Devil’s Postpile

Devil’s Postpile located near Mammoth Mountain and Yosemite in California, refers to columnar basalt formed when lava flowed down the San Joaquin river valley 100,000 years ago and piled up thickly, causing slow cooling of the lava and consequently the columns of ‘post’ were formed. Like beehives and bubbles, they form geometric shapes that are wondrous to see. You can read more about it in Wikipedia: Devil’s Postpile

Throughout August and September most of the Mammoth area had been affected by smoke from different fires (Aspen Fire, Bodie Fire, King’s Canyon Fire). Yosemite’s Rim Fire (now 80% contained, 255,560 acres) which blew smoke mostly northwest, was probably the closest fire, but didn’t affect Mammoth. On the day I visited Mammoth last week, the skies were beautifully clear and it was a blustery day and when I say blustery, it was probably blowing 35 mph gusts.

I hiked first to Rainbow Falls which is a 101′ foot drop of the San Joaquin River (this would be called a creek back east ;-)).

San Joaquin River
San Joaquin River above the Rainbow Falls
You can see a small rainbow if you strain your eyes!
You can see a small rainbow if you strain your eyes!

The area surrounding Rainbow Falls was part of the Rainbow Fire in 1992. Some massive Jeffrey Pines stumps are still standing, but many of the stumps were felled by 100 mph winds in November of 2011. I wondered as I looked out over the now open area, if this fire contributed to the gigantic windfall that happened in Mammoth where over 10,000 trees were lost, since it is now open meadow instead of being heavily wooded.

New growth is coming up between the stumps.
New growth is coming up between the stumps.
Where the fire stopped.
Where the fire stopped.


Remnants of the Rainbow Fire in 1992 that were felled during the Nov. 2011 100 mph windstorm.

As I was standing looking at the open expanse, I happened to be behind two behemoths that were fire damaged on the bottom, but alive on top. As the wind was blowing pretty hard, I didn’t linger behind the trees – just got a scary feeling of danger. As it turns out, I witnessed (by ear) the felling of a huge tree. I had just left the lower fork of the Rainbow Trail after chatting with four ladies who were college roommates way back when, and took the Pacific Crest Trail south to get to where I needed to be. Anyone who has hiked the Pacific Crest (or the Appalachian for that matter) knows it’s not just a stroll in the woods on smooth trails. You have to work at it pretty hard in places. I had just gotten over a a fairly steep ridge and my knees were telling me WHOA!, when I heard a massive crash and felt the vibrations from the thump in my feet. I debated going back to see whether the ladies were OK, but figured I was close enough to hear if they needed help and I couldn’t face going up that ridge again. I reported the tree to the rangers at the parking area and they assured me there were lumberjacks in the area working on the 2011 clean-up. HOWEVER, I met another group of people at the Postpile, who later confirmed that no indeed, the tree was over the trail, no one was around it and the trail had not been blocked off as the ranger said. They saw the tree starting to fall, it lost a big branch and the tree cracked and swayed, but then nothing more happened, so they went on to the falls and when they came back, it had fallen.

On the way to Devil's Postpile.
On the way to Devil’s Postpile.

The Devil’s Postpile – I cannot find who named it – was breathtakingly beautiful. The geometric shapes and curvy lines formed thousands of years ago were probably the first abstract art! The person(s) who discovered these formations would have had a hard time describing them without photos.

The outcrop was around 100' high.
The outcrop was around 100′ high.


Glaciers flowed down the San Joaquin valley after the lava had hardened, scraping one side of the balsalt columns clean, and leaving striations across the top.





Self Portrait from the top.

After leaving the Postpile (I had to drag myself away from the beauty because the sun was setting), I took a couple more photos on the way out.

Got anything good? Nuts? Crackers? Fruit?
Got anything good? Nuts? Crackers? Fruit?
Sunset on the river.
Sunset on the river.
Working mules and horses from the Red's Meadow Pack Station.
Working mules and horses from the Red’s Meadow Pack Station.

Both Shearwater Lake and Sotcher Lake were carved by glaciers. They will eventually fill with debris and become open meadows.

Shearwater Lake
Shearwater Lake
Sotcher Lake
Sotcher Lake
Homeward Bound!
Homeward Bound!

11 Replies to “Devil’s Postpile”

  1. Beautiful pictures, Barb. Cool rock formations and exciting story. Do you think it was the tree you saw that fell? Way behind with my reading since we’ve been on the road but will be back in AZ soon. Hope you have a good trip back east.


    1. Carol, hadn’t had time to respond. No it wasn’t the first tree – I had left thAt , it was much closer. Later talked to people who saw it start to fall, not far from where I’d just trod!


  2. Beautiful! Wes and I were at Devil’s Postpile about 10 years ago. What an amazing formation!! Thanks for posting these great photos!
    Have you read the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed about her journey on the Pacific Crest Trail? It is a very good book.


  3. Thank you, once again, for the perspective. A soon-to-be “mother of the bride” needs perspective now and then. Oh! what I wouldn’t give to pull on some boots (or minimalist trail shoes? I’m trying to break in) and join you on your hikes and share your views. And hey – your self-portraits look very similar to my own. Sometimes I get a shadow here or there but more often just a bared toe (in the sand if I’m lucky) or a knee in the shot. How much better off I’d be if I got the full effect of photographing the wonders of CA wildlands. Cant wait to see you very soon back home! Love you!


    1. Thanks Wendy, am so looking forward to seeing you soon. I won’t be available the morning of the wedding, John is in a cancer society 5K, want to support him, but will be available the whole week before!


  4. Barb,
    How fortunate you are to be able to see all these amazing places! “Fortunate” might be an understatement, because it took a lot of courage for you to set out on this journey on your own!


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