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Wilderness Lost

posted Dec 25, 2014, 12:21 PM by Tony Burgess   [ updated Jan 1, 2015, 7:08 PM ]
During California droughts the eastern sierra winters roll in slowly.  And while the youngest member of our family works hard with the Mammoth Mountain snowboard team, I spend the days sitting around Chair 2, reading, writing, drinking coffee (or beer), and generally wasting time.  And when I get stir crazy, I walk through old growth forests and then out into our newly designated wilderness.
The new Owen's Headwater wilderness abuts to the ski area and was home to a few great motorcycle trails, camp spots, dead Lodgepole groves for wooding, and lots of pumice -- which is easily explained as bottomless popcorn dirt.  But not anymore, with the stroke of a pen the land designations changed, and even now, there are more plans to limit use in the areas next to the wilderness because the new boundaries aren't being respected.
From my point of view it is easy to see why one wouldn't respect this new wilderness.  It contained many traditional front country uses and they were all summarily dismissed.  But most importantly the designation was a tool leveraged by wilderness advocates to make sure that Mammoth Mountain would never ever connect to June Mountain.  Was this the best use of public lands?  Or are wilderness advocates their own worst enemies in their endless passion for more?  To truly save the forest is locking it up the best option?
With little natural snow on the ground and pondering all these questions I strike out into the heart of Owen's Headwaters for a quick 5 mile hike -- to see the current state of things, and to report back -- to you.
It's fun to just go, cross the 203 and drop off into the woods.  No trails or distant landmarks, and no set destination.  Moments later I'm on a dirt road closed by the Friends of the Inyo.  It's a short spur of no consequence, now visually lacking and littered with unnaturally placed logs, stumps, and the occasional root-ball.  The root-ball tells me that it was perfectly happy decomposing in the forest until an enterprising naturalist dragged it out to serve a new purpose.
It's cold and windy, with snow in the forecast.  I can recall a motorcycle trail nearby (Magic Mushroom or Olivia's depending on your preference) and use internal GPS to locate it.  Walking through more pumice and Lodgepole stands, my way-finding pops me out at a clearing.  It's a clear cut leftover from some MMSA past operation, maybe a landfill, place to excavate dirt, or an area to get rid of extra dirt.  It's about 20 acres in size and half filled with baby trees crowded neck-to-neck like a Christmas tree farm.  It's well posted as "wilderness", and one of the signs graciously permits foot travel! 

Walking past the signs and the road is a frozen mix of patchy snow, two-track, and pumice.  Logs that barricaded the road have been removed recently and lay trail-side.  I can tell because log ends have left large frozen scrapes in the road, testimony to outside tampering.  Who is out here moving logs in late November 2014?  These lands were removed from multiple use 4 years ago.
Now in wilderness the next sign up is "illegal trail".  From my experience a trail cannot garner illegal status, as it's merely a trail.  You can either walk on it, bike it, ride it, ski it, or bring your ponies or dog(s).  It can also be designated as motorized, or not, and sometimes it can include all users.  There is no such thing as an illegal trail.  What's next - illegal tree,  illegal vista, or worst yet -- illegal ideas?  What concerns me is sign pollution.

This sign states a mandatory court appearance for users (or maintainers) of said illegal trail.  Today you might think I'm using it in violation of posted notice.  No thanks, for doing online trail maintenance the court appearance is virtual.  Winds whip and the carbonite signs sway.  Their message blows away as the storm front intensifies.

I'm not one to tell you how to do your job, but take some pride in denying us access.
(passive aggressive word to the trail closers)  
Plant some trees to offset your destruction of local vegetation - those hacked sprigs aren't going to magically sprout.  Landscape with logs thoughtfully instead of perpendicular barricades every couple feet.  It all looks ugly and you've done the forest no favors.  And worse yet, now renegade tracks follow along the 'restoration' maybe 5-20 feet on either side.  Yes!  This was a hotly contested closure by both sides and it looks like everyone lost.  Thinking outside the box, how about taking one of your handy game cameras and get it placed?  Maybe a sign about you are now being filmed.  Of course that could open you up to criticisms about actually doing something and having some patrols out there. Oh, the roads are now closed?  Then get off your duff and walk out, it's not far, maybe 3/4 mile tops - the high altitude air might do you some good.

I heard the ticket can be up to $5,000 and/or 6 months in jail for wilderness incursions -- with that formula there's at least $50K worth of new tracks.

For those that ride wilderness sometimes the financial fine isn't enough.  So wrap in potential freedom losses and a criminal record (the gift that keeps on giving) and I'd say it takes a lot of guts to keep motoring on out there at the end of Pit Road.

A quick internet search shows that snowmobiles would often get tickets for wilderness trespass and they were about $75.  Seventy-five buck ticket?  Didn't really scare much folks away.  Then it bumped up to $500 for the first offense and around $2000 for the second - now we're talking.  Building illegal trails in wilderness?  That one gets up there around $15,000, and it's relevant as you'll see further on in this article.

Anyhow, taking it (wilderness) all in with the clear cut forest, barricades, signage, removed barricades, new tracks, old tracks, illegal trails, bottomless pumice, memories, etc... could all be summed up in two words, pissing match.

Onward, I must follow the sinuous trail because when it gets back into the old growth forest it turned magnificent.  Because there were old giant trees and because motorcyclists came through once in a while on a sustainable trail something needed to be done.  Dirt bikes, aka chain-saws with wheels were ruining the ecosystem.  Sometimes handlebars would rub against the giant red firs or a tire would dig into the pumice -- sometimes animals were alerted.  But, life went on.  After the area closed down, something else happened.


