All things Momyer

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    • #6180
      chris in redlands

      Something I’ve wondered about for a long time about the Momyer Creek Trail…

      First, I guess it’s worth getting the pronunciation out of the way. Momyer is pronounced “MOE-my-ur,” not “”MOM-yur,” or “MOM-ee-ur,” or whatever else you may hear.

      The trail (and I presume the creek to the west of the trail) is named after Joe Momyer, one of the founders of the organization that became the SGWA. That’s documented right here on the SGWA website.

      But why is the trail called the “Momyer Creek Trail?” When originally established, the trail started “closer” to where Momyer Creek joins Mill Creek, though even then it was about 600 feet from the creek, and at no point gets any closer to it. So when the trail was originally named, was it called “Momyer Creek” just because the other trails on that side of the mountain were all named after Creeks (Falls Creek, Vivian Creek)?

      To avoid confusion, I’m talking only about the Momyer Creek trail, not the Momyer-Alger-Falls Creek connections that most people mistakenly think of when they discuss the Momyer Creek Trail. The Momyer Creek trail follows 1E06.3 to 1E06.2 to the divide trail (1W07.2). It seems odd that it was not just called the “Momyer Trail” since if you follow the trail all the way to its end, it never passes or come within sight or earshot of any creek or water at all once you’re across Mill Creek just below the parking lot (at least not one that ever has water in it outside of flash floods).

      The new sign at the trailhead reads “Momyer Trail” not “Momyer Creek Trail.” All very curious! I suppose it’s lost to history, but perhaps there are notes from back when the trail was named about why they chose to call it Momyer Creek? That would be the Defenders of the San Gorgonio Wilderness days, pre-SGWA. I wonder if there are meeting minutes or something from back then!?

      As an aside, there is a spectacular display of wildflowers on this trail right now, especially on the first big, open switchback where the current trail joins the old trail that now leads to a private camp. Great variety, quality, and quantity!

    • #6193

      Interesting Chris. So is this the trail to the Divide you’re speaking of the one that takes off toward SB peak a little before the Wilderness boundary? Milo and I have been meaning to take that. Also, do you know when the trail was named? Sounds like Mr. Momyer was part of the original crew advocating for SG to be part of the Wilderness Act in the early 60s. The reason I ask is that when I was a kid (talking mid to late 70s) I don’t recall that being the name of the trail, but I could be mistaken. When I returned to the SG Wilderness a few years ago, the name just stood out as one I hadn’t heard before.

      I sure recall the trail though–formative experience. On a very hot summer day I was trudging up the trail heading to Alger Creek to meet my dad who had gone in the day before to patrol. My younger brother was a few hundred yards behind–dragging. Somewhere before the flat/descent to Alger Creek, I stepped from the bright sun into a shady patch where I was greeted by a coiled and very angry rattle snake buzzing at my feet. I think I levitated and flew 10 feet back in one motion. Things being a little different back then, as far as my long held live and let live mentality, I killed it, cut it’s head off, strapped it to my pack and bounced up the trail to meet dad. Even my brother found new energy. We had snake for dinner. Not a bad day for a 10 year old. And the Momyer trail has since had a held a special place in my memory.

    • #6198
      chris in redlands

      Hey Brian! Yup, that’s the one! The junction where you choose between Alger and the divide is actually just a couple hundred feet beyond the wilderness sign, and the trail to the divide and SB east peak (or Anderson, if you choose!) is pretty lightly used. A couple of years ago, the trail crews went up and cut many of the big dead trees from the trail above the junction, but there are constant new blowdowns, and on my last trip up there, there were already like 10 new trees across that recently maintained part of the trail. On one trip, years ago, I counted 67 individual obstacles on the trail between the junction and the divide that required either scrambling over or around. It’s also brushy above 8,500 feet, but not as much as it was ten years ago. People often lose that trail on their way down it…i’ve heard lots of stories. 🙂 There’s also plenty of opportunity to just leave the trail and head up or down ridges, including a nice x-c scramble from a flat around 9,500 feet directly up large talus straight to SB East peak.

      I have to assume that the trail was named no earlier than the late 60s or early 70s. I also recall reading that the “Alger Creek Lateral Trail” was added as a way to connect to the Falls Creek trail after the forest service “closed” access to that trail because of some private property issues at the bottom of the trail. I also recall reading that the Alger creek lateral trail follows an old flume! there’s some corrugated metal debris and old timbers right before you drop down to Alger creek heading east, and faint indications that some flume-like thing countours along the side of the mountain there, but for the life of me, I can’t recall where I read it. I went to the Smiley Library and got a copy of John Robinson’s history of the San Bernardinos yesterday. I’ll be back with a full report as soon as I’m able to validate (or discredit!) my memories.

