The annual Stargazer Rock
campout isn't what it used to be - but this year, at least, it was
bigger than the previous few years.
After lots of emailing
and checking the calendar we finally determined that the weekend of
August 10 through 12 would work for everyone who had an interest in
this case was I, my daughter Teri, both her sons, Johnny and Mikie,
my friend Janell, and her sister Denise and brother-in-law Juan.
My younger daughter,
Jennifer, is recovering from knee replacement surgery; Teri's
husband Tim, was on call for work, and Johnny's wife, Brittany, is
pregnant and not interested in primitive sleeping arrangements. So -
it would be a small but enthusiastic group.
The working people had to
wait till after work Friday to leave, but I went up Friday morning,
August 10, hoping that our spot would not be occupied by a mob of
4-wheel drive enthusiasts. They location is actually called Bald
Mountain Base Camp, because 4-wheel drive clubs use it as a staging
area for big gatherings, including runs to nearby Bald Mountain. I
had already done some research on line, and knew that the local
event was scheduled for Labor Day, so I was hopeful that we
would not have any company other than maybe one or two small
I drove across town in my
car to pick up Mikie, and on the way back stopped and picked up
Janell from work, so that she could keep my car to drive up the next
After Janell headed back
to work, Mikie and I set off in the motor home, going up Auberry
Road to Prather, then up Highway 168 to Shaver Lake. Here we turned
east on the Dinkey Creek Road, which leads to the Rock Creek Road,
which leads to road 9S09, which goes to Stargazer Rock and on out to
Highway 168 above Shaver Lake.
This once fairly
primitive location has become ever more civilized, so it was a
surprise, but not a shock, to see a number of portable toilets in
the area. When I came up last year, picnic tables and metal fire
rings had been added. During the day, two men with a pickup and
trailer came and removed the toilets, which had been set up for a
4-wheel drive event early in the season, so some of the original
ambiance was restored.
The temperatures in the
San Joaquin Valley have been ranging from 105 to 112, so even at
7,000 feet, it was quite warm, but of course, much nicer than at home,
about 85 degrees in the daytime. At night it was cool enough to
enjoy the fire, and to snuggle down in the sleeping bag, but not
nearly as cold as it usually is.
After we got set up,
Mikie and I walked down to Rock Creek, about a quarter mile down
hill from our camp site. In normal rain years, this creek has very
little water in August, but there's usually a trickle, even though
it disappears under the rocks in places. This year there was no
water at the point where we arrived at the creek, and pools that
normally have water even when there is little visible flow were dry.
About 100 yards downstream we finally came to a place where there
was a slight seep from a spring on one side, a tiny trickle in the
creek, and a few small pools.
We had grilled cheese
sandwiches for dinner, and collected some firewood. We didn't really
have to do much work - there was a small amount of wood there
already, and the men gathering toilets gave us quite a few pieces of
wood that they did not want, including some oak. During our campout
here in 2000, on his 16th birthday, Johnny had split a large pile of
wood, so I explained to Mikie that at age 15, that was now his job.
He made a good effort, but couldn't get the technique of letting the
splitting maul do most of the work.
Teri arrived about 6:30,
followed soon after by Johnny. Johnny did some wood splitting, and
gave Mikie some pointers, and soon he was doing a great job.
Eventually he split some logs that were already small enough just
because he could - once you start, it's hard to stop!
We got a fire going, and
enjoyed a very pleasant evening. Mikie, Johnny and I walked over to
the open area that is the actual Stargazer Rock and lay down to
watch for meteors (it was the peak night of the Perseid
shower). We saw about a half dozen good meteors, including a
couple that left trails of sparks as they crossed the sky.
Teri's pickup and
Johnny's Jeep both have room in the back for sleeping, so they soon
headed for their vehicles, while Mikie and I went into the motor
home. Mikie wanted to watch TV, but I pointed out that our
"neighbors" would not appreciate us running the generator
when they were trying to sleep. We stayed up only a short time, and
got to bed about 10.
The next morning Teri
fixed a "birthday breakfast" (a few days after my
birthday) of potatoes, bacon, sausage, toast and chocolate milk.
Johnny and Mikie are both
fishing fanatics, and a waterless Rock Creek offered nothing for
them, so they headed for the Dinkey
Creek trailhead, about five miles away, and hiked in to the Dinkey
Lakes area, about a mile and a half each way. When they returned
they reported that there were many cars parked at the trailhead,
lots of people at the lakes (most of them not fishing), and not much
luck - Johnny caught one trout that he returned to the lake.
While they were gone
Janell arrived with her sister and brother-in-law, so we had a good
visit. They and I drove a few miles to a road that goes to Bald
Mountain, but is OK for two-wheel drive vehicles the first few
miles. I had gone in quite a ways with my pickup in the past, but we
soon encountered big holes in the road that seemed to be more of a
challenge than I wanted to try with the Honda, so we turned around
and headed back. Janell drove and did a great job of navigating
around the bumps and potholes.
We just loafed around
camp the rest of the afternoon. Janell and her party left in time to
get out of the mountain roads before dark, and Johnny left soon
after. Teri, Mikie and I enjoyed a dinner of barbecue pork chops,
corn on the cob and salad.
We had planned to do some
more stargazing, but it was partly cloudy most of the day, and after
dark we had just a few stars visible through the clouds. We did not
feel like bothering with a fire, but we did all go in the motor home
and watched a few videos before going to bed.
Teri and Mikie left early
Sunday as planned, but I stayed another night, so I had a quiet day.
I spent most of the time reading, with a couple of short walks
around the camp area, and a bike ride up the road a ways.
On Monday I got my usual
late start, taking time for a good breakfast. On the way up I had
hit a snow pole, breaking the passenger side mirror, so I went first
to the storage yard to empty the holding tanks, so that I could take
the motor home in for repairs the next day. Needless to say, when I
first opened the door back in the valley, I was greeted with a blast
of hot air and the realization that I should have stayed where it
was cool a few more days.
--Dick Estel, August 2012