Volcanic views, not skiing, at Mammoth

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of August 22-28, 1996
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Volcanic views, not skiing, at Mammoth
Question: Can you give me specific information about visiting volcanic phenomena around Mammoth Lakes, California?

Carlos Oblites
San Francisco, California
[email protected]

Devils Postpile features unusual
volcanic sights.

Adventure Adviser: First, a sidenote: The beautiful alpine lakes just west of Mammoth usually take a backseat to the wildly-popular ski area, which explains why most everyone refers to the area just plain "Mammoth." The good news, though, is that if you're digging around for evidence of past volcanic activity, you won't have to dig too deep, and you won't be disappointed.

Your best bet is Devils Postpile National Monument, a group of 50-plus-foot blue-gray basalt columns--about 20 miles southwest of town off California 203--that formed when lava flowed through Mammoth Pass and then cooled and split. Sometime after the lava flow, a glacier ripped through the area, cracking the columns and giving them a shiny, slick surface.

I'd recommend camping at Reds Meadow, surrounding the monument. Otherwise, you'll only be allowed access to the area via a shuttle, which leaves every half-hour or so from the Mammoth Mountain Inn and costs $7 round-trip. Reserve a camping permit ahead of time by calling the visitors center at 619-934-2289, and you'll get vehicle clearance as part of the deal.

Another option is Fish Creek Hot Springs, a cluster of geothermal pools about 30 miles southwest of Mammoth Lakes. The 12-mile hike in from Reds Meadow through blue lupine, Indian paintbrush, and giant rock gardens, is more than worth the effort, thanks to mind-boggling views from the two, 100-plus-degree pools. Soak your trail-tired limbs and take in the panorama that stretches 1,000 feet down to the canyon floor. You'll even have your pick of sandy bottom or mud between your toes, and there's a handful of smaller pools 100 yards up the ridge. As for camping, pitch your tent at the nearby Iva Bell camp area, but make sure you're at least 100 feet from the water.

And don't forget to hang your food. Before you go, pick up a free camping permit, weather advice, and other helpful tips at the Mammoth Ranger District station (619-924-5500), about three miles west of town on California 203. For general info about the area, call the Mammoth Lakes Visitors Bureau at 800-367-6572.

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