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Tuttle Creek Ashram
The Tuttle Creek Ashram is situated at an altitude of seventy-six-hundred feet on a steep ridge between the north and south forks of Tuttle Creek, a stream that flows briskly through a glacially carved canyon in the granitic Sierra Nevada Mountains. Built in the shape of a balanced cross, the ashram is a two-thousand-square-foot structure of natural stone and concrete, with a cement floor, heavy-beam roof, and a large fireplace; the stonework of the ashram blends so well into the ridge that the building is hard to see even from a distance of one-half of a mile away.
The history of this remarkable building can be traced back to 1928, when Franklin Merrell-Wolff and his wife Sherifa first visited the area west of Lone Pine, California. Here stands Mount Whitney, which at the time was the tallest peak in the United States. The couple had been told by an Indian acquaintance that the spiritual center of a country was close to its highest point of elevation, and for this reason they sought a nearby location to work on several writing projects. Starting at the legendary Olivas Ranch, Wolff and his wife packed their typewriters and camping supplies onto burros and hiked up to Hunter's Camp, a flat area at the base of Mount Whitney. The pair set up camp near a waterfall on Lone Pine Creek, and spent the next two months contemplating and writing. Later that year, the couple founded the Assembly of Man, an educational institution with a generally theosophical orientation. As part of this work, the couple decided to start a summer school near the area they had camped the previous summer. Wolff made inquiries to the U.S. Forest Service about a special use permit for the school, and was informed that in order to receive authorization for such an operation in the High Sierra Primitive Area, the As.sembly would be obliged to erect some sort of permanent structure. Moreover, he was notified that building permits for the Hunt.er's Camp area were not available. Accordingly, Wolff explored the next canyon south for a suitable site, and found a spot high in a beautiful pi–on pine forest surrounded by two branches of a clear, cold creek. The founders of the Assembly of Man decided that the remote and quiet wilderness of Tuttle Creek Canyon would provide the ideal atmosphere for their summer school. Wolff and the
members of the Assembly of Man received permission from the Forest Service to operate a summer school on Tuttle Creek in 1930, but it would be almost ten years before a site was leveled for a structure. Wolff handled all of the dynamite used to blast a flat area, and as rock began piling up, he got the idea to use it in the construc.tion of the building. The structure was laid out roughly along the four cardinal points of the compass, and built in the shape of a balanced cross to symbolize the principle of equilibrium.
Building materials such as lumber and cement were initially brought to the site on the backs of burros from Olivas Ranch, and the site was approached from the north side of the canyon. Later, Wolff cleared an access road on the south side of the canyon, which could accommodate a tractor pulling a flatbed trailer. Wolff and his students would spend the next ten summers working on the ashram, spending their days engaged in hard labor and their evenings with music and study around a campfire. The group also held formal services at the site, with Wolff and Sherifa officiating. A large altar was constructed on the floor of the structure, using randomly patterned granite stones set in mortar; the altar was topped by a smooth covering of mortar. Originally, there was no inscription on the altar, but sometime in the 1960s, an unknown visitor chiseled these words into the top face:
Father, Into thy eternal wisdom, all creative love, and infinite power I direct my thoughts,
give my devotion and manifest my energy That I may know, love, and serve thee.
Just south of the altar, in the concrete floor, is a thirty-two inch square hole. This spot was called 'the cornerstone,' and was where a person addressing the congregation was to stand. Over the years, the stonework walls, a large stone fireplace, two intersecting heavy-beamed gable roofs, and the window and door casings were all completed. But in 1951, before the windows and doors were installed, work ceased on the ashram because Sherifa, whom Wolff credits as being the main impetus behind the project, was no longer able to make the trip up to the building site. The name of the building was originally the 'Ajna Ashrama'; today Wolff's students refer to it simply as 'The Ashrama.' Lone Pine residents often refer to it as 'The Monastery' and one can find it called 'The Stone House' in hiking guides; it is known by the U.S. Forest Service as the 'Tuttle Creek Ashram.'
In 1964, the ashram was threatened with demolition when Congress passed the Wilderness Act, and Tuttle Creek Canyon became part of the John Muir Wilderness. Since the site had not been used as a school for over ten years, the Forest Service invoked a clause that allowed the agency to terminate Wolff's special use permit. Moreover, since buildings are not typically permitted in Wilderness Areas, the Forest Service considered dynamiting the structure into rubble.
