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Topics - wshawkins

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Eastern Sierra History / Little Lake
« on: December 16, 2013, 04:46:16 PM »
Little Lake

For those of you coming to the Eastern Sierra from the north, you probably never seen or heard of Little Lake.  For the rest of us that drive up from Southern California, Little Lake is the starting point of the Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway.  There was the town of Little Lake and of course the Lake itself.

Little Lake (2013)

I say “was” as the town of Little Lake is now gone.  For those of us that remember this little town, it brings back many an Eastern Sierra trip memories for me.  My folks would stop here often for water for the cars radiator or get a bite to eat on our family camping trips to the Eastern Sierra.  Little Lake is still well signed, still shown on maps, and still has an expressway on and off ramps with its name on them.  However, little remains to mark the town site just off US 395 at the very southern end of Owens Valley.

Little Lake Property Before the Town Was Built (1905)

The lake itself first started long ago as a seasonal marsh, as it’s spring-fed.  In the beginning, prospectors and other hopeful settlers of the Owens River, Cerro Gordo and Darwin communities stopped and rested overnight here.  The lake was known as “Owens Little Lake” then but was changed to Little Lake when it was dammed up in 1905 as a part of the Los Angeles Aqueduct system.  The city of Los Angeles had its eyes upon the abundant waters in the Owens Valley.  LADWP considered Little Lake a natural holding pen for a 250-mile long aqueduct that was being built to divert the water to Los Angeles.  While building the aqueduct, Southern Pacific Railroad built the "Jawbone Branch" from Mojave to Lone Pine, which they completed in 1911.

Building the Jawbone Branch (1909)

Eastern Sierra Trip Reports / Hilton Creek Lakes
« on: December 02, 2013, 10:28:34 AM »
I took a late season backpacking trip this year.  I decided to take advantage of the great weather we were having this fall season before the winter storms started kicking up.  I watched the weather closely and decided a Fri/Sat/Sun backpack trip to Hilton Creek Lakes in late October/early November weekend was do-able.  I just hoped the lakes were not frozen over as this was the latest I ever been taken a backpacking fishing trip.

Day 1

I actually came up late Thursday and stayed overnight at Tom’s Place at the lodge.  I’m one of those people that can get altitude sickness if I go up too quickly, so I have to take it easy the first day.  If you ever had it you know what I’m talking about. 

Tom’s Place Lodge

I looked around Rock Creek area and could not believe what a change it was from only a week ago.  They had a large wind storm blew through Mono County a few days prior that effectively ended the 2013 fall color viewing season.

Rock Creek Lake – fall color show over

Fished for a short time at Rock Creek Lake near the boat dock and C&R a couple nice rainbows



Went back to Tom’s Place and across the street to the café and had the Thursday’s Night Special - Prime Rib Dinner.  Rum!  There were quite a few locals in that night and after dinner, shared stories of our favorite honey holes in the Eastern Sierra over beers. 

Day 2

Next morning had my last civilized meal for a while at the café.  The café serves the best Chicken Fried Steak & Eggs.


Chicken Fried Steak & Eggs

With my permit in hand, I drove to the trail head.  When I arrived at the hiker parking lot my truck was the only vehicle.  Never saw another person the whole trip until hiking out Sunday.  Weather was in the 50’s during days, and down to 19-22*F at night.  Very little wind and some ice around the lakes in the morning but melted off by noon or earlier.  Just Perfect!

Trailhead Sign

Next part of my Hilton Creek Lakes Trip Report coming up soon….

Eastern Sierra Fishing / Gardisky Lake
« on: November 20, 2013, 01:08:43 PM »
I believe I shared this fishing day trip once before on the old boards, but it’s worth looking at again.  I come up here every year and probably fished this pretty alpine lake 50+ times over the years and never been skunked here (knock on wood and no disrespect to bj’s last outing).  It’s a tough hike but I would rate it one of the best short hikes you’ll likely to find in the Eastern Sierra, not just for fishing but also for the pristine views.  More people hike up here for the views than for fishing, which is great for us fishermen!

Gardisky Lake

Date:  October 20, 2013
The Basics:                    
1.3 miles (one-way)
840 vertical feet
Starting Elevation - 9760 ft.
Gardisky Lake Elevation - 10515 ft.

Leave Hwy 395 at Hwy 120. Follow Tioga Pass Road toward Yosemite. Turn north onto Saddlebag Lake Road and go approximately 1 1/4 miles to the trailhead parking on the west side of the road.

A Little History:
Gardisky Lake got its name from Albert J. Gardisky, who first came to Tioga Pass in 1914 as a miner looking for his fortune.  He built Cabin 1 (Tioga Pass Resort) that year, and began mining and trapping.  Gardisky quickly learned, however, that he could make a better living providing food and shelter to the growing number of travelers crossing through Tioga Pass.  The Lake was named in his honor.

Gardisky Lake Trailhead

Gardisky Lake is an alpine gem, straddling the Tioga Crest above Saddlebag Lake, and though the hike to its shores is short, it is steep enough in places to give hikers a feeling of accomplishment.  Grand alpine scenery and 30-60-minute access to a lovely alpine basin combine to make this trip one of the best short hikes in the Eastern Sierra. 

It was a nice sunny afternoon, but a cool day as I rolled into the small dirt trailhead parking lot. There's space for about 8 cars here, and there are two other cars already parked here.

It was a chilly hike, and much of the beginning of the hike is in the shade of the forest.  On the other hand, it is steep. Incredibly steep!  So you heat up quickly!

Hoover Wilderness

In any case, suffice it to say that it's a steep slog up this dusty trail, basically following a fast-flowing creek.  The trail starts on the right side of the creek, but after a few minutes’ crosses it.  The trail continues its unrelenting steepness. As I climbed higher I started to get views of the mountains across the road.

Steep Climb


Great views continue to open up as you climb up, stretching past the towering cone of Mount Dana to the Kuna Crest in the south, and westward across upper Lee Vining Creek to the gleaming white granite of the Sierra crest.  Views of the 12,000 foot White Mountain, 12,590 foot Mount Conness, and the east face of 12,242 foot North Peak can be seen from here.

Mt Conness & North Peak

There are a lot of small switchbacks when finally; I crested out of the forest into a large grassy area with wonderful views to the west of the snow-covered mountains.

View Towards Tioga Peak

You’re not done yet, but the hard part was over.  You now had a gentle climb the rest of the way.  The trail was now straight, with no more switchbacks.  Never saw another hiker on the trail so far, but that’s normal for this hike.  This was in great contrast to the hordes of people in my Saddlebag Lake hike yesterday.

I crested a ridge and could now see a couple of small ponds on the right.  Over the next ridge Gardisky Lake came into view, and what a beautiful sight it was!

Gardisky Lake

The lake has a population of brook trout, so take some home.  Best place to fish is from wherever you can throw your line in.  Most people who fish will head to the right where the deep water lies.  #16 fly should work wonders here.  My favorite’s flies to use on this lake are Caddis, Nymphs or Midges.  Using a dry and a dropper can be productive.  I catch less fish on a dry fly but it’s so much more fun.

The northern shore of the lake is open, grassy, with not much in the way of shade from trees. I could see a group of people on that side, having a picnic.  No one is fishing so I have the lake to myself (fishing wise).  I continued along the lake shore looking for any sign of fish activity, and there is some, but under the ice.  About 200’ of the shore line was frozen on the west side of the lake.

Ice on Gardisky Lake

Now that I stopped hiking, I started to get quite cold, as there was a slight but incessant cool breeze coming in from the west.

Gardisky Lake

I moved around the lake and found an ice free area to fish.  No sign of activity so I start with a dry fly with no luck.  I’m a sight fisherman and fishing blind is never been much good for me on dry flies.  I change to a wet fly and add a spilt-shot to get it down deeper and that did the trick.  Fish on!

Fish On!


I run into a father and son hiking around the lake and we chat as I’m fishing.  I meet the nicest people in the backcountry.  Their more excited than me as I bring in another brookie and have an hundred questions on fishing and “wished they brought their poles with them”.  How many times have I heard that statement!

