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Below Mt. Whitney

Tuttle Creek Campground
Lone Pine, Calif.
April 25-26, 2003

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What a good find this campground was, not even listed in our guide, and only a few miles off 395 near Lone Pine. From the distance, it looked like picnic tables among scrub, but up close, we found a rushing creek of chilly Sierra water, shade trees, immaculate campsites, and awesome views of Mt. Whitney to the west and the dry white bed that was once Owens Lake to the east. And all for no charge (donations accepted).

Best of all, we were pleasantly surprised to see the very first campsite labeled "Campground Host," occupied by a large trailer with satellite TV dish nearby. We chose our perfect spot only two picnic tables away from the hosts, set up our chairs, and waited. What would the official greeting entail? Would there be brownies, or was it more of a wine and cheese affair?

When no one emerged, we set to building our fire, and sent the girls out to scan the perimeter for rattlers while we opened our own cabernet sauvignon to let it breathe -- in anticipation of our hosts' arrival.

As the sun dipped down into the Whitney Portal and our fire grew to a warm roar, we succombed to temptation and helped ourselves to maybe just a bit of our red wine -- they probably wouldn't mind, we thought. From our site, we could see the blue glow of TV filling the host trailer. Surely it would snap off at the half hour, and out would come our hosts.

But the half hour passed, and then the hour. And finally it grew dark, and we began to run out of wood. Should we knock? Maybe they didn't notice our arrival. Now the kids were demanding food or something.

Had we offended them? Was it the Eurovan? Where they environmentalists, repelled by the Eurovan's 20 m.p.g. highway rating? Or the other thing: patriots annoyed at Germany for its recent recalcitrance, and seeing us as, somehow, fellow travelers.

Well, never mind, I thought, helping myself to another sierra cupful of cabernet, and kicking at the embers with the toe of my Timberlands. It's certainly not my problem. No doubt, it's something Jen did. Or the kids.

Dejected, we climbed into the camper, played a round of kings in the corners, and fell promptly asleep. I dreamed I was at a high school party at Tod Clark's house, and kept trying and failing to get his attention.

In the morning, as we sipped our coffee around the fire pit, our hosts drove past in their Wrangler, and offered a tight little wave. Too little, too late. We waved back, but didn't offer any of our brownies.