Highway 395 Part Three of Three

Highway 395, Part Three

For the last part of our excursion down Highway 395, we visit a ghost town, walk on ancient lava, explore the history of Owens Valley, and one last stop at a small lake.

Owens Valley
Continuing on our way south, we made a brief stop at the vista point for Owens Valley along Highway 395.  I was intrigued by this beautiful valley which spanned as far as you could see with its green fields and the spectacular mountains in the back ground.  It looked like a wide open place where you could ride your horse for miles, or spin around singing, “The hills are alive” just like in the movie Sound of Music.

I took a photo and made a point to research it later.  That was when I realized that things were not as they seem in Owens Valley. History has a harsh story for this peaceful little area.

Evidently, there was, and still is a Owens Lake.  In the beginning of 1913, the Owens River was diverted to bring water to the city of Los Angeles. By the mid 1920’s Owens Lake was completely dry and of course to much dismay of the local residents. To make matters worse, the dry bed produced large amounts of dust.  The dust contained carcinogens and the lake bed soon became a huge polluter. The pollution levels became 25 times the amount that is acceptable under clean-air standards.  Owens Lake soon developed into the largest source of dust pollution in the United States.

Soon, multiple legal battles ensued and eventually Los Angeles had to establish a dust mitigation project. Over a billion dollars was spent to keep the dust down in the dry lake by pouring gravel and in parts, watering it or filling it with water. But it is worth it as the winds are strong in this area and can carry particles to many other cities that are close by.

Today, there is hope for Owens Lake as the restoration project is slowly bringing life back and birds are flocking to this once desolate lake area.

As I think back to that serene little valley, I am sure the residents were not happy with losing their lake as well as the dry bed becoming polluted.  I hope things are better for them all.

Diaz Lake
Although we were in the heat of the mid day, we still wanted to fish one last time. We found a small lake on the map and decided to stop by.

The temperatures were in the nineties so finding shade was a must. That proved a little hard as there weren’t that many trees around the water.  Gone were the pine trees and the mountains, as Diaz Lake looked like something in the desert.  Surrounded by a RV park, the place was pretty deserted so we slipped into a parking space and tried our luck for about forty five minutes.

Just like in the Sierras, no fish were to be had, it was our last chance and once again we came up empty.  Even though this little lake isn’t as picturesque as the mountain lakes, it was still nice sitting on its banks enjoying the day. It looked like a great place to camp with your family.

Fossil Falls
I read a brief snippet of Fossil Falls and on the map we saw that it wasn’t far from Highway 395, so we added it to our excursion list.  In the two paragraph article I read about it, it said, “don’t expect any fossils or waterfalls.”   They were sort of right.

We drove just a few minutes from the highway and came to a parking lot that didn’t require any payment.   In fact everywhere we went on the 395 with the exception of one place, no fee was ever required.

As we stepped out of the car, the sun was beating down on us with ninety-five degree mid day temperatures.   Adding to the heat, the landscape looked  like something out of this world, so it wasn’t  hard to imagine we were on Mercury or one of those other hot planets  .

Dating back over 150,000 years ago, volcanic eruptions caused the lava flow along the Owens River and through the valley.

Fossil Falls is a lava flow that was sculpted by rushing water in the ice ages. So it is kind of a fossil in itself.



If you hike in far enough you will see the portion designated as “The falls”.  The flat area comes into a small valley or chasm where you can see where this hot molten rock became a lava waterfall.

It was too hot for me so I snapped a few photos and headed back to the air conditioned car. I saw small a campground in the distance and wondered what they could possible do out here.

I guess it is a great place for hiking, rock climbing and of course night sky viewing that I am sure is incredible.

For one of our small excursions during our trip down Highway 395, this was interesting and I am glad we stopped.

Ransdberg Ghost Town

This turned out to be our last stop of a long day along the interesting route of Highway 395.

There are actually a few ghost towns around the 395 with the most famous being in the town of Bodie.   Bodie is about fifteen miles from the highway so we chose the closer town of Randsberg as it was only a few minutes from the exit.

I was a little confused about this town. We visited on a week day and the town was quiet and dead.  Well, duh, it was a ghost town after all.  But around the main street there were homes and signs of life with cars in the drive-ways, etc.  I also saw some new signs on some of the establishments that told me that they were open for business.  However, there was no life on this lonely street on this hot October day.


Wasn’t sure if it was open for business now

Actually, we found out later that Randsberg actually does have a population of a whooping 69 people.  It must be the weekends where they get larger crowds enough to open the functioning establishments.

Mostly it is the remains of an old mining town founded in 1895.  Here you can go back in time to feel like it was in the old west.  The weathered and aged buildings are still intact as they were way back then.  You will see a saloon, post office, barber, jail, and much more.

