One of the nice little side trips at a lower elevation, 4200-6055 feet, in Big Pine, California is Crater Mountain. This volcanic crater is easily accessed a few miles west of the town via the Mc Murray Meadows road.
Considered one of the largest volcanoes in the area, of which there are many, Crater Mountain is in a protected BLM Wilderness Study Area some 7,551 acres in size. Resource conflicts include potential mining to the south and geothermal prospects.
The Mc Murray Meadows road works its way up to a small saddle where one can climb the crater from the back or walk down the drainage toward the petroglyph panel alongside a rough road.
All the evidence in this area points to frequent hunting and gathering by the Indians and house rings, caves, hunting blinds, camps and petroglyphs remain intact. Some petroglyphs have been vandalized which is common in the entire Eastern Sierra for the past 60 years. Most of the damage is from bullet holes or actual removal of the glyphs.
Walking down toward the petroglyph panel some two miles away, the terrain is sandy with granite boulders and thick brush. Then it turns into volcanic lava flows and rough washes with granite boulders sitting on top of the lava rocks. They make a stark contrast to the red and black rock having been transported by floods. Interspersed between the washes are small, flat sandy places where the people set up their camps. They are scattered all over and contain four to five rock rings left over from their shelters. There is usually a grinding surface or mortar hole in the granite, scattered obsidian flakes, pottery, burned rocks and soil, tools, milling stones and many pieces of animal bones. Further down where the wash turns into cliff walls and petroglyph panels, the habitation sites become larger with more rock rings and wider obsidian scatter.
Clearly, after seeing these spots, it is amazing to think how many people were living there in ancient times. Very few people visit there today as they are driving past it to get into the high country of the Sierra. Everything leads down to the petroglyph panels revealing an even more ancient side to the area. Some of the glyphs are so old and weathered that they will soon disappear. The people are long gone and the lesson is that nothing lasts forever.
Back up at the saddle one can walk through the lava rock slowly toward the top of the crater. Up near the top are caves where the hunters were able to get out of severe weather or intense heat. Above this is a small pass where animals walk through. Right off this path are hunting blinds made out of rock piled up high enough to disguise a sitting hunter. All they had to do was wait, pop up, and take a shot with a spear thrower or bow and arrow. The blinds probably haven’t seen a hunter in more than a hundred years and could be left over from thousands of years ago.
At Fish Springs where Crater Mountain rises up from Hwy 395, the Tule Elk take over the ranch fields in the winter. They know that there is no hunting on that side of the highway and taunt the hunters. They can often be seen walking up the side of the crater to the little pass with the hunting blinds. Even though the elk were transplanted to the Owens Valley, they still follow the old grazing trails just like the deer.