It’s hard to believe some of the imagery in this post, but I promise that every bit of it is 100% accurate and true.
My trip to Boulder Basin Campground turned out to be a lot more exciting than I had originally planned for. What was supposed to be a casual camping trip in 70 degree weather turned into a 20-degree white-out snowstorm that I had no idea was coming. Thankfully, as a good Eagle Scout, I live by the motto “Be Prepared”, and travel with all my gear no matter where I’m headed or what’s expected.
Directions to the Campground:
From the Interstate 10 in Banning, take CA 243 South, then turn left and drive six miles north on the dirt road called Black Mountain Road (Forest Road 4S01). Black Mountain Road is relatively rough and on some websites is not recommended for non high-clearance vehicles, but I made it through easily in my Honda Civic.
Boulder Basin Campground Details:
The campsites here cost $10 per night and $5 for each additional car. You’ll be sitting at a relatively high elevation of 7500 feet. There are 34 campsites with fire pits and picnic tables at each one. Hiking trails are available on the nearby Black Mountain National Recreation Trail & the Pacific Crest Trail (which is 3 miles away).
Contact Information & Address:
Phone Number: (909) 382-2921
San Jacinto Ranger District
San Bernardino National Forest
54270 Pinecrest, Idyllwild, CA 92549
On my way along the 243 South up the mountains in Northern San Bernardino National Forest I encountered fast moving clouds and thick fog. High winds made the drive an interesting experience, and the moon peeking briefly out over the mountaintops set a scene of alluring eerieness. It didn’t help that I was driving by myself in the middle of night, hurtling toward parts unknown and previously unexplored.
As I passed the Black Mountain Trailhead I noticed an interesting scene on the right-hand side of the road- a huge ledge overlooking the forested canyon below, over which a thick bank of fog was slowly creeping. The stars were out in full and I saw what I figured would make the perfect photograph. I decided to stop and take a shot at it, though I’ve got virtually no experience with astral or even night-time photography. The results were better than I had expected, though not as good as I’m hoping to achieve in future attempts.
Shooting at night was certainly an experience, almost meditative in a way. I probably would have stayed on the scene longer and made additional attempts, but the thickest bank of fog I’ve ever seen rolled in and completely obscured all the moonlight, making shooting all but impossible. As I hopped back into the car my mind felt completely at peace and I at once had the idea to pop in Dark Side of the Moon. I figured it’d make the perfect backdrop for the journey, and I couldn’t have been more right.
The drive up the unpaved road was uneven and slightly dangerous, but incredibly exciting! Both of my friends cars had made it without any major issues, so I figured I’d be alright too, but there were certainly a couple close calls. Oddly I had just been discussing Dark Side of the Rainbow and the synch between Echoes and 2001: A Space Odyssey at work that day, and the music seemed to synch up with the drive itself. Perhaps it’s just that the Floyd’s sound is so experimental and rich with subtleties, but occasionally I swear it’s like they’ve found some universal beat that powers the universe.
Any Colour You Like was just starting as I pulled up to the campsite, finding my friends sitting around the fire. I couldn’t simply turn it off though so I remained in the car and allowed the album to finish off. I felt well rested, invigorated perhaps even, when I finally stepped out into the dark cold. I was amped up from Red Bull, but they were ready to pass out so I ended up playing a little guitar to the forest as the temperatures rapidly dropped. I gave up when I could no longer feel my fingers and switched to photography.
I set up my tripod and pointed it toward the incredible view of the milky way, snapping some long exposures in an attempt to capture it in full-color. It was so cold out that my batteries were completely drained within the first hour of shooting, even though all three of them had just been fully charged. I switched to my trusty old film camera and tried some super long exposures (5, 10, 20 minutes, and finally a 1 hour exposure). I have no idea how they’re turn out, which is both the problem with film, and the reason that I love it. You really never know what you’re getting until it’s developed.
I finally went to bed around 4:30, just as the sky was starting to get light. Sleep didn’t last too long though since I didn’t have a tent to provide any shade. I woke up to a cold morning (50’s or so) but was also greeted with deep blue skies and radiant sunshine. I sat on a gigantic tree stump to cook up an omelette and some hot chocolate in an attempt to warm myself up. My friends soon awoke and made breakfast for themselves, but we weren’t much in the mood for a hike so we ended up lounging around.
Well into the afternoon we spent the day laying out in the sun as if we were at the beach. I even pulled out my straw hat to get some shade while basking in the sunlight and enjoying the crisp high-altitude air. At 7500 feet the sun felt nearly as strong as during a mid-summer beach trip.
Sean and I then played guitar for a while, trying to figure out the chords to Bowie’s incredible Space Oddity, but we got hung up and had to look up the tab with his phone. Incredibly, there’s full cell reception at this campground, even though it seems to be in the middle of nowhere! The E7 chord was our missing form, and once we had it the rest of the song fell right into place.
Thick fog soon rolled in, considerably dropping the temperature to a no longer comfortable level. In a period of just a few minutes, it changed from beach weather to outright freezing, forcing us to don fleece’s and beanies. We then hiked up to the fire lookout, hoping for a nice view over the valley, but at the top it was totally fogged in. We sat on some big rocks for a few minutes, hoping the fog would clear, catching short glimpses of Casino Morongo and the desert valley below. Everyone else got cold and went back down to camp, but I stayed behind for a quick meditation.
