Camping at Butano State Park, Aug. 6-8, 2006

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This summer Chris and I finally decided to go camping together. She had been reluctant to try it due to some bad (rainy, boring, etc.) experiences with camping in her youth. Every time I had mentioned camping, she got a sour look on her face and talked about how miserable she had been back then. The subject came up again early this summer, and she reacted differently. She begrudgingly said "OK. I think Iím ready. Letsí go camping. But it better not rain. Or be cold. Or uncomfortable." Yikes!

I had camped at Butano State Park on the California coast several years ago. ("Butano" is correctly pronounced BOOT-uh-no, but commonly mispronounced byoo-TAH-no.) I really like that park, and Chris had been there before, too. I decided it would be a good place to experiment with camping. Plus, the summer weather in this part of the state is pretty reliable. It was very unlikely to rain or be uncomfortably cold. I checked availability for reserved campsites and found that all Friday and Saturday nights were booked into October. We decided to go on a Sunday and stay through Monday night. I got approval for vacation and booked the nights of August 6 and 7. I arranged to borrow a tent from a co-worker. We had all the other equipment we would need.


The weekend before we were going to leave for our trip, Chris started doing some online research about camping meals. She found some good web sites and printed out some recipes. She made an extensive grocery list for everything we would need.

On Monday I sent an e-mail to my co-worker reminding him to bring in the tent. I got back an out-of-office reply, saying he would be out the whole week! So much for that plan. Fortunately, our friend Bruce had recently bought a large tent and offered to let us borrow it.

During that week, Chris started getting nervous that we were going to forget something we would need. She asked me to come up with a checklist of equipment, clothes, etc. we would need. I dusted off my checklist from the previous trip and updated it. She immediately felt more comfortable. We started pulling the equipment together on Wednesday and stacking it in the den.

I picked up the tent from Bruce on Thursday and we did a practice run of setting it up in the front yard. There were no instructions, but it looked simple enough. We got partway through the setup and couldnít get some of the support poles to fit. They were just too long. After a frantic and fruitless call to Bruce looking for instructions, we finally realized that two of the poles were longer than the other three. We moved the long poles to the most logical positions, and the tent went right up. Then we took it right down.

We were set.

Day 1 – August 6

We wouldnít be able to check in at the camp site until after 3:00, so we took our time this morning. We slept in, had a leisurely breakfast, and then made sure everything was ready to go. Chris went to the grocery store to pick up the last-minute items, like milk and ice. Afterwards, I packed the trunk of the car while she packed up the food and filled the cooler. We had a quick lunch and finished packing the car. We headed out about 12:30.

We drove the scenic route to the coast: through Saratoga, up highway 9 to Skyline Blvd, then north to Alpine Road. Alpine is a glorified goat track. Itís about a lane and a half wide in most places with sharp curves and lots of potholes. We didnít make good time, but then, we werenít in a hurry, either. At the end of Alpine, we turned west on Pescadero Road. Chris had never been to Pescadero, so we made a short detour to drive through town. Itís a small town with a single short main street and a small residential area. It took less than five minutes to take the tour.

From Pescadero, it was a short drive to the entrance of Butano State Park. It was still too early to check in, so we kept going past the park to Gazos Creek Road. There were a couple of geocaches on that side of the park, and we had planned to find them before heading in. The GPS signal was weak there, but we managed to find the first one without too much trouble. It was right next to the road near the trail head that would take us to the second cache. That one was about 3/4 mile up the hill on a brand new trail. We had more trouble finding the second cache, but eventually located it and signed the log.

By the time we had hiked back to the car, it was nearly 3:30, so we drove back to the park. At the entrance kiosk, I told the ranger we had a reservation. She asked our last name and I told her. She said "I was just working on yours. Youíre in space 2. There might be someone still there, but they are leaving." We drove in to the campground and located space 2. It was empty and ready for us.

The site was located a good distance away from other sites and laid out well. To the left of the driveway were three shallow steps that led down to the picnic table. On the left end of the table was a wooden locker that was just the right height for the camp stove. At the other end was a metal fire ring about 18" high and 30" in diameter. The ring had a removable cooking grate attached to it with thick chains. On the downhill side of the picnic table was a mostly-level spot for the tent. There were lots of tall redwood trees surrounding the campsite giving some privacy. The trees really filtered the daylight, keeping the area cool and shady.

Our practice run with the tent paid off. We had it set up in about 15 minutes. Our air mattress had an electric pump. The cord wouldnít reach from the car to the tent, so I put the mattress on top of the car and inflated it there. Then we just carried it to the tent. We unloaded the rest of the gear, putting some in the tent and keeping the food-related items at the picnic table.

