For a few days, the rabbits grazed peacefully inside their cages on the outskirts of our campsite, providing a tranquil harmony with nature as we enjoyed solace where the mountains touched the sky.
Then suddenly — like a time-traveling robot — judgment day had arrived.
The repeated consumption of self-caught trout had transformed our taste buds into gills. Our trail mix stash was getting low and we refused to trek into town for supplies. The cute bunnies were toted north for a reason.
Thumper had to die.
The decision wasn’t unanimous. A few girls had grown attached while feeding and naming the balls of fur, and were convinced we could spare the hare. Eventually they relented and the men gathered at the river’s edge for a barbaric ceremony of pre-cooking preparation.
The brief but tragic moment was soon replaced by a tantalizing aroma of fire-pit roasted rabbit. It was delightful. Who would have thought an animal popularized by Bambi, Looney Toons, Easter and Energizer could be so savory?
It was a delicious Watership Down the hatch.
If you haven’t tasted rabbit, you really haven’t lived.
We enjoyed ours at a scenic little gathering south of the Sonora Pass called Pigeon Flat. It’s a tidy little spot alongside the Middle Fork Stanislaus River, between Dardanelle and Kennedy Meadows.
That area, stretching north from Strawberry, is one of my three favorite summer camping destinations in California, and I have already visited once this year.
The fishing is terrific. We typically spend mornings on a catch-and release protocol as beautiful Rainbow (stocked), Brook and German Brown trout fight to evade capture. We keep enough to feed the group as night approaches, and roast the catch amidst butter, lemon and garlic.
The area is expansive and exhilarating, with jutting mountainsides and intriguing hiking trails. It serves well for a group of any size and can cater to any level outdoorsman. It’s not overpopulated with campers and provides some stunning views. The affordability is also bewildering. It’s $11 a night per-campsite at Pigeon Flat.
About four hours southwest is a collection of several camping spots from Santa Cruz to Big Sur along the California coast. It’s an area made famous for fabulous beaches and a terrific climate, but it does stray dangerously close to a popular eatery for great white sharks. I wouldn’t recommend venturing too far into the cold water, but as a camping destination, it certainly hits the spot.
A group of us visited about eight campsites in a recent trek along the coast, ultimately settling at campsites surrounding the Laguna Seca Raceway outside Monterey. It’s a great area with plenty of attractions and as many beaches as you can fathom. The area was once a popular site for California sea otter sightings and the Point Lobos State Reserve in Carmel is reputed as a brilliant hotspot for scenery and wildlife photography.
My third destination is another annual affair, but it’s about as far from ‘roughing it’ as camping gets. Northeast of Marysville, in Oregon House is the spacious resort Lake of the Springs. The expansive getaway is a Thousand Trails campground, but has sites open to the public and a hoard of fascinations littered about five-mph roads.
It’s here that I first discovered the magical sport of pickle ball (a sort of ping pong/tennis hybrid game) played on a shortened tennis court. The resort also features a huge lodge, a shuffleboard court, playground, volleyball pit, horseshoe pits, basketball courts, a softball field, a pool and a challenging 18-hole putt-putt golf course. The lodge has WiFi access and some parts of the campground surrender cell-phone reception.
Most campers show up in RVs with giant flat screens, so we feel like burly mountain men as we rest comfortably on plush cots inside a tent.
It’s a popular family area and you would need a busy itinerary to tackle each attraction once in a week-long stay. The gem of this resort is a beautiful lake often scattered with rented boats and kayaks.
Lake of the Springs is always heavily populated with deer and it’s not over-the-top expensive, even for non-Thousand Trails members. It’s a great place to bring a large group and the staff hosts a variety of popular events for the guests.
I remember sliding down a huge waterslide hoisted by campers when I was a child, and more recently, the chagrin of elderly staff after my rendition of Sir-Mix-A-Lot’s ‘Baby got Back’ during karaoke night.
I was nearly disowned by my traditionalist family after that boisterous performance, but it could have been worse.
I could have butchered Thumper.
Ike Dodson is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.