CONDUCTED IN BRIDGEPORT, CA 10/30/1991
TAPE #1 - SIDE A
INTERVIEWER (INT): My background is that I worked on the islands from 1982-83 for the Point Reyes Bird Observatory. My first interest really is wildlife. And then I was staff biologist with the Mono Lake Committee for a few years ... And this summer I worked with a consulting firm that's doing the environmental impact report ... doing bird surveys on the streams ... We can start with wildlife!
WALLIS MCPHERSON (WMCP): Alright.
INT: My first interest anyway ... Did you hunt and fish?
WMCP: Well I used to hunt ducks, geese, jacksnipe, quail, sagehen, deer, jackrabbits, cottontail rabbits. Anything else that you could think of probably!
INT: What were some of the best duck spots?
WMCP: Well duck hunting used to be real good on Mono Lake. East and south of the mouth of Lee Vining Creek, there's a road near the shore of the lake. And you drive along that road, and it would be like the beach was moving out, swimming out into the lake. These birds would be so thick. You didn't actually hunt, you took what you needed! (LAUGHS) And left the rest of 'em alone!
INT: What kinds of ducks were that huge raft? Was it ... a bunch of different kinds?
WMCP: Spoonbills, mallards later on in the Fall. Pretty much the variety of ducks that you find here. A birdbook for the very young! The ruddy ducks didn't come ashore, they stayed on the lake and swam around all the time. And ... of course, by that time, the phalaropes were gone, we didn't hunt phalaropes anyway. They used to be called Mono Lake pigeons - no one ever hunted them, they were too small. Except some kids with slingshots that used to ... knock them over and build a little fire on the beach and roast them right on the spot. Really could be pretty lean.
INT: Well they sure get fat!
WMCP: Yes! They do! They were good eating!
INT: What was the shoreline like ... in that area? I mean now it's so hard to tell ... was it meadow or ... watercress beds or ...
WMCP: Well it was sandy!
WMCP: Sandy beaches ... mostly. See the lake comes up ... which it was doing at the time ... in 1917, when I first went on the island, in 1922 it rose about a foot every year. And the wash of your waves brings the sand ahead of it. Gives you sandy beach! As your water recedes, sand stays and it exposes the mud that's underneath the sand. And ... it was a pretty nice sandy beach all the way along ... Not like you would see at the ocean, but the edge of the water was sand. And sagebrush pretty much goes to the edge of the water.
INT: So it wasn't ... they weren't any reed beds really, or anything in that area between Lee Vining and Rush ...
WMCP: Well there was freshwater springs that were reed beds, yes. Watercress. This is where you ... really find the ducks.
INT: So is that what they ... were they coming in to feed ...?
WMCP: They come in to feed on the watercress ... (?)
INT: Or something in the lake ...?
WMCP: There was a plume of algae in the lake. It sort of resembled ... pale scrambled eggs or something. Sort of a mush! Of course up in the fall and winter, it was along the shore, and along the beaches. The ways teal and spoonbill just sloughed that up like mad.
INT: Huh! I don't remember seeing that. These days ... around the lake. There's a few round green balls of a certain kind of algae, but ...
WMCP: Yeah! There's that also! But these were sort of ivory colored. Just ... conglomerate mass sort of.
INT: Yeah. And how many ducks? Just, you know, I know ... not exactly, but say between Lee Vining and Rush, would it be ... hundreds, thousands ...
WMCP: I would say possibly millions.
INT: It's pretty different now!
WMCP: Certainly in the hundreds of thousands.
INT: Yeah, gosh. That's fantastic. And you said that it sounded like some were there more or less all summer?
WMCP: Yes! The ... the grebes and mudhens ... grebes come in first and mudhens, ruddy ducks, and once they get so thick on the lake, or used to, you'd go out in a boat and it looked like you were going to run ashore on a sandbar in about 200 yards - there were so many birds, it just looked like a bar.
INT: Wow! Were they nesting? Or were they just ...
INT: Maybe early migrates?
WMCP: Traveling through. The diving birds fed on this ... bloodworm that's in the ... used to be in the lake, and probably still is, in the mud at the bottom of the lake. And ... you noticed that, we thought it was mainly a temperature change, but I think, that the reason the lake changes color when the birds arrived is that it'd get so muddy, because they dived, stirred up the bottom mud, going after these bloodworms.
INT: That's interesting.
WMCP: There definitely is a phenomenon that you can observe. When the birds arrive in great numbers, why the lake is not as clear as it was before...a little muddy.
INT: Now I know according to Dave Herbst, there are no longer bloodworms like that at any Mono Lake, or he hasn't found them yet. What-what did they look like?
WMCP: Well we used to know Elden Vestal as you probably know. And I did quite a bit of work ... research on ... finding fish to live in the lake perhaps. And he had a clamshell device that we would send down on a rope, get about a shovel's full of dirt, mud off the bottom, and screen those, screen that mud and get somewhere between oh 10-50 of these bloodworms that (?) Now this is in the depths of the water - they don't occur in less than 10' of water. They don't occur much beyond 40' of water. But in that depth, they used to-you'd never miss, they were very easy to find.
INT: Wow! I've never seen anything like that in the last ...!
WMCP: And they looked like a pale angle worm, about so long. Two-and-a-half to three inches.
INT: I don't know what an angle worm looks like.
WMCP: Earthworm. You buy them in the stores ... for fishbait!
INT: I'm familiar with those, yeah. And so they were that thick? About that thickness of an earthworm?
INT: And what color?
WMCP: Pale color. A very light pink.
INT: Huh! Boy that would have made incredible duck food.
WMCP: It did!
INT: And diving bird food.
WMCP: It did.
INT: Wow. And that was ... where did you do your census, your clamshell ...
WMCP: Pretty much all over the lake.
INT: So even on the east side you'd have those ... critters?
WMCP: Well we didn't try to get towards the east side. Between the island and the west side, mainly. Most ... because there was in our minds no point in going to the east side because you'd find the same thing on the east side as you do on the west side. But the depth of the water was somewhat critical but you didn't find them in less than about 10 feet of water. And after you got to about 30 or 40 feet, we didn't find as many or many at all. I think it was temperature, mainly. There's a thermacline in the lake at about 15 feet. The water below that at least at two bottom samples was 35 degrees Fahrenheit.
INT: That's cold.
WMCP: You stick your hand in it, it was cold, yeah!
INT: Would you find fly pupae and larvae as well when you'd do the shallower sampling? I know they like shallower water?
WMCP: Yes. Your ... the flies crawl down under the water to lay their eggs, you probably have observed it?
INT: Yes. I know the little bubble of air ...
WMCP: It looks like a little bubble of quick silver.
INT: A little spacesuit!
WMCP: Yeah. And then that hatches out into the larvae, which is a very active ... wiggle worm ... about 3/4 of an inch to an inch long. He gets his skin turns hard and he looks like a little tiny seahorse.
INT: That's true! They do, yeah.
WMCP: And ... they attach to the rocks, twigs and one thing or another in the ... on the bottom of the lake. And I think it's the storms that break them loose and winnow them up on the beach so the Indians used to gather them, out of the lake for food. They also gathered them, by wading in the water ... and tromping around and breaking them loose and then they'd ... had a clam shell shaped basket or scallop shelled shape basket, that they would pick them up with and put 'em over their heads into this conical basket on their back. And ... then after then they were dried and winnowed in the wind, and put again in these clam shelled baskets, and they, the skins would blow away and the kernel looks like sort of old coarse salt and pepper. And taste like very salty caviar.
INT: I've tried it ... it's actually good, it tastes a little bit like bacon bits.
WMCP: Yeah. If you ... don't soak them up. If you crunch them.
INT: Yeah, yeah. I've had them out of the shell!
INT: Pre-roasted. Do you remember like how wide the bands of flies were? Around the lake?
WMCP: It depends on how wide the flat part of the beach was ... anywhere from 6" to ten feet. And the seagulls loved the flies. They'd run along the beach with their mouths open and just scoop up the flies on the run.
INT: Huh. So they would do that even back when the lake was higher.
WMCP: Oh yes!
INT: 'Cause I wasn't sure if that was ... I've seen them do that now, but I didn't know if that was because maybe there wasn't enough of some other kind of food ...
WMCP: No, that's an instinctive action I would say.
INT: Yeah. Is that ten foot band, would that mostly be on the west side? Or just anyplace ...
WMCP: Well I spent most of my time on the west side. I made these observations at the age of ... five to ... forty, you know. But uh ... I lived at Mono Inn so the, I didn't ... go drive or take a boat across the lake to observe all that was going on the east side. Except we used to hunt ducks over there in the winter time, over at Sammann Springs was good duck hunting. Good goose hunting. And ... then there's other forms of life in the lake - used to be a algae that looked like oh, romaine lettuce leaves floating around and just above the bottom.
INT: That's amazing.
WMCP: In fairly shallow waters up to ... up to about ... oh from 6 feet to maybe 15 feet deep. In the summertime ...
INT: Well was it more where there was fresh water coming in or ...?
WMCP: No, this is out in that ... used-to-be-bay, the big flat between Mono Inn and the Shrimp Flat. It used to be bay all the way up in there. And ... there was you see this stuff just sort of floating around on the bottom, just above the bottom. Actually was ... suspended.
INT: I've seen that in the ocean for instance ... the way some of the seaweeds just ... hang out in the water column.
WMCP: And ... and then there was, there's a little wiggler, or used to be. Looks like a ... eel with a round head. Very active.
INT: And you're indicating it was several inches long?
WMCP: No. An inch-and-a-half would be a real big one. 3/4 of an inch to an inch, and very active.
INT: I wonder what that was?
WMCP: And round like a ... glass-headed pin? White-head. Like the head of a glass-headed pin.
INT: Huh? I'm going to have to ... describe these things to Dave Herbst 'cause he knows not only the algae but all kinds of insect larvae and stuff like that.
WMCP: And we'll see what he knows!
INT: Was your impression that the ducks were feeding on the algae in the rivers? Or were the rivers too fast?
WMCP: Then ... the phenomenon that I have observed and I don't know what they are, they call them sand fleas, used to be you dig back from the edge of the lake, you dig in the sand ... foot, foot-and-a-half back from the edge of the lake, this little hole with your hand will fill up with water ... freshwater! Almost immediately would scum over with ... untold numbers of these little tiny, too small to ... tell what they are with the naked eye, very active, like mites. Sand fleas! Whatever you want to call them.
INT: Would they hop? Along the water?
WMCP: They were moving!
INT: Yeah, kind of swimming on the surface.
WMCP: Well, no. They would hop above the surface.
INT: Gee! I've never seen that either. And I've dug ... you know, dug in the sand and ...
WMCP: In the summertime just back from the beaches, dig a little hole and you get this freshwater running in ... And ... maybe only during the warm months, July and August perhaps, but it will just cover over almost immediately with these little ... tiny mites! What they are, I have no idea. And I've never talked to any of the ... entomologists or ... biologists that have worked in the lake who have seen them.
INT: Yeah, I was going to say! ... I've heard you talk about bloodworms ...
INT: At other times ... But I've never heard of any of these other ... animals.
WMCP: Then on the bottom of the old boat that we had when we lived on the island ...
INT: Hm-hm. This is not the Venita but an earlier boat?
WMCP: Yeah. This was a growth you might call it. You got barnacles. This was when the lake was at its highest. A big one would be the size of that piece of shell. It looked like a little ... volcano. Just like a little volcano, you know, a little bump, hole in the top of it ... and ridge, ridges throughout. And ... as I say, a big one, a real big one would be that big.
INT: It'd be just about a half-inch maybe?
WMCP: Yeah. A half inch! Half to five-eighths. And they, had a definite hard shell ... and they, would form on the bottom of that boat. Not thickly, but you could see quite a few of them around, you know.
INT: Amazing. Did you scrape them off then? You'd have to repair the boat and remove the barnacles?
WMCP: No, we'd pull it out and ... used to pull it up on the ways in the wintertime and ... they'd just dry and fall off.
INT: Yeah. And-and they were whitish? In color?
WMCP: Sort of the color of that bookcase over there. The wood colors.
INT: Hm-hm. Tan.
WMCP: Tan. Greenish-tan.
INT: Yeah. Huh? I've never, certainly never seen that either in Mono Lake, and the boat was built at Mono Lake?
WMCP: No, it was built in San Pedro. And hauled ... on the Carson and Colorado Railroad ... to Benton. And it was transhipped onto a wide-tired wagon, tires were about a foot wide on it, and pulled behind a caterpillar tractor over the hill from Benton to Mono Lake. To the Lake. Weighed nine tons. Was quite a job, moving job in those days.
INT: What happened to that, that boat?
WMCP: It eventually burned ... I don't know whether it was set afire or ... spontaneous combustion or whatever.
INT: What a shame.
WMCP: But it burned on the ways there, right where my-the boat is laying now.
INT: The Venita, yeah. Oh, what a shame!
WMCP: And ... Power Co. brought in a boat at the same time, which they took on up to Gem Lake. They were building several Lake Power Houses at the time, it was the reason these wide-tired wagons and caterpillars were available ...
INT: When, when was that approximately? Just ...
WMCP: 19-19, we brought that boat in.
INT: Mono Lake's high stand?
INT: That's when Mono Lake was at its highest. They say high stand.
WMCP: No, it was ... came up after that several feet. About '23-'24 was when it was at its highest.
INT: Really? Hm.
WMCP: Now, did you want to see pictures or ...?
INT: Sure! Love to see pictures.
WMCP: The bridge is still there!
INT: That's that old Rush Creek bridge?
WMCP: The old Rush Creek Bridge. And there's some water running under it!
INT: There is and there's some trees there, right now there are no trees left.
WMCP: The bridge was built ... by 1922.
INT: But, before then people would go down to below the meadows and cross there?
WMCP: They had a log bridge across there, yeah.
INT: What were the two ... gentlemen in this picture?
WMCP: Well I'm not sure if I know.
INT: I've never seen this picture. You know, Wally, now there's a lot of swallows that nest under that bridge . Did you remember that ... there used to be swallows ... that would fly out when you went over it?
WMCP: Well, not necessarily ... I didn't pay much attention ... there's ... lots of swallows in Mono ... I ...
INT: Yeah. 'Cause it's a species that ... cliff-swallow that Dave Gaines thought was a recent arrival to ... the Mono Basin. He thought they maybe they only showed up about ... five years ago or so? And now there's a lot!
WMCP: There used to be ... swallows as long as I can remember ... And these rocky cliffs where the Bodie road turns off south of Bridgeport here? In that canyon in there? There used to be lots of these nests in there. And I noticed ... they talked about Capistrano last fall ... and I ... didn't write the date down, I've forgotten it, but it was early Fall ... I looked out and the sky was full of swallows! And these ... wires out here, which you can see out the window? Were just lined up side by side on them.
INT: I've been in Bridgeport when there have been these huge flights of swallows ...
INT: It's spectacular! They seem to come when it's still cold, pretty cold.
WMCP: There's a possibility ... the man with the hat is my father, but I'm not sure.
INT: This is a very valuable photo because ... we're even talking to some people yesterday that couldn't quite remember what the tree composition was at that bridge crossing. Its certainly different now. Do you remember anything like what the bottom of the stream was like in this area?
WMCP: Well it was ... stream rock, cobble rock ...
INT: So it wasn't gravels ...?
WMCP: Well, big gravel!
WMCP: Fist-size gravel! And ... I might have a picture, let's see ... Well you can't really see much from that one.
INT: Oh! So what's this ... ranch in this upper photo?
WMCP: That's my ranch! This is ... from the hills in back of Mono Inn.
INT: So that's the Mono Inn buildings right there?
WMCP: Well, they weren't there when this picture was taken. It was taken just about the time the family was starting to build them.
INT: So that's like maybe ... alfalfa field?
INT: And then this is a row of trees?
INT: And what-what's this foreground?
INT: Okay. What-what was the ranch called then or ... the area ...?
WMCP: It was the ... John Mattly ranch at the time.
INT: And how about this picture? These trees?
WMCP: Well ... That was down ... Down below Mono Inn, on the north end of that line of trees. Park Turn-off is up here.
WMCP: This is the old town of Mono Lake! What was left of it.
INT: Now is that where the ... the Tioga Lodge is now?
WMCP: No. This is where my vacationers, where the Venita landing ... just south of there was a fire that came and wrapped in, wiped out these trees finally, but this was after a snow slide, they came into the lake, now, where the boat is laying it would be ... completely underwater. And ... we'll get on further.
INT: Is this, so this is the lake?
WMCP: Yeah, it's taken from a boat.
INT: Is that a building?
WMCP: It's ... buildings, lifted off up the ground and in the trees, laying in the trees ...
INT: Upside down.
INT: I see it now. That's a fantastic picture.
WMCP: And the ... canyon that's right behind it is where the snow slide came down.
INT: Pretty scary!
WMCP: There's old Chief Paoha Island, himself!
INT: That big tree ... Oh, I see! The, so it's kind of that knob where the Funnerals are located. Is the tree still there?
INT: The tree ... I think is just barely alive. And it's kind of fallen over? And twisted? But it's just ... it's hanging in there.
WMCP: Yeah. Now this was a straight tree, this is too ...
INT: Hm. No. I don't think that's there.
WMCP: Hm! This was the biggest and healthiest tree that was in the area.
INT: That's a Jeffrey pine?
INT: Were they planted? Do you think, or ...?
INT: They got taken out, carried by a bird ... Oh! This is a fantastic picture!
WMCP: This is ... on Hot Rocks, another tree.
WMCP: The photos were taken by John Von Blon, who was the photographer for the Los Angeles Times back in the 20's.
INT: Oh my goodness! There's the falls, in Lee Vining Canyon. These are the falls that were diverted into the penstock.
WMCP: Late teens and twenties. But it had water in it.
INT: So what were they like? I mean were they ...
INT: Beautiful. Were they really loud and ...
