Culture vulture

Self and Dewey stirring up a campstove feast.

Self and Dewey stirring up a campstove feast.

Photo By Morgan Paar

Common ground
There are few activities in Culture Vulture’s experience that rejuvenate the spirit like a simple camping trip. Nothing extreme need be undertaken to achieve this sense of renewal. A vehicle, a destination, a sleeping bag, a tent, a box of firewood, some cooking gear, an ice chest filled with items of your choice, a friend or two, a source of music, and, if you’ve so chosen and been so lucky, the boon companion and love of your life are all you need for a successful expedition.

And so it was that the lovely I. Daphne St. Brie and self, equipped with all of the above plus our friend Andy’s muppety pup, Dewey, left the valley floor and ascended beyond Paradise, Magalia, Stirling City and even Inskip to wind up and down the seemingly endless gravel road that leads to Philbrook Lake Campground. As pretty, remote and piney a spot as one is likely to find without getting out of the car and hiking in to camp.

Of course, car-camping has certain drawbacks for those who yearn for solitude, the biggest being that if you can get there in your car, you can pretty much bet your ass that a whole bunch of other folks are going to get there too, and more than likely will have filled up the available campsites by the time you arrive. Such was the case with our expedition. After an hour or so of creeping along the fairly rugged dirt road encountering nothing but 4-wheel-drive vehicles and ATVs, we arrived at the campground to realize it was already filled to overflowing with large groups of trucks, dirt bikes, dogs and people of all ages, most of whom seemed to take great pleasure in the opportunity to speak in their “outdoor voices.”

Oddly, the best site in the campground was unattended. It was too good to be true. We carefully scrutinized the card clipped to the campsite post, trying to decipher whether the date written on it implied that the previous campers had checked out or if they’d just gone for a drive. The tablecloth draped over the picnic table implied return, but otherwise the site conveyed a sense of abandonment.

Playing it safe, Andy and Morgan investigated the overflow camping area while Daphie and I sat tight on the questionable space 4. We ended up moving to the overflow area, which was actually more picturesque, with a babbling brook, huge trees and plentiful tent sites. But then the camp supervisor came by and told us that A) we couldn’t have a fire or use a camp stove without a permit which he couldn’t sell us, and B) that campsite 4 was indeed available.

So we loaded our gear back into Andy’s pickup and jounced back up the dusty road to site 4, where we re-established camp in short order and spent a splendiferous night grilling steaks, sautéing veggies, watching the campfire flames, cracking jokes, telling tales and essentially doing stuff that our prehistoric ancestors would have loved as much as we did.

Sure, by caveman standards our little camp-out was the lap of luxury, but we woke up smelling like campfire smoke and a brief morning rain anointed us as it sparked in the sunshine. Driving back down into the valley we brought the energy and openness of the mountain sky with us.