Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


The Buttermilks

Soon after Smith Rock, we spent some time at one of my other favorite rock places, the Buttermilks. The Buttermilks is an area of massive boulders right at the base of the eastern slope of the Sierras, near Bishop. Astonishingly big boulders with great views of the mountains.

Grandma and Grandpa Peabody

Grandma and Grandpa Peabody

The Grandma and Grandpa Peabody boulders are the biggest ones I’ve ever seen just sitting completely exposed on top of the earth. They remind me of the way sloppy landscapers sometimes place rocks by just dumping them out of the truck. Generally speaking, it’s bad form if people can see the underside of a boulder, but when the boulder is a fifty foot tall chunk of granite, there’s something nice about seeing it placed so casually. Nature’s good at getting away with unnatural-looking effects.

Grandma and Grandpa Peabody

Grandma and Grandpa Peabody again

There’s almost always a group of climbers on the underside of the Peabodies.

The Ironman Boulder

The Ironman Boulder on the Right

The Ironman Boulder, with the low traverse across its face, is another one that always has climbers on it. Photos from the Buttermilks and two other nearby climbing areas below the fold.

The Mandala Boulder

It looks better with someone on it, but the climb up the overhanging prow on the Mandala boulder was possibly the most famous boulder problem in the world for a while. The serious climbers were only just beginning to show up for the winter season when we were there, so no one was climbing it yet.

These ones have names too, but I can’t remember them.

I remembered the Buttermilks as glacial erratics, but they’re just big rocks that rolled down from the top of their little hill. From the hill you can see the terminal moraine from a glacier, well short of where the boulders are. The boulders are made of Sierra granite, but because they are at lower elevation they weathered more like the granite at Joshua Tree or other desert areas. Instead of the freeze-thaw weathering of alpine rock, they got their shape from wind and water.

Terminal Morraine

Terminal Morraine between Mt. Tom on the right and Basin Mountain on the left

Patina on the Hero Boulder

Many of the boulders have a wonderful patina on them.

More Patina

Rabbitbrush in Bloom

Bishop is about 600 miles south of Bend. They’re both on the east side of a mountain range in the Sagebrush Sea and it was striking, if unsurprising, how many of the plants were the same. The juniper at Smith Rock was replaced by pinyon pine around Bishop, but most of the other species were the same. Rabbitbrush was blooming in both places; the Buttermilks also had a buckwheat (I think it’s a buckwheat) in bloom.

We also stopped at the Happy Boulders, an area of volcanic tuff even closer to Bishop. Fun climbing on pockets and patina, though not as aesthetic as the tuff formations at Smith or the granite at the Buttermilks.

Benton Crags

And to finish with my vacation rock photos, a couple of shots of Benton Crags southeast of Mono Lake. More granite surrounded by some of the biggest pinyon pines I’ve ever seen. The snow covered peaks in the background are the northern end of the White Mountains; I think the peak on the left is Boundary Peak/Montgomery Peak, easier to see if you click on the photo. I’d never seen the Whites from this direction.

The more time I spend on the east side of the Sierras and Cascades, the more I love it out there.

5 Responses to “The Buttermilks”

  1. October 30th, 2010 at 10:23 am

    Elephant's Eye says:

    It is fascinating to see the living rock weathering away, layer by layer.

  2. October 30th, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    lostlandscape (James) says:

    The western Sierra is close to my top pick for its views. The abrupt faces on that side of the range are amazing. But I’m glad you’ve taken us on a tour of the more human-scaled faces at the foot of the range. Most of those that I’ve encountered have been mostly around the Alabama Hills on the way to Whitney Portal, those lumpy remnants of the ancient pre-Sierra range. Interesting to see the chalk on the rocks with the snow on the mountains in the distance…

  3. October 31st, 2010 at 6:55 am

    Carol says:

    This is an amazing post Ryan! Gosh, I have never seen anything like these giant boulders. Wondrous photos. I love the rabbitbush blooming . . . what a contrast! Fabulous landscapes! ;>)

  4. October 31st, 2010 at 10:09 am

    ryan says:

    Seeing the different layers juxtaposed is one of my favorite things.

    The Alabama Hills are similar, another amazing place. The chalk is often considered a milder form of graffiti, but you’re right it does sometimes add an interesting element.

    There were other places in the Owens Valley with whole fields of rabbitbrush in bloom, really dramatic how brightly it stands out.

  5. November 10th, 2011 at 7:10 am

    DryStoneGarden » Blog Archive » Occupy Joshua Tree says:

    […] doing the same thing — blooming from the cracks in the boulders — when I was in the Buttermilks around this same time last […]

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