In 1934, a Stockton man hiking
alone across Granite Mountain's wilderness in Eldorado National Forest
discovered an ancient wonder.
Jesse Machado (1910-1992), a 24-year-old worker at Camp Silver Lake was returning from a day spent fishing the high lakes. Hiking cross-country, Machado was blazing a shortcut across the rugged granite-and-pine of the mountain's northeast slope. Around 7,900 feet, he unexpectedly found himself standing before a vast and peculiar cliff.
The cliff's bizarre rock rose in thousands of towering, six-sided columns -naturally occurring hexagonal columns, all fitted together, 30 feet high, stretching an imposing 900 feet along the cliff face, perhaps 200 feet deep, and rust-red, not granite-white, in color.
Other columns lay in geometric piles where they had toppled. Machado had discovered a formation bigger than Devil's Postpile National Monument and eons older. But no one was to learn of his find for years; Machado kept it a secret. And years later, when he announced his discovery, few in the high country believed him.
Although he worked 25 years as a surveyor in Los Angeles, Jess Machado was a high-country soul. Forced to drop college (and a botany major) by the Depression, he went to work on Camp Silver Lake's crew in the 1920s and 30's. From there he made innumerable solo wilderness forays, exploring every cloud-touched ridge and forested cranny of the Carson Pass region.
"He was the kind of fella that didn't talk much," said Machado's brother, David. "Very studious. I asked him things
" He wouldn't tell you nothing. I don't know why, he was just like that."
Machado, if sometimes gruff with people, was a soul mate to the mountains, their ecology, history, and preservation his passion.
Even after wartime Navy stint, when Machado became a government surveyor in Los Angeles, he would summer in his trailer at Silver Lake, car trunk filled with natural history books.
I'd say Jess was kind of a John Muir-type a person who just roamed this area of the Sierras for 60 years," said Brad Pearson, the operator of Silver Lake's Kit Carson Lodge.
"He either liked you or he didn't like you," Pearson said. "He didn't have a lot of tolerance for people who weren't interested in the Sierras."
Over decades Machado rediscovered every inch of the Emigrant trail and posted signs along it. But his greatest find may be the postpiles.
They were formed 13 million years ago, 10 million years before the Sierra peaks themselves were born. Amid cataclysmic upheavals, molten rock called diabase spewed through volcanic fissures, was covered in ash and cooled gradually, forming four, five, and six-sided pillars
Later, the rust-colored columns were raised with the Sierra Nevada and exposed by erosion. Giant ice-age glaciers ground over their heads, but they were protected by two arms of Granite Mountain. When Devil's Postpile was formed 100,000 years ago, they were already ancient.
For years Machado told no one of his find, not wanting a natural wonder to become touristed and spoiled. When he did tell, area residents scoffed. Six-sided rock pillars? Heard about Bigfoot? Rangers repeatedly failed to find them. Stocktonians Roger and Katherine Blaine did. The Blaines, also longtime Silver Lake campers, stumbled onto the postpiles in 1990. They met Machado at Silver Lake the next year, when he was 82, ailing and living in a Stockton trailer park.
"That guy was practically in tears because somebody finally believed him," Roger Blaine recalled.
Machado died in 1992. Blaine led Silver Lake residents in petitioning the government to name the rocks after Machado. Using rock markers, the Blaines also marked a sketchy trail to the postpiles.
Recently, the government approved Blaine's request.
Beginning with the next printing of the United States Geological Survey topographical maps, the rocks will be known by the name Machado Postpiles, forever linked to the gruff Stockton naturalist who treasured them.
(Webmaster's note: This was orginally published in the Record, Sunday, September 28, 1997. Used with permission. Thanks Mike.)