      That trail is popular with the rattlesnakes, for sure. Just last summer I was hiking it with my wife and stopped and turned around to ask her something. when she caught up to me, she said “what’s that at your foot?” To my displeasure, it was a very small, coiled rattler! Ha! I had missed stepping on it by about three inches. They’re all over the mountains, for sure, but they seem to be in greater numbers on the south side of the mountain. I guess it’s warmer?

    • #6200
      chris in redlands

      So, in Robinson’s book, he writes this, in a section of the book about hydroelectric efforts in the San Bernardinos:

      Perhaps the saddest story in the hydroelectric saga of the San Bernardinos involved Cyrus G. Baldwin’s 22-year struggle to develop power in the Mill Creek watershed. Right after completing his power plant in San Antonio Canyon, Baldwin visited Mill Creek Canyon and envisioned using the 2,133-foot fall of the north fork (now called Falls Creek) to generate electricity. In 1892, Baldwin associate Arthur W. Burt filed on water rights to the north fork. A survey was undertaken and it was discovered that the north fork alone had insufficient year-round flow for power generating purposes. So Baldwin expanded his project to include the waters of all the north side tributaries of upper Mill Creek. In 1898, engineer W.B. Sanders surveyed a line for a gravity flume and pipeline from High Creek to Vivian Creek, Falls Creek, Alger Creek, and Lost Creek, then a penstock down to the proposed powerhouse on the north side of Mill Creek opposite Forest Home. Baldwin hired John and Will Dobbs to tunnel through the west ridge of Falls Creek and to dig a flume westward to Alger Creek, and preliminary work got underway. Not only would Baldwin’s grandiose project generate electricity for communities as far away as Riverside, but he would also provide irrigation water for the San Jacinto and Hemet valleys. For several reasons, Baldwin’s power and irrigation schema never got off the ground. 

      What confuses me about that is his list of drainages from west to east, from Falls Creek to Lost Creek. Unless there’s something I’m missing, Lost Creek is on the other side of the mountain, nowhere near Alger Creek, and I can’t find any indication that there was a Lost Creek on the south side of the mountain anywhere, including 1900’s era forest services maps. It wasn’t a typo, as a caption of a photo on the previous page restates the plan in summary and includes Lost Creek as the westernmost drainage. I wonder where that tunnel/flume was meant to be located, and if it’s possible that some remnants of the efforts are still out there to be found.

    • #6202

      Milo and I have been meaning to go from Dobbs cabin down to the parking lot at Big Falls. Last time we came down the ridge from Dobbs peak, we were intending to dive in, but a storm was a brewing so we bailed into Vivian Creek. Might be worth looking around. When I was a kid I fished a ways below the old cabin site but don’t recall anything. Regardless, the history of people in the Wilderness is so interesting. Ironically, my goal in going out there is always to get away from people, but I confess to romantic fascination with the Dobbses of the area. I get incensed by Mylar balloons and other garbage, but intrigued by rusted tin cans and corrugated metal.  Those folks held a different belief about the value of the land back then, but man were they a tougher breed from us softies. I think I can trace my fascination to the old flume flowing out of the Southfork toward Poopout. When I was little, I used to be just fascinated by that. I used to beg my dad to take the “Flume Trail” into Southfork Meadows (which we called Slushy Meadows back then). Out of a sense of nostalgia I tried to follow the flume a few years back. I ended up giving up in the brush and went back up to the SF trail.

    • #6201

      (have encountered trouble posting to this thread–so stripping it back to plain text, no hyperlinks here)

      Chris, be sure to check out

      San Gorgonio Wilderness Area: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Public Lands of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, House of Representatives, 89th Congress, First Session, November 16-17, 1965

      Joe Momyer’s own compelling testimony begins on pg. 183.   Only non-paywall access I found while briefly searching:

      also recommend: John Robinson, San Gorgonio: A Wilderness Preserved (probably out of print, used to be available from the SGWA Backcountry Store, as they were the publisher).  Nearby Smiley or Armacost libraries might have a copy and could possibly be news-archive goldmines?

      What I feel is a fascinating must-read for any SGW enthusiast: Cynthia Holman’s masters thesis, The San Gorgonio Wilderness: A history of human presence and implications for management,

      We are highly fortunate—what became the SGW could have turned out so differently!

    • #6206
      chris in redlands


      That flume! Every time I see it, I wonder who the hell keeps it clear enough to continue delivering water, since like you, i’ve tried to follow it only to be stymied by brush. It looks so easy to follow for the first couple hundred yards where you can easily see it below the trail after poopout! ha! I once mistook the flume for the trail near there when breaking trail while snowshoeing. I even made it a hundred yard or so before comically postholing, into the drink, snowshoes and all, up to my neck. Ha!

      Following the ridge down from dobbs all the way to mill creek would get pretty spicy once you got down below the wilderness boundary, I would think! 🙂  And yeah, those old time guys, the dobbses and the vivians…they must have been a different cut of person. I can’t imagine the adventurous spirit, strength, and ingenuity they must have had.


