Monanch, Templeton, and Tunnel Meadows Airstrips History (UNDER CONSTRUCTION)
"MONACHE, TEMPLETON, AND TUNNEL MEADOWS
Monache Templeton and Tunnel Meadows are High Sierra meadows high on the Kern Plateau south of Mount Whitney. All three meadows had airstrips where pilots could land. Monache Meadows was at 8,000’ elevation, Templeton Meadows was 8,600’ and Tunnel Meadows, in a box canyon, was at 9,000’ elevation. Only Monache had road access [4x4]. The other two you either hiked in, rode in on horseback, or flew in.
Beginning in 1923 when the star of the silent film “The Virginian”, Kenneth Harlan, flew his biplane into Templeton Meadow which was filmed there. ? He flew from a small airstrip called Gill at what is now Coso Junction. It was on the west side of the US 6 (Now 395). (There is a small stub of the runway still visible today.)?
These airstrips had been in continuous use up until the late 1980’s when the Forest Service, in collusion with the Sierra Club, closed them [that is a sordid, terrible story!].
I began flying into Monache in 1973 in my Luscombe 8A. Due to the high “density altitude” and the very marginal performance of my 65 hp plane, it was some exciting times, especially the take-offs. I’d take my backpack and tent, go hiking around the area, and camp. Eventually I “converted” my plane into a “camper” where I could sleep “full length” inside the plane out of the rain and snow, warm and dry. Wonderful times!
I sold the underpowered Luscombe and bought a two seat Cessna 150 that had been modified with a much larger than “stock” engine. With that plane I could fly into Templeton and Tunnel Meadows and take a friend.
We flew up there for several years hiking and camping [tents] before we discovered an old cabin way back in the trees at Templeton. We found out who owned it and made a deal with them to use it. Several Owens Valley ranchers had grazing permits and “ran” cattle on the meadows. In exchange for cleaning the cabin up, and for flying for the ranches, they gave us the use of two horses and the cabin. We did that for 10 years, until the airstrips were closed.
When I say “friend” I mean Bill Wernicke, my deputy partner whom I’d taught to fly, and who bought his own plane with a big engine for flying into the meadows. We flew up there nearly every week, spending 3 or more days at a time. It was only a 1 hr, 10 minute flight from Pacoima.
On the trips to the “High Country” we’d often take friends. Terry Naumann, one of my “surrogate sons” [Scott Naumann another] was a regular and went dozens of times. On one trip as we were getting ready to leave Terry decided that he wanted to “hike out”, a two day & 40 mile trek to Olancha. And he did it, 15 years old!
The demise of the airstrips happened like this; both Tunnel and Templeton strips were in the newly created Golden Trout Wilderness Area. Monache was not. The Forest Service was seeking “input” from the public as to the future of the airstrips. Note that there were, and are today numerous “open” airstrips in Wilderness Areas in other states [Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, etc.].
We went to the Forest Supervisor in Bishop and asked what sort of form the input should be in? He and his staff said a “petition”. So we spent 7 months, hundreds of hours and hundreds of dollars gathering signatures supporting the “remaining open” of the airstrips. From all over California, Nevada, and some from Arizona and Oregon. Note that this was way before the internet, email, and social media.
We were very careful to include only pilots who had flown into the strips, or who wanted to be able to fly into them, including verifiable names, addresses, pilot license numbers, and phone numbers of the signers.
On the appointed day we presented the petition to the Forest Supervisor and his staff in Bishop. We had in excess of 2,300 signatures. Their jaws literally dropped open. They couldn’t believe it. They stuttered, stammered and finally said “We’ll get back to you”. They never did. They closed all three of the airstrips.In their report justifying the closures they revealed that they had counted our petition of 2,300 plus signatures as “one response”. They gave it the same weight as one postcard from one individual!
Several years later we met a District Ranger in Lone Pine whom we’d known before. He’d been on our side. He told us that we’d never had had a chance, that the Forest Supervisor and the Sierra Club had an agenda to close the airstrips and they didn’t care how they did it.
And why didn’t we fight it? We were young, naïve, didn’t have any money, and didn’t know how to fight it." - Trent Sanders
“The Monache Lodge was on the west side of the Kern River near the Monache Airstrip that we are now trying to get re-opened. At one time there were structures there supporting High Sierra adventure seekers and ranchers.
The Forest Service closed this airstrip in 1988.” [year ?]
A question; Did Ethel and Leaky Olivas run the Monache Lodge? If not, who? Were the structures cabins? Tent camp? How many, if you know?
Monache Lodge is I believe the one on the west side of the river (the one we want to re-open). At one time there were structures there supporting high sierra adventure seekers and ranchers.
Gill was at what is now Coso Junction. It was on the west side of the US 6 (Now 395). There is a small stub of the runway still visible today.
Grants is the strip we call Olancha. Confusing since there was also a strip at Olancha at one point. “Grant” was the name of the person who built it. I believe he had interest in the sierra as well, and the strip was a way to connect folks to the highway and his facilities down there.
John Grant, who I have met. Had a flyin lodge in Monache run by Ethel and leaky Olivas. He also had three airstrips in Olancha but it’s actually called Grant California after John Grant. He also had cabins in Long Canyon that he would take flying customers on horseback to via the John Grant trail to Long Canyon there’s still signs of it today. The government strip is not shown on this map. Only Grant Airstrip in Monache.
My grandmother Kazia Lankovski used to run the flyin camp next to the government airstrip run by Bob White’s flying service out of Lone Pine. Bob also had another camp in Tunnel Meadows. The Cook in tunnel was Dwayne Rossi of Rossi‘s bar in Lone Pine, he might still be alive today.
"I never flew into Monache Meadows but I have many good memories of flying into Templeton Meadows and Tunnel Station with Trent in his Cessna 150-150. And I even took my Taylorcraft with a tired 65 horsepower engine into Templeton early morning. Pretty dumb but it seemed like a good idea at the time. Thankfully it all worked out." - Anonymous