Trip Date: March 18, 2016
This was a Christmas present from Jordan – he said he would go camping with me to help me collect rocks for the garden. We had discussed this date a while back and fortunately it held – both of us had stuff that could have crept into the weekend if we had let them, but we fended them off and were good to go.
I had initially wanted to go out 120 South of Mono Lake to a camp spot we have camped at a number of times in the past. The boys have helped me collect Obsidian from the side of Glass Mountain in the Inyo National Forest. There is a really nice camp spot with a nice view of the White Mountains, a creek down below with clear, cold water, and tons of interesting hiking and vistas. However, this being March and that being about 6,000 feet elevation, this was not the time to head out there, even if Highway 120 East of Highway 395 was open.
My second choice was North of Eagle Lake above Susanville. There is a huge pit of red lava rock, the real light weight/porous red lava like pumice. Pumice is a light-colored, extremely porous igneous rock that forms during explosive volcanic eruptions. The pore spaces (known as vesicles) in pumice are a clue to how it forms. The vesicles are actually gas bubbles that were trapped in the rock during the rapid cooling of a gas-rich frothy magma. The material cools so quickly that atoms in the melt are not able to arrange themselves into a crystalline structure. Thus, pumice is an amorphous volcanic glass known as a “mineraloid“.
However, the site is very similar to the Highway 120 site in terms of elevation and weather one could expect in mid-March, so the back-up back-up plan was Indian Valley Reservoir, North of Highway 20. Our local weather was threatening to make a little noise, but this was close enough and low enough that no matter what happened weather-wise, we could at least get one night in, get the rocks, and get back home.
Mike Leaon and I had camped at the North end of Indian Valley last January, 2015. I knew Indian Valley from my days with the Forest Service in Covelo and Stonyford. Kristen and I had driven through on a day trip a couple years back when we made some phone calls to the family of the 2 guys that got stuck out in the mud by the reservoir shoreline. Several years back, Steve, Ken, Keir, and I rolled by in Steve’s Travel-All on the “Tick Trip” when we started near Indian Valley and ended up above Clear Lake.
When Mike and I camped in this area, I noticed a pile of boulders down below the road that had great color – blues, greens, tans, and were pretty big as I recalled. I made a note to come back some day to get some, any I could handle, so this made perfect sense to bring Jordan with me to help catch some biggins.
Bob, Bill, Ken, Steve, and I had camped near the South end of the reservoir above the dam – was that in December? That was the “Ginger Bob” meets Kowolski trip. We had taken Walker Ridge Road out to the camp spot on that trip as it was closer to the South end, but since Jordan and I were going to the far North end, we decided to take the much smoother flatter Bear Valley road up to Brim Road which heads West to become Bartlett Springs Road. Bartlett Springs Road heads East/West along the entirety of the South East corner of the Mendocino National Forest.
Bear Valley is a known wildflower viewing area, and while I didn’t think of it until we were leaving Highway 16 and crossing over Highway 20, it became abundantly apparent we were in for a treat. The creek sides and the hills along the road were covered with huge patches of orange, blue, and purple. Once we got further out into the open valley, we also picked up giant swatches of yellows also. It was quite a show.
Brim Road leads West across the valley, then becomes a series of sharp, steep switchbacks up the hillside until it intersects Walker Ridge Road on the top. At this point, the road becomes Bartlett Springs Road and drops down to the North end of the reservoir. I assume at some decade, maybe 1984, there was water near the dam and the road that crosses it. Now, the water is a far-away shimmer, although this time it was a bit closer than last January.
I showed Jordan the rock pile and started pointing out ones I’d like. We picked at a few and pried a couple loose and pulled and tugged others out of crevices or out from under others. We started to arrange them around a bush so that when we came back, we basically just had to pull up and load them. It was great fun on the rock pile – really two massive truck sized boulders that had somewhat broken apart. I was totally stoked to actually have gotten back to this spot and be getting these rocks I had thought about so much.
We drove out to the spot Mike and I camped, and then out to the water’s edge but it was completely open out there; no shrubs, or trees, not even old snags long drowned by the reservoir. They are king of creepy on one hand, but very cool and impressive also. Especially with the potential for pending weather, I wanted some ability to rig a tarp for wind and/or rain shelter. So, we got back on Bartlett Spring Rd. and headed further West down the road to check out the NorthWestern arm of the reservoir that was now more like a natural creek winding its way through the riparian plain and eventually flowing into the reservoir.
