Where: Inyo National Forest, Hoover Wilderness
Distance: About 5 Miles
Elevation Range: 9,819’ – 10,338’
Date: August 6, 2015
Highlights: Sally and I headed up to Saddlebag Lake, then worked our way to the west through the Harvey Monroe Research Natural Area. Mount Conness at 12,590′ elevation towered above us as we wandered through the Hoover Wilderness.
Sally and I loaded up the rig and headed over Tioga Rd. past the east entrance to Yosemite at Tioga Pass to Saddlebag Lake Rd. We drove up to the lake, parking at the backpacker parking lot. I stashed my snacks and goodies in the brand new bear boxes that they had, then headed toward the dam, crossing the creek where we picked up a use trail. My plan was to just head west, trying to keep my elevation the best I could until I picked up the use trail that came out of the Sawmill Campground.
I had been hiking through this area several times and was fairly familiar with the Harvey Monroe Hall Research Natural Area. 3,383 acres area were set aside in 1933 to conduct research related to the soil and vegetation. One of the specific things that they studied is how plants adapted to various soils and elevations. Climate change is just one of the things that they are capturing data on. I had walked toward the lower end of this group of old structures but hadn’t seen this outhouse before. Of course, that made me wonder about their history.
I located some wonderful history on this area in the Harvey Monroe Hall Research Natural Area Management Plan by Wallace B. Woolfenden, Mono Lake Ranger District, Inyo National Forest dated August, 1992.
Native Americans have occupied this area for a very long time, perhaps back 10,000 years, utilizing this area for hunting, fishing and gathering in the summer months. Mining strikes in the Bodie area brought a whole new group of people into this area in the 1870s looking to strike it rich but most never did, but they scoured all over these mountains, looking for rich deposits of gold. The mining communities of Dana City, Bennettville and Lundy sprung up in the early 1880’s, after Bodie’s boom period. These new mines needed to be supported and sawmills popped up in this area. In fact the Sawmill Walk-in Campground is located where one of these used to be.
Even though some mining communities closed down, The Epstein Mining Co. opened a tungsten mine (Hess Mine) on the northwest side of Steelhead Lake in Twenty Lakes Basin in the late 1940’s. By 1947 a road had been constructed along the east shore of Saddlebag Lake to the new mining camp on the north side of the lake and another road was located across the lakes basin to the mine.
As use increased throughout the 1920’s improvements, became necessary. Paving began in 1937 and a major realignment was completed two years later. The Tioga Road plus the spur road to Saddlebag Lake, graded in 1920 for work on the the dam, increased visitor traffic into the area.
During the second decade of this century, hydroelectric facilities were constructed in the Lee Vining Creek drainage basin by the Southern Sierras Power Company of Riverside. The Lee Vining Creek System consisted of the three reservoirs named Saddlebag, Rhinedollar (which was later renamed Ellery after the dam was raised), and Tioga. The Poole Powerhouse along the upper reaches of Lee Vining Creek, and a substation in the town of Lee Vining powered these facilities.
A construction camp and sawmill were located at Sylvester’s Meadow in July 1917. By 1920 other camps were established at Rhinedollar and Saddlebag Lakes and a second sawmill was operating on upper Lee Vining Creek. This mill cut 354,000 board feet of mostly lodgepole pine from local stands. Stacks of old cordwood are still located in this area.
Slate Creek Valley and upper Lee Vining Creek were also grazed by domestic sheep since the late nineteenth century, a practice that was discontinued in 1946.
A Special Use Permit was issued in 1929 designating a 26.7 acre parcel for the field station and a road was built to it by the Mono National Forest, extending the existing spur from Saddlebag Lake road to the sawmill. The permitted buildings and improvements consisted of two garden plots, a cabin sheathed with corrugated iron, and a shed used for an automobile garage and storage. The latter was built of lumber salvaged from the nearby sawmill and it was replaced in 1955.
There was no mention of the outhouse that I found but I am sure they would have needed at least one of those with all that was going on around then.
Sally and I continued on the use trail that climbers take up to Mount Conness, admiring the views of Mount Dana to our south.
I wanted to visit this small unnamed lake, but Sally and I would need to figure out how to get down there. There was a granite cliff where we were so we worked our way around and down off of it.
This small lake was perfect for a lunch spot, so I took off my pack and settled in. Sally checked out everything in detail.
It was truly a beautiful lunch spot but we needed to start heading back and I thought I would work our way back along the creek for a while. Small trout about 6 inches in size darted around as we came close to them. The creek widened out in many places, some of them creating wonderful reflections.
These calm, wide spots in the creek tumbled over a small waterfall. Here is a short video that can give you a feel.
As we worked our way through the meadows, they were many of these tiny purple gentium flowers.
This was a beautiful hike to take our time and explore along the gorgeous green, grassy meadows and creek. There is a little bit of a climb in and out if you park at the Saddlebag Lake Parking areas, but if you park near the parking area dedicated to the Sawmill Campground, you will have a more gentle hike. Keep in mind that the Parking Lot at the Sawmill Campground is just for that campground but you may find a place along the road in a wide spot nearby.