Saturday, May 28
The Alabama Hills is a superb boondocking location. Private, large spots set in a sprawling wonderland of sculpted boulders, majestic mountain vistas to the west and east, a nearby town for supplies and several points of interest worth visiting, and nearly endless hiking and exploring opportunities.
In the mornings, I put on my sneakers, pick a direction, and start walking. I’ve yet to be disappointed.
Today I walk to Mobius Arch, a mere mile from camp. This is the best known arch in the area, but there are countless other little windows and arches in the Hills, many of which can only be found by going off-trail.
There is a parking lot at the trailhead for Mobius Arch, and it’s only a half-mile from this lot round trip so a person does not to be an accomplished hiker to see this pretty feature.
It’s recommended to come in the morning to photograph it, that way the light is shining on the Sierra Nevada range and if you stand in the right spot, you can catch Mt. Whitney through the opening. It’s quite a sight! I was not sure which of the peaks was Mt. Whitney at first so caught a few from different angles, and later discovered which was the correct one. I’ve heard if one arrives at sunrise that’s best, but not being a sunrise kind of gal I take these photos around 10 am ant they look fine to me.
The weather in Owens Valley is quite fickle, and apparently challenging to predict. Yesterday, there was a 50% chance for rain, and hardly a cloud in the sky all day. Today that chance is 20% and towering masses threaten rain all day, and finally deliver around sunset. Two days ago, there was a high chance of rain the whole weekend, now tomorrow is 0%.
I must conclude that the only thing to do while here is stick your head out of your RV and get a 360 degree view on occasion, as weather also seems capable of coming from any direction.
Monday, May 30
Besides free dispersed camping here along Movie Road, there are also three pay campgrounds along Witney Portal Road, heading west from Lone Pine, CA. Today I’ve a mind to see what they’re like.
The first is just a mile or so west of the turnoff for Movie Road is the turnoff for Tuttle Creek Campground, managed by the BLM.
Lacking the red rocks of the Alabama Hills, sites here are very open, and have an unimpeded view of the Sierra. This campground also has a usable Verizon signal, and at $5 a night (no hookups; pit toilets, dumpsters, water spigots and dump station present) is very reasonably priced.
It’s likely that when I need to dump in the near future, I’ll bring Cas out here to do it and then stay a few nights with the luxury of internet right from my campsite.
The road in is packed sand as are the sites, and there are numerous sites big enough for big rigs. Tuttle Creek runs between the long camping loops and isn’t of any great size,but the shrubs and short trees growing along the banks do break up the monotony of desert sage.
Whitney Portal Road continues its gradual climb. Far ahead, switchbacks climb up into the mountains and I wonder if that’s the trail that leads to Mt. Whitney itself.
Beyond Tuttle Creek is Lone Pine Campground, located in Inyo National Forest. While still among the sage, bears do occasionally venture this far down and all the sites here have bear boxes. The campground itself is not visible from the road though, because it’s down in a small canyon following… yes, Lone Pine Creek.
It’s greener down in the canyon, some of the sites have partial shade and the temperature is a bit cooler with the higher elevation. There are 40 sites here, some are tent only and some would fit up to a medium sized RV.
Pads are paved, but the pavement is crumbling and in places gone entirely. Amenities are the same as at Tuttle Creek.
It’s $20 a night here though, ouch. I wonder at the price, until I find a short path down to the creek from one of the tent sites and am wowed by pools of crystal clear water interspersed by narrow rapids between gray granite rocks, all sheltered by the boughs of trees growing along the shore. It’s very peaceful.
Still farther ahead, Whitney Portal Road reaches a line of scrubby juniper and pinyon pine trees and continues to climb. It takes me a bit to realize that I’m now ascending the switchbacks that I’d seen far below. It’s a long way down…
After the switchbacks, the road turns into a canyon between the peaks, which now seem close enough to touch. Drifts of snow remain at the highest elevations. I hadn’t realized the road climbed this high and am thrilled to finally be in the mountains.
Mt. Whitney Family Campground is set among towering Jeffrey pine, the narrowing, curving track linking the sites is unsuitable for RVs save truck campers or vans.
It’s $22 a night to camp here, and I imagine most of the campers who make use of it are those going to hike to the top of Mt. Whitney, staying here would let them get an early morning start.
Incongruously, there are also cabins among the tent sites, numbered and most with plaques hanging of the family staying there. I’m not sure if they’re seasonal rentals or owned, but it sure is a beautiful setting for them.
Beyond this third and final campground is the staging area for the Mt. Whitney trail, at 8,360 feet elevation. 11 miles one-way with an elevation gain of over 6,000 feet, Mt. Whitney is considered an easy summit, relatively speaking of course. No technical climbing gear is needed once the winters snows melt, but a person does have to be fit I’d imagine. There are backpacking campgrounds along the route, but some hardy souls make a day trip out of it.
Watching small groups of hikers prepare for the journey, I mentally add “ascend Mt. Whitney” to my dream list. I can only imagine what the view from up there at the highest point in the lower 48 states is like, but I bet that plus the feeling of accomplishment would make the journey worth it.
One cannot just show up and climb to the top however. A backcountry permit is required and during the peak season (May 1 to November 1) there are restrictions on the number of groups allowed to go up, with lotteries held in advance. These permits are obtained from the visitor center just south of Lone Pine along 395.
On the way back down, I stop at a pullover and catch a panorama of Owens Valley below, Whitney Portal Road snaking away into town. A very fine place to camp, indeed!
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