“If I can just get off of that LA Freeway without getting killed or caught.” Yep. Another song lyric – written by Guy Clark, made famous by Jerry Jeff Walker, circa 1972, for those who might not recognize it. A popular hit from my University days in Austin, hanging out at the Armadillo World Headquarters.
Anyone who knows anything about Los Angeles knows there is no “LA Freeway” per se. Everyone speaks in idioms of numbers these days, all proceeded with a “the.” In Atlanta or Dallas, we would never say “Take ‘thuh’ 35 to ‘thuh’ 635,” or “Take the 75 to the 285.” No, it’s just “Take 35 to 635.” But in L.A., every numbered freeway begins with “the.”
I have reservations booked just north of Los Angeles for the second week of May that I made months ago, and I don’t really want to change them. At the time I made them, I was waiting on the weather. But now I seem to have ended up with more time in “SoCal” than desired, having budgeted too much time on the south end of the state. Not that I can’t find anything to do, mind you…There is plenty! But rather I can’t find a place to do it!
The LA area has a nice network of county and regional parks, most of which accept reservations. But the catch is, you can’t reserve less than fourteen days out. Within the two week window prior to arrival, the left over sites become “first come, first served.” That’s great Monday through Thursday. But come Friday and Saturday when the mass of commuter humanity pours out of the LA area, prepare to be shut out.
In similar circumstances, my MO has always been to retreat to a Walmart or even private RV Park on overbooked weekends. But in the LA area, there is a lock down on overnight parking. My Allstays app is a sea of “red W’s,” indicating “No Overnight Parking.” And private parks are few and far between.
I find a county park in Orange County in the Ronald Casper’s Wilderness on the edge of the Cleveland National Forest. With my “Senior Discount,” it’s only $15 a night, and they have availability Monday through Friday. In fact, I only have one neighbor, and have the entire campground to myself for three out of four nights. It is a lovely campground! But before I list what’s not to love, let me just get this one caveat out of the way that will no doubt rule out 90% of my fellow full timers…..”No Dogs.” Not “No dogs on the trails.” No dogs period. I have never been in a campground that does not allow dogs on leash. Being in the wilderness, I could understand, were it not for all the horses on the trails and the nearby fancy, expansive Equestrian Camp. I don’t get why one is allowed while the other is forbidden.
Otherwise, the park is pristine. The sites are randomly spaced, wide, gravel, and most are reasonably level (except for #18 and #25.) Most sites overlook the small canyons. The park is filled with sprawling Coast Live Oaks and Sycamores, thick enough to offer privacy, but due to the shortness of the main trunks and long lean branches, they tend to grow wider than they are tall, so plenty of solar rays. And the best part? The kids playground is far, far away. ;-)
There are over 30 miles of hiking trails in the Ronald Casper’s Wilderness, though the majority are fire roads. Even the “Difficult” rated trails are just steeper, more rutted fire roads. What few paths exist were once Nature Trails through the old oak groves, now closed due to too many dead or dying trees from drought conditions and shrinking germination habitat. Man’s inhumanity to Nature.
Day One, I hike a grueling, eight mile series of fire roads through Bell Canyon, up the Oso Trail, across Cougar Pass. The dirt roads leave me bored, until that is, I get atop the Eastern Ridge. Being up on the ridge line, feeling the cool breeze in the late afternoon sun, the rolling hills and puffy clouds are so beautiful that I go back for more the next day. Bell Canyon to Star Rise to the Western Ridge for a total of nine miles the following day, both hikes done right out of the campground.
It’s a lovely week in the solitude of the Wilderness, falling asleep to crickets chirping, and waking up to birds singing. But all too soon, I am invaded. Friday night comes, and a massive group of tent-camping, stroller pushing, baby-shrieking families surround me. Time to move on and face that LA Freeway…which is a whole lot less stressful than a Saturday night in a regional urban campground!
“Pack up all your dishes
Make note of all good wishes
Say goodbye to the landlord for me
That sum-bitch he always bored me
Throw out them old L.A papers
And that moldy box of vanilla wafers
Adios to all this concrete
Gonna get me some dirt road back street
Put the pink slip in the mailbox
Leave the key in the old front door lock
They will find it likely as not
With all the things that we have forgot
Oh Suzanna now don’t you cry, babe
Love’s a gift that’s surely handmade
We’ve got something to believe in
Before you know it’s time we’re leavin’
If I can just get off of that L.A. freeway
Without getting killed or caught
Down that road in a cloud of smoke
For some land that I ain’t bought yet
If I can just get off of that L.A. freeway…”
~Guy Clark (as sung by Jerry Jeff Walker)