Nomad Life: Spring in the High Desert

BISHOP, CA (3 months)

After finishing my third nursing contract in Ventura, CA we were ready for some serious rock climbing. Bishop was calling to us…maybe even screaming at us to get our butts out there. It had been too long since we visited. The plan was to stay for a two week-ish climbing vacation while we were trying to decide on our next location.

Full moon long exposure the night we arrived in Bishop.

Full moon long exposure the night we arrived in Bishop.

The locations of available jobs weren’t looking promising which meant there would be a lot of compromise. Then I miraculously got a job as a travel nurse at the local ER…the stars had aligned even better than we imagined. We were ecstatic to get to actually spend some time in this gorgeous land we’d only made short trips in the past. We were only a week into our first dry-camping stent when I got the job offer. We had been staying at Pleasant Valley Pit which is a favorite amongst climbers who are willing to spend $2/night. After much discussion and pricing out various long term RV parks we decided to “rough it” for the next 13 weeks. The Pit had a 60 day limit so that would cover two thirds of our commitment. Later we discovered Horton Creek Campground which had an option to buy a long-term pass at $100 for one month.

Pleasant Valley Pit, Bishop California.

Pleasant Valley Pit, Bishop California.

Dry camping (camping without hookups) was quite the adjustment. It was all fun when we were on “vacation” but now I was days away from working full-time at a job that definitely required a regular showering schedule. Suddenly we were scrambling, trying to figure out how to manage our resources. How/where to get water? How much water lasts how long? What do we do with the grey water? How often will we have to dump black water? What are our alternatives? And then there’s the electricity…How much solar do we need? Can we get away with not using the generator? How often will we go through propane? SO MANY QUESTIONS!!!

Trying to navigate the new life challenge of dry camping.

Trying to navigate the new life challenge of dry camping.

We found quite a lot of free water springs with hand pumps around the area. Our favorite was at the Forest Service station on Main st in Bishop until we moved to Horton Creek which had multiple water spigots onsite.  We easily adapted to water use, limiting it to as little as reasonably possible. The awesome part was we knew we were doing our part to seriously conserve water while still feeling clean and comfortable. 

For the water we ended up getting two 6 gallon jugs to fill our fresh water and one 5 gallon Igloo for our drinking water.

For the water we ended up getting two 6 gallon jugs to fill our fresh water and one 5 gallon Igloo for our drinking water.

Our camp host informed us that dumping grey water within the BLM campground was allowed…perfect, that problem solved (note: dump grey water as far away from everyone as possible…).

The Pit and Horton Creek campground had clean out houses that we used as much as possible. Of course there were many cold nights or mornings that I used our toilet- the benefits of trailer life. We ended up having to dump about once a month. (note: Horton Creek also has a dump station onsite for $5/use).

Filling up my drinking water.

Filling up my drinking water.

As for electricity….we could not run the generator at PV Pit. Or at least not with peace of mind. Extreme wind would drown out it’s noise but other than that you could hear it for, what seemed like, miles across the piercing silence of the high desert. Last thing we wanted to do was disturb the surrounding campers. We mostly depended on the solar panel and two 6 volt batteries which provided plenty of light, phone charging and heater running (in combo with propane) but nothing extra. For outlet plugins to charge computers Sean would frequent the coffee shops, getting work done and saving our hotspot gigs! Immediately realizing we needed more solar we are currently working on getting just that. Having the option to be quiet and use less fossil fuels while living off the grid makes sense to our lifestyle. Solar is amazing!

Power Practical's Luminoodle showering us with a little extra light.

Power Practical’s Luminoodle showering us with a little extra light.

We always found something to do even though we were dry camping.

We always found something to do even though we were dry camping.

13 weeks flew by. We were endlessly entertained by all of the world class climbing Bishop and it’s surrounding areas had to offer.

Sean sending Seven Spanish Angels, V6, Buttermilks

Sean sending Seven Spanish Angels, V6, Buttermilks

Geneva sending The Hunk, V3, Buttermilks

Geneva sending The Hunk, V3, Buttermilks

When it got too hot we just recreated at higher elevation. We climbed, hiked, explored, found ancient ruins, played in hot springs, rivers and lakes, attended Mule Days and made friends from all over the world. 

Geneva navigating her way across the creek at the Rock Creek climbing area.

Geneva navigating her way across the creek at the Rock Creek climbing area.

Dropping into one of the craziest approaches. Middle Owens River Gorge

Dropping into one of the craziest approaches. Middle Owens River Gorge

Wild Willy's hot springs. We'd never seen it so busy but it was a holiday weekend.

Wild Willy’s hot springs. We’d never seen it so busy but it was a holiday weekend.

Zion got a lot of water time and loved every second. Most of the water was too cold for leisure swimming.

Zion got a lot of water time and loved every second. Most of the water was too cold for leisure swimming.

Petroglyphs. We had so much fun hiking around while trying to find this sacred spot.

