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A not-so-peaceful weekend at Shaver Lake

July 7, 2009 |  3:39 pm

When we snagged a reservation in January to car-camp at Shaver Lake in the western Sierra the weekend of the longest day of the year, we were enticed by the Camp Edison lakefront campsites mentioned every year in Sunset Magazine’s 50 best campgrounds list (No. 6 this year). We figured we'd be able to slip our new kayak onto the tranquil blue water, glide peacefully along the shore, maybe stop for an impromptu picnic at a lakeside beach. Little did we realize that the longest day of the year would seem more like the longest day of our lives.

Shaver campsite view The problems started when we pulled up to our “lake view” site, directly across the road from the coveted “lake front” sites. Little more than a highway pullout, the campsite was flush against an adjacent site with zero privacy, and the “lake view” was marred by several neighboring RBs (recreational behemoths) and too many SUVs to count. One lakefront site had no fewer than six tents (right).

I think there was even an M-6 tank in there but I couldn’t distinguish it from the pickup trucks, SUVs and RBs. This is the site where a floodlight was kept on every night, blinding us each time we returned from the restroom. I don’t think this is what Thomas Edison had in mind.

At 5,500 feet elevation, Shaver Lake is part of a hydroelectric project owned by Southern California Edison. I couldn't find anywhere on the Camp Edison website how many homes are powered by the lake but I'm thinking as soon as the air conditioning really gets cranking in the Central Valley, the lake level — which was at a normal, fairly high early-summer level — will drop by at least a few feet.

Shaver site OK, so the “Bring your laptop” label in Sunset’s Camp Edison blurb should’ve been a hint. Each of the 252 sites has an electric hookup and half have wireless capability. As avid tent-only campers, we've since been asking ourselves, “What were we thinking?” We were thinking that $39 a night would get us some space, privacy and a view (lakefront sites run $60 each). Instead we felt like we were bunking in a refugee camp adjacent to a Wal-Mart parking lot. The hookups at each site were a blessing in disguise though, sparing us the drone of trailer generators. Although an odd sound did occasionally emanate from the trailer next to us, reminding me of the scene in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," in which Francois Truffaut attempts to duplicate the mysterious UFO tones. We never did see a single person in or around that trailer. Hmmm.

And the beaches. May I be so bold as to suggest, SoCal Edison, that you forbid the commandeering of beaches with private canopies? This time of year, when the water is still high, Shaver’s beaches are scarce enough as it is. Innumerable times when we tried to find a spot to launch our kayak or paddle up to a beach we’d come across a phalanx of beach toys, jet skis, boogie boards, etc. under a canopy with not a person in sight and no sand to spare.

Shaver kayak
There were brief pleasant moments on this most unrelaxing weekend, however. We drove the kayak to a spot on the north side of the lake and spent a pleasant afternoon paddling, fishing and hanging out with our dogs. We even discovered our elderly rescue Lab Sammy knows how to swim. I caught a bluegill for the first time since I was 10. The next day we rented a pontoon (“when in Rome,” etc.) and hauled kayak, dogs and fly rods around the lake ($125 for a full day plus $25 for gas from Shaver Lake Marina). We motored past Dorabelle Cove, where we'd camped at a forest service campground (a slightly more reasonable $20 a night) several years ago. We launched the kayak in lovely Stevensen Cove and lunched at a picnic area in Doris Cove.

Pups Shaver pontoonAnother plus: Camp Edison has showers, though our $5 shower card bleeped out after about 16 minutes worth of showers (as opposed to the 45 minutes promised). Camp Edison is, it goes without saying, a family campground. There were what seemed like hundreds of thousands of extended families, along with their families and friends. Like one enormous group campsite. And us. A few bright spots though: the delightful 9-year-old twin sisters from Moorpark who loved our dogs, helped us build a campfire one night and regaled us with a tail, er tale, of how their elderly Morky (Maltese/Yorkshire terrier) or other type of small dog, I forget, was snatched by an owl back home. The evening they arrived, we watched them pull up in the biggest Recreational Behemoth we’d ever seen; it seemed about 150 feet long but was in fact, said the twins, 39 feet. Then there was the nice couple from Fresno in the minuscule lakefront site across from us, and their handsome 110-pound yellow Lab, Sam. Once they checked out, we poached their picnic table one night to enjoy our dinner of Shaver Lake Pizza.

All in all, the weekend wasn't that bad but I think we'll stick to the Eastern Sierra next time. It’s not that we hate car-camping. We prefer the discomfort of backpacking, but there are aspects of auto-supported camping that we enjoy (the Coleman zillion-man tent we got at Costco ROCKS). If we do come back here, we'll probably stick to points beyond Kaiser Pass Road (you gotta love those twisty, frighteningly steep roads too treacherous for vee-hickles over 25 feet). And we'll leave the laptop at home.

— Julie Sheer

Photos courtesy of Julie Sheer