After lunch at a new restaurant in Mokelumne Hill, my in-laws and my wife and I sat talking about Yard Sales in the area.
My mother-in-law, Fran, said she was told about a yard sale in West Point and asked if we could "swing by" to check it out.
I laughed and made mention that West Point was not "on the way" home to our place in Glencoe, but in fact about 8 miles out of the way past where we live.
We were laughing about the "swing by" comment for a while as we drove east on Hwy 26 to Glencoe.
Just before the Jesus Maria turn off, I asked if they'd ever taken that road.
When they said no, I turned up Jesus Maria Road. It is an out of the way windy road with three different shades of blacktop - those being black, gray, and green.
It winds mercilessly through the hills between Mokelumne Hill and Rail Road Flat Road over some rugged, bumpy, bouncy, isolated, lonesome looking territory.
When we finally came out, I turned toward our place but about 4 miles away I decided to turn up and head to West Point from Rail Road Flat.
This is hill country and mountain roads. Yes, 27 miles an hour can feel way too fast when an unexpected blind curve comes up and you have to share the road with oncoming traffic.
Of course there is lots of room, but it doesn't seem like that at that speed!
Once we came out where the area looked familiar to my in-laws, we reached West Point. From there, I was determined that late or not - I was going to find that Yard Sale.
Yes, you are right if you guessed that I don't like Yard Sales. To me, I just feel strange driving up onto someone's property to look over their stuff.
I certainly doesn't bother my wife or her parents, they lover Yard Sales, Garage Sales, and Thrift Stores. To them, its a treasure hunt.
We found the Yard Sale in West Point and they had all sorts of junk, and nothing I wanted so I went back to our Chevy Tahoe and listened to an old Statler Brothers tape in my cassette player.
No, our vehicle doesn't have a CD player! But that's OK, we really do survive alright without one.
As we left, I saw a sign that said Yard Sale 1 Mile On Winton Road. So yes, I headed up Winton Road. About a mile or so, we passed the Yard Sale but I didn't stop.
I just kept driving because I couldn't remember what was up in that area. For some reason, I honestly didn't recognize the area.
Sure, it was woods everywhere. That's the way it is up here. West Point is about 2800 ft elevation and we kept driving.
At one point the forest cleared and we could look to the South and see the smoke still coming from the Rim Fire not all that far away as the crow flies.
But we didn't stop, I just kept driving and into the National Forest we went.
My father-in-law was not real impressed with this, he was bored and tired and wanted to get back to our home to relax - or maybe do some shooting to prepare for our Cowboy Shooting match tomorrow morning in Rail Road Flat.
For me, the area was just so beautiful as far as the eye can see.
Some would think living up here, that I'd become jaded to the forest around us - but no not me.
I'd take big trees and woods over the likes of a city any day of the week. And yes, these days even the town of Jackson with its 4000 plus population is almost too much "city" for me to handle.
Stop lights, fast cars, horns, everyone becoming more and more in a hurry to go absolutely no where drives me nuts these days.
We entered an open fire gate and a sign the said national forest, and I kept driving.
As I drove up Winton Road, my father-in-law who loves techy stuff and actually has a watch that can give him the altitude started calling out "4500!"
After a while we asked and he called out "6300!"
Throughout our trip up the mountain, we passed all sorts of cuttings where loggers had been. And yes, since logging trucks are always coming by our home in Glencoe down the hill, it was good to see one of the places where they were coming from.
My mother-in-law didn't know about the hundreds of trees that are planted where they harvest trees. She was happy to see that, and asked why this sort of information isn't told to the public.
Thinking about it, I guess reforestation is a big deal that few people really don't know about.
I'm guessing many probably think that the government is the one who does the reforestation - when in fact its private companies with leases to harvest timber.
We finally found the end to Winton Road when we ran out of blacktop and went onto a gravel road. We were one hour east of West Point, and subsequently about an hour and 20 minutes from home if we'd turn around.
I pulled in when I saw cars there in their parking area. You could see a few folks inside and I was afraid that we were interrupting their dinner.
I was going to get out and go in when a Firefighter came out and started towards us.
She smiled and asked if she could help us, and I asked the question that seemed to be the simplest "Where are we?"
My in-laws both thought we had driven so far that we had already crossed into Nevada by then, but I really didn't think so.
Frankly, I was just going to turn around and head back down the mountain when she answered, "Well, West Point is 18 miles down the hill and that road over there which is about 8 miles long will take you to Hwy 4. It comes out above Arnold. Our fire truck can do in 15 minutes. It's gravel and paved on and off for a while, but its a good road."
I was immediately impressed by her friendliness, her helpfulness and the fact that she was in a Cal Fire Station way the heck away from everything. Yes, basically on top of a mountain.
I had to ask her a few questions such as her name and what she knew about the Rim Fire to the south.
Her name is Renee Henault and she pointed over to a ridge to the south and said, "There it is. I wish I was there instead of here!"
"Putting wet stuff on the hot stuff," I nodded.
She laughed and looked happy. I took it that she knew that understood what they did.
And yes, I really do understand. She is typical of Firefighters who I have met over the years.
She is smart, kind, helpful, brave, and very willing to get into the fight where ever there is smoke. Yes, she sees the smoke over in the distance and feels like she's being left out.
City Firefighters don't have anything on Cal Fire Firefight Renee Henault and the crew up at Hermit Springs. They all want to do their job and feel left out when they can't.
Renee is a smart and pretty gal. She could probably do great at just about anything she puts her mind to in this crazy world of ours. He'd be a success at anything she does.
She has a trusting face and kind voice, and she would probably make a mint if she ever got into sales or marketing or management.
But really, as pretty and nice as she is, I don't think she'd ever be happy anywhere else.
I saw it as she walked up to my car. She is a Firefighter, a professional at her job. She is at home in the forest fighting fires.
She is someone who loves being a "Firefighter." She takes pride in what she does, and serves the public good without reservation.
We talked all of two or three minutes, I gave her a card and told her that I would mention her in my blog, then left headed for Hwy 4 and down to Arnold.
And by the way, I felt better about pulling in and asking where I was after she told us about some European tourists who showed up and asked if they were close to the Yosemite National Forest when they were no where near it.
At least I knew that I could just make a U Turn and head back down the hill to get home, and I'm sure that Renee would agree with me that knowing that means that I wasn't lost.
Really Renee, if you are reading this, I wasn't lost - no matter what my father-in-law was saying!
We drove to Hwy 4 and went down to Arnold and filled up there, then went down to Angels Camp and got some ice cream and headed back up Hwy 49 and home.
All in all, it was a great ride.
And yes, I really believe that every once in a while we just have to get out and go see what's around the bend or up that road that you may or may not have ever visited.
Sometimes, sometimes, the road might lead down a dead end. During those times its great if at least the view of the scenery is good.
Other times, that road might lead us to someone like Cal Fire's Renee Henault.
Yes, I can't help but like her. And yes, I have a whole lot of respect for her.
Cal Fire has some really wonderful people. Renee is one of them!
Renee, if you are reading this, I see what you're doing for us as being no different, no less courageous, no less self-sacrificing, no less important, than the job that our men and women in America's military are doing for us.
Because of that, I take great pleasure in saying, "thanks for your service!"
I found out Renee Henault has been a Firefighter with Cal Fire since the mid-1990s. She is a Fire Captain. And no, that doesn't surprise me.
Story by Tom Correa