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.

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.

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Humphreys Half Moon Inn.

Humphreys Half Moon Bay Inn
When arriving at Humphreys Half Moon Bay Inn located in San Diego, we were greeted at the desk with what are now my favorite 6 words in the English language…”We have given you an upgrade.”

What a beautiful upgrade it was as it turned out to be a one bedroom suite with a huge kitchen, dining room, and separate bedroom.   However, we did order a mini suite originally so it wasn’t as if they moved us up from a regular room all the way to a suite. Still, it was well appreciated. I don’t know why we were given an upgrade but I shut my mouth and gladly took the key!

When arriving at the room, the first thing I noticed when entering the door was an immediate view of the bay.  There were Rows of boats and sailboats against a pretty blue sky with the spectacular homes of Point Loma in the distance.

I investigated every nook and cranny in the place and there was so much room, I felt like calling up every friend I know to come over!!

However, this was to be a mellow weekend starting with a smooth jazz concert by saxophonist Kenny G.

Continue reading “Humphreys Half Moon Inn.”