During my first summer of plant collecting for a local flora of the Bodie Hills, I decided to hike to the top of Mt. Biedeman, a modest 8,981-foot peak overlooking the Mono Basin in the southwestern Bodie Hills. I was drawn there in hopes of finding a few interesting plants, but if such things had ever been there, they were long gone, trampled away by decades of heavy sheep grazing. I was also drawn to the peak by two tall, dark objects that could be seen standing on the summit, even from the road to Bodie, a mile and a half away. What were they?

Mt. Biedeman

Mt. Biedeman, from the north.

Mt. Biedeman, approaching the summitApproaching the summit, my plant press and Munz (A California Flora)
in left foreground. Two stone cairns are visible at the summit.

Stone Boy on Mt. Biedeman

On top of Mt. Biedeman. Looking north toward Potato Peak (center),
Bodie Mountain (right of center) and the Sweetwater Mountains (left, with snow).

I’ve recently learned that these stone cairns are “Stone Boys” built by Basque sheep herders. They’re called harri mutiliak in Euskara (the Basque language). What are they for?  Sources (like this and this) suggest they may have served some function (like trail or boundary markers) or that building them may have been one way to pass the time in a lonely occupation.

I think it’s just human nature to build monuments, simple or grand, in prominent places. Perhaps the stone boys of Mt. Biedeman resemble my Master’s Thesis in one way: they both say “someone spent time here and did something memorable.”

Me, leaning on a Stone BoyYours truly, braced against the south stone boy in a stiff wind on the
summit of Mt. Biedeman (July 1979).

Looking southwest fro the summitLooking toward Mono Lake and Yosemite from the summit of Mt. Biedeman.

Tim Messick Photography • Graphics
Copyright © 2012 Tim Messick. All rights reserved.

2 thoughts on “The Stone Boys of Mt. Biedeman

  1. Don’t they make cairns like those in Everest in honor of the dead? Talk about lonely occupations, I think the peak is a great spot for playing the pan flute to the tune of — The Lonely Shepherd.

  2. Ciao, what a great place to visit, the views are wonderful, great shots. I think the cairns are a way of saying, ‘l passed by this way’. A memory/marker for the next traveller to see and add to.

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