MAMMOTH, THEN AND NOW
Sculpted from volcanic eruptions now quiet for the past 50,000 years, Mammoth Mountain and this spectacular region of the Eastern Sierra Range were home to the Paiute tribe of Native Americans for over 1,000 years before arrival of the earliest mining pioneers. It’s said that a handful of German miners discovered a ledge of gold near here in 1857, and by the 1870’s the rumored find had become known as the Lost Cement Mine.
In 1877, four prospectors hunting for the mine formed the Lakes Mining District on Mineral Hill near Lake Mary. Almost immediately, General George Dodge, a prominent San Francisco resident known for his Civil War experience and association with the Union Pacific Railroad, bought the group of claims and founded the Mammoth Mining Company. Nearly overnight, the nearby camp grew into a mining town. Dubbed “Mammoth City,” its population ranged between 1,500 and 3,000 hearty souls. By 1879 it hosted hotels, saloons and two newspapers.
The boom never quite materialized, however, and within a decade poor yields, crime, wildfires and severe winters combined to force closing of the mining operation. One publication reported in 1889 that “a half-dozen prospectors are all that now remain.”
During the following twenty-five years or so, the memory of this serene yet dramatic, rugged yet beautiful area must have survived in people’s minds, and word of its spectacular attributes must have spread. As the automobile became popular, travelers crossed the desert, braved the 2½ day trip from Los Angeles and challenged the steep grades to enjoy the wonderful fishing, hunting, camping, hiking and mountaineering that the area offered. Mammoth City, re-born as Mammoth Camp, soon offered a hotel, general store, bakery, garage and even its own post office. Slowly, cabins replaced tents along Mammoth Creek and in the meadows. Still, Mammoth remained the domain and playground of die-hard high country pilgrims – especially in winter when mail and supplies were delivered by dogsled.
Modern-day Mammoth and its reputation as a Mecca for sports and recreation enthusiasts had their true birth with the completion of a modern highway in 1937. Although summer brought the most people, winter saw the most dedicated visitors in a small band of hardcore alpine skiers with their portable rope tows powered by Model A Ford truck motors. McGee Mountain and Conway and Deadman Summits were their favorite runs.
One of those hearty skiers, Dave McCoy, had been around since the mid-1930’s when he and his rope tow conquered Gray’s Meadow and, in 1938, McGee Mountain where he set-up a permanent rope tow after selling his Harley motorcycle for $85 to buy the equipment. In 1945 he obtained the rights from the U.S. Forest Service to install the first permanent rope tow on Mammoth Mountain. Within 10 years, the first main lodge, dubbed “The Pit,” had opened and Dave christened the mountain’s first chairlift as crowds waited up to three hours for the chance to ride it and ski Mammoth Mountain’s pristine snow.
Today, Mammoth Lakes and its surrounding area enjoy a reputation as one of the premier North American mountain resort destinations for year-round outdoor sports and recreation. Thirty ski lifts as well as high-speed gondolas, miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, lake and river fishing as well as world-class lodging, shopping and dining are just a few of the many options available to visitors.