WMCP: Yes! This is Tioga Road. You can see it going around and around. And into Ellery Lake here. My dad wrote ... a stack of letters at least that high trying to ... prevent these falls from being put into a pipe.
INT: What year did they ... what-what year do you think this might have been?
WMCP: In the early twenties.
INT: Yeah. What year did they ... put them in the pipe?
WMCP: That plant was finished about ... '27, '28. Now here's your Hot Springs Bay on Paoha Island when the water was up. You've been out there?
INT: Oh yeah! I spent my birthday in 1986 on the island! On the beach near the hot springs!
WMCP: Well the ... the concrete brick tub is way up above the water now?
INT: I didn't find that! I wonder if it's ... covered with a lot of greasewood?
WMCP: No, I don't think so.
INT: Okay. I'll have to look for that.
WMCP: It's still right there, the igloos are over here. And at this point, you couldn't even get around on-on the land, you see.
INT: Yeah. It's deep. But there was a tub that was for bathing in? Or for ... salts or ...?
WMCP: Yeah. And there was, this trail worked its way up ... there's the tree again, the same tree ...
INT: Yes. Where did you moor the boat when you took people out there?
WMCP: I used to land them here on the rocks, the lake wasn't as high while I was taking the people out there as it was in this picture. I had a little dock right here I'd tie the boat to, and I'd ... go back and get them and walk around with them. Have you seen Red Lake? This must be dry now!
WMCP: Mud crater up above in the ... igloos?
INT: Yeah. Although it'd be 1986, it had a little more ... water ...
WMCP: No, this is Red Lake, we used to call it. It would be green, yellow ... or red, according to the algae that was in it. Water birds never got in there. If they did, they died, because it was ... very concentrated ... on Red Lake ... where this little pier appears to be here, there was a tunnel ... dug through here, this prospector wanted to drain this, he thought there was oil on the bottom. There was scum that would float on it, you could skim it off, and burn on the land, but it was ... from rotting vegetation more than anything else ...
INT: Did he succeed ... in draining it?
WMCP: No. His engineering was great! His tunnel came out alright, although a little bit high!
INT: That could be a little bit of a problem!
WMCP: He had this galvanized ... stove pipe ... and he put the pump on it and it went ... (SLAPS HIS HANDS) flat!
INT: I've seen springs near Hot Springs Cove that smelled like oil.
INT: Water was coming out, but they had a very petroleum ...
WMCP: Sulphurous taste, yeah. You cool that, and it's drinkable.
INT: Huh. Probably healthful.
WMCP: Tastes a little bit like chicken soup, with a little coal oil added to it. But if you cool it, it loses its taste. Now there's Tioga Road when it was an adventure to drive it!
INT: And there's the falls again.
WMCP: Yeah! Dodge Point ... you heard of Dodge Point?
INT: No, I haven't!
WMCP: You know where the bridge is?
INT: Yes, the green bridge.
WMCP: On Tioga?
WMCP: Well this fellow drove his Dodge out on the point there and ... the transmissions on the old Dodges were just backwards ... to a standard transmission ... And the fellow that owned the car had gone up the hill to take a picture of it, and this other guy was going to back up and get him, he thought he had it in reverse and he had it in low ... 1500 feet to the first shelf.
WMCP: And that's where it got it's name and became Dodge Point.
INT: So he was killed ... I assume?
WMCP: Yes. They did find a headlamp, it wasn't even broken. Now ... here's some more on the island. And here's Lundy.
INT: Wow! Chinese shacks! Now is that at the mouth?
WMCP: No, just ... before you get to town. Driving in around the lake now?
INT: Hm-hm. Oh yeah!
WMCP: There's this ... big outcrop that comes right down to the road here? This is taken right off the road.
INT: So in the 1920's were there still Chinese people there? Or ...?
WMCP: No, no.
INT: Lets look at this more closely. So they were kind of dug into the ...
WMCP: They were dug in and rocked up, yeah. You've seen the ones up here at Dogtown?
INT: You know I haven't ... yet to go to Dogtown.
WMCP: And ... now we got some backcountry ...Saddlebag?
INT: And good old June! Covered with snow.
WMCP: That's when we got some snow! 1915.
INT: So yeah, I heard that winters used to be ... snowier!
WMCP: There's a lot of backcountry in here. Now here's your ... Heart Lake and Dollar Lake, they used to call them. And the north end of Paoha. You see where the water was?
WMCP: It's out here now somewhere!
INT: Yes, I've walked that bench! Along the edge there.
WMCP: It's really way out here!
INT: I know. Yeah.
WMCP: But, had it continued another couple of years of ... rise it would have been in here. It was broken through there. But you can see that high beach now.
INT: So were there ... I know the gulls nested on the black lava ... at one time on Paoha ...
WMCP: This was it!
INT: But that wasn't ... in there, it was ...
WMCP: They didn't nest in here, no. We'll get to the ... gulls on the black lava.
INT: Rhine Dollar Lake.
WMCP: That's Ellery.
INT: Okay, sure.
WMCP: Why they changed the name of it, I don't know. It was Rhine Dollar when I was a boy!
INT: You would go out when it was fairly windy?
WMCP: Oh yeah! Actually in these pictures the boat was anchored off-shore. These are taken from a location of the house on the west side of Paoha.
INT: You would take a dinghy to the boat? Boy! Now, I've been out on the lake when it's been rough, it's ... not something to play around with!
WMCP: Not unless ... you desire to meet your Maker!
INT: So this is Grant Lake after it was raised?
WMCP: No, this was ... the level that Grant was at when the Power Company built their dam, the Cain Irrigation Company built their dam at Grant Lake, it was this elevation. And then when the City came along it was ... it raised it another ... oh, fifty feet or so.
INT: Boy! So it looks like ... it was sage all around the lake?
INT: That's interesting. Because Scott Stine wrote a paper describing a lot of aspen that was drowned. Do you disagree ... with that?
WMCP: No, that's in this upper end here.
WMCP: What they call the Narrows is now where the boathouse is. Just around that point ... Carsons used to have a boathouse there and that was the upper end of the lake ... as far as it went. And from there on across you can still see the old road across there when the lake is low ... was an aspen meadow, clear over to the fish spawning station.
INT: So it was aspens and meadow?
INT: Was there any wetlands what I mean is reeds or sedges or cattails?
WMCP: Oh yeah!
INT: At the edge of it?
WMCP: Up in the upper end there.
INT: Was there a lot of ducks there?
WMCP: Oh yeah!
INT: Was it shallow? Pretty shallow?
WMCP: Pretty shallow.
INT: So it probably had a lot of floating plants in it?
INT: Algae and so on. Did you fish in it?
WMCP: No! It was ... you could fish in it if you wanted to I guess but nobody ever did ... This is from Paoha to the mainland in the wintertime. Dana and Gibbs.
INT: Now did your goats, did you feed your goats all winter? Or did they take care of themselves during the winter?
WMCP: There's their feed right there! That black greasewood? Stays nice and succulent all winter long.
INT: Wow. You know that greasewood is so thick on the island now, it's like ... a jungle, you can't ...
WMCP: It always was!
INT: Really? So the goats didn't really ... have much impact on it?
WMCP: They used to leave a lot of ... mohair on the twigs. This is the rocky June Lake, before they built the road through here now? There was a road here but ... not as wide as it was ...
INT: Before the Lodge.
WMCP: Yeah, this was before Boulder Lodge even. Boulder Lodge was the first place on the lake.
INT: Oh really? Doesn't look that old.
WMCP: Well ... the old part ... Andy Downs started Boulder Lodge. He was an Englishman, with a ... penchant for raising wire-haired fox terriers.
INT: Doesn't seem like a high country breed. Beautiful. Very high quality photos.
WMCP: Well ... see, he had the full facilities of the L.A. Times to get this book made and printed up like this. See, these are all ... on prints, there not ... press, they're photographs ...
INT: I see. So this, what's this picture?
WMCP: Well this is ... the range in early, very early spring, from Paoha Island again.
INT: And that looks like, is that salt grass in the foreground?
WMCP: No, this is ... greasewood.
INT: But then right here? Is that grassy?
WMCP: No. That's that white marl and mud and ... diatamaceous earth, and etcetera.
INT: So, I still don't know what we're looking at?
WMCP: Town of Lee Vining!
WMCP: Right there. Skied up to the east to the high school ... comes down right here.
INT: ... It's nice.
INT: [Looking at a photo of partially drowned trees along Mono's west shore.] Oh that's a fantastic picture! Lake Mono's Ever-Rising Waters Destroy the Shore Growth! So, where were these taken? Approximately ... I'm going to turn the tape over, just ...
END OF SIDE A.
INTERVIEW WITH WALLIS MCPHERSON
TAPE #1 - SIDE B
WMCP: [Photo #2 of vegetation along Mono Lake] Here it is...laying on the beach just about this position, this is the oldtown of Mono Lake, these green trees you can see back here.
INT: Okay, so this is ...
WMCP: South ... south of the old town of Mono Lake. Just about directly below the ... upside down house?
WMCP: Do you know where the upside-down house is?
WMCP: Yeah. This is directly below that, right straight towards the lake. And the then road was built up and there was lake water on both sides of the road for a little ways there.
INT: The road is built up on ...
INT: Yeah. I go birding in that little thicket, now. So these, what trees are being drowned here?
WMCP: These are ... willows and buckberry.
INT: Not cottonwoods?
WMCP: Not cottonwoods, no.
INT: Approximately when was this?
WMCP: This is 1922.
INT: So it was going to come up some more then? I've never seen, I've never seen foam that thick! I've seen a lot of foam ...
WMCP: I don't think that it foams as much now with this heavy concentration of minerals as it used to.
INT: That's interesting. Could the water be too heavy? For the waves to build up ...?
WMCP: I think so, yeah.
INT: Huh. I've seen a lot of huge windstorms where you can have five foot waves on the lake, but ... I mean there'll be a lot of foam, but not ... that thick. Was that ... fairly common that it would be that tall?
WMCP: A lot of foam was heaped up here.
WMCP: So he's heaped it up, but ...
INT: Who's this gentlemen?
WMCP: That's John Von Blon, the man that made this book! Took the pictures.
INT: Okay. Maybe we should go back to the ... in times of storm the waves turned a thick foam ... That's a great picture! I've never seen the waves turn that white.
WMCP: Well you ... haven't been on the island when there was that much wind blowing!
INT: Yeah. Well even on Krakatoa, the little islands, they ... I've been there ...
WMCP: Speaking of Krakatoa ... when they were filming over there ... and the foam, they got all set-up for this one camera shot where the native canoes are attacking the clipper ship and the clipper ship overhangs the camera like this?
INT: I've seen the movie, yeah. I remember that.
WMCP: So they're all set to go, turn the wind machine on, and then, there'd been a little wind the night before and there was some foam in the rocks, around the side of the island there. The wind machine moved this foam around! Into the picture!
INT: That's funny.
WMCP: The director lets out this scream, where the hell did those icebergs come from!
INT: That's a great story.
WMCP: Now here's ... the tree that you're talking about.
INT: Okay. Sure.
WMCP: And that's me! And that's my mother!
INT: What a great picture.
WMCP: Now that is still there.
INT: Yes, that is still there.
WMCP: Still alive?
INT: I thought it was ... Now I, you know I could be wrong, but that's my recollection ...
WMCP: This is what it looked like ... 60 years ago.
INT: Certainly the tree is still there. Or the remains of the tree.
WMCP: The only explanation I ever ... somebody said, well somebody's pushed it over! I think it had blown over!
INT: Me too!
WMCP: About three times! And a tree will always try to go straight up. And that's the reason for its shape. Now here's your Heart Lake ...
INT: Isn't that beautiful.
WMCP: And ... the Dollar Lake when it was about to be ... broken into, see this is Mono Lake here, this is a ...
INT: Oh! So Mono Lake cut into Heart Lake-Dollar Lake?
WMCP: Almost. You know I showed you pictures further back then? It was within ... 50 feet of getting into crater.
INT: What kind of water? Was it salt water? In these lakes?
WMCP: Yeah, yeah. This, this is just seepage from the big lake, Mono Lake.
INT: Okay. Were there sometimes water birds ... in there?
WMCP: Very few, but ... I don't know whether it was the concentration or the location or what! Shrimp used to grow gigantic in there. The brine shrimp.
INT: Well the, and when people went swimming, I was always curious about that ... I mean now you look at what's left of that lake, it's so steep, but you just go down like in here?
WMCP: Nobody swam in it that I know of! I never even swam in it!
INT: Oh really? Somehow I thought swimming and that lake was part of the tour package when you took people out in the Venita.
INT: Is this ...
WMCP: That's corn.
INT: That was corn? On the island? No.
WMCP: On the island.
INT: That is ... amazing! Well wait a minute! You can barely grow corn like that in Lee Vining!
WMCP: I know!
INT: That's corn that's ten feet tall?
WMCP: I know!
INT: Is that your mother?
INT: That's incredible! And you'd actually get corn, it would-it would sweeten up and everything?
WMCP: This is your black greasewood. You say it's turned into a jungle? It was a jungle, it's always been a jungle!
INT: So the, it didn't look much different after the years of grazing with the goats?
INT: How many goats were there?
WMCP: That's the most we had, about 300 over there.
INT: How would you gather them? When you wanted to shear them?
WMCP: Put out a little feed.
INT: Oh well! They were somewhat tame? Yeah. Wait, I want to look at this ... too, 'cause this is the Casa Diablo Geyser?
INT: Or Hot Creek?
WMCP: Hot Creek, yeah. It's near, near Casa Diablo. It's below the fish hatchery.
INT: Okay. So it is on Hot Creek?
WMCP: Yeah. It's on the infamous Hot Creek. Where the people don't wear any clothes ...
INT: Yeah. So this is Rush Creek above the Grant Reservoir?
WMCP: Well ... let's see what it says here. I think this is up above the power house. But he's got (?) Rainbow Falls ... back of the Postpile. Now this is the black lava ... nesting grounds on Paoha.
INT: Is it? 'Cause it says the Black Island? But maybe that's incorrect.
WMCP: Well ... some of them are and some of them aren't. See? This picture's on Paoha I know. So is this one.
INT: And again the year would be what? Maybe 19-twenty something?
WMCP: Twenty ... three-four.
INT: So the nests were all in ... in here, this is the glimpse of the Negit Island Gull Rookery?
INT: Hidden like under rocks?
WMCP: Just ... you know how it is! Lay-lay an egg and you got a nest. In some of the old nest pictures, people would add extra eggs to the nest to improve the photo. The average number of eggs in a nest was two ... well it looks like fairly shady habitat, 'cause it's so craggy.
WMCP: Yes, it was.
INT: Now what's your feeling for why the gulls stopped nesting on Paoha?
WMCP: I don't know. The possibility in my mind is the goats drove them all out.
INT: Try to see if I can, well wait, these are gulls. Looks like a gull chick, baby seagulls! Did you ever ... raise baby gull chicks?
INT: Did you ever eat them?
INT: Anybody try to eat them? These are ... nice looking chicks.
WMCP: They say they used to ... go down from Bodie and gather the eggs ... but I don't know about that. This is Jack Preston.
INT: Wow! He's so young! And how 'bout this young lady?
WMCP: That's David Brant.
INT: [Picture of ducks shot at Mono Lake] So let's see, so those look like fairly ... a lot of smallish ducks like possibly teal?
WMCP: Those are spoonies.
INT: Are they? Let me look. I'm sure you're right. There's the bill, yeah. And where was this ... taken?
WMCP: That's on the island.
INT: So what were the hunting hot spots on the island?
WMCP: Well ... north of where the houses were, on the west side, there used to be a lake. If you've been to it, you probably saw evidence of where my dad tried to make a harbor out of it.
INT: No I haven't seen it.
WMCP: Cut a trench into it, he didn't quite get into it. And ... these were not that particular puddle. But just anyplace, get behind the greasewood and wait for one to come by.
INT: Were there ducks ... in the winter? That would stick around?
WMCP: A few. That stayed all year, but not very many. Wintertime hunting was goose hunting. This is the old town of Lundy, what was left of it.
INT: Oh! So is this avalanche ... damage? Or ...?
WMCP: Yes, I think so.
INT: What-what does it say, Mark Twain's trees?
WMCP: Mark Twain was supposed to have planted them.
INT: Really? What kind of trees are they?
WMCP: Willows. Black willows.
INT: Those ones that are still there? There's some old ... willows ...?
WMCP: I don't know. I don't think they're still there, no. Well that's the size of that book.
INT: Well, I'm already completely overwhelmed.
WMCP: Well ... Owens Valley. Big Pine.
INT: So that's an artesian or ...
WMCP: Artesian well. You know where Klondike Lake is?
INT: No, I don't.
WMCP: Do you know where the ... huge satellite dishes are? Over on the east side? East of the road, between Big Pine and Bishop?
INT: Well ... I know that-that stretch of the road a little bit, yeah.
WMCP: Well you know where the Keough Hot Springs turn-off?
WMCP: Okay, this is ... about a mile out in the ... valley from there. This is my granddad.
INT: Were they his burros?
WMCP: He used to be a prospector. Loved burros!
INT: So he lived in the Owens Valley?
WMCP: These were all his. He homesteaded out there. This ...
INT: So these are really old pictures.
WMCP: Yeah. Here's his dam, the original one. And now ... let's see ... here's a party celebrating the opening of Tioga Road! The town of Lee Vining, that's right, that's right in the middle of the ... Best Western's parking lot.
INT: Yep. Look at all the willows that used to be there!
INT: Is this the same time that Frasher was photographing?
WMCP: These are Frasher's photos. Those two are.
INT: Here's a washtub, frying pan set-up. Who owned these little cabins.
WMCP: Bill Banta (Sr.). Now these pictures, most of them are taken, you know where Pat and Ernie Peigne ...? Right in front of the house where there ...
INT: Pretty different now.
