camped by myself at New Stargazer Rock last year and
immediately wanted to share this delightful place with family
members. I knew that Colton and Jack would have a great time running
up and down the big
rock just east of the camp, and I had an even more ambitious
plan for them. More about that later.
We found a date that worked for the Upshaw family, so I got
up early on September 23 and arrived at their house at 8 a.m.
Johnny, Colton, Jack and I set out in their Toyota Tacoma,
driving up Highway168 past Shaver Lake, then following dirt roads
for five miles to the campsite I first discovered in August of 2017.
(Brittany, a school teacher, would enjoy a rare day without being
around kids for eight hours or more.)
gentleman was parked by the campfire ring, so we found a spot at the
edge of the area and started our first explorations. He was not
camping, just enjoying the area, and soon went on down the road.
Meanwhile the boys (all four of us) made several trips up on the
rock, and Johnny, Colton and Jack went down into the cave-like crevasses
on the far side.
explores the rock
Jack and Johnny
a snack to give us energy and got ready for our "big hike"
of the day. We have a family rule that says you can put your name on
a dome, hill or mountain if it has no official name, and more
importantly, if you go to the top. Just north of the camp there are
two small domes and I have gone to the top of them during both my trips
there. The total walk was just over half a mile, so I let Colton and
Jack know that they would have their own domes if they would hike to the
top. In this same area my younger grandson has climbed Mikie's Dome,
and daughter Jennifer and her husband Rod have climbed Neely Dome.
on fuel for the climb ahead
destination, as seen from the campsite
route is a short downhill walk through a drainage, then up through a
stretch of sandy soil, and finally a moderately steep hike up
through rock slabs that have been created by the process of exfoliation.
Although I encouraged everyone to take it slow and easy, Colton was
soon running up to the top, 100 feet ahead of the rest of us. Jack,
on the other hand, can always find something to do that is more
interesting than hiking, and would stop, sit down, poke at the rock
with a stick, and just generally travel at his own pace. When he
looked up and realized that we weren't waiting for him, he quickly
ran and caught up.
is a big
rock formation on top of the dome, which I have never tried to
climb. Naming rights do not require anyone to do anything that's not
safe, but Colton decided that he could get up on top of the rock.
With a little help from Dad, he was soon up on the first level, the
highest that could be done safely. Jack wanted to do
it too, and soon all three Upshaw men were on the rock, while
Grandpa Dick wisely stayed below and took
Colton earns his dome
Upshaw and sons on the rock on top of the dome
the newly christened Colton's Dome, the trek to what would soon be
Jack's Dome is a simple stroll, a short distance down across a
saddle, and a gentle slope up to the big, flat top. Everyone made
this stretch without any delays, until it was time for Jack to go
the last 20 feet to the highest point and pose in triumph. Instead
he found a bunch of pine cones under a Jeffrey pine, and sat under
the tree, stacking cones on top of each other and ignoring all
entreaties to complete the climb to his dome.
he did finish the "climb," and he and Colton then spent
several minutes writing their names and other messages in the dirt
with sticks. Johnny and I enjoyed the view and just being out in a
fantastic mountain setting. We took a few final photos, and made our
way down across the lower shoulder of Colton's Dome and back to
prefers the study of pine cones to posing on "his"
making his mark
Estel and his great grandsons, Colton and Jack
Sierra peak, viewed to the north of Jack's Dome
moved our chairs into the shade and enjoyed our lunch. There were a
few yellowjackets who wanted to join us. The little creatures were not
nearly as bad as I've seen them in some areas, and for the most part
just shooing them away works pretty well, but the boys were concerned
enough that they sat in the truck to finish eating.
the high country
the truck, safe from yellowjackets
was cool and breezy, and when I first stepped out of the truck I
thought maybe I should have worn jeans and a long-sleeve shirt.
However, going up and down the rock a few times warmed us up nicely.
was very clear. We could see the outline of a distant range
of peaks in the Kings Canyon back country. On my camping trips,
this feature was only visible late in the day or early morning.
truck is 4-wheel drive, so we navigated the road without difficulty.
However, we did experience some bouncing and bumps, which the boys
find very exciting.
was more traffic in the two hours or so that we were there than both
of my previous three-day campouts combined. Weekends make a big
difference in this country.
are a number of songs on my computer that Colton and Jack love,
including "The Chipmunk Song," "Purple People
Eater," "They Gotta Quit Kicking My Dog Around,"
"Rugged Ralph the
Rapid Rabbit Runner," and "Dead
Skunk in the Middle of the Road." I had put these and
others on a CD for them, and we listened to their favorites as we
drove. In a case of life imitating art, we saw an actual dead skunk
in the middle of Highway 168.
all enjoyed this outing, and of course, it's always special for me
to spend time with my grandchildren and great grandchildren. The
boys fell asleep before we got off the dirt road and had a two-hour
nap on the drive home.
that I've finally shared this location with family members, I'm
hoping I can camp there with them. I'm not sure I want to drive on
that road again - ideally someone else will drive.
