“Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” ~ John Muir
In early October, while “washing our spirits clean” in the Eastern Sierras we decided a visit to Devil’s Postpile National Monument was in order. On an overcast, chilly day we headed up the mountain with friends Nina, Paul and their lovely pooch Polly to see this rare geologic site, about 40 minutes outside Mammoth Lakes.
The lighting that day did not allow for this novice photographer to take photos that were very exciting so I quickly set them aside and decided to pass on writing a post. Today, whether because my spirit longed to walk in the woods again or because I took the time to read a little more about this unusual basalt formation, I decided to dust off the photos and give it another go.
Some say that volcanic lava flow dating back over 100,000 years caused this basalt formation, while other dating methods set the flow as far back as 700,000 years. Suffice to say that Devil’s Postpile has been here a long time. The lava flowing to this site became confined within glacial debris and the thickness of the formations was so great, from 400 to 600 feet, that the lava cooled slowly, with the result being long symmetrical columns. A subsequent glacier polished the surface on the top of the Postpile to a smooth-as-glass finish.
Devil’s Postpile columns range from 2 to 3.5 feet in diameter and many reach up to 60 feet in height. Most stand vertically but some are almost horizontal, quite an unusual sight. All the columns would be 6-sided (hexagonal) if the cooling of the lava had occurred perfectly evenly, an impossible feat it would seem. What makes this basalt formation unique is that 60% of its columns are hexagonal, more than most, designating it one of the world’s finest examples of columnar basalt. Sadly each year’s freezes and thaws bring down more of the outer columns.
Talks of building a hydroelectric dam at this very site threatened to collapse this unique spectacle into the San Joaquin River. In 1911, before this fateful event could take place, an order by President William H. Taft granted Devil’s Postpile the status of National Monument.
If you venture into the Ansel Adams Wilderness near Mammoth Lakes, where the John Muir and Pacific Crest Trails merge together on the monument land, Devil’s Postpile awaits you along a 2-mile hike that eventually leads to Rainbow Falls, a 101-foot drop into the San Joaquin River, named for its many rainbows appearing where the pounding waters flow into the river. Although no rainbows greeted us on this gray overcast day, Rainbow Falls was an added little bonus at this rare geologic site.
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54 thoughts on “A Rare Geologic Site ~ Devil’s Postpile National Monument, CA”
Another great post, Lu. I knew that the basalt columns were caused by lava flow, but I couldn’t figure out how the columns were formed. Thanks for answering my question. “Great minds want to know.” lol At least your picture showed the wall of columns, and the were pretty good.
When we take the time to think about it, it really is pretty amazing how the cooling of lava causes different columnar shapes. Most are 6-sided but some are also 3, 4, 5, and 7-sided.
Ah, but yet another unique place to add to our list. Enjoyed the photos even though you thought the lighting was poor! Why must we be so hard on ourselves? I don’t think I could ever tire of waterfalls 🙂
When I look at my photos I seem to always find something to criticize (lol). This day for me was difficult to capture in a photo. Are you near TX yet?
Nope staying in Phx until end of Jan/begin of Feb….at Cave Creek Reg Pk until Jan 3 and then maybe McDowell or Lost Dutchman. As long as we get to Livingston TX by mid to end of Feb we’ll be ok (license plates expire). Want to spend Xmas with at least one child, although he may have other plans..lol.
Ok, I think you already shared this with me so sorry for the “senior moment”. Enjoy AZ.
Happens to the best of us 🙂
I have never heard of Devil’s Postpile. What an intriguing place. Thanks so much for deciding to do this post. Isn’t God’s country just amazing?!?
Amazing formations! Glad you decided to share this with us 🙂
Unbelievable! You know how much I love rock formations. This is one for the gold. It’s hard to fathom how those patterns are wonderfully aligned and some perfectly molded into hexagonal shapes. Nature works wonders. Unbelievable! Now, you’ve given us more than beauty of water, greens and mountains and sky. Outstanding Blog!
Thanks Rommel. 😀
Really cool! The Muir quote resonates a lot with me for I love to hike! I need to get out to hike in CA sometime. I’ve only been to the cities there and never the nature. I know there are Anton of national parks that I would love!
Not much in the San Diego area but lots and lots in the Eastern Sierras. We just loved the hiking up there…such beautiful country. 🙂
Someday! 🙂 Probably a good place to take the kids too!
