Stargazer Rock Campout 2015


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After an absence of two years, we returned to Stargazer Rock for another family campout. The origin and location of this event, and general description of the area are included in my report from 2005, so I won't repeat them here. Reports on other years' events are listed below.

Although invitations were extended to just above everyone who had joined us in the past, only a small group was able to attend. Reasons included everything from moving to a new house to work obligations.

I went up Friday morning, July 31, along with Jim Neely, my younger daughter's nephew. The trip was not without some problems, although we worked around them. The right rear inner tire on my motor home has had a slow leak for some time, and I have aired it up for each trip without any problems. Driving up Highway 168, we heard a noise, and I immediately suspected a problem with that tire. The good, outer tire seemed to be carrying the load OK, and I knew replacing the bad tire would be a half-day project, if indeed a shop able to do it could be found in the nearby mountain community of Shaver Lake.

I checked the air pressure, finding the outer tire fully inflated, and the inner at zero pressure. Not willing to abandon my trip, we continued on, arriving at our destination without incident.

My grandson Johnny and his son, Colton, had arrived less than a half hour earlier. The spot we usually camp in was occupied, and they were waiting our arrival before selecting an alternative. There were a number of people setting up camp in the large area that offers the most shade, but there are lots of places to camp, so we decided on a place near where Johnny had parked. I was able to position the motor home so it would shade us from the afternoon sun, and there were flat spots for those who would be using tents.

After we got the motor home set up, Johnny, Colton and I took a walk to nearby Rock Creek. The route we usually follow is across the big, open flat area that is the official "Stargazer Rock," then down a rocky slope to the creek. Colton, age two and a half, made this trek with only occasional help from an adult. Despite the dry year we've had, the creek had a small flow of water, more than I expected. I believe the unusual storms we had in July brought the water level up slightly.

Most of he creek bed consists of large slabs of granite, with only a slight slope. Water runs along the edges of these slabs, occasionally filling pools ranging from two feet across to eight feet or more. Colton was delighted with the area, running down the rocks and hopping over the joints between one slab and the next. Of course, he enjoyed the creek, putting his hands in, throwing rocks in the water, and sharing the excitement we all felt when Johnny spotted a small water snake.

We walked down the creek a couple hundred yards, then returned to camp by a slightly different route that took us up to the jeep road that runs across the rock, then down to a different section of the creek where the direction of flow turns from south to east.

It was not long before my daughter Teri (Johnny's mom and Colton's grandma) arrived, and after proper greetings we helped her set up her tent. The four generations of my family plus Jim made up our entire camping party for this year.

Colton had never before been in my motor home, so he enjoyed exploring this drivable house. Having recently become toilet trained, he was especially interested in using the bathroom, with the foot pedal flush.

When I arrived, Colton's first words were "I didn't bring my sand toys." The need for these was soon obvious, since there are a number of runoff channels through the camp area, lined with coarse sand that is mostly decomposed granite. Johnny gave him two plastic cups, and these proved satisfactory, as he spent considerable time pouring sand from one to the other, over several plastic toy cars, and into a bug box he had brought. Collecting insects was a favorite activity of Mikie, my other grandson, when he was small. Colton's box briefly contained a single ant, then became a sand toy for the rest of the weekend.

Throughout the afternoon, people continued to arrive with 4-wheel drive vehicles, and our neighbors eventually consisted of half a dozen trailers, a number of tents, and a group of 25 people or more. For the most part they were good neighbors, with no loud noises day or night the first day. At dusk a half dozen or so of their vehicles left for a night run to Bald Mountain. I've ridden with Teri's husband and others on  this drive in the daytime on some of our earlier trips, but much of the enjoyment is looking at the scenery, so a nighttime run seems like a waste of time to me.

Teri had brought tri-tip, which she barbecued for dinner. I had picked up corn from the market at Fresno State University. I cooked this in the microwave, as nature intended.

It was  partly cloudy throughout the day, and during dinner we heard a lot of thunder. The center of the storm was so far away that we did not see any lightning, but we did have a 15-minute shower that started before we finished eating. It was not heavy, but we all got damp and it was quite cool with the breeze, so everyone ended up putting on an additional layer. We were rewarded with a partial rainbow.

After dinner, Teri, Johnny, Colton and I went for a walk, with Colton riding his tricycle much of the way. We went out the route we usually take to the creek, but ended up going out on a small rock promontory that drops off on three sides. It's not a huge cliff or anything, just slopes down close to vertical about 15 feet on the end, and a little less to the sides out near the end.

