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COUNTY: Mono County
LOCATION DETAILS: Driving from east to west, one gets on CA Hwy 120 off of I-395 just south of Lee Vining and the road rises steeply towards Yosemite National Park. After passing lake Ellery on the left, one comes to a right turn at the Saddlebag Lake road. Following this dirt road for 1.5 miles, one comes to the Sawmill walk-in campground. We were in site #5.
NEAREST TOWN: Tioga Pass, Yosemite
NEAREST ROAD: CA Hwy 120
OBSERVED: I used to live in Bishop, CA on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains. I have spent lots of time camping, hiking, fishing, and skiing in the Sierra backcountry. I am familiar with many kinds of animal sounds and signs in the mountains.
Last weekend, we were camping at the Sawmill Walk-in Campground on the east side of Yosemite National Park. After sunset as dusk was deepening, we were sitting around our camp table talking. From the direction of the forests that line the canyon floor towards Mt. Conness in the west, a series of whoop-howls rang out from the distance and rolled down the canyon. My sister was talking and immediately stopped, turned around, and said, "What is that?!" The calls continued for a few moments and then ceased. They sounded most similar to the Snohomish and Puyallup calls on the BFRO website. When the calls started, all other normal background wildlife noise stopped and didn't resume until several seconds after the calls ceased. There were no answers to the original call, nor did it repeat.
That area of Yosemite is relatively deserted, and the Sawmill Walk-in Campground only has a few sites that are scattered widely. The trail that runs through the campground eventually leads to the top of Mt. Conness and branches into the back country. I have never had an experience like this before, but hope I one day have the opportunity to have a visual encounter with one of these animals.
ALSO NOTICED: Nothing.
OTHER WITNESSES: My sister and her husband. I'm sure others in the camp heard the howl.
OTHER STORIES: No.
TIME AND CONDITIONS: Deepening dusk.
ENVIRONMENT: Campground is mixed meadow and lodgepole pines at 9,700 feet on the east side of the Sierra Nevada crest. The campground is on a rise overlooking a meadow with Lee Vining creek running through the midst. As one progresses westward up the canyon, one enters lodgepole pine forest. Eventually, the trail that the campground is on rises out of the valley through the alpine tundra scrub, granite domes, cliffs, and rock falls to the top of 12,500 foot Mt. Conness, which crowns the Sierra crest west of the camp. I took many digital photos of the area around our camp.
Follow-up investigation report:
I spoke with the reporter regarding this incident and he had the following details to add:
The time of evening was deep dusk, he was with his adult sister (who is a biologist) and her husband. They were in a remotely placed campgroud, sitting around camp with no fire.
The calls seemed to be about 1.5 miles away from them (very close to a water source) and were very loud, echoing through the surrounding canyon. There were roughly ten (10) "whoop-howls" in all and each had a small pause between each call. They sounded very much like the Puyallup and Snohomish that are archived on the BFRO website.
There were no responses to the calls, but the reporter noted that he was struck by the fact that all forest sounds stopped during and after the calls.
The reporter and his sister grew up in the Sierras and have had extensive interaction with the area and the outdooors in general. Neither one had ever never heard anything like it before.
About BFRO Investigator Brandon Kiel:
Brandon Kiel is a professional photographer and naturalist living in the Bay Area.
He was the chief coordinator of Northern California Expeditions for 7 years and has planned/attended more than 20 expeditions throughout the US.