What they were there for was to hike Tioga Peak and wondered if I knew the best way up.  I point to where there is a nice hiker use trail up to the peak.  I have climbed up there more than a dozen times over the years and it always is a breathtaking view.

Tioga Peak

As I move around the lake I find a nice deep spot and the lake starts to warm up and fish are beginning to rise to feed.  I switch back to my dry fly and sight fishing gets hot. 


I’ve caught Brookies up to 14” here in the past, but the average today is about 10’ up to 12”.  But they look pretty healthy this year, not stunted as in prior years.  A welcome change!  Fishing is good today.




The group that was having a picnic earlier comes by and asks if I know how to reach the Tioga Crest.  I show them the best rout up and what’s to see once they’re up there if they wish.  This always happens to me, it’s like I have a sign on my saying “Tour Guide”.  But I don’t really mine as they are good people.

Fishing continues to be good as I bring in one after another of the fat brookies.



The scenery is top notch.  Take advantage of the awe-inspiring views of the spectacular peaks as you leave and head back toward the trailhead.

Views on the way back

This is my last day of my vacation and I always end it here as I have many good memories of me and my dad fishing here.  When I reached the bottom to the trailhead, I found no other cars left in the parking lot.  Just like me and my dad, we were always the last ones to leave.  Tradition is hard to break.

Eastern Sierra Forum / L.A. Aqueduct Centennial
« on: November 13, 2013, 11:48:14 AM »
Los Angeles has been celebration the last week as it’s been 100 year now since Los Angeles Department of Water and Power opens the gates from Owens Valley for the first water releases into Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1913.  This water created the conditions for the growth of modern Southern California.  The then-small city of L.A. of 100,000 shortly grew into the giant metropolis of 4 million it is today.

This also sparked the long conflict between Los Angeles and the Owens Valley that’s still going on today.  When then Water Chief William Mulholland said “There it is, Take it!” 100 years ago, Owens Valley residents claimed it was a big “Water Grab” as some still believe today.

Now that we have 100 years to look back at this 233 mile engineering triumph from the High Sierra to Los Angeles, are there more pluses than negatives because of the aqueduct?  Any thoughts?

Eastern Sierra Fishing / Huge German Brown Caught!
« on: October 30, 2013, 12:54:31 PM »
20 pound, 8 ounce German Brown caught and released last week near Silver Lake in the June Lake Loop!  Congratulations to Paul Gonzales.  This is the same guy who caught and released 18 pound 2 ounce brown about same time last year in Silver Lake.

« on: October 01, 2013, 07:20:27 AM »
Yosemite and all the US’s national parks, monuments, and zoos were closed at midnight last night, after Congress failed to pass a new budget.  Campers will have 48 hours to leave the park.  The closure of the parks will unfold in two stages, according to the National Park Service Contingency Plan. In Phase 1, to take place over the first day and a half, all "day visitors" will be instructed to immediately leave the park. Overnight visitors (campers, RVers, and hikers) will be told to leave the park as part of Phase 2 and all commercial services will cease. The total process will take four days.

At the end of Phase 2, park operations will be kept at “minimum levels.”

Wonder how this effects backpackers?

Strictly Media / Fall Colors 2013
« on: September 23, 2013, 06:18:53 PM »
This was a popular Topic last year and maybe we can make this an annual “Fall Colors” if there is enough interest.  Last year’s photos were really great, especially OldSarge trip to Aspendell!  So let’s share our beautiful Eastern Sierra fall color photos here! 

I just came back from a fishing trip to the Eastern Sierra and can tell from Tom’s Place to the Bridgeport area, Rock Creek Lake is ahead in color of most areas with vivid colors aglow above East fork Campground to Mosquito Flats.  Best colors are from Rock Creek Lake to Mosquito Flats.  The higher up the better it looks.  Lower Rock Creek is only starting to change.  Lundy Canyon, Virginia Lakes, Mammoth Lakes and McGee Creek are also just starting to change colors.  June Lake Loop still mostly green but some yellowing of the aspen leaves.  Down south in Bishop Creek area colors are more advanced so good choice if you want a shorter drive.  I think in the next week or two should be peek in most areas.  But one big wind can end the fall colors fast, so get up there and see the fall colors before there all gone!

Eastern Sierra Fishing / Golden Rainbows
« on: March 13, 2013, 08:04:12 AM »
Are you ready for Golden Rainbows?  That’s the word out from several interested parties of bringing these trout into the Eastern Sierra.  There are two types of rainbow trout out there often confused with the California Golden trout.  They are the palomino trout and the golden rainbow trout.  Both of these trout are rainbows that are of the albino strain.  The guess the thought is to stock the golden rainbow as a novelty for the angling sport.

What’s your thoughts?  Good or bad for fishing?

Some pictures of these fish I got off the internet

Eastern Sierra Trip Reports / Duck Lake
« on: February 15, 2013, 07:55:32 AM »
How about a trip report from last October!  February can be slow for us Eastern Sierra types.  I love this hike and I do this long day trip maybe 1-2 times every year.  I’m sure many of you have been on the Duck Pass Trail and know the beauty of this hike.  Enjoy!

Duck Lake

Decided to head up to Duck Lake for a quick fishing trip in late fall.  It was a cool fall day with the typical afternoon showers in the forecast.  The hike starts from the back of Lake Mary Campground near the town of Mammoth Lakes at the Duck Pass Trailhead.  On this hike you will pass a string of lakes on your way leading up to Duck Pass, including Arrowhead Lake, Skelton Lake, Red Lake, and Barney Lake, which is immediately below Duck Pass.  The Duck Pass Trail is a very popular hiking destination, even in the late fall season.

Arrowhead Lake

Skelton Lake

Red Lake

Barney Lake

Duck Pass is I believe one of the easier passes to cross in the Sierra and I arrive at the pass at 10,797 feet elevation.  Once you crest the top you are immediately hit with deep blue waters of Duck Lake.  Duck Lake is a large natural alpine lake for a backcountry lake, but a beautiful sight when you crest over the pass.

Duck Lake

I usually fish the outlet of Duck Lake and down Duck Creek, but because of the drought, Duck Creek has mostly dried up this year.  So instead I head for Pika Lake and the inlet to Duck Lake.  To get there you need to take the spur trail to the left down to the north end of Duck Lake to reach Pika Lake. 

Spur Trail to Pika Lake

Pika Lake fishing came alive on flies served dry for festive Brookies and Bows in the 8” to 12” size range.  Pika Lake does have some good campsites on the small ridge that flanks the lake, much better than steep sides around Duck Lake near the inlet side of the Lake.

Pika Lake

I headed next to the Inlet of Duck Lake and really hit pay dirt.  The larger bows started hitting my chosen flies hard with trout up to 16 inches. 

Duck Lake Inlet

Wild Rainbow Trout

Once I fished out the inlet I started working my way around Duck Lake and started catching mostly brookies with an occasional bow showing up.  Fishing was excellent, with double figures for both bows and brooks caught and released in Duck Lake.  I did take a few bows back to camp for barbecuing and they were rummy, and they had the pink salmon colored meat that I love.  Fished most of back part of the lake, from the inlet to about halfway to the outlet when it was time to hit the trail back to camp.

A Nice Brook Trout

Another Brook Trout out of Duck Lake

Some really great views on the hike home too!  Turned out to be a great day!  Good fishing, great vistas, and the weather not too bad (some showers).  See you next year Duck Lake!

View from Duck Pass on the Hike home

Eastern Sierra Trip Reports / Gaylor & Granite Lakes Loop – Yosemite
« on: January 18, 2013, 12:43:17 PM »
Gaylor & Granite Lakes Loop – Yosemite

This is one of my favorite hikes in Yosemite.  Highlights of this trip include good fishing in all lakes, see a cool silver/gold mine ruins, great views of granite peaks, and many native flowers in season.  This is one of them hikes you come back to time and time again.  This trip is from Late September 2012.