The park doesnít allow wood gathering, but the camp host sells boxes of firewood for $6.00 each. I couldnít remember where the camp host was, so I cranked up the car and drove around looking for his trailer. After driving around the rest of the camp, I discovered it just down the hill from our site. I could have walked there faster. I bought two boxes of wood and drove them back up the hill to our site.

By 4:30 we had the whole camp set up and were having a glass of wine and some pistachios next to the fire ring. The previous tenants must not have been gone long, because we noticed our pistachio shells were smoking from the embers left in the fire ring. The smoking nut shells and falling temperatures got us thinking about building our own fire. We soon had one going. It was time to relax, and we did a pretty good job of it. For the next hour we munched pistachios, drank wine, and threw pine cones at the bold jays that kept flying in looking for food.

Chris had pre-made our dinner. It was a tortellini salad with ham, kidney beans, carrots and peppers. It was meant to be eaten cold, but we heated it up in a pan just for fun (and to get used to the Coleman camp stove). We had a green salad along with the tortellini dish and brownies for dessert. After dinner, we played a game of Scrabble, listened to music and boiled water for Swiss Mocha decaf.

The trees that had provided shade while the sun was up were now making it downright dark in the campsite. As the dimness grew, we sat by the fire watching the embers glow and the flames lick the nearly consumed logs. We had definitely succeeded in relaxing. By 9:30, we were drowsy and headed for bed. First, we put the food and cooking items in the car for the night. We didnít want the raccoons to get into our stuff.

We both woke up a number of times during the night. I had worn too many clothes to bed. In addition to making me hot, they were making it impossible to turn over in the sleeping bag. At some point I stripped off the excess, and I slept much better after that. Chrisís sleeping bag wasnít as warm. She kept on her sweat suit and kept a blanket over the bag. The slight slope of the tent area meant that the foot of our mattress was a little lower than the head. We both kept sliding down the slick surface and had to pull the bags back up a couple of times.

Day 2 – August 7

Despite the multiple awakenings, we were rested the next morning at 6:00 when we started hearing the loud calls of crows and jays. We dozed despite their racket, finally getting up about 7:00 when we both decided a trip to the restrooms up the hill was in order. The temperature was cool, but still comfortable – probably in the low 50ís. It was nothing a jacket and a cup of instant coffee (with Swiss Mocha for flavor!) couldnít fend off.

Chrisís food research had turned up something called an "omelet in a bag." Put two raw eggs (without the shells) into a Zip-lock bag. Seal the bag and scramble the eggs by mashing the sides of the bag together. After that, add whatever omelet ingredients you want: ham, bacon, mushrooms, salt, pepper, etc. Push all the air out of the bag, seal it again and mix the ingredients. Put the whole thing into boiling water and cook it for about five minutes, or until the eggs arenít runny any more. When you open the bag, the omelet just slides right out. And itís delicious!

We each made a bag omelet, which we enjoyed with milk, juice and bagels. We were fueling ourselves up for a nice, long hike. After breakfast, we put the food and cooking items back into the car, filled our Camelbaks with water and loaded the packs with food and geocaching supplies. At 9:15 we headed for the trail. By this time it was warm enough for shorts and sweat shirts. In hindsight, it was actually warm enough to leave the sweatshirts at the camp.

Just down the hill from the campsite was a trail to the Campfire Center. We turned onto that trail, and then onto Six Bridges Trail. There were two geocaches on that trail. We could not find the first one, but we found the second. We both shed our sweatshirts at the second cache, less than a mile into our hike. Six Bridges Trail ends at the entrance kiosk and Jackson Flat Trail starts there. We hiked Jackson Flat Trail all the way up the side of the canyon to the ridge through impressive redwood trees, including one that appeared to float in the air. We climbed higher and higher. Then, over the space of about ten yards, the terrain changed dramatically. We had been walking on redwood needles beneath tall evergreens. Suddenly, we were on sandy ground walking past chaparral and low, leafy trees and a smattering of gnarled pines.

Click to see our route

Jackson Flat Trail ends at Butano Fire Road. There was another geocache at that intersection. After the long climb, Chris took it easy on the trail while I scrambled around finding the cache. From there, we continued climbing on the fire road. At one of our rest breaks, Chris started drawing in the dirt road with her trekking pole. By the time she was done, five minutes had passed and she proudly posed with the finished piece of art. Shortly after that, we spied an unusual object next to the road. As we got closer, we realized it was a large piece of cake made of plastic. Ordinarily we pick up trash while weíre hiking, but, inexplicably, we just took pictures of this one and left it there. Weíd regret that negligence later.

