Tuesday, August 25, 2015

One Car - That's All

The graded road that starts at the entrance to our campground and ends at the Crystal Lake Trailhead parking lot is less than two tenths of a mile long.  On the east side there are five “No Parking” signs.  On the west side there are four.  I think the Forest Service is quite clear on the fact that they don’t want anyone parking along that short stretch of road.

Wikipedia’s entry on “herd mentality” (also known as crowd mentality or mob mentality) reads, “describes how people are influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviors, follow trends, and/or purchase items.”  The term often has a negative connotation, and the case of the Crystal Lake Trailhead is no exception.  On busy weekends, when there is absolutely positively no parking to be had at the main trailhead, eventually one car will park illegally.  Maybe just in front of the “No Parking” sign.  Then another will park just behind it.  And another.  And another.  And the fact that they are parking directly in front of one of the nine “No Parking” signs just doesn’t seem to matter.  It takes only one car to start the whole mess.

Every weekend the Forest Service has a heyday writing tickets to these people who are very blatantly parking illegally.  It’s not a cheap ticket.  The fine is $125.  So why do people do it?  I guess when crowd mentality kicks in, common sense gets kicked out.  Sometimes we see a car parked directly behind a car that has a ticket.  What are they thinking?  Apparently they’re not thinking.

If we actually catch someone parking on the road, we let them know.  “I know it’s none of my business, but the fine for parking here is $125 and the Forest Service will be here today.”  Usually they move.  We got a laugh out of one young man that we had advised of the fine only seconds before the Forest Service arrived.  He pulled out in front of them and made a quick escape.

When we first arrived in camp, we had a few cars sneak into the campground and park along the road.  This is a bad thing.  We have to be able to get large trailers in and out, and we have to be able to get emergency vehicles in and out.  While the Forest Service has expressly told us that cars cannot be parked along the road, they won’t ticket in the campground.  It’s our job to enforce that parking regulation – and all we can do is charge a fee.  So we’ve had to do all we can to keep that one car out. 

The number one thing we’ve done is to take away the visual temptation.  There are orange cones on the road leading into our campground, and we insist that our campers park all their vehicles in their camp spots.  Nobody parks on the road – not even our campers.  We also just happen to be out in front of our trailer on busy weekends.  If our cones don’t deter the would-be illegal parker, our presence often does.  And if they stop to ask, we’ll gladly direct them to the overflow parking.  We’ll even give them a trail map.

So when you come to the trailhead, remember that “but Mom – everybody’s doing it” just doesn’t fly.  There’s lots of parking at the overflow area.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Crystal Lake Trailhead

Crystal Lake - 1/4 mile from trailhead parking lot
One of the most popular trailheads on the Mirror Lake Highway is just two-tenths of a mile from the entrance to our campground.  The Crystal Lake Trailhead provides access to more than a dozen small lakes including Crystal Lake, Wall Lake, Long Lake, Island Lake and Marjorie Lake.  Hikers, scout troops, backpackers and fishermen flock to the trailhead each weekend to take advantage of the varied hikes into the high Uinta backcountry.

There are actually three trails that begin in the trailhead parking lot.  The trail on the west side takes you above Crystal Lake toward Long Lake and Island Lake.  From this trail you can also access Cliff Lake, Marjorie Lake, Weir Lake, Pot Lake, and Duck Lake. 

The trail on the east side takes you past Lily Lakes to Wall Lake.  This trail continues on to the Notch Mountain Trail, where it passes Hope Lake, Twin Lake, Clyde Lake and Ibantik Lake.  This trail goes on to the Notch and finishes at the Bald Mountain trailhead.

And how, you might ask, do you get to Crystal Lake?  That trail is not well marked, but it starts at the restroom on the east side of the parking lot.  From there it’s less than a quarter mile to Crystal Lake. 

Did I mention that this is a very popular trailhead? 
Wall Lake - 1 mile from trailhead parking lot
One of the reasons may be that there’s something for everyone.  Inexperienced hikers and parents who want to introduce their children to the joy of hiking can go short distances and still reach a beautiful destination.  Back country enthusiasts can start out here and hike throughout the Uinta Mountain trail system – going as many miles as they want and camping along the way. 

Because it’s so popular, the main parking lot is full by 9:30 AM on Friday morning and stays pretty full throughout the weekend.  The overflow parking is ½ mile south of the main lot.  I’m always surprised when people complain that they’re going to have to hike an additional ½ mile.  Really?  You’re hiking anyway, and the trail up from the overflow parking takes you along the shoreline of Washington Lake.  So I really appreciated one of the hikers we directed to the overflow parking who replied, “Cool!  We get a bonus lake!” 

If you’re coming up to the Crystal Lake trailhead, here are a few pointers. 
1.  There is no water at the trailhead, and no water in the campground.  Bring your own.
2.  There are restrooms at the trailhead but on busy weekends they run out of toilet paper early.  Bring your own, or you’ll find yourself walking back into the campground.  (Of course, the campground restrooms are always clean and well-stocked.)
3.  You will need the Mirror Lake Highway Recreation Pass to park in the trailhead parking lot.  The nearest self-pay station is just half a mile down the Mirror Lake Highway from the turnoff to Trial, Washington and Crystal Lakes.  It’s on the left side of the highway as you’re coming up.
4.  Don’t forget that bonus lake.  If you enjoy hiking and don’t mind an added half mile, the Washington Lake shoreline trail is a beautiful addition to your hike.  Park in the overflow lot.

