Archive for the ‘environmental’ Category

Petroglyphs of Chalfant Valley

April 12, 2012



Buttermilk and the Tungsten Hills

March 25, 2012

            One thing about visiting Bishop,California is there is no lack of recreational opportunities, whatever they may be, in every direction out of town. Not only are there excellent places to hike, but the area is popular with climbers, equestrians, Off Highway Vehicle lovers, mountain bikers, hunters and fishermen, photographers, research people and many more.

            Two areas that have become well known in recent years with climbers and OHV enthusiasts are the Tungsten Hills and the Buttermilk country.  I lump these two recreation areas together, because they adjoin each other.  The Tungsten Hills is a premier off road and motorcycle playground, and Buttermilk is the home territory of the young Boulderer, who comes from all over the world to climb there.  Buttermilk and the Chalk Bluffs on the Volcanic Tableland are the two most frequented places to climb for the past fifteen years. These two areas are totally separate from the Sierra Crest and have their own ecosystems that are high desert and fragile.

            The Tungsten Hills was an area where cowboys, sheepherders and miners roamed before the steel hardener called Tungsten was discovered and heavily mined during WWI. Not much is left of the small mining district except rusty cans, old mill foundations and broken shards of glass.  Some of the deposits that were removed created huge holes in the earth which dot the hills. 

            Near the entrance to theTungsten City a housing area called Rocking K ranch.  This area was developed back in the 60s, and is where the elite of Bishop meet the fleet.  Such notables as Dave Mc Coy, the creator of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, and Bob Tanner, the owner of Reds Meadow resort, built their homes there.  It is a beautiful place that they made an oasis out of in the high desert of  Bishop.

            Dave McCoy was an all around man and still is with his photography adventures and his photo blog.  One of Dave’s loves when he wasn’t busy working up on the ski hill was to ride dirt bikes with his buddies.  They would go right out of his house and actually made most of the motorcycle trails that exist in the Tungsten Hills today.  Now in his nineties, Dave and his wife Roma still venture out in the Hills in their Rhino.

            As things began to tighten down because of more riders and resource damage, BLM specified a trail system in the Tungsten Hills that includes all OHV users and all levels of ability.

            For the most part the OHV trails are sandy and travel through areas of boulders and fantastic granite rock formations.  There are few trees in that area, and it is rocky and stark with deeply cut washes.  There are small stream crossings and numerous mining sites accessed by a network of roads. Most of the really dangerous mine shafts have been fenced for public safety, but there are still some that cannot be seen until one is right on top of them. Those are the super dangerous shafts that you do not want to approach to look down or dare to let your dog near.

            From every vantage point and from on top of a knob like Tungsten Peak, elevation 5,951, the Sierra Crest looms large in the background. Mt.Tom at 13,652 feet and Basin Mt. at 13,181 feet dominate the horizon.

            All mining activity has ceased and much of it has been cleaned up by the Forest Service and BLM.  In between the maze of roads and trails one can walk for miles through strange and wonderful natural areas.

            Although the Buttermilk area off Hwy 168, not far out of Bishop, adjoins the Tungsten Hills, it is totally different and has beautiful granitic rock formations and huge boulders left over from the glaciers.  The Pinyon and Jeffrey trees with the interesting rock formations, orange and white sand, and majestic views of the Sierra all combine to make the place seem enchanted.

            Naturally, it would become one of the most popular areas in the country, if not the world, to climb boulders.  It wasn’t always so and thirty five years ago, nobody was out there, except the last stockmen and miners.  Logging had gone on in locations above Buttermilk as far back as the 1890s, and they, along with the Nevada Power Company, made the old roads.  When bulldozers were invented in the 1920s, the roads that we use today were constructed.  Before that it was horse drawn graders in places where there was no rock.  Otherwise, all the rock had to be removed by hand, and some of the old wagon roads are still intact near the housing area called Starlight.  They are really fun to follow and look for the old purple glass and cans.

            When the local Bishop climbers started writing and posting on the internet about the wonders of Bishop and what a great new area it is to climb, people came from all over like it was the new Haight Ashbury of the rock climbing world.  Many of them stayed, started climbing schools and guide services, and raised families. More climbers continue to come each year, and the place is more popular than ever with the young adults.

            What is really nice about the whole deal is that all the camping is dispersed and free.  There are numerous side roads along creeks and near meadows, like Sharps Meadow that have excellent camp sites.  It is a mix of Forest Service land, BLM, and Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power, and unless it says no camping, it’s okay.  All that is needed is a California Campfire Permit which can be obtained at any forestry office and is good for a year.  Since Buttermilk is in the foothills of the Sierra, it snows less and is warmer.  People climb out there most of the winter, but summer is just too hot. At that point everyone has to retreat up high into the mountains.

