there’s a magical place up the coast about three hours from san francisco called gualala. my cousin ben’s wife ashley’s family has been camping in the redwoods there over memorial day weekend for more than fifty years. i’ve heard ashley rave about the tradition and wonder of gualala and i was so excited to get to experience it myself!
my brother noah and his family drove up from san diego to pitch a tent next to ben and ashley, and ben’s brother adam and his family along with my aunt hedy and uncle chris came up from fremont, too. growing up, we always called chris and hedy and their kids “the california eyres” – now noah and his family and i have joined the ranks, and it was so fun to be all together!
although i knew that ashley and her family loved gualala tons and tons (a lot like my family loves bear lake), i didn’t know much at all about what it would be like. as it turns out, gualala with the bodily family is a pretty incredible camping experience. i drove up with ashley’s cousins in a truck pulling a trailer loaded with a sink and a refrigerator along with remarkable amounts of food. the cousins told me on the drive about the 200+ people that would be at gualala with the group that started out as ashley’s mom’s family and has grown through the years. about 80% of the campground was somehow connected to that family. one campsite was dubbed “the kitchen” and it was quite the sight (fridge, microwave, stovetop, sink…)! our meals included breakfast crepes with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, a full thanksgiving dinner with turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing, dutch oven ribs and fresh-from-the-ocean fried abalone, homemade scones to eat around the campfire, and cafe rio pork burritos. and! – there was a nacho cheese machine and endless tortilla chips. seriously.
the gorgeous campground includes a park with a playground and ping-pong tables, paths for bike-riding and/or exploring, a pebbly beach along the river, a sweet little candy shop, and even hot showers (those were the only downside – it made me feel slightly obligated to shower on a camping trip, but i resisted the temptation and made it out reeking of smoke and b.o.!).
it was pretty chilly under the shade of those magnificent redwoods, so we went down to the river to lay on the hot rocks in the sun:
it was quite the party on the “beach.” this redwood log has been perched in the water to serve just perfectly as a diving board as long as ashley can remember. it was freezing but noah and i had to take a jump.
this tandem bike was constantly in use cruising around the campground trails. ashley took me on a tour on it our first day, and noah and kristi snagged a ride as well.
we hung out around the fire at the kitchen campsite lots. i wish you could see the amenities better. it was amazing!
on sunday we all folded up our camp chairs and brought them to a beautiful meadow and had church services outside together!
after church, we celebrated three family members’ birthdays (including my cousin ben’s) with piñatas! it was pretty wild with all those kids collecting candy like mad!
i got to help clean the abalone that some of the guys had collected diving. i can’t resist an opportunity to do something kind of gross but kind of cool. apparently sometimes you can find pearls in the poop sacks! eek!
we took a quick trip to the ocean beach with ben and ashley before sunday dinner. it was soooo gorgeous!
and we stopped here for some pictures on the way back.
sleeping in a (not that large) tent with my brother, sister-in-law, niece and three nephews was awesome. one of my favourite parts of this trip was just hanging out in the tent in the groggy, slap-happy mornings.
the drive there and back was super super incredibly beautiful. this is just a pathetically representative little glimpse.
gualala was splendid. being with family was so so so good for my soul. camping, the beach, family … it feels like summer has officially begun!!