What a wonderful day, LuAnn, and what amazing structures.
My partner K. is a collector of minerals.. Anything geologic has him salivating; well, almost…! I’ll bookmark this post for him; I know he’ll be very interested… 😉
So much natural beauty in this country.
Keith (upon viewing this post) showed me pictures of similar structures he took at a quarry about an hour’s drive from home… His little eyes went all shiny…! hahahhh….
Glad he enjoyed it. It is amazing to me that lava cooling at a certain temperature will create such uniform hexagonal shapes.
We agree, quite an amazing phenomenon…!
Have a wonderful weekend, LuAnn… 🙂
You too Carolyn 🙂
We did this hike to the Devil’s postpile when our kids were growing up and we were a lot younger. Good for you continuing to hiking these trails. I get tired just thinking about it now-a-days!
This trail is not bad, just 2 miles and flat terrain. The geology was very interesting and the falls lovely. 🙂
This is such a awesome site! I love minerals…
Gonna have to plan for CA Nation Park trips soon… 🙂
CA does have a lot to offer when it comes to playing in nature. 🙂
We missed this geologic and beautiful formations! We were so bummed to when at the visitor center we were told the area was already closed for winter. Oh well, at least i see your beautiful photos which made up for what we missed. If you love this site, you will love DVNP more.
I’m sure we will.
Another great post, my dear friend Lu. Nice pearly – bead in a necklace of our happiness So the best they can express their thoughts about You and your posts, thank you very much with love stefan
Thanks so much Stefan.
I do this too. I take photos and look at them, not happy at all, but after some time, when I go back, it’s there. What I missed, and I see the treasure of the photograph, not just in the image, but in the presence of the place pictured. So glad you shared them, these are truly beautiful. The place looks magical.
Thanks Angelia 🙂
Yes, you are far too critical of your photos. I think I do the same for my “people pictures”. There’s very few I’ve ever taken of humans that I’ve liked. I’d say you did really well given the overcast skies.
I really enjoyed this post,Your words make it sound so very fun while being informational and so interesting you could easily write travel articles LuAnn. Rich with detail but an entertaining read and I just don’t consider you a novice when it comes to photography (sorry), your good, my friend! 🙂
Thanks Penny. 🙂
My pleasure, still envious, but I am coping with it admirably well, all things considered. Of course if you didn’t make everything look so wonderfully interesting … 🙂
We consider Mammoth Lakes our “second home.” The Eastern Sierras are so beautiful, and because of the popularity of big sister Yosemite to the west, relatively uncrowded. We’ve hiked to places that simply defy my ability to describe them, they are so beautiful. It’s a little slice of heaven up there for sure. Thank you for the lovely reminder of why we love it there so much. 🙂
Can you believe we had never been?! We fell in love with the Sierras. 🙂
Such an amazing sight to see. There is one of these in Yellowstone too! I also wanted to let you know that I have nominated you for two awards! They are the Shine On Award and the REALITY Blog Award! Congratulations! Here is the link to my post:
Hugs to you both! – B
Yes, we have been to Sheepeater’s Cliff in Yellowstone. We lived there for two years and were able to experience the park in all seasons. It was quite enchanting in winter. Thank you so much for the nominations Barb. I am truly touched. 🙂
You deserve the nominations! I envy that you lived in Yellowstone! Very charming place!
Thanks Barb. 🙂
What an interesting post, LuAnn. That Rainbow Falls pic is wonderful, and I love ‘The Grey Day at the Postpile’. So dramatic. Lovely group photo at the end. Polly is very cute. 🙂
Polly is an amazing dog. Thanks AD.
Geology is such a fascinating science, I really enjoyed reading this and trying to imagine the titanic forces that shape our planet. I love the insight you give to places I have usually never heard of.
Thanks so much SteJ.
Amazing, there are such wionderful places on earth we don;t know exist, glad I can see some on blogs! Thank you , fantastic pictures
Thanks Ute. 🙂
That is awesome and unique place in my eyes. Enjoyed very much viewing Glacier polished gap. In Finland we do not have that kind of phenomena. We for example Giant’s potholes here and there.
Thank You for this very interesting report and letting me visit it thru Your lovely photos.
Thanks for visiting. 🙂
Wow! The symmetry of those formations is incredible! Thank you for another marvelous post LuAnn.
Geology nuts would have a field day here!