I was happy to be checking this area out because from the road, it looks very inviting; massive Oaks and Cottonwoods; tons of Willow, Alder, and large brush along the creek; and the surrounding area was lush with tall grass – and ticks as we learned way back when.
As we crossed the bridge to pick up the dirt tracks that led back down stream, there was a huge group camped along the creek. There were lots of motorcycles and trucks, and seemed like multiple families of all ages. The road was very wet and massive puddles filled the low spots with reddish-brown muddy waters. We followed several routes, but most of the area was flooded or full of garbage, or didn’t offer a view of the river.
We went downstream to the old trestle bridge that now sits high and dry corroding and flaking metal chips into the creek. An old red Toyota Tacoma with 3 old dudes had a choice spot in a clearing with a great view of the river and the last of the valley as the creek headed towards the open body of the reservoir. The road continued up a steep rise, which we did, but on the other side was deep mud, a precarious side slope, and a fairly narrow course to the river below. With Jordan’s encouragement, I made one half-hearted attempt to cross the mud, but it was not much of an effort. I was less than convinced that the reward was worth the risk, as the side slope was quite serious and the open country beyond was very scarce.
We backed out of the mud to a safe spot and surveyed our options. Anywhere on this side of the river was well within the reach of the multi-family motorcycle gang, and good camping spots were not making themselves apparent. We decided to head back to get on a dirt side road that paralleled Bartlett Springs road but below it – along the river. It took more doing that one would have expected, but we found it.
This road too, much like so much of the rest of this area, was deceptively rough and difficult to maneuver. Many culverts had failed leading to immense washouts. Because this entire mountain is all just red mud/clay, small cracks and crevices in the surface led to huge sinkholes and failures across and under the road. In several spots, when we stopped and got out of the truck to survey the gulley we could try to drive over or through, we saw that an huge area below the road had washed away, leaving the road hanging like a cliff 3, 4, or more feet above the ground below. It was very rough, slick, muddy going. There was one spot below a hill that separated the river from the main road and one spot nestled along the creek, but neither really fit the bill of our highest priority of having a good view, and chances were we couldn’t have made it to one of them anyway. We turned tail and headed back to the spot I camped with Mike. Whether it was familiarity, having survived all the rough driving and mud, or the few Cottonwoods leafing out in a killer light green and the exceptional local views, I was happy to be there.
We set up camp in a jiffy, tents were prepped, kitchen stocked, beers emptied, this was working out well. This day was spectacular; blue, calm, warm, dry. We BBQ’d chicken drum sticks and thighs and just sat on the tailgate and mowed through them. The breeze picked up so we dropped the table to use it as a wind barrier while we cooked. By the time we ate and cleaned up a bit, the wind calmed completely and the night was gorgeous. We had a nice fire and easy chatting. Jordan put some of the berry pie on the grill to warm it up for dessert – it was outrageous. That may have been the last straw that put me down and out fairly early to bed. It was a great day.
I was up early to a glorious morning. The clouds were definitely threatening, but no wind and not cold at all. I had a great little fire, made coffee, and baked the biscuits in the Dutch oven. Jordan made perhaps the best breakfast I have ever had. He cut up a ton of pepper bacon in the cast iron, dumped it out, then put in some shredded potatoes and then scrambled eggs and then added the bacon back in – my god was it good. I could have crawled back to bed, but Jordan was raring to go.
He wanted to take a hike somewhere so we loaded up the packs and the cooler bags with ice and beers and headed out. There is supposed to be a road that accesses the northern portion of the forest that intersects Bartlett Springs Road right around the dam. We figured we could hike it if it was rough and severely rutted like so many of the other roads we had been travelling thus far. This was perhaps the 4th time I have looked for this road and I have never found it. We continued on looking for a trail that was marked on the USFS map, but we sure couldn’t find that.
We saw a “trail” marker on a road that seemed to head to the far side of the reservoir. This had potential but we didn’t want to hike on a road with ATV’s or drive on a trail that we shouldn’t drive on, so we passed that up too. We ended up driving back to camp and starting from there.
As we headed out towards the water, we veered left and followed some fresh tracks through the brush. Somehow it led to a nice camp spot occupied by several cars but near the water and somewhat close to some of the old snags. This wasn’t a great spot, but I couldn’t understand how we didn’t see it when we drove out to the water yesterday. I was interested in walking the track back from this site to the main access road so I could see where it came in, but we seemed to want to cross the creek to get to the other side of the reservoir.
