Monday, October 20, 2014

Mountain Memories

I'd stayed in Lone Pine, CA twice before, both times in an attempt to day hike Mt Whitney. The second attempt, in 2005 with my hiking buddy Kathryn, was a success.

The memories of that hike were strong as we camped practically in the shadow of that venerable mountain: the predawn start, the alpen glow as the rising sun hit the mountains, the still icy snow melt as we hiked the 99 switchbacks, the steep drop off of thousands of feet on both sides as we scrambled over boulders in the Windows section, the looong, slooow trudge up the last mile to the summit, the sense of awe and wonder and accomplishment as we stood upon the summit of the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states. Then facing the 11 miles and over 6,000 feet of elevation drop back to the trail head, my knees protesting mightily the last two or three miles, the celebratory champagne in the hot tub at Dow Villa Motel afterwards. Memories that will last a lifetime.

Five months later I met Hans, and the rest, as they say, is history. Though we no longer tackle extreme day hikes (Hans calls them death marches), preferring to save our knees for the anticipated decades in front of us, we do hike almost every single day, and often in scenery so beautiful it makes you want to cry for joy.

In fact, our campsite at Tuttle Creek BLM campground was just that awesome. It's a dry campground, first come, first served, with only vault toilets and a dump station and water (both already closed for the winter during our stay), roads are rough and sites can be pretty unlevel. Hans insisted on a site backing up to the creek, and site #40 was quite a challenge to get into being both bumpy and unlevel. But after we finally got level we discovered the secret to this camp site. Not only did we have an expansive view of the mountains around us, but there was a hidden creekside oasis just steps from our door!

The serenity of this special place cannot be understated. Sitting in the grass on the edge of this rushing, tumbling, sandy creek, my soul felt cleansed and my spirits lifted as only a tranquil natural space can do. Hans felt the magic too when he joined me and created new music on his guitar accompanied by the sound of the creek.

Site #40

Our sitting area opens up to a view of the fabulous Sierrra Nevada mountains.
See that ponderosa pine on the right? That's where the creekside oasis is...

Our magical hidden oasis!

Hiking options from Lone Pine include the first three miles of the Mt Whitney Trail (you need a permit beyond that), but that can be very busy on a beautiful Saturday, and I knew it would pale in comparison to the amazing hike we just did near Bishop. Another option is to drive 20+ miles up to Horseshoe Meadow at about 10,000 feet to gain access to miles of trails into the Sierras. Alas, we had a very long drive planned for the following day so this was not appealing to us.

Then Nina mentioned the Ashram hike. Now this was a trail we could take right from our lovely camp site...perfect! We just had to walk up the road at the West end of the campground until we reached the Tuttle Creek trail head, then the Ashram would be a mile further. I guesstimated about 7 or so miles.

I underestimated the distance from our campsite, we ended up hiking almost 9.5 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 2,700 feet. During the long ascent we just kept telling ourselves that the return would be almost entirely downhill!

Morning alpenglow on the Sierras.
Our hike would take us right into the canyon beyond our neighbors truck.

Getting closer to the canyon we started seeing trees!

Looking back into the valley we had left.

Finally entering Tuttle Creek Canyon.

Upon reaching the end of the road/start of the Tuttle Creek Trail we could look up the center of the canyon
in front of us and see the Ashram.

It's in the very center of the photo!

We made it! 

It's in an amazing setting and felt like a pilgrimage just getting to it from the campground!
This serene place included Buddhist statues and incense to set the mood for contemplation.

Making our way back down the mountain admiring the massive granite slabs on the walls around us.

Later we took a drive over to the Alabama Hills to look around. When we discovered how large the area is we decided to save it for another trip through this area, we were more in the mood for hanging out in our creekside paradise!

Perhaps we'll camp among these fabulous boulders next time we come through Lone Pine!

This Lone Pine stopover was an excellent end to our quick tour of the 395 corridor. Another year we'll devote more time to this magnificent stretch of was time to move on to the desert.

Rosie loved this campground too!

The creek was cold but I couldn't resist!

