Dick's Fall 2011 Hensley Camp


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November 29, 2011: Every year I try to camp at Hensley Lake at least once and preferably two or three times during the fall and winter. Last year (2010-11) I did not make it until April of 2011, because there was a lot of rain. Every time I had some days free with no obligations, it would be raining. This year, with nothing on the calendar for November 29 - December 1, and a forecast of sunny weather in the low 60s, I decided to seize the day, and headed north from Fresno about 10 a.m.

It's been foggy in the morning, but has been burning off by early afternoon, so I was not particularly worried by today's fog, especially since it's not thick and visibility is good. Now I'm having second thoughts, with no sign of sun at 1 p.m., but I remain hopeful.

I arrived around noon, and immediately took a bike ride around the loop where I'm camped. This was not idle exercise; I was scouting and writing down the numbers of the best camp spaces. The Federal government has an on-line reservation system. For Hensley, you can see a "Google Earth" view of the place and pick the campsites you like (if you've been here before), but there is nothing to indicate what number a desired spot is. So I now have a list of the spaces that I consider acceptable or better - 30 amp power, relatively flat, somewhat private, and off the main road. A number of campsites here require you to park your vehicle in a wide spot just off the road, which would be a last resort selection only. After entering my findings into the computer, I rode around the other loops, so I've had quite a bit of exercise, since there seems to be just as much uphill as down.

Although it is 52 degrees, I put on several layers, gloves, and a warm hat over my billed cap, and I was quite comfortable, even zooming down hill on the bike.

About two years ago I discovered the two formal hiking trails in the area, and I usually hike both of them. I'm hoping sunshine will arrive before I do that. I will probably just walk around the roads and hills within the camp today, and do the "big" hike tomorrow.

One of the challenges of returning to the same place over and over is finding something new to photograph. This time I plan to take my tripod on the hike, and get some photos of myself on the trail. I often take a hundred or more pictures on a trip, and realize there are none of me (probably just as well from the reader's point of view).

Now it's 3:20, it's 49 degrees, and there's a sharp wind blowing in from the lake. Time for me to be inside. I haven't been lazy. I sat outside and read for quite a while, then walked up the hill next to my campsite to a weathered rock. I went back down, got my camera, and went back up the rock, where I took a bunch of pictures of the lake, of dead trees, of the rock, and, coming back down a different route, my motor home.

At 4:30 it's 47 degrees. I have a little electric space heater that I use in the motor home if I have a 30 amp hookup; this saves me from using propane. The refrigerator also runs on propane, and switches automatically to electric when the RV is plugged in. The water heater has separate switches for gas or electric operation.

Getting ready for bed at 10:30 p.m., it's 46 degrees. The wind died down about two hours ago.

November 30: Although it was overcast all day yesterday due to high fog, the air did not feel damp. Today is a different story. The camp road pavement is wet as if there had been a shower; sitting at the picnic table would get you wet front and back, and it's about 45 degrees.

So far there is no wind, although it's predicted to be up to 15 MPH. I sat outside for about an hour having a bloody Mary and reading Crazy Heart, a novel about country-western music that was recently made into a movie starring Jeff Bridges. Wearing four layers, gloves and a cap that covered my ears I was quite comfortable. But it's good to be back inside the motor home with the heater going. My toes got quite cold despite heavy socks. My book and clothes were getting misted, so I put up the awning.

The forecast is for sun by noon, but I am skeptical, so let's move on from the weather report for now. Conditions here are typical of fall. Some hillsides have a lot of last year's dead grass left; other areas are almost completely green. There are many broadleaf plants coming out, and green grass growing throughout the area. The deciduous trees, mostly blue oaks, have lost a few leaves, and the rest of them are slowly changing color. This is normal with this species; they lose their leaves when they get too dry to sustain them, and we had a lot of rain last year.

The lake is down quite a ways; I'd guess half full. There are no more than a half dozen parties camped here if that many. One is a campground volunteer. I was able to get my favorite spot, and now that I know its number I may stake a long term claim.

With no sign of clearing, I had decided to take my hike at 1 p.m., despite the weather. A short bike ride just now changed my mind. There is a very biting cold wind blowing, it's very damp and misty, and a hike in these conditions would be misery. Therefore I will just enjoy the view, stay in or near the motor home, read, watch TV, and goof off. If the sun comes out, so will I.

This may be the coldest camping trip I have ever been on. During Thanksgiving weekend, when I was thinking about going on this trip, the predicted high for today (11/30) was 68. Each time I looked at the forecast, the high got lower. The actual high today was about 46 degrees.

