Family Camp at Bothin

I’m going to try a catch up on some of the fun things we’ve been able to do over the last few months…

During the very last weekend in August, Tommy and I flew to the Bay Area to attend “Family Camp” at a Girl Scout camp where I was once a camper.

Originally, we were going to drive up to Camp Deer Lake, which is just outside of Soda Springs, CA in the Sierras near Lake Tahoe. It’s about a three hour drive from Mom and Dad’s house in Hayward. I was a camper there between my freshman and sophomore years of high school and, because I was there for three weeks, the camp holds a special place in my heart. I haven’t had the opportunity to go back since then even though they host a Family Camp during Labor Day weekend every year. The idea is for girls who camped there (or want to camp there) come with their families and hopefully these families will send their daughters the following summer.

Earlier in the summer, a woman who was a fellow camper at Deer Lake was there for a work trip and shared some photos. So many fond memories came to me and I wanted to find out if we could attend Family Camp even though we didn’t have a school-aged Girl Scout in the family. Mom asked around at her office and yep, we could go!

The plan was for Mom, Jackie, Michael, Tommy and me to attend. After signing up, Michael had to bail because he had to work a wedding that weekend. Jan happily took his place.

A week before the trip, we received word that a massive wild fire outside of Yosemite Valley was threatening to cancel Family Camp. The fire itself was a couple of hundred miles from Deer Lake, but the wind was blowing smoke and ash right into camp. We had the option of canceling our reservation and getting a refund, or attending Family Camp at Camp Bothin, a Girl Scout Camp in the hills of Marin County.

We opted to attend camp at Bothin.

Camp Bothin also holds a special place in my heart. It was the first place I went to as a Girl Scout camper, my first time camping away from home. I attended for a couple of summers, and even worked there as the Arts and Crafts Director for an entire summer two years after I graduated from high school. It’s not quite as “camping” as Deer Lake would have been, but we still had a wonderful time.

Bothin is known for being a great “first timers” camp because the majority of the sleeping arrangements are indoors in big dormitories that were built in the 1910s. The site was originally a convalescent home for women and children suffering from tuberculosis following the 1906 earthquake. By the 1940s treatment methods had changed and the site was no longer needed. The site was leased to the Girl Scouts and eventually because Girl Scout property by the mid 1950s. It’s been operated as a Girl Scout camp ever since.

Because we were there to “camp” Mom signed us up to sleep in one of the outdoor units in a large platform tent. Here was our abode:

It wasn’t too bad and accommodated all five of us comfortably. Jackie and I pushed the aluminum cots together to sandwich Tommy between us so he couldn’t roll off. He was thrilled to get to sleep in such an awesome tent for his first camping experience.

There were plenty of low key activities planned for the weekend, and we were able to sign up for whatever we wanted, or to sign up for nothing. It was up to us.

Friday afternoon we were one of the first campers to arrive and took a walk around the property. Jackie, Mom and I have been here often and know the camp well, but this was Jan’s first visit. So we showed her the different buildings and offered up as much of the history as we knew.

This tether ball has been here since I was a little girl.

This little fellow was hanging out on the tree outside of Manor House. We saw lizards everywhere that weekend.

At one point, Tommy was getting sleepy and didn’t want to walk, so Jackie happily walked with him on her back. He was on my back at one point too.

After Tommy had a bit of a nap, we walked over to the pool to have a quick swim before dinner. It was a very quick swim since the water was so, unbelievably cold. It was a heated pool, but since camp had officially been done for the summer at Bothin, it had been turned off. Then Deer Lake’s Family Camp was moved to Bothin at the last minute, there hadn’t been time to get the pool warm again. We joked that the water was likely just as cold as Deer Lake itself, an alpine lake fed by melting snow!

We had a nice dinner Friday night and attempted to hang around for a campfire. But the wind had other plans and was blowing smoke into everyone’s faces. We left campfire early and headed to bed.

On Saturday morning, after breakfast we headed to the high ropes course, which is a relatively new addition to Camp Bothin. The high ropes course was added within the last couple of years and has been a fantastic addition to the activities at Bothin.

Donning our attractive helments!

Mom opted out of the ropes course, she doesn’t handle heights all too well. And Tommy was too young to get to participate, so he hung out with Mom and got to watch and take pictures. They had to wear helmets too.

So, one note… the lens that was on my camera really doesn’t accurately show just how high we were off the ground. At some points, we were very likely 20-30 feet up. Mom was standing on a trail that was elevated too.

