Waterfalls, Trout and Indian Mortars

We loaded our rig and hit the super slab up to the Sierra for three nights of car camping April 30-May 3. There were few people and the weather was perfect.

This was home for four days. Well, this and the surrounding mountainside and river that served as our backyard and playground.

I forgot at camp on Sunday my go-to adventure pants. They’re made from extremely durable, thin and lightweight supplex nylon. They rapidly dry when soaked, but are comfortable and easy to hike in even when wet. I normally wouldn’t mention such minutiae, but they’re pretty damn cool pants and I wear them everywhere.

Anyway, I was wearing denim and rather than hiking up and down the canyon in heavy, wet blue jeans that chafe and bind up, I fished in my underwear, hence the photo above showing me from the waist up.

I fished for about an hour with not much luck. I hooked a pan sized trout on my third cast, but it jumped into the air and spat the hook, which suited me just fine for it wasn’t big enough to keep let alone make a meal of.

Seventeen inch brown trout.

I fished on. Numerous times fish bit only to dart away. Further casts would go untouched and I would move on to the next spot. Typical trout fishing in heavily plied waters. They were finicky and bit lightly.

I crept up to another smooth running section of water that looked good and threw my line downstream. Almost as soon as it hit the water a small trout darted out from under some structure and struck, then bolted. Subsequent casts proved he was gone or at least uninterested so I turned my attention upstream.

Standing in the same spot, I tossed my line a short distance in the opposite direction, quickly flipped the bail and cranked the line in to keep up with the swiftly flowing current. I guided my line around a snag and into a small pool and, BAM! I felt a solid strike and snapped my rod back, tip up. A beautifully colored spotted brown trout surfaced just in front of me. A few seconds later and I had it ashore and securely in hand.

Later that evening at camp, I stoked up a fire with the oak wood I brought for just such a purpose. I infused some grape seed oil with a medley of fresh ground herbs and spices and coated the fish inside and out and slow roasted it over smoldering oak coals. It made an exceptional main course for dinner that night.

On Monday we loaded supplies for a day away from camp and drove up the mountain. Heading up the highway, a narrow unmarked and infrequently used dirt road leading from the asphalt into a cedar grove caught my eye.

I rolled to a stop, reversed back down the highway and eased my way forward onto the dirt road. It led a short distance through the trees to a small clearing near a fast flowing brook and I pulled to a stop near a large fire ring of granite stones.

It was an informal camp with no bench or grill. There was a big pile of charcoal in the fire ring and some inconsiderate, disrespectful slobs had left a couple of canned food tins.

It wasn’t more than a minute after I got out of the truck that I caught sight of evidence proving the location had been used as a camp for, I would guess, at least hundreds of years. There beside the fire pit was a granite slab pitted with Indian mortars.

The largest mortar measured over nine inches deep. Some others were just being formed and were less than half an inch deep. How long does it take to bore with a stone pestle a nine inch hole in solid granite?

The area was barely a clearing between the trees and it very well may have been previously shrouded in forest in times past. It wasn’t a natural potrero or flat of any sort, but a gentle slope of open soil with a few patches of grass in the midst of cedars and pines. There was a meadow relatively nearby on the mountainside, but not too close.

The tiny stream of runoff water ran down a gully twenty to thirty yards from the grinding stone beyond the small clearing. Being above 6000 feet it was, no doubt, a seasonal camp. Presumably those that frequented the place historically used it as a base of operations of sorts in gathering pine nuts and other seeds to grind during the spring and summer.

This being the case it makes a nine inch deep mortar all the more remarkable in that it was only used seasonally for several months a year at most. In other words, it would have been bored a lot quicker if used year round. The camp appeared to be, not ancient, but pretty old.

Chips and tiny flakes of obsidian were scattered around the entire area here and there showing that a lot of knapping had gone on at one time. There are probably a few pieces of spear points or arrowheads around or other tools.

I unloaded a cooler full of ice and edibles and we had us a nice little picnic at a place where people have been stopping to eat during the warmer months of the year for quite some time.

The slab of granite dotted with bedrock mortars.

The Indian grinding stone shown here in the shade of a cedar tree.

Late Monday afternoon, I hiked up to a waterfall gushing through a slot canyon. A massive chockstone is jammed between the walls of the canyon splitting the fall down the middle and forcing it to flow around the boulder in two torrents. It then flushes through a lengthy  and narrow trough cut in the bedrock and down on into what might be called a normal looking creek. It was flowing scary fast.

In one of the photos several people are visible. They were up on the rocks beside the creek throwing logs in and watching them get battered. The way the creek was flowing it offered zero room for error and it seemed pretty foolish to be screwing around as they were with beers in hand. Guess I’m getting old.

I had originally set out to hike much farther up the creek to a Yosemite-type fire hose of a fall that blasts over a granite precipice and looks to be at the very least a hundred feet in height. I was unable to locate much of a trail and spent too much time route finding and pushing through brush on my way up the canyon. There was a faint trail here and there, but it obviously got very little use.

I was unaware of this lower waterfall in the photos here and was pleasantly surprised to round the shoulder of a grassy hill and see it come into view. It was already late in the afternoon with only about four hours of light remaining. With no clear trail leading up canyon that I could find, I decided to call off trying to reach the larger waterfall.

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Native Steelhead of Yore

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5 Responses to Waterfalls, Trout and Indian Mortars

  1. Nico says:

    Nice trip summary. Looks like somewhere in the southern sierra, around the Kern… I’ll be heading out to a favorite spot in the southern Golden Trout Wilderness in a few weeks. Cant’ wait for my first Sierra trip of the year!

    • Jack Elliott says:

      Right on. Enjoy your trip. There is a whole lot of water out there!!! I have some time in mid-June and am planning to get back up to the Sierra then, back a little deeper into the woods. Hopefully everything will be open with full access by then.

  2. Jack, Up until this point I have never had an urge to visit California. You opened my eyes to a part of it that I never knew existed. And you made me jealous with that beautiful Brown Trout. I love the pine needle carpet and the Indian morters. Thanks for a great post.

  3. jonathan says:

    Jonathan K.
    Very nice photos! What is the geographic location of that waterfall? and what highway were your travels on?

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