Throwback Thursday: “Those Nacimiento Nights”

Lake Nacimiento

When I think about Nacimiento, the dragon lake, and I do often, I can’t help but smile.  I have so many incredible memories of all the camping experiences I had there and believe me there were plenty. Some summers we would go for our week in early August then return a month later for Labor Day. Nacimiento is one of the most beautiful lakes I’ve ever been to.  There is something extraordinary about Nacimiento, something that borders on the sacred, especially those Nacimiento nights!

My family liked vacationing and took several trips a year, but were never really campers. They always moteled it.  When I was about fourteen or fifteen my uncle Frank bought a small ski boat. He called her the “Yabba-Dubba Do.” I was fortunate enough to be able to tag along with my cousin Dave on many excursions. Seems like we were always going somewhere, Elsinore, Buena Vista, Castaic, Piru or Lake Success. There were several families who took part in these camping trips back in the day, the Morales’, Pacheco’s, Salce’s, Vasquez’s and Browns as well as other friends of theirs would meet them at the lake. We always had a great time.

“The Road to Heaven”

I was seventeen the first time we went to Nacimiento. I remember the anticipation I felt as we left Pas Robles and began the twenty mile drive to the lake. The right turn onto Lake Nacimiento Rd at the Chimney Rock landmark leaving only twelve more miles to the lake. The occasional glimpse of the lake, just a touch of blue off to the left. and finally the descent into the campground and our first real look at the lake.

Our campsite was incredible! We were at the end of a row of campsites just below the restrooms and showers, on a point over looking the lake. Across the road from us were some huge campsites that also overlooked the lake, unfortunately they were already taken when we arrived.  We had those sites several times in future trips. The other families had sites next to us.  I think we took up six or seven campsites that first time.

I fell in love with Nacimiento immediately. I have always loved nature, particularly trees. The campgrounds had an assortment of pines and old oaks. How could I help but fall in love. And the lake was huge! By far the largest lake I’d ever been to. It was something like eighteen miles long and had nearly two hundred miles of shoreline! Its dragon shape lent itself to providing many nice coves off the main body of the lake where we could learn to water ski.

I was already skiing on two skis our first time there, but it was at Nacimiento that I got up on one and never looked back. I was skiing in a quiet cove and kept lifting one ski out of the water. After a fall my uncle came back around and told me to kick off the ski and go to one. He took the slack out of the line and got me out of the water. After a bit I kicked off the ski but had trouble getting my foot in the rear sleeve of the single ski and took a fall. The next time around I was successful and skied around the cove several times on one ski. It was awesome! Of course learning to get up and out of the water on one ski was another story. I could pop out of the water but went down almost immediately. It took several pulls over a couple of days but I was finally able to get the hang of it. What worked for me was a double handled tow line. As soon as we made the switch I was able to stay on top of the water! Man I loved water skiing! I was never a great skier like my cousin Dave or my then girlfriend Kathy, but I did okay.

I clearly remember my first night there. After dinner Art and Ed Vasquez, Bob Pacheco, Dave, Kenard and I walked down to the store and made our plans for the evening which including ripping off beer from the dads ice chest. Since my dad wasn’t there I got to rip off my uncle Frank. Lucky me. One of the ice chests made this god awful noise when you opened it, we used to say it was an early warning system for the parents and was always a challenge.We had a great night of talking, drinking, playing guitar and singing. When we finally laid out our sleeping bags to crash I remember lying there under a blanket of stars, amazed at how incredible the skies looked. I fell asleep counting shooting stars. I was at nearly thirty when I finally conked out. Incredible! The following year Pete Smith joined the club as well as a few other families. As we kids grew older and had families of our own we all became part of the camping crowd. One particular year there were so many families and friends it seemed like our camping group owned the campgrounds!

When I think of Nacimiento I can’t help but think of my dear friend Albert Pacheco. To me, Albert was Nacimiento. He was the epitome of what camping is all about. I can’t tell you how many times we sat at our day camp or how many nights we sat around the campfire drinking Bud, or sipping Jack, smoking our Winston’s and talking about anything and everything. Albert was my mentor. In my early twenties he helped me rediscover the classics, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Faulkner and Melville to name a few. He always spoke highly of the importance of going to school and getting an education although he was self educated. Most of all he always spoke to me as an adult and treated me with dignity and respect. Yes I really thought the world of him. He was instrumental in my returning to college full-time at the age of thirty-two. While others said I was crazy to quit my full time job and return to school, he encouraged and challenged me to follow my dream.  I will always love and respect him for that. I miss those Nacimiento nights. I miss him, as I’m sure many people do.

I had so been looking forward to going to Nacimiento this summer. We had all intentions of going and had been making plans with the kids to go, but then my oldest son got this killer deal on a trip to the Bahamas that overlapped with the Nacimiento trip, so he was out.Then my daughter called in late June to tell us that Ernie, my son-in-law, who is in his final year of an apprenticeship was being transferred out to Escondido on July 8th, so they were also out. We were still talking about going up for at least a few days, but two weeks ago Ray was called into work for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of next week, so that about killed our Nacimiento trip. I have really been wanting to go for several years now, but so far it just hasn’t worked out. I know one of these times we’re all going to be back together at Nacimiento again just like the old days, a Nacimiento reunion!  It would be awesome!

It’s hard to believe, so much time has passed, so many camping trips ! Our parents were the first generation of campers and boaters, they paved the way, we were the second generation and now our kids have all grown up and are the third generation. My kids still have the camping bug, but haven’t done an outing with the remnants of the old crowd in years. In fact, we haven’t been back to Nacimiento in over ten years. That’s so sad. I hope Brian, who is the only steadfast Nacimiento flag waver, continues to make his yearly pilgrimage. I want to join him there and hopefully will soon. It won’t be this year but believe me, I’ll be there in spirit. Drink a cold one for me Bri, and while you’re at it drink one for Al!

Just a thought…

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