbow.

It beckoned us further, spreading out over the glacial valley like a bridge.

As the road wound into the Walker River Canyon near the Bodie turn-off, it seemed to disappear into the clouds.

As the road wound into the Walker River Canyon near the Bodie turn-off, the rainbow seemed to disappear into the clouds.

The road meanders into a tiny canyon at Bodie, rock walls all around.

This is a gloomy place, especially if you know the history of the tiny town that lies behind the canyon walls.

This is a gloomy place, especially if you know the history of the tiny town that lies sleeping behind the canyon walls.

The storms rolled over us as we rode the highway, around the corner, the rainbow came out of the darkness again.

Hello Friend.

Hello Friend.

I have driven through Bridgeport so many times, the little tourist town has grown on me. Sometimes it’s just a ghost town, businesses closed up, sometimes boarded up, For Sale signs posted. Other times – now it’s trout season – it’s really hopping. There are a couple of hot springs there, we just visited Buckeye Hot Springs the last  time we went through town. We eat at a Bridgeport restaurant now and then, but gas is usually kinda high there. 

This time we found out, Bridgeport is a special place.

It's not every day I get to see the Rainbow's End.

It’s not every day I get to see the Rainbow’s End.

This rainbow set itself down right in Bridgeport. Wow, that’s pretty special. Look hard, you can see it touch the ground.

As we rolled along home, six hours, sheesh, we wondered – is Southern California getting all the rain? 

Come on baby, we got to take this rain to Chico!

Come on baby, we got to take this rain to Chico!

Suddenly, the storm let up, and Tahoe appeared around the bend. 

Lake Tahoe - the Number One

Lake Tahoe – the Number One “place I like to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.” Or stop, just keep driving.

Lake Tahoe is an incredibly beautiful tourist shithole, sorry to cuss, but that’s what it is. We enjoy the scenery, we might stop at a convenient coffee shop in Incline Village, but then we get the hell out. The people there will crawl up your ass if you stay more than five minutes.  The whole Tahoe area is a good argument against a tourist economy.  There’s no community, no old-timers, just a bunch of transplants peeing in the lake while screaming “KEEP TAHOE BLUE, YOU BASTARDS!”

This is the point where I start getting impatient to get home. Home sweet Chico. I watch the road to see signs of recent rain. BAM! As we get over the state line the rain hits our windshield, like it really means it!

Well, thank goodness, the rain has made it to Northern California.

Well, thank goodness, the rain has made it to Northern California.

The sun shines bright above Oroville, but you can see there was a gullywasher earlier in the day.

The sun shines bright on a walnut orchard above Oroville, but you can see there was a gully washer earlier in the day.

Yeah, I might be nuts, but I love the North State.