Gayle Madwin (queerbychoice) wrote,
Gayle Madwin

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Camping at Silver Lake, Part 1

I went camping! Alone except for Boston. I'd never been camping without another human being before, but I was tired of waiting for an acceptable other human being to agree to join me, so I decided to go it alone. It was fairly successful!

Silver Lake campsite 4.jpg

When I was trying to pick a place to camp, I fairly quickly narrowed the choices to two places: Silver Lake Campground in Plumas National Forest and Camino Cove Campground in El Dorado National Forest. (They are both small, free campgrounds with no running water.) Then the area near Camino Cove caught on fire, forcing the closure of the nearby highway, so that settled my decision in favor of Silver Lake.

I left home Saturday evening and returned Tuesday evening. I had originally hoped to leave Friday evening, but I knew this was a long shot that depended heavily upon my being able to finish all my packing and preparations during the work week. There are some weeks when I can get a fair amount done on short breaks in the middle of my workday and in the evenings, but on this particular week, the work I was doing required intense concentration to a degree that made it very difficult to switch back and forth between work and camping preparation tasks. No matter: I'd taken Monday and Tuesday off work, so leaving on Saturday evening still allowed me enough time to camp for three nights.

There are two main routes of traveling from here to there. The larger, more traveled route is Highway 70, which follows the north fork of the Feather River for the majority of the distance between here and there, and therefore offers spectacular views of the river and the rocky cliffs sloping down to it on each side. The smaller, less traveled, and slightly shorter route is Highway 162, which offers the compensatory advantage of traveling through dense forest for the majority of the distance between here and there, and also allows you to travel for miles and miles without ever seeing a single other car. Basically, both highways are spectacularly scenic, but on Highway 162 you're enclosed and shaded by tall trees all around you to the point that you can hardly see any sky, whereas on Highway 70 the view is mostly of rocks and water and is more open to the sky, less closed in by trees. I took the forest route on my way there and the river route on my way back. I liked the fact that the forest route made me feel that I'd already arrived in wilderness extremely quickly after leaving my house.

The California Camping book I consulted when choosing a campground sometimes notes the poor quality of roads to and from campgrounds, but it failed to warn me that the last seven miles of the route to this one were on a dirt and gravel road carved into the side of a steep cliff, with no guardrails. I actually quite like driving on winding mountain roads carved into the sides of cliffs - the quality of concentration required for it is pleasingly meditative - but I could have done without combining this with a dirt and gravel road. My little Nissan Sentra does not have four-wheel drive, but I felt a need to put it all the way into first gear to try to get a decent grip on the road. Also, I happened to be arriving at the exact time of the evening when the angle of the sun lights up every speck of dirt on the windshield to the point of turning the entire windshield opaque - because dirt roads do not waste any time getting car windshields dirty - so I had to drive the road practically blind. I came to a complete stop very regularly while straining to figure out where the road in front of me was located and where the sheer cliffs without any guardrails were located.

But I survived!

Silver Lake campground 1.jpg

Upon my arrival, I at first thought that the entire campground was empty. It turned out that the first five campsites were somewhat separated from the last three, and the last three - because they were the ones right next to the lake - were all taken. So that end of the campground was actually quite crowded. But this was fine with me; Boston and I got to take our pick of the other five sites, and we got to be far enough away from everyone else (about half a mile! completely out of both sight and earshot!) that I was free to let Boston wander around off-leash without worrying about her bothering the other people (or the other dogs, some of which were also wandering off-leash at their own end of the campground). Each end of the campground had its own separate restrooms (just outhouses, but fairly upscale, clean ones), and all the hiking/sightseeing destinations were down by the lake, so there was really no occasion for the people camping by the lake to ever venture anywhere near Boston and me.

