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.
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.
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.
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.
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 during this hot October day.
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.
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’s 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