Early Stargazer Rock Campouts

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I started doing regular reports on our more or less annual visits to Stargazer Rock with the 2005 adventure. I had some notes in my journal about earlier trips, including the very first one, and I've been wanting to put them into a standard format for some time. Finally, this is it. The style is not quite the same as my "official" reports, since it was written as it happened for a personal journal.

First Visit - 2000          First Long Campout - 2000          Extended Family Camp - 2002          Solo Camp - 2002

First Visit - 2000

I did not take my trailer on this trip, which included my daughter Teri, her husband Tim, and younger grandson Mikie. They slept in a tent, and I slept in the back of my 1990 F150, which had camper shell.

From the Journal, July 17, 2000 : We had a great time camping. We were at a very nice spot at around 7,000 feet on a road that leaves Highway 168 above Shaver Lake and joins the Rock Creek Road, which comes from the Dinkey Creek Road. Tim and Teri had recently bought a used 4-wheel drive vehicle, so we went to Bald Mountain (my first trip). At the top there is an old fire lookout, no longer in use. We also drove up to a spot on Bear Creek off the McKinley Grove Road that I first visited about 25 years ago. We camped there quite a bit back in the day, but I probably have not been there for 15 years or more. There were people camped there, but we went down by the creek. Tim fished, Teri and I read, and Mikie slept the whole time.

A Note About Road Names: The Rock Creek Road goes about six miles north from Dinkey Creek Road, to a T intersection. Back in the beginning I thought that was the end of Rock Creek, but actually the section that goes to the left (west) out to Highway 168 is still part of the Rock Creek Road. The road to the east goes to the Dinkey Lakes Trailhead

More Photos

Mikie at the old fire lookout on Bald Mountain Tim, Teri & Mikie on Bald Mountain
Time for a long nap Marshmallow roasting time

First Long Campout - 2000

Less than a month later I returned to the area with my trailer, this time driving my brand new 2001 red F-150, which I still use for truck camping.

August 14, 2000: My week long camping trip starts tomorrow. I have most everything ready, but have to run a couple of errands today and finish packing. There is a fire near Auberry which has closed Highway 168 between Prather and Cressman’s. If it’s not open I will have to go up old Tollhouse Road. That is a very winding road, so I hope the four-lane will be open by tomorrow.

August 24, 2000 : I had a great time camping.  I had to go up Auberry Road, since they were still dropping retardant near the four-lane section on Highway168. This is a better route than Tollhouse, and quite scenic in places.

We were at the spot that we eventually named Stargazer Rock, one mile west of where the Rock Creek Road from Dinkey Creek Road turns sharply west and goes out to Highway 168 (a turn to the east takes you to the Dinkey Lakes trailhead). I went up on Tuesday and came back Monday, so had a full week. Teri and my grandsons Johnny and Mikie came on Wednesday. Johnny's friend Dustin arrived on Friday morning, and another friend, Moses plus Tim and his cousin Kenny later on Friday.

Thursday was Johnny's sixteenth birthday, which he celebrated by splitting a big pile of firewood. Then Teri, Johnny, Mikie and I went to Kaiser Pass, and up to White Bark Vista, the start of the Dusy/Ersham trail which comes out at Courtright. Next we drove up to Florence Lake, which is 20 miles above Huntington, but on a narrow paved road that is one way a lot of the way, winding and slow all the way. It takes about an hour or more to go the 20 miles. Johnny drove all the way.

Master woodsman at work His 16th birthday portrait
He tried to make a solo ride down to the creek Mikie, Teri, Dick and Johnny at White Bark Vista above Kaiser Pass

We had some great four-wheel drive trips, up to the top of Bald Mountain, then back a road by our camp that eventually joined the Bald Mountain road. Kenny had his 4WD Mazda. We went up and down some really hairy spots, but the photos I have don’t really do it justice. Kenny slid off the “trail” at one spot, but Tim was able to tow him back a little and he got back on the road with no problem, and a tiny dent in the right front wheel.