I had set up my tent and air mattress together in my living room when I bought them to make sure I understood how to set them both up. The tent setup did turn out to be slightly more nerve-wracking in the wilderness, with the pressure of actually needing to succeed in setting up the sent to have somewhere to sleep, but it's really a very easy tent to set up, so I soon figured it out. And the air mattress absolutely delights me. It came with a rechargeable air pump that's so much easier and so much faster than anything I've ever used before. The pump has a car charger so you can charge it on the way to your campground, but it also has a wall charger for charging it at home before you leave. I charged it at home and found that it held the charge just fine for the duration of my trip. It attaches to the air mattress in such a way that you can seal the air inside before you disconnect the pump, so there isn't that frantic moment of rushing to seal the hole while letting air escape. The pump filled the mattress in about two minutes flat, and I used it again on subsequent nights when I decided to add more air. At the end of the trip, I flipped the pump around and used the opposite end of it to deflate the air mattress in about one minute flat.

(The shoes here that aren't hiking boots are my water shoes. Why yes, I do have the cutest water shoes ever to exist. I like them because they're not exclusively water shoes; they can be worn in other contexts for just walking around. Not so much for hiking, though.)

Silver Lake campsite 6.jpg

I had brought along a hammock and a hammer but failed to bring any nails. There happened to be some giant ones already stuck in two of the trees, so I made use of them for the hammock. This resulted in a slightly awkwardly high hammock squished between two trees that were slightly awkwardly close together; the hammock was a bit difficult to get up into and a bit cramped to remain in. I didn't actually use it much, but it was an interesting proof-of-concept that I hope to improve upon in the future.

I found a loose section of tree stump among the nearby trees and rolled it over to the firepit to use as an end table. I didn't really have much need for it, but it seemed too perfect not to take advantage of. Maybe future users of this campsite will get more use out of it.

Silver Lake campsite 5.jpg

I spent a great deal of time collecting firewood from among the nearby trees and hauling it over to the firepit to be broken or sawed down to size. Keeping the fire going was one of the few really problematic things about camping alone: with no one else to take turns with, it seemed like I never had any opportunity to just sit down and enjoy the fire rather than constantly feeding it. Whenever I tried to sit down and enjoy it, it promptly burned down to ashes.

Silver Lake campsite 3.jpg

Luckily, the weather was warm enough that I didn't really need to keep the fire going, so I just let it go out a lot.

Silver Lake campsite 2.jpg

And then it turned out that I wasn't actually supposed to have built one in the first place! There was a laminated notice posted by the lake, indicating this in small-print legalese:

Silver Lake campground 3.jpg

The relevant part of that notice states that the following is prohibited for the remainder of the 2015 fire season "Building, maintaining, attending, or using a fire, campfire, or stove fire, except in the designated Recreation Sites listed in Exhibit A." The exception was especially confusing because there wasn't anything attached that was actually labeled as being Exhibit A. There was a separate laminated notice, in a different font, not labeled as Exhibit A, that was in fact Exhibit A:

Silver Lake campground 4.jpg

Silver Lake Campground is not listed on this second notice, and from this omission you must draw the conclusion that campfires are not allowed there, not even within installed and approved fire pits and with a valid campfire permit.

Really, these notices are far too subtle. If the goal is actually to stop people from building campfires in campgrounds other than the ones on that list, the correct way to achieve that goal is to put up a sign saying in very large font, in plain English, "NO CAMPFIRES ALLOWED IN THIS CAMPGROUND." This small-print legalese with an unlabeled Exhibit A makes me think that the real goal is just to find an excuse to issue as many fines as possible. I did not get fined, though; I eventually saw the notices, and stood in front of them for a long while, puzzling out their meaning with a slowly dawning sense of distress until I eventually resigned myself to what they meant and refrained from building any more campfires. Oh well.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Before I found out that campfires were not allowed, I first explored the campground and walked down to the lake. Silver Lake is located sixteen miles west of the charming town of Quincy, and although I'd never camped at Silver Lake itself before, I'd often camped at other lakes nearby and had noted that the plant life in the Quincy area is extraordinarily diverse and beautiful. And free of poison oak, too! It's a botanical paradise. So as I walked through the campground to the lake, I stopped to photograph all the flowers I saw along the road.

