Okay, so it’s taken some 40 years before I got out to experience the wilderness and learn to camp. Since Zachary joined scouts 3 years ago, we have numerous opportunities to go camping, either with Pack 1155 out of Brentwood or with the local Boy Scout Troop. This past weekend was just our second, three day camping trip, which should have lasted until Monday, but due to traffic and other concerns, we decided to cut it short and get home, leaving early Sunday afternoon.
Located about 120 miles northwest of Oakley, off Highway 116 and the Russian River is the Cazadera Highway, which leads up the valley towards Camp Royaneh. A ‘Boy Scout Camp’ sign welcomed us as we crossed a small bridge over Austin Creek, as we turned right and followed the signed.
Our trip began earlier in the week, as collected all our camping gear from storage, went through each container and consolidated the items we would need for three days. For a brief moment, I considered taking my MIL’s 11-person tent, little did I know it was 18’x18′ until I had it unpacked on my driveway. The “CF” or “coolness factor” got the tent a 10 but realistically I was not about to set up and take down a tent of that size for just the two of us.
I went down the list I made, checking off items that were accomplished. I did assemble the cast iron stove just to make sure there were no gas leaks and replaced the #21 mantles in the gas lantern. Everything appeared to be in working order, until Sunday morning. Before we left I took the propane tank to the local Ace Hardware to get it filled, come to find out the valve and tank need to be re-certified. Thankfully they still topped off the tank (less than a gallon) and didn’t charge me.
Camp Royaneh wouldn’t start accepting campers until 2PM, which gave us plenty of time, as we stopped off at REI to purchase Merrill hiking shoes for Zachary and a set of Therm-a-Rest Ridgerest SOlite sleeping pads. With those final pieces of gear in place we headed north on I-680!
This would only be the third time I have ventured further north than Vallejo, going to Santa Rosa in previous years. Being the start of a holiday weekend, traffic seemed a bit heavier than normal, although the bridge wasn’t bad. Waze told us about 2:25, with an arrived around 3:00PM. We were going to be the first of our pack to arrive. No sooner were were leaving Vallejo and we hit stopped traffic transitioning on to CA-37W, which lasted past the Sonoma Raceway up to Lakeville Highway, where we waited in traffic to turn right towards our destination.
Traffic was slow but moving and I decided we would take a bit of a detour that would hopefully allow us to miss some traffic, yet see a few sites along the way to Camp Royaneh. As we departed Petaluma on US-101, we got off and too the back roads over to CA-1N, the Coast Highway. It was a beautiful drive that only added about 10 minutes to the drive, minus our stops along the way.
Our first stop, Bodega Bay, home to Hitchcock’s 1963 thriller, The Birds. It was a nice drive through a rather quiet sea side town, as we stopped to take in the sites and the wind before continuing north. Since Zachary had only been the beach once, we stopped off a few miles up the road at the Sonoma Coast State Beach. We parked the truck and walked down the stairway that led to the sand, with the rough waves crashing in onto the shore. We ran around for a few minutes, but never did get down to the water, as I was a bit leery of leaving my truck with all our gear unattended, parked just off the road.
After we had our fill of the sand, we walked back up the cliff side steps and we were back in truck heading towards camp. It was a great peaceful drive as we left the coast and headed inland, crossing the Russian River! It wasn’t but a few miles down the road, we stopped for a photo opportunity with the Russian River in the background to pay homage to the Russian River Brewery and Pliny!
We paralleled the river as it wound through the hills on CA-116E passing Duncans Mills before arriving at the turnoff to Cazadera Highway, our final stretch to Camp Royaneh. This highway ran next to Austin Creek, which was very dry as we were shrouded in trees making our way up the canyon, turning onto a partially paved road.
Camp Royaneh was founded in 1925 by Raymond O. Hansen to provide a safe yet exciting experience for Scouts. “The camp’s success is largely due to a tradition of excellence which has singled it out as one of the oldest and most widely attended Scout Camps West of the Mississippi.”
