An Orange County kid
Born in Torrance and raised in Orange County, Searles quickly tired of the area's bustle and bloat. In 1976, at the age of 17, he headed to the mountains on the advice of a buddy.
"I'm driving up through the high desert; it's arid and not what I'd expected," he remembered. "And then there it was: Mammoth."
Searles acclimated quickly, buying a cowboy hat, a dog, a truck. He worked construction awhile, cleared trees to build roads, and became one of the settlers who grew the tiny mountain village into one of the West's premier ski destinations.
"We were lost-soul hippies from the '60s," said Louise Dessert Inder, who arrived the same year and became a town fixture and a longtime friend.
"Steve was always super mellow," she remembers. "He was always a low-key guy."
Mammoth Lakes was merely a forest hamlet back then -- so heavily wooded that they felled 1,500 trees just to carve out Main Street.
In his off time, the former Orange County surfer/dropout adopted the rhythms of the Eastern Sierra, embracing the beauty and bloody pleasures: trapping and hunting, including bear, elk, deer.
Is this a hobby he now regrets?
You might think so, yet he insists it gave him the tools he needed to later handle the bears, to learn their habits and homes, when they'd retreat to their dens for the winter, how they hunted, what they needed to survive.