Canyon Creek. That name most likely means nothing to you. Yet if you mention it to any one of the dozens of Taylor-Benson offspring most all of us will smile and indulge in a fond story from our childhood memories. My grandma Katie (my mom’s mother) started taking her children (my mom is one of nine) up into the Sierra’s to Canyon Creek and camping there approximately 46 years ago. It’s a location accessible by four-wheel drive. It’s way off the beaten path, and save the gold claim owners (thanks to James Sturgeon for the tables and toilet upgrade) no one really knows about it.
Canyon Creek conjures up all sorts of images, memories, and thoughts. I grew up in Michigan but every year or two we would go back to California to spend time with my mom’s family. These summer trips always included a weekend(ish) in Canyon Creek.
We would caravan in, several of my aunts and uncles, in their trucks/jeep/cars. You can drive a car most of the way in, there’s “parking” at the upper landing and if the road was in good enough shape the lower landing. (These ‘landings’ are spaces on the side of the road big enough for a few cars, definitely not anything legit) Then as kids we would vie for a spot in a truck bed, or if you were lucky the back of Aunt Trina’s jeep, for the jaunt down. Until we reached the last hairpin turn where all kids were kicked out of any area they could fly out of and we had to walk down. The seriousness of the drive mystified me as a child. It looks like a harmless albeit rocky and loosely packed dirt curve. Only as I got older and heard stories of injuries off the edge, and if memory serves me right a car down at the bottom off the edge there one time, did I appreciate it a little more.
My memories are sporadic. I remember hiking to the abandoned mine and exploring around, looking for fit-in-the-suitcase pieces of rusted metal that once had a grand purpose. When that failed (remember the giant wheel) we would stuff our pockets with rocks and fit them into suitcases. I remember watching my cousin Michael jump off the cliff into the creek below one year. I remember taking pictures of my cousin Jenni on top of ‘toothpaste spit rock’ (which I had forgotten the name of until someone mentioned it this trip). I remember working with my sisters and cousins, Jenni and Nicole, making pathways and lining them with rocks. I remember hiking to the quartz field and climbing over huge boulders of sparkly white quartz – being determined to carry home a piece as large as I was and not succeeding. I remember countless drives in and stopping at various intersections to nail “KTB” signs written on paper plates to trees to mark the way for family coming in later that weekend. I remember hearing bear stories told around the campfire and being scared to death because that was one of the years I slept under the stars without a tent. I remember my grandma sleeping on an air mattress under the trees, never in a tent. I remember sitting around the campfire and looking for the Indian faces in the shadows of the rock. When I was 16 my Uncle Tom flew me to California for graduation and we went in. It was the first time I went without my mom and I brought home (carried on the plane no less) a gallon of water I scooped up out of the creek. Which my mom kept for years, not knowing exactly what to do with it. I remember riding out of the canyon with my Uncle Teddy in his truck one year, the windows down, the sun brilliant, and trees floating by. I remember the smell of campfire and sunshine. The smell of pine needles and crisp mountain air. I remember the food, huge breakfasts and delicious dinners, watermelons always kept cold by setting them in the creek until we cut them open and ate them, all waterlogged. I remember swimming in the ice cold creek and marveling at the clear water, the color shifting to turquoise as it got deeper. My love of rocks, nurtured by my grandmothers collection both in her house and driveway, grew exponentially while here. I still have, on my mantle at this moment, rocks I carted home as a child.
Canyon Creek was always special. Always a family tradition. It always felt like home. Reassuring and safe. Nothing has changed about that feeling. But times have changed. My Grandma Katie passed away 11 years ago. This trip was the first time I’ve camped there without her. It felt like a piece missing, of course. As a child I remember my mom and Aunt Trina always right there alongside my grandma, cooking and cleaning up, running things at camp. My Aunt Trina has continued that matriarch role now. As I helped her unpack kitchen gear she pulled out a table cloth that was my grandma’s. We laid it over the prep/food table and tears came to both of our eyes. Aunt Trina was the first one awake, stirring the fire and starting coffee before the rest of our camp stirs to life. It was special to wake up just after her and whisper together around the fire, drinking coffee and soaking up the cold morning air, watching the rising sun creep down the tree line until it reached camp.