Gaylor Lakes Trailhead

Start the loop trail at the Gaylor Lake Trailhead that is just a few yards from the Tioga Pass entrance station.  The first 0.7 mile of the hike is a bit steep but a steady shady climb up the ridge on a trail that features dozens of stone steps. 

First look at Middle Gaylor Lake

Once on the ridge, the trail drops down to the Middle Gaylor Lake.  You could fish this lake now but I save this lake for last as the loop trail comes back here! 

Middle Gaylor Lake

Keep to your right of Middle Gaylor Lake and take the steady but easy climb to Upper Gaylor Lake.  Upper Gaylor has Brookies up to 10”. 

Upper Gaylor Lake

Small Brook Trout out of Upper Gaylor Lake

Trail up to the Dana Ruins

Dana City Ruins

Continue on the loop and keep to your left around Upper Gaylor Lake and hike up the hill to the ruins of the Great Sierra Mine and Dana Village (See the full story on the “Great Sierra Mine”  After you investigate the ruins, Adits and cool equipment left behind, take off-trail over the ridge due west from Dana Village to Upper Granite Lake. 

Upper Granite Lake is in this Cirque

Upper Granite Lake

Upper Granite Lake lies at the base of the cirque just behind Lower Granite.  Upper Granite Lake has the most scenic features in the valley and dreamlike views.  Also makes a good lunch stop and as a bonus, has the largest and fattest fish on this loop with Brookies up to 14”. 

Nice Size Brookies in Upper Granite Lake

Once you’re done with fishing and lunch, take the spur trail down to beautiful Lower Granite Lake next.  You may want to wet your line here with Brookies up to 11”. 

Lower Granite Lake

Colorful Brookie out of Lower Granite Lake

Hike to the outlet of Lower Granite Lake and again take off-trail due east back to Middle Gaylor Lake.  Middle Gaylor Lake had the best fishing action of all the lakes, with Brookies up to 13” but average about 10”. 

Middle Gaylor Lake

Brookie out of Middle Gaylor Lake

When you’re through for the day, head back down the trail to the trailhead parking lot.  Distance for the loop is about 6 miles round trip.  Add another 1.5 miles to the loop if you wish to add Lower Gaylor Lake to your hike.

For those who fish, this is an outing where you can easily land 50 + fish in a day or more.  They were inhaling Elk Hair Caddis, Gnats and Parachute Adams flies on my last fall trip there.  All the lakes hold aggressive and colorful brook trout.  Even though this is in Yosemite and it gets it share of hikers, most end their hike at Middle Gaylor Lake.  If you take the loop you will probably not see another person until you return back to Middle Gaylor Lake.  As for fishing pressure, the two times I fished here this year I saw only one fisherman.  The lone fisherman was at Middle Gaylor Lake and he was all of 6 years old.  His Dad was obvious teaching his son how to fish, with Mom close by sitting on a stump with a smile on her face.  Yes, a good day to make memories!

Middle and Upper Gaylor Lakes

Eastern Sierra Forum / Rock Creek Lakes Resort
« on: January 11, 2013, 08:22:57 AM »
Look what I got for Christmas!  Oldest Daughter got this for me from Craigslist or something like that.  Its a decal for sticking on a car window or wherever.  It would make a great design for the t-shirt or patch for us.  What do you think?

Strictly Media / 2013 Eastern Sierra Photos
« on: January 05, 2013, 07:54:13 AM »
2013 Eastern Sierra Photos

With the New Year comes a new photo post of our beautiful Eastern Sierra.  The last “Eastern Sierra Photos” thread was a success thanks mostly to all who shared their photos.  Let’s continue this for 2013 and continue to share your pictures of anything Eastern Sierra.  All Eastern Sierra photos are welcome, old or new.  Let’s this be an inspiration for all of us this coming season!

Eastern Sierra History / Great Sierra Mine
« on: December 04, 2012, 08:23:39 AM »
Great Sierra Mine

The “Great Sierra Mine”, also known as Dana Village or Dana City, is now a Historic Site that preserves the site of the largest mining operation in what would become later known as “Yosemite National Park”.  The mine and village are located near the top of Tioga Hill on the crest on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada, one of several claims intended to work the Sheepherder lode.  The Sheepherder lode was first discovered in 1860 from a prospecting party consisting of a lawyer, a sea captain, a surveyor, a dentist and a professor who traveled into the Tioga Pass area.  1860 party was camped at Lake Jessie (called Tioga Lake today) when “Doc” George Chase discovered the Sheepherder Lode.

As they were leaving, “Doc” George Chase, left a flattened tin can on Tioga Hill on which he had scratched a location notice with his knife, but none of the prospecting party ever came back to work the claim.  Was not until 1880, when the Sheepherder Lode was rediscovered by shepherd Thomas Brusky, hence the name “Sheepherder Lode”, who staked a number of claims in the area.  In 1881 all of the claims were bought out by the Great Sierra Consolidated Silver Mining Company and who they established the company towns of Dana and Bennettville.

Encouraged by essay reports showing high values of silver and gold, the company expanded on its activities in Dana.  Among with the original cabins built for the miners, the company built a large shaft house, gallows frame, large boarding house, carpenters shop, black smith shop and an office.  The gallows frame could be seen all the way from the Lundy trail at the head of Lake Canyon!

Due to the 11,000 foot altitude, working the mine year around proved very difficult and sometimes dangerous.  On November 19, 1881 proved to be one of those days.  Explosion in the shaft house left four men injured and several buildings destroyed.  They were thawing out frozen nitro-glycerin by the stove for the next shift when it exploded.

They continued working the main mine shaft until May of 1882, when the main shaft was mined down to over 100 feet through mostly solid granite.  Management decided to change strategy and relocate to the bottom of the hill at Bennettville and start a horizontal tunnel westward towards the Great Sierra Mine where the Sheepherder Lode was projected to be at.  Dana was soon abandoned.

Today, half a dozen stone cabins, a powder house and a blacksmith shop still remain. The mine shafts can still be seen and have collapsed or been mostly filled in.  A visit today starts near the Tioga Pass entrance station and entails a hike of 1.8 miles one-way and approximately 850 feet climb to the Great Sierra Mine and Dana Village.

Good and recommended article that covers this mine and village is the “Ghost Mines of Yosemite (1958) by Douglass Hubbard”.   The Yosemite Museum located in Yosemite Valley also offered an exhibit this summer that covered the Great Sierra Mine and Dana Village with some nice old photos on display.

Photo from the 1950’s showing a Gallows Frame with a Wooden Capstan.
Photo courtesy of Ghost Mines of Yosemite (1958) by Douglass Hubbard

Photo from the 1950’s of the Powder House
Photo courtesy of Ghost Mines of Yosemite (1958) by Douglass Hubbard

Photos from my October 2012 trip of the Great Sierra Mine and Dana Village

Miners Cabin

View out of the window of the Miners Cabin

Shaft House

Powder Room


Anything Goes / Mystery Location
« on: October 29, 2012, 07:30:59 AM »
Can you guess where this photo was taken?

This is in the Eastern Sierra and we have talked about this lake a few times in the past in the forums.  The hint for today:  The Lake, stream and mountain all have the same name.

I will give more hints tomorrow if needed.

Lake, Stream and Mountain view

Alpine Lake

Strictly Media / Fall Color Photos
« on: October 28, 2012, 03:42:23 PM »
Started this topic so everyone can share their beautiful Eastern Sierra fall color photos!  So don’t be shy, let’s see your photos of the aspens turning bright gold on your last fall trip to the Sierra!

I hear Lundy Canyon and McGee Creek are still in full bloom but Rock Creek Lake leaves are pretty much all down.  I might make one last run and get some late photos and fishing.

CSI Lake trip in first week of October.  I was a little bit early this year for the best colors, but the fishing was good!

