The remains of a lava flow some 100,000 years ago formed what today is referred to as Devils Postpile National Monument. Located near Mammoth Mountains in eastern California this volcanic outcropping features a 60 foot wall of columnar basalt created when the lava cooled.
The thickness of the lava and the pace of the cooling left behind near symmetrical columns caused by “columnar jointing”. Glaciers eventually exposed the sheer walls you see today with columns averaging 2 feet in diameter. It really does look like a bunch of tall posts standing side by side… hence the name “postpile”.
About Devils Postpile National Monument
This unique place was once part of Yosemite National Park, but reverted to public land in 1905. Threatened by mining and other interests, President Taft protected Devils Postpile and nearby Rainbow Falls by creating Devils Postpile National Monument in 1911.
Today the national monument comprises close to 800 acres, most within the Ansel Adams Wilderness Area. Surrounding land is managed by the US Forest Service, and is adjacent to Yosemite National Park. Two of the west’s most storied hiking trails merge as they go through the national monument – the 211 mile John Muir Trail and the 2650 mile Pacific Crest Trail that links Mexico and Canada (only a 5 month walk!)
How to Visit Devils Postpile National Park
You can drive to the national monument, but there is very limited parking. Best is to take the shuttle bus from Mammoth that runs from June to September. Alternatively, you can hike in over Mammoth Pass and across Red Meadow, and in winter ski or snow shoe.
Once there, the main attraction is Devils Postpile, a 1/4 mile walk from the ranger station. Admire the 60 foot wall from the base and then walk up to see the polished tops. It looks like a patio with stones laid perfectly side by side, like floor tiles.
Continue on from Devils Postpile to visit Rainbow Falls. It is a 5 mile round trip hike from the ranger station to the upper falls. From there, you can continue on to the lower falls. Along the way, you will see more of these interesting rocky outcroppings.
Another trail in the park takes you to Minaret Falls. From there we watched through hikers as they crossed the bridge and talked to them about their journey.
The only development within the national monument is ranger station and small campground. Adjacent and on the park shuttle route is the Red Meadow Resort located at the Rainbow Falls trailhead. It offers a cafe, horseback riding, cabins and motel rooms plus a small store used by through hikers as a resupply point. It is a lovely park to explore.
Although Devils Postpile is unique because of its size and the fact that the columns don’t have any horizontal joints, there are structures like this found all over the world. We learned that this type of basalt column is a pretty common volcanic feature, differing mainly by how fast the lava cooled. (Slower cooling makes for larger columns.) Once you see one, you will recognize them when you see others. In fact, we saw an example of this type of columnar jointing along the road at Mount Rainier.
Need Help Planning Your Visits?
If you would like to explore this or other National Park Units, but need a bit help in the planning, please give us a call at (480) 609-3978. We are happy to offer customized trip planning.