Mikie and Cousin Kenny Moses, Dustin, Tim, Johnny and Teri on Bald Mountain
Not going anywhere, just testing the capability of the vehicle A thrill ride for Johnny, Moses and Dustin

With a good size group, and a great time had by all, we agreed that this should become an annual event.

More Photos


Extended Family Camp - 2002

August 23, 2002 : Last week (8/12 through 19) was the 3rd Annual Stargazer Rock Campout. I left on Monday, August 12, with Teri and Mikie planning to come up on Wednesday. Odometer read 26,006, temperature 89 degrees, time 10:20. I arrived at 11:45, 62.3 miles later, with temperature at 82 degrees. Checked mileage to give directions to others – 9 miles from Shaver Lake to the Rock Creek Road (it’s not marked Rock Creek; instead it has a sign just before you can see the road reading "Bald Mountain Brewer Swamp"). Then there’s another sign very close to the road. Mileage from the Dinkey Creek road across the Rock Creek road to the T junction is 6 miles. Then it’s one mile left (west) to the campsite, on the left. (NOTE: This is from 2002, and I believe the signs have been changed.)

A few temperatures: 82 to 84 high most days; 50 to 52 low most days. The last night (Sunday) it was 42. Temperatures in Fresno were well above 100, so we escaped the worst of it.

I set my alarm to get up at 3:30 Tuesday morning to look at meteors. Drove over to the rock (the "official" stargazing spot) since I had my chair, water, flashlight, and other stuff I didn’t want to carry. I laid down on the rock and saw 15 meteors in 45 minutes. Several had fairly good trails. One had a trail that glowed for a full five seconds. One did not really seem to move, but seemed to glow then slowly fade out. (I also saw two meteors that night when I got up to go to the bathroom during the night). None of us saw any more, although we stargazed each night.

Teri and Mikie arrived early, about noon on Tuesday. We didn’t do a lot that day; walked around the camp area, drove down the road for a load of wood, and read. On Wednesday we made a trip to Wishon Domes, a spot I have not been to for about 15 years. From the road between Dinkey Creek and Wishon, a rough paved road goes south to Sawmill Flat Campground, and on to Black Rock Reservoir.

Just past Sawmill Flat a road goes to the left (more or less north). But first we kept on going on the Black Rock Road about a half mile, where there is a vista point looking down into Granite Gorge and Hell Hole, on the Kings River North Fork below Wishon Dam. There is a nice waterfall and a large pool down there. I have backpacked into there, but there is no trail; I just found my way down and up the rather steep canyon side.

Then we went back and took the Wishon Domes road. I gave the area this name because a lot of the country is open, rounded granite – not a classic dome like North Dome in Yosemite, but more like domes in progress. But before you get there, there is a road to the right (more or less south), that winds down to a spot where they dumped rock from a hydroelectric project tunnel. There is a cleanout tunnel (adit) that is fenced off. Walking up to it, we were talking, and I thought I heard voices coming from the tunnel. As we got to the fence, we realized it was an echo, and we then made all the necessary types of noises that must be made when you find a good echo spot. Mikie especially enjoyed making loud dinosaur roars.

After exploring this area, we continued on to Wishon Domes. The road is decidedly 4-wheel drive only, although I went over it with my Buick Opel and Datsun pickup years ago. A few hundred yards of the road is just a rock pile, and it drops down six or eight inches into the creek crossing. Long Meadow Creek comes zig-zagging down the rocks, then forms a pool next to the road about 20 feet across and as deep as Mikie’s chest. He and Teri played in the water, while I sat in my lawn chair in the road and read (not much traffic there).

Before swimming, we walked out on the domes, which will take you to the brink of Granite Gorge if you follow the right path. Since it had been so long since I was there, I got a little north and higher up than I intended, but it was still a nice walk, and at one place Mikie and I walked out where the rock curves down into the gorge. We could not see the river, as you can if you go to the extreme end of the point.