Strictly Media / Yosemite Night Sky
« on: September 21, 2012, 08:20:55 AM »
Cool video on time-lapse taken in Yosemite National Park by Grind TV of the night sky and all the billions of stars!  Start video and put it in wide screen mode and turn on the sound.  Its in 1080p so bigger the screen the better.  Enjoy!

Eastern Sierra Trip Reports / McLeod Lake
« on: September 17, 2012, 09:53:27 AM »
McLeod Lake

McLeod Lake (also known as McCloud Lake) is a small alpine lake that is the only Lahontan Cutthroat trout water in the Mammoth Lakes Basin area and is a short 15-20 minute (half mile) hike from the Mammoth Pass Trail.  Located in a wilderness setting and surrounded by Lodgepole Pine forest, it is one beautiful lake and should be not missed!  If you’re a lowlander like me, this is an excellent lake for your first hike as you acclimate to the higher elevation.  This is a special regulations lake with only artificial lures, with barbless hooks and a daily Bag and Possession Limited of 0.


Dead Forest

Looking back to the parking lot

The trail begins at Horseshoe Lake parking area, which passes through a “dead forest of trees”; where 120 acres of trees have died off a few years back with a period of increased CO2 gas emission from volcanic activity underground.  There are danger signs posted all over the lake trailhead parking area so be aware of this.  The danger to people is that the gas, carbon dioxide, is heavier than air and collects in depressions or low areas.  So, I would suggest no napping in this area.  Children and pets should also be monitored.  I did see some re-growth in the area, so maybe this period is ending.  The trail takes off and climbs about three hundred feet to an elevation above 9000 ft. through a lodgepole pine forest to the outlet of McLeod Lake.  So those not acclimatized could feel somewhat winded.  When you first reach the lake at the outlet, the sandy white shoreline and the beautiful crystal clear water are a sight to behold!  The lake has a turquoise color to it, almost like glacier water.  This beautiful lake is nestled right under the Mammoth Crest.

Trail to McLeod Lake

First look at McLeod Lake at outlet

Mammoth Crest

McLeod Lake is popular for families with kids and dogs.  And they were in droves this pleasant day.  Labor Day weekend is perhaps not the best time to go to this lake for reflection and fishing!  But I had no choice as I’m a working stiff and have to take my fishing days as best I can.  I seemed to be a magnet for the kids and dogs and parents this day as most did not know there were any fish in this lake.  The men were the most interested if I was having any fishing success.  If I had a nickel for every time one of the men asked me how the fishing was and then said I wished I brought my pole, I’d be rich!  I’m sure you all experienced that.  But they were respectful bunch and kept their dogs and kids from swimming too close to me. 

McLeod Lake

You can easily fish this 11 acres lake in no time as you have excellent access all around the lake.  A quick jaunt around the lake will add maybe two-thirds of a mile to your hike.  When I first started fishing, I did not see any rising fish or fish activity and was concerned.  I fished mostly at the south end of the lake where the deep water drops off about 10 yards out.  It was easy “matching the hatch” for this lake as swarms of “black gnats” descended upon me throughout the day.

McLeod Lake looking north

In no time at all I was hooking and landing the coveted Cutthroat Trout.  The fish were ranging from 8” to 12”, with about 10” being the average size fish caught for me on this beautiful fishing day at McLeod Lake.  This is not a fish per cast lake, you will need to do some work to catch these Cutthroats, but they are there!  All the Cutthroat Trout were safely released back into the lake.

Cutthroat Trout

Cutthroat Trout

Cutthroat Trout

This lake has a lot of history for me.  It is the first lake I hike to with my parents when I was a small lad of just 5 years old.  My mom would feed me raisins to get me up to the lake.  Fish seemed bigger then also.  Back then we called this lake McCloud Lake.  Even shows as McCloud Lake on my older maps, but newer maps are naming this lake McLeod Lake!  Not sure when the name change happened, but whatever the real name of this lake, it’s worth a stop just to catch some Lahontan Cutthroat!

Eastern Sierra Trip Reports / Dog Days of Summer
« on: August 14, 2012, 08:39:54 AM »
Dog Days of Summer

I just recently spent a week in the Eastern Sierra for our annual family reunion.  We get together every year somewhere in the Eastern Sierra and this year we stayed in Mammoth lakes in the group campground at Shady Rest.  Great scenery and weather, with a few thundershowers in the afternoon, which is normal for this time of year.  Not a lot of fishing as I had to do the family thing, but did take the gang to some of the mines in the area, which was a big hit with my young nieces and nephews!  When our large group did fish, I mostly just helped out the youngster’s as there lines were tangled more in the trees and bushes than catching fish out in the lakes and streams.  As so called “expert” fisherman of our extended family, I’m expected to show and teach the youngsters how to fish.  But it’s gratifying work, especially when one of them gets hooked of fishing!  Put another notch on my fishing pole!

Finally got my chance one warm day when everybody wanted to go to town to shop, tour the bike park or see the blues festival.  I love beer, but I love fishing more so I volunteered to take care and watch our dogs while everyone went downtown.  When they all left, we made my escape!

My dogs are both golden retrievers and love the water, so had to pick a lake where I can get away from other fishermen and let them do their thing.   I brought my fishing pole just in case they tired and needed a snap and let me fish some.  With the fishing pole and with two excited dogs, it made getting around challenging. 

The large male, "Dylan" is on the left and "Francine" is on the right.  Dogs are waiting quietly near the dock for the water taxi to arrive.

Saddlebag Lake was our destination as I have friends there and it’s a dog friendly resort.  I loaded the dogs on the water taxi and off we went with both dogs heads pointed into the wind as if they were riding in my truck with the windows open.

Water taxi at the Saddlebag Lake Resort

Back side of Saddlebag Lake is an excellent place to take dogs that love to swim, play and not bother other fishermen, just stay away from the inlet as that’s always a very popular spot.  I found a secluded spot and let them go!  As you can see, they had a blast.

Lets swim!

The male dog just loves to swim

Male dog falling asleep after two hour swim. 

After about two hours, they started slowing down enough where I can cast my bubble and fly in the lake.  Fishing turned out to be excellent, with over a dozen trout caught in less than three hours fishing.  Fish were good size, where even the stockers were coming in at 16-18”.  Also caught two large alpers that went up to 4 lbs.  Richard (the owner) told me they had two alper fish plantings this season so far this summer!  And kind of hinted where I can to catch some!  Good to have friends in high places!

The male dog inspecting my catch

Female thinks it lunch time!

Saddlebag Lake Shots

Kept a couple of the fish for dinner that night, released the rest and we went back on the water taxi to my truck.  Drove back to our campground and was hoping they would have brought back some beers for me.  The wife noticed the dogs were still somewhat wet and gave me the eye!  Darn, no beer tonight!

Shared some of the fish with my canine friends that night at camp and soon after dinner they were sleeping like logs!  The "dog days" of summer can be fun!

Eastern Sierra History / Historic Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery
« on: June 23, 2012, 08:39:15 AM »
I stopped by for a visit and took a tour to the Historic Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery.  The Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery is a beautiful place to visit and has probably the best picnic spot in the Eastern Sierra.  Defiantly worth a visit if you're in the area.

History of Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery

When the proposal to construct a new fish hatchery was first discussed in the early 1900s, it created tremendous competition between several locations.  Among sites that were to be considered were Tuttle Creek west of Lone Pine, Bishop Creek west of Bishop, Oak Creek west of Independence, and even a possible site in San Bernardino County.  Oak Creek was chosen the best location because of the clarity of the water and cold temperature was better suited for fish production.

Building the Hatchery 1916

Building the Hatchery 1916

Construction was started in late March of 1916 with the goal of completing the project in time to receive eggs in the spring of 1917.  The building was designed by a team of six men led by Charles Dean of the State Department of Engineering.  Fish and Game Commissioner M. J. Connell instructed the team, "To design a building that would match the mountains, would last forever, and would be a showplace for all time." This created a one-of-a-kind showplace.