We followed tracks a couple times to see if they went to a decent crossing, but they always seemed to turn away again before heading across. We saw some motorcycles head our way from the other side and they crossed, so we headed towards their crossing. Along the way, we stopped to consider another point. We launched a couple Cottonwood logs to see if we could make a bridge of some sort, but the attempts failed quite considerably.
We finally kind of just went for it – it wasn’t cold or windy, so even if we got a little wet, we could pretty easily walk it off. I certainly wished I had taken the time to put my wool socks on, but Jordan said that he had, so I felt better about that. We got across in pretty good shape and I was pretty jazzed about our effort. We had a couple beers to celebrate. My feet and pants legs were soaked, but I was feeling great. We were having a blast.
We followed the track along the shore for a while looking back at our campsite on the other side of the inlet creek now; noticed a few rigs parked down side tracks closer to the water, crossed quite a few trickles and tiny flows coming out of the hills of Walker Ridge. We looked for frogs and pollywogs, and little water bugs and such. We checked out rocks and the views and the clouds. And, we had another beverage.
As we ascended out of a steep gully, we could see a huge group camped down by the water at what appeared to be the end of the road. I didn’t want to go too near or walk through their camp, so we just turned around. We followed this track all the way back to Bartlett Springs Road where we had driven to when we were first hunting for a trail. We followed Bartlett Springs back to our camp after passing the skeet/target shooting dudes who were parked on the landing below the road. Jordan yelled out to them asking about what they were shooting, but they weren’t too interested in communication.
Back at camp, we ate a little and I changed my socks and shoes. My pants were almost dry. I was tired but I felt really good. The dark clouds were building again and they were passing over us, or moving Northwards at a pretty good clip, although it wasn’t windy down on earth. Jordan suggested we get the rocks now so just in case the weather gets crappy we would have our quarry and could pack up quickly and split. This was an excellent idea.
We grabbed the pry bar and small sledge we had brought for the job, just in case we needed a couple more specimens. We parked right next to the bush and loaded them up in no time. We pried and prodded a couple more chunks to come with us and had a great load for our effort. On the way back to camp, I wanted to see if we could figure out how it was when we drove out yesterday, we came to one point, but when we walked out this morning we ended up at that cool camp spot.
We seemed to just follow the main tracks and be coming along a high bluff above the water when we saw a green Dodge extra cab 1500 stuck in the mud – like way stuck, like buried in mud and water filled tracks. These guys were something else and officially had joined our trip.
One of the two guys from the vehicle walked towards the embankment and waived us down. He was a giant guy, long straggly sandy blonde hair, straggly beard, gigantic belly, all covered in mud, particularly the one side of his face and head where he obviously had been trying to push, prod, or poke the rear end of the Dodge while his buddy gunned the engine to spin the tire and apply the mud treatment.
He asked us rather politely if we would help by driving around to come down to the water level and help pull them out. We said we would and turned around to look for the road or a track down to the lake. Not seeing anything but motorcycle tracks, we went all the way out to Bartlett Springs Road, turned left and headed towards one of the old boat ramps. We poked around and found a track that headed in the right direction.
Unfortunately, the tracks led into a 100’ stretch or so of 1’ deep mud about, half of the distance filled with standing water. We were maybe 500’ still away from the massively lifted Toyota Tacoma with the tractor-sized tires on it that was maybe 75’ behind the stuck Dodge. He had winches front and back, CNG tanks for air pressure and shock adjustments; he had no doors and a rag top. He had shovels, jacks, ropes, cable – this guy was a serious off-roader.
Jordan and I stopped the Tundra and walked to the guys. Despite the big fella telling us up top we could get through to them, “probably in 2-wheel drive”, he obviously was being extremely optimistic. As we approached on foot, he soon figured out we would not be able to reach them to anchor the Tacoma so he could possible pull the Dodge out from behind. Another approach to the situation was needed.
It was decided that the Tacoma and I would go back up top and I would anchor him from there. The Tacoma stopped to survey the muck he had to get back through and then while he made it fairly easily, watching him go through definitely confirmed that I would have sunk like a stone if I had attempted the crossing.
We headed up and around to the spot we had first encountered Dakota – the big fella. We would now attempt to pull the Dodge forward through maybe 10 more feet of muck until he could get to higher/drier ground at the bottom of our hill. The Hmong dude in the Tacoma just drove over the edge of the hill about ¾ of the way down the slope to a little landing – possible the remains of an old road. He ran his front winch out to hook up to the Dodge and the rear one up to a hook on my frame. He told me to start the engine, but keep it in Park and stomp on the Emergency brake to anchor him as he tried to yank the front of the Dodge out.