Being only the third BSA camp we have attended this was by far the best one (Camp Herms and Cutter Scout Reservation being the other)! As we arrived, we walked to the camp office and registered, receiving green wristbands and a parking permit for the weekend. The camp director discussed some of the rules, such as parking and the areas we could pitch our tent in. With her help, we settled on an area just under the camp amphitheater called, Green Bar, for the three green bars a patrol leader for the BSA wears on their shoulder.
We drove up the hill to Green Bar and then walked the area to find a suitable location to set up camp. We also took into consideration the two other families that would be joining us. The main area (see map) was quite wide open, situated between the pool/shower, scoutcraft shack and the road. With some campers already setting up, Zach decided on a small area just off the road within some trees that provided our camp with some privacy. More importantly, it was flat.
We unloaded our gear and began setting up our 9’x7′ tent (that’s the orange one in the image above), including a 7′ covered porch, broke out the camping chair and set up our kitchen. Others would not be arriving until about 9:00PM, so Zach and I were alone for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening. After the stove was set up, I boiled the water for his freeze dried meal and I ate salad with diced, marinated potatoes. We did a little bit of exploring around the local camp area and then sat down and got serious with Jenga.
After we finished with Jenga we got ready for bed. It was just after 9:00PM and our friends had still not arrived. We did have a visitor in our camp. At the stream was a deer, drinking water not minding us being there. I pointed my headlamp in the deer’s direction and she kept drinking, before she raised her head and started walking off, away from our camp. It wasn’t but 15 minutes later we heard a voice in the night. “Zachary?” He sat up and answered, “yes!” It was our pack leader and her family, they had just found the camping spot.
Earlier in the afternoon, after we registered, we drove back down the canyon until we got a cellular signal in order to provide a location for those who we were going to camp with. It took another 30 minutes out of our day, but it was worth it to have our pack together, camping in the same location. We welcomed them to the Pack 1155 camp site at Green Bar and they proceeded to unload their gear. Unlike us, they came more prepared. Minus their gas stove and food, their gear was loaded into their backpacks. I found that absolutely awesome and hope that I can persuade Zach to continue on to Boy Scouts, where camping is a monthly event for the boys!
By the time the pack leader and her family got their tents set up is was nearly 11:00PM and we were all ready for bed. The night was rather uncomfortable, as we did not bring the air mattress. Last time we camped it sprung a leak so we were really sleep on the ground. This time around I could not find the air mattress, so I bought these Therm-a-Rest sleeping pads that kept the cold ground from getting to us, but honestly, they were not comfortable.
Saturday started early, as I woke after an restless night sleep about 7:00AM, laying in my sleeping bag as I head rustling outside of the tent. A pack of wild turkeys were meandering through camp before getting airborne and flying off into the trees. I dressed and made the walk to the bathroom/showers, returning to camp and boiling water for my tea. Zach woke up a few minutes after I returned and wanted breakfast before the day ahead of us. He had scrambled eggs with bacon, freeze dried, of course and a cup of hot chocolate. One by one the other campers woke up and breakfast was in full swing. The agenda for the morning was archery and crafts, before some BB gun shooting and pool time in the afternoon.
A group of use made the 15 minute hike up the trails to the archery range, which was above the camp, in the hills, while the older boys and one leader when to shoot rifles. The organization wasn’t really up to scouting standards with two boys managing the range. The older boy was the range master, shouting commands to the archers, while the younger boy provided the safety briefing but mismanaged the flow of scouts and parents onto the range. Most did not ask permission from the range master, which is a common practice when the range is live. About 45 minutes into the wait, an adult leader took it upon herself to organize the picnic tables as queues, but the wait was still dreadfully long. Nearly 2 hours after we arrived on the range, our boys were finally on the range knocking arrows and taking aim.
We got a bit lucky as there were a few open spots and our boys had the opportunity to fire a second quiver of arrows before the range shut down for lunch. While we can’t fault the volunteers for the time and effort they put in to make this family camp a success, many of the archers required assistance while on the range, my son included. I tried to yell a few pointers to him, but it became an exercise in frustration as there was not enough help for those young archers struggling. Still he went through two quivers and had a good time. His only comment was the duration of the the wait. When we finished it was 30 minutes past when the range should have shut down for lunch and we headed back to camp.
