California: Exploring Gold Country (How I Almost Killed a Dog)

With busy city lives it had been awhile since we had some quality time together, so my friend Caitlin and I decided to take a camping trip over the long Memorial Day weekend. We used the time to begin to explore gold country.

The drive from the Bay Area to Northern Sierra Nevada is always a bit of a drag for me until I’m well past Sacramento, but the pretty , meandering Rt. 20 and Marysville Road makes up for it. We stayed at the Willow Creek Campground in Camptonville, a small town in northeastern Yuba County, California.

Unwinding was easy as we popped open beers and set up camp in a tiny site next to the creek. Looking forward to an entire day lounging next to the Yuba River had us in bed early and up with the sun. Unbeknownst to us, the day turned into more of an adventure than either of us was prepared for, starting with the left turn we took on 49 out of the campsite.

A map is an essential item for any road trip in California. Cell phone service can be spotty at best, especially anywhere outside the major metropolitan areas. Needless to say, we didn’t have a map. But man, if you ever get a chance to drive 49 North towards Downieville, you will not be disappointed. It’s vast, gorgeous and made me realize how much more there was to explore in this direction. At any rate, this was the wrong direction for us and we ended up turning ourselves around eventually until we came to where 49 meets the Yuba River.

Two summers ago, I had come to this spot for the first time with my boyfriend. We hiked down to and then up the river over boulders to a quiet, secluded spot. My memory was slightly fuzzy because I didn’t remember the hike down to the river being quite so challenging. I lead us down what I thought was a trail, but was basically a dried up rain runoff. It was the kind of hike that makes it hard to relax once you reach your destination because you can’t help but dread making your way back.

We didn’t have much time to relax though because Caitlin’s dog, Hank, hot from the hike, took a dip to cool off and immediately got sucked down the swollen river emptying the El Niño winter snowfall from Donner Pass. Luckily, he was able to swim to shore, but to get to him we had to scramble over massive boulders and patches of poison oak and then carry the 50 pound black lab mix back the way we came. (He was okay, just scared and not able to traverse the landscape as well as we could.) Hearts racing, we split an Anderson Valley Blood Orange Gose and tried to calm down, but ultimately, decided to leave for a quieter place we had spotted along the drive. The hike back up was not pretty and our nerves were completely shot by the time we got to Oregon Creek.

Since it was Memorial Day weekend, it was packed with kids and barking dogs galore. Looking for just a little peace & quiet, we crossed a stream & crammed our blanket and selves into a less than ideal, shady spot and attempted to relax. Right off the bat we meet this cool, country chick named Erica, who was enjoying the sun with her family. Her and her pack of kiddos ended up saving our day. They were funny, rambunctious and endlessly entertaining. We spent our time talking, playing and laughing with them. It was such a pleasant and completely unexpected turn of events.

Reflecting, it was the type of day that makes a friendship stronger, the kind of experience that makes you really realize the value of an adventure and an open heart.

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