The Dodge was able to spin its wheels a lot and threw around a ton of mud, but actual movement may have been a foot or 2 at most. Jordan was getting into it now. He was down in the mud, making suggestions, hauling logs to try to wedge under the tires, trudging up and down the bank. This was perfect adventure for him.
We tried about every trick they could think of. Although the fellas didn’t have a shovel, jack, boards, carpet, mats – anything that one might bring if they were going to play out in the mud, I really don’t think any of it would have helped. The soil was totally saturated and anything they got even slightly under the tires just got consumed by the muck.
The Tacoma unhooked everything and we offered to drive back down Bartlett Springs to the big group camped by the bridge and see if they could help. So, off we went. As we turned off the road onto the muddy roads around there camp, two men were on dirt bikes – kind of like traffic guards while a flock of little kids on tiny dirt bikes drove their little loop. Since we would have driven head on into their circuit, we just stopped and waited for the guys to come over. This was sort of an uncomfortable wait as we could imagine them wondering what we were doing; a) invading their space, b) getting in the way of their fun, 3) not going away.
Eventually one of the guys came over and we explained our predicament. The other guy eventually came over too, but neither one was inclined to help, at least not right away. In fact, they described a past situation of spending a lot of time and effort helping some guys that got stuck out in the mud and then after all that said their grandpa was coming to get them anyway. So we said what we could say and came back to report to the fellas.
As we returned to the bank overlooking the reservoir and the Dodge, I could tell this was going to be a long term investment. I was torn between helping these guys, even though they were total dumbasses to drive out into the mud and get stuck, something they had done numerous times in the past according to their stories, and despite their determination not to do anything stupid this time, this time they really did themselves good. Yet, I was here to spend time with my son, to do some bonding and have a good father son experience, not have the rest of our trip consumed by helping these numb nuts.
So, we told the guys we let the group down the road know they needed help, and there was a chance they would come, but not sure if nor when nor if they had the vehicles, gear, will, knowhow etc. to get them out. We told them to come up to our camp for dinner and to warm up and dry off by the fire, and we returned to camp. We felt good about helping, but a little trepidation about what was yet to come.
It wasn’t long before we saw the 2 images approaching in the dusk. The one guy had a small black lab mix with him that was a little snippy and anxious around us. The guys were very appreciative of the food, beer, fire, and assistance we provided to them. They stood awkwardly around the fire, snipping at each other a little, and trying not to be too bummed, but also feeling pretty stupid.
Dakota’s cell phone was running low on power but we decided to drive out to the dam where Kristen and I were able to get reception some time ago when we called to help the other 2 guys that got their truck stuck way out in the middle of the reservoir when the water was way low. They probably had to trek 10 miles back to their camp, and although they were super stoned by the time we saw them alongside the road flagging us down, you could tell they were exhausted from the ordeal.
Jordan and the other guy went back to the Dodge with a bottle of Jim Beam, the dog, and our shovel to see what they could do. I emptied the back seat and folded up the seats and Dakota wedged himself in that space, not wanting to get the seats all filthy from his wet muddy clothes. We drove back and forth real slow once, then walked back and forth a couple of times staring at our tiny telephone screens looking for a blip on the signal strength bars. No such luck. We drove down to the landing where the skeet shooters had been and roamed around in circles for a few minutes hoping for a last ditch signal. No such luck.
By now it was about 8:00 and Jordan and the other guy were back at camp. We cooked and ate dinner together. They didn’t each much but they very much appreciated the effort. The other guy now realized he had lost his wallet and he was a bit fidgety, so they borrowed our lantern and flashlight and headed back to the Dodge to hunt for the lost wallet. These guys were something else. After a bit they returned, and we discussed options. I offered to take them back to Dakota’s house in Clear Lake right then, although I wasn’t excited about it. For his part, he expressed concern about me driving back alone on these desolate roads. We figured we could take him back in the morning, unless by some miracle someone else came to the rescue at this time of night.
As if responding to the call, headlights appeared out in the middle of nowhere and came right up to our fire. It was the Hmong Patrol, the guy with the Tacoma that had helped before. He had been part of the massive group on the other side of the reservoir that Jordan and I saw on our walk. For some reason, everyone on his group decide to leave, so he and his wife were heading out too. He offered to take Dakota back with him, but by then, I think Dakota was spent and was willing to spend a terrible night out here and start fresh, or somewhat fresh in the morning. So, the Hmong Patrol left for a slow cruise on back roads back to Sacramento, and the four of us were left at the fire side again.