Back to the Future 3 was shot in part here and they say Hollywood comes by to do other filming here from time to time.

Originally called Rand Camp, it had a bustling population with pool halls, dance halls, saloons, and of course a jail.  Eventually the extreme heat of this area, the remoteness, and legal problems, caused the slow death of this town.

These days it has a museum, antique shops, couple of bars, and a general store with a soda fountain from 1904.

The town is a popular stop for off-roaders and tourists to come by and sip some brew or as they did in the old days, some whiskey!   You can also eat in historical fashion at the White House Saloon.


Check out the old Coca Cola cooler

For me, I love seeing old historical buildings and this was full of them.  I was a little confused on what was a functioning business and one that was just an old building. I am sure if I came on the weekend, it would have all been cleared up.

Anyway, it is worth the short trip just off of Highway 395.

So ends our journey of Highway 395 from the city of Lee Vining to it is end in Southern California.  .

We actually had one more stop but we decided to hit the coast which took us in another direction.

It isn’t on Highway 395 but not too far from it on old Route 66.  Maybe it would be of interest to you.

It is the Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch.

Elmer Long started this attraction by making trees out of upright metal pipes and bottles. Evidently it is something to see as there are over 200 trees handcrafted by Elmer himself.

Elmer started this attraction when he noticed people stopping to take pictures of the first and lone sculpture. Through the years he has been adding more and more until his death in 2019.

It sits directly on Route 66, and I read that it receives visitors from all over the world.  You are free to wander around and if you are so inclined, there is a wooden wishing well for donations.

Sorry we missed this but we saw so much on our trek along the 395.

Maybe someday if I live long enough, I can make the trip all the way up north to Canada.

For now, our minds are filled with history and sights to last quite a long time.

Story and photos: Debbie Colwell

Highway 395 Part Two

Highway 395 Part Two of Three Parts

Continuing on in Part two, we explore more of Highway 395 when we visit, Bishop, Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery, and the Manzanar National Historic Site.

 Bishop
Like Lee Vining, most of Bishop is on the 395 Highway.  Shops, restaurants, other various businesses are right there as you drive by.    In all of the stories I have read about Bishop, people raved about their restaurants and their delicious bakeries. If I was hungry I would have definitely stopped for a bite, but this time was only for gas.

Bishop is one of the larger towns on this lonely stretch of the 395 and sits at an elevation of 4,150 feet.  Although the population is just under 4,000, in town and around Bishop there is a lot to do.  It is a popular area for hiking with trails galore as well as areas for rock climbing.  Other attractions include,  Keough’s hot springs,  a railroad museum, festivals, plus plenty of off-roading.

Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery
After four days of only catching one fish, we read about the Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery and decided if we can’t catch em’, let’s go see em’!

Near the town of Independence, the hatchery is once again not far off from the highway.  We drove up to an empty parking lot and saw only two other people that were heading for their car. That should have been our first clue as we found out that the hatchery was closed.

Even on this extremely hot day, we still got out to explore a little.  There is a super tall European looking building right at the entrance and close by is a small pond with quiet seating areas along its edges.

We didn’t see any fish in the pond and since we couldn’t get in to the building, we don’t know where the fish are kept.

On research later, that building was actually built in 1916 and features hand-laid stones all around its perimeter.

Although we didn’t get to see this place in full, they do offer tours, fish feedings, a gift shop, displays, and restrooms.  If you want to learn more or find out when they are open, visit: https://www.mtwhitneyfishhatchery.org/

In its prime, the hatchery produced over two million fish per year but just like our luck with fishing, we didn’t see any…maybe next time.

It was too bad we went on a day that they were closed but it was time to move on. Speaking of history, our next stop would be the Manazar National Historical Site. It will be a journey back to a dark place in our history.

Manzanar National Historic Site
On an earlier Staycation post, I wrote about the Japanese Fishing Village in Terminal Island, San Pedro. It was a story about Japanese residents who were displaced and sent to Internment camps after Pearl Harbor was attacked.

While driving south on Highway 395, we were surprised to see that there was a former  internment camp, at the Manzanar National Historic Site.


One of the old guard towers stands today

The site is about 45 miles south of Bishop and has a huge visitor center with displays, exhibits, facts, and movies about the camp. Quite frankly you can spend a lot of time here as there was a lot to see and learn about in the center alone.

As it turns out the residents of that fishing village that I wrote about, came here along with 10,000 other Japanese U.S citizens.   Soon after that fateful day at Pearl Harbor, they were thought to be spies or involved and an anti-Japanese sentiment soon surrounded the country.  Soon, Executive Order 9066 was enacted which sent them all to these military type camps.