The afternoon schedule was changed, as none of the boys wanted to take aim with the BB guns, guess they had enough waiting and I am sure the range would have been similar to the archery. Instead we moved up the crafts and swimming, after lunch we headed down towards the registration office where the crafts were taking place. The boys had an opportunity to build one of four different projects; a box with sliding top, footstool, communications board or toolbox. All the wood was pre-cut, requiring only sanding and assembly. This was a hit with all our scouts, so much so many decided to build a second the following day.
The boys wound down the day in the pool, which appeared to be rather cold! Even with the day being in the low 80s, by the time we entered the pool area, the sun was slowly setting behind the rising trees. While at the pool the boys had the chance to take the BSA swim test. Zachary didn’t want to, but the other scout from my den did and passed, so he will get partial credit for his aquanaut badge. About 30 minutes later it was time to dry off as the pool was closing and dinner time was on the horizon.
It was still light out when we started cooking dinner as campers made their way back from the day’s activities. Before we started dinner, the boys ran around the local area, played games and basically had fun. I, along with another dad walked off to check out some of the sights and we were rewarded with a cellular signal, as we looked out over the valley. I put a quick text into my wife, followed by a call, which caught he off guard and she called back in a panic thinking something was wrong. We talked for a few brief minutes before I made my way back to camp to cook dinner.
During dinner I discussed backpacking and camping with the two pack leaders, something they had done for nearly their entire life. While not fully educated on camping, I do want to get into backpacking and they provided a wealth of information regarding camping gear, areas to backpack and options to get into the hobby with kids. Zachary, at 10 years old loves to go camping and honestly when he is with the other boys in the pack, he doesn’t miss the electronic devices.
After dinner was done, I fired up the gas grill and offered s’mores to anyone who wanted one. We were waiting for 8:30 PM, to walk down to the mess hall for the family ice cream social. Some of the boys went off to play basketball, while others wandered the camp until the line started forming for ice cream. While I passed on the cold treat I did hold our table as the boys and leaders started returned. We started up a few board games and played for the next 90 minutes, as all enjoy the company and fun we were having. As campers started to filter out, we finally packed up the games and walked back to our tents. Sunday would be our final day, as we wanted to get back early. Zachary wanted a day off before school and we wanted to beat some of the holiday weekend traffic home.
Sunday morning was quiet and peaceful as I laid in our tent contemplating the drive home as my vacation was coming to an end. Ot was a lazy morning, as we all rolled our of our tents, with water boiling we started fixing breakfast. I slowly started to break down our tent and pack up the unused supplies we did not need. Zachary ate his last freeze dried meal and I polished off some oatmeal and a few pieces of toast with some green tea.
One of the scout leaders wanted the group to participate in Scouts’ Own, an inspirational, informal ceremony held as part of Scouting or Guiding activities. In conjunction with the Scout Law, we discussed being trustworthy and to always tell the truth. Our leader delivered a good talk and then we each said what we were thankful for that Sunday morning. This helped two of my boys and a portion of their Duty to God in Action achievement for the Arrow of Light!
We returned to camp and the boys wanted to build another project, so Zachary went with the others, while I packed up our supplies, tent and sleeping bags. I walked down the hill to the parking lot, and moved my truck up to the camp site and loaded the truck up. This gave me enough time to get back down with Zach, where I found him sanding wood to make a foot stool. He built a fine looking foot stool all by himself, I only helped do some sanding, but he assembled the project.
We said our goodbyes to our fellow campers and were on the road by 11:15AM bumping down the dirt road back to Cazadera Highway. It was about 10 minutes before we had some limited cellular service and we called home. It didn’t last long as the signal went in and out with nearly every bend in the Russian River. Traffic was a bit heavier than expected as we rolled towards Guerneville. The holiday weekend had brought a lot of people out, many camping in and around the river, but others enjoying the day.
We decided to take a quick detour through Santa Rosa and the Russian River Brewery. It came as no surprise there was a line out the door of people waiting to get in. I had Zachary snap a quick picture of the building and we stopped for a quick bite to eat and were back on the road, scheduled to be home about 3:00PM. Traffic wasn’t too terribly bad, some minor slowing into Vallejo, but we were ready to be home. Camping has been a great experience, to the point we want to experience more and possibly even look into backpacking some of the local areas.