A small mountain town, Mammoth Lakes was born from the gold rush era and popularized by world class skiing and an abundance of outdoor recreation.
A gold mining rush in the 1870’s brought a population increase to the Eastern High Sierra and the immediate area that is today known as Mammoth Lakes. In the centuries before, the area was the summer home for migratory Paiute Indians, and although the mining boom lasted only a few years, there still remains evidence of both the mining and the Indians. There are remaining mine shafts, mills and other historic equipment in the vicinity. Throughout the immediate region there are Indian artifacts, mainly arrowheads, spear points and knives littered throughout the ground. The Indians migrated annually to enjoy the wonderful summer climate and fresh water in the creeks, they hunted the various game as it moved through the area, and collected and “worked” the abundance of black obsidian, making sharp weapons and tools.
The Mammoth Lakes area is located in the southwest corner of the Long Valley Caldera. The great caldera was formed 730,000 years ago by one of the largest volcanic eruptions in the earth’s history. The area remains full of volcanic remnants and geologic activity including an abundance of geothermal hot water below the surface. The town lies at more-or-less 8,000 feet of elevation. The intersection of Minaret Road and Main St. (just below the Village) is 8,000 feet on topographic maps. The highest condominiums (TimberRidge) are at over 8,300’ of elevation. The Ski Area’s Main Lodge is at 9,000’ elevation.
The first subdivision of land occurred in the 1920’s in the old mining camps and were named Mammoth Camp Tract in the Old Mammoth neighborhood. Today this is a mishmash of irregular lots and above ground utilities. There are historic cabins to multimillion-dollar homes. Adjacent to Old Mammoth is the old Valentine hunting camp that is now the Valentine Ecological Reserve, which is owned and operated by the University of California. Remnants of the historic motel district in Mammoth can be seen on Old Mammoth Road opposite and west of the Snowcreek Athletic Club. Newer land subdivision occurred throughout town in the 1940’s, 50’s, etc., and right up to the present day.
Mammoth’s older neighborhoods are mix of old and new; funky cabins and A-frame homes of the 1960’s and 70’s sit next to modern (and often large) mountain homes. The newer neighborhoods boast trophy-type homes. There are nearly 100 different condominium projects built from the early 1960’s to present with floor-plans of all shapes and sizes. There are multi-family units in various locations including open market apartments, Ski Area housing and units built and operated by the Town’s housing agency.
The Town of Mammoth is the only incorporated municipality in Mono County.
The County is large in land and small in population (~12,000). The County is ~95% government owned; Wilderness land (back country), National Forest, Bureau of Land Management, and LADWP. The significant economic engine is Mammoth Mountain Ski Area founded by Dave McCoy in 1953. The Ski Area averages over 1 million skier days per winter. Geothermal production of electricity is a growing industry, and there is a scattering of government and utility based employment opportunities. But tourism and recreation remains the primary economic driver. The recent installation of high-speed internet service throughout the region adds future economic potential.
When the “Town” incorporated in 1984 the boundaries included 23 square miles of land, but the privately owned land mass is less than 4 square miles. The surrounding land and area is the Inyo National Forest and designated Wilderness Areas. It is truly an island surrounded by federally owned (and very protected) land. The developed areas within the town limits were originally heavily forested with a broad mix of pines, firs and aspens. Mammoth Creek flows through the southern half of town and remains one of the quiet but awesome natural features of the area. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area lies to the west of town. Mammoth is a great cul-de-sac with mountains on three sides.
The 2010 Census placed Mammoth’s population at slightly over 8,000 people but many believe the true population is about 7,000. The local population ebbs and flows with the vagaries of the local economy, the seasonal employees attached to the ski and snowboard industry, the tremendous influxes of visitors both in winter and summer, short-term and long-term second homeowner stays, etc. At peak there can be as many as 50,000 people in the immediate vicinity.
Mammoth remains a somewhat quirky mountain resort community due to its primary customer base from Southern California. The massive population and relative affluence of southern Californians and their love for escape and recreation drives the majority of visitation to Mammoth. The five to six hour drive by car is remote enough, but “not too far.” Mammoth’s efforts to become a “destination resort” with modern air service, luxury hotels, etc. continues and Mammoth will gain “destination” visitors but the resort remains the true mountain playground for vehicle-based southern Californians. Ultimately it is pretty tough for them to beat the great winter ski conditions and terrain, a perfect summer climate for a myriad of recreational opportunities, spectacular mountain visuals at every turn, and all in a true small town setting.
A charming mountain town with distinct neighborhoods.
The Eagle Base, Canyon Lodge, and Village neighborhoods are the most popular in winter because they have immediate access to ski lifts/runs and gondolas. Eagle Base still has future (base lodge) development slated by the Ski Area and for hotel development. Canyon Lodge is built-out except for one small future condominium project. The Village is a modern development of condo hotel units and commercial with plenty of future potential development. The Mammoth Meadow, Old Mammoth, Town and Lodestar neighborhoods feature the town’s golf courses, the historic (and core) commercial district, public amenities and housing. There is still plenty of future development slated in the Meadow at Snowcreek.
In the past decades Mammoth Lakes has matured in many ways including modern daily air service to/from the airport just outside of town, an increased number of luxury accommodations, a modern and expanded hospital, a community college, a vast bike path and dirt trail system, golf courses, extensive public transportation, and more. There is an ever expanding calendar of year-round special events featuring music, food and beverage, outlandish sporting events, etc. The Mammoth Lakes Basin and dozens of alpine lakes (there is no “mammoth lake”) continues to be a focal point of recreation, camping and access into the Wilderness/back country areas. And recently, “geotourism” is growing rapidly; this new class of visitor simply wants to escape the city, relax, take in mother nature and engage in light to moderate exercise.