With only a few days notice, they had to sell their possessions before they were trucked to various isolated areas.   There were ten internment camps in the U.S. and for some of the west coasters; Manzanar was created for them in the remote area of Owens Valley, California.

As the day wore on and the weather got progressively hotter, I was saddened on how they had to live here in such contrasting conditions. Summer temperatures were in the 100’s and in winter it could drop below zero.  On this October day it was scorching hot and as I looked over the baseball field and basket ball court, I couldn’t imagine doing anything but sitting in an air conditioner…but they didn’t have that luxury.

After we spent time in the visitor center, they allowed you to drive around for a 3.2 mile self guided tour.  You could also go by foot but we vetoed that idea because of the heat.

Just a stone’s throw away from the visitor center sits two reconstructed barracks and a mess hall with exhibits.  Hung on the walls were fact sheets about life in the camp.


The barracks and sleeping quarters


The inside of mess hall


An old photo of the lines waiting to get into the mess hall

The housing units encompassed about 500 acres and were at the time, surrounded by barbed wire and eight guard towers. Military police patrolled the area and were housed just outside of the fence.

On the tour, you can see the markers of where the other buildings once stood.


Signs show the rows and rows of barracks that were once here

There were 36 blocks that had 500 barracks and the conditions were crowded.  The only furnishings supplied were an oil stove, blankets, cots with mattresses filled with straw, and one single light source.


A display in the visitor center shows the rows and rows of barracks and other buildings


The sleeping quarters

Some of the facts that we read on the wall told about life in the camps. As an example, the original buildings had big slits in them where sand would gush in and fill the rooms.  I also gave a brief thought about how many bugs got in between those open areas. I am not a big fan of ugly or harmful bugs like tarantulas and scorpions, so that alone would have been hell for me.

I also had another unpleasant thought about the open latrine that we were also able to visit. Toilets were all in a row with no barrier or partition and not very private.  Of course, the showers were the same.

Reading some of the information in the rooms, we discovered that the internees tried to make the best of a bad situation. Taken against their will and losing all of their possessions, despair would certainly be expected.  These brave and resilient people established churches, temples, boys/girls clubs, baseball and basketball teams, plus other sports activities.

Under harsh weather conditions, no privacy, imprisoned behind fences, they persevered by  creating gardens, ponds, music, and even a newspaper, The Manzanar Press. During the driving self tour, there are markings that tell you where everything was at that time.

During camp life they became mess hall workers, doctors, nurses, firefighters, and teachers. Skilled workers were paid the most while non-skilled workers made a lesser wage.

There was a general store, beauty parlor, bank, barber shop, and other things to make life easier.

When the war turned to our favor, they were allowed to leave the camps. The last few hundred internees left in November 1945. Many had spent three and a half years at Manzanar.

This is a very historical exhibit on Highway 395. It is not the best part of our history but it is a time that many don’t want forgotten so that we never do something like this again.

I cried writing the story about how the Fishing Village residents in San Pedro were removed from the homes they loved.  Now I see where they were taken and my heart goes out to them even more.

This is a must see if driving the 395.

Highway 395

 

Highway 395

I’m a sucker for a scenic road and Highway 395 is one of the good ones in my opinion.

On our way home from Mammoth Lakes headed south, we decided to take our time and explore this route a little more. This meant stopping at some of the underrated and quirky places along the way.

Because there was so much to see and many were historical, we split this up into three parts. We hope you will enjoy.

The Highway
To get to the Eastern Sierras, Highway 395 is one of the easiest ways. It starts near the town of  Victorville and takes you through the interior of California while passing by deserts, mountains, and plenty of lakes.

On our way north, we only drove as far as the town of Lee Vining which is about two hours south of Lake Tahoe, but we saw so much.

If you trace Highway 395 on a map, you will see that right around Lake Tahoe, it does a short diversion into Nevada and then back into California.  What is interesting is that it continues north through Oregon, Washington, and finally stops at the Canadian border.

Our five hour drive was just a snippet of what this grand road provides and as mentioned, there was a lot see!

What I found interesting is that there are exits from the 395 that take you to the lowest altitude in North America and the highest in the contiguous United States.

Just a couple hours from the highway is the highly traveled Death Valley at 282 feet below sea level.

In contrast, you can access the Mount Whitney portal around the town of Lone Pine.  A thirteen mile drive takes you to an elevation of 8,373 feet and is the gateway to Mount Whitney. If you are so inclined you can climb this mountain which has an altitude of 14,505 feet.   Only Alaska has higher peaks.