WMCP: Just out of the trees. Here's the Tioga Lodge. ... Now here's the old boathouse that used to be, when we lived on the island, we used the first couple of years we were out there, we used to go from then to Hammonds ... now the Tioga Lodge ... And this boathouse was on the edge of the lake, in the water.
INT: So this was ... in the foreground that's all meadow, that's grazing land?
WMCP: This is meadow now. No, in the foreground here is steep sagebrush land to the edge of the lake.
WMCP: Have you noticed that there's a line of willow trees pretty much at the same elevation? All the way around the lake? That's your upper beach. You know where Tim Hansen built his house? Against that rock? I used to dive off the top of that rock into Mono Lake. It was a pretty fair swim for a kid ten years old to get out there! And this is before the present road was built, this is the old road. Present road was built just about in the same place. And this was done in front of the town of Mono Lake.
INT: Would this be after? Before the water rose high, like that picture we had earlier of the ...?
WMCP: No, it's coming up. No, it's about the same time.
INT: 'Cause there's big trees growing right at the edge of Mono Lake.
WMCP: Well that's ... possibly the one that we saw the stump ... where all the foam was up on the beach? [Burro photo] This is the ... lone remaining inhabitant of Paoha Island when we moved out there.
INT: Oh no! So that's when you got there?
INT: What was he there from?
WMCP: They drilled for oil out there. This is the boat that we had. This is the old bunkhouse we stayed in when we first moved out there.
INT: Where is this barrack located?
WMCP: You know where what they call the old homestead is? Where the old barn and stuff is? There's a big pipe sticking up in the air ... Right there. The pipe is the well.
INT: Wow. And this burro had been brought out to help ...?
WMCP: And he was a pain! The house that we built was a ready-cut 7 room house shipped up from Los Angeles, built on the island. All the window frames and door frames were redwood ... He proceeded to eat them all! You'd hear him in the middle of the night, crunch, crunch, crunch.
INT: Did you take him off the island or ...
INT: Is this a dock? On the upper left?
WMCP: That's the barge that we had. These are uprights to stack the lumber on the barge. Used as a dock in the meantime. This is ... the Hot Lava-or Black Lava Point on the north end of the island with the gulls.
INT: Hm-hm. That's surrounded by a lot more water.
WMCP: A LOT more water! You don't see any white beach do you?
INT: No, sir.
WMCP: Alright! Now this is on the old Rush Creek ditch.
INT: This would be a ditch then or the Mono Gate Number One?
WMCP: This is the Rush Creek Mutual Ditch Company's ditch. Which is a long, long, long story. They had the water rights filed on before the ... Cain Irrigation Company which was the power company. Somehow or other their application got acted on first after they got to Washington. So there was a tremendous ... lawsuit. And the construction of the Rush Creek Mutual Ditch Company's ditch, had water clear out to the craters.
INT: So was this, is that what became "A" ditch?
WMCP: No. It's not there anymore.
INT: It's not the "A" ditch or any of those?
WMCP: No. You know where the rockwork terrace is around the north end of the craters? Between Panum and north coulee of ... Mono craters?
WMCP: You drop down that hill into ... a sharp right turn, just where the Navy road turns off ...
WMCP: That was the Rush Creek mutual ditch.
INT: That's way out there!
WMCP: And when you go on around there, just a little bit further, you see it take off, it's used as a road now. Takes off to the left and goes out there to the sheep tanks or one thing or another.
INT: Well that was an ambitious project. What year was this built?
WMCP: These pictures are about ... 1916 or '17.
INT: And what about, where's this? These two buildings ...?
WMCP: That is old Benton.
INT: Oh boy! Benton. Benton Hot Springs.
WMCP: Benton Hot Springs. The store's still there.
INT: I know Bill Bramlette's doing a history on that area. He'd probably love that, a copy of that.
WMCP: Well ... I think it was his grandfather, Bill Bramlette that drove the Lincoln Road Runner from Los Angeles to Bishop in five hours and fifteen minutes?
INT: Well, I know his grandma used to ride racehorses.
WMCP: That's when the roads were dirt, there was no pavement north of Mojave.
INT: Seems impossible! I don't think I could do it in 5 hours in my car!
WMCP: More of Hot Springs Bay ... mainly I wanted to show you these so you could get a picture of what the lake actually looked like.
INT: Oh yeah. Now do you remember ... when you were living on Paoha, were there rabbits, mice, any kind of small animals?
WMCP: There was nothing on Paoha Island that we didn't take out there, except the burro.
INT: That's funny.
WMCP: In the way of animals. There was ... no rats, no mice ... Very few insects, actually. Nesting birds, wild birds. Owls. And we imported some rabbits, Belgian hares, which the owls promptly took care of, not too terribly promptly but ... The rabbits didn't run wild and destroy the bitterbrush like they did in Australia!
INT: And there were no coyotes?
WMCP: No coyote.
INT: 'Cause of course, there is now, a few, or there have been recently. So there's a big controversy, whether they swim out there or ... Then there's a rumor that someone might have brought one out there.
WMCP: Well, if there was a coyote on the island, somebody took it out there. I'm almost ... 100 percent positive.
INT: Yeah. And is that what you remember from the Black Island? That there were no rabbits or ... or mice or ...
WMCP: No, there were some goats on the Black Island though at one time. Have you seen the ... skulls of the goats on the Black Island?
INT: I've found a skull on the White Island though, but never on the Black Island.
WMCP: Well ... if you go up on top where the earthquake crack is ... down in the crack you'll see goat skeletons.
INT: That would be fun to look for. [Mule team photo] Where was this taken, Wally? Was this mule team of ten or something?
WMCP: Oh ... let's see! I guess Hammonds ... team used to come in from the north ...
INT: Yeah, it looks kind of like the Bodie Hills. Couldn't say exactly where but ... And what about these sheep?
WMCP: There's old Jack Preston again! This is Bill Rector. In the bitterbrush. More ... Paoha surf!
INT: And that's Lee Vining Falls in the upper part?
WMCP: Yeah. This is the Fourth of July parade in Bishop! Incidentally the latest album has some taken the same day. This is the first ... airplane into Mono Basin. Well he didn't get into Mono Basin, but these pictures were taken in Bishop.
INT: It looks like it could barely fly.
WMCP: But he got a little more powerful outfit. This was an old Curtis Jenny 90 horsepower ... And ... You got a picture of me sitting on the airplane here, they wanted me to sit up on that (?). I wasn't about to get up there.
INT: That's not you?
WMCP: No way! No, that's not me! I wouldn't go up there.
INT: Now is this? I can't remember is that Wallace Beery? Or is that ... the man who owned Berger's Retreat? In the old days? I can't remember who had the eagle?
WMCP: Elsie Brand. One of the Owners. Original owners. Then Moreland took over from ... when Brant died, he left it to Moreland and Berger took over from Moreland, I guess. From Moreland's son. Young Moreland. They used to have a golf course up there. 9 holes, out in the meadow you know, where the road first breaks over the lateral moraine? And there's a meadow out in there? And he had horses, and he had ... a bunch of. Some special ones built to carry his boats ...
INT: What kind of ... what was his business?
WMCP: Title Insurance and Trust. He was a Title Guarantee and Trust. Now let's see ... Now let's just see ... (?) The Elephant's Head, before the Wise Apple(?) State engineers built the road right through the trunk.
INT: Oh now I can see how it got its name. Don Banta was trying to explain that place to me, and I have to admit I was a little confused.
WMCP: Well it was well named when it was like that. This is up on Tioga.
INT: Oh, and there's an old picture of Bodie.
WMCP: And let's see ... this is Jack Preston ...
INT: [Photo of woman swimming in Hot Springs Cove] Where was this? The bathing beauty ...
WMCP: That's on Paoha Island and Lula Sexton was her name. She finally became the administrator for the Northern Inyo Hospital ... years ago. And that's right in front of where the houses were, the homestead. And here is Summer's Lodge ... in Mammoth. It was in the meadows a chimney with a double fireplace.
INT: I'll have to look for that.
WMCP: It's about ... just to the right of the highway, or the right of the road ... almost to the church. May not be there anymore.
INT: Yeah, I'll have to look it up.
WMCP: But that was the original place in Mammoth. And it had this double fireplace, one side was in the lobby, and the other side was in the dining room.
INT: That's beautiful. And there's another Mono Lake picture.
WMCP: Yep. And that is the end! Of that book! This is Frasher of course.
INT: Well, there's some really, really interesting pictures in here.
WMCP: Now are you getting what you wanted?
INT: Well ... why don't I ask specific questions, that the hydrologist, Peter Vorster thought you might remember ... Now this is kind of a Cain Ranch question, so you might not ... have much familiarity with it. But he wondered when they used to irrigate on the Cain Ranch, if you remember if they used to send the Walker Creek irrigation water after it'd gone you know through the ranch lands into Parker Creek? Or Walker Creek got some of the water back? I guess it has to do with how dry, you know if you remember either one of those creeks going dry completely ... what kind of low they had.
WMCP: Just as you ... get on to the four lane coming north, there's a big swale in there ... and ... both creeks used to run down that swale as I remember there ...
WMCP: They would ... coalesce by that time.
INT: Now is that the swale that has the building? [Frank Sam house]
INT: The ... so the big swale ...
WMCP: Just down from where the buildings are.
WMCP: Just north of the buildings.
INT: Huh! So it's not the channel that has any water right now?
INT: It's dry right now, I think.
WMCP: Dry last time I drove by it!
WMCP: Now there ... used to be a bunch of willows in there.
WMCP: On down, down to Rush Creek. Down in the canyon. But that whole thing, the Farrington ranch and the Cain ranch pitched into that swale ... and ran on down as I remember.
INT: Yeah. So it was, what about where the cabin was? Was that usually dry?
WMCP: Yeah! That's ... a squatter cabin ... that was ... Frank Sams. Let me see here ... We'll get the bible out!
INT: I've never seen that! U.S.G.S. Survey '86-'87.
WMCP: It's out of print! But ... the Mono Lake Committee put one of these out, just the ... Russell's paper?
INT: Oh yeah.
WMCP: Right here.
INT: I've never seen, yeah, I've never seen the original ... edition of that.
WMCP: This is one of the few ... There used to be one in every school library in Mono County but they ... disappeared. And it would not be in this beautiful shape ... except my daughter is librarian at University of California, Riverside, and she managed to get it rebound ... for me. I never look in the index. Again, there was a write up in the ... Album I see where Donny Banta took credit for that, but ... the picture it shows of him pointing to it is out of water!
INT: Oh that's the benchmark? Russell's benchmark? It says, lake level, November 8, 1948, 41 inches above that shown here, at point ...
INT: At point X. Uh-ha! Now I finally know where that is! Near the small island. So it was obviously the small island ... so the lake was above his benchmark?
WMCP: In '48!
INT: In '48. Gee. And that's a measurement you took?
WMCP: That's a measurement I took. Russel was in the Basin again in '80 and '81. He tells about camping at Warm Springs, in the spring of 1880, and there was nothing there, but old Indian ... wickiups. And to show how rapidly the country was progressing, while he camped there in the spring of 1881, there was a railroad station there.
INT: Do you remember that? Did you ever go out to Warm Springs?
INT: 'Cause now there's-there's nothing, no buildings.
WMCP: Railroad stations were short-lived. That's the old Bodie-Benton Railroad. Actually Bodie-Mono Mills.
INT: Yeah. Actually I hiked that, backpacked on that railroad grade ...
WMCP: The grade never got to Benton. Now if you spent much time around Hansen's place ...
INT: A little bit, yeah! Especially in the county park.
WMCP: You ought to recognize these. [Pen and ink drawings from Russel's book] In Russel's book they're out of water now, they're way out of water!
INT: Is that the ice age tufa that's near this place?
INT: Did they ... mine a lot of tufa, do you think? During the Bodie days when they had those mine kilns?
WMCP: No. Now here's one ... it's quite distinctive, it's ... almost square like it was built, you can get the idea of size from the boat ... and ... this is over by Black Point. And ... when I first had the Venita, the lake was up above this, I used to go around these rocks and some of them were underwater and point them out to the people. But that will give you an idea of lake level in ... the early '80's.
INT: Interesting. Yeah, I hadn't realized that Russel was here at a somewhat lower lake level. Also we have a ... I have an 1880 picture I can show you that has some tufas exposed ... you know same feeling as these pictures. So did you often boat over the top of the tufas. Was there a time period when it became very hazardous? Because the tufa were just at a dangerous level?
WMCP: I quiver in my boots everytime I look at the damn place now, 'cause ... It was sort of like the story they tell about the pilot that knew where every rock was in the lake? Yep! There's one now! Boof!
INT: When I went back and forth from the islands, I always had someone at the bow in the upfront to make sure there wasn't anything hidden out there.
WMCP: [Map from Russel's book] Well that area over ... directly east from the marina, the old Mono Marina? I used to run through there at night, on moonlight rides, before any of that stuff started showing up! Now then ... I have a magnifier right over there someplace.
INT: And we're looking at the main ... the hydrographic ...
WMCP: Ed Williams ... Williams Butte here ... This is Grant Lake, before there were any dams! This is Parker Creek. This is Walker Creek. Now Parker ran in ... possibly above this bridge.
INT: Okay. Now that's the old top-that's how the old topo map shows it?
INT: The 1953 topo? But Ilene (Mandlebaum) thinks that map is wrong?
WMCP: I don't think so. I think ...
INT: It's correct?
WMCP: It ran ... ran in above the bridge ... and then ... Walker runs in-ran in in this swale that I've described to you. The Swale was about 100 yards north of Frank Sam's cabin. This was where Parker Creek flowed into Walker.
INT: That's interesting. 'Cause they put Parker down at that channel where Frank Sam used to live.
INT: Where was his cabin? Because they thought that was the original ... Parker Creek. But I don't know why they thought that. Certainly the topo map shows it coming in above the bridge.
WMCP: I think from this ... of course this doesn't tell-show the highway on it at all! But by the scale of this map ... there's a mile, possibly about 3 miles in there. Two miles anyway. Between the two creeks, so that would put ... Parker Creek south of the bridge, or right at the bridge.
WMCP: Which I think is reasonable, because it's ... you look at the lay of the land, that's where it would run.
INT: That's interesting. One other real specific question is do you know much about the building of Mono Gate Number One, do you know what that is? From Grant there's a tunnel, and then the water comes out at this tin shack? That's of course, that would be south of Rush, I could show you on a map. Have you been to that? And the water goes down a big channel when they're releasing water. So now when they release water down Rush Creek it doesn't go from the dam, it goes from this thing called Mono Gate Number One?
WMCP: Bootlegger Springs! You know where the spring is? Would be just north of that channel and gate is?
INT: Oh really? No I have never noticed that.
WMCP: Well it's probably, somebody's got a home in there.
INT: It's not that big spring with the aspens near Grant?
WMCP: No, this is ... north of, north of Grant.
INT: Oh, okay. Now this is, this is another place. I've got a good map, I can show you ...here's Mono and there's Grant ... and then the water goes in a tunnel and if they release it through this channel and out like this we were wondering if you know anything about when it was built, or is that the old irrigation channel used, or did they have to build a special ... channel for that?
WMCP: Okay! Now I get you! This is the Grant Lake Tunnel?
WMCP: Cut into to supply the aqueduct. To West Portal. Mono Craters Tunnel. This is ... unnatural. I think this is done by the City. Now the place that I'm talking about ...
INT: So it wasn't an irrigation ditch as far as you can remember?
WMCP: I don't think so. I don't think so. I don't think it was there! Bootlegger Spring is right here. And the water supply for West Portal was pumped from Bootlegger Springs through a four inch pipe line all the way over there!
INT: Okay! Why didn't they take it from the aqueduct?
WMCP: Wasn't high enough at the time. And this-this was good water.
INT: That's interesting. So did that flow feed Rush Creek then, a little bit? That Bootlegger Springs?
WMCP: At one time, yeah!
INT: There's that canyon there now, you know ...
WMCP: Naturally any flow from Bootlegger Springs, would go into Rush Creek.
INT: So I wonder if it kept this part of the creek watered after they turned off the ...
WMCP: No. It wasn't that big a spring.
INT: Okay. How big was it? One-second foot or ...?
WMCP: Very probably. If that! Possibly one-second foot. They built a four inch pipe line and put a pump on it. Had a reservoir over here, that they pumped it into, which supplied West Portal.
(END OF CASSETTE SIDE B)
INTERVIEW WITH WALLIS MCPHERSON
TAPE #2 - CASSETTE SIDE A
INT: [Photo of Rush Creek mutual ditch] Rush Creek Mutual Ditch. I've never seen this.
WMCP: Taken ... in the right years ... in the '20's.
INT: Now this is really how far that ditch got? Or that's how far they wanted it to go?
WMCP: This is the project-this is Rush Creek. This is out ... where some of these pictures were taken that I showed you. This is around the craters, Wafford Springs. Everything under the ditch was to be ... irrigated.
INT: And how much of this did they construct?
WMCP: They got out about ... well, they actually had water out to this point, and the ditch was constructed out to about to here.
INT: So they got water to the craters ...and they constructed it almost to Simon Springs ...
WMCP: Yeah. Where those few tanks are ...
INT: You know I read about this, and I couldn't believe someone would ... you know ... conceive of such a massive project.
WMCP: Oh well, there's always that dream.
INT: What year was this?
WMCP: Well this was 1922, I believe. There's a date on here, I'm not sure.
INT: Yep! 1922, and where were some of these north lagoons?
WMCP: Well they were along in here.
INT: Okay, so that's ... on kind of the northeast shore, below ...
WMCP: East of Wafford Springs.
INT: East of Wafford, east of Charlie Simis'.
WMCP: Yeah, yeah. East of Charlie Simis'.
INT: Cutting over those salt-sulphur ponds are now?
WMCP: Yeah, between the sulphur ponds ... there's a paved road goes down ... where ... the mathematic teacher, what's his name?
