Camping in Lake County, Part 3: Boondocking

If you missed Part 1 and Part 2, you can find them here and here.

Growing up, I never knew about camping. That word simply didn’t exist in my family’s vocabulary. I only knew about backpacking. It seemed that the more pain that went into a wilderness experience, the greater the gain, no matter how sore I was from sleeping on the ground or how many mosquito bites I got. When David and I were newlyweds, our friends introduced us to the world of tent camping. My aha moment happened when I realized that if our vehicle could hold it, we could bring it. I’ve not gone backpacking since. But, there is one thing that I truly miss about backpacking. I love being alone in the wilderness. So I’ve always tried to incorporate that into our camping trips over the years. Unless we are camping with friends, we tend to go off the beaten track to be alone in nature. So dry camping or boondocking (camping without power or water) was always part of the plan when we bought our camper. Feeling confident after a successful camping experience at Pine Acres, we had every confidence in our ability to truly “unplug.” We would be camping with confidence now. 

Clear Lake State Park is located on the shores of Clear Lake, and Mt. Konocti rises from its waters–it’s definitely a scene worthy of the cover of Sunset Magazine. We were lucky enough to get a site with its own private beach. We even brought our canoe with us to make the most of our time there. Clear Lake State Park has no power or sewer hookups, which technically qualifies as dry camping or boondocking. But it does have access to water for your holding tank and a dump station. Not only that, there are bathrooms, showers, and plenty of water stations for tent campers. I don’t think boondocking can get better than that.

We unpacked like camping pros and settled in for the afternoon. We had spectacular views, friendly neighbors, the chirping of birds, and all the sunshine we could possibly want. In fact, we had more sunshine than we wanted. Turns out, our perfect campsite came with full sun exposure, and we were sweating ourselves silly. Never mind. We can handle this, we praised ourselves as we shuffled our chairs down to the beach to find some shade. Then the unmistakable sound of a hum filled my ears. Our neighbors had a generator! It would seem we had once again not thought of every contingency. Why didn’t we bring ours? Across the way, fellow campers had their own 10×10 pop-up tent and a small pool to cool their feet in. Camping envy rose again. It would seem, no matter how prepared we were, we’d never think of every contingency. 

“You want me to go home and get the generator?” David reluctantly offered. 

“No,” I sighed. “If you go home for the generator, we’ll be bound to need something else and not know until you get back. Let’s just make do.” I resigned myself to another camping lesson learned. No bother. Today we would make the most of our time with a fire in the evening, a sunset adventure in the canoe, and be off to destination number two tomorrow. What else could we need or possibly not think of?

Next stop, Boggs Mountain Demonstration Forest. The great part of camping on Boggs is we were only five minutes away from home! Not only that, but a grocery store is also only five minutes away from the campground. My confidence grew. What contingency couldn’t we resolve? The views on Boggs are equally as captivating as the state park and stretch from St. Helena to the Sierras on a clear day Plus, we had the campground to ourselves. 

“Um, mom, my daughter began,” not long into our stay. “The bathtub is making a gurgling sound.” I paused, trying to think of what could cause that, before making my way into the bathroom to see standing water in the tub. Some basic physics played through my mind. The tub drain is nearest to the holding tank because it is lower than the sink. Of course, our gray water would surface there before anywhere else. Stressed, I looked in the toilet. No worries in the black water tank, thank God. But then again, it had its own tank. It was silly for me to even look. 

“Uh, David,” I reluctantly began to share the news. “I think our gray water is full,” I continued. 

“It can’t be,” he stated, in firm denial. “Our gray water tank holds thirty-five gallons of water. We can’t have gone through thirty-five gallons of water in two and half days.” 

I gave up. “Well, come look for yourself.” 

A moment later, my perplexed husband emerged from the camper. “I don’t understand,” he said. “We hold thirty-five gallons in our fresh water tank. Our gray water tank is thirty-five gallons, and we’re using some of the water to flush the toilet, so that goes in the black water. It doesn’t make sense.”

I tried to do the math with him. Finally, with the help of our owner’s manual, we found that our gray water tank only holds twenty-five, not thirty-five gallons of water. Plus, our hot water tank holds an additional six gallons of water. You do the math. It didn’t take long to realize we can still have water to use but nowhere to put it. And with no dump station on Boggs Mountain, we quickly resorted to our old tent camping ways when it came to doing dishes and washing hands. Showers were out of the question. 

But that wasn’t the end of the world. It was evening on the mountain. We couldn’t have a fire because of the prevailing wind on the ridgeline. But the one thing we went home for was our gas fire pit, which we put out under the pine trees and surrounded with our chairs. Then we watched the sunset spread across the sky, turning the mountain air red and purple. Our son strummed his guitar, and the girls sang along to a tune. “Let’s stay another night,” suggested David. Sure, we had showers only five minutes away at home, but home didn’t have what we had in that moment. 

Stay tuned! We’ve got one more camping article coming. It turns out that Lake County has several Harvest Host locations. 

To book a night at Clear Lake State Park, click here.

You’ll need to visit Boggs Mountain Demonstration Forest to camp. They don’t take reservations.  Here’s their location on a map.

Trudy Wakefield

Trudy and David Wakefield started The Bloom in 2018 to showcase the best parts of Lake County and to provide a local outlet for community events, arts, music, and writing.

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