Petroglyphs. We had so much fun hiking around while trying to find this sacred spot.

If you love Mules, go to Mule Days.

If you love Mules, go to Mule Days.

We met so many interesting people excited to share their stories, wisdom and beer.

We met so many interesting people excited to share their stories, wisdom and beer.

Steve and his old lady dog, Oola were our neighbors at the Pit and Horton Creek Campground. Steve had some hilarious climbing stories.

Steve and his old lady dog, Oola were our neighbors at the Pit and Horton Creek Campground. Steve had some hilarious climbing stories.

I was perpetually awestruck by the billowing thunder clouds that would climb over the Eastern Sierras. Sometimes they would linger other times the wind would send them on their way. These were some of the most beautiful storms I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing.

Looking East at the White Mountains.

Looking East at the White Mountains.

Camping out below the Eastern Sierras.

Camping out below the Eastern Sierras.

Because of this, like Death Valley, Bishop and its surrounding areas had amazing flower blooms this spring. The vibrant spring flowers of yellow, purple, blue and every color in between painted the otherwise plain looking earth. Spring in Bishop was breathtaking- to say the least.

Wild flowers bloom in Inyo County.

Wild flowers bloom in Inyo County.

Yellow wild flower

Yellow wild flower

Vibrant orange flowers popping up everywhere.

Vibrant orange flowers popping up everywhere.

Look closely at the desert floor to find brilliant tiny flowers.

Look closely at the desert floor to find brilliant tiny flowers.

Even the cacti were blooming!

Even the cacti were blooming!

Horton Creek Campground opened May 1st which got us out of PV Pit at almost exactly 60 days. It was perfect timing for the weather too. The heat climbed through May, fortunately we landed one of the few spots with a tree and as the name hints…there is a nice cold creek that runs along the east side of the whole campground. The road to our new spot was much gentler on our Prius as well. Unlike the rough washboard road at PV Pit, this road was paved to easily drivable dirt which made the commute much better.

WHERE I WORKED:

Northern Inyo Hospital

Position: Travel ER RN

Staffing company: FlexCare Medical Staffing

  • -This is a 25 bed critical access hospital. The ER is 8 beds and in a new building.
  • -Extremely welcoming and friendly staff. 
  • -My experience here was that most patients were Urgent care or clinic type patients due to the lack of resources in such a small county. Of course there was the occasional trauma from MVAs, ATVs, horses, climbing and other outdoor activities. Anything serious flies…I think I only admitted 2 or 3 patients during my contract. I loved the new experience of working in such a small hospital. 
  • -If you love small towns and outdoor recreation (especially snowboarding/skiing/climbing/fishing) then you’d love Bishop. 

FREQUENTED CRAGS:

BOULDERING

BUTTERMILKS

Geneva sending a classic, Buttermilk Stem V1...and then there's Zion.

Geneva sending a classic, Buttermilk Stem V1…and then there’s Zion.

Sean on Iron Man, V5 another classic of the Buttermilks.

Sean on Iron Man, V5 another classic of the Buttermilks.

HAPPY BOULDERS

Geneva on Ketron Classic, V4, Happy Boulders

Geneva on Ketron Classic, V4, Happy Boulders

SAD BOULDERS

Geneva sending French Press V6, Sad Boulders

Geneva sending French Press V6, Sad Boulders

ROCK CREEK

Sean sending a fun Rock Creek problem.

Sean sending a fun Rock Creek problem.

SPORT

THE GORGE

PINE CREEK CANYON

WHERE WE CAMPED:

There are many RV sites with full hookups throughout Bishop. We sacrificed luxury, went cheap and decided to challenge ourselves to dry camp which saved $500-$1000/month.

The Pit 

– BLM, tent, car and RV camping

Rate: $2/night

Limit: 60 days

  • +clean outhouses
  • +trash/recycling
  • +fire pit
  • +dog friendly
  • -water
  • -shade

Near the Happy and Sad bouldering areas

Horton Creek 

– BLM, tent, car and RV camping

Rate: $5/night or purchase Long Term Pass 

Limit: 14 days or Long Term Pass

  • +clean outhouses
  • +free potable water
  • +dump station $5
  • +trash/recycling
  • +fire pit
  • +dog friendly
  • +sparse trees

Free water:

798 N. Main St. Bishop, CA 93514

  • -Pleasant Valley
  • -Horton Creek Campground

One of our daily chores, collecting water.

One of our daily chores, collecting water.

OUR TOWN FAVORITES:

Black Sheep Coffee 

  • Wifi (usually on the slower side)
  • Climber hangout/cozy
  • Great coffee

The Burger Barn 

  • Veggie/Gluten free options
  • On your way back from the Buttermilks
  • Amazing food

Mountain Rambler Brewery 

  • Fun atmosphere
  • Live Music
  • Beer you’ll LOVE
Live music at the best brewery in town!

Getting ready for live music at the best brewery in town!

Written by: Geneva Damico

Photos by: Sean Naugle and Geneva Damico

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