Devils Postpile has a rich and instructive history

Built in the Bay
(Courtesy of National Parks Service)

Just east of Mammoth Mountain, sitting along the middle fork of San Joaquin River is the Devils Postpile, a stark-looking rock formation that seems like something out of science fiction rather than real life.

The tall skinny strands clustered together give it the appearance of posts, hence the name Postpile. The large hexagonal rocks were initially thought to have formed millions of years ago but recent geological evidence suggests that cooling lava formed these odd 60-foot formations.

The rock formations and the surrounding Middle Fork Valley were of great significance to Indigenous tribes in the high Sierras. Archeological evidence suggests that humans began crossing the Postpile as early as 7,500 years ago. Similarly, evidence of California's role in the obsidian trade has been found in the area with artifacts of trade dating back more than 2,500 years.

Modern Indigenous tribes claim they are the descendants of the original tribes in the area. However, a lengthy drought (likely less than 1,000 years ago) forced a large number of Indigenous tribes to move west.
(Courtesy of National Parks Service)

Archaeological evidence indicates that Paiute tribes would travel over Mammoth Pass, which is the lowest point at the surrounding Sierra Crest at just over 9,000 feet, using a series of nine campsites in the area. On the final portion of the ascent, the Paiutes used the Anakwumakwê site which was settled around a spring on Mammoth Mountain. Once successfully over the pass, the trading parties often remained in the area until the fall.

The Mammoth Pass Trail continued to be used by both Paiute and Mono tribes into the modern era and a number of the tribes' original ecological interventions led to some of the surrounding beauty. Paiute and Mono diverted water for irrigation, transplanted shrubs and small trees and set fires to open trails and promote certain plant growth.

This area of the high Sierras remained relatively untouched until the early 1800s with the first entry of a non-native person in 1806 by Gabriel Moraga, a Mexican-born officer in the Spanish army.

Neither Moraga nor the ensuing Euro-American settlers ever made it to the Postpile, however. The high elevation and rough terrain made it difficult to traverse without knowledge of the area. As such, the Middle Fork Valley and the Postpile with it, remained untouched by settlers until the late 1800s when miners pillaged the area for their economic interests.

Most of the mining in the area yielding low profits and only served to strip the environment of critical resources, leaving it out of balance for the coming decades. While gold was found in 1848 at Sutter's Mill, just 130 miles north of the Postpile, by the early 1900s, miners had mostly abandoned the claims in the area.

Some Euro-American settlers made names for themselves in the late 19th and early 20th centuries carving a living out of the harsh, unforgiving environment. One such settler was Red-Sotcher who began grazing sheep in the area in 1879. The red-bearded Sotcher soon realized he could make a better living raising vegetables in the area now know as Red Meadows. He was the inspiration for the name of the meadows, and the nearby Red and Sotcher lakes.

According to Theordore Solomons who passed through the area while mapping the Sierra Crest, the first name of the Postpile stemmed from sheephearders in the area who called it the Devils Woodpile because it resembled a wood fence.

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