With the Labor Day weekend approaching, it was time to make our way over the mountains towards home. We decided a three-day camping outing was in order. The trick was to find a spot off the beaten track that would be away from the throngs of campers. Here’s where a little local knowledge came in handy. Our son Aaron had a tip that Parker Lake might be the spot. So on Saturday, September 5, we pointed our rig towards Parker Lake. Along the way we observed that campgrounds near Grant Lake and Silver Lake seemed to be packed to capacity, and the trail head parking was full to overflowing.
We found Parker Lake road and left the pavement, switching into four wheel drive. This is not a road I would recommend for anybody with low clearance, although we did see a Subaru Forester. We stopped on a rise where I took a photo of our rig with Mono Lake in the background.
A few miles further on we found a nice camping spot in a grove of aspen and pine trees. As is my habit, I’m always looking for that Truck Camper Magazine calendar photo, without a camp fire in this case, since campfires are not allowed in the current conditions. I substituted a camp lantern for our campfire glow. In the morning we woke up to an orange dystopian sun peering through smoke from a wildfire, the Creek Fire, on the other side of the mountains. As you can see in the photo above, the sun is peeking through the smoke. Despite the smoke we decided to do the short hike to the lake before breaking camp.
From our camp we hiked up the road to the trail head, and then up through sage brush and desert vegetation and down into a lovely wooded valley with pines and aspen.
Once in the valley it’s a short distance to the lake which is situated in a bowl with mountains rising above. The mountains were shrouded in smoke, but nonetheless we stopped to let Carson get his feet wet and to watch ducks that seemed to be looking at us for a handout. Don’t look at me for a handout. I make it a point not to share my food with the local wildlife. After a brief stay, we hiked back to our campsite, popped the top town on the camper and headed over the mountains for clean air.
It seems like I can never get enough of Bodie, the Ghost Town in a far east corner of California. I spent a few hours here at the end of June, and on my recent trip over the mountains I decided another trip was in order.
As on my previous trip, I decided to camp in the Bodie Hills so that I could arrive at the Bodie State Historic Park when they opened at 9 a.m. This time I found the Paramount Campsite available, so I parked the Four Wheel Camper rig, set up camp and let my dog Carson run free. One thing I like about boondocking is the freedom to let my dog off leash.
The campsite had a well established fire ring, so I built a small campfire, more for effect than for warmth. I’m always looking to create photos that have a sense of drama to them and a campfire helps. That said, I was very conscious about the fires burning in California and of the drought conditions. If you are planning on camping, get a campfire permit, check with the appropriate land management office, be mindful of the risks, douse the fire with water and make sure the coals are cool to the touch before leaving.
In the evening I put my drone in the air to capture an image of the camp. As you can see I was in a grove of Aspen trees surrounded by the desert landscape of the Bodie Hills.
Sunset and sunrise did not provide much drama in the sky, although the motivation to watch the sun come up got me up and out of the camper in time to admire the morning light striking the trunks of the Aspen trees.
At 9 a.m. I was at the entrance station, and I joined the handful of people that were touring the site. As I made my way into the town, I noticed a couple with film cameras, Victor and Sarah. Sarah had an antique Graflex camera, something you don’t expect to see in this day with everybody using their phones to take pictures. I was struck by a mental image of Dorothea Lang holding a similar camera. I struck up a conversation with Sarah and Victor; it seemed we were crossing each other’s tracks all morning.
As we turned the calendar to July, it was time to leave our temporary post in Big Pine and head for home. We decided to make the trip a two-day drive with an overnight near Ebbetts Pass on State Route 4. This is one of the lesser-used passes crossing the Sierra. It’s a steep, winding, narrow road with one lane for a good portion of the time. Suitable for our rig, we figured that with throngs of people heading to the mountains for the Fourth of July weekend, it was a likely route on which to still find camping. And since we were driving midweek on a Thursday, we figured we’d have the jump on the campers coming up for the weekend.
Our route crossed two passes: Monitor Pass at 8,314 feet on State Route 89, and Ebbetts Pass at 8,736 feet on State Route 4. Just before cresting Monitor Pass, we stopped to admire the view. I was intrigued with the clouds and grasses on the high plateau.
Once over the passes we had plans to check out Hermit Valley for camping, but when we got there we decided to move on. Not far down the road we saw a sign for Pacific Valley Campground that looked promising. We found plenty of camping available along a lovely mountain stream.