After a bit, Dakota and the other guy decided to head back to their rig. He had a bunch of welding equipment in the back, and on one of the other times they got stuck, someone had stolen a bunch of equipment from the back. In fact, that is apparently how these two met. On another occasion Dakota had come out here, a favorite place of his grandfathers who raised him, he got stuck in the mud (any theme here?) and this other guy stole the stuff out of the back of his truck while it was stuck. This must be big sport in these parts as it didn’t seem to be that big of a deal to either of them. Someone told Dakota who done it and Dakota went to this guy and asked for his stuff back and then they become best buddies. Interesting lot.
Jordan and I were just settling down around the fire, as I thought this might be all of the excitement for the night. However, before long, a loud diesel with tons of lights – it appeared to be a tow truck, but it was pitch black so I couldn’t tell. We figured it was looking for the Dodge, so Jordan ran out to the road to flag them down. That was nearly the last I saw of him that night.
As I heard the story, Jordan jumped in with those guys to lead then to the Dodge. I couldn’t hear the motorcycles that accompanied the big rig over the rattle of the diesel, but this was the group from the camp down the road by the bridge that we had talked to earlier in the evening. I guess after enough beverages they got bored and wanted to come check out the situation. Apparently the guys on the motorcycles were hammered almost as much as they guys on the quad – they were nearly falling out of the rig.
Jordan led them to the spot and the fellas greeted them. I am unclear as to how much effort was put forth considering or attempting to free the Dodge from the muddy waters, but freed it was not. They enjoyed a few more beverages together and had a few laughs and that was that.
Back at the camp, I was starting to tilt a little to the right, and the glow of the fire and warmth of the embers were putting me asunder. I headed for bed after a bit and hoped Jordan would be alright at Hillbilly Hill. After some time of very sound slumber, I was awakened to the unzipping of my tent. A body hurled itself on top of mine and made a loud and wild rumpus waking me from my sound slumber. Jordan was all fired up – so I am sure he had a good time with the guys down there. He let me know that the Dodge was still stuck, and then headed to his own tent for the night.
Since we had decided to take Dakota home to Clear Lake in the morning, we knew we wouldn’t have time for coffee or breakfast or a mellow last morning of our trip. The boys had a long day ahead of them and they were anxious to get started. We had done a fair amount of packing the night before, so we took down the tents, finished packing and loaded up the truck in short order. The fellas appeared out of the early dawn light thankful to have a plan and help to jump start the implementation.
I had planned on taking Dakota, and because he was a big dude, I gave him the two-thirds seat and folded up the little one. I packed all the soft/light stuff onto, in and around the little seat and put the tarp over the big one for Dakota to sit on. At some point, the other guy started hinting at wanting to go too, but between Dakota and I hemming and hawing, he agreed to stay behind. However, somehow it was decided that we would take the guys dog with us, not sure why, but that is how it went.
Fully loaded, we headed West to Clear Lake. We had a nice talk with Dakota, who just seemed like a really good dude. We had a very good vibe going from helping these guys and doing what little we could. I could tell he was very appreciative.
Following his directions, we turned onto a muddy, severely rutted red mud road lined with trailers, substandard house, junky trucks, and a scattering of other vehicles and equipment in all states of disrepair. This was the epitome of Clear Lake living. He pointed out his grandfather’s place, one of the nicer, or at least real houses with a foundation and all on the block.
We all got out of the truck and shook hands, firmly, said our goodbyes and we wished him luck. He was a good guy. I knew he wouldn’t spend too much time showering, eating, resting or anything too much for himself. He said he had just rebuilt his transmission on his Chevy Tahoe, which is why he didn’t follow the other guy out there like they usually do. So I wonder how it did wrenching on the Dodge as its first effort. I hope it went well for them.
Back Highway 20 and South on 16, Jordan recommended stopping at the Road Trip Bar & Grill in Capay which I had been thinking about, so stop we did. I had a chocolate shake and Jordan ordered a sampler plate of deep fried morsels – all consumed with great haste. Jordan picked up the tab which made me feel real good. He snoozed most of the rest of the way home which also made me feel good.
Back home I was super happy with the rocks we collected. The next day I was out front organizing them and placing them where I wanted. We didn’t have a stone to spare which was perfect. We had collected our quarry and had quite an adventure while we were at it. It was made all the better to do it all with my son.