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Yosemite Nature Notes 47(3) (1978)


Dick Ewart

For centuries, the Indians used this pass to cross the Sierra; then came the pioneers and miners. Today, backpackers and hikers explore the area without knowing its long and exciting history.

Mono Pass, with Bloody Canyon descending to the east, is located on the boundary of Yosemite National Park and Inyo National Forest about 3.5 miles (5.7 km) southeast of Tioga Pass, at an elevation of 10,600 feet (3210 m). The pleasant, but moderately strenuous walk to Mono Pass, provides majestic views of the high Sierra, as well as an excellent opportunity to explore points of geological, glacial, and historical interest.

Joseph Walker and party, in 1833, were the first non-Indians to see Yosemite. Though some historians claim that he came up Bloody Canyon and over Mono Pass, it is unlikely, and the broader opinion is that he chose a northern route (near the East Walker River), and then followed a route somewhere between the Tuolumne and Merced Rivers. Later, in 1851, Major Savage and the Mariposa Battalion came into Yosemite Valley to roust the Ahwahneechees, the Indian tribe that had lived in the Valley for hundreds of years. That year the white men chased them as far as Tenaya Lake It wasn’t until the following year that the crest of the Sierra was reached by the whites, who once again were pursuing the Ahwahneechees.

Lt. Tredwell Moore led a detachment over Mono Pass and down Bloody Canyon in pursuit of the tribe. Before returning, they explored the area around Bloody Canyon and brought back favorable reports of mineral deposits After hearing the news, a party led by Lee Vining left to prospect for gold.

By 1857, miners were crossing the Sierra to get to Dogtown and Monoville, mines on the eastern Sierra near Mono Lake, thus the Mono Trail was blazed. It followed the route of an old Indian trail, from Big Oak Flat, through Tamarack Flat, past Tenaya Lake, Tuolumne Meadows, Mono Pass, and Bloody Canyon.

Carl Russell, in One Hundred Years in Yosemite, states that the Tioga Mining District, established in 1878, extends from Kings Ranch, at the base of Bloody Canyon to Soda Springs in Tuolumne Meadows. However, others including Mary DeDecker in her book Mines of the Eastern Sierra, say the Tioga District ends at the pass, which is also the dividing line between Tuolumne and Mono Counties. The Prescott Mining District then continues down Bloody Canyon.

At the peak of the mining days, there were 350 mining locations in the Tioga area, including Bloody Canyon. Until the Tioga road was built in 1833, Bennettville and other Tioga mines were supplied by Mexican packers, first by the route up Bloody Canyon and later up Lundy Canyon.

The Homer Mining Index, one of the few papers in the area at the time, states that Fuller and Hayt (or Hoyt) discovered antimonial silver in Mono Pass and called their claim the Golden Crown. The Mammoth City Herald, another newspaper of the day predicted that within a year, thousands of miners would be working in Mono Pass at the Golden Crown (the row of cabins that was built there is still standing and is easily accessible to today’s hikers). Later, in 1881, when these men sold their claims to a New York company, it was shown that Fuller owned the Golden Crown, and Hoyt owned other claims, which he called the New Brunswick, the New York, and the Kalamazoo. N.P. Brady owned the Ella Bloss mines, also situated in Mono Pass_ Either these cabins and mining claims changed hands, or names in the early records were incorrect, for in 1958, the Ella Bloss claim (that row of old whitebark pine cabins commonly called the Golden Crown) was sold to the National Park Service. So, these cabins began their life as part of the Golden Crown, and ended up as part of the Ella Bloss. Though the claim is principally in the Tioga Mining District, it is partially over the pass, therefore in Mono County and part of the Prescott Mining District. Another source states that the Golden Crown cabins were built by four men, Gus Cordes, Andy Thompson, Louis Amiot, and lames Camble, before the Fuller and Hoyt discovery. Of particular importance was Gus Cordes, an early packer working the Bloody Canyon route, who did the last work on the trail in the 1890’s.

Early accounts say that Bloody Canyon was named because the route down the canyon was precipitous and rocky, and the legs of the horses frequently were lacerated. Others feel that the metamorphic rocks which fill the canyon have a reddish tone which gives the canyon a blood-like color.

Walker Lake, named for Joseph Walker, lies at the foot of Bloody Canyon and Mono Pass is named for the Indians of the Eastern Sierra Nevada, the Monos or Monachi, as some of the neighboring tribes called them.

None of the mines in the Mono Pass area became famous, nor did they pay off as expected. They simply passed into obscurity as did many of the mines of the time. Early cabins often reveal much of the person who built them — their personality, character, experience and heritage often are typified by the way the cabins were built. Most all old miners’ cabins have the simplest construction — round logs with V notches; however, the Ella Bloss cabins display different techniques, one having square logs and box corners.

Access to Mono Pass and the historic mines is from two directions: the long, steep trail from the eastern side of the Sierra up Bloody Canyon, or the easier trail from Tioga Road. In the Park, about 2 miles (3.2 km) west of the Tioga Pass entrance station is the Mono Pass parking area and trailhead. Once on the trail, one follows an old dirt road used to truck out gravel for the realignment of the Tioga Road. It gradually gains altitude for the next 2 miles (3.2 km), over a series of glacial moraines. A short distance along, Mono Pass joins Parker Pass (the next pass to the south). The trail bears to the left, first passing a tumbled-down cabin, perhaps that of a sheepherder, though more likely that of a miner, and then a large granite rock on the right containing Indian mortar holes. Along this section of the trail, the more observant hiker will notice older parallel trails. At one point, there are three discernible trails, and one wonders if the oldest one was that trod by the Indians. Before reaching the next old cabin on the right of the trail, one-half mile (.8 km) from the pass, one may notice many old trees scarred with hatchet marks. These marks are roughly rectangular, about 3 to 4 feet (1. m) high and from 2 feet (.6 m) wide and some completely girdle the tree trunk. For what purpose, no one seems to know.

After passing this last cabin and upon entering the meadow, there is to the left, a huge, spreading, multi-trunked old whitebark pine, possibly the largest in existence. And finally, across the meadow at the crest of the pass are the Ella Bloss cabins. These cabins are 100 years old and of great historic importance. Treat them gently and disturb nothing, so that others may enjoy their beauty and wonder about their history. Continuing over the pass, there is a beautiful alpine lake, Sardine Lake, named after the cargo which fell into this lake, along with the unfortunate mule transporting it. This metamorphic environment abounds in a diversity of plant life, along with splendid views of Mono Lake and the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada.

Though at times history gets confusing, one cannot deny the tremendous importance of this trail over Mono Pass, the original trans-Yosemite trail.

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