Luckily, the sun came out around 3 p.m., although it did not warm up. It's still mostly clear at 5 and getting dark. I didn't hike the trails, but took one fairly long walk up to the top of a hill where one trail comes in, then back down cross country. During my explorations I saw one ground squirrel and one rabbit. I did some short walks and shorter bike rides, and sat outside reading for a while. Although it's not any colder than it was two hours ago, the darkness makes it seem colder, and I'm in for the night.

I did get what I hope are some nice photos of Shuteye Peak with pink clouds behind it. This is the location of a fire lookout, and I've been to the top in a 4-wheel drive vehicle. It's a nice looking granite ridge, part of which is called the Eagle's Beaks.

Of course, clear skies mean colder temperatures, and it was 41 at 6 p.m. At 10 o'clock, bedtime and 39 degrees, I enjoyed a brilliant star view.

December 1: I think it got down to about 38 last night. It was clear all night, with stars visible in all directions. I got up fairly late. I did not feel like eating breakfast, so I started getting ready to go. I washed dishes and picked up the stuff that gets scattered all over inside; then did the outside items - taking down the awning, rolling up the electric cord, etc.

I did not plan to leave the Hensley area right away. I went to the dump station and emptied the holding tanks, then drove to a parking lot that is the trailhead for the longer Pohonichi Trail, north of the campground itself. I didn't walk the entire trail, just went up the first slope, then off the trail up to the top of a hill. There was a pretty good wind coming across on the hilltops, so I started down the other side and joined the end of the loop trail just above where it comes back to the trailhead.

On my way home I was driving east on Highway 145 toward Highway 41. There was a bad crosswind, knocking the motor home around a little. I stopped to take some pictures, and stepped out into the strongest wind I have felt in many years. I had to be alert at all times because it could move you enough to knock you off balance. I had a hard time taking pictures, but they came out OK. It later turned out that this wind hit the valley and the foothills hard, knocking out power, taking down trees, and generally causing problems.

In the week since my trip it's been colder and colder, and even with sunshine, highs have been around 50, and lows down to the mid-20s. It's been the kind of sunny winter weather that makes me think about going camping again, until I step outside. Then I hurry back in and put on another layer.

--Dick Estel, December 2011 


December 20-21: It seems that my camping trips to Hensley come in bunches. Less than three weeks after the trip described above, I returned to Hensley Lake with my grandson, Mikie Liddle, and his best friend, Aaron Robinson. They are classmates at Central High, and teammates on the Fresno Junior Monsters hockey team, and also spend as much time together as possible away from those activities.

The weather was much nicer this time, mostly sunny, in the 60s, with little breeze. I couldn't get my preferred spot, but we had one that was satisfactory, and got set up by noon. The boys immediately headed for the water with their fishing poles, but did not have any luck. This lake is best fished from a boat, although people do catch fish from the bank if the timing is right. They also played some street hockey.

Firearms are not allowed, but we decided that the BB guns they brought are "air-arms," and of course, don't make much noise. I don't know anything about this for sure, but It's my understanding that they set up a paper target and plinked away at it, as well as wandering over the hills away from camp for some random shooting.

I did some bike riding and walking, but didn't do any official trails the first day. We had a good dinner of baked potatoes and a pre-cooked whole chicken, which was reduced mostly to bone.

Since they had many other activities planned for their three-week Christmas vacation, we stayed only one night. However, we did not rush off after breakfast, but instead did some more of the same till early afternoon. We then repeated my actions of the previous trip, driving to the Pohonichi trailhead, and waking the trail. Mikie and Aaron brought the BB guns, and no tree or fence post was safe.

As you might surmise, my eating habits are very different from those of teenage boys - a good breakfast, and a main meal around mid-afternoon, then a snack at night. This will not sustain 14-year olds, so I had planned for a more normal three-meal day. However, with all our activities, we did not eat again after breakfast. On the way home, probably around 3 p.m. or so, I realized that I was getting hungry, so the boys must be starving. I asked if they wanted to go to Colorado Grill, one of my favorite burger places, and they were ready to stop right then. However, I knew I would get more help unloading the motor home if I could offer an incentive, so I told them we would go out to eat as soon as we got that job done. Needless to say, a new record was set.

We had a good meal at the restaurant, and I delivered the boys back to Mikie's house around the time it got dark.

--DE, January 2012


Photos (Click to enlarge; pictures open in new window) 


What I do best Fishing in the fog Above my camp
Nature's dinosaur sculpture Three colors of lichen Ghost tree
The lake in a rare sunny moment Shuteye peak at sunset Another view of Shuteye Peak
Time and wind keeps the trees pruned Little Table Mountain and surrounding tables Little Table Mountain from Highway 145
Dick on the trail in December Street hockey with Aaron & Mikie Returning from a successful "hunt"
Taking aim     Gun slingers on the trail
Related Links
Hensley Lake Fresno River Little Table Mountain

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