Vista Peak is a rocky, dome-like mountain in Giant
Sequoia National Monument, just outside the Grant Grove section of
Kings Canyon National
Park. The trailhead is about 60 miles from home, on the
General's Highway right across from the Kings Canyon Overlook. From
the top, it offers a 360 degree view that takes in the foothills to
the west, Redwood Mountain, and high Sierra peaks in the back
country of the national park.
my daughter Teri learned she did not have to work on Friday
October 5, she called and suggested we go hiking, and we decided on
this location. She had been there once with her mother, and it would
be my fifth trip to the top. My first
visit was in November of 2013, with snow on the trail, and was
followed in the spring of 2014 by the first official hike with the
recent storm had washed the dust off the leaves, but snow was
limited to the high country above 9,000 feet, well above the 7,500
top of Buena Vista. Across from the trailhead, the Kings Canyon
Overlook provides a view of the Kings River Canyon and some some of
the spectacular peaks beyond.
Sierra peaks from Kings Canyon Overlook
(with first snow of 2018-19)
of Buena Vista Peak from the trail (2017 photo)
Clouds from the storm two days
earlier still lingered over the mountains, but our view of Kings
Canyon was mostly clear. As we hiked, clouds and mist drifted over
the ridge across from us, and up from the canyon below Buena Vista,
leaving the Buck
Rock Fire Lookout nearly lost in the mist. On the way back down, it
was much more visible, lit up by the afternoon sun
Rock, almost lost in the mist
in the sun
hike up was delightful and less taxing than many treks that are
mostly uphill. The trail can be seen as three separate parts. After
a short climb from the parking lot, the trail goes through big
rocks, huge boulders and rounded granite formations, interspersed
with manzanita, buck brush, chinquapin and big evergreens, mostly
Jeffrey pine and firs.
The trail then leaves the rocks behind and enters a shady forested
area east of the dome, winding its way gently up and around to the
south. The final stretch is up to the rocky
top of the mountain from a saddle. In this area the trees show
the effects of their harsh surroundings, having most of their
branches on the downwind side, and often reaching only 20 or 30 feet
front of a gnarly old Jeffrey pine
conditions have limited the height of this Jeffrey pine
we reached the top, we had about 50% of the full 360 degree view.
Redwood Canyon below us was hidden at first, but became visible. The
clouds had started to drop down in the east and were covering the
highest peaks. However, there was still plenty to enjoy, including a
ferns turning yellow on the slopes below Buck Rock and some
scrub black oaks starting to put on their fall colors. There's
usually a strong breeze at the top, but today it was very gentle
despite the clouds.
after we finished our snack, two groups totaling five people
arrived, and we prevailed on one gentleman to take our photo. Teri
then returned the favor.
oaks changing color for the fall
Teri on Buena Vista Peak; Kings Canyon in the distance
enjoyed the changing
views of clouds and mountains on our way back down, then drove
to Grant Grove Village for lunch. Although there were almost no
other customers, no one ever came to offer drinks or a menu, or take
our order. This in spite of the fact that two people who appeared to
be servers were doing mostly nothing at another empty table and at a
counter by the wall. We were not all that hungry, so we left and
drove down the mountain to the School
House Restaurant, on Highway 180 just past where it turns east
past Centerville and Minkler. The service here was excellent, and
the food even better.
a short work day every Friday, Teri declared we should do a bunch
more hiking, while we still can.
a year I attend a conference of retired county employees, hosted by
one of 20 counties in the organization (CRCEA). I usually drive to
the location on Sunday, and with the event starting at 1 p.m.
Monday, I do a little sightseeing in the morning. In Ventura I
walked on the beach, and in Santa Barbara, I visited the mission -
activities that don't qualify as "adventures" for these
didn't write about - the pier at Ventura...
the mission at Santa Barbara
preparing for a trip to San Rafael in
Marin County, I did some
research and found that there was a state park only four miles from
the hotel. On October 15, I drove to China Camp State
hiked the Turtleback Nature
Trail. This is a 3/4 mile loop trail
around a hill with San Pablo Bay and the salt flats on one side,
and oak woodland on the other. It was nearly all level, wide and
smooth, and I had no problem walking despite the lack of boots and
walked through live oak, black oak, big California bay laurel trees, madrone
and manzanita. There were also a couple of buckeye trees, leafless
but with a big crop of seeds. I also saw a couple of the shrubs we
always called holly, properly known as toyon,
with bright red berries.