We're now settled in for a month at Sam's Family Spa in Desert Hot Springs. It's still pretty hot in the desert but this is the time frame that happened to work for us. The park is pretty empty and quiet, the pools are lovely and we are ready to relax and maybe party just a little!

First night in town: tiki drinks with Rick and Lori visiting from Santa Cruz mountains!


  1. Looks amazing. We'll maybe make it through there next year.

    1. This corridor is worth much more time than we were able to give it this year!

  2. Oy! You had a long walk to the Ashram. We drove up part way. The truck would not make it to the "parking lot" but we did knock off a couple of miles. Nice find on the oasis.

    1. We sure ended up with quite a workout by choosing not to drive any distance up the trail!

  3. You just keep coming up with these amazing places, fantastic hikes and dynamite pictures. Both the site with such views, mountain glow and that stream along with the hike to the Ashram seem perfect to me. You are filling up my "I want to do it" list. Lone Pine is just the latest entry. And now you are at the Sam's spa for a month. I want to hire you as my travel planner.

    1. :-) I sure hope you make it back out West, I know you will love so many of these places!

  4. I'm not surprised you made it to the top of Whitney - your description is great! I love, love the Lone Pine area, but your little oasis is definitely a wonderful surprise. I'm not sure I could leave (unless I had Sam's reservations). Lisa, you look absolutely gorgeous in that restaurant pic! You even steal the spotlight from the girls on the wall :-)

    1. I tell you, I did not want to leave!

      Ahhhh, thanks, you are so kind! There were three of those black velvet paintings and they were absolutely beautiful!

  5. Looks like you scored a pretty sweet campsite there. We're hoping to make it over to Hwy 395 next fall. Enjoy So. CA :-)

  6. What a perfect spot you found! Beautiful campsite (by a creek!), gorgeous hike -- the Ashram trail is one we definitely want to do. Great photos; the one of Hans playing guitar by the creek is fantastic! Your joy really comes through in your writing. Enjoy soaking and relaxing at Sam's! We'll be down that way later in the year.

    1. Everything about this stop was wonderful!

      Sam's is a nice relaxing place, but a long drive to most of the things we want to do in the area!

  7. Love your site! It sure is nice for a few days to enjoy the wilderness. Hans gets to use his generator:) I can see why Rosie really enjoyed it.

    Looks like a neat reward at the end of your climb which was quite a fete!! Good job:)

    Lisa, I really enjoyed reading about your training climb up Mt. Whitney. Beautifully written:) John refers to many of our hikes as "death marches," as well!!

    It is a little hot in the desert, isn't it. We hit 87 today. Thank goodness it was low humidity. Next week we are suppose to get in to the 70's here in Boulder City. I am looking forward to that.

    Enjoy your month at Sam's! Who knows, we may come your way:)

    1. Hans was quite happy to use his generator!

      It's hot here, low 90's and Palm Springs is a few degrees warmer. The pools are very nice and we are hitting them at least twice a day. It is a good 20 miles one way to most of the things we want to do though.

      We'd love to see you if you come this way!

  8. Nice! The whole post that is...all the way from your rustic magical creek side paradise to the Spa.
    I have been looking and looking for a spot in Desert Hot Springs that allows four pups...I haven't given up yet!

    1. Hmmmm, don't know about Sam's, but I do know their dog walk area is tiny!

  9. We loved Tuttle Creek, ours was site #64. For just one night, sadly, but a memorable one with a star-filled sky. We did make the drive up Horseshoe Meadow Road, but did not make the hike as we came unprepared. It's on our bucket list!

  10. Finally back in the land of internet so catching up on blog reading. Looks like you guys were as taken by that area as we were. We definitely want to return one day.
    We're impressed you made it to the summit of Whitney, and not that many years ago! The portal hike was tough enough.

  11. We love Lone Pine, although we boon docked at Alabama Hills. I thought we hiked the same trail you did until the point you mentioned Ashram which we have not. Just another reason to come back to CA especially 395.
    Wow, congrats on that tough hike! We do need to save our knees now. ha ha ha