A Quick Overnight in August – Northern California, USA

A Quick Overnight in August
Northern California

My VW bus was coming out of the shop, an advanced birthday was happening and I just wanted to get away by myself for an overnight.

The designated companion pouted to come along, even though she was a bit unsure of the whole ‘camping’ thing as well as any logic in traveling in a rusty, 35-year-old VW camper.

Many people take their holidays in August. School will be back in session shortly, and this is the last couple weeks of camping ‘amateur hour’ just before the family campers leave, the campgrounds clear out and the Scrub Jays breathe a sigh of relief. First off, however, one must find a site.

I was again reminded of this hard fact: There are no sites to be had.

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, any campsite within 300 miles of the San Francisco Bay Area fills on Friday at about noon and doesn’t empty out until Sunday afternoon.

Campsites along the coast have been reserved since the Carter administration and campsites close-by a bit inland are either filled or just too flocking hot for any camping or relaxing. Even Bluebelly lizards take August off.

Thanks to the internet, one can now check for available campsites online. In August, one can quickly check to see how many campgrounds are completely filled, congested or miserable, with possible the exception of desperate campsites near Needles, Barstow and Stinking Creek, all places that are best avoided in August.

There is a heirarchy of campgrounds: The National Parks (such as Yosemite) are generally filled except when they are flooded or on fire. Even if you could get a site, they have loud children, grumpy bears and vanloads of Christian youth groups in them. National Parks are best avoided.

Forest Service Campgrounds are next. They vary quite a bit in wonderfulness, mosquitos and shade. All the ones within a reasonable driving distance were filled this weekend; infested with raccoons or pimply Christians.

The State Parks are generally wonderful, (despite the fact that they are staffed by pissy Park Rangers who hate old VW busses) but any California State Park campground with surf, shade or scenery has been booked for many months. To make matter worse, the raccoons are actually in charge in many of these campgrounds and many of them are armed.

I was beginning to get worried. I had to show my non-camping companion what the whole VW Camper compulsion was about and I didn’t want to subject her to shrieking children, severe sunburns, raccoons or pit toilets on her first campout. (This time. Pit toilets are next. Baby steps…)

We settled upon San Lorenzo Park in King City, which is part of the Monterey County Parks system. Not reservable on the Reserve America system, County Parks are usually unknown. Sometimes they are quite nice. (Usually they are not, but sometimes they are)

This particular one has hot showers, clean toilets, lawns, a koi pond and a free T1 connection. The fee is $20 a night.

We were assigned a level site with plenty of shade, quite near the showers. The sites on either side of us were vacant.

After we pulled into the level site and I sent the companion on a walk with the dog while I set up camp. I made sure that the table was set, the tablecloth was just right and that the kerosene lamps were filled.

I charcoal-grilled burgers and steamed corn on the cob for dinner.

That night I made the perfect campfire (thanks to a dry box of Hot Wood brand firewood and an Army surplus fire starter tablet). We looked at the stars and drank red wine.

In the morning, I fixed scrambled eggs with home fries and some decent coffee with half & half for breakfast. We watched coveys of California quail scamper by our site. Life was good.

The bus ran (more or less) trouble free. We returned along the coast, taking time to wander the beach in Moss Landing and later stopping off in Santa Cruz for lunch.

She has asked when our second campout is.