the 9th annual Stargazer Rock campout took place at the proper
location, which is also known as Bald Mountain Base Camp. This name
comes from the fact that the area is used by 4-wheel drive clubs
when they have runs and rallies and other activities, usually
involving travel on the nearby Bald
In order to
avoid a repeat of last year's fiasco, when we had to move after
getting set up, I contacted several local clubs to find out if they
were planning any activity for the period of August 6 through 10.
Those who replied all had activities planned, but for other dates,
so I was hopeful my advance planning would pay off.
I set off
around 10 a.m. on Thursday, August 6, with my daughter's nephew, Jim
Neely, riding shotgun. I had some concerns about taking the new
motor home over the rough, pot-hole riddled Rock Creek and Tamarack
Ridge roads. The vehicle has very low clearance in the
back, and there are a couple of dips that worried me. As often
happens, everything went fine, and the energy spent fretting over
something I could not control could have been better directed
at the camping area by noon, to find it completely unoccupied. We
also found breezy, mostly cloudy, very cold weather - such that I
immediately had to change from T-shirt and shorts to jeans and a
flannel shirt. The cool conditions persisted through Friday, and
throughout the first two days it was always a little too cool for
real comfort when sitting around camp.
I got the
motor home into my favorite spot, under some trees next to a path that leads
through trees out to one of the two big open circles that
surround large, well established fire rings. There was just room to
open the awning, and put out the slide, which are on opposite sides
of the vehicle. Meanwhile Jim got his tent set up, and marked off a
few spots for the other tents that would be set up by friends and
family who would be arriving on the weekend.
activities for Thursday and Friday consisted mostly of reading,
loafing, and walking around. I took a pretty good hike to a nearby
dome, which we have named Neely Dome in honor of my younger daughter
and her husband. This walk involved going down into several
drainages, and up over several ridges. This area is the location of
two of my favorite imaginary animals, the Chupacabra
Tree, which is in reality a weather-beaten
lodge pole pine, and Big Rock Eats Little Rock, a photo
of which explains it better than any number of words.
Most of the
walking is across large, relatively flat sheets of granite, where
you will sometimes see intrusions of a different rock type. This
usually appears as a different
color streak of rock, and sometimes you can follow
it for many feet. Most of them are one to three inches wide, but
in some cases, a much wider intrusion occurs. Other times an
intrusion will consist of a ridge
of harder material that does not wear down as fast as the
I also rode
my bike almost back to the Rock Creek Road, just a little under a
mile. This does not sound like much of an accomplishment, but there
was a fair amount of uphill travel both ways, which involved getting
off and pushing.
brought his telescope, we never set it up and didn't do a lot of
stargazing. The clouds mostly disappeared at night, but the cold
drove us into the motor home, where DVDs claimed our attention. We
did walk out a ways on Friday night, and a bunch of us went to the
actual spot I call Stargazer Rock on Saturday. It was quite clear
both nights, and the moon and Jupiter were on display, but we didn't
see any meteors (the annual Perseids
meteor shower was not due until August 12).
My daughter Teri and
grandson Mikie had planned to arrive Thursday evening, but a bug
bite on his arm turned into a staph infection, and they had to deal
with that, so didn't arrive till Saturday morning. Also making an
appearance that day were my grandson Johnny and his wife Brittany,
and my friend Janell Sidney, her daughters, Kelly, Nichole, and
Jessica, and Kelly's son Mark. It was the first Stargazer camping
experience for the three girls.
We also were joined by a
four-footed brigade consisting of Janell's dog Tinker Belle, and
Johnny & Brittany's tiny little dog Faith and big German Shepard
Teri and Mikie, as well
as Johnny and Brittany, were unable to spend the night, so we mostly
just visited, ate, and quietly celebrated my 70th birthday. They
left around 3:30.
My daughter Jennifer
arrived after dark, around 8:30 or so. Also joining us for a while
around the campfire was Jim Long, who Jennifer had worked with in
the California Division of Forestry. He was camping a little lower
down on the Dinkey Creek Road, and stayed till around 10.
On Sunday morning all of
us except Kelly and Nichole walked down the four-wheel drive road
that leads south from the camp and goes down to Rock Creek. Although
the creek was a small trickle, Mark and Tinker Belle found a pool
deep enough for a little swimming (it was up to Mark's neck).
When we returned to camp,
Kelly and Nichole had taken their tent down, and they started
packing up. Jennifer had already loaded most of her gear, and left
around 3, while Janell and her gang took off not long after that,
leaving Jim and me to finish out the camping trip by ourselves.
We saw three deer while
driving into the camp, and Teri and Mikie saw a couple. We also saw
a dozen or more chipmunks which seemed to be chasing each other in
pairs all around the area, and we both heard and saw the pair of
ravens that have occupied the area as long as I've been going
During the weekend a few
vehicles drove in and turned around, and some went down the four-wheel
drive road, but no one else camped there, probably the first time we
have not had at least one other party sharing the area.
I have referred to
Stargazer Rock as "a big flat area," but in the mountains,
there are really no flat spots unless they are man-made.
At Stargazer Rock (AKA
Bald Mountain Base Camp), there is a fairly open, steep slope on the
north side of the road, with scattered Jeffrey
pines. (The road to the camp is generally known as the Tamarack
Ridge Road, and runs from the Rock Creek Road to Highway 168, a few
miles above Shaver Lake.) The slope starts to level off somewhat on
the south side of the road, sloping down gently to the area where we
camp. This section is lightly forested with Jeffrey and lodge pole
pine. South of the main campsites there is a heavily forested area,
consisting mostly of red and white fir, with a few scattered sugar
I divide the area into
three sections, with the main campsites being first (on the east).
There are two big
open circles where fire rings have been built, and we usually
set up on the edges of one or the other of these. East of this is a
"transitional area," where a rough road passes the camp
and connects to an unofficial four-wheel drive road. And farthest
east is Stargazer Rock itself, which is a big, flat section of
granite, covering several hundred square feet, with a few dirt
sections in between parts of it.
The entire area, and in
fact, much of the country around it consists of exfoliating
granite slabs (I wrote about this process here
in 2006). The pieces of granite may range from a
few inches across to many feet, and the small ones are excellent
for building fire rings. In fact, there is one
fireplace near the creek where the builders laid down a floor of
granite slabs, then built the fire ring on top of that, and built
another second level "hearth" below the first.
Thanks to the action of
freezing and expansion, as well as other forces, some of the larger
slabs have broken into sections, but you can still see where they
fit together like the pieces
of a jigsaw puzzle. I saw one
broken section that was relatively recent, as evidenced by the
fact that the rock faces were still very rough, while most pieces
that obviously "fit together" are more weathered.
Although there are many
similar rock features throughout the Sierra, I don't know of any
place where broken exfoliated granite covers such a widespread area,
and I always enjoy just
wandering around the countryside there.
So, the Stargazer Rock
campout continues to evolve...even though Teri recently got a
four-wheel drive truck, we didn't do any four-wheeling. Not everyone
who was invited was able to come, and those who did arrived in
shifts. But at least we were able to do the entire campout at the
--Dick Estel, August 2009