INT: Big-there's Binderup and I can't think of the mathematician's place but ... We call that Ten Mile Road, 'cause it's the ten mile road marker there.
WMCP: Paved for a ways down to the beach ... the reason's for it is that that's where they got the water when they built the Pole Line Road.
INT: That's what Don Banta said, there was a dock and whatnot.
WMCP: Well, there was a pump there. The dock for ...
INT: Oh, the dock for the Rocket.
WMCP: For the Rocket at Wafford Springs, was right here. It's still there, you can see part of it. But where this road goes down by Binderup just about where it ends on both sides there, you can see where the lagoons were.
INT: Oh! So that, there's a big berm of sand ...
WMCP: That's it!
INT: But there was water in those ...
WMCP: Behind those. Between, away from the lake, see.
INT: Interesting. 'Cause you know it is a pretty-you have to climb up to get up to the top of that berm.
WMCP: Yeah, and there was quite a bunch of them along ... oh, three or four miles up in there.
INT: And that's where the avocets were? What so that would be in the 1920's?
WMCP: Yeah, and thirties.
INT: How many? Maybe like 3 miles, or two miles of lagoons?
WMCP: Three, maybe four. The sulphur ponds are further out here. Where the sulphur well is. This is the dune country here, before you get to the dunes.
INT: So it would even go almost to the sulphur ponds?
WMCP: Yes. From Wafford Springs around here like that. This is the point opposite Wafford Springs. There's a tufa point out here?
INT: Is that Bridgeport Tufa? No. That's east of there. 'Cause there's tufa in there, where Bridgeport Creek comes in, there's a lot of tufa, and we call that Bridgeport Tufa. But in here, it seems like more sort of flat rock, not a lot of big tufa.
WMCP: Tell me about Bridgeport Creek.
INT: Okay. I think it's Bridgeport Creek and it ... it comes, well, there usually isn't water in it, but it's below the Goat Ranch, and it ...
WMCP: This is Cottonwood Creek, Cottonwood Canyon going out here. From ... Now this is Bridgeport Summit. And Bridgeport's over here see. The Goat Ranch is ... right about there. Barbara Moore's place is right about here, the old Roux Ranch is right about here. You know the Roux Ranch?
INT: Is that the ... one of the existing buildings that's still there?
WMCP: Stone building? Yeah.
INT: Really nice old, two-story ... So in these lagoons, did the avocets breed there? Or were they migrating?
WMCP: I don't know. But I know there was lots and lots and lots of 'em.
INT: And were they also on Paoha?
WMCP: Yeah. Now this doesn't show, this little lagoon that I was telling you about where ...
INT: On kind of the northwest shore of Paoha.
WMCP: Where the fellow ... was standing with a bunch of ducks that he killed? [Referring to an earlier picture]
WMCP: Right about in here. About half-way up, two-thirds of the way up the island, on the west shore. See this map is not ... oriented properly. The north arrow is ... this way instead of the normal ... orientation, vis-a-vis this way or this way! But they got it on a bias for some reason.
INT: I should read this title, it's the "Model of Mono Lake Drainage Basin Showing Watershed of and Land Use Under the Rush Creek Irrigation Project, Mono County, California". By Fox and Miller. This is quite something, quite amazing. Is it an aerial photo or is it ...?
INT: A rendition?
WMCP: It's a picture of a ... relief map, a molded map ... that was approximately 12 x 5 feet, I remember seeing it, as a little boy.
INT: You know the Catherine Clover estate had a large relief map?
WMCP: Well that's it.
INT: I think it's now in the Museum, in the Schoolhouse Museum. Interesting. And were there ducks in these lagoons?
WMCP: Oh yes! That's where EVERYBODY went to hunt. And then the Hot Well was here, this used to be a little tiny lagoon here, but this ...
INT: That's at the De Chambeau Ponds Hot Well.
WM CP: Bigger, yeah. And now, this is connected up across here now.
INT: That sure is. Having been out there about four or five times this summer!
INT: I can vouch for that. What other kinds of little shorebirds did you see besides the avocets? Were there any smaller kinds that were common?
WMCP: No. I don't remember any.
INT: Most of them you would probably need binoculars for anyway, 'cause it's really hard to see them, unless you shot one. Very early on, we talked about that you used to hunt grouse, and I wondered where?
WMCP: I personally didn't hunt grouse. But there was grouse anywhere there was pinyon trees, on the north shore of Mono Lake.
INT: Now that would be the blue grouse as opposed to the sagehen?
WMCP: Yeah. And ... used to hear them drumming in the springtime.
INT: You still can. Actually, I've never seen them in the pinyon, I've seen them in the canyon bottoms ...
WMCP: Used to be able to hear them drum believe it or not, from the mainland (when WMCP lived on Paoha).
INT: That's incredible! I've heard them drum when I've been in town, and at the county park ... Gosh!
WMCP: And ... people talking for some reason or another.
INT: You have good ears too!
WMCP: Well, I ... did have! We used to hear people talking ... You couldn't pick out words but you could hear voices ... carrying on a conversation, on the mainland, from the island. Just in certain weather conditions.
INT: Six, it's like six miles?
INT: Amazing. How about the sagehen or sage grouse? Where did you used to see them in the Mono Basin?
WMCP: On your northern end below the old Conway Ranch and ... both sides of the Wilson Wash.
INT: The Wilson Wash now being the one I call Wilson Creek?
INT: Okay. Were there any where they would dance?
WMCP: No. The nearest dancing place was up by Bridgeport Summit, up Bridgeport Creek.
INT: Right. What, and when you saw them would there be like ten or twenty at a time, or ... a hundred?
WMCP: Several hundred.
INT: Wow! I've seen grouse, sage grouse twice in the Mono Basin and that was just a couple.
WMCP: Well on that Bridgeport Summit is ... an area ... oh, at least a quarter of a mile wide and half a mile long ... and it was just ... speckled with them.
INT: On the dancing ground?
WMCP: Whoo! Whoo! Whoo!
INT: Yeah, I've seen them in the Bodie Hills near Mt. Biedermann.
WMCP: And then over on the old Bridgeport Ranger Station across the valley. I've seen them dance there, but only once. But I'm sure they did it more than that, I just happened to be going by on ... I was driving a skiploader into town. Coldest day of the ...!
INT: That's grouse weather.
WMCP: Cold winter.
INT: Coldest I've ever been is watching the grouse dance. Have to go early in the morning and ...
WMCP: And I was driving along and what in the dickens are those things? And here are these grouse, sagehens dancing out in the bushes.
INT: They're hilarious.
WMCP: Look through the sagebrush! Short stubby sagebrushes.
INT: They seem to like those ... more barren places.
INT: Those low places.
WMCP: Stunted ... sagebrush. You know where Mormon Ranch is?
INT: The Mormon Springs there's still one building in there, on the road to Bodie?
INT: That place. Yeah.
WMCP: That's Mormon Ranch. The road goes to Mormon Ranch down to the Goat Ranch over Bridgeport Summit. Well right up on top of the summit there, is Bridgeport Summit ...
INT: There's a meadow up there?
WMCP: To the ... east of the road is where it is.
INT: So that would be a little bit, you could drive south past that ranch building and then ...
WMCP: Yes, about three or four miles ...
INT: A little bit down that road. Yeah.
WMCP: Right up on, just as high as you can get on that road.
INT: I was up there this August. It's nice country. There was a hundred chukar, I didn't see any sage grouse, but lots of chukar just ... I was driving them with my car like a little chicken drive! There used to be chukar on Paoha? When I was first around the lake in 1982.
WMCP: Somebody must have put them over there. They're interlopers anyway!
INT: Yeah. They're from India ...
WMCP: Nepal. There used to a bunch of them, halfway down Conway on the other side ...
INT: On the Mono Basin side?
INT: They're supposed to still be in there. I've heard that. I've never seen 'em, but ... I've talked to a couple of hunters that say that's good chukar hunting.
WMCP: They used to ask me when I was foreman up there, where's all the chukars up here! I never saw any chukars!
INT: One of the things I want to ask about is beavers. You said there were beavers up Mill Creek?
WMCP: Beavers were imported.
INT: Okay. That's what I've heard. Do you remember when or ... how?
WMCP: I would say the start of World War II or somewhere along in there.
INT: And did they, what kind of effect did they have? Did they ...?
WMCP: They cut down all the aspens, they made ... beaver ponds on Mill Creek. They ruined the place I used to fish at, I was telling you about, was a riffle, the creek came down this meadow and around this gravel riffle, and you take this little old chunk of lime and dig some worms out of the bank with a tablespoon and bait your hook and toss it out and let it go through the riffle and you'd have a fish! Everytime! When they built the dam, they covered up the riffle. And ... and they raised the creek from there on up. That's what's killed all those aspens, clear down in there, where you see all the dead aspens. And ... I think they trapped them out, they had the trappers come in and trap them out. Although they used to, not too many years ago, there were some down here in Bridgeport, where the Air Force Road goes across that bridge? Just above the bridge there they had those few. And ... there was quite a bunch ... down the East Walker until about ... seventy ... four or five. That nasty vermin they got up on top of ... Conway, took a loader down there and tears those dams up, washed them all down the river.
INT: Really? On purpose?
WMCP: On purpose, sure. Getting water up on the highway.
INT: Must have been some pretty good sized dams. Did they ... the Hansens remember fairly recently, maybe the sixties or so, that there were beaver in the thickets between their place and somewhere you know, in county park someplace.
WMCP: There may have been. I never saw any in there.
INT: Sounded like it was deep in the thickets there in one of the springs from the ...
WMCP: Or any signs of 'em, because they build lodges, they needed ponds ... And they need ... aspen trees, willows are alright, but I never saw any sign of them in that area. They may have been.
INT: What about Lee Vining and Rush? Were there beaver?
WMCP: Not that I know of.
INT: Yeah, they never made it that far.
WMCP: Virginia Creek is the only place that I know of, and East Walker.
INT: Yeah. Did people trap, people must have had traplines ... Did they ... trap them at all?
WMCP: Yeah. And they had ... government trappers come in ... government trappers I mean Fish and Game or somebody official ... trapped them out, because they were ... creating a disturbance, like they are in Reno, they're cutting down all their trees on the ...
INT: Yes. Did you ever see muskrat?
WMCP: No. I've seen an Aplodontia.
INT: You have?
WMCP: I've seen one at this end of the Blue Slide, on highway 120 going towards Tioga Pass ... a little stream comes down from the north side of the road ...Just before you get on to the slide, you go on up the hill ... a little stream comes off ... the side of the mountain there, a lot of ... we found one that had been killed there, run over. It's the only one I've ever seen.
INT: When was that?
WMCP: Oh about ... '59-'60. Picked him up and took him up to ... Ferdinand. I said, Ferdinand what is this animal? Ferdinand says, I don't know! But he got ... forget the fellow's name was the biologist down at Tuolomne Meadows at the time ... he came up and gave us a big long talk on the Aplodontia.
INT: Pretty obscure little critter.
WMCP: I would have called it a muskrat.
INT: Sure. From ... I've seen a skin, a stuffed one, and it sure looked like a muskrat. I've seen their haypiles, they make little haypiles in the middle of ... what would be Lundy Creek, above the ... the lake. Up in the wet meadows, up in there? But I've never seen the guy that does it. You know we haven't even talked about deer! Did you ever hunt deer or ... were there places that had a lot of deer or was there ... migratory corridors ... that you can remember that were ... pretty well known?
WMCP: Well I'm a ... renegade on the deer cause I've never heard anybody else say this, but I know it to be true that in the ... late '20's-early '30's somebody killed deer, you got in your car and drove 15-20 miles to go looking. There was not that many deer in this country! I remember it very vividly. My dad ... and seven other men spent two weeks down in the Mammoth area at the head of the San Joaquin River ... and did not get a deer!
INT: Why do you think they were so scarce?
WMCP: And there was very little road kill in those days, I don't know if there had been some disease or whatnot. The Indians didn't ...Of course Russell says that in 1881 that the east part of Mono Basin had been a beautiful area that had already been ruined by overgrazing!
INT: So maybe the competition was a little bit of it.
WMCP: I don't know what ... happened to them, or could have happened to them. But I've seen more deer since I've been forty years old than I did before.
WMCP: The areas are the same - Bodie Hills ... well, Rush Creek Flats ... Bitterbrush ... Flat over there ... at Mono Mills.
INT: You mean the areas are the same that they migrate through?
WMCP: The same that they are now.
WMCP: Coming back from Gardnerville ... Monday, I saw more than I wanted to. And there was ... seven little yearlings trying to jump over the sheep fence out there by Sario's Sheep Ranch. They were batting their heads against the fence, I was scared to death they were going to spook and come back the other way!
INT: Sure! Yeah. Would there have been any animals in the basin that you ... recall?
WMCP: Oh antelopes! Yes! Not that I remember! But ... when the Mono Mills-Bodie Railroad was running they used to shoot them from a train.
INT: Yeah, interesting.
WMCP: At least that's how the story went.
INT: 'Cause that's where the antelope drive fences from the glory days of Pauite were out ... out there, so ... we always thought, well that must have been good antelope habitat. But now you look at it and it seems so ... brushy and you know not as good.
WMCP: Well have you been to (?), the antelope stomping ground around Big Piney in Wyoming? You can see them real easy! 'Cause the big sagebrush is about this high. Its little sagebrush ...
INT: But it's pretty ... brushy, there's not ... much grass or meadow ...?
WMCP: Not really but ... they're there. Place to see the antelope in Wyoming is from the train. In the Mono Basin, they hunted them quite heavily. And ... this would have been at the turn of the century or shortly thereafter. Because in my lifetime, I don't remember any antelope.
INT: Were there wild horses out there?
WMCP: There's supposed to be some wild horses out there, I've never seen any. But as you get into the ... junipers, clear up against the range on the east side of the basin there's supposed to be wild horses.
INT: In the Excelsiors.
WMCP: Yeah, at Deep Wells.
INT: Well, here's something that's intrigued me for a long time, in fact getting back to the Thompson Ranch area and Mono Inn area ... do you remember any California quail? Evidently some have been introduced ... in that area and ... I think there's also mountain quail seen in that area ... at times?
WMCP: There were several different kinds of quail. I'm not expert enough to tell.
INT: Well if they're more than one kind ... that probably was the California ...
WMCP: And ... the winter of '51 and '52? Or '50-'51. Which was the big winter?
INT: I'm not sure.
WMCP: I forgot. All that area by Hansen's and below Mono Inn and all those roads down there along the lakeshore, were ALIVE with quail! There was a big tree on the way down to the dock below ... I lived in the middle house down there ... and there was a ball-shaped willow tree, maybe 30' in diameter, and you'd go down there in the evening ... I'd go to check on the boat, and they'd just fall out of that tree! Just ... WHOOOSH! In all directions! But that winter killed them out! I mean ... after that winter, there was no more quail!
INT: Interesting! Did you hear, the California quail have that distinctive call, they go CHI-CA-GO! CHICAGO!
INT: Heard that near the lake.
WMCP: I have. (WHISTLES)
INT: Exactly. Where as the mountain quail during the spring will QUIRAP! Hardly sounds like a bird. It's pretty ... distinct. What about bald eagles? I mean now you see a few bald eagles around in the winter but ... that might be something that people would notice.
WMCP: I never saw a bald eagle as a kid. One or two goldens but ... no balds. In fact the only bald eagle I ever saw in the wild was on Umnak Island in the Aleutians! People do see them around. There was ... a pair of goldens that used to nest right back in The Old Poor Farm. You know the Green Creek turnoff.
INT: Yes. The beautiful flat meadows in there.
WMCP: Yep. Well on that ridge, just east of there, there was ... a pair up there for several years.
INT: You know what we haven't talked about at all is ... springs, springs that you remember that might be gone for instance? Around Mono Lake? Or wells?
WMCP: Well all the springs that I remember around the edge of Mono Lake ... with very few exceptions, have moved down hill to the lake. Uh, the one over at Danburg's I haven't checked for some time, but ...
INT: The Black Hole ... the one that's ...
WMCP: That fell in?
INT: Yeah. I just was there two days ago. It's pretty impressive.
WMCP: Well ... the big tufa rock that has the room cut in it?
WMCP: In that rock, coming out of that rock there used to be a big springs, is it still there?
INT: I think it's kind of wet in that area? There's a spring, much closer to the lake now and slightly south and east of the tufa milk house.
WMCP: Well there was a stream of water running out of that rock about ... two or three second feet.
INT: Jerry Andrews remembers swimming in the lake around there and then washing off in that ... spring. It must have been something. Now they were saying last night there was for instance a spring at Hector Station? That's mostly gone.
WMCP: I never saw the spring at Hector's Station. They dug into the mountain there, into the hill. I assume to follow that spring or to get some water, but I never saw any running water at Hector Station.
INT: They did that during the stage days?
WMCP: Well it was an old digging, I don't know how old.
INT: Were there springs on both sides of Rush Creek?
WMCP: I think there was springs that occurred, that ran out of the bank ... about the level of the creek ... were all drainage from the irrigation where they just spilled the water in order to hold the rights, that is south of 120. Up between A and B Ditch up there they just ran water out there for no reason at all! It all ran into the sagebrush! So what grass is out there, is grass that volunteered.
INT: Yeah. So this is below ... say, south of where those saltgrass meadows are now?
INT: Where Augie has his golf course.
WMCP: South of the highway. The Benton Road. All that area, that flat area south of there clear up near to the next ditch there, there must be ... oh ... three or four hundred acres out there?
WMCP: And they ran, they just ran all of Rush Creek, all they could crowd into A and B ditch out there and dumped it.
INT: When would this be? Was it for a long time period?
WMCP: Oh yes! That was ... from the late teens when they first started squabbling about the water right, when they first got their water right. That was the basis that they got it on, was to irrigate for cattle, reclaim this sagebrush land out there. Well they didn't irrigate anything but Pumice Flat!