Hatchery almost completed 1917

The hatchery building was constructed of native granite collected within a quarter of a mile of the site. The walls are two to three feet thick.  None of the stones used in construction were cut, but were "sorted to fit."  The roof is red Spanish tile made in Lincoln, California from red clay found at that location.  The interior is finished with Oregon ash.  A gardener brought in from Golden Gate Park in San Francisco landscaped the grounds of the hatchery.  Approximately 3,500 tons of boulders used in the walls were guaranteed not to "crumble until the mountains shall fall."

The thick walls of the building

The Mt Whitney Fish Hatchery was the largest and best equipped fish hatchery in California at that time. It had a yearly capacity of 2,000,000 fry." The first trout hatched in 1917 were eggs collected at Rae Lakes.  The eggs were transported from the collecting station at Rae Lakes via Baxter Pass by mule train to the hatchery.  The spawning season of 1918 saw the first collection of golden trout eggs from the Cottonwood Lakes.

Hatchery Fish Truck 1918

Mt Whitney Hatchery 1926

Mt Whitney Hatchery 2012

Fire then Flooding

After surviving the 55,000 acre wild fire that stopped just yards away from the Hatchery in July 2007, July 2008 brought a heavy thunderstorm on the burned areas bringing a wall of mud and ash down the Sierra into Oak Creek.  The mud flow went through the hatchery site.  A four foot layer of mud and debris was left throughout the grounds of the hatchery.  Add in budget cuts, the Hatchery looked like it would be another footnote in the history books.

The fire from July 2007

Fighting the fire near the Hatchery July 2007

The hatchery was once renowned for the perfect waters for fish husbandry, cold and clear from the Sierra Nevada rushing down Oak Creek.  The fire and flood may have destroyed that perfect water system. The trees that shadowed and cooled the creek water were lost in the fire. 

Flood and Mudslide July 2008

Flood and Mudslide July 2008

Flood and Mudslide July 2008

Today and the Future

Within a year with the help of The Friends of the Hatchery, donations of cash and equipment from the public, with many volunteers and thousands of hours of labor, the new hatchery is up and running and hatching the first production of young trout.  The restoration efforts at the Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery have allowed the Interpretive Center and Display Pond to reopen. The goal today of Mt Whitney Fish Hatchery is to continue as a working hatchery and preserve the historical significance of the hatchery facility and its place in history. 

Interpretive Center

Mt Whitney Hatchery 2012

DFG is again experimenting with raising small fry, literally testing the waters to see if they are still optimal for raising trout. The first batch of trout to come out of the hatchery post-fire was planted in Diaz Lake for the 2010 Early Southern Inyo Opener. 

Fish Raceways from Tour

Fish Pond

Will jump for food

However, the future of full-scale hatchery production still remains uncertain.  The Friends of Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery would like a private hatchery operator to take over fish production here.  A significant investment would have to be made in water supply and of course some hurdles within the DFG.

Mt Whitney Hatchery in Winter

Mt Whitney Hatchery

The hatchery is run by volunteers now.  Over 40 volunteers who donate their time and effort to keep this hatchery open to the public.  There are no paid employees.

Mt Whitney Hatchery

When I mentioned to them I would like to do a small story on the hatchery, they eagerly provided most of the pictures for this post.  Only pictures I took were on the tour of the facilities.  So a big thanks to the Friends of Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery and Bruce Ivey, Director of the facility for the nice pictures and a great tour of their facilities! 

Beautiful Historic Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery

If you're in the area, be sure to stop on by.  Real interesting tour and also very kid friendly.

Here is the link to their site for more information and more pictures.

Eastern Sierra History / Rattlesnake Dick's Lost Gold
« on: June 09, 2012, 05:18:02 AM »
Many colorful characters came out of the old west mining camps who contributed to its legendary reputation with colorful names. Most were hard working folks through good fortune and hard work, reaped great rewards.  Then there were the individuals who would take from others.  This story is about one of them.

Rattlesnake Dick's Lost Gold

Richard Barter, best known as Rattlesnake Dick, was born in Quebec, Canada, the son of a British officer around 1833. Though little is known of his early history, he was said to have been a reckless sort of boy.

Rattlesnake Dick, 1856

During California’s Gold Rush days, he migrated there in 1850, accompanied by his older brother and an old man who was some sort of relative. Settling in at Rattlesnake Bar, a small mining camp in Placer County, the brother and other man soon returned to Canada. But, Rattlesnake Dick remained at the camp, working for other miners and doing a little prospecting on his own.


Yreka Mine, 1860

However, Rattlesnake Dick was unsuccessful in his quest for gold and soon decided to turn to a life of crime. He began with rustling horses but was as unsuccessful at that as he was at finding gold. In no time, he was arrested and sent to prison for two years.

When he was released he formed a gang made up of brothers, Cyrus and George Skinner, along with several others. In 1856, Rattlesnake Dick learned from a drunken mining engineer that large gold shipments were being sent down Trinity Mountain from the Yreka and Klamath River Mines.

Rattlesnake Dick sent George Skinner and three others to intercept the gold shipment, which was packed on a stagecoach. George and the other bandits stopped the stage coaches outside of Nevada City, California holding guns on the drivers. Meekly the men turned over $80,600 in gold bullion to Skinner and his men, without a shot being fired.

Stage Coach Robbery

The bandits then made off with the shipment to keep a rendezvous at Folsom with Rattlesnake Dick and Cy Skinner. However, George Skinner found it next to impossible to take the heavy gold shipment down the mountain passes without fresh mules. Soon, he split up the gold shipment burying half of it in the mountains.

Making their way to Auburn, the outlaws were soon intercepted by a Wells Fargo posse and gunfight ensued. In the melee, George Skinner was killed and his confederates fled. The lawmen recovered $40,600 of the stolen loot and though they searched diligently, they failed to find the remaining $40,000.

Wells Fargo Poster

In the meantime, Rattlesnake Dick and Cy Skinner weren’t at the rendezvous point in Folsom, as they had just been jailed for stealing mules. When they were released, Rattlesnake Dick immediately sought out George Skinner to obtain his share of the gold shipment, only to find that Skinner had been killed. Cy Skinner and Rattlesnake Dick spent the next several weeks trying to find the buried gold before they finally gave up.

Both men soon went back to robbing stagecoaches but their luck soon ran out. On July 11, 1859, Sheriff J. Boggs trapped Rattlesnake Dick and Skinner in a mountain pass near Auburn, California. Boggs fired a shot right into the heart of Rattlesnake Dick, killing him instantly. Skinner was wounded, but lived to be taken into custody and given a long prison sentence.

Skinner’s Prison Cell, 1859

The treasure has never been recovered and is said to be somewhere on the slope of Trinity Mountain, said to have been buried about 12 miles south of the hold-up point.  The loot if found today would be now worth over 3,500,000 dollars.

Trinity Mountains

Anything Goes / Mystery Location
« on: May 30, 2012, 09:55:57 AM »
Can you guess where this picture was taken?

This was taken in late May 2011, one year ago with the massive snowfall we had last year.  This is in the Eastern Sierra and I’m sure most of you been here at this popular location, minus the snow.

Hint:  I had to walk 1½ to 2 miles on snow shoes to get to this spot.  Snow was 15 to 20 feet deep where I’m standing.  Where Am I?

Eastern Sierra History / The Story of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine
« on: April 20, 2012, 08:30:50 AM »
This is a re-post of a story on the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine.  I’m only scratching the surface on the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine.  The book, “Mine in the Sky” by Joseph M. Kurtak will give you the full story if you like to read more. 

The Story of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine

Pine Creek Tungsten Mine

Prospectors located mining claims along Pine Creek high up in the rugged Sierra Nevada west of Bishop in 1895, but the gold and silver content of the assayed rock proved too disappointing. The ground lay dormant until 1916, when Billie Vaughn and Arch Beauregard discovered outcrops with molybdenum and the tungsten-bearing mineral scheelite while prospecting near the headwaters of Pine Creek. Vaughn and Beauregard filed on claims situated at an elevation of 11,300 feet above sea level, and with two other partners extended the 7-mile-long trail from Round Valley for another three miles. Pack mules transported equipment and supplies up the steep 3,000-foot slope, including a concentrating table that had to be cut up into sections.

