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Making the right turn towards Duncans Mills
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Over a pair of soft taco combos a few years ago, we decided to take a left off Highway 101 at the Russian River rather than continue a couple more hours to our usual spot on the Van Duzen.

We ended up at Casini Family Campground, a full service, or no service spot where the river bends before its final deep turns en route to salt water.

We’ve made half a dozen trips there since, even bought T-shirts.

The accommodations are as rustic as you want. Showers and a general store are there as safety valves in case of family trips, emergency or moments of man-lessness. Camping plots vary from angled slips for RVs to treeless tent sites and a couple, I-just-found-Robin’s-Sherwood-forest-hideout spots.

If you are looking for absolute solitude and limits of fish, don’t bother. If you want a weekend of social camping and don’t mind the occasional kid trucking by on a huffy, Casini is a nice change of pace. People create outdoor lounges with palm trees here and are more than happy to welcome you over for appetizers from RV ovens.

Being that I will spend the early days of June this year in mosquito-infested clearings off Canadian highways, and a bunch more on wet river shores with black bear snooping around any food I didn’t burn off, I welcome what places like Casini provide, once a year.

We set up camp, cooked a dinner of a pound of marinated chicken and a half pound of ground beef boiled in water and refried beans. Yeah, I don’t know either.

About a mile down the river is Duncan’s Mills, which appears to be a town with no blocks set aside for residential areas.

But the little town is, I don’t know, cute? Charming?

I’m not sure I’ve ever used the word charming, but my cranial thesaurus doesn’t have much of a chapter on assigning modifiers to antique shops huddled in warm corners with a tea shop, wine bar, gallery, and cafe all run by proprietors too honest to be pretentious.

I can tell you that Cache Creek, British Columbia, feels and looks, like a place where a wagon axle broke, people went hunting, someone had dysentery, but found gold while throwing rocks in the river.

Bam, city.

That place has that kind of historical feel. Duncan’s Mills was largely responsible for providing timber to rebuild San Francisco after the great quake, but that history seems to escape its current condition, though not in a bad way. After all, if we didn’t like the place, we wouldn’t go there every year.

The general store is for sale, which is sad, or maybe a little awkward, but it’s an afterthought once one hears the friendly banter that fills the shops that are open.

The three of us did manage to capture funny looks from visitors that obviously didn’t sleep in a family-sized tent with a broken zipper exposing us to the non rent-paying wilds.

On the river side of Highway 116 is the Blue Heron, a spot that opened a few months after our visit three years ago. The fresh-cut picnic tables on the side deck first caught my attention.

I appreciate fine handcrafted woodworking, especially after I almost lost some digits at the chop box in high school shop.

We opened the place Saturday morning and watched the midday sporting events unfold on the flat screens flanked by a serious collection of roosters, and a picture of a local bobcat that likes to drag people out of broken-zippered tents.

At some point before we headed back to camp in the early afternoon, a biker stopped me. He asked if I went to the University of Missouri because of my Mizzou Journalism shirt.

He was a nice guy so I told him no, that a former student had given it to me, then asked him if I could take his Harley down the straightaway toward Jenner and the Pacific Coast Highway.

No, that’s not true; I went to the bathroom instead.

We returned later that night for the live band and an early dinner. The food was exceptional, except perhaps for the steamed clams, but what was I doing ordering clams when I can dig them myself from Alaskan beaches in a month anyway?

I never claimed to be smart.

But I will say it was my idea to take that left turn that changed the location of our spring Man-cations.

To contact Jeff Lund, e-mail