Breezing along California Highway 4 almost to Angles Camp, approaching Copperopolis – Elevation: 971’, population 2,623. “Get with IT!” says Marina, about what I do not recall. She’s just as excited as I am to be out of the city, a city, any city - heading up to God’s country. We blow through Murphy’s and then pickup the canoe in Arnold and head on up towards Bear Valley to the little clandestine lake that has kept me coming back and back for almost ten years.
I check my watch and the pressure is dropping as we hit 1,578’ in elevation. The first signs of California pine trees. Another rise in the road puts us at 1,700’ and climbing. We roll into Angels Camp and pull over to check on the canoe on Steele’s Range Rover 4.6 HSE. “It’s fine,” Steele says in that authoritative but somewhat doubting and slightly unsure but still confident way. “I think the straps stretched a little back on the freeway,” he confirms loudly over the din of cars cruising by us. Outside air temperature is 93º with the barometric pressure at 28.27 inches of mercury but is unconfirmed as to its accuracy.
We pass the Angles Theater, Orphan Annie’s Thrift Emporium and the Calaveras County jumping frog out in front of the local volunteer fire department. This is Mark Twain country, no wait John Steinbeck… wait, what’s that one authors name that wrote about this part of California, about the jumping frogs of Calaveras County? A home made sign on the side of the road advertises Square Dancing lessons every Tuesday.
Murphys – 2,171’ elv. and its clear that my watch is off compared to the officially marked elevation signs. Maybe it has a hard time calibrating itself from a moving vehicle, not sure. There’s the Highway Café & Deli right next to Murphy’s Village Market. Bret Harte, that’s the authors name, not nearly as well known as those other two. As we roll out of Muryphys the highway sign says Big Trees 14 miles, Bear Valley 36 – almost there. Oaks, pines, manzinita, black berry bushes, grapes and an occasional aspen grace the terrain on both sides of us as we continue to climb.
We cruise through Hathaway Pines at 3,415' with a population of seven hundred and something and enter into the Stanislaus National Forrest. As we continue our ascent into the mountains, the oaks start to dissipate, giving way to more and more pine trees. Arnold is just another 4 miles up the road where we hit SNAC (1) to get our canoe. There are those classic, kitschy and somewhat commonplace for these parts, chain-sawed bears carved out of pine logs, some standing as tall as a tall man, for sale on the side of the road. We’ve got the iTunes hooked into the car stereo. This road trip soundtrack consists of, amongst others – The Kills, Elliot Smith, White Stripes, Gillian Welsh, Simon & Garfunkel, Scissor Sisters, Metric, The Magnetic Fields, and Seu Jorge from the soundtrack to ‘The Life Aquatic’ where he does those simple acoustic David Bowie covers.
Big trees and big, big rocks whiz by on both sides of the highway as we sail through Camp Connell, Doyle and then Dorrington, climbing up through 5,000’. Every once in awhile there are a few young and beautiful redwood trees towering over us on both sides of the highway. Finally we catch a glimpse of a view through the trees and across Bear Valley basin towards the top of the Sierras to the East. A solid blue California summer sky stretches overhead for miles and miles with not even so much as one single cloud to be seen. There’s Big Meadow campground, not a bad option for those not in the know, those that want easier access to the Sierras, the less adventurous – the common folk. But we continue onward, up into the high country, finally turning off of Hwy. 4 (at an undisclosed turnoff - undisclosed for a reason which is to keep this secret and somewhat sacred spot) for another nine miles on a winding mountain road, down to the Stanislaus river and back up again to the lake. This is the most scenic part of the entire trip as we roll up to the canoe launch. [TBC]
1 - SNAC is the Sierra Nevada Adventure Company where Sean and his friendly staff help mountain-goers with all of their Sierra adventure needs.