The sky would be as dark as possible after 2 a.m. on Sunday August 11 because that’s when the bright, three-quarters moon set. I rose from my tent and walked to the end of the pier (see below). Walking in the dark in the pre-dawn hours in an unfamiliar place, using red cellophane rubber-banded over my flashlight to retain my night vision, was a challenge. The lake pier was only about half a mile from my tent, but it required several turns. Distances seem so much longer in the dark. There were audio cues, like the water rushing over the dam, and roadway cues, like the bridge just below the dam. When I reached the cow catcher by the park entrance, I realized I had made a wrong turn and had to retrace my steps in the dark.
The meteor shower was beautiful. I saw about four in 30 minutes, sitting in my little green fold-up chair on the pier. While the vast sky was great, next time I will find a meadow to lie in with my sleeping bag. Our camp (site 60 in the RV area on the south side of the lake) was in the trees that ringed a meadow. Sites 61 and 62 were in the meadow in the center, just across the narrow paved road. Earlier in the day, we hiked toward Rockbound trailhead and Dark Lake and found this beautiful meadow. Trey took this photo using my cellphone.
The Rockbound trailhead is the gateway to many stunning vistas and is very near the tent campground on the west side of the lake. I would love to someday set foot in Desolation Wilderness.
Here is the map with notes for tent camping and kayaking. Note the rocky tent sites near the Rockbound Trailhead. These sites are have comfortable privacy but they are a long carry from the lake. Sites 1-3 are close to the small beach adjacent to the pier which is a good put-in, and they are well removed from the day use area which can get noisy. The RV area is called Meadow Loop on the south side of the lake. Trees rim the meadow, so the sites on the outer edges have more shade. The RVs use bright motion lights at night and the generators can be noisy in the afternoons as they provide air conditioning, so it is not ideal for tent camping. There are clean pit toilets and good-tasting cold water from the spigots. A very enjoyable campground when you choose your site wisely.
Dark Lake is just above the Rockbound Trailhead and has a nice, small, beach put-in right by the road. One would have to move the vehicle to the nearby parking. Notice the little squares on the map on the north side of Dark Lake. These are summer homes that have been grandfathered in by the Eldorade National Forest. There is a nice path around Dark Lake, pictured below.
The Wrights Lake campground did not open until after the Fourth of July because of the late May snow. About a week before it opened for camping, Trey and others camping at Ice House Reservoir had driven over to check it out. They were able to paddle the small lake and liked it so much we returned six weeks later. The campsites can be reserved through Recreation.gov until about mid-October, the Camp Host told us, and then it is walk-in (first come first served) until snow closes the camp.
My efforts to get to Utica Lake for the annual meteor display have failed for the last three years due to smoke from forest fires and insurmountable logistical difficulties. I was so happy to get a chance to join photographer Trey Steinhart and his wife Becky in this area named for the dairy farmer who worked the land until about 1950. The drive from Santa Rosa took four hours on a Sunday morning in mid-August. The tricky part is making a left turn on Highway 50 which is only a two-lane mountain road in this stretch just a little north of Kyburz. Thank the stars that a space opened up just as I needed to turn.
The sign above appears just about where the “31 min” indicator is on the map below. The six miles are to the turn onto Route 50, north of Kyburz.