In the early 1980s, however, the Forest Service evaluated the ashram for historical significance, and concluded that the structure was indeed significant; the California State Historic Preservation Officer concurred. At the time, several video documentaries were made in an effort to help preserve the ashram: The Philosopher's Stone (1980) and Ashrama Man (1983) are both available for viewing on the Franklin Merrell-Wolff Fellowship's website. In June 1998, the Inyo Register ran an article intimating that the ashram was in danger of demolition, but the Heritage Resources Program Manager at the local Forest Service office reiterated in the article that the ashram had been put on the removal list without any proper evaluation, and that 'The Forest Service would be looking at preserving this… unique architectural property.' Toward this end, it was planned to have the ashram nominated for recognition in the National Register of Historic Places, but these plans were never culminated; the topographical site plan and floor plan below are taken from the nomination form.
A 23-minute film that documents some of the construction of the Ashrama (in 1940) may be viewed on the website at www.merrell-wolff.org/fmw/ashrama
Endnotes  Tuttle Creek descends from Mt. Langley (14,042 feet) to the town of Lone Pine, California.  When Alaska was granted statehood in 1959, Mt. McKinley (Denali) became the highest point in the United States.  Located at an altitude of
eight-thousand feet, this area was also known as 'Hunter Flat'; both names honored William L. Hunter, an early pioneer of Owens Valley and one of the two men who made the first ascent of nearby Mt. Williamson in 1884. (Mt. Williamson is the second highest peak in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.) The name of this area was changed to 'Whitney Portal' after the official opening of an automobile road to the flat in June 1936.  Wolff began writing his first book, which would be published under the title Yoga: Its Problems, Its Purpose, Its Technique; Sherifa drafted a Sanskrit dictionary called 'Devan.gar.,' as well as several other essays.  Faustin Bray & Brian Wallace, The Philosopher's Stone (Mill Valley, Calif.: Sound Photosynthesis, 1980); Ashrama Man (Mammoth, Calif.: Mammoth TV, 1983). Both of these interviews may be accessed on the Interviews page under the Franklin Merrell-Wolff tab.  Julian Lukins, 'Efforts under way to preserve ashram,' Inyo Register, June 13, 1998. Except where otherwise noted, content on the Franklin Merrell-Wolff Fellowship website by the Editors and Authors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial-Share-A-Like 4.0 International License.
Eastern Sierra Exploratory 2018
June 21-23, 2018
By Ron Lipari
Mignon Slenz, Mike Vollmert and I met at the Eastern California Museum in Independence on Wednesday, June 20, and spent some time touring the museum’s exhibits which included both Native American artifacts and many historical items as well. Photographs recording the history of the Eastern Sierra were also very interesting! We then met Bob and Sue Jaussaud at what I will call Jerry Harada’s Stamp Mill. Jerry loved the Eastern Sierra and fishing, and he loved camping on Tinemaha Creek just south of Big Pine. In April 2015 Jerry led a trip to his Stamp Mill as well as a refining mill nearby – this trip included Bob, Sue, and myself. None of us could remember where the mill was located, but, I found a picture of the mill on my cell phone. Not being an “advanced techie” I did not realize that the DropBox App has the GPS coordinates of every picture taken by my cell phone!! I sent the coordinates to both Mike and Bob who promptly found the location of the stamp mill. The mill is not well known and hidden from view in a canyon. Only one stamp is left in the three stamp mill, but it still is a remarkable place!! We then visited the nearby refining mill which has been partially rehabilitated with new timbers and rafters. The mill still had an intact Pelton wheel which provided power for the entire operation.
Leaving Jerry’s Stamp Mill we drove up to Bishop Creek to camp at 7500 feet on McGee Creek in the Buttermilks. We had camped there last year and I was attempting to find the route up to the camp. However, the usual route was blocked by a locked chain gate. Mignon to the rescue, she remembered the road we had taken which led directly to the cool and pleasant camp covered with beautiful iris flowers and next to a wonderful stream. It was nice to leave the high temps of Bishop and camp at altitude! We were all treated to a great meal by Sue – taco salad and a dessert of home-made brownies!
