Devils Postpile, Rainbow Falls, and the Eastern Sierras

In the final week of my summer vacation I headed to the eastern Sierras to an area where I have many great memories: Mammoth Lakes.

My parents spent their honeymoon here in the late 1960’s and we later celebrated my brother’s 1st birthday at this altitude. Mammoth has grown since then and the ski resort is not longer run by it’s founder Dave McCoy (who celebrates his 100th birthday this month), but by a large corporation that’s slowly turning Mammoth into Anywhere U.S.A.

I headed out to a Mammoth staple that has not changed too much in 100,000 years, the basalt column’s of Devils Postpile. I found a nice perch to sketch from and as I sketched each vertical column I lost sense of time, such is the case when your “drawing from the right side of the brain”.

In between lapses of focus I jotted down two questions I overheard at the Postpile: “Did somebody make this?” and “Are those big French fries?” Luckily these questions came from children and not adults. You never know what you might hear from folks on vacation.

After the sketch and painting I head down to the banks of the he Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River. Here I found a creature that I expected to find on such a rough and rugged stretch of water: the American dipper. This was John Muir’s favorite bird. In The Mountains of California (1894), Muir describes the dipper this way:

He is the mountain streams’ own darling, the humming-bird of blooming waters, loving rocky ripple-slopes and sheets of foam as a bee loves flowers, as a lark loves sunshine and meadows. Among all the mountain birds, none has cheered me so much in my lonely wanderings, —none so unfailingly.

After spending sometime with the dipper, I headed downstream through the burnt snags, the remains of the Rainbow Fire (1992). I did my last sketch at the base of Rainbow Falls. I worked a loose sketch with my Noodler’s Ahab and painted the scene with the waters of the San Joaquin. The mist from the 101 foot falls surrounded me as a few souls braved the cold waters.


Rainbow Falls


Rainbow Falls, Devils Postpile National Monument.



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