Saturday, April 21, 2018


… not so Californee-ized as California …

From Inyo to Modoc, something about the east side of the Sierra Cascade is different.  Perhaps those great mountains that keep out the rain keep out something else as well.  Slower in pace than the rest of California – a bit lower in price, too – travelling along US 395 from Ridgecrest to Alturas provides a peek back at times past.  

In early April, we travelled the southern portion from Kramer Junction (with CA 58) to Minden in Nevada’s Carson Valley.

I – Alabama Hills

Outside of Lone Pine, on the way to the trailhead at Whitney Portal – closed in April due to snow – one passes the Alabama Hills.  

A great display of wind-rounded granite or sandstone, one could be excused for thinking Hop-a-long Cassidy might be about to round a bend in the trail, because this is where they filmed him doing so.

John Wayne, Duncan Reynaldo, Gary Cooper and countless others as well.

A museum nearby recounts the Hollywood history of the area and roads and trails allow visitors to believe, for a time, that they are extras if not in a western, then an ad for a Chevy or a Ford truck or a Mazda automobile rooster-tailing dust across the desert.

Watch out!  Perhaps there’s a sidewinder hiding out behind this. (Probably not.  Outside of Sacramenta, they ain't no sidewinders in Californi-ee. - Walter Brennan as a renegade sourdough in a John Ford Western, shot in these parts.)

The April weather turns quickly and the clouds present a real-life drama without the help of lighting or sound technicians.  

A half-day spent here is a half-day well spent.

II – Manzanar “Relocation Center”

I’d been to Manzanar before. (A link to that visit follows this post.)  In August of 2010, the heat seemed unbearable and it was easy to feel how miserable life was for fellow citizens whose only crime was being born with a different color of skin or a different shape of eye.

In April of this year, a nasty north wind blew rain drops horizontally across the landscape peppering us like birdshot and chilling us to the bone.  

The gale beat at the tar paper roofing and siding. Residents were never far from the fierce elements of springtime.  I don’t want to imagine winter.

The National Park Service has reconstructed a few of the crude dormitories, cookhouses and latrines.

And in the substantial gymnasium, built by the hands of those interred, displays speak to life in this high desert and of the misguided thinking that prompted the creation of this and ten other remote and inhospitable places.

As a tiny girl, a one-time colleague of mine spent time at Poston in Arizona.  At age three, it is hard for me to believe that she was ever a threat to the Republic.

III – Bristlecone Pine Forest

When my computer malfunctions, when the tool becomes and obstacle to getting work done, I often slip into use of my second language – profanity – until the problem is resolved or I’ve tossed the thing out the window.  My traveling partner, I came to find out, has a similar reaction to steep, narrow, windy roads without guardrails.

Such is the road to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.

I stopped for few pictures.

The Visitor’s Center, some 28 miles east of US 395, offers interpretive exhibits when open (it wasn’t, yet) and a couple of easily accessed trials (if you discount the drive up there) to the oldest living things on earth.

Humbling indeed.  Our visit was truncated by the anticipation of the road back down the mountain.  

On my list is a revisit on Enrico, the Yamaha, affording me more time to embrace the truly timeless nature of… …nature.

IV – June Lake Loop

A side trip on the June Lake Loop might be preferable to rocketing up 395.  The loop swings west to the foot of the precipitous tilted fault-block uplift that forms the east side of the Sierra.  Summer homes and ski cabins cluster in the tamarack pines along the edges of high mountain lakes.

Snow melt pours over rocky ledges…

…filling those lakes with pristine water and perfect reflections.

You can’t help but come away with a crick in your neck after looking skyward at the jagged aretes and peaks of the High Sierra: So near and yet so far.

V – Parting Shot

We chose not to visit Mammoth this trip having been advised that is may be a bit too corporatized for its own good.  Fine winter skiing is offered but in the transition from being an out-of-the-way secret to a destination resort, some have suggested Mammoth may have lost a bit of its charm.  The same might be said of much of Tahoe, further north.

I suspect I may have inherited some sort of a latent desert rat gene from Dad.

Thoughts of mountains and valleys and sage and clouds and a little thunder – rather than speedboats and casinos – are all I need to urge me to return to the East Side.


Notes and Resources:

Along with your DeLorme’s California Atlas and Gazetteeryou should

Read:  The Land of Little Rain by Mary Austin. 1903. Widely available, Mary Austin writes of the area in a beautifully lyrical fashion, providing the reader with a deep view of the geography, natural history and culture that have shaped and are still shaping this Land of Little Rain.  (My copy, Penguin 1988, has an introduction penned by Edward Abbey making the volume a special treat.)

Purchase: At the bookstore in Bishop or, better yet, prior to departure get: Guide to Highway 395: Los Angeles to Reno by Ginny Clark.  Western Trails Publications, P O Box 2485, Lake Havasu, AZ, 86405. Revised 2013. $20.  A few typos but a lot of tidbits of history that’ll make you want to take – rather than pass by – that non-descript turn off.

Pick up: Available at many businesses along 395 are county-specific guides to backcountry roads with travel tips and advice you’d be wise to follow.  Grab these at any visitors center or small business along the route.  They’re free.

And you may want to visit these web links:

Church of the Open Road notes from a previous visit to Manzanar:

This Inyo County website is quite comprehensive with additional inks to click through: Owens Valley / Eastern Sierra Visitors Planning Guide:

As is this Mono County website:

Though we were just passing through, we opted to spend a lay-over day in Bishop.  We should have planned for more.  Central to many alluring attractions both historic and natural, the town is the type of place where you’ll meet a stranger and leave with a new friend.  Nice, affordable and close to some good eating, we stayed at Bishop’s Creekside Inn:

© 2018
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. The myriad of different landscapes of this great country never fails to awe. And even the different ones in just one state. Beautiful photos.

    The internment camp is saddening. Such an unnecessary part of our country's history.

    1. It is a piece of history, I fear, we be repeating soon...