      Thanks for the tips! That is a great doc you linked too. What a bunch of neat history! The “for and against” arguments for the ski resort are very interesting. Also thought it was interesting that in his testimony, Momyer pointed out that so cal wouldn’t need another ski resort once the one at Mineral King was built. Ha! The Mineral King one was also fell apart after a number of setbacks.

      I actually had a PDF copy of Cynthia Holman’s masters thesis open on my computer when I read your reponse. 🙂 It comes up pretty early in online searches for information about the wilderness. Agree that it’s a good read.

      I’ve been trying to find a copy of that John Robinson book for a long time. I have had no luck. It’s quite obscure. The Smiley library doesn’t appear to have a copy, though you’re correct that they’re an incredible resource. I really need to spend some more time there doing homework. The local papers, back in the day, frequently had stories about the wilderness, its trails, and the characters who populated them.

    • #6212

      Cynthia Holman’s thesis is a very interesting read. Some experience from my youth to add: While some of the ski huts were generally removed, in the late ’70s there still existed a couple of small A-frame shacks that contained emergency toboggans and first aid. Along the Southfork trail to Slushy and up to Dollar Lake, there used to be Orange triangular markers so that skiers could follow skinning up in heavy snow. I once participated in a yearly ski race on Memorial Day weekend where they set up what would today be described as a Super-G type course that ran down the large open swath just east of Dollar Lake. It was a blast. Sadly, I was just up there this Memorial Day weekend and there was basically no snow.

      Fires: Fires used to be allowed in the Wilderness at specially designated “yellow stakes.” These were horrible. When my dad worked as a ranger, one of his most hated jobs was to go to the yellow stake sites to clean–dismantle the huge rings and clean the black crap.  In the 70s I cant image camping in these horribly filthy sites. This includes Lodgepole, which is pretty nice now. But back then, it was usually a black sooty mess.

      Trail Crews: As mentioned in the thesis, Horse Meadows used to be a ranger station with horses (and mules). These animals were used primarily to pack in trail crews for the season. Let me just say that the trail crew camps were pretty damned nice.  One I recall was built way up Lodgepole where you either go up the old trail to Fish Creek Saddle or the old trail to  Lodgepole Saddle. It was a like a little town: Big wall tents, tables, barbeques, cots–if a horse or mule could carry it, it was there. The crews would spend the season rebuilding trails rotating from one area of the Wilderness to another each year. Isolated logs were dealt with by the rangers who would take the necessary equipment in with the pack animals.

      Water. Maybe we just didn’t know any better then, but the idea of filtering water never occurred to us. We all used to carry a metal “Sierra cup” on our packbelt and just dip it into whatever creek. Now the idea of that is a little strange–especially to dip into Soutfork knowing how many people have done their business up at Dry Lake and Dollar Lake. I think I’ll pass. Additionally, Lodgpole spring used to run much higher up toward Fish Creek Saddle. I haven’t seen it run up that high for some time now. But there is a spring that I ran into a couple of years ago coming of Grinnell that was running in late June.

      For all the changes in the Wilderness over the years. It is still amazing to me that such a pristine place exists so close to one of the biggest urban expanses in the country. And I’m so grateful it’s there.


    • #6224

      Fascinating discussion.  I remember ‘Slushy Meadows’, the orange trail markers and the Mineral King fight.  Don’t recall the A-frame shacks Brian remembers.  Like Brian, there was a big gap for me in my hiking in the area.  Does anyone know when the Poopout Hill trailhead was closed?  I understand it was because Slushy Meadows, as we always called it then, was becoming over-run because it was too accessible.  Which it was, but closing the Poopout Hill trailhead made day hiking SG considerably more difficult, and probably increased the number of backpackers.

      The Sierra Club also fought the Palm Springs Aerial Tram.  It was touted as providing access to a ski area, and I believe is still called the Palm Springs Winter Park Authority.  I moved last summer to Trinidad, a tiny town on California’s north coast.  There is an old man who wanders around town, clearly with some dementia.  He grabs anyone he can and talks to them.  Somewhat difficult to follow, but he clearly grew up in Orange County and spent a lot of time in the San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountains.  He said to me out of the blue ‘They built the tram and ruined the back country’.  I am probably the only person in Humboldt County who would have known what he was talking about.  And one of the few anywhere who would have agreed with them.  Though I have used the tram countless times, and it enabled me to hike Skyline regularly, I believe it should never have been built.

    • #6225
      Ben Parker

      Regarding the old road to Poopout Hill, there’s an LA Times article dated Sept. 2, 1989 that mentions the closure taking place. It must have been right around then. One thing I remember from around 1969 were the stone mile-markers that recorded the distance from the Poopout Hill trailhead to the summit. Not sure what ever became of them.

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