The next morning we met Nelson Miller, Ellen Miller, Marion Johns and Neal Johns in Bishop to join us for the rest of the trip. We headed up to Bridgeport and to Masonic Road. We were again at altitude and the weather was delightful. We soon arrived at the Success Mine and the Chemung Mine. The Chemung Mine was in operation from 1909 to 1938 producing both high-grade and low-grade gold ore. The mill and various buildings are still standing and contain cyanide stirring machinery to separate the gold ore.
We then headed to the town of Masonic where gold was discovered in 1862. Apparently one of the co-founders of the mine, J. A. Phillips, ended up dead at the bottom of a shaft – possibly the work of one of the other partners in the venture! There still stands remains of a partial mill, hilltop tram works as well as a number of log cabins.
We then continued out of the town of Masonic heading towards Nevada to the East Fork of the Walker river. Arriving at the Elbow of the East Fork of the Walker river, we found some very nice campsites on the river and explored the area. It was decided that we would head to Aurora as it was still early in the afternoon. We continued our tour up to the higher elevations of Aurora, Nevada. When we arrived we immediately set up camp in the pine trees and were treated to a wonderful dinner prepared by Mignon that included a stew of sausage, rice and beans as well as cole slaw! In addition Ellen brought her famous strawberry salad. We were never short of dessert as Marion brought two cakes – lemon and chocolate – no caloric deficit on this trip! After dinner we visited the Aurora cemetery - a very moving experience - especially when reading the grave markers of children. Bob remembered visiting this area with Bob Martin many years before and was interested in finding a particular epitaph. However, the cemetery has been vandalized in the past including the attempted removal of grave makers. The most notable desecration was the headstone of William E. Carder, a notorious criminal and gunfighter who was assassinated by a man whom he threatened in preceding days. His wife Annie erected the headstone but it was toppled by vandals in an attempt to steal it. All of us lamented the indiscriminate destruction of artifacts and cannot understand why anyone would do this.
We then headed to what is left of the town of Aurora. Aurora was made the county seat of Mono County in California in 1862. However, after surveyors determined that Aurora was indeed in Esmeralda County, Nevada, the Mono County seat was moved to Bridgeport where it remains to this day. The Aurora cemetery contained the grave of W. M. Boring, Nevada Senator who died in 1872 aged 43 years. Bob quipped that the senator's name was appropriate for his chosen profession — a politician!!
We then traveled up Bodie canyon where we came upon the ruins of an old mill. The mill had two different ore crushers that none of us had seen before, however, Bob had seen this mill prior to that time on his trip with Bob Martin years before. We then traveled out of Bodie Canyon over the pass which brought us to beautiful views of the surrounding country and through a maze of wildflowers. Mike, Sue, Ellen and Marion all identified the various flowers including the Mariposa Lily, which apparently looks like another flower of a different name which I cannot recall. I do know the flowers were spectacular, with the prettiest being the red and yellow Columbine!!
Traveling this road, which was not well traveled, we finally made it to the north side of Mono Lake. After checking out some beautiful springs – not warm springs – we arrived at a lovely park just north of Lee Vining and had lunch. After lunch we headed towards the town of Benton and over Montgomery pass to the Montgomery ten stamp mill. Arriving at this mill it was stated that it might be one of the most intact mills in the country, as it still has all ten brakes on the stamps when it was last stopped! The reason it is so intact is because it is a difficult hike to get to the mill and it is on a steep hillside. Also found was a steam motor and part of a cable system which brought ore to the stamp mill. All agreed that this was an amazing place.
