Categorized | Camping, Northern California

A Weekend in Duncans Mills

Last year I spent the weekend in Boonville at the Not-S0-Simple Living Fair.  One of the highlights of the event was the fact that at some point during the weekend, an anonymous camper came to my campsite and fixed and rebuilt the tent that I had so poorly constructed.

I wrote about this episode – complete with picture of my decrepit tent – and posted it on Facebook.  A friend of mine named Mary, whom I hadn’t seen in years, saw the posting and said “Hey – we should go camping sometime”.  Which is how I found myself wiht Mary at the Casini Ranch Campgrounds in Duncan’s Mills in early September. This was not my first visit to Duncans Mills, but my second.  My first one was with Jehoshua about two years ago, chronicled here.

Bordering the Russian River, the Casini Ranch was originally a dairy farm.  In the mid-sixties, the decision came to shut down the dairy ranch and to turn the land into a campground.  There are a few cabins, but mainly tent camping and RV sites. Casini Ranch also does RV storage.

Camping cabin

In addition to tent camping, there was also RV parking and small cabins.

The best part of all of this is that Casini Ranch is only 30 minutes from where I live and from where Mary lives.  I drove to Mary’s house, we loaded up her car and we headed out.

What can I say? We had a great time.  Mary had reserved a campsite in the group camping area, which was great, since we each had our own tent.  It also had a faucet so we didn’t have to go far for water. The bathrooms at Casini Ranch are kind of few and far between, a fact that I attribute to the septic issues inherent in being right next to a river.  The nearest bathroom to our campsite was a little bit of hike unless you took the shortcut which entailed crawling over a log.

The one downside of the group camping area was, well, the groups. Lots of groups.  The group next to us talked a lot – and late into the evening. At one point I thought to myself that if I had really wanted a quiet night’s sleep I should have stayed at home.  Next time – no group campgrounds. The individual campsites on the other side of the campground were a lot quieter and still big enough for our two tents. The only advantage to the group campsites was safety.  You were not as alone as you would have been alongside the river, which is definitely a consideration for two women sleeping in tents.

Our Campsite at Casini Ranch

Our Campsite at Casini Ranch

Speaking of which – my tent went up fine this time.  Remembered all of the details of simple tent construction and I had a very cozy little setup in there. Mary – tired of sleeping on the ground in a tent – had brought an aero bed mattress.  We found a plug in the laundry room and once inflated, she managed to jam the mattress back into her car. When we got it back to the campsite and brought it to her tent, she realized that it was going to use up all the floor space.  It was kind of cool, however, like being in an miniature canopy room.

Casini Ranch Store

Casini Ranch Clubhouse

I slept on the ground, on my mat, with billions of blankets and a sleeping bag.  At the Casini Store I saw a sleeping bag liner and bought that, which made the sleeping bag way cozier. Although my tent is supposed to “sleep four”, two people would have been a stretch and one person was just fine.  Not sure how they size tents – or for whom. I have once slept three small people in there and it was very tight.  However one person was perfect and I was able to arrange the tent exactly how I wanted it.

My tent setup at Casini Ranch

My tent setup at Casini Ranch

Camping at Casini Ranch was my type of camping.  We went out to dinner Friday night in Duncan’s Mills, and then headed out there again on Saturday morning for coffee at the bakery.  The town of Duncan’s Mills was exactly three minutes away by car from the campground, so none of this was a problem.  It was really close enough to walk to, however it was a fairly busy road to town and no shoulder to walk on – so getting there by foot would have been hazardous.

Casini Ranch Street signs

Casini Ranch is close to a lot of places

There was no internet and knowing that, I had brought books.  I spent my time sleeping, reading, and walking around. Mary did the same. She was an excellent camping partner in that way. Plus she remembered to bring important things like silverware, plates, a dishwashing tub, and soap.  I brought three pre-made salads from Whole Foods and some granola bars.  How that was going to help sustain us, I have no idea. This, by the way, is why I always try to choose friends who are smarter than me.

I walked a lot. Paths meandered through the campground and the RV lots out to the river and then into a small meadow. I met two women who came to the Casini Ranch every year.  They get their RV set up for a month and then use that as a base to travel around Northern California.  They seemed very content as they walked their dog around the ranch.

Casini Ranch Lake

Casini Ranch Lake

During the day, there were lots of activities for children – a craft activity, ice cream social, hayrides, and then running and following the water truck around as it tamped down the dusty soil on the dirt roads. It was smoky and humid on Saturday, a fact that I attributed to the campfires, barbecues and the balmy fall weather.

Casini Ranch Hayride

Saturday evening, we headed out to the beach.  It was a moonless night and our little flashlights shed a weak light. We followed the road out to the beach where a huge bonfire lit up the sky. A nearby table was littered with graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate – it was make your own s’mores night.

Bonfire wood

The pre-bonfire setup

We returned to the campsite and started preparing for the night. Much to our dismay, we started hearing deep growling and rustling in the bushes alongside the back of the campsite. What the hell?  Soon afterwards, on of the campground hosts came around and said not to worry – only raccoons.  Well, have you ever seen a raccoon? Especially an angry raccoon?  I have and there is quite a bit to worry about. They are quite tall when they stand up on their back legs, they clearly indicate when they are angry, they are fast, they have sharp teeth.

Somewhat mollified (at least it wasn’t a mountain lion) we went to bed. But the party wasn’t over. Later that night – around midnight –  the raccoons came out of the bushes.  Their path of travel passed by the head of my tent and circled around the front of the tent where my door was.  They walked, growled, and argued with each other within inches of where I was sleeping. I was suddenly and acutely aware of how thin tent material is.

My friend Mary opened her tent door and called out to me that she could see them wandering around my tent. Let’s just say it was a very long night. I finally solved it by taking a sleeping pill. That is how I solve nighttime noises and dramas.  I just sleep through it.  I figure that if I am going to die, I will be totally unaware of it.  If I don’t die, at least I will have gotten a good night’s sleep.

The next morning I found that two of my tent poles had been pulled out and garbage from a neighboring campsite was strewn about.

We packed up in the morning and headed back out to Duncan’s Mill, where we had a very nice breakfast at a cafe there and then headed back towards Guerneville. Mary wanted to stop in the flea market that takes place every weekend in the Safeway Parking Lot. That was when I got my phone service back.  I looked at my email. Harbin Hot Springs had burnt to the ground, as a matter of fact a great swath of Lake County just above us had burnt up during the weekend in the infamous Valley Fire, which ultimately  burned 76,067 acres and killed four people. Based on total structures burned, it was the third-worst fire in California history. It was a sad and sobering end to our weekend. Many lives changed forever…

MOrning at the Russian River

Morning on the Russian River


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