When we moved to Lake County from the San Francisco Bay Area, we became the butt of jokes that never seemed to end. As we planned to leave the imagined "real world", friends were convinced that we were heading toward the backwaters of California, where we would be lost and forgotten.
"What will you do there?" everyone would ask.
Well, see, that was the thing. We planned to spend 5 months in Italy, then come home and write about it. Lake County had few distractions we thought, and would thus not get in the way of our quest as travel writers. We would not be lured into cultural goings on that would deter us from plunging onward in our quest to define culture in far off lands. Lake county would be safe for work. We were sure of it.
Besides, who can find a San Francisco restaurant without loud and vacuous music putting a fence between diners who were old enough to remember when conversation was an art best honed while feasting?
Music without soul is a plague that won't go away. It's pumped out of speakers everywhere from restaurants to sweat farms.
Then we started going to the Ely Stage Stop for the fiddler's jam. It's held in a barn. Folding chairs spill out into the fields, even on a searing hot summer day. Folks who can't find chairs lean against sturdy beams. Fiddlers between the ages of 7 and 77 jam away. Your legs soon start to twitch, wanting to stomp out a tune in the dirt. Grown men dance in the aisles. Fiddlers laugh, sweat, and a woman in back sets a washboard a hummin'. "C'mon in, the backwaters are fine" is the message between the quarter-notes.
You see, everyone is engaged with the music. Where elevator music has devolved into "work" music its prime purpose is to wipe out background noise and any extraneous thought you might be having. Your boss doesn't want you to actually listen to the stuff; he doesn't want the office to break into dance or be otherwise engaged in the music. He doesn't want the music to crescendo to a heroic finish that would make you question your worthless toil in your tiny cubicle. Nope. That music is safe for work--you can be sure of it. They design it that way.
So here we are back at the fiddler's jam discovering the value of friends and the deliciousness of the home-made chocolate chip cookies you get at the back.
Then some dude in overalls with a red bandana tied around his neck shuffles toward the front of the room dragging a contraption that makes you scratch your noggin. He's dragged it from the museum. It's something the early immigrants we shamelessly call pioneers used in their daily life. The dude is John. He's a hoot.
"Who knows what this is?" John drawls while wrestling the contraption like a metal snake
There is discussion. There is hemming and hawing. Someone will have the answer. The rest will exclaim something like "my daddy had two of those!" There will be much chiming-in.
It's all part of the fun. You see, John is a bit of a celebrity, a noted archaeologist who's done some interesting work you might not think archaeologists do. Emmy award winning filmmaker Peter Brosnan contacted John and they ended up mapping the objects left from DeMille's 1923 movie The Ten Commandments for example.
Then the fiddlers, rested and provisioned with chocolate cookies, commence playing music that's not safe for work. It will stick in your head. It will make you want to get away from it all.
Like the family in the picture below, staring at the waters of Cache creek as a pool full of happy frolickers splash away behind them. There isn't a computer in sight.
Want to reserve a place to get away from it all? Click the button. It's safe for work.
Lake County Historical Society’s Ely Stage Stop & Country Museum is located at 9921 State Hwy 281 (Soda Bay Road) in Kelseyville, near Clearlake Riviera, just north of Hwy 29-Kit’s Corner. Fiddling generally happens the first Sunday of the month. Check the Facebook page for opening and event times.
Don't miss Bluegrass at the Ely on September 9th, starting at noon
On the weekend of June 24-25 the air around Middletown was alive with the pop and bang of Civil War weaponry wrapped by sweet song. Friends of the Gibson Museum and Cultural center combined with the American Civil War association put on the shindig, which was supplemented by local authors and musicians. There were too many good pictures to sort through.
The best summation came from the Lake County website:
Tour the encampments, chat with soldiers, watch a lady squirm into a hoop skirt, wear your own antebellum costume, learn how Californians were involved in the war, stroll the mansion grounds. An estimated 250 participants are expected to camp out Friday and Saturday night in the fields behind the mansion with cavalry horses as well…
We couldn't resist watching Barbara White dressing as a lady in 1860, especially as the mercury had soared towards 100 that day and the layers of clothing she and her "dresser" strapped and laced seemed endless. She's in our video, which also features clips of the Civil War battles, period music, and a short bit of the Gettysburg Address read by Voris Brumfield.
