25: Here I am at the 5th Annual
Stargazer Rock Campout. It should be the sixth, but the cow mashed
my truck and I could not tow a trailer last year at this time. (Read
about that in the report of my Summer 2004 cross-country
I have never sent out a report on Stargazer Rock, so this will be a
journal of this year plus some history of other years, especially
about how Kenny tips over. More about that later.
But first some explanations and definitions. My
family and I have formed a habit of naming places that have no
apparent names, so you wonít find Stargazer Rock on the map. We
found it on the ground back in 2000, although many people know about
it and camp here. It is not an official campground, but there are a
number of well-established campfire rings, several good spots to
camp, and a dozen or so usable sites that wonít really handle a
trailer. Four-wheel drive enthusiasts know it as Bald Mountain Base
To the west of the main camping area is a large, flat open area,
much of it a level granite rock, which is the actual Stargazer Rock.
It is good to take an air mattress or at least a blanket and lie out
there after dark, watching for meteors, and just enjoying the huge
star field that is visible when you get above the light and dust and
other pollution that makes stargazing fairly futile in big cities.
For those of you familiar with this part of the Sierra, the site is
about five miles off the Dinky Creek Road, down the Rock Creek Road,
then west on a road that goes out to Highway 168 above Shaver Lake.
The camp area is on a large bench with a thick stand of evergreens
on one side, mostly lodge pole pine, red fir, and white fir. Up the
slope across the road the forest
opens up and the ground is more rocky, and there are a lot of
Jeffrey pines, with lots of space between trees. There are some
sugar pines scattered around the area, especially along the road
coming in. Itís very dry and dusty, but I put a tarp in front of
the trailer to catch most of the dirt, and overall itís a
After our first visit here, I determined to spend a week or so here
every summer, and Iíve been successful except for last year.
Family members and friends come up whenever they can, for as long as
they can. The campout of 2002 was our biggest, when we had: My
daughter Teri, her sons Mikie and Johnny, husband Tim, Timís
cousin Kenny and his wife Leslie; my daughter Jennifer and her
husband Rod, his nephew Jim, Teri & Jenniferís half brother
Mike and his fiancťe Emily, and me Ė all here at once.
Other years have seen smaller crowds, and weíve had people here in
shifts, never being able to get everyone here at once. Others in
attendance have been Tim & Teriís friend Russ, and Johnnyís
friend Neil. This year, although most of the people listed above
canít make it, weíll add a couple of new faces, my friend Janell Sidney
and her grandson Mark, age five.
Of course, camping involves lots of activities, and you have to go
somewhere else to do many of them. Stargazer Rock is on a hill, so
thereís no creek running through it, no lake, no swimming hole.
Eating, drinking, talking, sitting around the fire, reading and even
TV watching (mainly on the nights when Iím here alone) are among
the in-camp activities.
Creek is within walking distance, but it has very little
water in it this time of year, so you can do only the most minimal
sort of swimming and fishing. But we have good spots for both of
those, which Iíll talk about later. The big activity that everyone
likes is four-wheel driving, which means going over roads where if
your mother is with you she says, ďSurely youíre not going to
try to drive up THAT!Ē But of course, we are.
A few miles back toward the
Dinkey Creek Road is the Bald Mountain Four Wheel Drive Trail. This is a moderately
difficult route, which eventually brings you to the top of
Bald Mountain, site of an abandoned fire lookout. There is a good view of
Shaver Lake and all the surrounding forest
country, but of course, the main goal is getting there, not being
there. In a few places itís advisable if not essential to place
all four wheels in precisely the right spot. One of these is a sort
of ledge that does not actually look wide enough to drive on, but is
if you hit the right spots. If you donít, for example like Kenny,
you find yourself sitting in a truck that is leaning to the right at
not quite a 45 degree angle, with the left wheels well off the
ground. Donít think of this as a high speed rollover; when
youíre negotiating those tricky spots, speed is around two miles
event like this first requires everyone to get out and have a
beer and discuss the situation. Then the other driver (never 4-wheel
alone!) hooks up a tow strap and pulls Kenny back on the trail, and
youíre off again. Last time (2003) I figured it was safe to ride
with Kenny because surely heíd learned his lesson, but no, once
again Kenny tipped over. Iím sure Kenny has gone on many four
wheel drive trips where he didnít tip over, but two out of three
does raise suspicions.
Then thereís fishing, which can be combined with four-wheel
driving. I donít fish myself. When people say, ďItís a nice
day for fishing,Ē I say, ďIf itís such a nice day, why spoil
it for the fish?Ē But I have no objection to sitting beside a
creek or lake, preferably with a drink, a chair and a book, while
others fish. My son-in-law Tim is an enthusiastic fisherman from way
back, and both grandsons like to fish. So you jump in the
Toyota and leave Stargazer Rock behind for a trip to
This is a beautiful man-made lake at about 8,000 feet, surrounded by
granite domes and tree-covered slopes. The best fishing is on the back
side of the lake, accessible only by boat, foot, or four-wheel drive
vehicle. The fishermen usually have good luck here, and Mikie has
caught some pretty impressive trout.
