Camping in Hendy Woods
Sometimes getting out of town on a weekend to combat stress doesn't work out quite as well as initially planned. After getting out of work late, packing up the car, driving two hours, pitching the tent and cooking up dinner, I finally am able to relax as I enjoy fire-roasted hot dogs with my 5-year-old daughter at our campsite at Hendy Woods State Park. Generally relaxing and 5-year-old are mutually exclusive entities, but somehow I manage to fit both into our three-day camping trip.
I open my tent the next morning and look outside. The morning air is cool, like it always seems to be when camping. And even though it's only 8 o'clock, there are many things to do to get ready for a lazy day spent swimming in the Navarro River.
Sunlight filters in from the low morning sun through the redwood, oak, and bay trees as we clean up after breakfast. Everything takes a little longer while teaching a 5-year-old how to do it. It doesn't just take longer because the whole experience is brand new, but because every activity is an opportunity for fun. Cold water splashes onto me and I look up to see a devious smile on my daughter's face. Unable to let this unprovoked attack go unanswered, I retaliate. Soon we are both in need of a towel to dry ourselves after our impromptu water fight.
The trip was not all fun and games, though. Walking along the trail on our way to the river, I point out the poison oak to my daughter, making sure she understands not to touch the plant with leaves of three. The hike to the river is less than a couple of miles, but I hear "How much longer?" and "My legs are tired" often enough that in my annoyed state I threaten to cancel the river trip if the complaining doesn't desist immediately. Now walking quietly through the forest, we gaze up at the redwoods. As always, I find the size and scale of the trees breathtaking. By the end of the walk, she does too, telling me how happy she is that we walked through "the beautiful forest."
With sunscreen soaking in, we stand on the shore and throw rocks into the river. Covered in rocks, the shore is a great place from which to skip rocks. We scour the shoreline for round and flat rocks that are perfect for skipping, and I show her how to throw it sideways so it will skim and skip along the water's surface. She only gets a few hops on her best throw, but it is enough to keep her happy and engaged until it is time to get in the water.
The river is slow and shallow, with plenty to explore, making it a great spot for a 5-year-old. In a shady pool, underneath a willow tree, we look for minnows and tadpoles. We jump off a rock together into the cold water, which feels fantastic in the 100 degree heat of the early afternoon. Sitting in the shade of a one-lane bridge, we eat our peanut butter sandwiches and watch a group of teenagers sitting high up on the same rock we'd just jumped from goad each other into leaping from a spot a good ten feet above our launch site. We cheer when one of them finally jumps into the water.
During our time at the river, I'd unsuccessfully attempted to read. But with all the activity in and around the water, I couldn't get my daughter to sit still long enough to allow me to focus on my book. Back at the campsite, with an hour to go before I need to start the fire for dinner, she retires to the tent to color, leaving me an hour to read in peace while sipping on a beer. Besides driving, it is the longest opportunity to sit and relax the whole weekend. It is glorious.
For the second straight night we feast on s'mores after dinner and cleanup have been completed. Chocolate and marshmallow, speckled with graham cracker crumbs, clings to the skin all around her mouth. In the light of the campfire it is easy to see her face shine as she smiles up at me. After we brush our teeth and scoot into our sleeping bags, she is snoring within minutes. But her uninterrupted sleep does not last through the night. At about two o'clock, a series of high pitched yelps and howls jars us from our sleep. They are a good distance away, and it isn't long before drowsiness overcomes us and we both fall back asleep.
The next morning we eat, clean, pack and head out to the coast, enjoying the beautiful Mendocino and Sonoma coast in the brilliant summer sunshine of the first day of summer. From Point Arena to Goat Rock, there is a beautiful small, rocky cove, a driftwood littered beach or a spectacular rock formation seemingly around ever bend of Highway 1.
We take our time in returning to Sonoma, stopping often to enjoy the sites on a rare warm day on the coast before turning inland to come home. That night, tucking her into bed, my little girl thanks me for taking her on the best camping trip ever. I can't help but smile at the remark - she doesn't remember the last time we camped. Still, I agree with the sentiment - it was hands down our best camping trip. Ever.