Camping Cachuma | Credit: Michelle Drown

As soon as I read the email notification, I hopped on Lake Cachuma’s website and reserved a camping site. It was late May and the Santa Barbara County park announced it would begin accepting reservations for its opening June 1. After months of not going more than a few miles from home, the possibility of spending two nights in the Santa Ynez Valley made me giddy with anticipation. 

My partner and I are campers and have made several week-long trips northward, pitching our tent at state parks from Santa Cruz to Arcata. We’ve even traveled to the Grand Canyon and throughout Utah, and yet we had never spent the weekend at Lake Cachuma. We tended to dismiss it as a destination because it is so close to home.

But the pandemic has changed our perspectives of most things. Suddenly, driving over the mountains to spend a weekend on our own patch of nature — replete with a fire pit, picnic table, and oak trees — felt like an adventure. We splurged and reserved a large, lake-front spot.

Our camping sleep situation has always been a tent, but for this trip we were going in style. During lockdown, my partner had spent hours modifying his tool trailer to double as an “camper.” He affixed solar panels to the roof for electricity, put insulation between the aluminum shell and the particle board interior, and put LED lights around the ceiling, among other cozy details.

On Friday, June 5, after work we loaded up the trailer with our camping gear, filled the truck bed with firewood, and began the 40-minute drive to Lake Cachuma. The wind was whipping off the lake at a speed that made it impossible to keep the flame in our camp stove lit. We cooked our hot dogs on the firepit grill instead. Night fell and we sat in front of our flickering fire, the sounds of crickets, tree leaves rustling, and the distant conversation of other campers floating into our ears. As the wind grew fierce outside, we withdrew to our trailer where we slept in comfort.

The next day was a perfect lazy Saturday. I took a long walk around the grounds and checked out the camp store. Although the playground and swimming pool were closed and physical distancing and mask-wearing was required in the bathroom and store, I felt far from the ceaseless COVID-19 worries. Being outdoors for two days, we found the wide-open space, the sound of the lake lapping on the shore, and even the unrelenting wind to be balms that soothed our stressed psyches as only nature can.


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