Another nice activity is swimming. Mikie can ďswimĒ in Rock
Creek, but he can play happily in any body of water larger than a
bucket. The bed of Rock Creek is made up mostly of large granite
slabs, and in late summer the small amount of water that still flows
runs under the rocks, so the creek appears to be dry for dozens of
yards. Then youíll find a trickle running out from under a rock,
feeding into a pool maybe a foot deep and six feet across. Good for
Mikie, but not really enough room for an adult.
The best place to swim is Bear Creek, which to
us means not the whole creek, but a particular spot I ran across
back in the 1970s. The water runs down across a smooth rock bed for
several hundred feet, into a large, deep pool. The shallow run
slightly warms the water, and makes this a good swimming spot for
In case youíd like to find it, just turn at the
Swamp Lake trailhead sign, drive in past
Laurel Creek, and watch for a rough dirt road on the right about a mile before
Hiking is an activity that can start wherever you are. From
Stargazer Rock, the most obvious hiking destination is the creek.
There is also a granite dome about a mile away that I
have hiked to. It requires going down into the creek, then up and
down over several ridges. Weíve also driven down a nearby side
road and hiked around in another area of rock and domes. This is a
good way to get your name on a landmark. You canít have a dome or
hill or mountain named after you unless you go to the top of it.
After a couple of years of urging, we finally got my little grandson
to the top of what is now Mikieís Dome in 2003.
should warn you against one other activity that Mikie used to enjoy.
For a year or two he was fascinated by bugs, and owned special bug
boxes and jars which his Uncle Rod referred to as "Mikie's big
jar of death." One year MIkie and I went into the trees near our
camp and started turning over fallen limbs in a search for bugs.
Well, we found some we didn't really like that much - we disturbed a
nest of yellow jackets (AKA meat bees), who came swarming at us with
malice aforethought. I yelled "RUN MIKIE!", demonstrated
what I meant, and we both escaped with only one sting each.
So anyway, here I am for the 5th annual campout. I
arrived yesterday, August 24, around noon. The weather here was very nice, probably close to 70. Last night
it got down to 39 degrees. Today has been a bit cooler, with more
Today my grandson Johnny came up with two of his friends, Curtis and
Luke, and they went fishing in Rock Creek. The creek has more water
than I have ever seen at this time of year, but is not a raging
torrent by any means. The fish seem to like it, since only one
agreed to leave the water, but the boys enjoyed the hiking and the cool,
I hiked down to the creek earlier in the day before they got here,
and also went on a wood gathering expedition. There are a bunch of
round sections of trees that were cut on the other side of the camp
area, so I brought a few of those back, and managed to split some of
them. Then I went back a little road that loops from the back of the
camp area out to the main road and picked up some smaller wood,
mostly branches from a big red fir that fell several years ago.
I also drove back
down the "main road" about a mile to the place we call the Phone Booth,
because our cell phones usually work there. I was able to get a
signal, but not enough to make calls. Other than these activities, I
napped, read and fixed dinner.
August 26: Itís been a fairly lazy day so far, in other words, a
perfect day of camping. I went for a walk, about ĺ mile this morning,
got the fire ready to light, had lunch, took two naps, went on a
bike ride, and finished my latest book (The Last Juror by
John Grisham). Now Iím just waiting for the next contingent to
arrive, which could be any time now.
28: Well, everyone got here and we got very busy having fun.
Teri and Mikie arrived about 6:30
Friday, with Janell and Mark about a half hour behind. Tim and Teri
have a new two-room tent, which Johnny (their son and my grandson,
now disowned) borrowed and returned without the instructions. We
managed to get it set up with only a couple of false steps. Janell,
Mikie, Mark and I walked over to the open area to check out the
stars, and saw one meteor.
Tim and Russ were supposed to be coming up after work, but we gave
up on them when it got to be 10 p.m.
However, they arrived shortly after I went to bed, although I did
not hear them drive in.
Saturday Tim and Teri fixed bacon and eggs for everyone, then once
we got things cleaned up we headed out for
Bald Mountain. Russ has a 4-wheel drive truck, but only has regular duty tires,
so we took the ďeasyĒ way up to the top. We came back on a
slightly more difficult route, but it was downhill so no one had any
problems and no one tipped over. Janell and Mark greatly enjoyed
their first 4-wheel drive trip, and Janell even took the wheel to
Toyota up one steep rock that everyone goes up just to test their vehicle
and their driving skills.
We just lazed around the rest of the day, having a supper of
sandwiches when we got back (about 4:30 p.m.)
This morning Tim and Russ fixed a fabulous breakfast with cut-up
potatoes, onions and peppers, plus sausage, cheese, and eggs. The
boys and Tim and Russ drove down to the creek to go fishing, so
Janell, Teri and I are enjoying the first quiet moments of the
Mark has never been camping, but he is taking to it like heíd been
living in the woods all his life. He climbs up rocks, digs in the
dirt, and generally has a great time. He and Mikie play together
well most of the time, and if things get tense, I just take them on
a bike ride.
now 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, and everything is quiet; Iím alone on the mountain. Janell
and Mark left about 3:30; Tim, Teri, Mikie and Russ about
4:30. Our neighbor Ken left at 5. Since then there have been no
vehicles, no people, just the quiet of the mountains.
Iíve got a lot of stuff picked up and packed, and Iíll head home
after breakfast tomorrow. Everyone wants to come back for next
yearís campout, so it looks like 2005 was a success.
--Dick Estel, August 2005