Friday, October 31, 2014

Boondocking at Tuttle Creek

We’ve been having so much fun in our new life that it’s hard to sit down and find time to write about it. A new post is long overdue and we’ll try to catch up over the next few weeks. In the meantime, we will continue where we left off at Lone Pine in California…

Steven here. It won't come as any surprise to people who know me that I love photography. Most recently, I’ve reconnected with the work of the great master, Ansel Adams. Being surrounded by the Sierras was a rare treat for Linda and me but especially when I was sitting on my chair outside our motorhome looking at a photo by Mr. Adams and then looking up to see the real thing in front of me! Talk about mind-blowing.

Laurie and Odel, Scoopy's previous owners, had written about their experience boondocking in the Alabama Hills outside Lone Pine, and we were intrigued. So we extended our stay by one day to do some off-the-grid camping after spending four nights at the lovely Boulder Creek Campground.

All we had to do was drive around and find a suitable place to park. So off we went, heading up Whitney Portal Road, checking out spot after spot that grabbed our attention. We checked out spots off Movie Road, but most we could easily get to were already occupied. On our way up to the top, we noticed a few suitable places for boondocking. One place, in particular, overlooked Owen Valley on one side with huge mountain views on the other. It was exhilarating and scary for us to consider camping in such a remote place. Before we committed, we decided to check out the lower altitude and more human-friendly Tuttle Creek Campground. With more breathtaking views, we quickly decided that this was a more preferable virgin boondocking venue. After driving around, the obvious campsite of choice was number 63 because of its easy big rig access and bathroom-free view of Lone Pine Peak.

Who can resist this view??

So it was settled and, on the morning of our fifth day in Lone Pine, we headed up the road. I had gotten up at the crack of dawn to scout the campsite and make sure number 63 was available. It was, so I decided to fill out the reservation envelope while I was there to ensure no one else would snag it. Well, that was the intention, anyway. All that was left of the pen at the sign-in booth was a plastic stump dangling from a chain. In fact, there were a few things that needed attention from the camp host, in addition to the pencil. The payment box was stuffed to the gills with little envelopes, it looked like it hadn't been emptied for weeks. Outdated reservation stubs were clipped to the posts of all campsites so we had to physically get out and read them to make sure they were free. This is a minor gripe, though, because our stay was miraculous and magical.

When we were ready to leave Boulder Creek Campground, we decided not to hook up our car. Tuttle Creek is only a few miles away. We agreed that I would go in the car and secure our reservation and Linda would follow behind in Scoopy.

Tuttle Creek is a bit of a challenge to get into. The "road" up to the campground itself is long, narrow, winding and bumpy. There are several angled speed bumps the size of a redwood trunk so Linda had to take it really slow. On top of that, she was hoping no other vehicles were coming in the opposite direction. There simply wasn't room. As usual, she handled the challenge admirably and soon we had our chairs outside, while enjoying the sun and scenery.

Linda fearlessly drove Scoopy on the narrow, bumpy and winding road to our campsite.

Every now and again, I prompt Linda to remember the moment we are experiencing. I only say that when that moment is really special and, surprisingly, there have been many since we began this lifestyle. Sitting next to my best friend and then looking up at these beautiful and awe-inspiring mountains made me realize how incredibly lucky I am. Even if we were going back to our old lives after this, I would have enough wonderful memories to sustain me through two lifetimes.

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Hey honey, this is one of those moments…               One of the great views out our window.

It was nice to have nothing to do that day. We pledged to each other that we would stay outside until the sun sank behind Lone Pine Peak. It was a treat for me, sitting there watching the play of light on all the crags of the mountains. The comings and goings of various clouds over the peaks fascinated me. They were at once abundant and gone as swiftly as they had arrived. I almost wore out the shutter of my camera. I also had a chance to do a little flying with my Phantom quadcopter. The aerial views made us giddy and also illustrated just how isolated and alone we were out there.

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Piloting my Phantom “Buzzy” gave us a great view of the Sierras and Scoopy’s place at our site.

We were planning to use our grill for dinner but decided to use up all the cheese, pate and crackers we had left over from our recent trip to Napa. It was quite the sight; fancy cheese, duck pate and wine. The perfect spread for the perfect place.

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Our gourmet meal and site number 63 at sunset. This is roughing it, people!

The evening was warm in the sunlight but quite cool in the shade. We managed a decent walk around the large and sprawling campground and then dragged out our blankets and prepared for some star watching. Rarely have I seen the Milky Way so vividly. The Big Dipper stood squarely above our car and millions of constellations loomed above Scoopy. I managed some long exposure photographs of the night sky but I must confess, as beautiful as some of them turned out, they could not begin to match the scale and scope of the sky itself.

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The camera didn’t pick up the Big Dipper behind Toadie but you can certainly see the Milky Way above Scoopy!

We didn't miss our TV and we didn't really miss anything else. Our water pump was performing sporadically but we didn't care. How could we not love our lives? Were we in Heaven? We got into bed, opened the blinds to reveal the stars and slept soundly that night.

I have to say that this, our first real experience boondocking, was not exactly challenging. Because it was only for one night and our dinner was basically a cold plate, we didn’t really need to use our systems. Our fridge performed flawlessly using our batteries. Still, there is something very cool about being able to stop in the middle of a place like this and have everything we need for short-term camping. In the new year, we plan on spending a lot more time exploring this aspect of fulltiming.

Personally, there was only one thing left for me to do before I left Lone Pine. One of my favorite Ansel Adams' photographs was made pretty close to where we were staying but I hadn't been able to pinpoint its exact location. There was a hill in the picture and I couldn't figure out where it was. The previous evening I drove through town and suddenly recognized the hill in the picture right there in front of me! From there I was able to figure out that the place where Ansel Adams had dug in his tripod legs was just outside of town on Highway 395. The photo in question was taken at sunrise so I headed out at dawn on that last day to pay homage to the master.

I found the place with relative ease although some things had changed since 1944. I couldn't see the aspen trees that were in the original and another tree prevented me from being at the precise coordinates. However, I snapped my own version of it and felt touched by the man himself just for a fleeting moment - one final thrill before we moved on to out next fabulous experience. You can see Ansel’s original here.

My take on Ansel Adams’ “Winter Sunrise”

We have both decided to return to this wonderful place, probably when the snow has fallen. But for now, it was time to move on towards the Pacific Ocean once again, to visit with our youngest daughter Tara.


  1. Nice recap of your stay at Tuttle creek!! of the many places we have added to our 'must see's'

  2. Nice write-up Steven. You capture the awesomeness of this lifestyle perfectly!

  3. "Even if we were going back to our old lives after this, I would have enough wonderful memories to sustain me through two lifetimes." Well said! We feel the same. :-)

  4. I'm loving reading about your first full-time months. Night skies are one the many things we're looking forward to (in 2016). Love the photography!