Happy Trails!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Chasing Water

Paul and I had initially ruled out Washington Lake as a potential summer site because of the lack of a water system.  We had no intention of pulling the trailer out of camp once every couple of weeks to fill our tanks with water.  We learned last year that American Land and Leisure provided a water trailer to the hosts.  But when we arrived at the lake on June 18, we were told the trailer was in use in another campground and that we wouldn’t get it for at least a week.

You have never seen such a concerted effort at water conservation as we made the first week in camp.  We used as little water as possible to clean restrooms.  We used two cups of water to wash the dishes; four cups to rinse.  I had visions of running out of water mid-shower, with my hair and eyes full of shampoo.  Thankfully our conservation efforts paid off.  Our area managers refilled our tank after the first week; we got the water trailer the second week.

We were a little concerned as this trip was the first time there had been water in trailer’s holding tank – ever.  The previous owners had always been hooked up to a water system.  So had we.  We weren’t sure the pump would work properly.  Thankfully it worked with only a minor glitch.  We found a small leak in the system.  Paul repaired it and we’ve had no problems since.  Now I vacillate between remembering to turn the pump on and remembering to turn the pump off.  Remembering to turn it on is easier – if no water comes out of the tap, you turn on the pump.  Seems I’m always forgetting to turn the pump off.

Like our campers, we pull the water trailer to Lost Creek campground to fill the water.  The tank holds 110 gallons; it takes about half an hour to fill it – if you use only one hose.  It took us three trips to figure out that if no one else was at the water station, we could use both hoses and cut our filling time in half.  I guess we’re not the quick studies we thought we were.

When they built Washington Lake in the 1990s, they made the conscious decision not to put a culinary water system in.  We actually met one of the builders in camp during our first two weeks here.  When I asked him why there was no water system, he looked me in the eye and said, “Cost.”  Not only cost to build, but cost to maintain.

Our Washington Lake Veterans know this.  You can tell the veteran Washington Lake campers – they’re the ones with four or five large blue water jugs parked under their 35 – 40 foot trailers.  They’re also the ones who come into camp, secure their site, leave something or someone in it and then go get water.  It’s much easier on the tow vehicle if you don’t pull the trailer all the way up the mountain full of water.  But we do get a lot of messenger-shooting from the folks that don’t know.  What do you mean we have to drive all the way to Lost Creek to get water?  Lost Creek, by the way, is less than 2.5 miles from the entrance to our campground. 

It could be worse.  When we had water issues at Hoop Lake, we advised our campers to boil the water rather than sending them 30 miles down the road to Mountain View.  Still, if you want to avoid leaving camp, bring your water with you.  In fact, wherever you plan to camp – bring a supply of drinking water.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

What Were They Thinking?

Washington Lake from the Dam
When they built Washington Lake Campground in the 1990s, they built a campground.  Unlike some of the more popular lakes on the Mirror Lake Highway, we have no fisherman parking, no day use area, and no boat ramp.  So while the water access for campers is superb, the water access for non-camping visitors is almost non-existent.  But forget “if you build it, they will come.”  They didn’t build it.  People are coming anyway.

When we have campsites available, we are able to sell them for day use.  It’s really not a tough sell.  The site runs $20 for all day access to the lake, complete with picnic tables and fire rings – not to mention clean restrooms.  We sell several on Sunday afternoons after most of the campers have cleared out.  But when the campground is full, we have to send day users to the Crystal Lake trailhead, which is about ¼ mile walk back into the lake.  We do allow them to drop their canoes, kayaks, float tubes, etc. before they go outside to park.

Boat Ramp?
There is a closed graded road that leads to the Washington Lake Dam, and when I walked it, it looked like there had once been a graded boat ramp and parking for five or six vehicles.  I asked the clerk at the Kamas Ranger Station why they had closed the old boat ramp.  She told me that it had never been a boat ramp.  The access was strictly for the water company to maintain the spillway.  Apparently access for non-camping visitors was not in the plan for Washington Lake.

Fisherman Parking?
It is open season on messengers.  People’s emotions range from slight annoyance to all-out anger when told that they will have to park outside the campground and walk in to fish.  We’ve had people stop us and rant at how unfair it is that the only people with access to Washington Lake are the campers. 

The situation turns worse when we miss someone at the gate and find them later, parked in a prime lakeside spot.  I have yet to master the art of asking someone to either pay for the campsite or leave it.  It’s negative – no matter how I try to soften it.  A few folks will laugh at my economics reference.  “It’s Economics 101.  I can sell this site to a camper for $40.  I can’t let you use it for free.”  But mostly the reaction is annoyance to anger, with a few audible references to my apparent resemblance to a female dog.

To the fishermen reading this – we welcome you.  We wish we had better parking, but since we don’t, please be prepared to park outside and walk in.   Bring your lightweight gear.  Come on in and drop your watercraft.  There’s plenty of room at the lake for everyone.