As we started out in that direction Colton told us, "The creek is waiting for us," but we didn't get to it on this part of the walk. We went back to the main road and went west a short distance to a dirt road that goes in a short distance to a camping site. Not far down the hill from this is the creek, so Colton was able to throw rocks in the pools and enjoy looking at water bugs. He was reluctant to leave, but darkness was coming on, so we headed back to camp.

During our walks he was interested in the many fire rings scattered around the several acres of Stargazer Rock, commenting at each one, "They have their own campfire."

Later in the evening Colton continued his sand play in the dark, and we sat around the campfire ring. Due to extreme drought conditions, no fires are allowed outside of designated campgrounds, and Stargazer Rock does not qualify, so we just enjoyed watching for the blue moon to rise. When we could see it was time, we went out to the open area, where we could see quite a few stars, and the moon as it rose through the clouds. With the bright moon, the star gazing was not at its best, but I think we still saw more than are visible from Fresno.

We also saw a jet trail that seemed to be above the full moon. Later the trail drifted higher and spread out, with half of it lit by the moon, and the other half darker but reflecting some light from the earth and sky.

The next day was our day of adventure. Well before the trip Johnny had told me that we should hike to Dinkey Lakes. I was noncommittal, not sure how strenuous the effort would be. The Dinkey Lakes are a group of natural lakes between 8,000 and 9,000 feet, with the trailhead starting about seven miles from our camp. In reading the trail description, I found that the distance from the trailhead to First Dinkey Lake was three miles, or a six-mile round trip, more than I usually want to do. Johnny said we would be going to the closest lake, Mystery Lake, more like a mile and a half each way. Once you arrive at one lake, it's a relatively short hike to the next one.

Still I vacillated until we had all finished breakfast and it was almost time to leave. When I learned Colton would be making the hike, I decided that what a two and a half year old toddler could do, a three quarter centenarian could also do, and I got my stuff ready and climbed into Johnny's Jeep with him, Teri and my great grandson. Jim does not do long walks, and would stand guard at camp, just enjoying being out of the city.

The road to the trailhead was mostly rough dirt and rocks, and in sections where there was pavement, it was marred by huge potholes, a "feature" of the entire road system throughout the area.

It was probably seven miles to the trailhead, located on Dinkey Creek, where we found many vehicles, including passenger cars that must have struggled on the road getting in.

We got our packs on, enjoyed looking at the unusual dark gray rock around the parking area, and set off on the trail to the left or north side of the creek. The "official" trail is on the other side, but this route, although not maintained, is easy enough to follow and joins the main trail after a half mile or so. Along this section there was a low rock ridge, almost a cliff, on our left, but the opposite bank of the creek was forested and fairly level as far as we could see. The trail was not steep most of the way, rising gently, and often smooth and level.

At about the half way point of our hike we entered the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness Area, which is part of a complex of several such preserves in the high Sierra.

There were lots of flowers, nice views of the creek, many interesting rock formations, and of course, fallen trees. This was a new thing for Colton, and often caused him to announce, "Tree fell down." He understood soon that a tree down on the ground was called a log.

A bit more than half way to our destination Colton ran out of steam, but Teri had prepared a raisin and nut mix, and practiced her grandmotherly spoiling arts by picking out his favorite item for him, the raisins. We all had a few handfuls of the mix, and as we continued our hike, Colton occasionally announced that he needed "more energy," meaning another handful of food.

The rocky ridge on the left became higher and sloped away from the trail, which went up hill in that direction for the first steep section. This part of the trail was fairly rough, but took us to a mostly level valley for the next part of our hike. We came to a trail junction, where going straight ahead continues the level route that eventually goes up to First Dinkey Lake. The shorter route we had planned was a right turn across the creek, then up a fairly steep ridge with some switchbacks, but somewhat smoother hiking than the first uphill section.

Our reward for reaching the top of this part of the trail was to arrive at a large plateau which contains Mystery Lake. It appeared to be fairly small, but what you see when you first arrive is just a small arm of the lake, and after crossing a "peninsula," the main part of the lake comes into view. Here it is several hundred feet across, and as is usual in the Sierra, offers a postcard perfect vista.

Teri got out some sandwiches and homemade chocolate energy bars, which we all needed and enjoyed. Colton took advantage of his tender age to remove all clothing and wade in the lake, but it was cold enough that he didn't go in past his knees. Johnny has fished in this lake in the past, but for this family trek had chosen to leave his pole behind. I tried to get in a short nap on a granite boulder that lacked a certain comfort level, but at least I rested up for the return trip.

