Horseshoe Meadow

About 25 miles and a forty minute drive from the quaint little town of Lone Pine is the Horseshoe Meadow basin at the entrance to the Golden Trout Wilderness. Accessed off the Mt. Whitney Road, this is the first entrance into the southern Sierra on a paved road that goes up to 10,000 feet. First time visitors often find the road a little intimidating, but the views of the Panamint and Death Valley ranges are astounding.

The Horseshoe Meadow Road is an incredible engineering feat that was constructed for a proposed Disney ski area. When the Wilderness Act came into existence in 1964, the ski area concept was abandoned, and we all benefit from it today. Close to the top is a memorial plaque at Walt’s Point dedicated to the man who lost his life in a bulldozer accident while building the road. It is now a famous take-off spot for hangliders and forest service helicopters. It is fantastic to watch them lift off in the morning and circle high around the peaks and crags before flying up the valley.

Past Walt’s Point the road drops into the Horseshoe Meadow Basin and goes past the ruins of an old sawmill. In the 1870’s Colonel Stevenson built a flume down Cottonwood Canyon to send logs to the Charcoal Kilns and the mines across the Owens Lake at Cerro Gordo. Everything for his operation had to be packed in on mules, as there was no road. Consequently, there are thousands of old stumps around the Horseshoe Meadow valley. It doesn’t seem to detract from the beauty and is historical.

The stumps are all waist high where it was easiest for the loggers to work their misery whips (cross-cut saws). After they felled the trees they bucked the logs into 15 foot lengths and dragged them to the mill. It is amazing to think of so much activity going on at Horseshoe so long ago.

Horseshoe Meadow is home to the beautiful and cartoon-like Golden Trout. It is a dream for many fishermen to catch a Golden trout and the little buggers are good eating, too. The Cottonwood Lakes are their spawning grounds and Fish and Game keep a real close eye on them. An old forest ranger said there are monster goldens in Wallace Lake more than 20 inches long-perhaps a California record lurks there.

A lot of people never make it past the parking area with the gigantic Foxtail Pines and the big main meadow. The super white decomposed granite that surrounds the meadow is like the beach at the ocean with trees on it. Scattered around the meadow are old cowboy and Indian camps, and a cabin still stands at the head of meadow where a sweet creek comes down from the mountain.

Cattle grazing has been going on in this area for over one hundred years and in some places on the Kern Plateau, has been eliminated. The impacts to this sensitive alpine environment from cattle are overwhelming. The meadows are chewed up with large holes from where the cattle punched through the grass in wet years. Stream banks have been destroyed and all the drainages severely altered. The amount of cow manure at the edges of the meadow in the trees is disheartening. It literally covers every inch of the ground and burns up the soil rather than fertilizing it. It would take years to rehabilitate this area by raking and spreading the manure out into the meadow. The entire Kern Plateau in which Horseshoe Meadow is located has been forever altered by cattle overgrazing. The laws for rotating stock unfortunately did not exist before the wilderness came into being.

The Golden Trout Wilderness is one of the most pleasant places to visit in summer or winter. In winter, cross country skiers drive up the road as far as they can go and then ski in. I met people who told me they came up skiing in the spring and never saw another person all day.

There’s something about this area that is familiar and quietly comfortable, because it is possible to take off in any direction and hike until you can’t hike anymore. Some people head down to the Kern River and some loop around to exit at Mt. Whitney. In fact, veteran Whitney climbers always camp at Horseshoe Meadow the night before to acclimate. It is so much mellower than Little Yosemite-Mt Whitney Portal. Over at the portal there are thousands of people and savvy bears that love to break into cars and scare the hell out of people in the campgrounds. However, it can make for some interesting conversation back home.

Horseshoe Meadow is also the first restocking place that Pacific Crest Trail hikers must stop at before continuing on into the biggest mountains along their journey. They come to the trailhead in the spring starving and begging for food and a ride down to town. They don’t realize that Lone pine is so far away. horseshoe mdw

Horseshoe Meadow still has the old style walk-in campgrounds and a ten unit equestrian camp that is very popular and unique in the Eastern Sierra. An old time pack station still exists for those people who love to ride horses and pack mules into the backcountry. It’s a lot of fun to go over and talk to the owner, Dennis Winchester. He has the greatest stories you’ll ever want to hear and knows where all the best fishing spots are. Don’t miss his wonderful photo scrap book at the lodge.

All in all Horseshoe Meadow is a first class operation and well worth the side trip off of Hwy 395. It is the easiest way to insert yourself into the high mountains of the Eastern Sierra within the shortest period of time.

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