By Russ and Tiña De Maris
It’s a mountain with an interesting history – and a debatable altitude. The first recorded ascent of this highest peak in the contiguous United States was made by a group – not of mountain climbers – but fishermen. Charles Begole, A.H. Johnson and John Lucas tossed away their fishing poles, made the climb and declared the name of the peak “Fishermen’s Peak.” But somehow this didn’t sit with the U.S. Board of Geographic Names, who sided with an earlier dub of Mount Whitney.
The next debate? Just how high is Mount Fisher – er – Whitney? If you climb to the summit, you’ll find two different placards. The oldest information at the peak, stamped on a sheet metal plate, says, “14,496.811 feet.” But hunt around, and the newer U.S. Geologic Survey “benchmark” disk reads “14,494 ft.” What’s a little less than two feet? Well, add in this thought: Earth’s shape, in this computerized age, has now “been estimated more accurately,” and the new (1988) benchmark calls the elevation as 14,505 feet.
We know there must be mountain climbers among RVers, but let’s settle on down to the heart of the matter for most of us.
According to RVing friends of ours, when abandoning the heat of Quartzsite, the first real “cool” stop en route to the northwest is along the eastern edge of the Sierras at Lone Pine, Calif. Pulling out of QZ early in the morning, they shoot across “Inferior California” to Interstate 15, make “the one pull” up to Four Corners, and proceed merrily up 395 to Lone Pine. There, they happily drop the hook and spend the night in a parking lot with a bunch of truckers, but, hey, they don’t have to run air conditioning.
Pavement camping is fine enough, if you have to; we do plenty of it. But by the time we’d made that “one pull” (and quite a few more, along with some great kidney-pounding roadway south of Four Corners), spending the night in a parking lot listening to reefer trucks was just too much to bear. Where’s that little spot of paradise near Lone Pine? Head for the hills!
You won’t have to head far, as Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the Lower 48, dominates the view to the west of Lone Pine. In the middle of downtown a street called Whitney Portal leads – well, where else – but out toward Mount Whitney, and a couple of fine campgrounds – one for the pop-up set with a few bucks, and one for the rest of us who’d like to save a buck.
Lone Pine Campground is a BLM offering seven miles west of town on Whitney Portal Road. We’d describe this as kind of a “terraced” campground, and as mentioned, best suited to pop-ups and small Class C motorhomes. You can tuck a small trailer in here if you’re well skilled in backup maneuvering in tight places. While we didn’t check out the trash cans when we swung through here, we suspect we’d have found a high percentage of tofu wrappers among the yogurt containers. At $22 a night (and precious few sites available on a weekend) we put this little spot in our rear-view mirror.
Back down Whitney Portal Road is signage pointing to Tuttle Creek Campground, farther to the south. This is an “every man’s” campground – sorry, no pavement here – but views of the wide open west like you’d see in some 1960s Western movie. Come to think of it, a lot of Westerns were filmed right in this area, so don’t be surprised if you see something familiar. Come at the right time and hues and shades will practically make you weep.
The BLM has provided 83 sites, some of them pull-through, and many of them big enough to accommodate the largest of rigs. They are “primitive” with no hookups, but there is a dump station at the entrance to the campground ($5 dump fee, no passes). Site fees? At $8 a night, here’s a bargain among developed campgrounds, and with an access card, $4 a night is a steal. All the sites are first-come/first-served, and while the pop-up campground up the road was crammed to the gills, Tuttle Creek had plenty of room available. For Verizon data customers, we found good, solid 3-G signal and in some places 4-G.
Tuttle Creek is a great place to drop out of sight for a few days and really unwind.
photos: R&T DeMaris