In the morning we decided to explore the trail leading up Pacific Creek. Our dog Carson was happy to be off-leash once we were out of camp, and happy to cavort in the creek’s cool water. We manged to hike about six miles up the creek and back, and returned to camp lamenting the fact that we couldn’t stay longer. We had a commitment for a family Fourth of July get-together.
We broke camp and headed down the mountain passing Mosquito Lakes and Alpine Lake, which were quite busy. There was absolutely no parking available along the road. Every conceivable spot had a car parked with many more cruising looking for parking.
Despite the weekend crush of visitors, we were inspired by our overnight at Pacific Valley. We’ll be returning to explore more of the Stanislaus National Forest.
May 1. Our camper hasn’t moved much since our desert trip in January so, after two months of staying close to home, we decided to go camping in our own driveway. Actually, I did move the camper. I took it to a local car wash to clean off two months of dust and dirt; one of those car washes where you drive into a stall and grab a wand to wash and rinse.
Here we are in the morning with our fresh coffee. As tempting as it was to go into the house to cook, we used the camper to advantage. I dubbed our driveway “Wisteria Canyon,” since that sounds poetic. We did have a festive dinner the evening before. Chicken Cordon Bleu cooked in the Dutch Oven, and a glass of wine. That event was captured on video, but you’ll have to wait until my main computer is up and running before I can edit the video.
January 12, 2020. As I write this we’re nine days into an 11 day road trip, making a circuit through Joshua Tree, Mojave and Death Valley. It seems like the theme for this trip is desert, dogs and Dutch ovens. We like to travel with our dog Carson, and winter camping seems to be conducive to Dutch Oven cooking. After sunset I can put the camera away, start the coals for the Dutch Oven, and build a campfire.
We even used the Dutch Oven to thaw out Carson’s water dish after it had frozen solid one morning; that after we had fired up the oven to reheat some quiche from a previous breakfast. Our journey started on Saturday, January 4, with a drive to Red Rock Canyon State Park. Camp fees seemed a little steep there, but the location is worth it. Dogs need to be on leash, which is the rule for many of the places we visited. There is BLM land nearby where dispersed camping is available for free. We paid $23 for the night at Red Rock and that included a $2 senior discount. In the evening we fired up the Dutch Oven to cook cod with lemon and capers. Joann cooked a risotto dish to go along with it. A gourmet meal.
The next morning we were in no rush to hit the road so we fired up the oven again and cooked a mushroom and brie breakfast strada. Absolutely scrumptious, with enough left over to feed us for another breakfast and more.
From Red Rock we drove to Joshua Tree National Park. When we got to Hidden Valley Campground we were discouraged to see a “Campground Full” sign at the entrance, but we decided to take a look anyway and found one open site. We spent two nights and I took the opportunity to wander around for two mornings and one evening looking for early morning and evening landscape photography opportunities. Hidden Valley has interesting rock outcroppings as well as some nice stands of Joshua trees. As a popular spot for rock climbers, camping spaces are scarce. I’ll post more about the landscape photography in another post. It’s hard enough to condense eight days of travel into one blog post.
While wandering through Joshua Tree we managed to do the short nature walk at Hidden Valley. We alternated walking the trail while the other walked the dog around the parking and picnic areas. We also explored some of the other campgrounds and noted that there was plenty of camping available at Jumbo Rocks and Belle. We also drove down to the Cholla Garden which is an amazingly dense stand of cholla cactus.
On January 7 we drove to the Mojave National Preserve where we decided to camp at Kelso Dunes. This is a primitive campground with no running water or facilities except for a few fire rings. There was one other camper about a quarter mile from us. We took a hike up the sand dunes letting Carson wander off-leash, returning to camp just as the sky was going dark following a blazing sunset. With a near-full moon rising to the east we had light to find our way as darkness approached.
From Mojave we drove to Death Valley where we spent one night camped at the Oasis in Furnace Creek. Our motivation was to find hot showers and do some laundry. We camped at Fiddler’s Camp, an RV camp behind the gas station. $24 with showers and pool access included. We also took advantage of the food facilities and ate dinner and breakfast in the luxury of the Furnace Creek Ranch.
Furnace Creek is a good spot to spend a night or two if you want to see some of the more popular attractions of the park. We were intent on seeing some of the less popular locations. In the morning we drove the short distance to Twenty Mule Team Canyon which the park literature suggested was a good spot to walk a dog. We drove in the canyon a short distance, parked the truck and took a two mile walk with Carson on-leash. Dogs are not permitted on the trails in the park, but they are permitted on roads; this is a lightly used dirt road, perfect for walking the dog.