We leave you with a few moments we captured during the day.
For those who would like to attend a special festival or event when you come to Clear Lake Campground, these are five of Lake County's most popular events. Remember that the campground, and other lodging options, may fill up quickly on these weekends, so be sure to reserve your camp site well in advance.
Sponsored by Redbud Audubon Society, Heron Days usually takes place the last weekend of April in Kelseyville and the first weekend of May in Clearlake, right at Clear Lake Campground. The highlight of Heron Days is the pontoon boat tours into Anderson Marsh for a close-up look at the birds of Clearlake. These boat tours sell out quickly and Clear Lake Campground may fill up too so be sure to make your reservations early.
Enjoy this short video of a pontoon boat tour at the 2017 Heron Days event. This part of Anderson Marsh is also accessible by kayak, available for rent at Clear Lake Campground.
Lake County Wine Adventure:
Later in May, Lake County Wine Adventure is a 2-day event with more than 25 participating wineries. You can buy a passport good for one day or both days and there's a special ticket for designated drivers who can enjoy the food and fun (without the wine). Wineries offer tastings and food and sometimes music, tours or other special activities. It's a great opportunity to visit Lake County wineries.
If you don't want to come for the Wine Adventure weekend, there are still many opportunities for wine tasting. Most Lake County wineries are open on weekends and some are also open during the week, especially in summer.
Fourth of July:
Independence Day is a great time to come to Clear Lake Campground. Fireworks are spread out over several nights at different locations around the lake. Lakeport holds a big street faire at Library Park on July 4 with arts and crafts, music and food and a fireworks display over the lake at dusk. Downtown Clearlake celebrates with a small parade in the morning, followed by the unique International Worm Races at Austin Park and a fireworks display in the evening, usually on the Saturday before July 4. Clearlake Oaks holds a boat parade, also often on the weekend, with fireworks the night of July 3.
The CDFW usually schedules a free fishing day on the weekend before July 4, too, so it's a great time to try fishing if you don't want to buy a license. Clear Lake Campground is on Cache Creek so you can fish right from the campground. Be sure to reserve your spot at Clear Lake Campground in advance as July 4 is a popular time for camping!
Lake County Fair:
The Lake County Fair is held in Lakeport on Thursday through Sunday of Labor Day weekend, the first weekend in September. There's lots going on at the fair from animals, contests, and educational displays to food, music, rides, and entertainment. Saturday night, featuring top musical entertainment, is the most popular time to come to the fair but families will find lots of fun things to do during the day on Saturday and Sunday.
Kelseyville Pear Festival:
The Kelseyville Pear Festival, celebrating Lake County's agricultural heritage, is one of the county's most popular events. Held on the last Saturday of September, Main Street Kelseyville hosts more than 100 food and craft vendors and a wine pavilion featuring Lake County wines. Three stages feature a variety of music and entertainment well into the evening. A pear dessert contest, pear pie eating contest, and horse fair round out the events.
There's something happening in Lake County most weekends from spring through early fall so check the Lake County Events Calendar or the calendar tab on Lake County News for the dates you plan to visit.
While there's plenty to do at Clear Lake Campground, you may want to enjoy a few activities around the lake while you're here, too. Here's a 36 hour weekend itinerary for fun things to do near Clear Lake Campground:
Upon your arrival, take a little time to enjoy the beautiful view of Cache Creek from the campground. You may want to take a dip in the pool or do some fishing from our piers for catfish, bass, or crappie.
Friday evening is a great time for dinner at The Spot on Lakeshore Drive in Clearlake. The Spot is known for its excellent hamburgers and lakeside dining. Choose an outside table with a good view of the lake. On Friday evenings, and some Saturdays, there's often live music and dancing from 6-9PM - see the music schedule on their web site.