            For the hiker these areas offer many places to explore far from any of the other user activities.  Many spots have burned in the last thirty years, but in between, are dense patches of brush that are difficult to walk through.

            The area has many springs and sloping meadows where cattle grazing once dominated.  Creeks cut through deep canyons filled with immense Jeffrey trees and Cottonwoods.

            Evidence of Native Americans is everywhere to be seen in the form of obsidian flakes left over from ancient hunting forays. 

            Small pockets of hard rock mining are tucked away and hidden in odd places one would never expect.  Some mining sites they packed mules up to and blasted to create a shaft.  Other sites were accessed by bulldozer from the 30s until the 70s, when mining on the Inyo National Forest began to become more restrictive.

            When one looks up at the Sierra Crest from Buttermilk, old mining roads that the bulldozer operators made are visible in incredibly steep places.  Those men were truly fearless, but accidents did happen, and some lost their lives.

            Next time you are cruising Hwy 395 through Bishop, drive upWest Line St.about 8 miles to the Buttermilk turnoff.  The Tungsten Hills can be reached off Ed Powers Rd, about 5 miles north of Bishop.

            Every now and then the residents of Bishop are treated to a spectacular show during storms when the Buttermilks are lit up with sunlight and a rainbow, while everything around them is dark and foreboding.

Images of the Volcanic Tableland

February 10, 2012

Eastern Sierra Sunsets

March 9, 2011

Owens Valley Petroglyphs

January 4, 2011

Sky Rock:  Photo by Mikhail Rezhepp

hunting blind

Sunrise in the Whites

November 22, 2010

sunset 2 001 (Medium)












sunrise 2 002 (Medium)












sunset 2 004 (Medium)

Arborglyphs of the Eastern Sierra

March 29, 2010

It was purely by chance that I stumbled across one of my greatest discoveries in life, the arborglyphs of the Eastern Sierra. I started out hunting for pioneer and Indian relics as a young boy and was fascinated by the history of the West. I still go back to those boyhood days every time I go out exploring with my dog. It makes me feel like a school kid on Saturday morning.

I walked by the silent tree carvings for twenty five years not knowing they were there watching me from their tree trunks. Then, one day while eating lunch in the meadow at my favorite spot on the Tamarack Bench at Rock Creek Lake, I noticed some small pieces of purple glass and a Levi Strauss button on the ground. Looking up in the trees I noticed some carvings. Then, on a downed tree, I saw a date of 1892. I was so excited and amazed at this find that I began to research and explore the entire area for new arborglyphs. It became a passion as I morphed into a full on glypher. I now live to promote their value as important historical cultural treasures from our nations past.

There really are no records about how long people have been carving on trees. The types of people who would have left their mark in the American West included: trappers, explorers, settlers, stockmen, Indians, surveyors, miners, woodcutters and the cavalry.

I learned that the carvings on the Tamarack Bench were mostly from Basque sheepherders with the possibility of an Irishman thrown in for good measure. They were the ones who came to America in the Gold Rush of 1849 and started the sheep range business all over the West. By the 1880s they worked their way over to the Eastern Sierra and started a green gold rush of their own by grazing every mountain meadow they could get their hooves into. When those meadows were wet, they left devastation in their wake that will take hundreds of years to recover. That is the dark side of the arborglyphs that we admire today.

It’s lucky for us that pioneers left their mark on the trees around the meadows where they grazed their stock. It is all that is left to represent their entire life time. Upon looking at their graven images one can relate to their human desires of a lonely heart searching for love, companionship and sex. Some left entire last names like Lombard, Juillet and Bresson, as well as dates from the 1880s to 1896.

This was during the Victorian era and the carvers were careful not to show any nude depictions of women that would become so common with the pornographic images that future shepherds would carve as societal morals decayed. On the other hand the shepherds thought it perfectly okay to depict themselves naked with a large display of their manhood. Another common theme was a top hat, smoking cigarettes or a pipe. The women of their day are depicted with bustles, bows and bizarre hair.

Grazing activity reached a peak in 1896 in the Eastern Sierra and continues to this day with shepherds from Peru and Chile. Every year they leave their name and date on the trees where they work.

After finding those original glyphs on the Bench, I went on to find many more images in Rock Creek Canyon and Bishop Creek Canyon. I have no idea how many more are out there. That will be left up to the future glyphers of America to discover and wonder about.

