Weird Hike: Knoxville OHV

In the ancestral lands of the Yukian Wappo in rural Napa and Lake Counties near Lake Berryessa, this Bureau of Land Management park is a destination for off-road vehicles. Nestled in the Mayacmas Mountains, it is largely undeveloped, with only one primitive campground with pit toilets. There is no potable water here. 

In retrospect, taking four dogs and two humans on an astrophotography camping trip with new (see: untested) equipment in the midst of a forecasted rainstorm was all but begging cruel Fortune to smite us. But the new moon beckoned: a requirement for optimal conditions to capture that elusive glow of the Milky Way. Knowing this was primitive camping, we had everything we needed to be completely self-sufficient, including 10 gallons of water and a portable toilet. The rain was forecasted to end just in time for the Milky Way to make its 4am appearance. Besides, rain would scare away humans with a weaker constitution than a former Army Ranger from Texas (husband) and a naturalist raised camping in the redwoods of Northern California (me). Avoiding humans is not just good for early hours photography, but also for avoiding contracting COVID-19. Complete solitude was our goal and we crushed it. We encountered not a soul on our entire expedition.

Husband was recommended this area by a Napa County Sheriff’s Deputy familiar with it. The deputy warned us away from target practice, which is illegal in the area, to which my husband responded: “the only thing we will be shooting is the stars with my camera.” The deputy failed to warn us of several key dangers that would have been helpful to know.

Charred landscape as seen through truck windshield with overcast skies

First, the entire area falls within the burn scar of recent wildfires. And not just a little singed, but obliterated into blackened trees and soil and husks of buildings. Mixed with rain, the air reeked of ashtray.

Because of unforeseen mechanical issues, we had to pull over to fix a few things on the truck. This delayed our intended daylight arrival. Night settled upon us quickly. Then there was horror movie fog so thick we had to pull over because we missed the entrance sign. Doubling back, we discovered the sign, like most in the area, punctuated by rusty bullet holes. Now for the off-roading. Fog condensed to rain. Rain turned downpour. 

“We are sliding.”

I pulled the dogs in close as our truck swung towards the edge of the road lined with coyote brush and manzanita. Beyond these bushes, a dark abyss indicating a cliff.

Dear husband was able to correct the truck enough to keep us on the road. Truth be told the experience reminded me of that Dennis scene in Jurassic Park where the dilophosaurus spits black poison goober in his eyes after he crashes his Jeep. “What doofus would drive in those conditions?” I asked to myself as a young person watching that silly man drive in a tropical storm on a deadly dinosaur island while I chomped on popcorn. What doofus indeed.

Eventually, after several sketchy slides toward oblivion, we made the executive decision to pull over for the night and set up camp in the first pull out we could find. Avoiding massive puddles which glimmered in the darkness, we found a spot.

Upon stepping from the truck my feet immediately sunk ankle deep in mud. Thick, red mud. Swinging my flashlight in a wide arc, I quickly realized I could not see anything other than driving rain, fog, manzanita, and coffee berry bushes. My imagination instantly conjured at least three solid horror movie premises resulting in the grisly demise of a kind yet dopey young couple. 

  1. Hungry Gollum-like cave creatures with supersonic hearing crawling from the depths, lured by the salivatingly cute little patter of tiny dog feet. 
  2. Vengeful ghosts of Victorian-era orphan settler children forced to work in the cinnabar mines, dying in horrific accidents or of tuberculosis or smallpox. 
  3. Banjo playing meth-addict hillbillies that don’t take kindly towards outsiders. 
I imagined the newspaper interviews with townsfolk in overalls shaking their heads, “Who would drive in that weather?” “Didn’t they know better?” And then Sarah McLachlan singing “You’re in the aaaaarms of the angels” over a slow-motion black and white collage of our poor dogs who paid the ultimate price for their owners’ folly. My anxiety-fueled musings were interrupted by the dogs whining to go outside and potty. After caring for the dogs and setting up the tent in a complete downpour, we went to bed. Or so intended. 

Whoever manufactured our tent completed an engineering masterpiece. When tousled by the wind it manages to perfectly imitate the sound of at least six murderous hillbillies attempting to gain entry at the same time. A complete horror movie orchestra in one. Rubbing, flapping, ripping, zipper tinking, metallic screech, ominous crunching, what sounded like flesh ripping, a polyphonous crescendo of dread. A wonderful lullaby.

Oh? And the dogs crying all night because we won’t let them in the tent and instead set them up a cozy nest in the car because they are completely covered in mud like the chocolate river victim in Willie Wonka?