So altitude changes of 282 feet below sea level to 14,505 feet above, all accessible from Highway 395.

The Road Begins
As you leave the hustle and bustle of Southern California, the scenery starts changing as you’ll soon notice more and more tree lined hills. With summer just ending, they were not as vibrant as after a rainy period, but still beautiful.

The highway eventually starts its ascent into higher altitudes and the Eastern Sierras will soon appear in the distance.   Spread out like a enormous majestic wall, this range of mountains separates the coast from this inland passage.  The mountain peaks were only slighted dotted with snow although that will soon be changing when fall turns into winter.

However, winter seemed so far away as on this day, the temperatures were in the 80’s to mid 90’s .

Now let’s start the trip with Lee Vining, Lundy Lake, June Lake Loop, Lakes Crawley and Convict then finally The McGee Creek RV Park in Part One.

Continue reading “Highway 395”

Mono Lake

Mono Lake

Only a mere twenty minutes from Mammoth Lakes sits the fascinating Mono Lake.  Unlike some of the alpine lakes we visited while in the area, Mono is the largest and spreads out for 695 square miles.

At 6,378 feet in elevation, Mono Lake can be seen from Highway 395 and is a neighbor to the nearby Sierras. In the distance the mountain range can be seen with small patches of snow at the tips.

The lake was formed 760,000 years ago and sits in a basin with no outlet. Because of this, high levels of salt accumulate making the water alkaline.

I was surprised to read later that they allow swimming and boats although on this day, I didn’t see any swimmers or boaters.

A Little Salt Please  
Because the salt is almost three times the density of ocean water, they say that when you swim, you are more buoyant. Floating is much easier than in sea water and is an unusual sensation reported by those who have actually swam there.

Navy Beach, just south of the city of Lee Vining is one of the swimming areas where you can also launch your kayaks and SUP’s.  Don’t forget to bring your binoculars as bird watching is prime here.

This desert lake has a productive ecosystem and although there are no fish, it does have a huge population of brine shrimp. Over two million migratory birds arrive annually to feed on them as well as the alkali flies.

On the Lake
We followed the signs from Highway 395 and arrived in a parking lot where a series of trails takes you down to the shore.  We saw a few guides/docents along the way available to answer any questions and one was even leading a tour of about twenty people.

These towers, unique to Mono Lake are mineral structures created when fresh-water springs bubble up through the alkaline waters.  They have become exposed because the water level has fallen.  With these strange pillars, it makes Mono Lake one of the most photographed and visited places in California.

There is a small $3 fee to use the area but children are free.

Since Mono Lake is such a short trip from Highway 395, I think it is worth it to take the time to view one of the oldest lakes in North America.

Our next story will be about Highway 395 where we stop in the nearby town of Lee Vining, visit an old internment camp, see a ghost town, walk along a lava pit, and finally make our way to the coast.

Story and photos: Debbie Colwell

Mammoth Lakes

Mammoth Lakes

All of my life I have known Mammoth Lakes as just Mammoth and I always thought it was surrounded by one large lake, appropriately called Mammoth Lake.

Much to my surprise it isn’t called Mammoth, it is called Mammoth Lakes and there isn’t just one lake, there are multiple lakes of various sizes around the area.

Sixty-four years after my birth, I finally decided to visit this popular mountain town.  It’s a place that I obviously knew nothing about, yet it is only a mere six hours away from where I live.

T-shirts, Lakes, and Elevation
At an elevation of 7,881, Mammoth Lakes also has a thriving ski area and numerous other attractions such as Devils Postpile National Monument, a formation of basalt columns, and the soaring Rainbow Falls.

For us, our quest was to do some fishing on the many alpine lakes and explore others that were just up the road off of Highway 395.

When we arrived in town and even before our engine had time to cool off, we set off to check out some of the nearby lakes. Some were conveniently just a few miles from the condo that we rented.


Lake Mary is only a few miles outside of the town of Mammoth Lakes

On this weekend we were only a few days into fall but the weather still had summer like conditions.

As an example, on the beautiful Grant Lake, the sun beat done on us so hard, we had to find refuge in the shade.  It seems weird being up in the mountains dressed in shorts and a t-shirt. However, after the sun sets, the temperatures start to pummel to a cool thirty degrees Fahrenheit.

The next day was just as warm so we drove around a loop that took us to some of the other lakes.

Lake Mary was our first stop and we were impressed by the beautiful scenery and the sparkling blue water.  Only a smattering of white snow patches could be seen at the very tip of the mountains although soon they will be fully covered in pristine white.

The pine tree-lined hills added even more color while the air was clean and crisp.

Continue reading “Mammoth Lakes”