Arborglyphs on aspen trees number in the tens of thousands. The carvings on lodgepole trees on the Tamarack Bench are far more rare and in their own class for research. In fact, arborglyph experts like Chris Worrell from Ohio have verified that these particular glyphs are a national treasure.

One summer I returned to the groves of arborglyphs on the Bench and found a new trail running through the area that the commercial mule packers made to pack in fishing parties. They were in a battle with the environmentalists and the forest service to increase stock use in the Eastern Sierra wilderness. They chose to increase their use by camping just outside the wilderness boundary in the exact spot that the arborglyphs are located. This was all very upsetting for me and I contacted the forest service, environmentalists, wrote editorials and talked to many people about it. For political reasons the forest service would not respond because of the lawsuit.

The lawsuit lasted eight years and the forest service was finally defeated in the Superior Court of San Francisco. This was after they spent $7.5 million on a failed wilderness plan designed to increase commercial stock use. That whole ordeal left the packers angry to this day. Nothing ever changed on the Bench and the same trail runs through there as a permanent fixture.

On the positive side, during the lawsuit, teams of specialists were sent out to survey the wilderness and among them were archeologists. They recorded many of the arborglyphs on the Bench which were placed on a map in case of fire.

Many of the arborglyphs are fading away due to weather erosion. The bark has worn off, and the knife lines are disappearing into the golden color of the elderly lodgepole trees. Some of the trees have blown down with their carvings facing the ground never to be seen again. One carving from 1896 was blasted by a careless individual with a shotgun. They also threw an axe at it for target practice. Even pesky woodpeckers and beavers can do a number on arborglyphs.  The worst enemy is fire.

So like Chris Worrell always says, “Photograph, document and record,” before the arborglyphs fade away forever. This is our window of opportunity to provide future arborglyph researchers with the images they may never be able to see in the wild. Next time you are out wandering in the woods, take a look around at the trees to see if they have any stories to tell you. Don’t leave home without your camera and have fun glyphing.

Mono Lake Memories

February 25, 2010

Over the years I have observed Mono Lake in the Eastern Sierra from every shore in every kind of weather-from the mirror calm of a bright orange sunrise to the violent churning foam of a turbulent, green sea. And always, the choking alkaline dust blows on the east side of the lake creating great clouds of toxic dust. Mono Lake is ever changing and provides a lot of life from such an ancient dead sea.

Paiute people harvested the high protein fly larvae that were wind driven onto the shore in great piles. In all the surrounding hills were pine nut trees and large game, while along the streams, riparian plants flourished. The islands provided an unlimited supply of sea gull eggs and birds to hunt. In summer, the door was open to the Sierra backcountry for the people to return to like they had for centuries. Back and forth they would go following the trans-Sierra trade routes or fleeing the cavalry in historic times.

John Muir thought Mono Lake was quite a sight when he came over Bloody Canyon from Yosemite and saw it for the first time. He complained about how dirty the Indians were in such a clean environment. Mark Twain had a whale of a time when he got caught in a storm on the lake and barely made it to shore. He had a lot of nasty things to say about how the water in the lake would peel off skin, but the lake was actually a popular water ski spot in the 60s. You know how Twain liked to exaggerate.

Every shore around the lake has something different to see and experience. To the south are the Tufa Towers and large, thick stands of sagebrush that grow beyond the sandy beaches. In the spring the no see ums can make life real unpleasant in the six foot tall, 150 year old sagebrush. Without a hat the little devils will get into your hair and bite your scalp in a hundred different places before you can reach up to scratch the itch. A day without a breeze during May-June when the no see ums are out is a good time not to be there.

The south side of the lake leads down through vast fields of white pumice to some awesome volcanic examples called the Mono Craters. These craters are really fun to climb and run down the steep, pumice slopes. Now that the motorcycles aren’t ripping everything up in the craters anymore, the area is returning to its former smooth and sandy glory. Riding motorcycles in the craters at high speed was fun while it lasted, but those days are over.

Another interesting historical site on the south end of the lake on Hwy 120 is Mono Mills. Men were all over the country cutting huge Jeffrey trees to be gathered at the saw mill for shipment by train to the mines at Bodie. It is still possible to walk sections of the railroad grade where the ties are left rotting on the ground and old cans and broken glass lay scattered about. Some spots had short trestles. This was another project where Chinese labor was employed to negotiate the steep grades required to get up the hill to Bodie.