Next we headed to the Montgomery pass cabins located just below the stamp mill, but because the road down to the cabins was impassable, we were required to go all the way around the mountain to get to them. Once more we arrived to what we thought was the road to the cabins, but alas it was not. Now remember we had just been there a year ago and we could not remember how to get there – must be our age??? Bob finally remembered where the road was located and we made it to the cabins on a just freshly graded dirt road! Camping that evening we had a pasta dinner with salad and cake for dessert. The next morning we hiked up the road from the cabins to Gold Hill and found the ruins of a smelter works. The group then headed out of the mountains into Nevada and headed up Trail Canyon to the Queen Anne mine, which Sue shared was mined for antimony and mercury. This road headed over the White Mountains back to Highway 6. Marion, who has been most places,remembered going over this route from Highway 6 over to Nevada — the opposite direction we were traveling. She also remembered that the road over the pass was VERY steep at the top. But this road had just been graded – so onward we traveled. We passed some beautiful small lakes being fished by successful fishermen. We had lunch at the Boundary Peak trailhead, then continued on our journey over the mountain – which did not disappoint. Not only did Marion remember the road, but was correct in that it was very STEEP! All of us finally made it over the top without incident – albeit a little shaky!
On the other side of the pass we found several mines. Noteworthy were the Morgan Mine and the Abbot Mine both of which still had cabins standing and contained therein a portion of a mill. We continued down this roadway back to Highway 6 - over Montgomery Pass to Dyer, Nevada to gas up. We then headed to Lower Cottonwood Creek to camp on the last evening. We arrived and camped under the shade of the Cottonwood trees next to a lovely stream. The only thing to do was to sit in the stream and enjoy the cool water – which most of us did! It was delightful and added to our happy hour enjoyment placing our chairs in the stream and sipping our adult beverages and enjoying a dinner of leftovers!!
A big thanks to Mike and Bob for all of the route finding on this trip. Their GPS devices were invaluable - and it was much appreciated. A great time was had by all!! ~ Ron
2018 Rondy Petroglyph Tour
Trip report and photos by Jerry Dupree
One of the highlights of this year's Rondy was the petroglyph tour on the China Lake Naval Weapons Base. The trip was planned months in advance for a maximum of 20 people. Each person filled out a thorough three page security application form and our vehicles were searched for contraband such as fire arms, alcohol, or whatever. We had to wake up very early, pack and check out of our hotel, eat breakfast, and gather at the museum at 6:15 a.m. It turned out to be a "hurry up and wait" situation and we finally got under way and then stopped at the place where our vehicles were searched, which further delayed us. We finally got rolling
again and were stopped due to some top secret activity ahead of us. We were not permitted to get out of our vehicles.
We got to the parking lot leading to a small canyon and there was a restroom. There were friendly and knowledgeable guides who were about a five to one ratio. We were required to be accompanied by a guide everywhere we went. Walking started out easy until we had to crawl and slide down rocks to a lower level. There are at least 10,000 petroglyphs on the rocks on both sides of the canyon. They date at least 20,000 years of human history. They depict animals such as big horn sheep, dogs, quail, people using early weapons, and unidentifiable designs. The petroglyphs were made by chipping or etching the accumulation of "desert varnish", leaving the underlying rock which creates the design. The age of the petroglyph can be determined by the amount of desert varnish that has formed back since the original design was made. Another way is by the type of weapon the figures are shown with. The earlier petroglyphs show a type of spear launcher, while the more recent ones are shown with a bow and arrow. The bow and arrow had many advantages including range, accuracy, and most importantly, the ability to launch an arrow laying down rather than a spear from a standing position.
As I looked at the petroglyphs that were made over a span of 20,000 years, I was wondering why the artistic ability remained unchained rather than evolving to better
artistry. In looking at children's art I notice more complex abilities as the children develop technique and ability. First graders tend to draw stick figures with each design standing alone. Second graders include scenes such as a sun with a smile, houses with smoke coming from chimneys, groups of people such as a family, clouds, and birds flying. By the third grade, the scenes show proportional arms, legs, clothing, hats, and detailed animals such as dogs and cats. As each child matures, so does their art. The pictures are from front and side angles with facial expressions. The petroglyphs don't show this kind of progression. I tend to think the "artists" were likely to be young children in each generation performing this activity while the adults and older children were hunting and gathering food. That's my theory based on observation of children expressing themselves in graphic art and clay sculptures.
I decided not to continue the trip further down the canyon and turned back. On the way back I slipped on a smooth rock and fell down. It could have been serious if I hadn't landed the way I did.
I could have broken ribs, arms, and wrists. I was stiff and sore for a long time after the incident. I am disappointed that I am no longer young enough and not in physical shape like I used to be. Nothing got hurt except my dignity. ~ Jerry