We decided to do a quick trip in the caravan before the 4th. I was able to get a nice RV hookup spot at Lake Hemet, only about an hour from our house. It’s also only about 8 miles from Idyllwild, so that gave us some options if we decided to leave the campground.
We’ve never been there, but online it looks pretty good. Learning from the Big Bear experience, using satellite view in Google Maps I made sure the campsite looked decent, with trees, and not on top of a road. All good.
This trip we’re going to cook in the caravan and we’re going fishing. Consequently, we stocked up on some cooking provisions and began shopping for fishing gear. My fishing life was 40+ years ago, so all my gear is long gone. But across Amazon, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart we ended up with a pretty decent set of gear for the two of us. My favorite item was a set of telescoping rods from Pluissant, via Amazon.
The drive there was easy, even with a stop for lunch at Five Guys (I’m a sucker for their fries). Upon arriving our campsite was nice and shady, though required some trucker-skill-level turning to back the caravan into a tight spot around a corner. But mission accomplished.
Lake Hemet is really beautiful. It’s a mountain lake at about 4500 feet, in a huge valley leading up to Idyllwild. The RV hookup sites are a little funky – about 2/3 of the sites are occupied by permanent “campers” with varying degrees of landscaping and accumulated junk around their site. But they’re pretty quiet, as it turns out. Our site had a nice view of nearby Thomas Mountain just south of the lake.
Not too long after arrival we broke out our new fishing gear and gave it a try, just shore fishing. No luck, but we got the gear all set up and ready for a more serious fishing trip by boat in the morning.
About 7pm K broke in the new kitchen with a super meal – angel hair pasta, homemade Bolognese sauce, buttery crostinis and a salad. My contribution was (1) turning on the propane system for the first time, and (2) a bottle of A3, one of our low-cost high-value wines. Pretty high-class eating for a camping evening – I guess that’s why it’s called glamping.
After only one afternoon and part of an evening, I’m already pretty sold on Lake Hemet. It’s easy to get to, has a nice lake, and has some beautiful views. So far so good. One downside – we are completely off the net. No cell service (thanks T-Mobile), no campground wifi (WTF?), so we’re passing time purely in meatspace. Though that does give me incentive to sit and write, as evidenced by this little essay.
It would be peaceful except K decided to string a bunch of Christmas-y lights around the caravan, and this looks to be a project with no apparent end. All I can do is hunker down and write, act busy, leaving me thankfully out of the light stringing madness. Fingers crossed.
Day 2, Lake Hemet
We woke up at 545am to go fishing. Actually, to be early enough in line to get one of the first-come-first-serve motorboats at the marina. That went well, and we were organized and on the lake by 7am. The temperature was chilly at 6am – 43 degrees – but it warmed up to a respectable 60ish as we left the marina.
Yesterday I said the lake was beautiful. Today, from the water and opposite shores, it was spectacular. Our first highlight of the day was spotting a bald eagle within the first 20 minutes. It was pretty big – maybe a juvenile, as it had brilliant white feathers, no beige-y look. But it was just cool to see that symbol of wilderness here only an hour from home. This shot of our eagle is a little grainy, but it’s an extreme zoom-in of the original. The photo was shot from perhaps a quarter mile.
We fished for five hours and caught two nice smallish rainbow trout. I threw them both back – I’m a catch and release guy – but in retrospect I’m pretty sure one of them didn’t survive. He was hooked mid-body and in the lip, and the body hook caused some damage. Maybe should have kept him for dinner, but as someone else pointed out, it’s an ecosystem and a dead trout won’t go wasted. If he floats to the top one bird or another will get him.
It’s a very lively lake – fish jumping everywhere. Carp close to shore, feeding on submerged shrubs and trees (we had a big rainy season), and trout jumping mid-channel. All in all it was a super fishing excursion, though we were pretty bummed that K didn’t catch one. Maybe tomorrow.
After fishing and some rest, we headed off to explore Idyllwild. We have some history with Idyllwild, as when I first started to get antsy on the coast in 2003-2003, we looked at a mountain cabin or two in Idyllwild. I remember making several trips there, but ultimately the distance helped us decide that we wouldn’t buy there. Good thing, too. First the bark beetles killed millions of pine trees around Idyllwild, then wildfires burned the mountainsides leading into the town. Going in now, it’s depressing. It’ll be decades before those hillsides recover.
In the town it seemed the same kind of devastation had occurred, at least at first. The blocks where I remembered visiting high-falutin’ galleries 18 years ago are now covered with candy shops, cheap knick-knack shops and a gigantic jerky store. Tourist central…nice.
We made a rookie mistake and decided to eat at the first place that sounded good – the Idyllwild Pizza shop. It was OK, but just OK – not what I would have chosen with more research or less hangry. We bought a giant pizza (they had two sizes, stupid big and stupid little) and took half of it home.
After that we explored more widely in Idyllwild and found traces of the artsy town I remember. Further up the hill we found several nice galleries and a surprisingly good wine tasting room. The wine was sourced from Temecula and Napa, but the room itself
was first class, with art-adorned walls and a nice small-bites menu. It was the kind of place I could stay in all afternoon, at least till my Visa or my liver gave up.
A highlight of our Idyllwild visit was getting to see the Mayor, pictured here. Yes, Idyllwild has an official and legal Golden Retriever as mayor. I think that’s a great idea for most American cities.
But it was good to find a bit of the town I remember. Idyllwild was once an arts haven, a hippie retreat and a mountain man’s village. You see echoes of those qualities in the town, but it remains to be seen if the Idyllwild of 2000-ish will return.
Day 3, Lake Hemet
Groundhog Day. We started exactly as yesterday and were on the lake by 645am. We had a beautiful day trolling up and down the lake, and we saw our eagle friend again. He was in the same tree, and the only difference was that we saw him launch and check out a trout that another fisherman was hauling in. Same behavior as in Alaska – the eagles will snatch your catch if at all possible. They’ve got brains and beauty.
The one thing that wasn’t a repeat of yesterday was the catch – we came up empty. I had several good strikes, but nothing latched on (how can a trout bite a treble hook so hard you feel it, yet not get hooked? It’s a mystery…).
So we had to settle for a beautiful day on the water. Meanwhile, we got to try every single fishing technique I could imagine. My general approach is if they’re not biting on what you’re offering, try something else. I know other fisherman who will stick to their plan for hours and hours, but that’s not me. Call me adaptable. Or ADD. But the upside was we got to practice trolling, casting, live bait fishing, trolling with a downrigger. Spoons, jigs, top lures, diving lures, rubber worms, live (mostly) worms. It was a smorgasbord of futility. But that’s fishing. In my youth fishing taught me a lot about patience, randomness and acceptance. Some things are just beyond your control. I’d say those are good lessons for any young person.
At the end of the day(s), our trip to Hemet Lake was a good one. We caught a couple of fish, discovered a super lake within easy reach of our house, got an update on the state of Idyllwild and learned a bit more about the caravan life.