The east side of the lake is mostly four wheel drive because of the thick, soft pumice on the old railroad grade. There are Pinyon pine trees but not much evidence of previous inhabitants. They seemed to like the north and west shores better.

Always in view are the mysterious volcanic islands that are stark but have a magnetic quality that entices the visitor to want to go out there and explore.

The north side of the lake has sand dunes with a scattering of Pinyon and Juniper trees leading up to the hills where the Indians gathered nuts in the fall. There are springs and small creeks that draw more wildlife than in other parts of the lake. On the northwest part of the lakeshore are immense hills of black pumice that have been mined for road cinders and other uses for many years. A lot of sheepherding has gone on in this area from the 1890s to the present day.

The west side of the lake is where most of the activity occurs where the highway runs at the base of steep mountains that lead into Yosemite. The old store called Hammonds and other historical buildings are still there. The town of Lee Vining remains an important tourist stop for visitors along Tioga Pass and Hwy 395.

High above the lake are many mines. Some have roads to them like the Log Cabin Mine, but others are reached only by hiking cross country or on old trails. The Mono View Mine from the 1890s is one such place that has a spectacular view of the lake. This was one of those places where everything had to be packed in on horse or mules a couple of miles up the steep, tree-lined hillside.

In the 1980s I had the opportunity to meet a gentleman who reclaimed the Mono View Mine and made a trail to get his little dirt bike up the hill. He was in his seventies then and was actually working the mine in summer. There was nobody tougher and more highly skilled than the old prospectors and miners who walked the mountains and deserts long before anybody but the Indians.

There is a wealth of history that Mono Lake possesses even to this day after the area was saved from being drained by Los Angeles. Since Dick Dahlgren of Cal Trout caught a fish in Rush Creek that wasn’t supposed to be there to people transporting water on their bicycles from Mono Lake to LA, more people have come to realize the importance of this ancient sea with its high, wave cut terraces and stark beauty. The local bumper sticker says it all, “Long live Mono Lake!”

Woodcutters of the Eastern Sierra

February 23, 2010

There was a time in the history of the West, when if nothing else, a person could earn a living cutting wood. This was during the time of mining, railroads and wood gathering for pioneer households. The mines needed charcoal to fire their milling operations, the trains needed wood to produce steam, and the households needed wood for heating and cooking.

The woodcutters were in the Eastern Sierra region from 1860-1890, came from all walks of life and represented all nationalities. It was one of the first equal opportunity businesses. There were Italian charcoal burners called carbonari, Chinese, Indians, Mexicans and Euros all in need of extra cash.

The wood gathering was extremely hard work, and the men often had to climb steep hillsides with their mules, horses and burros. They used axes to cut limbs and saws to fell the gnarly Pinyon Pine trees. They would buck up the wood into four foot lengths and stack it. From there they would have to pack out load by load with their animals to wherever a wagon could get close enough to. The Chinese often packed burros with wood from their camps to the towns many miles away. It was an odd sight to see those strange looking processions going through the mining camps.

Other people were out burning wood in large piles to make charcoal for the ore mills. The mills had to have an intense heat source to reduce the precious ore, and charcoal was the only method at the time. One mill could require tens of thousands of bushels to get the gold or silver out. It must have been quite a sight to see large bonfires all over the hillsides at night in those days. And to hear the silence of the forest broken by the sounds of axes chopping trees for the first time in history.

The woodcutting business with the Indians was a sad deal. All those thousands of years pinenuts were one of their primary foods, and they considered the Pinyon groves to be sacred. When the miners began wiping out the trees on the hillsides, the Indians lost their valuable food source. Most of the animals were hunted out, the pinenut trees cut down for the mines, and all the seed bearing plants mowed by cattle and sheep. Sadly, the native people ended up cutting their own trees down to make a living.

There are woodcutter camps littered all over the Pinyon forests in the Eastern Sierra and throughout the Great Basin. Sometimes they would construct a makeshift corral and shelter. One easy method was to stack limbs and lengths of wood in a tipi shape against a tree. They brought tools with them like hand drills, axes, saws, shovels, hammer, nails and lots of wire. They usually left a bottle, broken glass, or old cans that can pinpoint the exact time they were there.

Every once in awhile the woodcutters got ahead of themselves or were run out of the country by a snow storm. They actually left piles of wood in certain areas that were never retrieved and sit there to this day. All that hard work for nothing! I have seen up to two cords of wood left stacked uphill against a tree near Bridgeport, CA. It is common to run into small piles of leftover wood most everyplace one may venture in the pinenut hills.