Wagon road was built to replace the rugged pack trail to the mine. 1918

The claims were worked during and shortly after World War I to produce scheelite concentrates, which were packed down the trail on mule back. Tungsten extracted from the scheelite was used to make durable steel alloys, and thus was in high demand during wartime. Because of this demand, tungsten increased in value fivefold from that of the pre-war years. The partners soon realized that they did not have the financial means to develop the deposit on a large enough scale to make mining profitable, and by January 1918 had struck a deal with a new partner who obtained the needed capital. New trails and roads were built, power lines and pipelines were constructed, and mine timbers were cut using an electric-powered sawmill that was packed in on mules. Upon completion of the Rock Creek wagon road, which used part of the old Sherwin toll road, machinery for the mines and a mill was transported from the railroad station at Laws, a distance of 50 miles by the new wagon road. The mill went into operation in December 1918 but was forced to close two months later due to plummeting tungsten prices.

Mule team hauling machinery to the tungsten mine on Pine Creek 1918

The Natural Soda Products Company purchased the Pine Creek mine in 1922 and then reorganized as the Tungsten Products Company. Tungsten prices had risen somewhat since the 1919 crash, and the company moved ahead with improvements. In 1924, an adit was driven that shortened the distance from the mine to the mill, improving winter operations. Ore was hauled to the surface by mules pulling six-car trains and then transported to the mill via rail tram. The Rock Creek road was abandoned due to the difficulty of keeping it open during winter, so most supplies were hauled to the mine by pack mules via the Pine Creek trail. The concentrates carried down the trail on mule back were transported by road to the railroad station at Laws. Although problems due to weather conditions persisted, optimism ran high; unfortunately, by 1928 the mine workings and mill were idle once again due to events related to the 1927 Watterson Bank failure.

Hauling a 30-foot-long power pole using the two-mule swivel packsaddle system during reconstruction of the mine's power line in 1937. Swivel packsaddles allowed the animals to turn under the load while negotiating tight switchbacks on the trail

The Pine Creek mine lay dormant until 1936, at which time the US Vanadium Corporation acquired the property and began developing it into a world-class producer of tungsten. Transportation remained a challenge due the remote location and harsh winter conditions. Horses and mules continued to be used to pack materials and supplies into the early 1940s. George Brown, a Paiute Indian from Round Valley, was foremost among the packers of this era, carrying everything from drill rods and power poles to timbers, cable, and bull wheels for construction of a 2.5-mile-long tramway to the Tungsten Mine, situated at an elevation of 12,000 feet above sea level on the east face of Mt. Tom. According to some accounts, construction of the tramway was the last big commercial/industrial packing job in the Eastern Sierra. Completed in December 1941, this tram was probably the last all-wood construction project of its kind in the United States. The towers were built high enough for tram buckets to clear the large amounts of snow that accumulated in the winter. In addition to carrying ore, the tram was used to bring in supplies for snowbound employees and transport injured workers out of the mine.

Workers at the lower tram house of the Tungsten Mill. Workers sometimes rode in the ore buckets to avoid the 4,500-foot climb to the mine. This dangerous practice proved fatal in one case. 1941

After completion of the road over 11,000-foot Morgan Pass in 1939 and the tramway in 1941, the need for pack mules diminished. Heavy duty Lynn half-trucks began making regular trips over the arduous Morgan Creek Road. When the road was choked with snow, bulldozers were used to pull sleds laden with supplies. During big snowstorms, the mine was cut off from the outside world for weeks at a time. At such times, Tex Cushion and his dog team made numerous trips to deliver mail and supplies and to respond to medical emergencies, sometimes during raging blizzards.

Tex Couchane (aka Cushion) and his dog team delivered supplies when no other means of transportation could reach the camp. 1937

Clearing the snow-choked road over Morgan Pass in spring of 1938 to keep the Rock Creek Road open

RD7 Caterpillar dozers pulling supply sleds over Morgan Pass in 1938

In the years leading up to and during World War II, tungsten once again gained strategic importance. By 1942, the mine had become the largest producer of tungsten in the country. The Pine Creek tungsten mine was a major contributor to the economy of the Eastern Sierra for nearly 54 years before being mothballed in 2001 due to the availability of low-cost imports from China.

Strictly Media / Eastern Sierra Photos
« on: April 11, 2012, 10:52:52 AM »
Eastern Sierra Photos

Let’s start a photo post of our beautiful Eastern Sierra.  The pictures can be anything Eastern Sierra, lakes, streams, sunsets, vistas, backpacking trip.  You name it.  This is no contest, so all Eastern Sierra photos are welcome, old or new.  Please name where the photo was taken, unless it’s your secret place (we understand) or you just forget (we really understand). ;D  Let’s this be an inspiration for the coming season!

Eastern Sierra History / Chuck Yeager Story
« on: April 06, 2012, 07:22:22 AM »
Thought I would share something not too old and the hero of this story is still with us today.  If I could trade places with anybody and live the life they did, this would be an easy choice.  It’s time to start living the life you dreamed about.  Let me know what you think!

Chuck Yeager Story

Chuck Yeager, a true hero and noted Air Force fighter pilot, started his career as a private and retired a major general.  He trained as a fighter pilot and flew many missions in World War 2 and became a decorated combat ace.  In one mission alone he shot down five enemy aircraft for an “ace in a day”.  He is one of the "toughest" pilots, both mentally and physically, in aviation history, and few have ever matched his piloting skills.

Ripping through the sound barrier in a bullet-shaped orange rocket plane, battling Messerschmitt’s in the cold European skies, testing exotic aircraft of all shapes and sizes in the bleak Mojave desert, hooting and hollering with friends on crazy drunken misadventures--it all sounds too fun to be legal!

What's more, he lived the kind of life that people don't seem to believe in anymore, the life of the self-made man who rises from nothing, who picks himself up by his own bootstraps and succeeds through good ol' Yankee Doodle initiative, ability and gumption.

Chuck Yeager WW11 fighter plane

After the war he remained with the Air force and became a test pilot, breaking many speed records.  He was first to break the sound barrier, Mach 1, Mach 2 and went to Mach 2.4 in 1953 with the rocket-powered X-1A fighter plane.

Chuck Yeager X-1A Rocket Powered Fighter Plane

Retirement allowed Yeager more time to return to his roots and his love of the outdoors. And nothing came between his two-week treks in early July through the High Sierras where he angled for the precious golden trout.  His favorite fishing trips was to catch golden trout which he extols as one of the best game fish and best eating fish to be found.

Operation Golden Trout

In 1964, "Operation Golden Trout" was a go.  Chuck and a USAF general had been drinking in the officer's club at Edwards AF base and after getting pretty smashed decided to go on a fishing trip for a few days. They got dropped off with all their camping and fishing equipment at the golden lake, but when the pilot returned to pick them up a few days later the altitude along with four passengers instead of two, plus all the equipment and golden trout caught was more weight than the chopper could lift.  It crashed into the lake but Chuck, the general, pilot and co-pilot got out before it sunk.  They hiked out and the general sent a recovery team back to salvage what they could. 

Each July Chuck Yeager undertakes a backpacking/fishing trip that would cripple many a younger man. "Years ago, when I was flying over the Mount Whitney area," he says, "I spotted this lake way up in the High Sierra—gin-clear and teeming with trout, up there above the timberline. Lake at 13,000 feet and the golden trout spawn in there. We pack in on foot 25 miles each way.

Fondly, he produces a well-thumbed pack of color prints: The fish, some up to four and a half pounds, are the color of old gold. Looking at them, his blue eyes sparkle under the curly gray hair much as they must have many years ago.

"When you really stop to think about it," he says, "finding that lake like that, just with the luck of the flight pattern, that's one of the real rewards of flying. Those trout up there—they've got the real Right Stuff."

