A Fond Camp Memory

Rachel Friedman

© Copyright 2020 by Rachel Friedman

Photo of Zaca Lake.
Here is an uplifting fact for all fellow campers out there: Just because your method of transportation breaks down doesn’t mean that your trip is ruined. I can attest to this personally based on a trip that I went on over ten years ago. When our bus broke down in the middle of a stream on the way to Zaca Lake, our camp counselors probably did not anticipate how much fun we would have after we were finally rescued by a tow truck. Before a forklift driver stopped by and offered to get us aid, we were told that we would have to walk up the narrow road in order to make it to our destination. I am not sure what we would have done with the food and assorted pieces of luggage if we had actually needed to walk those two miles, but thankfully the issue was resolved before we had to deal with this problem. Our initial concerns about the inauspicious beginning of our trip vanished once we were able to finally enjoy the scenery. All the same, I hope that they have since built up the road so that vehicles no longer must drive on river beds in order to reach Zaca Lake. 

Zaca Lake is an incredibly beautiful spot. It is located in Los Olivos, California, which is only about two hours away from my house. The lake itself is part of a campground that includes mountains, a lovely forest, and two extremely beautiful bodies of water. We were told that the lake, which is the larger of the two bodies of water, is considered safe for swimming. I do not know if this is unusual, but the water of the lake always seemed to be the color of deep green glass. While we were assured that the color of the lake was not an issue, yet, I was reluctant to go swimming in it because of its unusual appearance. So, I went wading while the other girls swam.  

As for the second, smaller pond, when I was there it was covered in a picturesque layer of green algae. While we were warned not to swim in this pond, it is still a great spot to take pictures, if you do not mind leaving the main road and walking through some of the brush. Apparently, people become concerned if one tries to swim in algae-filled water. I personally thought that it looked even more interesting to explore than the main lake. 

As an animal lover, I was enthralled by all of the local wildlife at Zaca Lake. My favorite animals were the deer, which we seldom got to see on regular outings. Whenever we weren’t swimming in the lake, we would try to stalk the deer in an attempt to see who would be able to get the best photographs. I believe that I may have gotten the best picture when I managed to get within a few feet of the deer on my last day and take a quick photo. They were so accustomed to humans that they did not seem to be alarmed and only moved away casually. 

Our camp administrator had managed to rent a couple of nice cabins for us to stay in for the weekend. They were lovely rustic wooden structures, but thankfully they and the bathrooms were in good shape. While I am a big fan of nature, I'm afraid that I object to it interfering too drastically with my comfort. The cabins even came with access to our own kitchen, where we could prepare fresh food. 

Naturally, we were unable to go swimming and searching for deer all of the time. Thankfully, there were many other activities that our camp counselors had planned to keep all of us eleven-year-old girls amused. We loved helping cook meals in the kitchen, there were fun sing-alongs, and we made more of the lanyards and beaded jewelry that are so popular at camps. This might seem slightly boring, but we were all really pleased to go on a big camping trip to a place that none of us had ever gone to before. 

There were some concerns about the area around Zaca Lake, which were repeatedly addressed. The camp counsellors would tell us every day that we had to make sure that we avoided the poison oak that grew within the area. Whenever they could find poisonous oak, they would call us to come and look at it, just to make sure that we could identify the plant. There was also some concern about snakes and ticks, and some apprehension about bears. We were repeatedly warned not to wander away from the group and to avoid walking in any particularly tall grasses. These are potential issues that one may have to face in any campground or on any hiking trail in California and should not prevent people from traveling to enjoy this scenic spot. I personally was somewhat disappointed that we did not get to see any of the more dangerous animals, albeit from a safe distance. 

It may surprise some people, but Zaca Lake can be slightly chilly at night, even during the summer. It is probably best to bring reasonably warm sleeping bags and light sweaters if you plan on sleeping there at night, especially if you enjoy taking evening strolls. I personally was pleased that there was a slight chill in the air, as I love slightly brisk walks. The ground around the lake is largely flat and easy to walk on, which is nice because the lighting at night is less than perfect. I am not sure whether one can go hiking in the nearby mountains, but I imagine that the views would be spectacular, even during the nighttime. 

I understand that there are other scenic locations that have been granted the status of national parks, but I would still strongly encourage nature lovers to take the time to visit Zaca Lake regardless of its humbler reputation. In these troubling times when our access to travel is greatly restricted, I believe that it is important for people to be made aware of the wonderful campsites which are practically in their own backyards. Even in a heavily populated area like Los Angeles, it is possible to find little pockets of nature where we can explore and improve our mental state. 

I have recently embarked on a career as a freelance writer.  I have published a number of articles, most notably in Hack Library School magazine, Kitchen Witch and Preservation Foundation, Inc.   I live in Southern California with my family.

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