View along the route to Neely Dome

Teri & son Johnny, with Crosby the German Shepard

Stargazer Rock Campout 2009

 

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Unlike last year, 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 Mountain Trail.

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 elsewhere.

We arrived 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.

Our 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 surrounding rock.

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.

Although Jim 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 Crosby.

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 there. 

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 pines.

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 right place.

--Dick Estel, August 2009

Photos
(Photos open in a new window)

Local rock is handy for building fire rings These sections, including the large piece at the front, were once a single granite flake The relatively new horizontal break still has rough edges

Local rock is handy for building fire rings

These sections, including the large piece at the front, were once a single granite flake The relatively new horizontal break still has rough edges
 
Neely Dome from the east Layers of exfoliating rock The yellowish ridge is younger, harder material that originally was forced into a crack as molten rock
Neely Dome from the east Layers of exfoliating rock The yellowish ridge is younger, harder material that originally was forced into a crack as molten rock
 
This foot wide intrusion can be followed for over a hundred feet This foot wide intrusion can be followed for over a hundred feet Over the years a section of the intrusion has broken loose and been carried several feet from its original location
This foot wide intrusion can be followed for over a hundred feet Over the years a section of the intrusion has broken loose and been carried several feet from its original location
 
A 3-foot wide granite flake makes a good stepping stone Acres of land in the area are covered with small granite flakes Dirt and decomposing granite collects in cracks, providing a place for plant life
A 3-foot wide granite flake makes a good stepping stone Acres of land in the area are covered with small granite flakes Dirt and decomposing granite collects in cracks, providing a place for plant life
 
This boulder displays another type of weathering Harsh weather turns a lodge pole pine into a mountain monster Even rocks are not immune from the food chain
This boulder displays another type of weathering  Harsh weather turns a lodge pole pine into a mountain monster Even rocks are not immune from the food chain
 
View along the route to Neely Dome Rock art Natural landscaping
View along the route to Neely Dome Rock art Natural landscaping
 
These succulents are common in high rocky areas Decomposing log turns to brown dust Mini water fall on Rock Creek
These succulents are common in high rocky areas

Decomposing log turns to brown dust

Mini water fall on Rock Creek
 
Intense shades of green Campsite, 2009 Dick, hiking on Neely Dome
Intense shades of green Campsite, 2009 Dick, hiking on Neely Dome
 
Nichole, Jessica & Kelly, with Tinker Belle Heading down the trail to the creek Mark explores the creek

Nichole, Jessica & Kelly, with Tinker Belle

Heading down the trail to the creek

Mark explores the creek
 
Teri & son Johnny, with Crosby the German Shepard The Saturday day shift Jennifer, down by the creek
Teri & son Johnny, with Crosby the German Shepard

The Saturday day shift (click here for names)

Jennifer, down by the creek
 

Related Links

Bald Mountain Trail Perseids Meteor Shower Chupacabra Legend
Dinkey Creek Falls Dinkey Creek Camp Rock Exfoliaton
 
Saturday day shift

Dick, hiking on Neely Dome

 
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Updated September 20, 2017