Located 7,600 feet high up in a glacier carved canyon in the Eastern Sierra, sits a 2,000 square-foot stone building built by a philosopher, his wife, and their followers over a twenty year period. Welcome to the Tuttle Creek Ashram.
I’m the type of person who likes to schedule a lot of side adventures on my way to a destination but rarely like to schedule anything when I’m heading back home. I decided to make an exception to this rule during a recent trip after hearing about the Tuttle Creek Ashram. Located approximately 9.3 miles southwest of Lone Pine, CA, the directions to the trailhead aren’t that difficult to follow. Just head west along Whitney Portal Rd for 3.1 miles, south on Horseshoe Meadows Rd for 2.1 miles and then another 2.4 miles up Granite View Drive…
…until you find the sign that says “Tuttle Creek Trail”. It’s only another 1.8 miles until you reach the lower parking area where you will begin your hike.
The dirt road is a little sandy but 2WD vehicles shouldn’t have any issues making it to the lower parking area.
Unless you have a high clearance 4WD vehicle, this is where you’ll be starting your hike. An Adventure Pass is not required.
You’ll understand why a 4WD vehicle is needed once you begin your hike. While difficult to see in these photos, the road immediately becomes more rutted, sandy, and steep as you make your way up to the trailhead.
Continuing west into the canyon, the rushing water of Tuttle Creek teases you from below, where it remains hidden by a dense swath of foliage.
After 0.7 miles, you’ll reach the upper parking area and the beginning of the actual trailhead.
From here you will get your first glimpse of the ashram, straight ahead where the tree line meets the granite.
The trail soon narrows into a single track…
…and the canyon of granite slowly begins to close in on you.
Looking back at the beautiful Owens Valley, Inyo Mountains and the upper parking area (the flat area in the middle).
The water in Tuttle Creek remains hidden below but you can easily trace its course by following the row of green firs that make their way up the canyon.
The trail becomes more colorful as you gain in elevation.
Since the stone that was used to construct the building came from the surrounding granite, it’s hard to spot the Ashram, even as you get closer to it.
It will eventually come into view if you take the time to focus and know exactly where to look.
Can you see it now?
After hiking 1.5 miles from the lower parking area in the 100 degree heat, we finally got a chance to see the refreshing cool water that runs through Tuttle Creek.
It felt so good to splash it on our faces and take a little break in the shade after our short yet very steep hike.
Thanks Tuttle Creek!
After crossing the creek, it’s only another .02 miles to the ashram.
The story of the stone building begins in 1928, after philosopher Franklin Merrell-Wolff and his wife Sherifa first visited the area west of Lone Pine, California.
After spending two months writing books about transcendental philosophy and mysticism while camping out in an area known as Hunter’s Bat (now known as Whitney Portal), the Wolff’s strong connection to the surrounding area led them to seek out a more permanent location to advance their spiritual teachings.
The couple leased some land from the Forestry Service in Tuttle Creek Canyon in 1929 and set out to build the stone building the following year.
The 2,000 square foot building would be made of natural stone from the surrounding area and cement, which had to be carried in on burros to the site from the canyon below.
The structure was laid out roughly along the four cardinal points of the compass, and built in the shape of a balanced cross to symbolize the principle of equilibrium.
With up to 30 friends and followers spending their summers camping and helping to build the ashram, it still took over 20 years to complete the structure that stands today.
Their first major project was to construct a large alter on the floor of the structure, using randomly patterned granite stones set in mortar. No inscription was made at the time but sometime in the 1960s, an unknown visitor did chisel the following inscription on the top of it:
Father, Into thy eternal wisdom, all creative love, and infinite power
I direct my thoughts, give my devotion and manifest my energy
That I may know, love, and serve thee.
Directly in front of the alter, is “the cornerstone,” a 32-inch square hole in the cement foundation where a person addressing the congregation would stand.
Over the next twenty years, the stone walls, two intersecting heavy-beamed gable roofs…
…a massive stone fireplace…
…and the window and door casings were all completed.
But in 1951, before the windows and doors could be added, work ceased when Sherifa could no longer make the trip up to the building site.
It wasn’t long before the building fell into disrepair.
The ashram faced it biggest threat in 1964, after Congress passed the Wilderness Act, and Tuttle Creek Canyon became part of the John Muir Wilderness.
Since the site had not been used as a school for over ten years, the Forest Service was able to invoke a clause that allowed the agency to terminate Wolff’s special use permit.
It also didn’t help that buildings, such as the ashram, are not typically permitted in Wilderness Areas which gave the Forest Service further ammunition to tear the building down.
Fortunately, with the help of many preservationist, the Forest Service eventually saw the historical significance of the building and later suggested it for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
As I sat in the worn out rocking chair admiring the view of the Owens Valley below, it was easy to understand why Franklin Merrell-Wolf and his wife were originally drawn to this place. The Eastern Sierra mountains are already spiritual in their own right, so having a place such as the ashram to channel those feelings even deeper, make it an extremely powerful place to be in. This place is truly special and I’m so thankful it’s still standing for future generations to enjoy. Become enlightened and make the pilgrimage yourself, I promise you it’ll be worth it.