Please yes, Argus, sing me the whiny noise of your people for hours on end.

Curious dog looks out truck window

Bonus: his little vulnerable tiny dog whiny voice is the perfect lure for ravenous creatures of the night.

Neither of us slept. By 3:30am, dear husband was outside setting up his tripod in the muck. The rain and wind had ceased. Now the only sound the click of the shutter and the beep of the 20-30 second timer. He built a fire and we watched the sunrise together.

Wide angle shot of truck on the other side of massive mud puddle with a small fire

As the sun rose, the shadowy landscape revealed itself in color. Trash everywhere: broken glass, an old rug, a splintered pallet, toilet paper, hundreds of beer cans, innumerable bullet casings of all colors, shapes, calibres covered the ground, seeming to match the number of fading stars in the skies. So much for that deputy’s warning about illegal target shooting. Based on the bullet holes in the surrounding fallen trees and miscellaneous trash, this was a shooting range.

Sigh. As the sun rose higher, I took the dogs on a walk down the road. Everything was burned. When a vista opened, I saw the hills blackened in every direction. 

But even amidst the destruction, there was greenery. Coffee berry and manzanita were thriving. Mosses covered stones. And when I knelt down and looked closely at the soil, tiny little sprouts of different colors and species nudged their way out of the ash.

Indeed, on the drive home, I marveled at the bright green grasses and wildflowers growing in the burn scar. Rabbits, deer, osprey, golden eagles, vultures, all returned despite the destruction—- and some because of it. California’s autogenic succession ecosystem depends upon fire. Most species here have evolved to survive and even thrive in the wake of disaster. Perhaps because I had recently read Dancing With Disaster by Kate Rigby, The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, The Mushroom at the End of the World by Anna Tsing, and several of Stephen Pyne’s books about wildfire ecology, I waxed philosophical about the need to see destruction (what ecologists call “disturbance”) through an environmental rather than Anthropocentric lens. Disaster is ecosystem change, after all. As Butler writes, “God is Change.”

As I was musing on these ideas, Argus spewed a torrent of poop-vomit that would have put Raegan from The Exorcist to shame. Never has there been a more appropriate time for screeching horror movie violins. Husband and I dry heaved as we pulled over, desperately leaping from the truck as if it were filled with mustard gas. Distinctly human feces, based on the smell and volume. Apparently Argus had somehow ingested this delightful treat on a walk while we were not looking. As we cleaned up the mess, I shook my fist at the heavens and cursed those beer-chugging target-shooting miscreants who broke two cardinal rules of outdoor etiquette: pack it in pack it out; leave it better than you found it. Surface shits are a big no no but also we were partly to blame for not keeping a close eye and tight leash on Argus. Lesson (horrifically) learned.

We spent the entire Valentine’s Day weekend cleaning vomit-poop and mud from our belongings. Dear husband had to dissemble the entire truck door because Argus had somehow managed to vomit into the window switch. Safe to say the trip was a disaster, a camping trip from Hell.

And yet, when sitting freshly showered side by side on our couch, dogs cuddled in front of the fireplace, and admiring the pictures he took, it may have just been worth it.

Yesterday, Valentine’s Day, as a coda to our adventure, I wrote my husband a little poem:

When skies glow with stars

And our dog vomits poo

There is no one I’d rather be 

stuck in a truck with than you

Romantic, huh?


Anyway, I would give this weird hike a 3/10. The landscape was beautiful, but completely trashed by humans. A lot of the trash, like the broken glass, is dangerous, so I would not bring children. While there is a small primitive campground with pit toilets near the entrance, most of Knoxville OHV is completely undeveloped: bring everything you need, including potable water. And please, for the love of all things holy, bring a bucket or another way to dispose of your poop ๐Ÿ’ฉ 

While we did not have space for trash besides our own on this trip, we discussed returning one day post-pandemic, without the dogs, to orchestrate a clean up. This place has a lot of potential to be a gorgeous destination if only human visitors respect the land. If you do go, consider bringing an extra trash bag and some space to carry trash for proper disposal. With some elbow grease this could be a truly worthwhile outdoor destination.


  1. Win Real Money with JackpotCity Casino - Get a 100% Bonus
    Jackpot City goyangfc Casino is communitykhabar an instant-play and mobile casino, ๋ฐ”์นด๋ผ์‚ฌ์ดํŠธ launched in 2017. It is a new online gambling site that features slots, poker, bingo,


Post a Comment