Places where charcoal burning was going on have small pieces of charcoal scattered in large circular areas. Brush has overgrown these spots now, but the charcoal lasts for eons. Instead of transporting wood to a wagon, the charcoal burners had to consolidate all the wood in one spot for burning. Then they would bag up the charcoal in bushel loads for packing out to the wagon.

In time the mines folded, the towns disappeard, automobiles replaced the railroad and there wasn’t a need for the mass consumption of wood anymore. There are few places that you can go in the entire Great Basin without seeing a stump from those days. The stumps, camps, and leftover woodpiles are now archeological sites and a fascinating glimpse into the history of the West.

White Mountains of California

February 21, 2010

There are many White Mountains in America but none can compare with the White Mountains that skirt the eastern edge of the Owens Valley in the Eastern Sierra. They are within eyeshot of the Sierra Nevada but totally different in many ways. The Sierra sucks all the moisture out of the Pacific storms, while less precipitation reaches the Whites.

The geology in the Whites is older, and the mountains are more eroded, like the ancient Bristlecone pine trees that crown its top.

The Bristlecones-the very name inspires in one visions of gnarled old trees in the golden glow of a setting sun over the crest of the mighty Sierra Nevada. Such patterns of survival are an inspiration to the soul. The eons of time and the relentless storms that the Bristlecones have withstood on the naked hillsides high in the Whites are a testament to perseverance in nature. John Muir would have loved this place, as much as he loved the Big Trees. No fire can burn up the Bristlecone Pine forest, and insects cannot penetrate their dense, resinous core.

Pieces of Bristlecone have been discovered in caves at far lower elevations around old desert lakes revealing cooler times in our past such as the Little Ice Age. Back in pioneer days, the Bristlecones were used for cabins, telephone poles and fence posts, and were greatly admired for their strength and durability. Anything built out of Bristlecone is built to last. Of course, nowadays, the trees are protected.

The White Mountains are a haven for a wide variety of high-altitude research projects, and people come from all over the world to study there. Everyone from geology students to tree freaks invade the area every summer. They base camp at Grandview Campground at the 8,200 foot level in the Pinyon forest ecozone below the Bristlecones. The Bristlecones are up at the 10,000 foot level.

Grandview is one of the old time Forest Service campgrounds with no water and no fee. There is no view from the campground, unless you climb up a hill to view the Sierra to the west or the desert ranges that roll down to Death Valley and Panamint Range to the south. Sometimes the light will shine on the 200 foot high Eureka Sand Dunes that can be seen just over a ridge from the south end of the campground. There are no other campgrounds in this part of the Whites, except some group camps down lower. Dispersed camping is in abundance and requires a California Campfire Permit that can be obtained at a Forest Service office. Always observe fire restrictions wherever you camp.

Some of the characters I have met at Grandview in the past were a railroad engineer, a guy from Utah who destroyed nuclear weapons for a living in Toole, top research scientists from every field, and world class astronomers who come when there is no moon. The strangest people I encountered were collecting animal specimens for schools and museums. They would set up nets to catch birds and traps to snatch rodents and squirrels. Then they would euthanize the animals and do their taxidermy thing. It was rather revolting.

Some other people were down lower digging up Pinyon trees by the hundreds for their Bonsai tree club in Placerville. It’s amazing what different groups are able to do with permits from the Forest Service. It doesn’t take long for things to get out of hand, when these activities are not monitored.

There is so much to do in the Whites from hiking, camping, OHV (off highway vehicle), fishing, mountain biking, hunting and exploring. The best thing is the scenery along the 20-mile drive along the ridge top of the range. It is the scenery and sheer immensity of the place that one never forgets, as you tool along the old dirt road at the top of the world.

There are full-on mining sites to examine with cabins still standing. As there were no roads into the area at the time that mining was going on, everything had to be packed in on mules and horses. The Indians had been hunting in the Whites for thousands of years, and their sites have been found at high altitude. Their prize was the Bighorn sheep, which still roams the area to this day. Because the snow would melt out so much faster in the Whites than the Sierra, the Indians could hunt more often over there. Not to mention the vast Pinyon pine nut crop that they would harvest in the foothills in the fall.

There are many different things to do and see around the entire range of the White Mountains, from Fish Lake Valley on the east side to Nevada’s highest peak, Boundary Peak, to the north. It would take many lifetimes to see it all, so there is no time like the present to start. It is worth it to journey there to experience something that you will never forget. The area is usually open from April 15-November 15. The White Mountains are one of California’s newest wilderness areas.