Back from a successful wood-gathering trip Swimming in Long Meadow Creek at Wishon Domes

We continued on the 4-wheel drive road to where it comes out on the Wishon road, probably within a mile of the reservoir, and three or four miles past the Courtright turn-off.

On our return drive we saw many lizards crossing the road and scurrying into the brush. Mikie insisted that he could catch one if we would just stop when we saw one.

On Thursday we mostly stayed around camp; went to Cow Creek for a while, about 2 miles east of camp, and gathered wood.

Friday we went to Bear Creek, off the Wishon Road (properly called the McKinley Grove Road), to swim. I got in the creek, the first time I have done that in probably 15 years. We stayed there an hour or so, then headed back. Tim and Jim Neely arrived around 8:30 or so, followed almost immediately by his cousin Kenny and wife Leslie with their 1955 “white trash” teardrop trailer (actually not theirs, but stored on their property). We all had a good time teasing them.

Kenny & Leslie relaxing at Shaner-ville Rock Creek runs about a quarter mile below
the camp, providing fun for everyone

Saturday morning everyone but Jim and I took off to go fishing at Courtright. Rod and Jennifer, Johnny, and Mike (Taggart) and Emily Windle (now Mike's wife) all arrived within an hour. Rod and I were going to hike to a nearby dome, but while I was in the trailer he took off by himself, so I went 4-wheel driving with Johnny. He had a good time going up a bad road where Tim got a flat tire the first time he brought the 4-Runner to the area. We went over some bad spots, but made it OK. Also found a way to get across the creek, but could not get into the area I was interested in (below Big Rock Eats Little Rock).

By the time we got back, the fishermen had returned with no fish. We did a little more driving, and several people went with Johnny on short trips. We had a tri-tip dinner with corn, and a big campfire gathering. Rod and Jennifer sang and played the guitar and I tried to sing and play the guitar.

Next morning all but Rod and Jennifer set out for Bald Mountain. Rod and Jennifer went to the dome which has now been named Neely Dome, then left. When you walk west from camp down into Rock Creek, you cross and go up an open rocky area. This leads up to a dome and ridge of rocks where there is a big rock that looks like it is trying to eat a smaller one, as well as a wonderful monster tree, a gnarly lodge pole pine that we call the chupacabra tree. This is the area I have named Big Rock Eats Little Rock. Once you go up over the Big Rock ridge, you start the climb to the highest dome visible from camp (Neely Dome).

Johnny puts his "new used" Jeep through its paces We named this "Big Rock Eats Little Rock"

Our trip to Bald Mountain went as usual, with some difficult moments for Johnny and his jeep, whose tires are not quite what he wants for four-wheeling. We made it through several difficult spots, with guidance from Kenny, and enjoyed a nice view at the top. For the first time, Mikie (age 5) went up and came down the fire lookout steps without anyone holding his hand.

"I can go up and down all by myself!" Back: Dick Estel, Emily Windle, Mike Taggart, Tim and
Mikie Liddle, Johnny Upshaw, Teri Liddle;
Front (on rock) Leslie & Kenny Shaner, Jim Neely

There was to be a birthday party in Fresno that night for Johnny (his 18th on the 18th), but by the time we got back to camp, it was only two hours before party time. Johnny packed and left taking Jim, and it was decided he would call every one and postpone the party to the next day. By the time Tim and Teri were ready to go, it was less than an hour before party time, so it proved to be a wise move.

I stayed that night, getting everything loaded from outside except my mat. The next day I did my normal morning exercise and walk, then ate breakfast, hitched up, and headed for home.

More Photos

Solo Camp - 2002

September 7, 2002 : I went camping at Stargazer Rock Thursday, September 5, through today. I left Fresno under partly cloudy skies, with a predicted high of 85 and possible showers. The weather the next day was supposed to be rain-free. Ha! I had drops on the windshield a few times after I went past Shaver Lake, and enough to turn on the wipers for a couple of swipes on the last mile.

