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 an 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.  I read a two paragraph article about the falls and 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 to 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 turns into a small valley or chasm and you can see where this hot molten rock once  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 a 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.

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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.

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 it was for gas  only.

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 with Japan on the attack.  Anti-Japanese sentiment rapidly 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.  As I looked over the baseball field or the  basket ball court,  I couldn’t imagine doing anything but sitting in an air conditioned room…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 and drove to every exhibit, only because of the heat,  and a little bit of  laziness.

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 told 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 to 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.

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