Dick's Rock Creek Non-Camp


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Each year I try to get in one more mountain camping trip late in the summer. More often than not, I go to Stargazer Rock, which you’ve read about in reports on my campouts of 2005 and 2006.

However, the elevation there is around 7,400, and it began cooling down a lot in September, so I wanted to go some place a little lower. The destination I chose was Rock Creek Campground, which is on the Sierra Vista National Scenic Byway, 22 miles beyond North Fork. There is a Rock Creek near Stargazer Rock; this is a different creek, in a completely different location.

I had camped there when my daughters were quite young, and had visited the area on day trips a few times, but had not been there and not thought about it for ten years or more. Then my older daughter went there in August with a group, and we were reminded what a nice place it is. The creek runs down a fairly steep drainage, creating bowls and basins and other neat sculptures in the granite. The elevation is around 5,000 feet, and about two miles up the road past the camp is the Mile High Vista Point that gives you a fantastic view of the upper San Joaquin River drainage, the Minarets, and several rocky domes, including Fuller Buttes and Balloon Dome. To the west there is a granite ridge topped with some unusual rock formations known as the Eagles' Beaks (see photo). A few miles further the road passes Jackass Rock, which is visible from some places along the way.

I made plans with my friend Janell Sidney, her grandson Mark, and another friend and former co-worker, Nancy Freeman, to join me on Friday, September 29, 2006. My daughter Teri, and grandson Mikie were going to come up Saturday and spend the night.

Unfortunately, the trip did not go as planned, mainly because the trailer never made it to Rock Creek. Driving on the road past North Fork, I realized that smoke was pouring out of the back of the trailer, so as soon as I could, I pulled off the road. I was ten miles from Rock Creek.

A spring had broken, which caused the two tires on that side to touch each other, creating significant friction and burning grooves into the tires. I decided to call my repair shop and see if it would be OK to take off one tire, and just run on one. I could not get through on my cell phone, so I unhitched the trailer, wrote a note for Janell and prepared to drive back toward North Fork. Just as I was ready to leave, Janell drove up, so I tried her cell phone and it worked. The repair shop said driving on one tire would work OK.

I jacked the trailer up and got the tire off, but this just allowed the axel to sag down toward the ground, and when I lowered the jack, the weight of the axel was still on it, and it could not be removed. I went through a series of attempts to block up one part of the trailer so I could remove the jack, but it was a Catch 22 situation – if I could remove the jack, the block was still there. If I could get the block out, I could not remove the jack. I probably jacked it up and down six or eight times, reaching a point of near exhaustion. I finally hooked up the trailer and backed it a few inches to get it off the jack, but the result was the axel (brake housing actually) dropping to the ground.

Meanwhile Janell had gone on to camp to meet Nancy, who had passed me before Janell arrived. Since I could not use my phone, I drove to the camp to use Janell’s. I could not get reception there, so I drove back to the trailer with Janell’s phone, and finally reached my roadside service. I went through a long session with the operator, trying to explain my location (“what are your cross streets?”) Finally she managed to find the area on her map, but at that point the call was cut off. I called again, and got someone else, who had the information on the computer, so I did not have to go through another attempt to explain my location in the Sierra Nevada back country, on a road that is also known as Minarets Road, Mammoth Road, and the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway.

The service was unable to find anyone who would come out and would also accept their payment, but she finally put me in touch with Mike’s RV Repair, located on Highway 41 at Avenue 15, about 15 miles out of Fresno. He could come the next morning, but I would have to pay the full cost myself. Having little choice, I arranged to meet him at the trailer around 8:30 a.m.

I then went back to camp, thinking I might spend the night in my truck. This would have required unloading everything in the back, blowing up the air mattress, then reloading everything in time to drive back to the trailer by 8:30 (about a 20 minute drive). Janell had hamburgers ready when I got there, so we ate dinner, and then drove up the road about another two miles to the Mile High Vista.

When we got back to camp we explored the creek a short ways. It is a beautiful location, with the creek running down a fairly steep, rocky route, creating small waterfalls, potholes and pools.

We started a fire, and Janell’s grandson Mark roasted marshmallows and went with me several times to gather pine cones, which he enjoyed throwing on the fire. Nancy had left before I arrived since she had to work, but was planning to return when she got off at 8. I decided it would be better to sleep in the trailer, so I left about nine, meeting Nancy about two miles out.

The only really good thing about the evening after leaving camp was that I had a fairly good view of the sky at the trailer, and was treated to a spectacular star display, since the moon went down shortly after sunset. I read a while then went to bed.

I was not sure what the plans were for the trailer. The Good Sam operator had talked about getting someone to do a roadside repair, but that did not seem feasible to me, since the trailer would have to be jacked up fairly high and would require some heavy tools to do the repair. I had explained the situation with the axel to Mike, and we had decided it might be possible to tie it up so it would not drag, and I could tow the trailer myself.

In fact, I had attempted this myself, but I had only some very light wire, which broke as soon as I started lowering the jack. Mike and his helper arrived close to ten, and tied up the axel with three loops of heavy wire, plus a metal strap that he attached with a bolt, drilling a hole through a metal cross beam. They helped me hitch up, and drove up the road toward camp to help me turn around, since I had to find a side road I could turn into to back up and get pointed in the right direction.

We got this accomplished, and they headed back, with me following slowly. I was concerned about the wire holding, and rightly so. When I stopped in North Fork to check it (after about twelve miles), the metal strap had broken, and the wire was wearing through. At first I was going to wait and have them come back, but I could only get the answering machine on his cell phone. I finally decided that since there were three loops of wire, if one broke, the others might hold.

I checked it once more, and one loop of wire had broken. However, by this time I was almost to Highway 41, which did not have the winding curves of the North Fork road, and was much smoother. I was able to drive at a fairly normal speed, about 55 MPH, and made it to Mike’s, probably ten miles from the junction, with the brake housing sagging down to an inch from the pavement, but still holding.

Since the drag had made both tires on that side dangerous to use, I arranged to come back Monday and get both tires (after he had jacked up the trailer to work on it), get them replaced, and bring them back.

I drove out to Mike’s Monday and got the tires. My tire dealer did not have the tires in stock, but could get them that day, so I went to lunch and came home. He called a couple of hours later, and I took the tires back to Mike’s (about 15 miles each way). He was unable to get the spring and had to order it, so instead of getting the trailer Tuesday, it would be several more days. This was no problem, since I had no trips planned, so I returned home, contemplating the idea of looking into RV rental costs versus the various repairs I have had to make over the years.

Dick Estel, September 2006

(I didn't take any photos on this trip, but some previous pictures fit here)

A broken bolt caused a similar problem in 2005          The trailer had to be hauled to the
repair shop on a flatbed truck
The Eagles' Beaks      Balloon Dome & Fuller Buttes

Related Links

Mike's RV Center North Fork Sierra Vista Scenic Byway
Balloon Dome Climb Rock Creek Campground Jackass Rock

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