I arrived about noon and got set up. About 3 p.m. I walked down the jeep road to the creek. It was sprinkling all the time on my way down, but stopped about the time I started back. It was never hard enough to get me wet.

A quiet pool on Rock Creek Nature's excellent landscape design

At 4:30 there was bright sun through the clouds, but a strong breeze came up and it felt cool. At 4:45 the temperature was 60 degrees with the sun down in a dark cloud, then went back up to 63 when the sun broke through at 5:10. Until late in the day, there were always 10 to 12 yellow jackets around, very pesky.  

I started a small fire about 5:15. At this point I had seen only one vehicle on the Rock Creek Road, and one passing the camp (SUV pulling a horse trailer). During my total time there, the count was about a dozen vehicles going past the camp.

The sun was going out of sight behind the domes to the west at 7 p.m., temperature 56 degrees, with just the normal evening downhill air flow. It was mostly cloudy, but bright.

After sunset there were some blue and pink clouds, fading through all the normal colors, gold through subdued rose. Vega, Deneeb and Altair were bright overhead; Venus was bright but fading in the clouds and Arcturus was dim or hidden.

Temperatures through the evening: 50 at 7:55; 46 at 9:50.

I turned on the generator at 7:45 to charge the trailer batteries and heat pizza, and went inside for the night at 8 p.m.

Stargazer sunset Chinquapin in bloom

Friday, September 6, there was a short sprinkle at 5 a.m.; then it rained hard at 6:30 for about 5 minutes; then misty rain steady at 8 a.m., blowing under the awning from the front. It looked like a bad day for my planned drive and hike up the northern Bald Mountain road (9S02). I walked the official Stargazer Rock exercise mile, from camp to near the junction with the road in from Dinkey Creek Road. After that I drank bloody Mary’s, read and gathered wood. There were several brief showers through the day. I made hash browns and bacon for brunch about 1 p.m. There was some sun, but the temperature was only 58.

A ranger stopped by to say hi and ask if I had a fire permit, but did not ask to see it (I have one).

I went for a walk about 2 p.m. It started raining, not hard, but I headed back. There was no rain after that, but it was windy and very cool. I started a fire at 3:30 and sat around reading. It was not very pleasant with the wind. I heard coyotes howling a couple of times, a rare sound in the daytime. They probably didn’t like the weather either.

Temperature at 7 p.m. was 47 degrees, sky about 60% clear. I started the generator and went in. Low temperature at 2:30 a.m. (9/7) was about 37, with a mostly clear sky, bright stars, and my fire nearly cold; not enough warmth to burn paper.

Saturday it was mostly sunny so I went on my planned drive and hike. I went west on the road that goes past camp to the Bald Mountain trail entrance. I was able to drive in about three miles on Road 9S02 before it turned into a real 4WD road. I walked around and climbed up on some rocks, and called Teri on the cell phone.

Dome east of Road 9S02 Rocky cliffs west of the road

After I returned to camp, I saw four or five cows walking down the road. I’ve seen old dried up manure, but never any cows in that area. Then right behind them I saw a jeep, apparently herding them down the road. These modern conveniences!

I got everything picked up, hitched up, and headed home around 2 p.m.

--Dick Estel, August 2020



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

Chefs Tim and Kenny Stargazer Camp It takes a driver and a co-pilot
to negotiate these trails
A job well done Dustin, Johnny and Moses on the old fire lookout Mikie with Grandpa Dick by the trailer
It's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it Falls in Hell Hole on the Kings River's North Fork Tim and Kenny at the Bald
Mountain Fire Lookout
Dinkey drainage below Rock Creek Road Rocks and brush in burned area
Rock Creek Road
Stunted Jeffrey Pine growing in rock
Related Links
Bald Mountain Trail Bald Mountain Fire Lookout Road to Florence Lake
Dusy/Ersham Trail Courtright Reservoir  Dinkey Lakes Wilderness
 Florence Lake   





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Updated September 3, 2022