Basque and French shepherds in California’s White Mountains built dry stone shelters that persist today. Despite French names carved on logs associated with a few of these structures, the typical pattern for these shelters is Basque: they closely resemble the cabañas pastoriles (shepherd’s huts) of Bizkaia. A square floor plan with walls about one meter high enclose a single chamber. The stone work is carefully laid to make one wall face. A narrow doorway, often in a corner, faces downhill in any direction except west and can be flanked by low stone “spurs”. A fireplace is usually built into the south wall. Boulders too large to move are usually in the western wall or northwest corner. Metal, glass, wood, bone or leather artifacts are present. Typically Basque arborglyphs (carvings in aspen trees) are found nearby at lower elevations. It is unclear whether the White Mountains shelters originally had roofs.

About the Author

Michael Wing is a geologist and a classroom teacher at Archie Williams High School in San Anselmo, California. He has published fifteen papers in peer-reviewed academic journals including “Stone-by-Stone Metrics Shed New Light on a Unique Stone Alignment at the Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County, Alta California” (California Archaeology, 2015.) His interest in Basque stone shepherd’s shelters arose during fieldwork at elevations of up to 13,000’ in California’s White Mountains when he and his students kept finding them. He has been invited to speak at Stanford University and the University of Chicago, to audiences of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, on the challenges and opportunities of teaching high school with a Ph.D. One of his projects has been featured on National Public Radio’s Science Friday: Between a Rock and a Hard Place, Life Thrives, May 5, 2017.

Also deserving credit for this article are Elizabeth H. Wing and Amin M. Al-Jamal.


  • Ph.D. - Earth Sciences, University of California at San Diego
  • B.A. - University of Chicago