My mom and her siblings have camped a couple of times since losing my Grandma, they had a memorial stone created and placed it on top of the rock one year.
As times change, both good and bad happens. On the hugely positive side, this year was the first time my children have camped there. Most of my cousins were there. They brought their families. We are passing a family tradition on to the 4th generation. I got to watch my kids scamper up the rock, splash in the creek, pick up rocks and fill their pockets with them, run around with their cousins – so many of the same things I remember doing. Saturday as I looked over camp and saw 35 family members enjoying what started so many decades ago I was overwhelmed with pride. Seeing my cousins all grown up with their spouses and children enjoying this place brings tears to my eyes. Seeing my Aunt and Uncle on top of the rock looking out over grandma’s memorial marker at all of us warms and pains my heart. My children never got to meet their Grandma Katie, but by revisiting this place they will experience her love and the values and joys she passed down to all of us. They will grow up knowing what this place means to the family. They will build memories, and hopefully as an adult, look back at the way their aunts and uncles and cousins have influenced their lives, not just at Canyon Creek but in general.
Our normal road in was washed out a few winter’s ago and hasn’t been replaced. A couple weeks before we were to go my Uncle Tracy, his son Brian, and my cousin Kyle explored a new way in. Then, armed with his directions and a map, my cousin Michael and his family, and my family followed my Aunt Trina and Bryan into camp on Thursday. As the first group in, we stopped at every intersection leaving the traditional KTB sign on paper plates, nailed to trees and stuck in dirt to mark the way for the families coming in the next couple of days. This weekend was successful largely to the planning and care that my cousin Jenni took. She coordinated lists and food plans with my Aunt Trina and made sure everyone was taken care of. We borrowed gear from her parents for the trip. Jenni – thank you.
Family came in various stages and groups all weekend until there were 35 of us on Saturday. The family was no where near complete, my parents and sisters weren’t there, neither was my cousin Aaron and his family, as they’re about to welcome their 2nd child to the world, also several other cousins had other commitments and were missed. In an awesome side note, my cousin Jenni and her husband Dan are expecting their first child in January. How cool that they get to tell their child that their first family camping trip to Canyon Creek happened while he/she was still in the womb.
We hiked to the last camp and swam, jumping off cliffs like my mom wouldn’t let me when I was a kid. We hiked up to the upper camp and jumped off higher cliffs. (I didn’t jump off this one) Then my cousin Missy and I walked/swam the creek back. We cooked amazing breakfasts – those biscuits and all that bacon! I graduated from cleaning up and doing dishes to helping cook too – my cousin Missy and I rocked the bacon cooking Sunday morning. My Uncle Tracy cooked tri tip and pork Saturday night which we paired with beans, and corn roasted over the fire, and my Uncle Teddy’s amazing potato salad. Everyone pitched in and helped cook and do dishes. My husband, my cousin Michael, my cousin Dan, and my uncle Teddy stayed up at night until early morning laughing and telling stories around the campfire. My kids swam in the creek until their lips were blue and they were shaking from cold, then wrapped in a towel, they warmed up on the rocks at the creek bank. I pocketed a few cool rocks and took lots of photos with my phone. We laughed and talked and played games.
Canyon Creek family reunion summer of 2015. Let’s make it happen. Until then, the best of the photos I took… Love you all so much.
June was so exciting. We spent a week in California and we had a family reunion of sorts up in the mountains. I’ve mentioned little things about this camping trip here and there and will blog about it soon. The place we camp, Canyon Creek, is accessible only via 4-wheel drive. My mom’s family has been camping there for 47+ years. As a child we would visit California every year or every other year and camping here was always part of those vacations. So it was a HUGE deal for me to be able to take the boys to a place I’ve cherished so dearly from my childhood.
This month I don’t have just one photo to share, rather a smattering of some favorite moments from this trip. The boys and I in the car as we left Seattle, my shadow in the creek as I sat on the rock, standing by the creek, me and my cousin Missy on our hike downstream- which turned into having to swim several times as the water was deep and the cliff walls too high to scale, all that done holding my phone above my head – and the final photo is a family shot in the car as we headed back to Seattle.