Owens Valley Herald

Ghosts of the Past 2

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baxter pass trout plant
Packing in Golden Trout over Baxter Pass
(Department of Fish & Game photo)

Before the days of helicopters and fixed wing airdrops, fingerling Golden, Brown, Rainbow, and Brook Trout were packed over snow covered High Sierra passes in glass and metal containers on the backs of mules. The trout suffered a high mortality rate on their way to the lakes and streams of the backcountry; but, without the stamina and often times sheer guts of those packers, most of the High Sierra would have been barren of trout up until the 1950s. Fishermen, backpackers, national park and forest service personnel owe them an unending debt of gratitude for their contribution to the "opening up" of the Sierra Nevada. To make all of this, and more, possible most of the trail systems which exist in the High Sierra were developed for the use of stock . Those same national park and forest services now have all but banned that same stock from the High Sierra.

new 06/21
air plant
Planting fish by air
(Photo courtesy Inyo 1886 -1986)


Sherman Stevens' Cottonwood Sawmill


Sherman Stevens Sawmill
[Bob Likes photo]


log flume (Emil W. Greitkeutz photo)

 Sawmill and buildings

  Mule facts

 Log sluice down Cottonwood Canyon

When I first visited the sawmill in 1965 most of the mill was intact minus the roofs of the buildings. Once the Horseshoe Meadows road was put in (circa 1968), in less than 6 months vandals had burned it to the ground. So much for the opening up of the Sierra by the skiing establishment in an area that sported little or no snow. This part of Owens Valley History had survived for over sixty years when only pack outfits operating out of Carroll Creek and Cottonwood Creek were its visitors. It was approximately 15 miles from here to the pack stations so only the hardiest of backpackers made the trek besides the mule trains. All of that changed with the road. History was burned, Cottonwood Lakes were closed to fishing because of severe poaching, and giardia was introduced to the streams of the area. What a terrible price to pay for a road to nowhere.

cottonwood sawmill
Sherman Stevens Sawmill at the head of Cottonwood Canyon
cottonwood sawmill
Old ox-drawn wagon at Sherman Stevens Sawmill

cottonwood charcoal kilns

Charcoal kilns located on the banks of Owens Lake. Wood from Sherman Stevens sawmill was transported to the
kilns to produce charcoal which was used to fuel the smelters from the mines at Cerro Gordo.

Don Andrews of Monrovia, CA writes.

Thank you for bringing back such great memories of Golden Trout Camp. My uncle, John (Bud) O'Keefe purchased the camp from Mr. Towler in 1949 and he and my dad ran it for the first season, after which my uncle and aunt (Emma Jean) continued to own and operate it until they sold to the present owners [Thacher School]. I spent many summers working at the camp and tending the many head of stock always present for the numerous guests. I surely remember the brochure! I've probably seen hundreds of them over the years. What stories I could tell of the many hair-raising adventures us kids(my sister & two cousins)had during those years. How sad the the fate of the sawmill, always considered a welcome half-way mark during that long 4 hour horseback ride. And the accompaning switchbacks on the trail! I have witnessed whole pack trains go over the side when a packer failed to consider the proper order in which to put the mules. Oh, the stories and memories! Thank you for bringing a little of it back to this 58 year-old nostalgic.

Don Andrews - Monrovia, California


cottonwood sawmill
Cottonwood Sawmill circa 1921

Sherman Stevens' Timber Empire
from Inyo: 1866 - 1966 by the Inyo County Board of Supervisors

Construction of the Owens Valley Aqueduct

Only the really old timers will remember scenes like the one to the right. 56 mule teams hauling huge sections of pipeline. Although the construction of the Owens Valley Aqueduct might have been an engineering marvel, it was an ecological disaster for what is perhaps the most majestic valley in all of California. Greed, power, and politics destroyed one of California's greatest resources. This was merely the start for El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles del Rio Porciuncula. As she continued to grow legislative greed robbed the Colorado and Feather Rivers of their water and then, to add insult to injustice, returned to Owens Valley to rob the valley of its ground water leaving the inhabitants with nothing more than a dust bowl in what was once a rich agricultural valley.

Famed humorist, actor, statesman and cowboy Will Rogers said this about the aqueduct in 1930: "Ten years ago this was a wonderful valley with one-quarter of a million acres of fruit and alfalfa. But Los Angeles had to have more water for its Chamber of Commerce to drink more toasts to its growth, more water to dilute its orange juice and more water for its geraniums to delight the tourists, while the giant cottonwoods here died. So, now this is a valley of desolation."

In W. A. Chalfant's book, The Story of Inyo, Morrow Mayo (a Los Angeles reporter) wrote: "Los Angeles gets its water by reason of one of the costliest, crookedest, most unscrupulous deals ever perpetrated, plus one of the greatest pieces of engineering folly ever heard of. Owens Valley is there for anybody to see. The city of Los Angeles moved through this valley like a devastating plague. It was ruthless, stupid, cruel and crooked. It stole the waters of the Owens River. It drove the people of Owens Valley from their home, a home which they had built from the desert. For no sound reason, for no sane reason, it destroyed a helpless agricultural section and a dozen towns. It was an obscene enterprise from the beginning to end."

L.A. aqueduct 52 mule team photograph is from the Joseph Barlow Lippincott Papers, LIPP, The Water Resources Center Archives, University of California, Berkeley - LIPP 142:545]

52 Mule Team


 Trail Crest

Trail Crest Junction on the route to Mt. Whitney, Guitar Lake, and Consultation Lake
(Sierra Club Bulletin photo)


Gordon Peterson on one of the Sierra Club High Trips
(Sierra Club Bulletin photo)


bob golden
Sierra Club cook and outdoorsman extraordinaire - Bob Golden
(June 1954 National Geographic photo)

sierra club
Sierra Club "High Trip" Alpen Glow and Campfire atop Darwin Bench
(1954 National Geographic photo)


 Informative Owens Valley Links


Cerro Gordo
Dirty Sock
Why Owens Lake is Red


Mt. Whitney Pack Trains Brochure  
Chrysler & Cook - Mt. Whtiney Pack Trains  

High Sierra Panoramas  

 20-Mule Team History


 Manzanar Japanese Internment Camp History


 Los Angeles / Owens Valley Aqueduct History


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This page was last updated on 18 April 2024