Little Basin sign Entrance to Little Basin

Little Basin, one last time

For old times' sake

Beginning almost 20 years ago, a small group of us HP employees used to go camping together, often at HP's own campground and recreation area Little Basin. While the composition of the group has changed somewhat over time the "hard core" remained constant. HP will close Little Basin at the end of May, so two weekends ago we had one final camp-out there among the redwood trees.

Back in the early days, we really didn't have much in the way of camping gear. So, whenever someone found something good, everybody else went out and bought the same thing. Pretty soon, we couldn't tell whose stuff was whose. Carolyn came to the rescue by crocheting color-coded strings to attach to our things. As years went on and Carolyn's family grew, she became more a "picnicker" than a "camper" and learned to atone for it by bringing special treats. This trip would be no exception.

color-coded ID strings If it's lavender, it's Pauls
Carolyn's color-coded strings Compliments of Carolyn

HP bought Little Basin in 1963 to use as a site for larger company picnics. There is a big cook shack, picnic area, a stage, children's playground, basketball and tenns courts, hiking trails, and the campground. It was a company tradition to hold annual picnics for employees and their families, with food and drink, games and activities for the children, and entertainment.

Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard Bill Hewlett (left) and Dave Packard: "HP's success is due to the talents and dedication of you and your colleagues and of the people who have gone before you. Together we have built a truly remarkable company." The picture is framed in lumber salvaged from one of HP's original buildings in Palo Alto.

My first Little Basin picnic, shortly after joining HP in the late 1980s, made an indelible impression. Seeing the general manager grilling steaks gives you a whole different view of the workplace. Bill and Dave were ardent outdoorsmen, and other recreations sites were established in other US locations and in some foreign countries as HP expanded.

This tree, growing through a picnic table, is symbolic of disuse

In later years, annual picnics fell out of favor, and divisions opted for outings like a private night at Great America amusement park or other commercial venue. More exciting, perhaps. More convenient, perhaps. Less effortful, for sure. It's just my opinion, but I think part of the company spirit, the "HP Way" if you will, was lost in the tradeoff.

work party hat

Logically enough, Little Basin is right next door to Big Basin state park in the redwood forests of the Santa Cruz mountains. Much of the work to develop and maintain Little Basin was provided by employee volunteers. I still have my work party hat and pin. Somewhere on the grounds are picnic tables that I helped build.

Setting up camp

Bob and Carolyn and I arrived Thursday evening, the advance party. We set up our campsite and dug into barbecued pork ribs that I picked up from Central Texan Barbecue in Castroville. We sat around the campfire catching up, then turned in early. We were the only people in the campground that night, and to our surprise the raccoons weren't even there. That would change later!

Makers Mark

Late Friday, Jim and Angela arrived and set up their tent. Jim brought out another bottle of Makers Mark, making three bottles among us! There would be no lack of spirits. Again we remarked on the fact that we had not seen a single racoon, in contrast to other camping trips when they were frequent visitors to our campsites.

During the night, I was awakened by an ominous sound right outside my tent. After considering the situation, I decided I would rather know what it was than die in ignorance. I unzipped my tent and peered into the darkness. Raccoons! Three or four of them were sifting through our trash, strewing it all over the place. I spoke sternly to them, "You there, git outta here!" They continued rummaging in the trash. Never being one for confrontation, I zipped back up and went to sleep again.


Saturday morning was a rude awakening. To start off, it was cold. I mean really, really cold. Then, the full extent of the night's raid became clear. Besides the trash, the little rascals opened Bob's cooler and helped themselves to a steak and some eggs. They left the packaging in the cooler but moved the eggs to the top of another plastic bin before opening them. I've seen people make a bigger mess of cracking eggs than those raccoons did!


On Sunday the rest of the group arrived. Ray and Margaret got there first, then Carolyn and Hal and the boys, William and Ben. We had waited eagerly and anxiously for Carolyn's arrival, for she had promised to bring a homemade cake in honor of the several May birthdays in the group. Bob had requested extra frosting, and Carolyn did not disappoint. By the time the cake travelled from Palo Alto to Little Basin, the frosting had cascaded off it like a lava flow.

Then everyone set off on a hike up to the abandoned fire lookout station on the ridge. (I remained in camp, passing on the hike because it would be simply too painful.)


After dinner Sunday, there was the obligatory making of s'mores over the campfire. Besides William and Ben, some of the "big kids" got into the act as well, trying for the perfectly roasted marshmallow, nicely browned but not charred.

Eventually, everyone except Bob, Carolyn, and I was gone. The others all had to go to work (eek!) on Monday morning, whereas we three could have a leisurely breakfast and leave on Monday morning. We settled around the campfire with our Makers Mark, once again the only ones in the campground.

Alone, except for the raccoons, that is. Apparently word had got out that campsite #6 had pretty good food, for it seemed like every raccoon in Santa Cruz county made a visit to our site. Cheeky little imps, they marched right in and began looking for goodies. A particularly brazen one took down the garbage bag, even though it was empty, and dragged it off into the bushes. What's more, he wouldn't give it back despite my best efforts to intimidate him.

raccoon stealing garbage sack Hey! Get outta there!
raccoon under table We still see you!

Our visit turned out to be surprisingly nostalgic as we remembered the good times we had at Little Basin. And we noticed things we had not noticed before. For example, we were all surprised to realize that the backdrop of the stage in the picnic area has a replica of the garage where HP got its start. According to the caretaker, Little Basin will be taken over by "a non-profit" with a possibility that the state will take it over in the future. It will be a shame if Little Basin does not somehow remain as part of Bill and Dave's legacy.