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The DeChambeau Ranch, less than 25 miles from Yosemite National Park, was established in 1871 on the shores of Mono Lake. Its viability rose and fell with the nearby mining communities it supported, including the notorious, raucous boomtown of Bodie, CA. Mining towns like Bodie relied on a variety of support services, from bankers to help manage the newfound riches; to lawyers who negotiated whose claim was whose; to ranchers and farmers who provided food for livestock and the miners themselves. The sheep, cattle, chickens, alfalfa, and vegetables produced by the DeChambeau Ranch ensured Bodie’s population had food to eat. Established by an Italian immigrant named Nicholas Dondero, the ranch was later purchased and operated by Louis DeChambeau, hence its current name.
The property and water rights were acquired by the Forest Service through a land exchange in 1992. The ranch is one of the jewels of the Mono Basin Scenic area. It is rich in wildlife and the historic landscape represents a bygone era. The old ranch buildings are managed in an “arrested state of decay” and are periodically stabilized to ensure their public enjoyment long into the future. Volunteers on this project will be restoring the main building’s cedar shingle roof – and we promise, the views are better up top!
At more than one million years old, Mono Lake is one of North America’s most ancient. It boasts a high salt content (a swim in the lake is an interesting experience!) and has no outlet. Artists from all over the world come to the Mono Basin to take advantage of almost-unmatched photography opportunities. Clear skies, incredible landscape textures, and out-of-this world scenery like the tufa towers in Mono Lake, shown below, offer endless subjects for the lens. Mono Basin is the ancestral home of the Kootzaduka’a people; they call the area Kootzagwae. Learn more about the tribe here.
Sometimes called “the Gateway to Yosemite National Park” given its memorable scenery, the ranch is now part of Inyo National Forest’s Mono Basin Scenic Area. This unique area will be a delight to explore and learn about, both for its natural and historic landscapes. Established in 1984, this the first USFS Scenic Area. The area’s visitor center has exhibits, a video about the region, and more to help visitors better understand why this place is special. Volunteers can also read a travelogue by AWanderFilledLife to learn about tourism opportunities, and visit the Mono Lake Committee’s website to find extensive information on the human and natural history in the area.
We are very lucky to have access to a transcribed oral history of one man’s memories of growing up at the DeChambeau Ranch. Read the stories of Norm Dechambeau as shared by the Mono Basin Historial Society’s here. The DeChambeau family purchased this ranch in 1906 for $2,000, including not only the land, but also the livestock, water rights, buildings and farm equipment – quite the bargain in 2021 dollars!
An excerpt from Norm’s history is included below and you can read the full story here.
“Well, I already talked about my stepmother, and so here I am, 75 years later, trying to tell you what the history of this place is. If you looked about as you came in here, and you turned to come down this lane here, the old County Road, just as you turned in and came through the wire fence, that was the Gardelia place. They were the first to settle here, Mr. Gardelia who came from Genoa, NV. He came here in 1871 and he homesteaded that area. Well, actually he squatted on it and ten years later he finally got a homestead on it. So he lived there, and he had a fellow named, Nicholas Dondero, and this is where the Dondero family comes in…”
Register to help preserve this fantastic ranch, so it can continue to contribute to the cultural and historic landscape of the Mono Basin Scenic Area!
The famous limestone “tufa towers” in Mono Lake