Lake Isabella: Drought, Fire, Family

For some, Lake Isabella brings back floods of nostalgia. Many of us recount sweet memories of taking a dunk in the lake to escape the 107 degree weather, catching our first fish and making our father so proud, or (when our parents weren’t looking) finding a nice sized rock to dare our brother to jump off of. I was recently speaking with my dad about Lake Isabella and it revived many forgotten stories from his childhood. He told me, “It was really a time when parents didn’t worry about their kids running off all day. We would be gone for hours, come back to eat lunch, and then take off again.” He continued with one of the countless great memories that stuck with him; “When I was 11 years old, we went to the lake with Sagit’s brother and his friends who were all 21. The parents didn’t want the kids around so we just went out and shot stuff. . . I wasn't a bad kid then. We just all had rifles, and it wasn’t a big deal.” Things really have changed since he was young.

Lake Isabella—as with many similar lakes across the United States—holds a special place in the hearts of thousands. Lakes are known to hold as much water as they do memories, both good and bad. So I guess now, at just shy of turning 21, it was my turn to experience this magical place for myself.


My mother, uncle, grandmother, brother, sister, Elise, and I all packed up our car and headed off for a 3 hour drive into the desert. We stayed at a KOA, which left a lasting impression on me. Included in our small cabin was access to their pool, a very large playground, and great community events like “free ice cream night” or “movies in the park”.  I guess you could call it glamping, but with 2 young children and nearly 110 degree highs, we were finding a happy medium between tenting it and a staying in a resort. 

The trip is practically ruined, we thought.

The first day was hot. The thermometer read 104 degrees, but the weather app added “feels like 102” so at least we had that going for us. The Sun felt as though it was melting everything into puddles around us, and a plume of smoke was rising steadily in the distance. The only thing on any of our minds was water. We quickly ran into the local general store to pick up some toys and floaties for the kiddos to play with in the lake, but were met with the young lady at the counter who seemed very concerned, asking “you’re not planning on taking these to the lake are you?” Turns out the drought in California has drained the lake for all its worth, leaving Isabella with an extremely low water level, an E-coli breakout, and a very sad surrounding community. Our hearts were crushed. The trip is practically ruined, we thought. We tuned into the radio on the drive back to our cabin, only to learn that the Blue Cut Fire has raged through the Lake Isabella’s surrounding area and was only 5 percent contained. Now we we’re worried about our safety, and the safety of those in the surrounding towns. As a person with Asthma, It wasn’t the flames I was worried about; the smoke was much more dangerous. Ash rained on our parade, and the lack of rain sealed the deal. No lake for us.  


We weren’t going to let that stop us from having fun, though. We learned that Kernville has had a pretty good year concerning it’s small but mighty river. Thankfully, the water level was high enough that we could swim! We set up shop on a picturesque bank of the river next to numerous other families trying to beat the heat. We had a blast jumping, swimming, and chasing the schools of fish by our feet—the nostalgic feeling of togetherness I had heard so much about was finally coming to fruition. Jackson, my little brother of 8 years old, had really wanted try out the inner tube. The water seemed still where we were, so we let him get in and gave him some paddles so he could paddle over to mom, who was in a larger tube with my little sister of 4.

Next thing we know, Jack is paddling as hard as he can to fight the river’s current and yelling for help. My uncle runs down the river bank to cut him off, and my mom begins to paddle as hard as she could to catch up to him, all the while my sister screams in fear. It was truly a sight to behold. All four of them were sucked down the river, over rapids, rocks, and past ducks and fish. Laughter echoed through the canyon (well, except for my sister...she was still screaming). Everyone sitting on the bank let out a sigh of relief as we discovered that they were no longer fighting the current but taking it for a joy ride. They returned tubes in hand with stories of the twists and turns down the river, nagging about the scorching ground under their bare feet and the slimy rocks. They didn’t know what to expect next, but that was the most exciting part. Everyone took home a different angle of that story, each one more hilarious than the next. Personally, I will never forget the look on my brother’s face when he knew it was too late and that he had to let the river take it’s course. 


All weekend we continued to make our own fun back at camp: we organized intense (yet deflated)  tetherball matches, stayed up talking all night, watched massive bugs terrorize the picnic table, spilled shakes in places shakes should never go, got lost in the tick-filled brush, laughed over rudimentary s'more-making skills, and simply enjoyed each other's company. We learned the valuable lesson that it isn’t a lake that creates memories, but being with family. The lake may be a breeding ground for nostalgia, but in the end it was only where the stories were born. They live on in us and at the dinner tables we share with our loved ones. While I can’t deny that I’m disappointed we missed out on Lake Isabella, we adapted and made our own fun somewhere else. If there’s one thing I have faith in, it’s that family working together will always find a way. This drought will hopefully end some day in the near future, and the waters will be replenished once again. For now, only stories of 11 year olds with rifles and 8 year olds being sucked down the turbulent rapids live on in the London family household. 

Thank you so much for reading about our crazy experiences at Lake Isabella. Tell us about your favorite (or most crazy) childhood memory in the comments below!