Bay and the salt flats
tree-lined Turtleback Nature Trail
crop of seeds on this buckeye
berries (toyon) turn red in time for Christmas
salt marsh has little water channels running through it, but can be
under water during storms or unusually high tides. In earlier times,
into the area filled in a lot of this "useless" land, then
discovered that it acts as a filter to clean water flowing into the
bay. Now the biggest threat is from rising sea levels due to melting
of polar ice.
the trail the only wildlife was one lizard, but at the park entrance
I saw a raven and a large flock of wild turkeys.
many little channels through the salt marsh
turkeys along the road at the park entrance
the road from the Turtleback Trail, next to where I parked, there
was access to the Shoreline
Trail. This runs for several miles
parallel to the bay, going up and down through the oak woodland. I
walked another quarter mile or so on this trail, turning back at a
bridge. I also went down and up an unofficial trail that led to a
knoll topped with a perfectly rounded live oak.
across a drainage on the Shoreline Trail
did a nice job shaping this live oak
didn't see any other hikers on the Turtleback Trail, but the
Shoreline seemed to be more heavily used, mostly by bike
with one other hiking party. This trail offered more views of the
bay and marsh, another holly bush, another buckeye, and more
manzanita and madrone.
was a power transmission line running across the marsh near the park
entrance. A wooden walkway had been constructed under to line to
allow access across the swampy terrain for power line maintenance.
madrone tree. They can grow to be 70 feet tall
walkway under the power line for service access
total hiking distance was 1.32 miles, with very pleasant sunny
weather. Not knowing what to expect I wore a long sleeve t-shirt
which was comfortable most of the time, although I rolled up the
sleeves for the last half mile or so. Once I finished the hike, I
enjoyed the scenic winding drive back to my hotel, with plenty of
time for lunch and a little relaxation before the conference got
Search of Dick's Dome or, a Visit to Ross Crossing
years ago, probably in the 1980s, I was exploring the back roads
between Dinkey Creek and Wishon Reservoir. Driving down a dirt road a long
ways off the pavement I spotted a small dome not far from the road.
I hiked to the top and named it Dick’s Dome. I returned at least
twice with other people, the last time in October, 1995, with
grandson Johnny, age 11, and two of his friends.
road leaves the McKinley Grove Road
nine miles past Dinkey Creek, and goes down the drainage of Deer
Creek, a major tributary of Dinkey Creek. The road continues on and
drops down to Dinkey
Creek at Ross Crossing, then goes out and joins
the Dinkey Creek Road
near the Rock Creek Road. It’s a 30-mile drive on dirt and roughly paved roads.
was another of those places I wanted to go to again "while I
still can," so I invited younger grandson Michael to join me.
He came over about
Sunday October 28, and we set off in my pickup. I never
measured the distance from the McKinley Grove Road
to the dome, but I’ve always thought of it as “a long damn
ways.” We got to an area where I sort of recognized the terrain,
but did not see the dome. Then we looked back and up to our left,
and saw what was probably Dick’s Dome, but we had gone past, and I
was not certain whether it was the right dome. After a few more miles it became obvious that we
had missed it. No doubt trees have grown up and blocked the view, as
has happened in other areas I frequented back in the 20th
came to a small creek where we stopped to photograph the bigleaf
maple leaves changing color, and just to look around a little.
maple leaves in green and gold
and evergreens at Ross Crossing
continued on to Ross Crossing, where there is a small campground. The
road into the camp goes down to the west, just past the bridge.
There are no picnic tables and no toilet, but it is a designated
campground on the map. There is a big pool
in the creek there, long, wide and
deep. I camped there once and swam in the 63 degree water, and
Johnny and his friends went in when we were there the last time. We
saw a couple of fish jump, and Mike filed this location away as a
possible fishing spot.
went down the other side of the road by a steep trail, where I
carried my camping gear down and up in August of 1979. On that
trip, I came in from the Dinkey Creek Road, only ten
miles. Just above the camp site on this side the creek
runs through a narrow, rocky gorge with huge boulders in the
channel. We enjoyed the view here, then returned to the truck and
started the last part of our journey.
the road we saw lots of fall color – bigleaf maple, dogwood,
black oak, and several small and large bushes I could not identify.
All along the way there were literally dozens and dozens of places
where dead trees had fallen across the road. Whoever cut them out
must have had narrow vehicle, since it was a close squeeze to get
through the space between the two sections of some of the logs. I
complained more than once that it would have been easy to cut off
another foot. In one place the log had not been cut, but you could
drive down off the road and get around it. In another place I had to
put the right wheels down into a shallow ditch to get past the log.
Dinkey Creek gorge upstream from Ross Crossing
contemplates the pool at Ross Crossing
not reaching our actual objective, which was to hike to the top of
Dick’s Dome, we had a great time, enjoying the scenery and seeing
some territory that was new to Mike and almost new again to me.
we got back down to Prather, we stopped at Velasco’s
favorite lunch spot when returning from hikes in this area.