Chuck Yeager

Eastern Sierra History / Lying Jim Townsend
« on: March 31, 2012, 05:05:22 AM »
Lying Jim Townsend

James William Emery Townsend (1838-1900), more commonly known as Lying Jim, was the original of Bret Harte’s “Truthful James,” the source of Mark Twain's Jumping Frog story, and much more. According to The Western Literature Association, Townsend “was one of the most talented and notorious liars of the Comstock, no small accomplishment. He was famous for his ability to spin elaborate and elegant yarns at a moment’s notice. Twain mentions him in Roughing It as being hoaxed by an even greater lie than he could compose, but this was early in his career. In later life he participated in one of the most creative scams in Comstock history when he singlehandedly printed a regular newspaper in a deserted mining town, peopling it with imaginary citizens and reporting in detail about them and fictional mining operations, so that foreign investors could be inveigled into buying stock in nonexistent companies.
This story below was taken from a Carson Appeal column printed in Hawthorne Nevada’s Walker Lake Bulletin dated 1890.

Lying Jim

While Jim Townsend was in Carson City a few weeks ago, he was sitting by the Arlington House stove talking in his usual exaggerated vein.

“If you want to see mining on a big scale, go to Mono County.”

“How big?” said a little man sitting close by.

“Why the Big Hole Mine, that I am connected with, has the deepest shaft and the biggest workings in the world.”

How deep asked the little man.

“You can’t measure it, because if we stopped work long enough to see how deep the shaft was, it would interfere with bullion production. We dropped a line down once and reeled it out until it broke with its own weight.  When a boy falls down the shaft, he strikes the bottom a grandfather.”

“Must have a big payroll?”

“We used to send the money down to the hands in cages until the workings got so deep that we didn’t get the winter account settled until a way along in the spring.  So we started a bank and telegraphed the money orders.  That system saved us an awful wear and tear on the cages.  The miners live down there and rear their families.  They got an underground city bigger’n Carson, with a regular charter and municipal elections twice a year. They publish two daily papers and a literary magazine.”

“I never heard of the magazine,’ said the stranger.

“Of course not, it would be a year before it got to you.  Besides they hold a fair there annually and racing every Saturday.  Finest four mile track in the world, lit with electric light.  No mud, no dust, always in the same condition.  Perfect paradise for sports.  What do you think of that for a mine?” 

Here the stranger, who was a Californian, threw his leg carelessly over the arm of the chair, and lighting a cigar, replied in a deep earnest tone:  “I don’t think much of your mine.  You work too much for small results.  When your mine plays out you have a lot of old truck on your hands, and where are you?  You mine after primitive methods, like all new countries.  It takes experience and hard work to tackle the industry in the proper shape.  With your mine you must be on the ground in person and have any amount of men to look after this department or that.  Now I have a bigger mine than yours.  It is located in Storey county, somewhere in the northern part I believe, and I run it quite up to the handle with one or two assistants.”

“How deep might the shaft be?”

“It might be pretty deep if I allowed the men to rush forward and overdo the thing, but at present there is no shaft at all.”

“Hoisting works up?"
“No, no hoisting works – not if I know it.  You can fool away a great deal of hard coin on hoisting works.”

“How in thunder do you run your mine?”

“On the assessment plan, sir.  That’s the latest and most improved method.  We have a big map of the mine hung up in the company’s office, made by one of the most competent artists on the Coast.  Now when I have a good map of the lower workings we don’t need any works to speak of.  We photographed the Savage hoisting works from the top of the Hale & Norcross trestlework’s an entirely new view-and call it by our name; the Bullion Brick.  I keep a man in Virginia City at $60 a month to superintend the location and write weekly letters, and I stay in San Francisco in my office on Pine Street and levy the assessments every 60 days; that’s as often as the law allows.  I’m the president, board of trustees, secretary, treasurer and everything-more especially the treasurer.  Of course, I draw the salary for all the officers, and when I get through drawing salaries, I turn the rest over to the agent in Virginia to pay off the hands.  By not employing any hands he saves enough to pay himself.  My regular income from the mine is $200,000 a year, and never a pick struck the ground.  This is what I consider scientific mining, sir.  You get the silver out of the pockets of the stock holders and leave the vast argentiferous and auriferous deposits in your claim for your children, who can go right ahead and develop the mine just as soon as the people quit putting up, which isn’t at all likely to occur.  As soon as a man drops on the game he dies, and the newcomers have to learn for themselves.  As long has people are being born in Nevada and California, my mine will run on like a chronometer clock.”

“But,” said Townsend, “my style of mining keeps a lot of men at work.”

“So does mine, quoted the Golden Gate chap.  Thousands of men are working night and day to pay the assessments.  It keeps the country as busy as a beehive, and the speaker sauntered to the telegraph office to order assessment No. 36.

He Lied His Way Through the Mining Camps

We turn the clock back to May 27, 1882, in Virginia City, Nevada.  Readers throughout the Comstock Lode were amazed to read this story of Townsend’s life and career: 

“James W. E. Townsend the gentleman who is making the local department of the Reno Gazette sparkle these days has led a remarkable life.  From information imparted by him to his friends while he lived on the Comstock, we learn that he was born in Patagonia, his mother, a noble English lady, having been cast ashore after the wreck of her husband’s yacht, in which they were making a pleasure trip around the globe. She was the only person saved.  After the birth of her son, and September having arrived (there being an “r”) in that month) she was killed and eaten. Jim was saved out as a small stake and was played until his twelfth year against the best grub at the command of the savage tribe for fattening purposes.  Then he escaped on a log, which he paddled through the Straits of Magellan with his hands, and was picked up by a whaler and taken to New Bedford.”

“At the age of 18 he entered the Methodist ministry and preached with glorious results for ten years, when he went to the Sandwich Islands as a missionary to Kanaka heathen, and remained for twenty years.  Then he reformed and returned to New York and opened a saloon, which he ran successfully and made a large fortune.  In an evil hour for himself, but to the world’s advantage, he tried his hand at journalism.  Fifteen years of this reduced him once more to poverty and preaching.  For thirty years longer Mr. Townsend occupied the pulpit, when he went back to the saloon business, after eighteen years of industrious drinking on the part of the public he brought his wealth to the Pacific Coast.  This was in 1849.”

“For several years Mr. Townsend ran simultaneously eight saloons, five newspapers and an immense cattle ranch in various parts of the Golden State.  In 1859 the enterprising gentleman was suddenly afflicted with a disease which for many months compelled him to lie on his back in one position.  This misfortune was, with the cruel levity of those rough days, turned to his account by his acquaintances, who dubbed him, ‘Lying Jim Townsend’, and ever since the sobriquet has stuck to him.  For the last decade he has devoted himself to journalism and is of course, once more poor.  Some of his friends who are of a mathematical turn have ascertained from data furnished them by Mr. Townsend in various conversations the remarkable fact that he is 384 years old.  Notwithstanding his great age, however, the gentleman still writes with the vigor of youth, and his shrewd humor is making for the Gazette, more than a local reputation.” 

A Career Is Born

In reality, we first hear of James W. E. Townsend in Virginia City itself in 1862. He worked at the Territorial Enterprise, often sharing drinks and tall tales with Mark Twain. Townsend was apparently such a good friend of Twain’s that some believe he was the inspiration for “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calveras County.”  He also worked alongside Bret Harte for a paper known as the Golden Era, and supposedly was the model for Harte’s “Truthful James”, story. We may never know whether Townsend, did indeed inspire the more famous writers, but he apparently did a good job of writing his own stories, which were written in his head, not on paper, and set directly to type.  He often worried that he could not set the type as fast as he could think up his stories.

From the Territorial Enterprise, Townsend, who was busy earning his reputation as “Lying Jim”, went to the Daily Union, also of Virginia City, and worked there until 1865. He then traveled to the western side of the Sierras to edit a Grass Valley paper during a political campaign. He moved around for 18 years working at various newspapers, setting type, writing stories, and occasionally serving as the editor.  He wound up at the Gazette in Reno Nevada, writing locals, and then moved on after only a few months to spend his winters in Washoe County, and his summers in the Sierras.  Off and on he continued to write for the Gazette.  In 1886, he wound up back at the Territorial Enterprise of Virginia City, Nevada as reporter and editor.  November of that same year, he bought the Nevada Daily Index of Carson City, Nevada, and turned around and sold it three months later.