A mega wind event blew down the old trees and destroyed any semblance of a trail.  Ironic, to save the trees from motorized impacts to only have Mother Nature rip the place asunder.  Who'd going to huff primitive tools out here to clean up?  Hope you are all satisfied.  What we have now is a fire hazard, poor habitat, and no interest from the wilderness backers.  I present to you the Owens River Headwaters Wilderness courtesy Omnibus Bill March, 31, 2009.


A trail came through here, once a public asset.

I've seen enough.

Through the forest I can spot the top of chair 1 and hike cross country in that general direction.  It's new territory to me, although I'm not lost, I wander as one who is lost.  It's the best path to discovery, think about it.  Most of us take the same routes, time after time -- aka, the rut.  This is what I find
(in order):

1. wilderness barrel
2. arch to parallel dimension
3. new "illegal" mountain bike trail
4. scouring pad defecation piles (the original ursus americanus roto-rooter)
5. Mammoth Mountain's secret ice rink
6. large pile of tampon plastics (1 gross, 240 count, assorted colors and sizes)

Never met a barrel I didn't like.  I present wilderness barrel and fir in soft light.

Before going through arch, please leave a note in your car in case you end up like Rip Van Winkle.

New trail construction in wilderness.  I followed it for about mile and it was playful, non-motorized, thoughtfully designed, and illegal for wheeled use although not signed.

Who knows were it goes, I had other places to be.  Notice the pumice, easily disturbed floating rocks of popcorn size and shape.

Now I'm about 1/4 mile out of wilderness and find an ice rink.  I'll save you from viewing the rest of the sewage and bear feeding photos.  But visitors to main lodge like to flush anything and everything down the toilets -- must be an LA thing.

Ski areas definitely have an impact on the forest, it's a cost of doing business.  Some see ski areas as an environmental disaster others see it as a blessing to contain so many people in one spot, in effect limiting damage elsewhere.  I happen to see the larger cities as the real environmental disaster.  Ski areas like Mammoth are nothing in comparison, they actually present opportunity to many who wish to remain in the mountains full-time and do a better job connecting people to nature than most of these politico wilderness infills.

This day continues with MMSA taking a big hit at the salad bar and more exploring. 

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Defuse the West

This article came out of "High Country News", a periodical written by those that care for the west.  Numerous back issues are available at the Mammoth Lakes Library.  To summarize, it's all about how public land employees (USFS/BLM mostly) are being targeted now more that ever by whack-jobs.  Most of it is about folks cracking and showing up at various government offices to throw adult tantrums (including Bishop, CA).  But it does get worse with Moltov cocktails being tossed at camp hosts, sniper attacks, death threats, racism, sexism, et all.

Although the MammothMC prefers a path defined by Gandhi we know that people snap.  It's usually a build-up of sorts that begins with a perceived action made by the "agency" against a freedom taken for granted.

Either way, when wondering how to defuse the west, the agencies and their contractors would be well served to put themselves in the public's shoes.  Like it or not, we are all here to use the forest differently and the hardline stance of closing people out is difficult for many to accept.  Personally, I'm here for life and prefer to wait as many of the forest changes are unsustainable and will gently revert as time passes.  Others take it as a slap in the face and that creates incendiary conditions.  Another way to defuse the west is to admit mistakes were made, open communication to fix them, then act.

***   ***   ***

Stater Brothers Fight Club

It's lunchtime in the Von's shopping center and two drunks pour out of Giovannis. 

"Look at us girlz..."
"Why aren't you checking us out?"
One of the drunks is especially vocal to the passing high school students.  As I stand there and take in the scene (harassment of local students) I'm reminded of some early days back in Big Bear, CA. 

Imagine a time before smart phones (or even cell phones for the masses) when the general populace didn't spend more than 50% of their day living through their devices.  Back then, trips to the local grocery store were an exciting experience as impromptu fight clubs would form.  On any given trip there would be altercations in the parking lot over spaces, near misses with pedestrians/rammed shopping carts, hard looks, or just escalating cabin fever.  Visitors vs. visitors or local vs. visitor, it didn't really matter.  The victor usually implemented various Kung-Fu moves that were strikingly effective and ended the bout after a few blows.  Although the rules were not posted, no knives, guns, or broken bottles were allowed.


Now the drunk and I have made eye contact and he shuffles over in my direction.  This is going to be a quick one, because I also have his friend to contend with.  Then I realize I'm just a town employee on lunch-break and there is no fight club in Mammoth, well except for that one time in Sierra Manors -- it was actually unique, all the living room furniture was removed and the walls were lined with mattresses.  That one was invite only and the mattresses did nothing to absorb bodies hitting the floor, much to the chagrin of the adjoining apartments.

"I saww ZZ-Top maan..."  Now the drunk is about a parking spot away but focused.

His friend comes in and swoops him up in an embrace that sends them stumbling towards Union Bank, I head off to Schatt's for a turkey leg.

Big Bear was great growing up, and now with the resorts joined up I'm sure we can expect some increase in overflow riff-raff.  So it goes.  And I'm probably wrong that the two drunks exiting Gio's were from Big Bear - it just reminded me of it.  My biggest beef with that city was just it's location right in San Bernadino County, crime ridden and dangerous in the foothills.  Often skiers (or snowboarders) drove up early to hit the slopes and slept in their car only to get robbed and/or killed.  Having that element of human vultures around really bothered me.  It still does.

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Analysis of Feinstein's new desert protection bill

Interactive map


I can be your sweetheart, but you'll find me a chokecherry. (aronia melanocarpa)

Happy Holidays!

TW200 - wife's bike.  Does it all, but none of it well.