Winging it: When you find a good spot, stick
Winging It Rule #1: When you find a near-perfect campground, stick around for a while. (I just made up this rule, but I like it. Kind of like Jethro’s rules in NCIS.)
And what could be more near perfect than Tuttle Creek, near Lone Pine, California, with its panoramic views, great temperatures, beautiful sunsets and access to snow hiking, enchiladas and birria, a film museum, glacial lakes, antiques trolling, stunning mountain drives, a lunar eclipse and Mule Days.
Tom’s itinerary for this 8-week, post-vaccination trip anticipated cruising up the eastern Sierra range, stopping for two or three nights at a time, crossing over into Yosemite, then moving toward the coast.
One problem: The road to Yosemite through the Sierra was still snowed in, until Memorial Day weekend.
So we decided to stay on the east side a little longer.
Tuttle Creek Campground is tucked into the foothills of the Sierra, the mountain range that John Muir said should be called the Range of Light.
“Looking eastward from the summit of Pacheco Pass one shining morning, a landscape was displayed that after all my wanderings still appears as the most beautiful I have ever beheld,” Muir wrote in The Yosemite in 1912. “At my feet lay the Great Central Valley of California, level and flowery, like a lake of pure sunshine, forty or fifty miles wide, five hundred miles long, one rich furred garden of yellow Compositae.
“And from the eastern boundary of this vast golden flower-bed rose the mighty Sierra, miles in height, and so gloriously colored and so radiant, it seemed not clothed with light but wholly composed of it, like the wall of some celestial city…. Then it seemed to me that the Sierra should be called, not the Nevada or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light. And after ten years of wandering and wondering in the heart of it, rejoicing in its glorious floods of light, the white beams of the morning streaming through the passes, the noonday radiance on the crystal rocks, the flush of the alpenglow, and the irised spray of countless waterfalls, it still seems above all others the Range of Light.”
We watched the everchanging light on the Sierra from our campsite, the clouds gathering in the afternoons, the moon rising full.
After a week or so, we thought about moving, camping a little farther north, around Bishop or Mammoth Lakes. But after scouting some of the campgrounds, we decided we liked our Tuttle Creek spot better. So, we stuck there through Memorial Day, driving for day trips to hiking spots and roadside attractions.
We learned through our pandemic camping in Arizona, that staying in one place for a week or two gives us a leisurely, homey feeling, like waving every day to the guy with the white beard in site 49, meeting other campers, knowing where to find fresh water and the dump without searching. And we feel like lucky full-timers, as we watch new people come, set up, spend a night or two then pack up again and leave.
We read My First Summer in the Sierra, Muir’s account of his travels in the mountains with a shepherd and a flock of sheep, who kept running off or getting eaten by bears. But his love of the Sierra is clear.
“Another glorious Sierra day in which one seems to be dissolved and absorbed and sent pulsing onward we know not where,” Muir wrote. “Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars. This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality.”
At Tuttle Creek, we met Wally and Lois, also Roadtrek owners, who live in the San Diego area, but lived for decades near here. They shared their love of eastern California, which gets overshadowed by the coast, and gave us wonderful tips on hikes, eateries, hot springs and campgrounds still awaiting us up the road. “This is the real California,” they told us. I agree, sort of, being a beach girl at heart and looking forward to our times in Carmel and up Highway 1.
The only not-perfect thing about Tuttle Creek is its lack of access to trailheads. Although you’re sitting in the foothills of the Sierra range, there’s no way to get there from here.
So we drive. And the drives to the trailheads are amazing, climbing up, up, up the sides of these incredible mountains, giving you views across Owens Valley and the Inyo Mountains to the west.
We hiked near Kearsarge Pass once, and Cottonwood Lakes trails twice, once just after a storm, when the trail was spotted with snow and actual flakes dropped from the sky onto my nose, and again when the sun was pouring down and the temperatures were near perfect.
We visited the Museum of Western Film History in Lone Pine, which has memorabilia about all the films and television shows shot in the Alabama Hills nearby. More on that in another post.
I spied with my little eyes some antiques stores in Lone Pine and Bishop, and made plans to wander their dusty aisles, a passion I haven’t been able to indulge since before the pandemic.
And we found out that over Memorial Day weekend, Bishop, about an hour’s drive up the road, hosts Mule Days, with competitions and exhibits about that odd horse/donkey combo. Picture me ecstatic, watching mule dressage. Alas, the Mule Days parade, the largest, non-motorized parade in the country, was canceled due to Covid. Next year!
On our scouting trip to Bishop, we found a Mexican market/café, where we ate enchiladas and birria, then headed back to our perfect campsite. We set our alarm for 3 a.m. to catch the Blood Moon eclipse, which was slowly amazing. We could hear other campers in the near darkness, chattering and oohing and ahhing. We snoozed again until around 4, then watched the eclipse become total just before the moon dropped behind the Sierra peaks.
As my head hit the pillow again, I dreamed of mules and antiques and hikes and snowflakes.
“Everything is flowing — going somewhere, animals and so-called lifeless rocks as well as water,” Muir wrote. “Thus the snow flows fast or slow in grand beauty-making glaciers and avalanches; the air in majestic floods carrying minerals, plant leaves, seeds, spores, with streams of music and fragrance; water streams carrying rocks …. While the stars go streaming through space pulsed on and on forever like blood globules in Nature’s warm heart.”