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 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.

Part One
Our journey starts north going south and begins at the small town of Lee Vining.  Most of the town is situated right there along the highway where there are restaurants, cute souvenir shops, and various other stores.

At 6,781 in elevation it sits close to the southwest shore of Mono Lake. Since nearby Mono Lake is a popular tourist destination, Lee Vining gets a boast from all of the visitors.

Mono Lake

It has a charming feel to it although we only shopped briefly in one of its stores.  We were anxious to be on a lake, so near-by Lundy was our next destination.

Lundy Lake
Actually just above Lee Vining and just about two miles from the highway was one of our longer stops at Lundy Lake. Lundy Lake is a popular fishing area and we wanted to do just that…fish.

There were very few boats on the water but it was mid week and a little bit windy so I can only assume weekends are much busier.   We found a rocky shore and proceeded to throw out our line in anticipation of all of the trout bites that will be soon tugging on our poles.   Sadly we got nothing, not a bite, not a fish.  Evidently there are techniques to catching Trout.

We drove back to the 395 and a stopped at Mono Lake. I wrote a full story on Mono Lake that I hope you will read prior to this. It is one that you have to stop and see for yourself when up in this area.  The lake has salt content almost three times that of the ocean and has pillars called Tufu that you don’t normally see.  It is worth a stop.

June Lake Loop
Heading south of Mono, you hit the off -ramp for the June Lake loop.  This ‘U’ shaped drive first takes you to the picturesque and charming June Lake and then you eventually pass by Gull, Silver, and Grant Lakes.  They are all beautiful in their own way and all featured fishing and marinas to rent boats, kayaks, or SUP’s.

The little marina on a windy day on Silver Lake

One of the lakes on this loop

The final lake in the loop was Grant where we caught our first and only trout.  I threw it back very quickly and didn’t take a picture because I thought it would be the first of many. Little did I know it would be the last one of the trip even though we visited over 16 different lakes.

It only takes a few minutes to exit Highway 395 to begin this extremely scenic route, so I highly recommend you take the time.  Each lake is absolutely amazing and very much what you would expect for a mountain body of water.

Mammoth Lakes
Mammoth Lakes was our home for a few days and it also only takes a few minutes to get there from Highway 395.  Mammoth Lakes is a popular ski resort in the winter and a great place to fish with at least seven lakes close to town.  We visited them all. See my story on Mammoth Lakes in an earlier story.

Lake Mary near Mammoth Lakes

Lakes Crawley and Convict
On a different day, we headed south this time and stopped at the man-made Lake Crawley. This is the only lake on our trip that we had to pay before entering.

This huge twelve mile long lake is in my opinion not as pretty as all of the others but it is known for great fishing.  This time of year as we learned, they slow down the fishing by requiring you to only fish with lures, no live bait.

This was entertaining as every cast was an adventure where we hooked everything in sight, including our own clothes!  Casting was not our forte that day.  True to form, we didn’t catch a fish, not even a bite.

With time still in the day, we ventured a little further to Convict Lake.  This was one of my favorite lakes during our whole trip as it was amazingly beautiful

Tall peaks and valleys with tree lined hills were the backdrop to the sparkling blue water on this warm sunny day.  The trees were beginning to change color adding even more color and contrast.

We fished for a while and just sat back and enjoyed the beauty of what we don’t normally see in Southern California. The sizzling heat was starting to give way to the cooler afternoon breezes so it was time to leave but not before one quick stop.

The McGee Creek RV Park
Before calling it a day, we stopped at the nearby McGee Creek RV Park where there was a small pond and creek.  Here you could fish for trout but for a small fee. It was tempting as we felt that we had to be able to catch a fish here!  I mean, you a can actually see them swimming around in the shallow water.

They charged per pound but you had to keep the fish. We felt that wasn’t something we wanted to do as we normally and humanely as we can, catch and release. Also, don’t think we didn’t consider the possibility of not catching one, I mean how pathetic would we be!

It was a scenic  little area and well worth the stop.

Stay tuned for “Part Two” where we visit, Bishop, Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery, and Manzanar National Historic Site.

Story and photos: Debbie Colwell