by Wendell Moyer, edited by Ron Jones
Some of you have been to the mouth of McElvoy Canyon leading west out of Saline Valley into the Inyo Mtns. A good trail leads into the canyon, through a fern grotto and within a mile from the cars to a nearly sheer 50 foot waterfall. Ron Jones led a DPS Saline hot springs Halloween trip to this area in the 1980's. Here we saw the remains of a wire and log ladder leading up over the falls.
Wendell Moyer also visited the area and was amazed and intrigued. Who made this ladder and where does it lead? Inquiring to the "old timers" in Saline Valley, Wendell Moyer found that a series of ladders led up the waterfalls in McElvoy Canyon and that they had been installed by a hermit-like recluse known as the "Bee Keeper". He was known to have kept bees since a case of mason jars full of honey had been found near the canyon mouth a few years earlier.
In the mid-80s Wendell, Doug McLean & Mike Riley equipped with full rock climbing gear explored up the canyon. The 3rd waterfall they encountered with its wire ladder was close to 150 feet high. This ladder would have required one very brave man with nerves of steel to climb up. The second day they climbed around 5 more ladder falls and came to an easier more open part of the canyon.
They continued up the canyon, passing the remains of two old stone miner's huts and then found a newer stone hut complete with a stove pipe protruding above the surrounding vegetation. They found 4 wooden bee hives outside the cabin and inside, a couple of publications on the care and tending of bees, and a number of copies of Jehovah's Witnesses tracts, "The Watch-Tower", dated in the mid 60's.
Proceeding up the-canyon another mile or so they found the extensive and intricate remains of the old McElvoy Mine and Mill site. Here Wendell found more evidence of the mysterious Bee Keeper, an "official" Bee Keepers pith helmet complete with netting and a number of other items associated with bee keeping.
Wendell Moyer investigated further for several years by talking to old timers of the Owens Valley and especially members of the Lone Pine chapter of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Through this work he located the Bee Keeper, still living near Lone Pine in a funky, small old round shaped trailer. The man's name is Marion Howard. Mr. Moyer describes the
Bee Keeper as an "independent soul" or a "free spirit".
Marion Howard, now approaching 84 years old, makes his living these days scouring highway 39 for cans, bottles, plastic etc. He is a pleasant open man quite willing to talk about his exploits.
Mr. Howard first climbed from Owens Valley and over the Inyos into McElvoy Canyon in the middle '60's when he was perhaps 55 years old. He probably did not use any established trails. He used to travel back and forth across the Inyos about once a week, crossing between Mt lnyo and Keynot Peak. The crossing required one day. Snow in the mountains was often a problem but did not inhibit his regular crossings.
He never used pack animals but did use a wheel barrow to move his supplies from Lone Pine to the base of the mountains. From there he carried everything in a big old duffel bag thrown over his shoulder. "That way you can throw it dcwn and rest when you get tired." He made a serious effort to raise honey bees but the bees were "done in by wax moths."
Mr. Howard originally was unaware of a road in Saline Valley until he observed car lights one night down in the valley. He then built the eight waterfall ladders as an easier way to get from his hut up in the canyon. He built them by himself over a period of a few years, carrying all the heavy bailing wire needed for the eight ladders over the Inyos from Lone Pine! All the ladders were built from the top down, "just lowering them until they finally hit bottom". With the ladders in place and the trail down the canyon clipped with hedge dippers, the Bee Keeper with his old duffel bag could get from Saline Valley to his upper hut in half a day (it took Wendell Moyer and the climbers two days to make the trip).
About 1980 the Bee Keeper bought a pick up truck and when asked why he stopped going to the mountains he replied "pickup truck doesn't climb mountains". He felt that if it weren't for the (generous) welfare system in California, "there would be a lot more people out here like me".
Wendell Moyer wants to establish a plaque at the cabin site in McElvoy Canyon honoring Marion Howard, The Bee Keeper. He feels that the Bee Keeper represents probably the last of that hardy breed of men who, in times past, frequented the Inyo Mountains, the seekers and the adventurers- the end of an era... unless there are more of his kind still up there. Who knows?
Wendell Moyer
43 Adam Way
Atherton, CA 94027
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