INT: So there were springs then at the base of Rush ... kind of Rush that come out, 'cause of that water?
WMCP: I think that water percolated into and hit the ... oh, lake level ...
INT: But they might have had a hard pan ...
WMCP: Or conglomerate hardpan from ... like you find so much of around the lake now. And it ran out on top of that. Because that formation exists through the basin, now back of the mountain area across from the Shrimp Plant-the spring that they get their water from there!
INT: Do you, do you still own that little piece of land?
INT: I call that the Warbler's Thicket. And I ... that's my ...most favorite place to go birding.
WMCP: That's the orchard.
INT: There's one tree left! One apple tree.
WMCP: Used to be cherry trees in there, apple trees ...
INT: So all that ... aspens have grown up since then?
WMCP: Gooseberries perhaps. The aspens sort of ... crowded it out, see. But the aspens got a disease, a scale, and they all died at one time! I also noticed this great aspen thicket, just at the foot of the Conway grade on 395. It's all died out for some reason. I think they got that scale there.
INT: Well back to Rush Creek. And the springs.
WMCP: Those springs, as far as I know ... see my dad was an engineer for the Rush Creek Ditch Co. And ... this is his doctrine that those springs resulted from the irrigation of Pumice Flat.
INT: Sure. That was a lot of water!
WMCP: Four hundred second feet I believe(?) ... If I remember right, I'm not real certain on the ... figures.
INT: Just judging by those ditches, and the pictures you've shown me of the ditches, I mean those were ... CANALS! Wasn't it around the time that at Crater there was hay though? I mean they did do some irrigation that produced crops?
INT: Really? I thought, like just at the 120-395 junction they had hay fields. Maybe that was a long time ago.
WMCP: Grass. Just the grass that's there now.
INT: That's all grass? The real short stuff?
WMCP: All I remember. Nothing that they would cut.
INT: So that's what they were just spreading the water on?
WMCP: They were just spreading the water on the salt grass.
INT: Do you remember the town? There was a little town called Crater? They had a school ...
WMCP: Yeah. The Crater School was ... also known as the Farrington School. It was out there where the ... I don't know if there's anything left of those old ... gasoline storage plants or not, but where the ... that Indian encampment is out there?
INT: At Farrington Ranch.
WMCP: The Crater School was at Farrington Ranch.
INT: Oh, no kidding? I thought it was near the craters.
WMCP: Nope! I don't know why they called it Crater, if that's what they named it.
INT: Yeah. Do you remember the streams ever going dry? Like Walker or Parker or Rush or Lee Vining or ... De Chambeau or Mill or ...?
INT: Even when there was heavy irrigation in the summer ...?
WMCP: Well ... Walker and Parker probably were dried up, were all spread on the Cain Ranch and Farrington Ranch. But ... they weren't dry to the point where the stream vegetation died. There might have been a little trickle run down there.
INT: Did you ever fish those streams?
WMCP: No. The only place I ever fished on Walker was in Walker Lake. And that was a long time ago!
INT: Was that a good fishing spot?
WMCP: Pretty good! Here's Granddad. And some fish.
INT: That's a fantastic picture! And lilac bushes ...
WMCP: That was at Mono Inn ... Those were fish out of Walker Lake.
INT: Well I think one of those would be considered a real nice looking fish these days.
WMCP: But that's still not the Walker Lake fish picture I was looking for.
INT: How 'bout something I could ask you about grazing is ... Was there a lot of grazing? Did you remember overgrazing? Was there a lot of wild iris? 'Cause around the Thompson Ranch now there's ... they yank out the wild iris, some of it every year ...
WMCP: There used to be quite a bit of wild iris, but ... I don't remember that there was any problem of it. I don't think that it was overgrazed.
INT: Of course they had so much water on it then too!
WMCP: They had plenty of water and ... the Scenic Area is talking about stopping all grazing, just because it destroys the beauty of the land ... how did the land get so beautiful?
INT: You mean ... you think they kept the meadow open?
WMCP: Yes, if the pioneers, ranchers had not come in and irrigated those garden spots that are around Mono Lake now, it wouldn't be there!
INT: Right. You mean ...
WMCP: Only sagebrush. And if they don't keep them grazed, they'll revert to sagebrush. Very rapidly. Yeah. Like old Judge Roberts said here, they had the sheep destroying the tufa over at Warm Springs? It was in the courtroom, he held up this chunk of tufa to the State Lands' Attorney and he says, this is an example of tufa from Warm Springs, is it not? The judge said: "Well this reminds me of nothing so much as a piece of reinforced concrete! So you mean to tell me that sheep walking on it, are going to destroy it?"
INT: Yeah, well. You know I can see that point, but ...
WMCP: Well his point was where had you gotten that tufa you had to get the sheriffs to take you in four wheel drive vehicles to get there. And that there wasn't going to be ... a great herd of tourists running across it.
INT: Yeah, yeah.
WMCP: Well anyway! So much for that!
INT: Well it's a very controversial issue I realize. And I can see both sides of it. Was there a lot of sheep like around Mill Creek?
WMCP: There was sheep all over the place. And all over the hills east of Mono Lake. And ... all over the hills west of Mono. And up in Sinnamon Meadows up here, and Dunderberg Creek and up in that area.
INT: How did they decide about what to graze where? I mean was that done by the BLM and Forest Service or ... back then was it more who got there first?
WMCP: The Taylor Grazing Act. And that's about as much as I can tell you about it, except that was the way it was allotted. And ... the various ranches, like the Conway Ranch had Taylor Grazing land in the Virginia Lakes-Dunderberg area, and other ranchers had Taylor Grazing land here and there, that were allotted to them, by decree or law or ... some authority, I don't exactly know the ins and outs of it.
INT: So there was some organization to it?
WMCP: You didn't just go out and drive a stake and say that's mine.
INT: Yeah. Is there any kind of wildflower or common flower that's become a lot less common or ... absent?
WMCP: Yes! But ... Due to weather conditions or climactic conditions rather than diversions ... like your sunflowers that ... the ones that are about so big ... (SOUND CUTS OFF - END OF SIDE A)
INTERVIEW WITH WALLIS MCPHERSON
TAPE #2 - CASSETTE SIDE B
WMCP: In the areas back of ...the old Wilson Ranch, Mono Inn ... back at Tioga Lodge, there used to be rhubarb out in the brush.
INT: There's still a little patch where the old Keller Schoolhouse used to be.
WMCP: Yeah. I mean, just out in the bushes. On the sidehill. And ... I haven't seen any larkspur in a long time.
INT: Yeah, I haven't seen much at Mono Lake, at all.
WMCP: Used to be lots of it along 395, both sides in the sagebrush, very deep blue, almost purple. Larkspur doesn't grow in the salt. So I think it's climactic, or some factor other than diversion of the water out of the basin. And seems to me there's a lot less wildflowers than there used to be.
INT: The Hansens were showing me pictures of how ... it was more like a beautiful meadow around their house ... with a lot of goldenrod and paintbrush and sort of like what's near the county park.
WMCP: And there's not as much iris, I don't think, like at Thompson Ranch and ... Danburg Meadow or ... Mountain(?) Meadow or Fisher Ranch or ... anyway the area from Hansen's to ... what's their names ... one daughter's in Santa Fe and another's ...
INT: Peggy and-and Adele and ...
WMCP: Peggy and Casey Maloney. They're the newcomers. Caeser Severge owned that place.
INT: I've seen that name written, I've always wondered how you said that. How you pronounce that.
WMCP: And well they called him Fisher. Which you can figure out from the way it's spelled. You know how to spell Yparreguire? Y-P-A-R ... And ... there was a lot more wild iris in those areas as I remember when I was a kid than there is now. Why I don't know. It hasn't been controlled or sprayed or anything of that kind.
INT: I know at the Thompson Ranch they will dig some of it out. The herders will, but I don't know ...
WMCP: Bridgeport Valley here they spray. A couple of times. How much good they did, I don't know. I mean it passed over the ridge at ... down Sweetwater Road there just before you get to the state line. And ... they didn't kill the pinyon but they sure thought they had. They were ... brown for about three years after this. There's a streak of them up over the ... forgot to cut off or ... or the cut-off didn't work on the crop duster.
INT: Which reminds me of a whole sort of question I haven't asked yet, which for all the different streams what do you remember when the trees started to die out and you know, like when the tops of the cottonwoods got blown out and ... when the you know, Jeffrey pines started to turn rusty from ... lack of water ... do you remember certain places and certain streams and ...?
WMCP: Not really. I observed it, but didn't note it.
INT: It probably happened gradually so ... hard to really you know ...
WMCP: Well it's hard to say, they'll say oh it's the drought, oh it's this or that ...
INT: You know we haven't talked about Simon's Springs at all, like what you might remember? We mentioned it, but not directly like the ducks there and ... whatever you remember?
WMCP: Well there was sedges and swamp and we were usually over there during duck season, which meant it was cold. We had a ... little shack that ... keep the fire going in one corner of it and the water would freeze in the bucket in the other corner.
INT: I guess there were two shacks, one was called the Painter's Shack, and then there was another shack that maybe was more on the west side of the bluffs?
WMCP: I haven't been over there since I got stuck with the jeep or thought I was stuck. It had broken down in fact.
There was the old Staats house north of there. Just over the bluff from the road?
INT: There's not much left out there anymore but ... (?)
WMCP: Well there wasn't much then! And this was just sort of a shack that was like an old truck box or something like that. We stayed in it when we'd go there hunting. And ... the swamp was frozen up. And the sedges were frozen up. And I couldn't tell you much about it, really.
INT: Were there any cattails?
WMCP: Yes, there were some cattails.
INT: 'Cause now there's extensive cattails there.
INT: Like jungles, you know, when you're in the midst of them ...
WMCP: Well ... See the ... the lake was right up to the spring practically. And ... all that swamp area that's in there now, wasn't there. The lake had it covered up.
INT: There used to be one very large, discrete spring there? Because now if you walk around, there's just little springs.
INT: All over, but there wasn't one obvious major source?
WMCP: Not, not any big huge spring, no. There was evidence that oh Sammann had gathered ... trenches or one thing or another, together, the water together. To do his ... ranching, but ... there was no big, huge spring like Deep Springs or something like that.
INT: Yeah. Were there many ducks?
WMCP: Well there was all kinds of ducks. And avocets. And geese. And we had some blinds we worked, when the wind blew why you had good duck hunting, 'cause the wind would drive the ducks off the lake. If you didn't have any wind, you might as well stay home! You'd go out there fire one shot or even yell at somebody, and the ducks were gone, they'd go sit in the lake and laugh at you all day long! But if the wind was blowing where they couldn't sit on the water, why then they'd fly over you pretty good.
INT: Was there maybe hundreds of ducks or thousands of ducks there or ...?
WMCP: I would say thousands.
INT: And eating maybe the same kinds of things you talked about on the west shore - the algae, the ...?
WMCP: Yeah. Yeah.
INT: Possibly the bloodworms and ...?
INT: There wasn't that much difference in habitat, didn't seem saltier or more ...?
WMCP: No, no.
INT: Like now to me it feels ... there's a lot of cattail marsh but parts of it seem more like a salt grass, salty marsh ... not being a botanist, but it has a certain different feel than some of the west side wetlands.
WMCP: Well I don't think there's as much ... groundwater running in from the snow melt and there can't possibly be as much on the east side as there is on the west side.
INT: Sure. You're right.
WMCP: And if you'll notice on the west side, where the lake has gone back if there's anything but rock, if there's any soil at all, the grass greenery has followed it. Like in below Mono Inn there, hasn't been planted but the grass is right out to the edge of the water.
INT: Yeah. 'Cause it's nice and wet. Right now there's maybe three or four miles of sort of wetland area around Simon Springs, but ...
WMCP: Well there wasn't that much 'cause the lake was so much higher. I would say a mile and a half at the most.
INT: And how about Warm Springs? What did that ... look like?
WMCP: Warm Springs wasn't much, we didn't fool around there a whole lot, now the Indians used to winter in Warm Springs.
INT: How recently did that ... continue?
WMCP: Well into the .... twenties and thirties I would say, at least. But ... I didn't spend a whole lot of time around Warm Springs. We'd go by it, and that's about the size of it. The hunting was at Sammann Springs, where the slough was.
INT: If you were going to put a number on geese ... that would stay through the winter at Mono Lake ... hundreds, thousands, curious just generally how abundant they were.
WMCP: I would say hundreds would stay through, if that many!
INT: I mean it's always hard to know, 'cause you have to go around the whole lake. I couldn't give an accurate number for now, but ...
WMCP: There's not room for them. See the ... in order to winter through they'd have to stay like down where the Mono Lake Park is, Hansen's Place, mouth of Rush Creek. And ... you don't know that they're there unless you see them or hear them.
INT: Right. And these are all Canada geese? I assume when we keep saying geese it's mostly the Canada geese?
INT: Except for a few snow geese.
WMCP: Well it's Canada geese, I have seen Brant geese, we used to get Brant occasionally.
INT: There are still Brants, I've seen three this summer.
WMCP: And ... Canada geese. Occasional snow goose.
INT: How about the white-fronted goose?
INT: There are a few records recently, but they're real rare.
WMCP: "The goose" is a Canada goose!
INT: That's what I figured, but I thought I should ask just to make sure. Were there any frog ponds or ... toads that were common or snakes ...? What do you remember about snakes?
WMCP: Well there was the usual garter snakes in the sloughs and a few gopher snakes. Rattlesnakes in the sagebrush and rattlesnakes in the sloughs. When it was wet.
INT: I'm glad, I've never seen that. That would make me pretty nervous.
WMCP: Be nervous! Because where there's water, irrigation, springs ... there's rodents ... And rattlesnakes feed on rodents.
INT: Right. I know to be careful around streams ...
WMCP: And you'll find near water someplace, not necessarily in the water. In wet places, where there's forage for them, why you'll find the snakes. There's not NEAR in my estimation, anywhere NEAR, the amount of rattlers there used to be. I think the sheep tromped on 'em.
INT: Huh? You mean physically stepped on the snakes? Or ...
WMCP: Physically stepped on the snakes to ...
INT: Do you think people? I know people will kill them when they ... can!
WMCP: All people will kill 'em, but I don't think it was that much. I used to walk through the sagebrush from Mono Inn to Jimmy Keller's house to go to school. I've seen a lot of them.
INT: I've seen more than one behind the old schoolhouse.
That's when you used to see them fairly easy and fairly often ... on your walk?
WMCP: Yeah. Let's see ... possibly ten-twelve years. And down where I lived, where we lived after we got back from the service, between there and the lake ... we'd see them reasonably often. The kids were very leery about snakes.
INT: Were there frogs! There were water snakes and toads, but there aren't really any frogs that I know of.
WMCP: No. I don't remember frogs except in the tarns.
INT: Way up high?
WMCP: Tioga. In that area. Very few frogs. I don't remember hearing any frogs.
WMCP: I have another theory which may or may not be right -you know about no-see-ums? I think the sheep brought them in! The first no-see-ums I remember that were bad ... were east of Crowley Dam. Out there in that ... boondock country, when I was surveying down there for the City. And they just, they just about ate us up! And I had not seen them before! But they're all over the country now!
INT: So you'd been in the country for what? Fifteen-twenty years before you even ... ran into that? And that was a heavily grazed area as well?
WMCP: Yes, it was. And I think they moved in with the sheep from the south, 'cause they would drive the sheep in the spring. I think that's what brought them in. We got them now!
INT: Although I haven't seen them on the islands!
WMCP: We never had them there.
INT: What's your general feeling about how gull numbers have changed?
WMCP: The gull number has changed from year to year. Now, again, I have not been in touch like I used to be ... But ... at the time these pictures were taken, the ones I showed you, when they were still nesting on Paoha? There were many, many more gulls, than there are now. At the time that the first ...
INT: And that's on both Paoha and the Black Island?
WMCP: Yeah. At the time the first wildlife people came into the basin, (?) come out there and they camped out there, and one guy got ripped on the top of the head by the ... diving gull or one thing or another ... They came up with an estimate of 60,000 nesting pair on ... I imagine, there were more gulls than there is now.
WMCP: But again, this counting of the gulls is not what I would call an exact science.
WMCP: But this theory of mine on the seasons ... doesn't explain ... I think they're coming earlier! They're clock is kind of goofed up someway or another. But I think the season is also later! But there were gulls in here in March for heaven's sake! This March!
INT: And you don't remember them being around in March on the island?
WMCP: No, not when I lived in Mono Lake! But of course they visited the Bridgeport dump as soon as they arrived, and you could see it flying right out the window here!
INT: Do you remember the biologist that was here? That counted the 60,000 gulls ...?
WMCP: I don't remember the names at that time. This was back in the ... early forties.
INT: I know that there are some records. Of early biologists, but ... lots of research to find who that would be(?).
WMCP: And ... the ornithologist or biologist or whatever he was that visited the island from Santa Barbara, wrote the book "California Birds" ...
INT: Okay. Dawson.
WMCP: I remembered it as soon as I got this in hand, I didn't have to read it!
INT: Did you meet him?
WMCP: Oh yeah!
INT: Huh! I'm so jealous! He's the best birdwriter that there ever was!
WMCP: Here, you can have that.(Old newsletter from Mono Inn)
INT: Thank you!
WMCP: And you can reflect on the cost of living thirty years ago!
INT: Barely even can buy a cup of soup for that!
INT: Um ... What was he like? Dawson?
WMCP: He was a ... birdman. Do you know many birdmen?
INT: I know the modern sort anyway. Yeah, the ones that can't keep their eyes on your face because they're always looking for birds.
INT: Neck would be twitching all around!
WMCP: Now, he stayed ... on the island for ... at least a week, and then he stayed on the shore for some time. There used to be a lot of hummingbirds down around ... where the cabins are, down where I used to live? There were some big black willows that were leaking sap and one thing or another. The hummingbirds would just fly to those, flock to them! And ... I was very interested in how he was collecting, because ... they were shooting them! With mercury(?)!