The Great Inventor

Time spent in the Sierras was in and around the mining towns of Bodie and Lundy.  In early of October 1880 a prominent citizen of  Bodie,  mentioned visiting  mining camps in Mill Creek and Lundy where he saw one five stamp mill and three arastras.  One of the arastras probably belonged to Townsend, who had come to try his hand at mining.  He was noted for his inventive genius, and was eventually written up in one of his own papers for the scientific methods that he used that illustrated his aptitude for mechanics, “ that were only exceeded by his unlimited capacity for whiskey.”  In fact several years before Orville and Wilber Wright made the first flight, Jim worked on his own flying machine, which was one of the “grandest inventions of the time, surpassing anything in the line of perpetual motion ever talked of.”  Although he left his job at the Homer Mining Index of Lundy, to invent this magnificent flying machine, he made sure before he left, that 3 weeks of local news was reported and printed ahead of time.  After the flying machine was invented, it apparently took the six hours before starting it, to stop it. 

The Homer Mining Index

James W. E. Townsend came to Lundy, prospected, built an arastra, apparently built that flying machine, and bought the Homer Mining Index in the early 1880’s.   According to author W. A. Chalfant, an English company owning the mines in and around Lundy developed the Homer Mining Index in hopes that it would fortify mining stock sales.  A plant was provided for the paper, and J. W. E. Townsend was hired as editor. When he took over the newspaper in the beginning of 1881 he announced, “We have taken hold of the Index for the purpose of making a living.  We are not here for our health…”  By April 30 of 1881, he was complaining: “An Indian makes ten times more money catching fish than we do by publishing a newspaper.” He also bragged that same April: “There is more whiskey consumed in Mill Creek than in any other camp its size on the coast.”  Townsend probably was the one responsible for consuming the Mill Creek whiskey, as he enjoyed his fair share in the tradition of many newspaper men of the day. In August 1880, the newspaper had reported that “Jim Townsend went to Aurora a few days ago.  In consequence the saloon keepers of that burg have ordered fresh stocks of liquors.”   In November of 1882, Townsend sold the Homer Mining Index and delivered a lecture on “man’s capacity for holding rotgut’.  He spoke to the wicked and just from the roof of a dry goods box on Main Street.  His audience was reportedly large, intelligent, and sober.  Interestingly enough, it was reported that Hugh R. Hughes, of the Grand Lodge of Good Templars gave two intemperance lectures that same week and collected $14 from Lundy citizens for the Good Templar Home for Orphans.

The Homer Mining Index with the help of Jim Townsend played up the town of Lundy for British investors.  Although the town only had a few minor businesses, the Index carried advertisements for three big grocery stores, a wholesale house, two banks, many saloons, millinery stores, undertaking establishments, and so on.  A railroad timetable showed arrival and departure of nonexistent trains.  Nonexistent presentations of the great Thespians of the day took place in non-existent theaters. Townsend wrote a lavish report of the first night of the theater event listing notable people in the boxes, and describing their fine costume.  The actual story was taken from a society report of a San Francisco paper, with the names changed as he saw fit.

The Truth or Not

Townsend told the truth or not, as he was so inclined. An elaborate Fourth of July celebration written by Jim was actually a few gunshots from a miner’s six-shooter and an occasional remark to thirsty bartenders that it was time for another drink. He often adapted articles to his surroundings.  A leap-year ball report went as follows:  “Joe Thompson was attired in a light buff silk handkerchief, to conceal the absence of a collar.  Marion Budd’s shape was advantageously displayed by a close fitting jumper and long auburn chin whiskers to match.  Jim McCallum was dressed-also.  George Sherman appeared under a high forehead and behind an insulating kind of nose.  Charley Traver appeared as a gray eagle, or a bald eagle, we forget which.”

An opposing political candidate was described as not knowing enough to drive nine ducks.  Stories were told of a ragged beggar with a different name and inscription beneath it each week.  One week the story read:  “John Jones, Stand Up!  You continued to take the paper from the post office without even paying the postage on it.  Are you dead, dead broke or a dead beat?”

The Index also reported other interesting stories:

“The public school is doing well, and has an enrollment of six children.”

“There is an Indian child in the camp which has ten toes on each foot.  Each extra equipment of toes is on the rear of the foot, normal in shape.  The ankles are centrally situated, to give the toes a chance to sprout naturally.  The great disadvantage is that the mother cannot tell by looking at the feet whether the child is going or coming.”

“Jeff McClellan is going to South Africa as a mine foreman, not superintendent.  This makes it safer for the company.”

“We have to pay our taxes March fourth, and would like to have our delinquent subscribers march forth and settle up.”

“Our devil says he don’t mind carrying the paper around on snowshoes, but thinks he had his eyesight injured by smoke while calling down stovepipes and chimneys to look after their paper as he dropped it down.”

“The Bodie papers are changing to tri-weekly.  The Bridgeport paper still continues weakly as before.” 

To The Rescue

Not only did Townsend report about the Bodie papers and their changing schedules, he helped to rescue one of them.  As the town dwindled from a bulging population of 8,000 to a meager 500 by the year of 1889, the Evening Miner was fading as well.  Sunday January 6, of that same year, J.W. E. Townsend sent the following letter to H. Z. Osborne who was selling was left of the Free Press:

“Friend O. – What will you take for the remnants of the ‘Free Press’ outfit?  The type is all gone and nothing but two or three stands and the press remain.  The roof over the press leaks and the machine is badly damaged by rust.  It’s a d—d shame.  The last time I was in Bodie I went to the office to cover it up, simply because I dislike to see good material wrecked through the carelessness of a drunken sot, but they would not let me have the key.  And so it remains, subject to the moisture of God and the whims of a beast, who is drunk-drunk-drunk, and has not issued a paper for a month.  Frost is her with me, as fat as a balloon and apparently happy with a good grub and a fair allowance of grog.

In your own good time I would like to hear from you.  I am perfectly contented in Mill Creek, though we have to wear snowshoes to bed and every thermometer has a cold in the head.  But things are lovely anywhere if you steer a true course.  Respects to Cleveland.”

The wreck of the Free Press was Townsend’s for $100.  Several years later, he was in Bodie producing the Bodie Mining Index., probably using that very equipment he had acquired from the Free Press.

Ode To An Editor

After years of moving from one mining town to another, James W. E. Townsend died, rheumatic, nearly deaf, and not surprisingly, suffering from liver problems from all of the frontier whiskey he had consumed over the years.  In his book An Editor on the Comstock Lode, Wells Drury summed up “Lying Jim Townsend’s” career as an editor:

“To read his paper you would think that it was published in a city of ten thousand inhabitants.  He had a mayor and a city council, whose proceedings he reported once a week, although they never existed, and enlivened his columns with killings, law suits murder trials and railroad accidents, and a thousand incidents of daily life in a humming growing town-everyone of which he coined out of his own active brain.

“Among the most exciting things with which he kept churning up his readers were a shooting scrape and divorce proceedings arising from a scandal in which the mayor’s wife and a member of the city council figured.  It dragged along through his columns for nearly six months.  It was very interesting to read and implicitly believed-except by persons who knew there were no mayor and no council at any time in the town where Jim’s paper was published.  He was called “Lying Jim” Townsend to the day of his death and could he have had his way it would have been graven on his tombstone.”

James W. E.  Townsend rests in peace in a cemetery somewhere without the “nom de plume” he would have preferred but his tradition continues on at Explore Historic California each month in our Legends and Lore, and by the many others who know how to provide a good belly laugh, even when there isn’t a real reason for one.  Here’s to "Lying Jim!

Lying Jim Townsend Gravesite

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