Headwaters and Wilderness: A Visit

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Headwaters and Wilderness: A Visit

Protect our headwaters on public lands. This theme is the first of TU’s conservation initiatives. We talk a lot at TU meetings & events about this theme in the abstract; that is, explain to new members and others about how vitally important it is to preserve these public lands from various kinds of development and to promote watchful stewardship to keep them pristine. Reference the recent EPA’s Clean Water Act advocacy for public land protection with TU as a supporting pillar.

But, how often do we have the chance or create a reason to visit these pristine places?

My family and I have been camping since the late 1980’s in such a place called Devil’s Postpile National Monument in the Inyo National Forest. It is located near the eastern Sierra town of Mammoth Lakes, CA, just past the Mammoth ski summit on the west slope. Following a narrow, one lane 8-mile road, you wind down past 6 campgrounds and 2 pack stations, ranging from 8300 to 6700 feet elevation. These are all 10’s in my book. The middle fork of the San Joaquin meanders near many of these sites with a 120-foot waterfall thrown in.  The Pacific Crest /John Muir Trail bisects the end of the road, beckoning you to hike it north or south.

Here the abstract becomes a living, breathing thing, full lush color and light, day or night. The air is clear and crisp, the water sweet and cold, the vistas and views stunning, in any direction. Former VP Al Gore camped here with his young family in the 1970’s and later remarked that it was one of his most memorable spots in the continental U.S. Way to go, Al!

My family feels the same way. My two kids caught their first trout here, went on their first overnight backpack here and had their first close and personal encounter with bears (don’t leave your breakfast blueberries unattended!)

Recently, my 20-something daughter and three of her close friends embarked on a 140 mile, 14 day trek from this area. My wife and I played the role of camp hosts to see them off and drop their cars at the end of their adventure trail miles away. Before they left, I felt compelled to give the quick “Chris Wood raised-arm” speech about headwater protection; the fingers being the tributaries, the arm representing the river mainstem, etc. None of this young crew knew that this area was part of the headwaters for the San Joaquin and Kings Rivers. They did know they would be passing through more headwater areas as beautiful and pristine as this one in the days to come and were excited to experience it.

So, they are taking full advantage of an opportunity, a privilege. Some say a right. Sadly, less than half of 1% of the U.S. population ever visits a wilderness area or pulls a wilderness permit. I urge you go, go visit these pristine headwaters and wild areas in person. Take the family, too. Stay a while. Experience the area for which you are fighting. Whether you are a boomer, X’er or millennial, we all share this responsibility together.


“Wilderness is a necessity...there must be places for human beings to satisfy their souls.”

----John Muir






said on Thursday, July 24th, 2014

Postscript: as I post this piece, the crew is now on Day 11 of 14. They have experienced some awesome wilderness and headwaters.


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