High Country

We came in to Lakes Basin, a lovely campground at 6,500′ we’ve known for over twenty years, set in among granitic boulders, poplars and a forest of tall cedar, fir and Ponderosa, mixed with some of that high country pine albicolis with its strangely fragmented silvery bark. It’s a different light, an extra high blue sky and trees straight as masts rising to about a hundred feet overhead.

‘One site left– #12′, the sign by the campground hosts’ trailer said. One site? One? Sure it was Friday but the clock had barely touched one PM, and we’d hoped for better than that. An exposed site too, much closer to the loo than we normally would pick. We debated going on all the way to the Taber Mine instead of taking this last spot, but we love this high country and after we walked all over it we decided we’d make do. For one night, anyway.

Striking how many other sites were unoccupied but reserved. I’d advocate for having each campground always maintain a few sites not available for reservation for those people who might get caught short in their plans, or those who don’t want to be straight-jacketed in weeks beforehand. As we set up out place, car after car came hopefully through looking, and I felt guilty to have taken the last spot. More and more people came and settled in, the sound of tent poles ringing through the air.

Glorious undergrowth of marshy plants, brilliant flowers and butterflies visiting. We could hear the rush of mountain streams as we established our tents. A light so stong, hats weren’t optional. A snicking sound of debating warblers and perhaps siskins in the firs, poking among the gaudy lichens on the tree bark.

The campground host drove by in her pick-up truck on clean-up duty, welcomed us and comisserated on the exposed nature of our site. “Pretty hot in the middle of the day. But there’s a swimming hole,left over from the days there was a resort here,” she said, “Just a few feet that way,” she pointed and I saw nothing but poplars. “It’s shady, take a book– it’s cool and nice there and it’s for everybody.”

A swimming hole? We’d been here over a dozen times surely and we’d never seen a swimming hole. We walked down the way she’d indicated and there was a discrete worn path. No more than a dozen yards to the swimming hole with two folk already ensconced in their folding chairs, big sloppy wet black Labs rising to greet us. Lots of licking and welcoming with a woof or two. We went back to our camp site astonished. Tomorrow a hike perhaps, and we’d decide after we saw how the campground felt in the night if we’d stay on.

We took a short walk down the way to examine the Maidu pictographs, and admire the glacial striations on the great boulders. The sun glowed in the high trees, held long in the sky.

I’ve never seen a campground so full of dogs and so silent with them. A woof or two, quickly hushed. Walking about, it seemed there were easily over a dozen dogs, all apparently trained to the strange customs of camping out. Think about how odd it must be for a dog used to guarding a specific property to be faced with shifting territory. All of these fellows from pugs to Alsatians seemed to know what was expected and be perfectly at ease with it. I’ve never seen such an advertisement for dog companionship. All of us who camp are all too accustomed to the problems most dogs seem to have with strangeness. Who hasn’t lain awake cursing at the scared yippy pet down at some end site who keeps being scared at ungodly hours by real or imagined bears?

These dogsImage played with each other so happily that I almost theorized  this was a pre-arrangement of old friends meeting up in camp with their pets, but a couple of overheard conversations made it clear that wasn’t the case. I salute you dog people with deepest respect and affection. I almost wanted to have a pair of my own canines as I watched… other than the ones in my mouth, that is.


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