Saturday morning is the perfect time for a visit to Anderson Marsh State Park, just a couple minutes drive down Highway 53. If you're here the second Saturday of the month, you can usually join a free guided nature walk, starting at 8:30 AM by the Ranch House. Several trails take you through the marsh. The easiest trail, to the right of the Ranch House, goes along Cache Creek on the opposite side from the campground. There's often good bird-watching at the marsh, too, including Great Blue Heron and Egrets. You may even see some deer but watch out for rattlesnakes around the rocks when the weather's hot.
A few miles away, off Highway 29, visit Vigilance Winery. This is an excellent place for a picnic so bring some food and buy a bottle of wine. The picnic tables have fantastic views of the lake and Anderson Marsh. There's also a bocce ball court you can use and of course, wine tasting. If you'd like to visit more wineries, see Lake County Wineries for a complete list.
Spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing by the pool or renting a kayak or boat to explore the creek. Rentals are available right at the campground but it's best to reserve the day before. You can either head out toward the lake or down toward the dam. Watch for birds, river otters, and deer. Plan to have a barbecue at the campground on Saturday evening or go to The Spot in Clearlake if you didn't go on Friday.
If you enjoy Sunday brunch, try the brunch at Riviera Hills Restaurant, with nice views of the lake. Or take a drive around the lake to the historic Blue Wing Saloon in Upper Lake. They have live music during Sunday brunch, served on the terrace or in the garden when the weather's nice. While you're in Upper Lake, visit the Upper Lake Mercantile shop with products from local artists and craftspeople and the Lake County Wine Studio where you can taste a variety of wines.
If you're here on the first Sunday of the month, head to Ely Stage Stop Museum for the free fiddlers' jam from noon - 2PM. Ely is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 11:00 to 3:00 so even if you don't go or the music, it's a great place to explore Lake County's history. Another nearby museum for history buffs is the Lower Lake Schoolhouse Museum, open Fridays and Saturdays, 11:00 to 4:00.
Of course you may prefer to spend your remaining time at the campground kayaking or boating on the creek, fishing, swimming, or just relaxing. Whatever you like to do, there are plenty of options.
Martha Bakerjian is a travel writer who divides her time between Clearlake and northern Tuscany. She writes about Italy on her site, Martha's Italy.
Spring is a beautiful time to come to Clear Lake. The hills are green, water in the lake is high, and fishing is usually good.
Then there's the kayaking. Oh, the kayaking!
This isn't the place that sinewy, unshaven, and fearless men shoot through rapids and torpedo down waterfalls. Kayaking Clear Lake--especially along Cache Creek, can be a family affair. In spring the water is at its highest, and the flow out the dam is just enough to give you some exercise as you paddle towards the lake. On the return you can drift lazily if you wish, gazing at the great blue herons, blindingly white egrets, and, if you are lucky, Clear Lake's famed white pelicans that can fill the sky, long vees of them turning from white to silver and back again as they bank into the wind.
Smaller birds are more easily heard than seen; they fill the air with songs city dwellers probably haven't heard before.
But here's the thing about springtime along Cache Creek. When the water is high (and as I write it's very high) you can duck into places with your kayak that you can't get into at other times of the year. Anderson Marsh is flooded, leaving reedy expanses for you to explore and get lost within. You need to have a good sense of direction to avoid getting helplessly lost, but have no fear, you are hemmed in by mountain slopes planted with vineyards, blossoming walnut trees and orchards of Bartlett pears.
If you are a visual person, you might enjoy a little video we've made with an old cell phone. It starts along the main creek, then heads toward the marsh and out again as we drift past the colorful trees just awakening from their winter slumber.
Remember, you can rent kayaks from Clear Lake Campground...call a day in advance to reserve. See the Rates.
James Martin is a travel writer who scribbles mostly about European places. He spends half his year in Italy, and writes the Wandering Italy Blog from the part of Tuscany nobody knows: The Lunigiana.