Posted by: Brad Nixon | August 16, 2016

Devils Postpile: Volcanic Ramparts

This is one of a series of blog posts observing the centennial of the U.S. National Park Service.

Places fix themselves in your mind, and you think, “I’d like to go there.” When I was a kid, I wanted to see the Grand Canyon, the temples of Angkor Wat, the Gobi Desert and the dinosaur skeletons at the Smithsonian Institute. I’ve made it to the first and last ones on that list a couple of times each, many other places, too, and I’m not giving up on the others.

A geological marvel I read about and saw pictures of that captivated me was Devils Postpile National Monument, in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. It’s a cliff of basalt columns formed by a volcanic flow about 100,000 years ago.

Devils Postpile Brad Nixon003 (640x517)

The formation isn’t unique, and you can see similar basalt columns many places in the world, including the dramatic Giant’s Causeway on the coast of Northern Ireland.

Somewhat remote, Devils Postpile was one of those places that, while closer than the Gobi Desert, seemed like a mere daydream. Then I moved to California, and the place was only a 6-hour drive up U.S. Route 395.

Devils Postpile map marked

The map shows Devils Postpile, flagged, about 268 miles due east of San Francisco. Route 395 (blue circle) leads south to Los Angeles, 328 miles away. I’ve circled other notable places to explore in the vicinity, including Yosemite, Sequoia and Death Valley National Parks, and the Mojave National Preserve.

It’s a memorable trip from any direction, with the rugged Sierras all around you.

Once you reach the town of Mammoth, there’s a shuttle into the San Joaquin River valley to the trailhead, and its a relatively easy walk to the Postpile. You’re at about 7,500 feet elevation.

Devils Postpile Marcy Vincent 004 (576x640)

With only moderate effort for able walkers, climb onto the top and see the grooves of glacial action that smoothed off the tops of the columns.

Devils Postpile Brad Nixon005 (640x425)

For scale, the object in the center is my knife, 4″ long.

You can catch the shuttle and ride further into the valley, or walk a little over 3 miles to Rainbow Falls, 101 feet high.

Rainbow Falls Brad Nixon (640x475)

Depending on the time of day and the flow of water (low on the August day of the photo above), you truly might see a rainbow in the mist from falls.

Keep your eyes open as you walk though the heavily wooded valley. We saw whitetail deer, along with the usual squirrels, chipmunks and bird life that abound.

Life is full of distractions and detours. It’s always rewarding when you finally stand somewhere, look around and think, “I made it. I finally saw it.” I was glad to be there.

For day travelers in the summer season, access Devils Postpile via shuttle bus from the Mammoth Mountain Adventure Center, a $7 fee in 2016. Access roads are above 10,000 feet, and the shuttle runs only in summer, typically not before June or after October. You can get in on skis or snowshoes during the winter. There’s more information on the NPS site, HERE. The trail to Devil’s Postpile is not entirely accessible. For information about accessibility, CLICK HERE.

© Brad Nixon 2016, 2017. One photo © Marcy Vincent 2017, used by kind permission

For articles about other U.S. National Parks, look under “Travel” in Categories on the right.


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