It started off like any other hike, a group of 16 enthusiastic hikers setting off to explore the scenic sites that surrounded the Catalina State Park. The six mile Deer Camp site begins as the Fifty-Year Trailhead proceeds along the Baby Jesus and Samaniego Ridge Trails, ending at a camp site situated westward at an elevation gain of 1475 feet that affords a magnificent view of the valley floor.
Under the hiking guidance of Paul and Ruth DeBruine, the typical trail conversation shifted from the usual to a stir of curiosity over a surprise at the lunch site. Even with much persuasive conversation, it was “mums the word” on the surprise. We were told, “Wait and see and be patient.” Jokingly, hikers tried to guess what this surprise was; would it be a catered meal, soothing place to rest? Little did we know the surprise would be a combination of several of these jovial hunches.
The surprise we soon discovered was a camping site which had remnants of hikers of old. There was a dilapidated grate fire pit; a set of two twin bed frames complete with bed springs(a bit rusty); a couple of old glass cups and the biggest surprise, and oh so new looking, metal framed wooden picnic table that would seat six to eight people comfortably. We stood back and marveled at the picnic table. As we gathered around the table and ate our lunch, stories swirled about hikers of old who settled this campsite. One story was that a past hiking group, upon arrival, discovered that a beverage of choice had been overlooked so one of the hikers was sent back to Catalina to make a liquor store run. With all of that and more to absorb, our group made themselves comfortable at the picnic table amongst the desert flora and the blue skies of a noon lunch.
Over the years Paul and Ruth DeBruine had led hikes to Deer Camp but it was in February 2014 that they wanted to undertake a different kind of hiking task so others could enjoy the site. Thus Paul and Ruth, along with their two daughters and their husbands and assisted by Bob Giesen, began the task of reconstructing the picnic table at the Deer Camp picnic area. Using bag straps from golf bags, they trekked up three miles to the camp carrying a board eight feet long by two inches deep by 12 inches wide. Each board weighed 35 pounds. They needed three boards so they made four trips with the boards and the necessary equipment and supplies.
The framework was in good condition so they bolted all the boards onto the frame. Using a cordless drill, they drilled from the underside then attached the boards to the frame with the new carriage bolts. After the boards were in place they finished the wood with linseed oil. All the material, time and labor were donated to enhance this special place at Deer Camp.
For the newcomer hikers this was a surprise to remember; for the veteran hikers a sense of satisfaction and pride. This is a true gift that will keep on giving for years to come.