We originally planned on staying in a BLM area area called Alabama Hills, but when we got there the roads were very sandy and we were afraid of getting stuck, plus, the roads didn't match what was on our map so we were afraid of going down a road and not being able to turn around. This unique geological area was named by Southern sympathizers in Lone Pine who decided that the Confederate cruiser "The Alabama" (which had destroyed or captured 60 Union ships in 2 years) ought to be celebrated — so they named their mining claims after her. Over 400 films have been made here over the years and it is a very popular bouldering spot with hundreds of routes. There are approximately 100 natural arches as well. Additionally, Mt. Whitney is only 115 miles from Death Valley so that little distance separates the highest and lowest points in the contiguous US. For any of you truly hearty, or insane, souls out there you might be interested in the Badwater Ultramarathon, which goes from Badwater Basin at -282 feet to the Whitney Portal at 8,360 feet...in mid-July when temps are often around 120 degrees.
Since we couldn't stay there, Plan B was a place called Tuttle Creek Campground, also a BLM site, which cost a whopping $5 per night. This campground has good internet and cell which Alabama Hills didn't have and it was in the shadow of Mt. Whitney. After setting up for the night, we noticed a group of guys two spots down from us setting up all this high tech equipment.
Jim went to investigate and it turned out to be a group of friends from California who are VERY SERIOUS amateur astronomers. They get together several times a year, in very dark places, to do several nights of astronomy. The Mt. Whitney area has little light pollution so is one of their regular spots. This was a truly spectacular evening of viewing and we saw things we never thought we would see - new stars in the Orion Nebula, spiral galaxies, the belts of Jupiter and its four largest moons, several star clusters, and a really incredible phenomenon called an iridium flare, which is the sun's reflection off a satellites solar panels. Several guys were doing direct viewing and a couple of folks were doing astro-photography with PC's and very specialized telescopes. Here are some photos of their equipment.