Arnold: I'll be back

March 24-27 2008

random trip report

We packed up Noah and headed up 80 and then 4, which is an idyllic highway in rolling green hills, but degenerates into a surface street through the tract-home and strip-mall blight of Brentwood etc.

But then it transforms again, into a dusty 2-lane road along the top of levees in the still-agricultural Central Valley, with the feel of James Dean and Route 66.

At Stockton you jog south on 99 for a few miles. Then 4 becomes beautiful again: huge rolling meadows, an increasing number of huge old oak trees, and boulders and rocky outcrops. Soon you're in the Sierra foothills.

We pass the turnoff to Copperopolis. The scenery goes from Beautiful to Incredible. The highway, instead of being blasted and gouged out of the land, floats respectfully along the undulations of the hills and valleys. It's a nice place for motorcycles.

We pass through Angel's Camp, then Murphy. Pines gradually replace the oaks as we gain elevation.

Finally we reach Arnold. Miraculously, Noah wakes up from his very long nap at the exact moment we pull into the driveway! Our rental is a couple of miles off the highway, in large area of upscale homes clustered around a fancy country club. Our particular place is modest but nice, in a 1970's way. One of the bedrooms has a water bed, which I claim. There's even a wooden train set for Noah.

I struggle for a long time to get a fire going in the wood-burning stove, and eventually succeed. We make popcorn and eat it in the front yard, while Noah plays with the giant pine cones.

There are patches of snow here and there, and Noah gets his first introduction - he likes it.

We head into town for dinner. There's a strange paucity of eating places, and no country-diner type places at all. An Italian place looks OK but is full. We settle on a pricy but interesting-looking place which is empty. I order the special ravioli, which turn out to have a very special price ($23).

Noah squawks a fair amount, and we're worried when an elderly couple comes in, but they're extremely friendly and give us some tips about finding snow.


The waterbed turns out to be a bad choice; it is absurdly hot, and although I eventually find the thermostat, I spend the entire night semi-roasting, and not sleeping (my 3rd or 4th such night in a row, BTW; plus I have a lingering, nasty cold - pretty miserable all around).

We rent a snow saucer at Arnold Sporting Goods (which I highly recommend) drive 5 miles up the road to Calaveras Big Trees state park. It's a lot higher, colder, and snowier. We to a ~2 mile hike through the main grove of big trees (Sequoias, with some good-sized cedars and pines mixed in). I carry Noah in the pack. The biggest tree of all has been reduced to a giant stump - aren't humans great?

We make a side-excursion up a hill. Noah gets of the pack and spends a while playing baseball-type games with sticks and snowballs. He's very excited by me throwing snowballs at trees.

We descend again, then find a little hillside where we can use the snow saucer. This only lasts a short while - Erica is scared of it, and I run out of energy.

We see another Sequoia that is dead, stripped of all its bark - another money-making scheme by the Republicans of that era.

The return to the car seems to take forever. We get back to the cabin. I collapse and take a nap; Erica does the Noah sleepy-walk. After the nap, we eat popcorn on the back deck.


We drive ~25 miles up the road to the Bear Valley ski area (this looks pretty good, BTW, and not crowded). Erica ill-advisedly gets a breakfast platter at the snack bar. Noah spends some time looking out the window at the lifts and skiers. Then we take him out into the snow, in the flat area where people are putting on skis and boards. A kiddie ski-school is in progress but looks pretty lame.

Noah sees a lots of people falling down (mostly boarders) and after the trip says 'Uh-oh!' when he sees a picture of skiers.

Bear Valley also has a large X-country area and a sled hill, but we decide to take it easy and just head back.

After Noah's nap we explore a trail near the cabin that Erica alertly spotted during the sleepy walk. We let Noah run around in a clearing; there's a lot of throwing rocks at trees. Then he tries walking on a snow bank, and goes pretty well until he breaks through and sinks up to his knees, at which point I extricate him.


We do a thorough clean-up (there's a $150 security deposit) and hit the road. I stop in town for a decaf coffee and inedible scone, which I toss.

We stop in Murphy around 9 to visit Mercer Caverns. Turns out it doesn't open until 10, so we walk around Murphy, which is extremely quaint, though with a faintly foul whiff of Upscale (an emphasis on fine wines, which apparently are the new economic hope of the region).

We return to the Caverns (which are about a mile outside of town). Several large vans of junior-high punks are already there, and they tell us that they have it reserved until 11:30! Erica's anger threatens to boil over into something truly ugly. I try to calm things down, pointing out that carrying Noah down and up 287 steep and slippery steps in a dripping cavern probably wouldn't be that much fun for anyone.

In any case, Noah is in one of his not-infrequent 'Gee it's great to be alive!' moods, and has a great time walking along and jumping down from the parking lot curbs.

We drive a few miles to Angel's camp and walk the main drag. It's a bit grim - lots of 2nd-hand stores and empty storefronts. There's a sequence of plaques in the sidewalk commemorating the winners of the Jumping Frog contest through the years (winning distances average 18 to 20 feet!).

There's no feasible place to eat, so we drive on down the road, hoping to find lunch in Copperopolis. Pickings are slim, and we settle for shopping-mall Mexican. Afterwards Noah has some more jumping-down practice.

We drive back via 205 and 580. Noah somehow stays awake the entire time, and goes through a large number of crispy crackers, though (we learn later) many of them end up as shards on the rear window ledge.