Our hardy breakfast was finally starting to wear off. At about 12:30 we got to our next cache. After we had traded items, signed the log and replaced the cache, we sat nearby and ate a lunch of beef jerky, oatmeal bars, and some energy bread. As we sat there, we saw the first person we had seen all morning: a cyclist coasting down the fire road. We finished our lunch and pushed ourselves back onto the trail. As we were approaching the location of the next geocache, I started reading the description. It included the statements "Cache is located in a small hilltop park. There are play structures for the kids, lawn area for games, BBQ's, picnic tables, rest rooms and a great view." I suddenly had the feeling the cache coordinates might be more than a bit off. There would be no picnic tables or restrooms anywhere near us. Although, the bit about the great view was correct.

We continued on the road watching the GPS as the cache coordinates grew closer. At the closest point, the GPS said they were 180í to our left. To our left was an unclimbable ascent. We figured we were right about the incorrect coordinates. We would find out later that the digits of the minutes of latitude were transposed. The actual location was 20 miles north of the posted coordinates.

Our next milestone was an abandoned landing field. The trail cut across the runway near its midpoint. We found caches at the north and south ends of the runway, adding 1/2 mile to our trek. By this time, the morning clouds had mostly dissipated and it had gotten noticeably warmer. The temperature was still pleasant, though. Shortly after the landing field, we came to a decision point. We could continue on the Butano Fire Road until it intersected the Olmo Fire Road, or we could take a shortcut through the backpack camp and save the 1/2 mile we had added at the landing field. We opted for the shortcut. It descended a hundred feet or so downhill then climbed back up, but it was pretty short. The trail was not well maintained. We even questioned whether we were still on the trail in a couple places and nearly missed a turn at one point. The tree-shaded trail was a welcome relief from the exposed fire road. We did make it to the Olmo Fire Trail and were glad to have saved some steps. We expected to find five more geocaches along this trail. The first one was a very cleverly disguised cache. It looked just like a commercial irrigation sprinkler, but was a hollow container – the type of thing you might hide a house key in. In this location, it looked almost natural, except for the fact that there was no running water within three miles!

When we looked at the name of the next cache on our list, we got a sick feeling. It was called "Piece of Cake." Remember the plastic piece of cake we neglected to pick up earlier? We remembered it and were certain it was supposed to be the container for this cache. When we got to the coordinates we looked for the cache anyway, deciphering the clue to make sure we werenít just missing it. The clue referred to a pile of logs. We didnít see a pile, but we did see a bunch of logs spread along the side of the trail. It looked like a traveler along the trail had spotted the cache and vandalized it. If we had picked up the container, we could have restored it. But the container was three miles behind us, and we couldnít muster the energy to go back and retrieve it.

We did find the next cache on our list. It was at a bench with an expansive view of the Gazos Creek canyon. It was a nice place to sit, chew on some jerky and enjoy the breeze. We were soon on our way again.

Back in 2001, I hid my first cache on the Gazoís Trail in Butano State Park. Chris wasnít with me then, and she hadnít been with me the one time I had come back to check on its condition. Its location was part our hike, and she was finally going to get to visit it. Just before we left Olmo Fire Trail for Gazoís Trail, there was another cache. It was cleverly disguised, but we spotted it 20 yards into the woods while we were still on the trail. I signed the log, and we headed up Gazoís Trail.

One good thing about the fire roads is that they are nice and wide. If there is poison oak along the sides, you can easily avoid it. Gazoís Trail is much narrower – just a single-file track through the woods. There was poison oak in abundance along the sides. We had to stay alert to avoid brushing against it. Chris is extremely sensitive to poison oak and has had some very bad rashes from it. Iím not as sensitive as she is, but I still dislike the itching I get. We were as careful as we could be. We were also glad we had brought a bottle of Technu along with us. Weíd make use of that back at the camp. I promised Chris to massage her legs and feet with it when we were done.

After an eternity of poison oak dodging, we made it to the Oat Bun cache that I had hidden over five years earlier. I verified there was no poison oak in the vicinity, and Chris came to have a look. The cache was still in great shape in its original container. We looked through the contents and read some of the recent log entries. One of the entries was surprising. It was from a group of non-geocachers called the Sierra Singleaires. They had been maintaining the trail after some trees fell over it and came across the cache. One of them wrote a note in the log and said "enjoy the park and keep it beautiful."

After secreting our cache back into its hiding place, we continued on Gazoís Trail. The trees thinned out some and we caught a cool breeze coming up from the canyon below. It felt good to me, but Chris was chilled enough to put her sweatshirt back on.

At the end of Gazoís Trail, where it joins Olmo Fire Trail again, we found our last cache of the day. We crossed Olmo Fire Trail and found a short connector trail to Goat Hill Trail. It was nearly 4:00, and we had gotten quite tired. My left foot was starting to hurt under the laces of my boot. The downhill trail seemed to go on forever. About 15 minutes later, we smelled campfire smoke. We knew we were getting close to our destination and that gave us a needed emotional lift. That last 15 minutes back to Ben Ries Campground on a connector trail seemed to take hours, though.