This is yarrow (Achillea millefolium), a plant I grow at home.

Achillea millefolium.jpg

This is Western steeplebush (Spiraea douglasii).

Spiraea douglasii.jpg

Spiraea douglasii.jpg

This is great red paintbrush (Castilleja miniata).

Castilleja miniata.jpg

Here are the paintbrush and the steeplebush together.

Castilleja miniata Spiraea douglasii.jpg

This is fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium), so named because it sprouts in abundance after wildfires. I've tried to grow this at home but haven't had much success.

Chamerion angustifolium.jpg

Chamerion angustifolium.jpg

This is musk monkeyflower (Mimulus moschatus).

Mimulus moschatus.jpg

This is your standard California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) - the so-called "coastal form," with yellow edges, which really isn't exclusive to the coast but simply prefers milder climates than the solid orange form that's more often found in seed mixes.

Eschscholzia californica.jpg

This is narrowleaf lotus (Hosackia oblongifolia), a plant I just recently tried to grow at home and unfortunately killed off. Apparently it needs not only water but also drainage.

Hosackia oblongifolia.jpg

I think this is Gray's licorice root (Ligusticum grayi).

Ligusticum grayi.jpg

This is bitter dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium).

Apocynum androsaemifolium.jpg

This is probably waxy checkermallow (Sidalcea glaucescens).

Sidalcea glaucescens.jpg

This is non-native, invasive St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum).

Hypericum perforatum.jpg

This is non-native German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla).

Matricaria chamomilla.jpg

This is an aster I can't identify.


This is another plant in the aster family that I can't identify.


And these are a legume that I can't identify. (Same plant in both pictures.)



Finally I arrived at Silver Lake. Swimming is not allowed in Silver Lake. Why is swimming not allowed in Silver Lake? Well, because people who get their tap water piped from this lake don't like the idea of having people swim in their tap water. Really, this is the twenty-first century; our water-treatment plants are capable of turning pure sewage into healthy drinking water. Letting people swim in your lake is not going to hurt you. There are already animals swimming in your lake! Get over it, please. This is a stupid reason to ban swimming.

Silver Lake 1.jpg

The lake is very pretty to look at. Too bad no one can swim in it.

Silver Lake 2.jpg

Here is a panoramic view.

Silver Lake 5.jpg

There is a nice path along the shore. I followed it.

Silver Lake 3.jpg

And took more pictures.

Silver Lake 4.jpg

Silver Lake 6.jpg

Silver Lake 7.jpg

Silver Lake 8.jpg

I took a few more closeups of individual plants, too. I think this is slender beardtongue (Penstemon gracilentus).

Penstemon gracilentus.jpg

This is rose meadowsweet (Spiraea splendens).

Spiraea splendens.jpg

I turned a corner of the path around the lake and continued taking pictures.

Silver Lake 9.jpg

This is matted yerba santa (Eriodictyon lobbii), a shockingly diminutive cousin of a common shrub (yerba santa) in my area. Matted yerba santa, as opposed to the shrub yerba santa, is only a few inches tall.

Eriodictyon lobbii.jpg

This is blue witch (Solanum umbelliferum), a plant I grow at home.

Solanum umbelliferum.jpg

Solanum umbelliferum.jpg

I think this is Regel's mountain beardtongue (Penstemon roezlii).

Penstemon roezlii.jpg

This is a cinquefoil (Potentilla sp.) of some sort.


Up to this point, the trail leading around the lake ran atop a berm or levee built around the lake, and all the plants I photographed along the trail were growing in full sun atop the berm. Looking down over the sides of the berm, I could see small pools of water surrounded by lush wetland plants.

Silver Lake 10.jpg

After this point, though, the berm ended. The trail continued, narrower and hillier now, in the shade of the natural forest landscape.

The red flowers below are great red paintbrush.

Silver Lake 11.jpg

And the pink flower next to the path below is Western steeplebush.

