Friday, September 4, 2015


                              Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations

Up till then, we had been OK. Then the road suddenly stopped! Being a road, that is. Huge ruts and massive rocks block our way. We sat at the point of turning around, going back and finding another way. Meadow Lake Road on the east end of Bowman Lake looked more like a mountain goat trail than a lane travel.

In all my trips to the water, it has always been fairly simple. For trips to Lake Natoma or the Lower American River, stops signs, traffic and parking spots are my biggest concerns. With a little luck,  I'll squeeze into a spot at the boat ramp instead of having to park further away after dropping the kayak off at the water edge. For bigger trips,  I leave the driveway, wade through traffic to the interstate, speed along to the exit, before getting stuck a slow-moving tractor or truck on the blacktop. At the crossing, I turn off the blacktop and on to the gravel road down to the boat ramp.

"It’s the portage that makes traveling by canoe unique." said famed paddling guru Bill Mason. He, of course, was referring to hauling canoes through the northern woods from lake to lake. That's how it's done in places like the BWCA. Canoes are inserted into lakes and streams and then carried by hand to other lakes and streams in between, while whitewater extremists have no trouble transporting kayaks up mountain canyons on their backs to attempt the first descent of the waterfall. The paddling is the easy part, getting to the water is always the ordeal.

Our friend Curt Hough said it was a place we had to paddle. High in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Lake Foucherie is an outdoor paradise. Clear water, mountain views and towering pines encompass the lake. A hidden and remote treasure that offers more that than just tranquil splendor, but serenity as well. It's so beautiful that photographer Ansel Adams might have switched to color film to photograph its grandeur. We gathered in my pickup with tandem kayak on top and looked forward to what naturalist John Muir described as an inexpressible delight of wading out into the grassy sun-lake when he wrote, "Feeling yourself contained on one of Nature's most sacred chambers, withdrawn from the sterner influences of the mountains, secure from all intrusion, secure from yourself, free in the universal beauty."

The Bowman Lake Road off Highway 20 on the northern end of California's Nevada County is bumpy but well-traveled by four-wheel drive pickup and Jeeps. It weaves and winds mostly on gravel in a northerly fashion past Fuller Lake, up to the dam site. The Meadow Lake Road begins just below Bowman Reservoir's Dam, turning off and winding up the mountain. The road is rocky and a bit unnerving with a steep drop off at ones the side. It would be a wonderful breath-taking view of the mountains and valley if I wasn't holding my breath at the sight of the depth chasm. About half way up we came to our roadblock. There was just no way my truck could clear those ruts and rocks. We regroup, turned around and went back down finding a different road up the mountain via GPS.

The first road must have been the express lane for four-wheel drivers and mountain goats, while the other road switchbacks up the hill and meets for the same view Bowman Lake. At an elevation of 5,585 feet, the lake gleams through our windshield. Its granite rock formations lining the lake buffer between the water and sky. The north side road runs parallel along the steeped lakeshore. It is slow going, however, our destination seems to be in grasp.

All the way to the end of the lake and Jackson Creek the road went from good to bad, to worse. My wife Debbie had taken the wheel now and compared the road to dried up river bed. It might as well had been an old creek bed. Washboard grooves and stones tested the truck's tires and shock absorbers while driving up what looked like an evaporated stream. I walked ahead in spots and clearing rocks and looking for even ground. At the Jackson Creek Campground, the road splits and leads to Sawmill Lake and Lake Foucherie. It wasn't any better. It was a rugged adventurous drive over a parched creek bed and a pine-lined path. When we limped into the Sawmill Lake Campground and saw the sight of Sawmill Lake, we agreed that we have to save Lake Foucherie for another day and unloaded our kayaks.

After the rigorous day of travel, the payoff came softly. The Sawmill Lake cooled us in an instant. The water gave us relief, the pines refreshed us and the majestic mountain views mesmerized us with their beauty. It wasn't our original destination, however, its wilderness seems to sing to me. You made it!  It's the journey that matters, and the adventure lays in just getting here.  Now enjoy my serenity.

 Naturalist Sigurd Olson thought of it that way when he said, "And that, I believe, is one of the reasons why coming home from any sort of a primitive expedition is a real adventure. Security and routine are always welcome after knowing the excitement and the unusual. We need contrast to make us know we are really alive."