After a brief stop at the campground restrooms, we slogged the rest of the way to our campsite and shed our packs. We had hiked 11 miles in seven hours and 15 minutes with 2,200 feet of elevation change. We had started the trek with three liters of water in each of our Camelbaks, and we ended up with almost none left. We had found nine geocaches, failed to find three, and checked on our own cache. We were ready to take our boots off and relax.

Before we could do that, though, we needed to drive to Pescadero and buy some more ice for our cooler. Once we had completed that chore we could finally relax. We both started with a Technu rubdown. I gave Chris the promised leg and foot massage. Technu makes a surprisingly good massage lotion. After I bathed her legs, feet, and arms, I washed myself down. We used cold water to wash off the Technu and ended up feeling rejuvenated by the massage and bracing rinse.

I built a fire, since we would need it for cooking our dinner. I opened the two beers we had brought along and we set about preparing supper: hobo dinners. We flattened 1/2 lb of ground beef into two patties and put each one on a large sheet of aluminum foil. We added chunks of new potatoes and some canned mixed vegetables. We then closed up the foil packet, put on a second layer of foil around it and put them into the cooler until we were ready to cook them.

With the worry of poison oak alleviated, supper ready to go, and a beer in our hands, we sank into our camp chairs watched the fire grow. For the next hour, we didnít do a whole lot. We talked a little, but mostly just daydreamed and let our muscles and brains go slack.

We eventually realized we were very hungry and the fire was about right for cooking. I put the cooking grate into place and pushed the embers under it, while Chris got the hobo dinners out of the cooler. We cooked the packets for half an hour then ate them with a green salad and a glass of wine. Dessert was the last of our brownies. Cleanup from dinner was quick and we were soon back gazing into the remains of our cooking fire.

We decided we were having a pretty good time. Chris surprised me by saying "I like the size of that tent. Thereís enough room for the mattress, our bags, and for moving around. I think we should get one like it." It took me a moment to realize the import of that last sentence. Chris wants to get a tent! She must want to camp out again!

As the realization hit me I grinned at her and said "So, you want to do this some more?"

She smiled back and said "I guess I do. Iím really enjoying it." We kept talking about how perfect the location, the weather, and the activities had been on this outing and decided that yes, we do want to do this occasionally. Neither of us wants to do it every weekend, but it makes for a nice change.

While we talked the sun set, the sky dimmed, and the redwoods did their bit to make it dark. We tidied the campsite, put the food in the car and got ready for bed. It was only 9:00, but we were too tired to stay awake anymore.

We both slept more soundly this second night than the first. The combination of exhaustion and becoming used to the sleeping bags was enough to keep us from waking more than once or twice.

Day 3 – August 8

Iíll say one thing for the crows and jays: Theyíre consistent. At 6:00am, they were cawing and screeching again. Once again we managed to doze through the racket until 7:00, when we couldnít wait any longer for that walk up to the restrooms.

After freshening up, we had an easy breakfast of bagels, milk, juice, coffee (for Chris), and tea (for me). I had been thinking about the first geocache we had looked for the day before. It was only about half a mile away, and I wanted to make sure we had looked thoroughly before we left. We walked back down through the Campfire Center to the Six Bridges Trail. We looked in every conceivable hiding spot, but still did not find the cache. We satisfied ourselves that it must be gone.

Back at the camp, we made sandwiches for our lunch. Then we packed up the car and dismantled the tent. By 10:30, we were checking out at the entrance kiosk and were soon headed for Highway 1 via Gazos Creek Road. We drove about seven miles south to Waddell Beach. Chris wanted to sit in the sun and eat our sandwiches. When we got out of the car, we discovered that it was chilly and quite breezy. There were some kite surfers taking advantage of the breeze and having a great time riding over the surf.

Despite the blowing sand and the chill, we set up our camp chairs on the beach. With our backs to the wind and our faces to the sun, we were somewhat comfortable eating our sandwiches and Pringles. As we ate, we were entertained by a little boy down the beach. He was playing near where his father was fishing. The little boy was in nonstop action. Much of the time, he was bouncing around on all fours looking very much like a monkey. We couldnít help but smile at his antics.

When we were done with our lunch, we didnít sit for long in the breeze. We got back on the road and drove home, using the main highways for our return: Highway 1 to Highway 17 in Santa Cruz. The trip home was speedy and uneventful, and we arrived about 1:00.

We soon had the car unpacked and a load of smoky-smelling clothes in the washer. We put away the food and most of our gear. Then Chris took a nap, and I spent the afternoon logging our cache finds and disappointments.

Epilogue – August 13, 2006

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