Eastern Sierra Exploratory 2018
June 21-23, 2018
By Ron Lipari
Mignon Slenz, Mike Vollmert and I met at the Eastern California Museum in Independence on Wednesday, June 20, and spent some time touring the museum’s exhibits which included both Native American artifacts and many historical items as well. Photographs recording the history of the Eastern Sierra were also very interesting! We then met Bob and Sue Jaussaud at what I will call Jerry Harada’s Stamp Mill. Jerry loved the Eastern Sierra and fishing, and he loved camping on Tinemaha Creek just south of Big Pine. In April 2015 Jerry led a trip to his Stamp Mill as well as a refining mill nearby – this trip included Bob, Sue, and myself. None of us could remember where the mill was located, but, I found a picture of the mill on my cell phone. Not being an “advanced techie” I did not realize that the DropBox App has the GPS coordinates of every picture taken by my cell phone!! I sent the coordinates to both Mike and Bob who promptly found the location of the stamp mill. The mill is not well known and hidden from view in a canyon. Only one stamp is left in the three stamp mill, but it still is a remarkable place!! We then visited the nearby refining mill which has been partially rehabilitated with new timbers and rafters. The mill still had an intact Pelton wheel which provided power for the entire operation.
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Leaving Jerry’s Stamp Mill we drove up to Bishop Creek to camp at 7500 feet on McGee Creek in the Buttermilks. We had camped there last year and I was attempting to find the route up to the camp. However, the usual route was blocked by a locked chain gate. Mignon to the rescue, she remembered the road we had taken which led directly to the cool and pleasant camp covered with beautiful iris flowers and next to a wonderful stream. It was nice to leave the high temps of Bishop and camp at altitude! We were all treated to a great meal by Sue – taco salad and a dessert of home-made brownies!
The next morning we met Nelson Miller, Ellen Miller, Marion Johns and Neal Johns in Bishop to join us for the rest of the trip. We headed up to Bridgeport and to Masonic Road. We were again at altitude and the weather was delightful. We soon arrived at the Success Mine and the Chemung Mine. The Chemung Mine was in operation from 1909 to 1938 producing both high-grade and low-grade gold ore. The mill and various buildings are still standing and contain cyanide stirring machinery to separate the gold ore.
We then headed to the town of Masonic where gold was discovered in 1862. Apparently one of the co-founders of the mine, J. A. Phillips, ended up dead at the bottom of a shaft – possibly the work of one of the other partners in the venture! There still stands remains of a partial mill, hilltop tram works as well as a number of log cabins.
We then continued out of the town of Masonic heading towards Nevada to the East Fork of the Walker river. Arriving at the Elbow of the East Fork of the Walker river, we found some very nice campsites on the river and explored the area. It was decided that we would head to Aurora as it was still early in the afternoon. We continued our tour up to the higher elevations of Aurora, Nevada. When we arrived we immediately set up camp in the pine trees and were treated to a wonderful dinner prepared by Mignon that included a stew of sausage, rice and beans as well as cole slaw! In addition Ellen brought her famous strawberry salad. We were never short of dessert as Marion brought two cakes – lemon and chocolate – no caloric deficit on this trip! After dinner we visited the Aurora cemetery - a very moving experience - especially when reading the grave markers of children. Bob remembered visiting this area with Bob Martin many years before and was interested in finding a particular epitaph. However, the cemetery has been vandalized in the past including the attempted removal of grave makers. The most notable desecration was the headstone of William E. Carder, a notorious criminal and gunfighter who was assassinated by a man whom he threatened in preceding days. His wife Annie erected the headstone but it was toppled by vandals in an attempt to steal it. All of us lamented the indiscriminate destruction of artifacts and cannot understand why anyone would do this.
We then headed to what is left of the town of Aurora. Aurora was made the county seat of Mono County in California in 1862. However, after surveyors determined that Aurora was indeed in Esmeralda County, Nevada, the Mono County seat was moved to Bridgeport where it remains to this day. The Aurora cemetery contained the grave of W. M. Boring, Nevada Senator who died in 1872 aged 43 years. Bob quipped that the senator's name was appropriate for his chosen profession — a politician!!
We then traveled up Bodie canyon where we came upon the ruins of an old mill. The mill had two different ore crushers that none of us had seen before, however, Bob had seen this mill prior to that time on his trip with Bob Martin years before. We then traveled out of Bodie Canyon over the pass which brought us to beautiful views of the surrounding country and through a maze of wildflowers. Mike, Sue, Ellen and Marion all identified the various flowers including the Mariposa Lily, which apparently looks like another flower of a different name which I cannot recall. I do know the flowers were spectacular, with the prettiest being the red and yellow Columbine!!
Traveling this road, which was not well traveled, we finally made it to the north side of Mono Lake. After checking out some beautiful springs – not warm springs – we arrived at a lovely park just north of Lee Vining and had lunch. After lunch we headed towards the town of Benton and over Montgomery pass to the Montgomery ten stamp mill. Arriving at this mill it was stated that it might be one of the most intact mills in the country, as it still has all ten brakes on the stamps when it was last stopped! The reason it is so intact is because it is a difficult hike to get to the mill and it is on a steep hillside. Also found was a steam motor and part of a cable system which brought ore to the stamp mill. All agreed that this was an amazing place.
Next we headed to the Montgomery pass cabins located just below the stamp mill, but because the road down to the cabins was impassable, we were required to go all the way around the mountain to get to them. Once more we arrived to what we thought was the road to the cabins, but alas it was not. Now remember we had just been there a year ago and we could not remember how to get there – must be our age??? Bob finally remembered where the road was located and we made it to the cabins on a just freshly graded dirt road! Camping that evening we had a pasta dinner with salad and cake for dessert. The next morning we hiked up the road from the cabins to Gold Hill and found the ruins of a smelter works. The group then headed out of the mountains into Nevada and headed up Trail Canyon to the Queen Anne mine, which Sue shared was mined for antimony and mercury. This road headed over the White Mountains back to Highway 6. Marion, who has been most places,remembered going over this route from Highway 6 over to Nevada — the opposite direction we were traveling. She also remembered that the road over the pass was VERY steep at the top. But this road had just been graded – so onward we traveled. We passed some beautiful small lakes being fished by successful fishermen. We had lunch at the Boundary Peak trailhead, then continued on our journey over the mountain – which did not disappoint. Not only did Marion remember the road, but was correct in that it was very STEEP! All of us finally made it over the top without incident – albeit a little shaky!
On the other side of the pass we found several mines. Noteworthy were the Morgan Mine and the Abbot Mine both of which still had cabins standing and contained therein a portion of a mill. We continued down this roadway back to Highway 6 - over Montgomery Pass to Dyer, Nevada to gas up. We then headed to Lower Cottonwood Creek to camp on the last evening. We arrived and camped under the shade of the Cottonwood trees next to a lovely stream. The only thing to do was to sit in the stream and enjoy the cool water – which most of us did! It was delightful and added to our happy hour enjoyment placing our chairs in the stream and sipping our adult beverages and enjoying a dinner of leftovers!!
A big thanks to Mike and Bob for all of the route finding on this trip. Their GPS devices were invaluable - and it was much appreciated. A great time was had by all!! ~ Ron