When I got back down to the campsite we started the beer pong games, with Travis and I taking on Sean and Chaz (Sean chose Chaz as his partner in the hopes that he could resurrect the old all-left-handed dream team “God’s Children” (Sean & Kaveh’s team name at Malibu Creek State Park). It didn’t work out for them though, partly because they couldn’t close out their games, and partly because Travis pulled two five-cup streaks. We played 6 games of 6 cups each. In two of them we made comebacks after being down 5-1, and three times we killed them without retaliation by sinking the last two cups on the same round. It was a smack-down of epic proportions.
After beer pong came dinner and an obsession with trying to keep warm. We got the fire going, but the fog kept getting thicker, temperatures kept dropping, and total darkness soon fell. After a few rounds of large rain drops Sean and I each decided that we’d need to set up our tents for the night – just in case the shit hit the fan. I had been hoping that the fog would clear and give me the chance to do some more star photography, but it never happened. The moon seemed brighter and the clouds only got thicker, without even the slightest sign of letting up.
I was so cold when it came time for bed that I decided to using a “hot water bottle” to keep myself from freezing. I didn’t have a rugged bottle (like a Nalgene), but an old plastic gatorade bottle did just the trick. I was a bit worried it’d spill during the night, but it held up just fine. It provided with hours of good warmth and I’ll definitely be trying it again next time the mercury drops.
I woke up well-rested, but absolutely frigid. The hot water bottle had lost all its warmth and even two down jackets weren’t enough to stop the bite of the freezing morning air. I was also pissed that my tent had let in so much fine dust throughout the night that it had covered everything, including my expensive sleeping bag. Some frozen condensation had built up on it’s surface, and as it melted the dust turned into a mud-like substance. I was terrified my bag was getting destroyed, but too damn cold to do anything about it.
All I could think about was warming myself up, but I had a severely limited water supply because all of mine (except for the hot water bottle) had frozen completely solid during the night. I reheated what little I had, took a quick sip, then stuffed the now hot bottle beneath my down jacket, just outside my thermal top. I was warm again within just a few minutes. These hot water bottles are a godsend!
I grabbed my camera and shot some photos of the trees, now completely covered in frost, watching the fog roll in and out. My fingers got so cold that they basically quit working entirely. Everyone else soon woke up and they were so cold that they decided to start packing right away. I was so cold I got back into my bag with the water bottle and both down jackets on, but I didn’t feel like leaving. I wanted to stay in case the fog lifted, even though that seemed like a bit of a long-shot.
After getting a fire going we started packing and the cold got the best of me. I decided it’d be too dangerous to stick around if all my friends left, just in case something went wrong on my drive out the dirt road. My friends headed straight home, but curiosity got the better of me and I stopped at the Lake Fuller picnic area to check out the scene. While hiking around the lake I was greeted with a very light dusting of snowflakes, something I hadn’t experienced in years. It wasn’t anything major, but it still felt like a gift from the Gods. I was ecstatic at the thought of seeing some real snow.
I then decided that instead of driving back North on the 243 and home along the 10, I’d head South through Idyllwild, then back home via the 74. But just a quarter of a mile from Lake Fuller I stopped again at the Indian Vista look out point, hoping to get a good view of the valley below. While standing at the overlook shooting photos of the fog, it started to snow a little harder than before.
Light snow turned into a flurry, which gave way to a tremendous hail-fall and then just minutes later a full on white-out. It got so bad that I had to get my snowboarding goggles from the car and carry my nearly-waterproof camera in a gigantic plastic bag. It was so cold that the batteries went dead again just about instantly, though I was able to resurrect them by placing them in my down jackets pockets for a few minutes. I stood in the falling snow watching the flakes spiraling all around me, enjoying this unique experience and simply listening to the snow. It mad ea sound like nothing I’d ever heard before, and was an incredibly unique experience.
The foliage and dirt was quickly covered by snow, but rocks and the concrete path wouldn’t allow it to stick. After about an inch or so of snow had fallen the skies cleared up virtually instantly, offering spectacular views of the surrounding area. But a new storm-cell and a massive thunderhead soon rolled up through the valley and unleashed a furious snow-fall like I’ve never seen before. I couldn’t see more than 10 feet in front of me, but I loved the sound and feel of the storm. Again, it seemed like a gift from the heavens. I’ve never witnessed so much natural power and I was so awestruck that the hours flew by as if they’d only been minutes.
Three hours later I finally started to make my way back down the mountain at a speed of just over five miles per hour, but even then nearly skidded out while driving over a patch of ice during a steep uphill climb. I kept what felt like a snail’s pace after that, though still managed to catch up to a slow caravan of SUVs being led by an old car. We paraded ever so slowly down the mountain, making our way past chains checkpoints that had just been set up, and passing along a couple of snow plows on their way up from the valley floor.
The storm was getting worse behind me and I must have left just in time to actually make it out without having to call for help. Further down the hill snow turned to hail, which soon became rain, then giving way to deep blue skies and sunshine near the valley floor. Incredible cumulous clouds were scattered throughout the valley, and the weather turned calm and beautiful, but far more boring than that which I’d just been watching.