WMCP: Mercury loaded in a 22 shell! Just the stem, skeleton or something to hold it in place. And the mercury would mist, and penetrate and kill the bird without even ruffling a feather apparently.
INT: I've never heard of such a thing. I hope he didn't ... stuff them with bare hands.
WMCP: I don't know what they did after that, but they used mercury to shoot with. Especially the hummers. They used a real fine shot on some of the other birds, but ... the hummers they used this mercury pellets on them. Now he camped there on the shore ... oh I guess a couple of weeks ... stuffing, skinning, really going through the works.
INT: Now, I really want to go down to Santa Barbara and see if they have his original field notes. Because they probably do! I've been through the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at Cal, Berkeley, and it has Grinnell's original field notes from Mono Lake. Which I've had a chance ... you can hold his ... original notebook, and they just let you read through it! And he talks about the lagoons at the mouth of Rush Creek and camping up near Walker Lake and ... you know, my hands are almost shaking as I turn the page, it was so exciting! I know I'd love to look at Dawson's original field notes. I imagine he must have taken oodles of notes?
WMCP: Oh I imagine he did.
INT: Those early guys ... tended to do that.
WMCP: There was quite a ... group as I remember. Over five anyway, maybe more. Quite an entourage.
INT: I imagine students and ... so on. You know I think we're down to like one question that I can think of and I'm sure I'll think of others when I leave but ... this is really ... a detailed question but by any chance, do you remember like what the soils were like by any of the streams? Like maybe you dug for worms ... you mentioned that once for Mill Creek...
WMCP: Muddy! (LAUGHS) Again it depends on where you were on the stream, now what the flow of water was. If there was rapid flow, why you got sandy gravel. If you're in a ... meandering meadow situation you got sod. But ... sod, like you dig up a lawn or something, that's where you'd find your worms.
INT: So ... that was a common way of fishing? Was to dig worms and ...?
WMCP: Well at that time, yeah.
INT: And then just use them right there. I mean now you can never imagine digging for worms along lower Rush Creek ...?
WMCP: Not if it's a high-flowing creek, no! The grade where there's a lot of falls, but where you got slack water or ... backwaters that will come up and the bank will form a mud soil that will support grasses, well then you can find them.
INT: Hard to imagine. So say, below the Rush Creek narrows in there ...
WMCP: Yeah. Well there's some pretty extensive meadows down in there, the whole width of the flat valley!
INT: Do you remember the ditches filled with watercress?
WMCP: Oh yeah. And the great goose feed choked with watercress. Tons and tons and tons of cress you could have started a watercress farm! And that's what those big rainbows and whatnots would feed on is the snails and the wigglers and crawlies that were in the watercress, and there was lots of them!
INT: Do you remember any cutthroat trout in Rush Creek or hearing that there had been cutthroat trout?
WMCP: No. I don't remember anything about cutthroat ... trout, except that they were my Dad's favorite trout, he used to catch them and where he caught them I don't know!
INT: But in the Basin possibly?
WMCP: In the Basin.
INT: Interesting! So did you know of cutthroat trout caught in the Basin somewhere?
WMCP: And there were ... possibly still are goldens up in Gibbs Lake!
INT: I believe that is still true. Yeah.
WMCP: And ... I think that they were taken up there by the Tioga Wolf. Tioga Wolf was a special built locomobile ...
INT: Oh, okay.
WMCP: That ... L.C. Brand had. L.C. Brand is the one that had the road into Gibbs Lake.
INT: Oh I hadn't realized there was a road up ...
WMCP: There was a road up there. There isn't anymore. They've destroyed it. You're not allowed up there anyway, but ... From the intakes for Plant Three, which is the intake where Lee Vining gets its water supply? The road goes up the side of the hill there?
INT: So you go over the ... headquarters, camp bridge ...
WMCP: Well no, no. Below that. Below the ranger station. The road goes up the side, the south side of Lee Vining Canyon there, up into the upper meadow, and on up ...
INT: Through Horse Meadows ...
WMCP: Used to go into Gibbs Lake. I don't know if you can even find it anymore. But he ...
INT: You can drive up to above what we call Upper Horse Meadows.
INT: And then they have it blocked off.
WMCP: But he hauled his boats into Gibbs Lake, as I understood it. But he did haul trout in there. And the ... the brooks and one thing or another, they got into the upper Rush Creek lake, they were packed in milk cans, on mules. There was a group ... Emil Billeb and a bunch of them from Bodie and some of them from Bishop, got together, and they got the fish from the Shasta hatchery, which was the only hatchery in the state at that time, shipped to Thorn, Nevada, which is the railroad station for Hawthorne, had this caravan and Pierce Arrows and whatnot ... They go up there and then packed them on mules up into the upper lakes ... of Rush Creek here.
INT: How about brook trout? Were there good places in the Mono Basin that you would catch brookies?
WMCP: You'd get brookies in ... Lundy. Lots of them, yeah.
INT: Brooktrout? And what were the rest? Brown or rainbows or ...?
WMCP: We used, my Dad used to call the fish that we would get Dolly Vardens. When I was in Alaska, the word Dolly Varden is a ... nasty word to the bounty hunters in Alaska, because they harass the salmon. But ... I'm not an ichthyologist by any manner. However, my son could tell you.
INT: Yeah! It looked like a rainbow kind of or ...
WMCP: A little bit, yeah.
END OF CASSETTE SIDE B.
INTERVIEW WITH WALLIS MCPHERSON
TAPE #3 - CASSETTE SIDE A
WMCP: [Pictures of West Portal camp] West Portal ...
INT: These are fantastic.
WMCP: When you want to find something out first, you go to the source!
INT: Did you work on the aqueduct and with the City on all this?
WMCP: Yes, I did. I was on the Precise surveying party and also worked in the Tunnel, running line and grade into the headings for the engineering department.
INT: Wow. What did you survey?
WMCP: From West Portal east. Plus ... all those little knobs and buttes in that country. We had a triangulation system. Each one of them has a monument on top of it. Concrete monument and there's a bronze ... square bronze stud in the top of each monument, with a hole in the center of it. And we put ... automobile wheel light bulbs, soldered very carefully so that the filament was centered over the prong ... into those holes and we carried storage batteries up there, on our shoulders ... automobile batteries.
INT: That's very heavy!
WMCP: And ... then do the turning of the angles at night! To get away from ... mirage. See mirages are dancing in the air, which you get in the daytime. And it was a LOT of work! So ... then the army came along in about '52 or '53, as I remember, with a helicopter and did the whole damn thing in about a week! (LAUGHS)
INT: Well you guys did a great job because that tunnel seems to work ...
WMCP: It closed out, in other words, met, within 2 centimeters, on line. And the grade (?) was flat. Absolutely zero difference!
INT: Did you ever work in the ... tunnel when they were doing the drilling and stuff?
WMCP: Oh yeah! Not as a driller, not as a grinder, but ... we ran the line and grade to them on every shift. Give them something to go by to keep on going ahead.
INT: Was there a lot of water coming down ...?
WMCP: There was a lot of water.
INT: Cold water ...
WMCP: West Portal. We lost 1200' of tunnel! In about ... five minutes, two men.
INT: They were drowned or ...?
WMCP: They were drowned. It's a ... accepted statistic. You lose a man for every mile of tunnel. Just like so many men per mile of bridge, on the Bay bridges and stuff like that.
INT: Were there gasses?
WMCP: Yes. Not ... not noxious gasses, suffocating gasses, CO2 ... and some sulphur dioxide or monoxide.
INT: Was there ever hot water?
WMCP: There was some hot water. And cold water.
INT: It took a lot of courage to work on that project.
WMCP: And boiling water. They had three ... twenty-four inch dewatering lines, pumping water out of West Portal. This is one of the reasons that they ... See they worked the tunnel from six different headings. All at the same time. Which was the reason for all the precision. Going into the work. 'Cause there was West Portal ... on the northern end of the tunnel, western end of the tunnel. Shaft One, down some nine hundred feet to tunnel level, out there on top of the ... just beyond the southern crater. Shaft Two over in the canyon above Arcularius's ranch? I don't know if there's anything left over there or not. And they worked both ways from both shafts on that. So we had six headings all going at the same time.
WMCP: Quite a job!
WMCP: Well we got ... Parker Creek into the Rush Creek now, what are we going to do next? (LAUGHTER)
INT: Well ... if you have more time now, we could talk about vegetation at Rush Creek?
WMCP: Well I have more time now. We might have to have a cup of coffee and some of your ... banana bread!
INT: Let's do that. Well we're interested in ... anything anyone remembers about what Rush Creek used to look like. And that could be the trees, where the homes were ... how much grazing there was ... what fish were caught where, where the ducks were, where any kind of wildlife was ... The kind of bottom on the stream? What kinds of rocks were there? Or gravel ...
WMCP: It was mostly gravel.
INT: Because since the big flows blew it out, the gravels have been swept away. Did you fish along ... Rush? Much?
WMCP: Yes, pretty much. Not a lot! But I mean, I fished it, from Silver Lake to Mono Lake. At one time or another!
INT: That's pretty much the extent of Rush Creek! At least that we're interested in. Was that the main ... spot you used to go fishing? Or was there ... I know other people said, we often went to Lundy or ... Saddlebag.
WMCP: I used to go to Mill Creek.
INT: Well sure, that was close.
WMCP: When I was a young boy, I'd go out in front of Mono Inn ... stick up my thumb ... I'd have a ... piece of fish line and some hooks ... and pocketknife and cut a little pole and go up the crick to a little place that I knew ... and catch about 15 or 20 pan-sized trout! In one hour! And the first car that came along when I got back to the highway would give me a ride, because they would ask "where did you get the fish?" Oh, up the crick there about three miles! It was only about 200 yards.
INT: That's what Donny Banta said, when they'd come up, they'd come up to the highway on the way home and put all their fish on a pole so people could see it. And a car would stop within a couple of minutes ... and the kids would get a ride back to town.
WMCP: I used to like lake fishing most. Because I like boats.
INT: Where was your secret fishing spot on Mill Creek? If it's okay to ask?
WMCP: Well the beavers came along and ruined it. Beavers built a beaver pond. It was up ... a couple of miles.
INT: Were there a lot of ... trees along there?
WMCP: Lots of willows and trees ... yeah.
INT: I've hiked up that canyon and there's some wild rose left, but it's pretty barren. How much water was in Mill Creek? Like when did they start taking the water, putting the water in Wilson through the penstock? Did Mill Creek usually have a flow of water?
WMCP: Well the power house was built before I was there, so I don't know. Exactly. However they always had some water in the crick, because ... the Lundy Lake dam either didn't go clear to bedrock or there was a fault in it ... it always leaked.
INT: I was wondering why there was that flow in Mill Creek. You know Upper Mill Creek anyways still has ... water in it. Would it ... get all the way to the mouth of Mono Lake?
WMCP: Oh yeah!
INT: See I don't know Mill Creek under any normal status. I know it like in 1986 when you couldn't get across it. And now it's dry!
WMCP: Well, where there used to be the main highway, it's the county road now, on the other side of the cemetery? Where it crosses? There was always some water there! Of course there was the diversions above the stream, I mean above there, for the De Chambeau ranch and for the ... Conway ranch. The power-the tail race from the power plant used to run over on the Conway ranch, and on down.
INT: Which I think it may still do.
WMCP: Maybe it does, yes.
INT: Yeah. So they tended to be sort of smaller fish in Mill?
WMCP: No, there weren't big fish in Mill Creek.
INT: Did you ever fish Wilson Creek?
WMCP: Yeah. Now again ... (LAUGHS) ... you got Mill Creek right. Most people call Mill Creek Lundy Lake-Creek. But Lundy Creek is above the lake, Mill Creek is below ... Wilson Creek is back at Tioga Lodge.
INT: No! That's Post Office Creek!
INT: But that's an old name, huh?
WMCP: Wilson Creek is ... what we call De Chambeau Creek now, comes down by Jimmy Keller's old house ...
INT: Hm-hm. I lived there for awhile actually.
WMCP: And ... that's Wilson Creek. And then Wilson Creek is also ... where the water runs off the Conway ranch on down the big new gorge into Mono Lake. Okay. Yes, I've fished Wilson Creek!
INT: So people just started calling a lot of places Wilson? Or ... map people, the map got messed up?
WMCP: I don't know ... how it all started but ... the ... original ranch at Mono Inn was the Wilson ranch. Where Kit Carson's daughter is buried ... was on the Wilson property, they were friends of the, the ... Stiltz. Was their name. Adeline Carson ... Stiltz?
INT: Prairie Flower!
INT: I like that name. You didn't know her though? That was ...
WMCP: A little before my time. I'm old! But I'm not that old! (LAUGHS)
INT: Well ... just thought I'd ask!
WMCP: I didn't even know Mark Twain!
WMCP: But ... your stream gravels ... we didn't, you know, really look into all these various things ... you people are doing now. But if the water was running by, it was gravel, let's put it that way.
INT: In most of the streams in the Mono Basin?
WMCP: Yeah. Boulders, gravel ... Gravel was anything you see ... you don't need two hands to lift.
INT: Oh okay. What about the real fine ... I think the (?) like to spawn in that kind of fine ...?
WMCP: Yeah, pea gravel.
WMCP: Or smaller.
INT: So there was a lot of that pea gravel as well?
WMCP: And ... as far as spawning beds was concerned, I wasn't interested, so I don't know! But ... there were gravel beds all up and down all of those streams!
INT: Well, you know, Fish and Game is interested in determining if the water should go back down ... Mill Creek instead of through the Conway Ranch-Wilson Creek. What's your feeling on which would be the better ... fishing stream? What would be the best use of that water?
WMCP: Well ... From 395 on down there's very little difference. And ... where the Conway ditch comes out, where those big new houses are being built up there in Lundy? How did they get that past a ... city hearing I wonder?
INT: I guess it's ... north of 167, so that's why.
WMCP: No, they're not. They're south of 167.
INT: Oh! You mean in the Mill Creek? Right! I understood that was old in-holdings.
WMCP: I think it is.
INT: Yeah. I don't know too much about it.
WMCP: It was private land, but there was nothing there!
INT: It was beautiful! So you think that might be better ... fishing ...?
WMCP: Where the Conway ditch takes off ... down to 395 ... there's some pretty nice fishing areas in Mill Creek. Below 395, it doesn't make much difference whether it goes down Wilson Creek or ... In fact, allowing it to go down Wilson Creek out across the meadow and on down ... probably give you more linear miles of ... stream.
INT: I bet you're right. At least it gets to Mono Lake one way or the other, eventually. What was the vegetation like on Mill Creek, below say 395?
WMCP: About the same as it is now.
INT: As you head closer to the lake?
WMCP: A few pine trees ... there was some ... aspens and balm of giliads, you know balm of giliads?
INT: Couldn't even spell it!
WMCP: Sure you can! B-A-L-M ... O-F...G-I-L-I-A-D. Balm of giliad.
INT: Well what the heck is that?
WMCP: That's a tree! It's a deciduous tree, looks like big loganberries on 'em, purple catkins I think they call them, in the spring. There's some ... below Mono Inn there. It's incredible! Bunch of 'em on Lee Vining Creek above the meadow, between the meadow and ... the SCE power house, there's some ... in there. And ... they used to be all around, all the old ranches.
INT: Is it ... does it have another name? Water birch?
WMCP: No. Balm of giliad is the name of it. They're a big tree!
INT: But there is still some on Lee Vining Creek?
INT: I am not familiar with that tree at all! I'll have to look at it. Should have brought my tree book over, we could look that up. It probably has some other name. It's not an alder?
WMCP: No. It's more related to cottonwood.
INT: Is it a native, do you think?
WMCP: No, they were brought in by the settlers from the hinterlands.
INT: Is it that silver cottonwood, that they have in town? In Lee Vining?
WMCP: No, that's what they call Silver Maple!
WMCP: Which it is not, but they call it that. And ... If you go north of the cabins that are below Mono Inn? There's a fairly good-sized grove ... BIG trees! Tall. Big around.
INT: Near the County Park?
WMCP: No, no. Just ... just north of ... between the cabins and the county park. First trees that you get into! That are big! On the old county road there, just north of Mono Inn. You know where the old county road is?
INT: Yeah, I think I do. I've never driven on it, but ... I ...
WMCP: Where the cabins ... the cabins that are down there on the ... on the lower shelf ... they're built right along, right on the old county road.
WMCP: And those big ... trees, trunks so big around, are balmofgiliads.
WMCP: And come springtime, they'll have loganberries on them!
INT: So those ones ... above ... that you remember on Mill land have been escaped from a ranch or ...
INT: Planted along some old ranch site?
WMCP: Yeah. Or birds. Who knows? But ... then the ... just think of the tree with the difficult name! Other than cedar. The Wilson Wash was just sage from that new subdivision across from Mono City ... on down to the lake ... it's Wilson Wash itself, it is a big wash!
WMCP: Quite recently eroded out of Sagebrush Flat!
INT: So that's changed a lot?
WMCP: Definitely doesn't make much of a fishing stream!
INT: Doesn't seem to be able to support much tree life? The water gets pretty warm down there.
WMCP: Well Mill Creek from ... 395 on down is about the same.
INT: It is now, but ... when you used to fish there it wasn't?
WMCP: Yeah, but ... we never fished down there!
INT: So what was it like at the mouth of Mill Creek for instance? Were there trees down there?
WMCP: Yeah, more balm of giliads! And ... not aspens! Willows. And that's about all.
INT: So there was a stretch below 395 that really didn't have much in the way of trees or anything?
WMCP: Very little. In fact I've never walked the streambed through down to the bottom of the canyon down there, I've only seen it ... at the rim in two or three places, on both Mill and Wilson Creek.
INT: So when you fish, you go up almost to ... Mono City or ...?