Jackie, Jan and I all climbed this tunnel up to the platform that housed the zip line.

The zip line was a lot of fun, but for someone who’s never been on one before, stepping off that platform for the first time is REALLY hard!

The next part was the “static course.” A series of bridges that were all challenging in different ways, with us attached to a safety line above.

This bridge was about as wide as a gymnastics balance beam.

Hanging out on the platform between bridges.

This bridge was, by far, the most challenging. The narrow platforms sank about half a foot when you stepped on them and they rocked back and forth and side to side. And the distances between the vertical ropes were often too far apart to be able to hang on to them at all times.

Here you can see me on this bridge and how the platforms are angled with my weight on them. Oy, this one was hard!

The next one was surprisingly easy when considering we were standing on a thin cable.

After two more bridges we reached the end… which was just a platform. We were attached to a belay and told to just step off the platform. A counselor then lowered us down with the rope attached to our harness. Just step off?!?

Jackie was able to do it, Jan was able to do it (and she has two artificial hips!). Of course I would be able to.

I’ll be honest, it scared the crap out of me.

We enjoyed some lunch at the dining hall and hung out at our tent for the afternoon napping. Tommy had randomly developed a fever, so he barely had anything for lunch and was rather quiet and cranky.

After an extra long nap and a dose of ibuprofen, his fever was gone and he was good to go for the rest of the weekend. So weird.

Dinner that night was somewhat pirate-themed. This was something we didn’t know about ahead of time, or we would have come prepared with some accoutrement, especially because Tommy is big into pirates right now. Oh well. It was still fun.

Tommy doodling on a poster. We were supposed to sign our names there if we’d managed to complete the very challenging Skyline Trail. Jackie and I debated doing it. It offers a gorgeous panoramic view of the Marin Headlands and the Golden Gate Bridge. But it’s a pretty steep, uphill climb. We were on vacation and not in the mood for such strenuous activity.

After dinner, Mom and Jan headed back to the tent to veg and do some reading. Jackie, Tommy and I walked around a bit. We found a lovely campfire in the courtyard between Manor House and Lyman Hall. The courtyard was tucked out of the wind and made for a very nice opportunity to sing songs and make s’mores.

Lyman Hall is on the left, Manor House on the right. The stretch of rooms between them is often called Staff Row and is where the camp counselors sleep during summer camp. They have nicer beds that are not aluminum cots. When I worked here, my room was the second window moving right from the archway. The upstairs is called The Bridge and is one or two very large rooms with a couple of rows of cots. When I worked here, the CITs (counselor-in-training, high school aged girls) were housed on The Bridge.

It was a very nice evening for roasting marshmallows.

He was too chicken to roast his own marshmallows and Jackie was happy to roast for him. He also adorably asked if he could have two pieces of chocolate in his s’mores.

Sunday morning we enjoyed a nice breakfast where Tommy was more helpful than he’s ever been with chores!

And then we signed up for some arts and crafts for the morning. First stop was the arts and crafts barn for a lesson on making bead animals.

This was a quick activity since it’s one I used to teach as well. It required more dexterity than Tommy was able, but he was more than happy to help all of us find the colored beads we needed.

After the bead animals, we walked outside to do some tie-dying. This was another activity that I’ve done and taught before, but it’s always fun to do.

Our creations set out to dry in the sun.

More than once we had also stopped by the arts and crafts barn to pick up either the makings for a lanyard keychain or a friendship bracelet. The materials and instructions were left out for anyone to come by to start one. I’ve never been very good at making friendship bracelets, but I’m quite skilled at lanyard keychains. Over the course of the weekend, I made three.

We walked around the Bothin Organic Garden (aka, BOG) to see what they were growing.  Mom said that the woman who manages the garden often brings vegetables and herbs into the office to share. This would have been a fun thing to work with back when I worked there.

After hanging out for the rest of the afternoon, we made the decision to head home a day early. Camp officially ended on Monday (it was Labor Day weekend). But because of the Bay Bridge closure, we wanted to get a bit of a head start on the traffic.

We got packed up and headed back to the Bay Area. It was nice to have Monday to hang out with Jackie at Mom and Dad’s house before flying home Monday evening.

All in all, I really had a wonderful time. Tommy had a great time for his first experience with some semblance of camping. This was a good toe in the water for him. Hopefully we can do some more real camping next year.

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About wobetxela

Artist, mom, traveler, hiker, babywearer (for as long as they'll let me) and hobbyist photographer.
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