After walking the dog we topped off the fuel tank, anticipating a good 200 miles or so of driving before we could expect another gas station. From Furnace Creek we drove to Mesquite Springs Campground where we spent a very windy night. We were happy to be in the camper rather than a tent. With the propane heater going we were cozy even with a chilly wind blowing outside.
The next morning we drove to the Racetrack Playa with a stop for lunch at Teakettle Junction. The Racetrack is a perfectly flat playa. Near the southern end of the playa there are some truly bizarre trails left by rocks. When conditions are right a thin film of water freezes and thaws in such a way that fierce winds move the rocks leaving trails. Some of these trails go for hundreds of feet. It’s a truly mind bending experience to imagine how these rocks can move. We arrived at about 3 in the afternoon and found good lighting, using the glint of the sun on the playa to photograph the rock trails.
Getting to the Racetrack Playa is a bit of a chore. It’s a dirt road marked as a 4×4 road, and a two hour drive to cover the 27 mile distance over washboard and gravel.
From the playa we drove the short distance to Homestake campground, another primitive campground with no facilities. We had the campground to ourselves. Here we fired up the Dutch Oven to cook Eggplant Parmesan and we ate dinner by the campfire while we watched the full moon rise over the mountains to the east. With nobody else in sight we let Carson have free run of the campground.
We’re home and and with an internet connection I can share some of the adventures from our recent desert trip.
January 27 marked day two of our trip. 9:25 AM I opened the lid on the Ditch Oven to serve up breakfast; Mushroom and Brie Breakfast Strada, a recipe out of Robin Donovan’s The Camp Dutch Oven Cookbook. We were ready to eat. Breakfast had been in the works since 8 am when I started the coals and the aroma coming from the oven was mouth watering.
I’ve become a fan of Dutch Oven cooking and the cookbook was a Christmas gift from my son and daughter-in-law. The Dutch oven seems appropriate for winter trips, hot food on chilly mornings and evenings. And with short days, the oven can cook after dark, after I’m done messing about photographing the sunset.
After breakfast it was off to Anza Borrego, but not before we made a stop at Home Depot in Landcaster for a quick repair on the camper. It was dark when we arrived at Red Rock Canyon. While positioning our rig in we backed up into a Joshua Tree and knocked out the window in the rear door of the camper. Even with the backup camera located on the bumper we couldn’t see the tree limb that was threatening our rig. A lesson to pay close attention and perhaps have a spotter watch what’s happening when setting up camp in the dark.
We’re off to Anza Borrego Desert State Park, then on to Organ Pipe National Monument in Arizona, with our return trip taking us through the Mojave Desert. We have our dog Carson with us, so it will be interesting to see how we manage since many national parks and state parks for that matter do not permit dogs on trails. Here’ at Red Rock Canyon me managed with Carson on the leash.
We’re on our return trip from two weeks in the desert. Our adventures have taken us through Red Rock Canyon State Park, Anza Borrego Desert State Park, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and the Mojave Desert Preserve. Organ Pipe represents the Sonoran Desert with the iconic Saguaro Cactus, while Joshua Tree stands as the icon of the Mojave Desert. In Organ Pipe I was hiking in shorts and T-shirt, while in Mojave we woke to snow and 22 degree temperatures with howling winds.
We have WiFi access at the moment, so I thought I’d put up a short post to give you a preview of what to expect as I cue up the posts for the various segments of our trip. We’ve been traveling in our Four Wheel Pop-up Camper which has proven to be a comfortable way to travel. Stay tuned as I cue up more photos and stories about our trip.
With family already gathering is Big Pine in the Eastern Sierra for Christmas my plan was to join them and to take a few days to make my way over the mountains. My plan was to get away mid-morning on December 19 but buy the time I tied up all the loose ends, it was close to 2 PM.
My goal for the night was Grover Hot Springs State Park, 195 miles and a 3 1/2 hour drive from my house in Albany. Grover Hot Springs is one of the few places along the route that is open for winter camping. The Hot Springs are a popular spot year round. As I was approaching Lake Tahoe dusk was closing in and I was thinking it would be more fun to drive the mountains in the daylight. Seeing a sign for the Echo Lake Sno Park I decided this would be my stop for the night. Sno Parks provide a convenient place for overnight camping for RVs and such. I had anticipated the possibility of staying in a Sno Park and had purchased a Sno Park permit on-line.
