The first night belonged to the four-legged beasts.
My canine companion, Klaus, had just settled in next to the campfire at Coyote Lake in California's Santa Clara Valley while I prepared dinner when I heard a loud moo that sounded like it came from no more than 20 feet in front of me, followed by a squeal and a grunt.
Sound must travel fast and far here. I wondered if the hills surrounding us amplified it.
When I finally plunked down in front of the fire with my food, I could have been forgiven for thinking we'd entered a strange twilight version of one of those iconic nature videos of the Serengeti, though instead of wildebeest, zebra and other African fauna shimmering in the midday heat, we were treated to cows and feral hogs.
Between stoking the fire and chopping up food in the camper, this bureau chief hadn't noticed that some cows had migrated from the mostly dry lakebed and were using the largely unoccupied middle of the campground as a thoroughfare.
The sounds of the beasts now filled the air, the quiet music from my small Bluetooth speaker a backing orchestra for the evening's performance.
My dog shook excitedly in his uncovered pen, but he neither barked nor tried to chase the beasts, and believe me, dear reader, my hero the coward would have had they approached his campsite. He fears no beast. Wind chimes, alarm clocks and vacuum cleaners are a different matter.
Though it was almost pitch dark I could see the outlines of the creatures when they stepped in front of lights from campsites across the way. The large cows sauntered slowly. I counted 20 before stopping.
For a moment I thought I might have been imagining the squeals and grunts from the hogs, but then a creature too small to be a calf emerged from the shadows, then another. I was able to decipher snouts on a few. I counted 15 before stopping.
Then a rustling in the poison oak behind us. Klaus let out one loud yelp, stood up and pushed his paws against the edge of the pen. I whipped around and trained my headlamp on the bushes as more than 10 hogs rushed by, some not much bigger than my miniature schnauzer but others at least the size of a mid-sized dog. I calmed my beast best I could, and then tried to return to my food that was getting cold.
Just when I thought they were all gone a hog squealed from in front of the campsite. Klaus ran to the front of the pen and stared.
Then silence, except for the Pink Floyd playing quietly from the speaker next to me.
After dinner we ventured out on our evening perambulation. Most of the campers had retired to their tents or RVs, and those who remained conversed quietly in front of dwindling campfires, with the exception of one RV decorated in Christmas lights where the mostly middle-aged campers shouted over each other. I didn't catch much of the garbled conversation, except that one young girl needed chocolate to wipe the taste of pork rind from her mouth.
We'd almost completed our loop when a hog belted out as we passed an empty campsite.