Too soon it was time to head back down the hill, with the steep sections requiring careful footwork, but less effort by the lungs. When we reached the place where the "official" trail joins the abandoned route, we crossed the creek and enjoyed some different scenery during the final part of the hike. The final 100 yards is a steep climb up from the creek, which makes the sight of the car even more welcome.

Colton rode on his dad's shoulders several times for very short distances, maybe a quarter mile total, and walked the rest of the 3.7 mile round trip. In fact, on easy level places he did quite a bit of running. At age 75, I walked it all, no running.

As we started our drive back home, Colton chattered about the day for the first mile or so, then promptly fell asleep, and remained so until shortly before they left for home. Teri had an event to attend on Sunday, and Johnny is working on a bathroom remodel, so both of them packed up and left shortly after we got back to camp. Teri left even before Colton woke up, but maybe that was lucky. He woke up crying, was not satisfied by offers of food, drink or hugs, and was still unhappy when he and Johnny left. Fortunately, Johnny reported that he went back to sleep again soon after they started driving.

We saw a few dark clouds and heard some thunder during our hike, but there was no repeat of the rain at our camp sight. We did get a very nice sunset thanks to the clouds.

I had planned to stay Sunday night as well, but Jim and I had a discussion about the remainder of our campout, and both agreed that we had accomplished all we set out to. We decided to head for home Sunday after breakfast.

Since I needed to run the generator to keep the battery charged, we watched a DVD of an old Saturday Night Live show from the program's second year, plus a Simpsons episode, and got to bed shortly after ten.

The next morning I wanted to get in a good exercise walk, so I went up the road to the east, then down a dirt trail that runs behind the forest east and south of the camp. Here I walked a short way down the 4-wheel drive road that runs down toward the creek, then turned back, coming up across the big flat area, logging close to a mile and a half.

After eating breakfast and getting everything ready, I took the alternate route, going west on the road from the camp. This goes about six miles to State 168, joining it half way between Huntington and Shaver Lakes. This road was quite a bit better for the first mile, then became the same pothole nightmare as the other route. At least we saw different scenery.

Animal contact during our trip included a doe and two fawns that Jim and I saw while driving in, another deer spotted by Johnny and Colton, quail on the road to the trailhead, the snake in the creek, and lots of chipmunks. In addition we heard coyotes howling Friday night, and I saw fresh deer tracks on my Sunday morning walk.

Since I was going to get new tires and have other repairs done, we went to the storage yard where I keep the motor home to empty the tanks before going to my house. We arrived to annoyingly hot weather, but the next day was cooler, and the two days since have been just above 80 degrees - quite a change from the 100 plus of last week. Still, I am hoping to get in some more camping at higher elevations this summer.

I've enjoyed camping with my family at all ages, but of course, the youngest grandson hasn't been a little kid for a dozen years, and it's been longer for everyone else. Sharing the experience with my two and a half year old great grandson made this one of the best Stargazer Campouts ever.

--Dick Estel, August 2015


Photos (Click to enlarge; pictures open in new window)


Dirt can't detract from the cuteness

Preparing the bug box Colton and Johnny at the creek
Jumping the creek while
great-grandpa Dick watches
The view down Rock Creek Exploring for water snakes
Rocky terrain? No problem!

Colton's first time in my motor home

Johnny and Teri
Nature's sand box After the storm More storm aftermath

Falls on Dinkey Creek
near the trailhead

A multi-color fire ring

Colton, dad and grandma ready to hike

We were undaunted by this sign Rock cliffs above the trail

Four generations, entering
the Wilderness

Time has beautified this weathered tree Colton, Johnny and Teri, ready
to start the climb to the lake
A well-earned snack
Mystery Lake   It's best enjoyed naked

Meadow with small pond
adjacent to the lake

The northern arm of the lake Back at Dinkey Creek A pause in nature's flower garden
Wrinkled rocks near the trailhead A stately red fir by the camp area

This Jeffrey Pine started to
fall, but the roots held

Dinkey Lakes trail map; camp
area is off the map to lower left
Pinemat Manzanita is a
common shrub at this elevation
Flowers of all kinds are on display
A daisy of some kind Guess who was here

Saturday night sunset at Stargazer Rock

Related Links
Dinkey Lakes Dinkey Lakes Trailhead Dinkey Lakes Wilderness
Bald Mountain Trail Dinkey Creek Falls More Blue Moon Stuff
Still More Blue Moon Stuff Mystery Lake Stargazer Rock Campouts

The northern arm of the lake

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