Since the magazine story is now out, I will post the Reds Meadow story. Some is a rehash of the Devil's Postpile story I did last year.
One summer in 1975, my boss, Herb Carls, from the U.S. Forest Service office in Mammoth Lakes, California, told us the story of his involvement with the resort at Reds Meadow in the 1950s. Reds Meadow is a popular recreation destination in the Eastern Sierra, located over the ridge called Minaret Vista in a beautiful valley. Just getting there is half the fun, and the view of the Minarets from the Vista is astounding.
Herb and Bob Tanner, the current owner and long time permittee of Reds Meadow, joined into a partnership after they returned from WWII to run a pack station and small resort. One of the activities was a stagecoach ride that had an unfortunate accident, where a lady was injured. A lawsuit and further financial troubles ended the partnership, and Herb went to work for the forest service on the Mammoth Ranger District taking care of the wilderness.
Bob expanded his resort and packing business and turned it into one of the most desired places to hang out in summer. He also made himself a wealthy man in the process, and now his son, Bobby, runs the business. Bobby is famous for driving the 20 mule team borax wagons in the Mule Days parade in Bishop. He once drove 100 mules all tied together at one time around the arena at the fairgrounds.
Even though there may have been some ill feelings over the split up between the two mule packers, Herb always went out of his way to keep Bob’s trails in perfect condition. They still are to this day.
We had a government pasture at Reds Meadow near the resort right off the road where the mules and horses were kept for trail and wilderness work. This was where Red Sotcher grew vegetables in the summer.
By the 1870s red bearded, Red Sotcher, was settled in the area. He sold his produce to hungry miners who were coming into the area from Fresno via the French Trail. Most of these men were searching for the Lost Cement Mine, made famous by Mark Twain in his book, “Roughing It.” This mine was described as being in the Eastern Sierra near the headwaters of the Owens River, “…a country of black lava and white pumice, and somewhere a ledge of reddish cement spangled with the flakes of the purest gold.”
Old Red went on to prosper in his endeavor better than the miners, and the resort and nearby lake were named in his honor.
Reds Meadow is a beautiful place indeed, especially on a calm summer’s morning. The meadows are a lush green color and filled with wildflowers contrasted against a glaring white background of pumice sand.
The Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River runs down through the valley from its source at Thousand Island Lake. Along the way many tributaries feed into it from Shadow and Minaret Lakes. Nice campgrounds are located at key spots along the river at Agnew Meadows, Soda Springs, Minaret, Pumice Flat and Reds Meadow.
In the middle of this entire splendor is the Devils Postpile, which Reds Meadow is really famous for. This geologic wonder has some of the finest examples of columnar basalt formations in the world. Threatened by being blasted for a proposed hydro electric dam, the Postpile was saved and made a National Monument in 1911 by President Taft.
Rainbow Falls is another scenic wonder. At 101 feet high and casting a brilliant rainbow in the mist, these falls are two miles from the Postpile or an easy mile walk from the trailhead near the Mule House Café, store and pack station.
There is excellent swimming and fishing at Lower Falls, about a mile down the trail from Rainbow Falls. A nice trail runs up the length of the valley for twelve miles along the river to Thousand Island Lake with several bridge crossings along the way.
Carved out by a glacier, Sotcher Lake gets runoff and is spring fed. The Rainbow Fire, avalanches, and severe erosion ripped out trees from the hillside and deposited them into the lake, creating excellent big brown trout habitat.
Sotcher and tiny Starkweather Lake are in Madera County and can be fished at all hours of the day and night, unlike its neighbor Mono County, where fishing is limited to day light hours only. A 1987 trophy brown trout taken out of Sotcher Lake weighed 13 pounds 11 ounces.
Expert anglers recommend light green floating processed bait, lures, and when the fish are jumping, a fly and bubble setup with two pound leader and an olive Matuka streamer pattern.
In 1972 a Trans-Sierra, four lane highway was proposed to connect Oakhurst on the west side of the mountains to Mammoth through Reds Meadow following the old French Trail.
Governor Ronald Reagan arrived on the scene with an entourage of 100 politicians and made a historic horseback ride to Summit Meadow. A photo of this event hangs on the wall in the Mule House Café.
Behind the scenes on this Governor’s pack trip was none other than Bob Tanner, acting as their personal guide. Bob did not have to say a word, and just let the Governor see it all for himself. After the trip was over Mr. Reagan said, “We simply don’t need another highway,” and that was the end of it.
How to get there:
Reds Meadow is located approximately 16 miles from the junction of Hwy 203 and Hwy 395. At the Main Lodge of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, one must board a shuttle bus to get down into the valley. Before the bus starts in the morning at 7:30, and after it shuts down at 5 pm, it is okay to drive down. You can get on and off the bus anywhere in the valley, and the Mule House Café and store are at the end of the line near the Rainbow Falls trailhead.
If you are camping, make reservations to stay in the forest service campgrounds or say at the entrance station that you are hoping to get one of the 21 first come, first served campsites in the Postpile. Vehicles with float tubes, canoes, or other flotation devices are allowed to drive down into Reds, because there is no room for that on the bus. Agnew Group camp is outstanding and there are a few equestrian camps in Agnew as well.
At 7500 feet in elevation Reds Meadow can be hot during the day and chilly at night into the low 40s in summer with thunderstorms.
Next time you happen to be driving down Hwy 395 be sure to stop in Mammoth and check out Reds Meadow. You’ll be glad you did!