WMCP: No, when I fished it, I used to go upstream from 395!
INT: Oh, okay! I thought, for some reason it did have trees all the way down to the lake.
WMCP: No. Not that I remember!
INT: Well you'd remember that!
WMCP: No, no trees ... until just about the bridge where the county road goes across. Then from there on to the lake, there was quite a grove of trees in there. I don't know if there still are.
INT: They're hanging in there! Yeah, they don't look ... too hot, but ... tops are all blasted out of the cottonwoods and ...
WMCP: A lot of people call these balm of giliads cottonwoods, ... But I know that is the name of them.
INT: I'll research that.
WMCP: Rush Creek. From the highway bridge on down through the narrows there was ... you got ... better information from McAfee and some of the others that lived there, than I can give you. And below the ... narrows on down through the what used to be meadows, willow thickets down in there. Hasn't changed a great deal, except the vegetation has died out!
INT: [View of Rush Creek morass - aerial photo] You may have seen these but it is of that area. These are some old pictures of big ponds, swampy areas. Now this is of course a winter picture, so the trees dropped their leaves and the photo was taken up high, but evidently these are very large cottonwoods and ... different people think this is above the ford ... And as the researches struggle to ... create a restoration plan there's a lot of ... conversation about if there were a lot of ponds down there most of the time and if that should be ... recreated ...
WMCP: Wish she didn't have so much bottom and more of the skyline here.
INT: Yeah, hard to place that picture.
WMCP: I'd say ... that's above where the test stream buildings are, above the Clover's buildings ... But below the meadow.
INT: Okay. So it'd be below the ford, at the meadow crossing.
WMCP: The vast thickets ...
INT: The upper culvert.
WMCP: There's a vast thicket of stuff - trees and one thing or other, back in there that ... we never used to go into! We fished Lower Rush, from the ridge on down to Mono Lake, then we go up by the ford and fish up there, but we didn't fool with this.
INT: How thick was that? Like you know ... quarter mile things on either side or a half mile of ... ?
WMCP: Less ... quarter a mile or less.
INT: And what were some of the predominant ...
WMCP: Willows and cottonwoods. I mean willows and aspens. A few pines. Very few. Buckberries ... probably. You find buckberry all over the country where there was any moisture at all, and sometimes where there isn't!
WMCP: You know buckberries?
INT: Sure do! One of my favorites in fact.
WMCP: Thorny things ain't they?
INT: Yeah. My favorite clump is that one out near Simon's Springs. There's a lone clump? Kind of west of the springs. And that's a good place for owls. It's huge ... buckberry trees!
WMCP: It's out in that territory. Now what else would you like to know?
INT: Well we could ... look at another picture?
INT: [Close-up of Rush Creek morass - cottonwoods and possible watercress bed] While we're doing Rush Creek, I'll show you also this one. Similar kind of thing, it's bottomlands. We think that this could be watercress in here.
WMCP: It was! There was HUGE watercress beds up there!
INT: But this would be ... above the upper culvert? Above the ford or ... and into the meadows?
WMCP: What we used to call The Springs. Which actually weren't springs, see when ... Cain Irrigation, the Power Company, the City spread the water from east of the highway on ... with A Ditch and B Ditch ... they created these springs down in the canyon. The water had to go someplace.
INT: Oh interesting! So you feel like those springs were all charged by water from these ditches?
WMCP: They were certainly increased by them.
WMCP: And ... but these watercress beds were ... in swatches and patches and ... bigger than my lawn out there by far!
INT: Oh gee! So that would be ...?
WMCP: That was down in ... in here someplace.
INT: I'm going to squiggle a little ... note. Like maybe ...
WMCP: Right on down in here someplace.
INT: Were there ducks?
WMCP: Yes, there were ducks! (LAUGHTER) Lots of ducks! Yes!
INT: Neat. Do you remember what kind?
WMCP: Big fat-bottomed mallards!
INT: Would they nest in there too? Or were they there ...?
WMCP: I think they nested. I couldn't say for sure, but I think they did. 'Cause they were there when you'd go over there fishing and some old mallard hen come up out of the willows and scare the hell out of you! SQUAWK! BA-BA-BA-BA-BA!
INT: Oh I'm sure they're nesting when they flush with the broken wing kind of thing and that vocalization.
WMCP: Yeah. And teal! All your puddle ducks.
INT: Were there ever a lot of blue-winged teal? Anyplace ... in the Mono Basin?
WMCP: Yes. Blue-wings, cinnamons, green-wings.
INT: You know now Wally the blue-wings are so rare I get like one record every year of blue-wings in the Mono Basin ...
WMCP: Used to be lots of them. Widgeons, sprigs, buffleheads were fairly rare.
INT: They still are.
WMCP: Golden-eyes, redheads ...
INT: And this is like all over Mono Lake and along all the stream bottoms?
WMCP: Yeah. The whole area.
INT: Do you remember many snow geese in the winter?
WMCP: Not very often. There'd be a few that'd come through every year but no great huge flights of them. Nothing like the Canadas, nothing like the swans(?).
INT: How many swans did there used to be?
WMCP: Oh there's ... several hundred! Rafts of them. They'd raft up out in the lake. They'd talk to you. SQUAWK-SNO-GEEK-YAH!
INT: I've seen swans twice now, in the Mono Basin, only twice. There just not as common as they used to be.
WMCP: Really common. Really, really common. Late summer.
INT: And that's the time I've spent a lot of time up here over many years so ... And they wouldn't tend to overwinter, they just ...
WMCP: Well they would last, they'd last into duck season ... I can remember ... a little poaching of swans going on but ... didn't last very long because they're too damn tough! Can't do anything with them.
INT: How about since we're on the subject of birds ... How about white pelicans? Just in the Eastern Sierra overall? Like Donny Banta said that the white pelicans he never, he remembers only very rarely seeing white pelicans as a boy, anywhere in the Eastern Sierra, and now of course, they're here by the hundreds on the Bridgeport Reservoir and Crowley ...?
WMCP: The ... most terrifying thing that I can remember when I was about so high living out on Paoha Island ... is looking up when I was down on the beach with my folks, and here's this HUGE white bird swimming along! I mean that thing was as big as a Leviathan! A white pelican! There's been ... a few. And they're still coming through. They are here on the reservoir every year on the way through. I don't remember ever seeing any large rafts of them out on Mono.
INT: Sounds like you'd probably remember.
WMCP: I would remember.
INT: With that vivid first ...
WMCP: Oh that first time! It was as big as this table!
INT: [MLC photo - pond allegedly near Rush Creek] Okay, how 'bout a ... this is a picture of some ponds near the mouth of Rush Creek. At least that's what we think it is.
WMCP: No! You got a date on there?
INT: Well, it's supposedly taken during the thirties. But Don Banta thought the lake had dropped too low for that to be in the thirties and he suspected it was taken later!
WMCP: I think it's the middle of March, where there's snow banks, or ice. I'm not sure, I've never seen it!
INT: So you don't think that's Dombrowski's Gun Club? 'Cause that's what some people have said when they've seen that picture. But maybe that's 'cause I prompted them by saying ...
WMCP: Well I never saw anything like that, as far as I know Walter Dombrowski never built anything!
INT: Okay, that was another thing I've been asking people that have looked at this.
WMCP: I don't think he ever built anything at all. And ...
INT: It was a natural ... sort of pond he used, or lagoon?
WMCP: Well he ... put up signs and that was about it! It doesn't look ... natural at all. Doesn't even look like a snow bank. That's like your circle crops in England! Well this is definitely the working of man around here ... some sort of a dike. I don't know this place! I've never seen it! That view. [WMCP was looking through a magnifying glass. It was clear that the banks were artificial.]
INT: Intriguing! Now Don remembers some ponds near Lee Vining ... Creek or between Nay Ranch and Lee Vining Creek?
WMCP: Well that's not ... that area.
INT: Good enough! The mystery photo. I wonder if it could be near Simon's Spring?
WMCP: No. It's the wrong side of the lake! Did you go down to John Donderos?
INT: A little bit, yeah.
WMCP: He might know something about that!
INT: Great. I'll ask.
WMCP: He's the ... young John, he's the youngest one! Old John was a different breed of cat! And old, old John was the one that used to ... stand in the middle of the street in Bodie with a hundred pound sack of potatoes under each arm? And they'd take bets on ... how long they could get him to talk without setting the potatoes down!
INT: Yeah. Well he must have been a mighty strong fella.
WMCP: He was. So was his son. Young John. And so is his grandson, John. Pretty husky bunch of people. Roy and I were pretty much buddies when we worked for Cal Trans together. Roy could tell you for sure, but he's dead. John might know. He hunts deer in that area enough I know.
INT: Yeah. [Photo of bridge over willow lined channel] Now this is a picture of the bridge over the creek ... Some people think that couldn't be Rush 'cause it's too narrow. It's labeled as Rush Creek, but that doesn't mean it's right.
WMCP: It is Rush Creek alright. I don't know the exact spot of this, but it's down ... could even be below the county road bridge but I don't think so. Well ... what the heck was the old guy's name that had the cabin up the creek there? Just above the ... where the steam shovel was? Do you remember where the shovel was? He was squatting up there ... I think it's in that area!
INT: So that would be above Clover Ranch just a little bit?
WMCP: Well I don't ... know the exact boundaries of the ... it would be ... oh within a half a mile of Clover's.
INT: Good enough, yeah. Do you remember that little bridge?
WMCP: There were several little bridges! I got a broken tooth from one of the bridges. Or did have! It's worn down now. Driving spikes with the sledgehammer and the head flew off and hit me! I thought I was shot!
INT: Ya-hey! Was that, you were just helping someone ...
WMCP: I was working ...
INT: Working on the road as a county job?
WMCP: Yeah. In my youth!
INT: A couple of years ago!
WMCP: Yes! Now what else do you have?
INT: [Same picture continued] Well it must have been very deep here? In this picture?
INT: Was that good fishing? Was there cutbanks and ...?
WMCP: Very seldom got any over four or five pounds!
INT: I had to laugh! That seems big to me!
WMCP: That's deep water overhanging banks.
WMCP: There's an old, old quotation that fits this: Still water runs deep.
INT: Beautiful. Do you know anybody that ever floated down Rush Creek or just kids for fun? Or could you take a lap?
INT: Down there?
WMCP: Stuff like that, I don't, I should know it and I never did, but ... I imagine it was done.
(END OF SOUND ON CASSETTE SIDE A)
INTERVIEW WITH WALLIS MCPHERSON
TAPE #3 - CASSETTE SIDE B
WMCP: [Photo of Rush Creek morass continued] Not wide enough for anything else.
INT: Yeah. And that looks almost impossible to get into ... those thickets.
WMCP: You can see it. Those are willows as big as your arm.
INT: Gee. When they grazed sheep, did they get in this area? Or was it too dense?
WMCP: They worked their way in ... some. And gradually killed one thing or another. But they didn't graze over the whole area, no.
INT: In some of those real wet places do you recall the sheep getting in there, or would they avoid them?
WMCP: They don't like swamp! And the herders don't like to have them get in swamp, because they get hoof rot.
INT: Were the sheep grazed with a herder back then too?
WMCP: Oh yeah.
INT: Okay. So they didn't just run loose. [Picture of "canal"] What can you tell me about this picture ... some people say it's A Ditch, near B Ditch. I think it's labeled as potentially Rush.
WMCP: It's very hard to tell Emilie, I would say B Ditch.
INT: Did you ever swim in A or B Ditch?
WMCP: A stream from this. There's a pond up there with a couple head gates out of it, we used to go up there and swim. I would say this would be B Ditch.
INT: And not likely to be Rush Creek?
WMCP: No, it's not Rush Creek. That's for sure. Where did you get these photos?
INT: I think last year maybe, a couple of years ago, somebody was sent to the Sonora Courthouse and photographed some of the Aitken Case photos. But they didn't get all of them. [Dixon Photo] Now this is Lee Vining Creek. Supposed to be 1916. Lower Lee Vining Creek.
WMCP: WHOO-WHOO-WHOO-WHOO! Yes! Certainly looks like it!
INT: Not the Lee Vining Creek I know, I'm afraid.
WMCP: It's very hard to place.
WMCP: I can say that. I wish they'd give more skyline.
INT: Sure. Did you fish Lee Vining Creek? Much?
WMCP: Not a whole bunch. Occasionally. About three or four times a year.
INT: What were some of the best fishing spots in there?
WMCP: Up in the meadows.
INT: Oh, so that would be above the ranger station?
WMCP: It was also Headquarters.
INT: Above the diversion facility?
WMCP: Yeah. The power company camped over on the other side of the creek, we called Headquarters Camp?
INT: There's a bridge right there.
INT: That's gated now and meanders through willows and it's a real pretty creek ...
WMCP: I'm sorry I can't help you on that one! But that picture could have been taken on earth.
INT: I've had the same reaction! You can't tell! I mean maybe you could tell by the flatness, it's not like cascades.
WMCP: The only way you could tell really would be if there was more skyline.
INT: Yeah. Did you ever fish Lower Lee Vining Creek? Below the ... diversion dam?
WMCP: No! Down by the mouth! Where the bridge crosses down at the old Chris Mattly ranch. Down there. Before he moved to Lee Vining.
INT: Yeah, I lived in his house in town for awhile. After ... recently that is ...
WMCP: The house that he lived in when he first moved to Lee Vining was ... on that knoll just about where the shovel's sitting, by the Historical Museum.
INT: Oh, okay, that's right. And then ... someone said the city took down that house eventually?
WMCP: Yeah. And the old Anderson ranch. Chris Mattly lived there ... Bob Currie lived there, who's supervisor for Mono County. And ... then the Carbargas, their sheep people. And then they took it down.
INT: Too bad! Did you ever fish at the mouths of the creeks in the lake?
WMCP: Yes. In fact I caught a trout off the bow of the Venita. Off the mouth of Rush Creek. Nice one though! Not too far out, but ... definitely beyond the shoreline of Mono Lake.
INT: Maybe a couple of feet out or ...?
WMCP: Oh! 25-30 feet. Right in the ... flow of the stream! Just frozen. The creeks run in they form a boil they call it, a slick! And trout go out in that and they'll catch shrimp, back up, and catch another shrimp and back up.
WMCP: The lake waters at that time, and I don't know what it would do now, no doubt quicker, but it wouldn't kill the fishes instantly or anything! Burn them a little bit. They didn't like the taste of it and they'd turn around and go back!
INT: And were there also a lot of birds?
WMCP: Oh yeah.
INT: At the mouths? Where the gulls tend to come in and drink?
WMCP: Didn't seem to.
INT: Interesting. Because now they need to drink ... every day, according to some of the scientists. And it could be when the lake was less salty they didn't need to do that? So now you see ... seagulls at the creek mouths ... drinking and bathing.
WMCP: Well ... it could be ... You see knots and gobs and bunches of gulls around all the springs too! And also, around all the springs, you see big boils of brine shrimp coming up.
WMCP: And are they drinking or eating?
INT: I thought they were eating!
WMCP: Of course! I think they're eating too!
INT: But it's hard to know. Yeah. I mean they could probably could do both.
WMCP: I think they're eating also. And I've seen ... many trout on Black Island.
INT: Oh, that they brought out there?
WMCP: Many seagulls fishing in Tioga Lake. And Bridgeport Reservoir. And Virginia Lakes. They go all over!
INT: Yeah. And now they're very good at begging!
INT: Did they hang out at the old Garbage Dump in Lee Vining? The one that was on the bluff?
WMCP: Oh you bet!
INT: What do you think they ate? You know now they come up to the lake in April, even March, and there's ... nothing for them to eat. Do you ever wonder about that or ...?
WMCP: Yes. Now it's my ... impression if not observation that spring is getting later and later each year.
WMCP: By now, from say ... the early thirties, it's a good month. And I don't think they've changed their clocks yet.
INT: Sure. That's fascinating. So there might have been more shrimp and flies a hundred years ago in ... say April.
WMCP: The shrimp don't appear until the water temperature gets up pretty close to 60 degrees. I know about shrimp.
INT: You had ... the early shrimp plant?
WMCP: I used to catch 1500 pounds before noon everyday. Shipped them to Hot Creek Hatchery where they fed them to the trout.
INT: Where did you do most of the fishing for that?
WMCP: Oh, wherever you could drop a net in the water.
INT: Yeah. Did you pull a net?
WMCP: I pulled a net with the boat. Yeah.
INT: So the tufas must have been very deep. Or you just stayed away from the tufa groves?
WMCP: About 10 feet. 10 feet of water was plenty of water.
INT: Yeah. That's a lot of shrimp.
WMCP: Got hung up on some tufas a couple of times, that's the way I found some of those tufas. Hanging a net up on them!
INT: And when did you have your shrimp, the first shrimp plant?
WMCP: Sixty-two and three, I built that. Down ... with Jacobs and Bertha Burns and a fellow from Los Angeles who had the ... the refrigeration plant, got interested for fish food, tropical fish, and formed the Pahoa Corporation, which was a mistake, in that they wanted to call it Paoha but the name got misspelled somehow or other. And they wound up with cases after cases, thousands of them, cellophane bags printed Pahoa.
INT: Which is the way a lot of people pronounce it.
WMCP: Yeah. Pahoa. And ... so they decided to call it the Pahoa Corporation. And Pahoa is a small village on the southwest coast of Hawaii.
INT: (LAUGHS) A little bit of the tropics here at Mono Lake!
WMCP: Yeah. Well they had a palm tree on the ... (LAUGHS) ... logo for the ... for the ... plastic bags anyway.
WMCP: Next question.
INT: What do you remember about the grebes or the helldivers? The little brown birds? Do you know those birds?
WMCP: Eared-grebe and western? I remember both at Mono Lake. The western grebes were rare, but they stood out because of their size. Also a few loons.
INT: Well, let's start with eared-grebe.
