SHAELOR LAKES MACHADO POSTPILES YOSEMITE

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WELCOME TO MACHADO POSTPILES

PHOTOGRAPHS BY JACOB BELL
The above photographs are provided by Jacob Bell who has been hiking in the Silver Lake area for over 20 years. He first visited Machado Postpiles in 2007.   Want to see more photographs? Click here.   For directions to Machado Postpiles Click here.
Quest for Machado Postpiles by Dale Stocking

I first heard about the Machado Postpiles during an evening lodge slide show given by Roger Blain at the Stockton Silver Lake Family Camp in July, 1999. After listening to Roger describe how he and his wife Katharine had originally seen the formation from the Horse Canyon trail in the 1970s, their attempts to find it in following years and their finally finding the then unnamed formation in 1990, I knew that I wanted to find it. The next day, I cornered Roger and Katherine at breakfast and pumped them for as much information as possible about the Postpiles and how to get there.

There is no official trail into the Machado Postpiles and, since Roger did not know me, he was reluctant to give much information other than cautions on how to get there. Since I was adamant that I was going to try to find it, he did give me the basic "stay out of Squaw Creek and go in on the north side close to where the granite meets the forested area." The Blains also said that the difficulty with finding the formation is that you cannot see it until you have climbed into the area where it is located. You have to get to the right place on Granite Mountain or you miss the Postpiles completely. They were absolutely correct.

That afternoon I drove to the trail head at Camp Minkalo and took off in an easterly direction up the left side of the Squaw Creek canyon to find the Machado Postpiles. There was no trail; however, the first part seemed not difficult and fairly level. I hiked up the canyon for awhile and, when I thought a section of Granite Mountain looked like a place the Postpiles could be, I crossed Squaw Creek and started climbing the mountain. That turned out not to be the location. Rather than go back down to the creek, I decided to explore the side of Granite Mountain working my way toward the east. I figured that I was still west of the formation and had the best chance of finding it by staying on the mountain. It was fun and sometimes scary; however, as I worked my way around the northeast shoulder of the mountain, I came to a rock slide that allowed me to climb higher and over a ridge. When I got over the ridge and looked to the east, there was the Machado Postpiles. What a thrill! My first approach to the formation was from the west and above, not a recommended route.

Since that Friday afternoon in July, 1999, I have returned to the Machado Postpiles a number of times. I feel it is a special place and it has spurred my interest in learning about the formation and the significance of the geology that it represents.

Cliff Notes on Late Hiker's Rock and a Heart Place, by Michael Fitzgerald

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.)