Maybe you’ve heard of the Mokelumne Wilderness, the Mokelumne River, or another example, but have wondered “How do you pronounce Mokelumne?” Say it with me: moo-ka-la-mi. The name Mokelumne means “people of the fishing nets” in Miwok, and is the band of Miwok peoples that dip netted salmon on the Mokelumne.

 70 miles east of Sacramento and a sub-3 hour drive, nestled in the Sierra Nevada is where you’ll find the 105,165 acres of this recreational gem. Elevations range from about 3900 feet near Salt Springs Reservoir to 10,380 feet at Round Top. It’s possible to visit three national forests when you explore this Wilderness: the Stanislaus, Eldorado, and Toiyabe. Portions of this Wilderness are in Calaveras, Alpine, and Amador Counties and is bordered by State Highway 4 on the south and State Highway 88 on the north. Watersheds drain to the Mokelumne River on the west slope and the Carson River on the east slope.

The Mokelumne Wilderness is a stunningly beautiful rugged landscape with much of the area formed by volcanic ridges and peaks. The prominent feature within this Wilderness is the jagged Mokelumne River Canyon. Many smaller streams flow through deep granitic canyons but only a few lakes are concentrated in the north. Snowcaps typically linger into June in the Round Top region to the north and on the Mokelumne Plateau to the south, while the Mokelumne River Canyon above Salt Springs Reservoir can be snow-free in the spring. The summers are generally dry and mild, with periodic afternoon thundershowers and nighttime temperatures that can get below freezing.

Now that you have some background on the Mokelumne Wilderness, let’s hear from Christopher Sailor of the Eldorado National Forest about the Wilderness and our scheduled project.

1. How long have you been working at Eldorado National Forest and what is your position?

I’ve been on the Eldorado National Forest for 6 years and I’m the Recreation Officer for the district.

2. In your opinion, what makes the Mokelumne Wilderness a unique or special place to visit and learn more about?

Beautiful scenery, interesting history, a variety of recreational opportunities, and not a lot of crowds compared to the other districts (but don’t tell anyone).

3. Our planned project is completing trail clearing (crosscut saw work), brushing, completing trail re-routes, and drainage work on several of these trails. Can you tell us more about this project? How was this need identified? How long has it been on the proverbial “to-do list”?

This winter we had winds up to 220 mph on the ridges and sustained over 100 mph. There’s going to be a lot of trees down in this area. In the winter of 2020/2021, we again had a significant wind event with ridge wind speeds of over 100mph. This, along with a drought stressed forest, has caused a huge amount of tree blowdowns. Due to the amount of work on the district, and the challenging access, this project has been on the to-do list since then.

4. What is the value of volunteer groups to Eldorado National Forest?

We just don’t have the staff to get everything done to the standard that most recreational visitors want to see.

5. What would you say to someone who’s considering but is on the fence about joining this project?

It might be hard work but it’s rewarding as well. Plus, you’ll get to explore a beautiful and remote part of the Sierra.

6. What are some challenges your unit faces in managing the Mokelumne Wilderness?

Lack of staffing, tree mortality, fire damage, public pressure due to proximity to large population centers, and challenging environmental conditions.

7. In your opinion, when recreating in the Mokelumne Wilderness, what’s your favorite thing to do and place to do it? Alternative questions: any off-the-beaten-path recommendations?

Anything and anywhere in the high country. The views of the Mokelumne Canyon are amazing.

8. What’s your favorite piece of outdoor recreation gear and why?

A sharp crosscut saw—volunteer and find out!

If you’d like to learn more about this great project or to sign up, head over to the 2024 Mokelumne Wilderness project page!

To learn more about Eldorado National Forest, head here.