In the evening while contemplating the next days drive I had the thought that it might be interesting to get up early and look for a photo vantage point to catch the early morning light on Lake Tahoe. I had in mind a view that would overlook Emerald Bay.
Not being all that familiar with Highway 89 along the western edge of Lake Tahoe, I wasn’t sure what I would find, but as luck would have it the vantage point that I was imagining materialized just south of the Eagle Falls trail head. I found a turn-out with a short walk to an overlook. I was too late for sunrise, but I did find some lovely light on the lake, and my dog Carson was happy to romp in the snow while I set up my camera and tripod to capture the scene. After the photo stop it was time to find coffee. It seems the fresh coffee I bought for the trip never made it on board the truck. So it was back to South Lake Tahoe to fill my coffee mug before heading down the east side of the mountain.
On Saturday November 24, with Thanksgiving behind us, we decided to hit the road for a three day trip to Mendocino. We grabbed a few items of food, a change of clothes, hopped in the truck and headed north, taking Highway 101 to Cloverdale where we turned west onto Highway 128. We logged 126 miles from our house to Mill Creek Retreat, where we had reserved a camp site ahead of time. The drive took us four hours, since we’re inclined to take our time and enjoy the drive.
As we headed west on Highway 128 we were surprised at the color along the route. Oaks and willows were putting on a show of yellow. We stopped to take a few photos. We just drove past many wineries and tasting rooms along the way. Being preoccupied with the color and beauty in the valley we didn’t stop for wine tasting. We did stop at the market in Boonville to pick up a bottle of wine from one of the local wineries, a bottle of Husch Pinot Noir which proved to be quite nice. There are dozens of wineries along this drive, so you could easily spend a day or more just visiting wineries.
We arrived at our intended camping destination at 3:30, set up camp and let our dog Carson loose to roam free. One of our criteria for selecting Mill Creek Retreat was the fact that it’s a dog friendly and dogs can be off leash. We found this location through Hipcamp.com, a website that lists camping locations on private property that may not be listed on other camping directories.
The next morning, before heading off to explore the town of Mendocino we walked down to the creek. I was curious to see what photo opportunities I might discover. I can usually find something close at hand.
Sure enough there was some color along the creek, and with the soft-misty light of the clearing fog, I captured a few pictures. I had to improvise a camera support, since my tripod got left behind. I jury rigged three trekking poles with with a little Ultra-pod. This seemed to be sufficient for my Sony RX 100.
At the end of the day we found ourselves at Van Damme Beach where we watched the sun sink into the ocean before heading back to camp.
On Thursday, September 13 I was able to break away from work for an extended weekend in the Eastern Sierra. Evening found us setting up camp at Tioga Lake, just east of Tioga Pass and just outside Yosemite National Park. I had this destination in mind as photo opportunity to show off our camping rig at dusk. Sure enough the campground was only sparsely populated and we found a site on the edge of the lake. We’ve avoided this location on previous tent camping trips since it tends to be quite windy and chilly here. With the pop-up camper though the wind isn’t much of an issue. The lake sits at 9700 feet and the wind can howl through Tioga Pass. The campground is located in the Inyo National Forest and managed by Inyo Recreation. The camping fee is $22 but with our Park Pass the fee we paid $11. Dogs are permitted on leash, although once we were out of the campground our dog Carson was happy to be off leash. Water is available through a hand-cranked pump, although we were equipped with plenty of water on-board our rig.
The temperature dropped to 38 degrees in the night, and we had the heater going part of the night, since we had our summer sleeping bags. Fall is on the way though, with the willows turning yellow, the temperatures are dropping.
I had a second objective in mind, and that was to try and capture a photo of the Milky Way over the lake. With the elevation, the clear air, and lack of light pollution, I though this might provide an opportunity for some astro-photography.
Shortly after the crescent moon set, I set up my Nikon D800 with a 14-24mm lens and captured a few images. This turns out to be a more daunting task than I had imagined. Trying to compose and focus through what seems to be a pure black viewer is a challenge. In the morning we did a short hike around the lake, covering about two miles. Tioga Lake is a spectacular location in the High Sierra, with easy access since it’s right on Highway 120, which runs through Yosemite National Park.
After our hike it was time to head down the East Side towards Big Pine, with a stop at the Mobile Station in Lee Vining for a lunch with their famous fish tacos.