Roger Blain (1920-2013) championed a hidden wonder

Roger Blain, an arch-conservative Stocktonian who in later years championed a natural wonder, died December 12. He was 93.
 
I didn’t know Blaine when he served on Stockton Unified’s school board — and battled textbooks too liberal for his taste – when he ran unsuccessfully for Congress or state office, or when he headed the local Johh Birch Society.
 
Record archives paint a picture of a principled and intelligent conservative polemicist way the right of the mainstream in his day. Though he may have fit perfectly today in today’s Tea Party.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I knew Blain as a retiree, an avid hiker and the champion of Machado Postpiles, a mountainside of  ancient, towering, six-sided columns naturally occurring on Granite Mountain in the wilderness of Eldorado National Forest. Though this natural miracle is 13 million years old, and not too far from popular Silver Lake, it remained undiscovered, by Europeans at least, until a loner named Jess Machado stumbled onto them in 1934.
 
Machado kept the postpiles a secret for decades. In later life he told rangers. They didn’t believe him. Nor could they couldn’t find them, because despite their size they are invisible from most angles to hikers.
 
But Machado told Blain, and Blain found them. He took me to see them. It was a typical Sierra hike but for two things: the postpiles at the end, and Blain. Though he was in his 70s, and preferred city clothes such as slacks and hard Oxfords to hiking gear, he marched resolutely across the rugged terrain. The septugenarian never once paused to catch his breath.
 
Blain ballyhooed the postpiles from obscurity into into a regional hiking attraction. And he lobbied the United States Geological Survey to name them after Machado. 
 
Albert “Roger” Blain was born on September 24, 1920 in Oakland, California to Joseph and Edna Blain.  He served during World War II as an aerial photographer in the U.S. Army Air Corps, spending most of the war in the China-Burma-India theater of operations, where he was awarded a Bronze Star.  He worked as a dental technician and he owned and operated Delta Dental Laboratory in Stockton until his retirement in 1993. 
 
The column on the postpiles is below.   
 
 
Cliff Notes on Late Hiker’s Rock and a Heart Placeby Michael FitzgeraldRecord, Sunday, September 28, 1997.
In 1934, a Stockton man hiking alone across Granite Mountain’s wilderness in Eldorado National Forest discovered an ancient wonder.

Jesse Machado (1910-1992), a 24-year-old worker at Camp Silver Lake, was returning from a day spent fishing the high lakes. Hiking cross-country, Machado was blazing a shortcut across the rugged granite-and-pine of the mountain’s northeast slope.

Around 7,900 feet, he unexpectedly found himself standing before a vast and peculiar cliff.

The cliff’s bizarre rock rose in thousands of towering, six-sided columns -naturally occurring hexagonal columns, all fitted together, 30 feet high, stretching an imposing 900 feet along the cliff face, perhaps 200 feet deep, and rust-red, not granite-white, in color.

Other columns lay in geometric piles where they had toppled. Machado had discovered a formation bigger than Devil’sPostpileNational Monumentand eons older. But no one was to learn of his find for years; Machado kept it a secret. And years later, when he announced his discovery, few in the high country believed him.

Although he worked 25 years as a surveyor in Los Angeles, Jess Machado was a high-country soul. Forced to drop college (and a botany major) by the Depression, he went to work onCampSilverLake’s crew in the 1920s and 30′s. From there he made innumerable solo wilderness forays, exploring every cloud-touched ridge and forested cranny of theCarsonPassregion.

“He was the kind of fella that didn’t talk much,” said Machado’s brother, David. “Very studious. I asked him things… ” He wouldn’t tell you nothing. I don’t know why, he was just like that.”

Machado, if sometimes gruff with people, was a soul mate to the mountains, their ecology, history, and preservation his passion.

Even after wartime Navy stint, when Machado became a government surveyor inLos Angeles, he would summer in his trailer atSilverLake, car trunk filled with natural history books.

I’d say Jess was kind of a John Muir-type a person who just roamed this area of the Sierras for 60 years,” said Brad Pearson, the operator ofSilverLake’s Kit Carson Lodge.

“He either liked you or he didn’t like you,” Pearson said. “He didn’t have a lot of tolerance for people who weren’t interested in the Sierras.”

Over decades Machado rediscovered every inch of the Emigrant trail and posted signs along it. But his greatest find may be the postpiles.

They were formed 13 million years ago, 10 million years before the Sierra peaks themselves were born. Amid cataclysmic upheavals, molten rock called diabase spewed through volcanic fissures, was covered in ash and cooled gradually, forming four, five, and six-sided pillars

Later, the rust-colored columns were raised with theSierra Nevadaand exposed by erosion. Giant ice-age glaciers ground over their heads, but they were protected by two arms ofGraniteMountain. When Devil’s Postpile was formed 100,000 years ago, they were already ancient.

For years Machado told no one of his find, not wanting a natural wonder to become touristed and spoiled. When he did tell, area residents scoffed. Six-sided rock pillars? Heard about Bigfoot? Rangers repeatedly failed to find them. Stocktonians Roger and Katherine Blaine did. The Blaines, also longtimeSilverLakecampers, stumbled onto the postpiles in 1990. They met Machado atSilverLakethe next year, when he was 82, ailing and living in aStocktontrailer park.

“That guy was practically in tears because somebody finally believed him,” Roger Blain recalled.

Machado died in 1992. Blain led Silver Lake residents in petitioning the government to name the rocks after Machado. Using rock markers, the Blains also marked a sketchy trail to the postpiles.

Recently, the government approved Blain’s request.

Beginning with the next printing of the United States Geological Survey topographical maps, the rocks will be known by the name Machado Postpiles, forever linked to the gruff Stockton naturalist who treasured them.

 

 
 

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    Michael Fitzgerald

    Mike Fitzgerald is The Record’s award-winning metro columnist. His column runs in the paper three times a week. Born in San Francisco, he was raised in Stockton. His column covers diverse beats including, sometimes, the offbeat. Read Full
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