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USA: Eastern Sierra, Los Angeles, New York City, Niagara Falls, Orange County, San Francisco
Discovering the Eastern Sierra – “The Other Side of California”
by Joe Pollini, Bishop, California, USA
Having lived and traveled extensively throughout California, I have uncovered a hidden gem often overlooked by many travelers. While most visitors and guests storm to heavily advertised glamour locations such as Hollywood, Disneyland, the Golden Gate Bridge, Big Sur, and other well known coastal locations, California harbors an often overlooked spectacular region where travelers willing to drive a few hours can find attractions, scenery, and beauty on a world class scale.
Known as the Eastern Sierra, this region is so vast that it easily fits inside the states of Massachusetts and Delaware. I would like to provide the reader with some personal experiences exploring, visiting, and learning about the area. Like its mineral treasures, this incredible place contains gold nuggets of history and scenery everywhere you turn.
This mountainous and desert region collide together forming a landscape of infinite open country and endless views. Most land here is administered by governmental organizations greatly contributing to its undeveloped and rural nature. Because so little land is private, all the communities along the Eastern Sierra are small although hospitals, lodging, restaurants and other amenities exist for travelers. The communities are very friendly welcoming visitors from all over the world.
My first story relates to numerous visits to Laws Historic Village located outside Bishop, California. Laws is a wonderful experience because of the many historic buildings, original teamster wagon displays, and specialty frontier trade shops that occupy this 11 acre desert location. Serving as the original 1883 railroad stop for the “Slim Princess” – a narrow gauge freight and passenger train, Laws became quite prominent promoting commercial development in this wild American outback in the late 19th century. As you stroll around, you vividly feel how much more difficult life was at that time. Laws portrays what living in this small western town was like in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The exhibits describe how difficult life was in this era which is most fascinating --- the gold mine, miner’s cabin, and frontier saloon vividly remind me of the backbreaking work this primitive occupation inflicted on its participants. Cold winter winds howled through hastily built wooden cabins while mines would frequently cave in on and bury unsuspecting miners.
Miners flocked to saloons and brothels as havens of relief from their daily routine. In reality, many went broke dreaming of riches they never found. Some did hit pay dirt but most productive mines were ultimately run by big companies who could afford to invest capital into mining operations. Mines were expensive to start and operate depending on their location, proximity to water, and urban areas. This town is a testimony to the ruggedness of these people who wanted to make it rich and live the American Dream.
Quite often, it was the business entrepreneurs who followed the miners that truly made their fortunes selling food, equipment, lumber, stock, and sometimes “pleasures of the flesh” to those working the mountains for silver and gold. Farmers and ranchers typically provided the food miners needed while blacksmiths, livery stables, wheelwrights, and general mercantile stores outfitted them with supplies, livestock, and equipment to support their mining operations.
Laws is a wonderful place to bring young children. With spacious and sweeping landscaped grounds, children can play safely in areas outside the original train depot. Parents can take children onto the “Slim Princess” Locomotive Number 9 and clang the train bell. Ramps onto the wooden boardwalks for strollers, wheelchairs, and the elderly give access to many historic shops, exhibits, and displays.
Another intriguing and fun feature for young children and adults at Laws is to take a few minutes and hop on the old Death Valley Railroad Brill Car --- used extensively in Death Valley, California during the late 1920s.
Laws provides train rides throughout their exquisite grounds during the summer. The town served as a train depot in the 1880’s connecting the mines and towns in the Owens Valley of California to Carson City, Nevada. As you ride on the old time railroad car, you cannot help but marvel at the craftsmanship of the seats, décor, and windows which were restored to the original 1927 standards. The railroad car can accommodate up to 30 visitors.
From Laws, I ventured back to Bishop and proceeded west on State Highway 168 up into the Bishop Creek drainage. Driving up the highway, I marveled at how steep the Sierra Nevada mountain range appeared as the valley floor gave way to these giant monoliths. I would be driving from the Owens Valley desert floor to the Sierra’s alpine mountain terrain in less than 30 minutes.
Known for its long 15 mile descent from the high Sierra at 13,000 feet to 4,400 feet in the Owens Valley, Bishop creek inspired farsighted engineers to harness its rapid and heavy downhill flow to generate electricity for newly discovered mines in Tonopah and Goldfield, Nevada in 1905. Electrical power generation was in its infancy at this time in America. The advent of electrical power to the mines increased their productivity and prosperity in the region. The transmission line carrying the electricity spanned a distance of about 110 miles over mountainous rugged terrain --- an engineering marvel for the time.
Today, the stunning and vibrant mountain vistas and views at the end of Bishop Creek attract visitors to venture up to this part of the Sierra. The highway ends at two distinct locations in the Sierra Nevada mountain range - - - both are unique and enormous granite basins carved out by glaciers many years ago. While the mountains above Lake Sabrina tend to be more conical and rounded, tall pyramid like monoliths, spires and spindly crags dominate the mountain ridges towering above South Lake basin.
On the way up to Lake Sabrina which serves as the middle fork of Bishop Creek, I took a short hike to Cardinal Mine, a historic mining operation formerly owned by Gaylord Wilshire, the namesake for the well-known Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.
This easy 1 mile roundtrip hike begins at Cardinal Resort below Lake Sabrina and meanders through a forest of Aspen and tall Pine trees along Bishop Creek until it opens up to a knoll littered with mining relics and artifacts --- a testament to a better time in the early decades of the 20th century when the mine produced around 2 million in gold.
As mines ran out of precious mineral ore, the economy and industry in the Eastern Sierra transitioned to tourism. With tourism, the Bishop Creek Drainage grew in popularity for guests from southern California.
The drainage provides many travelers the opportunity to fish, hike, backpack, camp, photograph scenery, ride horses, find wildflowers or just plain relax. The mountains are therapeutic conveying a sense of grandeur and tranquility to the visitor. Most notably, when I went in late May to these locations, only a handful of travelers were visiting the area - - - enhancing the feel of spaciousness and isolation.
For those readers interested in learning more about my Sierra experiences, please contact the website owner to convey your interest in exploring more about the Eastern Sierra and surrounding areas of California and Nevada.
Bishop Creek Offers Travelers Amenities Including Guided Horseback Riding, Overnight Cabins, Historic Information, Campgrounds, Supplies, Etc.
Eastern Sierra Image Gallery Photo viewer
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