Over the past two weeks, we've journeyed south down U.S. 395 from Mono County to the Owens Valley. It's my favorite road trip in the state -- a place to return to again and again, finding new things every time. This week we finish the trip.
Bishop: Despite a population of less than 4,000, Bishop has everything you could need. The nearby Laws Railroad Museum is one of the best "local museums" in the country. Clustered around an old railroad depot you'll find a collection of historic buildings from throughout the Owens Valley. Stocked with everything a small town would have had circa 1900-1920, this is what the ghost town of Bodie would look like if it hadn't been abandoned. It's the place to go to see the details of daily life 100 years ago -- including many details you've probably never seen. The museum also has a narrow gauge engine and rolling stock, a full-scale model of a gold mining operation and quartz mill, and railcar rides in the summer. Allow at least 3 hours to enjoy the extensive collection.
Highway 168: A trans-Sierra highway that was never completed, Bishop's section of 168 climbs to a dead-end at nearly 10,000 feet. Few roads end so beautifully -- you can enjoy three stunning lakes: North, Sabrina, and South. All offer hiking, camping, fishing, trails into the John Muir Wilderness, and beautiful aspen groves.
Big Pine: South of Bishop, Big Pine is the next supply point. It is a gateway to both Death Valley and the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. Glacier Lodge Road is a Sierra gateway with unbeatable aspen color.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest: The White and Inyo Mountains run parallel to the Sierra, creating the deep Owens Valley. High amidst the dry peaks of the White Mountains you can find the longest-living trees on earth -- bristlecone pines. The Methuselah Tree is estimated to be 4-5,000 years old. Bristlecones aren't big, but they're ancient, gnarled, and picturesque. The road is paved as far as the Schulman Grove at 10,000 feet. Beyond that it is 10 miles of gravel to the Patriarch Grove. The road has absolutely breathtaking views across the Owens Valley to the panorama of the Sierra.
Independence: Independence is the tiny capitol of Inyo County. The Eastern California Museum does a great job ofpreserving and interpreting the history of the area.
Manzanar National Historic Site: Manzanar was one of 10 "relocation centers" where Japanese-Americans were incarcerated during WWII due to unfounded fears of disloyalty. Today, the site of the camp is a memorial standing to help ensure that this violation of civil liberties may never be repeated.
Lone Pine: Lone Pine is the biggest southern supply point along 395. It's also a gateway to Mt. Whitney, the Alabama Hills, and Death Valley.
Mt. Whitney and the Alabama Hills: The road from Lone Pine takes you as far as Whitney Portal -- elevation 7,850 feet. The 22-mile round trip hike to the summit of the highest peak in the United States outside of Alaska (elevation 14,505 feet) is one of the most popular and challenging hikes in the nation. Because of the popularity, a special permit is required for the trip (http://www.fs.usda.gov/inyo). Even if you're not up for the challenging trek, check out the barren but picturesque Alabama Hills -- a rock formation at the foot of the steep Sierra, located along the Whitney Portal Road. The rocks are popular with climbers, photographers, and Hollywood film producers.
Fossil Falls: The fossils here are dry, ancient waterfalls from a time when the Owens River flowed further south than Owens Lake. It's an interesting stop in the midst of a seemingly barren desert.
Sherman Pass: A west turn on Nine Mile Canyon Road will take you over the least traveled and least known of all the Sierra passes. Crossing over the dry southern end of the Sierra and the summit of Sherman Pass at 9,200 feet, it's different from all the other passes and well-worth the trip. You'll read more about it here in the in the coming months.
Red Rock Canyon State Park: The easiest way to return to the San Joaquin Valley from 395 is via highways 14 and 58. Highway 14 cuts through beautiful eroded rock formations that suggest giant banks of organ pipes. Stop at one of the turnouts for a closer look. You can also camp here and explore a network of rugged dirt roads.
Adam Blauert is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys fishing, backpacking and exploring the western states. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org