Silver Lake 12.jpg

Boston and I accidentally surprised three Canadian geese on the shore, and they took off into the water.

Silver Lake 13.jpg

Silver Lake 14.jpg

Silver Lake 15.jpg

Silver Lake 16.jpg

Silver Lake 17.jpg

The trail was mostly not right down at the water line, but there were periodic diversions to the water line, and Boston took full advantage of them.

Silver Lake 18.jpg

Silver Lake 19.jpg
Silver Lake 20.jpg

At home, when I take Boston around the neighborhood, she frequently lags behind and drags her feet. This gives me the impression that she doesn't have the energy to keep up with me. Yet when I take her hiking and let her off leash, she runs full-speed ahead out of sight, then periodically runs full-speed back to me when I call her, and generally goes both farther and much faster than I could ever dream of. What's the deal with that? How is this the same dog I end up dragging behind me as an unwanted 50-pound weight when I take her around my neighborhood? My parents have suggested that maybe she drags her feet when I'm heading toward home because she doesn't want to go back home yet. They may be onto something. It's annoying, though, when she won't go as fast as I want her to. She went plenty fast around the lake.

Silver Lake 21.jpg

I thought the trail would lead around the entire perimeter of the lake, and even when the trail started fading about halfway around the lake, I continued to try to pick my way through in hopes that there was a way to complete the loop. I followed a couple of different dead ends but couldn't find a live end. I descended to the shoreline and tried to pick my way around on the edge of the water. I slipped on some loose rocks and fell knee-deep into the lake, skinning one knee badly - the one knee that wasn't already skinned before I arrived at the campground. I still tried to continue farther, but then there started to be giant, unclimbable boulders on the shoreline. I found some faint traces of where people at some point in the past must have forged ahead - not really a trail anymore but just a pattern of broken branches - but the way was so steep and the soil was so loose and slippery that I was afraid I might lose my footing and crash thirty feet down a steep slope. I reluctantly turned back. I spent much of the return trip contemplating what I would do if I became too injured to walk while alone with Boston beyond the point where the trail had basically ended. I had a pad of paper and a pen with me, so I figured I could write a note and attach it to her collar, but I'm not sure to what extent she could be relied upon to deliver the note to another human being intact.

I photographed some more plants along the way, of course. This is Oregon whitetop aster (Sericocarpus oregonensis).

Sericocarpus oregonensis.jpg

This is mountain brookfoam (Boykinia major).

Boykinia major.jpg

This is Blake's prince's pine (Chimaphila umbellata).

Chimaphila umbellata.jpg

This is bog lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus).

Lupinus polyphyllus.jpg

Upon returning to the spot on the shore of the lake where I had originally started, I continued farther to see how much of a trail there was in this direction.

Silver Lake 22.jpg

Silver Lake 23.jpg

There was a pier on this end of the lake.

Silver Lake 25.jpg

Silver Lake 24.jpg

And another interesting native plant: naked buckwheat (Eriogonum nudum), which I grow in my garden. It's named for the fact that the stems are largely devoid of leaves.

Eriogonum nudum.jpg

Eriogonum nudum.jpg

And more pools of water when I looked down over the edges of the berm.

Silver Lake

And a trailhead, which I resolved to come back to the next day. There wasn't any trail the rest of the way around Silver Lake, but there were trails to Gold Lake, Granite Gap (on the Pacific Coast Trail), Spanish Peak, and Bucks Summit. This trailhead was about a mile away from my campsite, and the trail was going to be up and down hills in chaparral with very little shade and temperatures in the 90s, so I doubted I stood much chance of making it to Spanish Peak or Bucks Summit and back. My choices were between Gold Lake and Granite Gap. Of the two, which sounds more interesting: a lake of gold or a gap of granite? I went for the lake of gold.

Silver Lake 26.jpg

This post has covered Saturday and Sunday. I'll save Monday and Tuesday for a separate post.
Tags: native plants, photographs
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