Camping was an integral part of my childhood. We all loved the outdoors, we were never more at home than when we were in the middle of nowhere. There was one particular spot that we found when we were pretty young that became “our” spot. We always called it Cherry Lake.
That was the only year it really snowed while we were there. I remember pulling up to the campsite and hiding in the car while Alan, Mom and Dad set up the campsite. While we slept, snow fell across the campground and blanketed the world in white. This picture doesn’t do it justice.
I remember waking up when we camped there. It was always so cold in the morning, so I’d be buried deep in my sleeping bag and listen to the rustling of the tent, the songbirds, the crackle of the fire. I could hear my parents hushed voices and the occasional laugh as they shared their morning coffee. If I close my eyes I feel myself transport back to those moments, when the world was perfect and at peace.
As we visited and grew older we wandered further and further away. The following picture is the “Rock Club,” a place just far enough away from the campsite to make us feel independent. We would wander there daily, hang out on rocks and talk about life, or have adventures in between the cracks. We would climb to the top of the rocks, and look out, terrified of falling and thrilled at the prospects ahead of us.
We went there every year, sometimes twice a year. I remember being 9 years old, laying on a hot rock and contemplating the grandness of God. I remember learning to whittle sticks, and trampling through brush to find a “walking stick.” I remember seeing a water snake for the first time in the lake down the hill.
It was always the most beautiful place on earth.
I climbed up this wall once, and got all the way to the top. On the way back down I felt myself losing my grip, but something pushed me back against the wall. I believed in angels before, but that experience pretty much cinched the deal.
The last time we visited Cherry Lake it was 2002 and right before we moved to Texas.
Ten years is a long time.
Since that time, my older sisters have tried in vain to find our old campsite. They’ve combed Stanislaus Forest and driven around for hours, all to no avail. When I visited in 2010 I tried to help them find it and we were yet again unsuccessful. I told them I’d see what I could do in the future for my next visit.
So I contacted the Stanislaus National Forest Office in Groveland, since that was closest to where we thought the campsite was. I spoke with a charming lady named Gail who was willing to listen to my story and my plea for help. She gave me her email address and I sent her a bunch of pictures, and a map of the grounds (as best I could remember). Then I waited.
She called me back just a short time ago and thanked me for giving her such a fun project. She said she had some of her park rangers act as detectives – print up the pictures and try to match up the pictures while they were out driving around. She thanked me for the map I had drawn, and said we had done a good job remembering.
An old ranger, one who had lived there forever, knew exactly where we were talking about when he saw the pictures. We had always called it Cherry Lake, but the park rangers knew it as Cherry Barrow. Gail told me if we drove to the Groveland Park Ranger station she would be able to show us exactly how to get there.
I cried when she told me.
I’m going back in just over a week – I’m flying to California Monday for Amy’s wedding and after the wedding I’m heading to visit my sisters. We will go camping, hopefully at this spot, and I will once again drink in the beauty.
I can’t wait.