WMCP: I don't know much about the various varieties. I know that they come in Spring ... and ... I don't think they nest here ... at least not on Mono! But they do multiply during the summer, more and more and more of them show up, to late in the Fall, or pretty early in the Fall they move out. Grebes move out. And ... when the big flight of them gets here early in the Fall, or in September, that's when they muddy up the lake. There's no other explanation that I can think of! I couldn't think of any explanation until we found those bloodworms! Or temperature change, but it happens too quick for temperature change.
INT: Well tell me what it looks like, 'cause to tell you the truth, I have not observed that, at the lake. The muddying thing. I wonder if it still happens.
WMCP: Mono Lake is pretty clear. The water's very crystalline.
INT: And also by Fall it tends to be clearer because it seems like the shrimp have eaten up all the algae.
WMCP: Well early in the ... fall when the big flights of birds come in, big flights of grebes ... the lake would be like weak coffee, real weak coffee.
WMCP: Sort of greenish-brown. And I thought temperature because when you evaporate it, which my dad used to do, the salt, and old man Miller used to do, when you're first heating it, it first turns brown! As it warms up, it starts to turn brown. This was ... cooling down in the Fall. I think, I think it was mud!
INT: Interesting. I know there's been times when Dave Herbst has ... noticed the lake turn a little brown, and he would look at a microscope and realize there was a floom of diatoms, a certain kind of diatoms.
WMCP: Well, it could be.
INT: When would it be ... brown everywhere, like as you boated? Or just around the shallows or ...?
WMCP: Pretty much anywhere! Where the birds were, and the birds were all over the lake.
INT: I have never noticed that, especially in the Fall. Maybe I'm not observant enough, but ... I wonder if it's something that doesn't happen anymore? Also, if the bloodworms are gone, the grebes aren't digging in the mud as much, so that might be ...
WMCP: I would try to check very carefully to see if those bloodworms are gone, because I can't imagine why they would ...
INT: You don't think the salinity would kill them off?
WMCP: I don't think so.
INT: Did Elden Vestal take data down when you did those plankton hauls?
WMCP: Elden Vestal took data down whenever he did anything!
INT: Good for him!
WMCP: Yeah, at least ... his notes are coming out real handy, but he had notes of everything that he ever did. Believe me! He's quite a fellow.
INT: Actually I haven't met him yet, but I've read a lot of the things he's ... described.
WMCP: Well he's large, greying blond. Good physical shape. Very precise. Very learned speaking. And ... (LAUGHS) I have pictures of his wife, but I don't have any pictures of him. His wife was ... Maiden of Honor at my wedding!
INT: So he's really an old friend! I mean they're family friends.
WMCP: Acquaintance. I've known him for a long, long time. Say ... 1935-34? Somewhere along in there? How many years is that?
INT: More than I have fingers anyway!
WMCP: Right. And ...
INT: I have another grebe question which was ... now the grebes tend to be all on the east side, and you might just remember something like that from being on the island and people come to Mono Lake and just go to the west side and don't see very many grebes, so they never believe that the grebes get ...
WMCP: They were all over the lake!
INT: They were?
WMCP: They were just as thick on the west side ... I didn't spend a whole lot of time east of the island! But you could start out from the dock at Mono Inn ... and you'd swear that you're going to run into a sandbar by the time you got as far as from here to the house up there! Just ... BLACK on the ... horizon, you know. Not the actual horizon, but the water horizon.
INT: That's incredible! Do you think that they are ... have they changed in numbers? Since the lake dropped? 'Cause Don Banta thought there was more now than there used to be. But ...
WMCP: To tell you the truth Emilie I haven't ... noticed. Or ... done a great deal of close observation of Mono Lake in about 20 years!
INT: I know! Sure.
WMCP: See I was foreman on Upper Conway for 17 years, prior to 1977.
INT: Oh that was at the summit there?
WMCP: When I retired ... (COUGHED) I'd go to Lee Vining or ... or Tioga Lodge, post office used to be in Tioga Lodge, go down to pickup mail and go back. I've seen the lake as I drove by, but haven't ...
INT: Sure. What year did you sell the Mono Inn?
WMCP: Seventy-five or six. Not soon enough!
INT: Just 'cause it got to be a burden? Too much to do?
WMCP: Well ... I had three kids in college at the same time ... and their grandmother ... had completely cured them of wanting to be in the resort business! (LAUGHS) And ... I had a good job, for Cal Trans. So I hired managers, five in all. Each of which bought themselves a new car and I was still driving the same old Buick! So I just thought that it would be better to sell it!
INT: Sure. How long did you keep the Venita? In water?
WMCP: You mean during the year?
INT: I wondered when the lake got so low, you just gave up on ... or did the boat fall apart or ...?
WMCP: A whirlwind picked it up and threw it about from here to the other side of the road and didn't do it any good! It was on a carriage on the railways. The wind moved the carriage and all.
INT: I bet.
WMCP: That was in 1950. I bought it in '38. And operated it from '38 to '50, or had it operated. Dr. Barrett operated it during the war years, when ... he was still ... going out to the island.
INT: He was ... the man who ran the sanitarium?
WMCP: He never got that far. He was going to! Wanted to.
INT: Picked an interesting spot for it.
WMCP: Yes, he did. Had everything going for him on it, except ... he was too good a salesman. He would build these ... marvelous pictures of this marvelous place and resort! He didn't have the money to do it himself. And then he would bring these people, which he expected to put money into it, up to see it, and what's there is what you've seen, is what he had to show! Well ... he just oversold the place!
INT: I'm sure some people were disappointed by the time they ...
WMCP: Now Brant was the other way around. A man that was interested like my father, he could see ... the future. His family couldn't. His family came up and said, gee ... Dad must have been crazy, there's no movie shows and there's no speakeasy, not even any pine trees around this place! And the old man was crazy! He came out here from one of the Dakotas, I forget whether it was north or south, went to work as a gandy dancer.
INT: What is that? Gandy dancer?
WMCP: The Southern Pacific Railroad!
WMCP: A track builder. A track gang.
INT: I think there was a racehorse named Gandy Dancer?
INT: I always wondered about that. That was the man who...
WMCP: Went into partnership with my father. My father used time and brains, along with his partner's money to acquire title for the island and to go and put the sanitarium and the Goat Ranch, the whole bit, on the island. Mono Inn was ... built to be the day room and mess hall for the crew that was going to build Mono Inn-which was a hundred rooms with baths, and real fancy on the idea of the Del Coronado Hotel in San Diego? With shops underneath and so on and so forth.
INT: I didn't know that ... it was meant to be that big?
WMCP: Oh yes! But ... he was the last chance apparently. My dad tried many times after that to get someone interested but never could. But Brant had the money and could see the possibilities. He ... promoted Lake Arrowhead. C&M Ranch down in Imperial Valley. The San Fernando Valley. Along with Colonel Otis and Harry Chandler and ... a couple of the big boys in the ... then Department of Water and Power. They got the water down there to them. Old Mullholland said, well there it is, take it! So if he had not died it would have been a different story. I think, I personally think now, in retrospect, he must have known that the City was coming to take the water.
INT: Oh, yeah. 'Cause he had a lot of inside information.
WMCP: And so ... in 1922 if he had spent a mere pittance of say, three or four million dollars building a hotel and a resort on Paoha Island, and they came and took his lake away?
WMCP: It could have been like ... the bank at Monte Carlo! He could have taken them for an awful ...
INT: So the big lodge was supposed to be on the island?
WMCP: No, the big lodge, the base lodge was to be on the shore. Sanitarium was to be on the island.
INT: Okay. Did people come and actually stay in the sanitarium? I mean did it get that much ... use? Did it actually become a business?
WMCP: Never became ... operational at all! No. Bodie Mike might have had the best idea for the island, I don't know.
INT: What was that?
WMCP: You know Bodie Mike? Do you know of him?
INT: Bodie Mike's(?) the boy that set Bodie on fire in 1932?
WMCP: No. Bodie Mike was ... Mike Lazovitch that owned the bar in Lee Vining?
INT: Oh, no, I didn't ... know him. I didn't realize that! I thought that was named after the boy that ...
INT: Burned up Bodie!
WMCP: Mike was from Montenegro, and Barbara Moore when she wrote it up, she said that he was from ... Jamaica. Well Jamaica's a long ways from Montenegro.
INT: Where is Montenegro?
WMCP: Yugoslavia. Roughly. So ... (LAUGHS) No, Mike had his saloon in ... Gardnerville in one thing or another, and Bodie one thing or another. The ... Spreckles outfit was up there working the dumps. Then he moved to Lee Vining. He was in Lee Vining during the construction of the Mono Tunnel. Then he was still in Lee Vining when I had the boat. Mike says, hey Mack! He says, you got the boats. He says, are we going to do something with that now? I said, what are you going to do, Mike? He said, we go out there and we build a joint ... And he says, we take them out for free, you got the boat ... And he said, and we give them free drinks, we have some tables, give them free food, maybe we have a couple girls ... we charge those sons of a bitches fifty dollars to bring them back!
INT: I think it would have been a gold mine!
WMCP: Take them out for free! Take them out for free, charge them fifty dollars, bring them back!
INT: Would have been a gold mine!
WMCP: Win lose or draw! Yep.
INT: So he had the current, Bodie Mike's place, is that, was that his place ...?
WMCP: That was his place. And then Lee Sink took it over. And he's gone. And then Nicely's built the present restaurant yeah. But that was Julio's. Julio's Amigo! He and Bodie Mike were definitely ... rivals for the ... trade from West Portal, the construction job up on Tioga, construction job from ...
INT: That would be paving the road?
WMCP: And grading.
INT: Well you can see why!
WMCP: And ... they'd all come to town, start digging dirt ... about eleven fifteen, eleven thirty the boxing gloves would come out of the beer!
INT: Oh really?
WMCP: It was a wild place!
INT: I heard it was a pretty tough town.
WMCP: It was a wild place.
INT: Gee. And there was something like 5 restaurants and bars!
WMCP: My granddad was in the Yukon ... Gold Rush. He said, I never saw anything like this!
INT: Really? Well ... Pretty sleepy now that the Pass is closed.
WMCP: Well ... yeah. I used to work for Cal Trans as a lineman. Along with Roy and Dondero, we said we'd ... the day we retired was when they were going to keep Tioga open for the winter! It is not a good idea!
INT: Yeah. Too scary.
WMCP: This last week I think has proven it to some people.
INT: Oh the people who got snowed in up there?
WMCP: Oh there's been ... all up and down the range! There's been about thirty rescues.
INT: Oh I didn't know!
WMCP: Well I could show you on one of these pictures ... between Ellery Lake-Rhine Dollar Lake and Warren Creek ...
INT: Yeah, it's beautiful up there.
WMCP: Dondero and Donnely and myself were eating lunch at the ... bottom of the ... near end of the Blue Slide. We were going to walk on up and check out the snow from there ... to the Gate, Tioga Gate. I said, Don were not going up there today. Oh yeah, he says, we'll go as soon as we eat lunch and take a little rest. I said, I'm not going up on the side of that mountain this afternoon! Yo!, he says, it's alright ... he says, you can see the edges of the road all the way around!
INT: This is in spring?
WMCP: Yeah. And while we were eating our lunch there were 19 different snowslides came down across the road between Warren Creek and Ellery Lake! Now, do you see why were not going up there? But this was ... had been a fairly heavy winter. And there was lots of snow up there. We went back in three days ... went right up through there, 'cause it had slid off, there was no danger then. But the time he was talking about going up there it wasn't very safe.
INT: You think they will try to keep it open? All year? I mean I just can't see how they could 'cause it's got that black ice and ...
WMCP: Well there was a man that used to be foreman in Lee Vining years ago ... had the best idea of the whole bunch. His name was John Van Dyke! He says, I may be just a touch but the only way that you're going to keep the Tioga open is to put a Tunnel through to Tenaya Lake! (LAUGHS)
INT: Yeah, maybe we should just go back to ... more stuff around the Mono Inn that you might remember, like irrigation. Location of irrigation canals and did they take water out of Mill Creek?
INT: Down in there? If there was enough flow in Mill to do that?
WMCP: When my dad and Mr. Brant bought Mono Inn ...
INT: Which would be? Approximately what year that would be?
WMCP: Would be 1921. They ... missed on a water right which they didn't know the place had. There used to be a ditch that ran ... from the Thompson Ranch just to the edge of the old paved highway ... and right smack under the front porch of Mono Inn ... which irrigated that whole sagebrush flat that's between Mono Inn and the lake? That was a hayfield! Used to cut about 80 tons of hay a year off of it.
INT: Did that ditch have a name?
WMCP: It might have been called the Mattly ditch. I wouldn't know for sure. But ... they understood that it was an overflow proposition and they didn't know they had a right to it, so they lost the right through non-use.
INT: Oh really? Now did that come from what you said used to be Wilson Creek?
WMCP: Mill Creek.
INT: Oh that came from Mill Creek?
WMCP: Mill Creek.
INT: But still went to the Thompson Ranch and then ...
WMCP: Mill Creek and old Wilson Creek, now De Chambeau Creek.
INT: Okay. I got it.
WMCP: See everything that flows south from, comes over the hill there in back of the old Filosena Ranch. Down that ... comes out of Mill Creek, went to ... to ... the Rogers' place, Sylvester Ranch, DeChambeau Ranch ... Well Sylvester and De Chambeau got most of their water out of De Chambeau Creek. But ... then the Filosena water ran on down to the old Currie Ranch, which is over where, west of the, where the graveyard is now.
INT: Up on the knoll there.
WMCP: And of course, eventually into Mono Lake.
INT: So despite all this irrigation, there still was some water in Mill Creek? Near the mouth?
WMCP: Oh yeah. Yeah.
INT: Or maybe irrigation return water?
WMCP: There was always some flow, as I remember, under the bridge at the lower end of Mill Creek, just beyond the graveyard.
INT: Were there any ponds formed by the irrigation?
WMCP: No. Except on the Thompson Ranch. We used to go over there and skate on them ... in wintertime.
INT: Wow! Where, what part of the Thompson Ranch?
WMCP: Well you know where the schoolhouse was? Right across from there.
INT: This is the first schoolhouse or the new schoolhouse? The Jim Keller house or ...
WMCP: The Jim Keller house.
INT: Oh, okay! That's great.
WMCP: Okay! You know about the old schoolhouse?
INT: A little bit! I'm not sure exactly where it was though!
WMCP: Well I'll show you, because I went to it. Anyway, see Thompson was an engineer! When he laid out his ditches or one thing or another, he did a good job!
INT: Yeah, 'cause they're still there. I mean there are a number of ditches ...
WMCP: And from one ditch to another they'll be a flat spot just above the second ditch, and form a little pond, maybe six-eight inches deep at the most. But they'd freeze in the wintertime and you could go skating.
INT: How big around were they?
WMCP: Oh maybe two-three hundred yards long and maybe fifty feet to a hundred feet wide.
INT: That's huge! It was a way to catch the water from the first ditch and put it in the second ditch?
INT: I got it. In fact it still does that more or less I think out there ...
WMCP: Yes, it does.
INT: Whenever I go birding, I always want to avoid getting wet! And I always get totally soaked! Going across that meadow. 'Cause I always want to check out one more patch of trees.
INT: Was that all hay then?
WMCP: No, just ... grassy. They used to cut a little grass and hay, but mostly grazing. Cattle ... or sheep.
INT: Were there ducks in there? In the summer? At all? Or water fowl that would use those pond type things?
WMCP: No. There's some springs on the west end, just below the Indian houses ... where they get the water for the graveyard?
INT: Okay. Yeah. By Nellie Reynolds' house?
WMCP: Yeah, by Nellie Reynolds' house.
INT: Those springs have been gone now as far as I know.
WMCP: The springs or Nellie Reynolds.
INT: The springs are gone.
WMCP: Yeah. Ducks used to come in there and geese used to come in at upper Thompson Ranch. And then, below the county road ... in the swamp down there, which is now the park, used to be all kinds of birds in there. Ducks and geese and jacksnipe ... Jacksnipe will get you killed! If you're hunting for those. Better know ... if you're hunting with anybody you better tell them pretty well. The jacksnipe will get out right from under your feet! And fly right directly to the other man, to the other person! And if he starts to shoot at it, you're liable to get somebody dead on it.
INT: Interesting. Do you think they did that on purpose ...?
WMCP: Well they were flying to the nearest cover, is what I figure. But I've hit the swamp a couple of times! Because the snipe would get out, I'd hear him and BEECK! Another interesting thing is they'll squawk when they get up.
INT: Uh-huh. They'll SQUEAK!
WMCP: SQUEAK! ZIP! ZIP! ZIP! SQUEAK! And when he squeaks the second time, he say, deep beyond the range. Next question!
INT: Well do you remember? And I didn't bring a picture but ... there's a little shorebird called the Snowy Plover, it's very, very pale ... and it just doodles along the shoreline ... it likes the white alkali really, it doesn't ... probably would never have been on the west side although now I've seen them very rarely but every now and then on the west side. But maybe on an island? Was there any small kind of shorebird?
WMCP: Yes. Also we used to get ... I never can remember their name. The turned-up beak?
WMCP: Black and white, yes.
INT: Or stilt! There's the stilt that's black and the avocet.
WMCP: Avocet. And we used to get some ibis also.
INT: Did you? Yeah, that we still get like maybe two or three a year but ...
WMCP: But there used to be many.
INT: Oh boy!
WMCP: But I remember when we lived on the island, and avocets were legal birds then, they were ... wonderful eating!
WMCP: They were really good! Clean out about as big as a teal. But I mean the body itself is about as big as at teal. And there was ... literally thousands of 'em!
INT: So there were? 'Cause Don thought maybe there were more avocets now than there used to be.
WMCP: Well they, they hung around ... the north shore, the Warm Springs, and the island. See the north shore used to have a bunch of lagoons in back of the lake ...
(END OF SOUND ON CASSETTE SIDE B)
End of Interview.