Getting the fire going in Lassen National Forest

Getting the fire going in Lassen National Forest

Tucked at the base of a tufa pinnacle near Trona, California

Tucked at the base of a tufa pinnacle near Trona, California

This is a post dedicated just to our awesome campsites last week during our Spring Break road trip. Each and every stop was a delight for us, and I’m not just exaggerating. Each place we ended up for the night was pure jackpot, and it added so much to our experience.

Our first night camping was at the Trona Pinnacles. The best thing about Trona Pinnacles is that the setting is truly amazing. No, the best *best* thing is that we had been looking for a campground, and this is where we ended up, which is better than a campground.

Looking north toward the town of Trona.

Looking north toward the town of Trona.

The BLM website says this location supports what they call “primitive camping,” which means that there are limited facilities. Here, there was an information board at the beginning of the turn off road, and one vaulted toilet on one end of a very large area of pinnacles. And bleh, who wants to smell a stinky outhouse when you can simply dig your own hole? (Arno taught me that they are called “cat holes.”) ┬áSo I define “primitive” campsites as those more likely to have fewer campers and a higher percentage of the type of campers that I like. The camping here is free.

Our tent, beneath the Big Dipper, in Greenwater Valley

Our tent, beneath the Big Dipper, in Greenwater Valley

The next night we had planned to stay in a Death Valley National Park campground, but when we saw that the one at Stovepipe Wells was nothing more than RVs and tents jammed together in a section of gravel, we asked desperately at the Furnace Creek information center. The ranger suggested we venture into the “back country roads” and camp anywhere we wanted to off the side of the road.

That took us into a higher valley, which was cooler and had more vegetation, so I found it prettier. There were other campers, but within the 5th largest park in the United States, there was plenty of room for everyone! It was nice and flat, and easy to press the stakes into the ground, though I had been expecting it to be impossible. These campsites are not really campsites, so they were free, and zero facilities. Which is how we like it.

Our view of the Greenwater Valley in the morning, from the tent.

Our view of the Greenwater Valley in the morning, from the tent.

The next day we really hadn’t given any thought at all to camping until it was evening. Our main concern was to find a gas station. You know how it gets in a time like that, just sort of remaining anxious and focused on the miles clicking by. We gassed up, felt safe, and then realized it was late and we were tired. So we asked at the gas station for a ┬áplace to pitch a tent. We found out we were about a mile from a campground.

The campground stretches along the base of the hills, beneath those trees. You can see one of the toilets on the left.

The Big Pine Creek campground stretches along the base of the hills, beneath those trees. You can see one of the toilets on the left.

Our fatigue made us willing to really lower our standards at that point, so we were truly thrilled to find a stunningly beautiful, inexpensive ($10 a campsite per night), large campground right within Big Pine city limits. It was so large that all the campers had made an effort to keep away from the other campers, and we had plenty of privacy. And everyone was on the creek, under trees. There were a few nice vault toilets, so we used them. If you are ever in the neighborhood, I recommend Big Pine Creek Campground for hikers, car campers, or RVs.

Arno crouches to prepare the spot for our tent, between the two small branches of the creek.

Arno crouches to prepare the spot for our tent, between the two small branches of the creek.

The place we chose was at a spot where the creek split, and large stepping stones had been placed in the first branch, so we could hop across, carrying our gear, to the fire pit between the branches. Found a lovely flat and sandy place for the tent, and unpacked our wood for the first time. It was too windy for a fire at pinnacles, too hot at Death Valley, and just right here.

In the morning, Arno spotted a heron about six feet from the tent, on the hill side of the creeks. It was slowly stepping through the tall dead grasses, watching the water for a morning snack.

Our final night’s campsite was my favourite one of all, because it reminded me of the camping I am most familiar with. The kind of camp spot I might choose if I had been backpacking in the Trinity Alps, or home in Idaho. Again, we were just driving along, and realized we were tired, so we earnestly began looking for a place to stop. Once we got inside Lassen National Forest, we eyed every single road for it’s potential to lead us to a new campsite.

I turned down a road that was supposed to lead us to Bogard Campground, but the Spring had not yet thawed the snow from the road, and I had to stop after only about a mile. The place where I was forced to stop in the middle of the road was where we ended up! The main road was just a dirt road, and there was less of a road than that which intersected it. Being so early in the season, though, it was more like a long, narrow, flat area than a road. We found a section with no snow, and pitched the tent.

Our final campsite in the trees.

Our final campsite in the trees.

Someone had been before us, and built a great firepit with enormous rocks. (That’s me playing in the fire in the photo at the top of this post.) It was very cold that night, but I was so happy. The stars were astonishingly bright, and we got to listen to a fascinating bird call like a loon. We guessed the birds were likely water birds, on one of the many shallow marshy small lakes in the area.

That’s all I wanted to say: we had the best campsites during our road trip. It is very hard to choose a boring hotel bed over these places.