Nov 30, 2009 04:00PM
By Judy Zimmerman
Photo by John Loo
The area of Bishop and the spectacular Owens Valley in the eastern Sierra Mountains is one of California’s hidden gems.
By journeying south through these majestic mountain vistas along Highway 395, you also escape the boring flat landscapes and awful traffic of other freeway routes. And there are few places in America that can compare to the clear starry night skies of the Eastern Sierra.
Be sure to visit Bishop, the area’s largest town, for a great place to base your stay any time of year and it’s only about a five-hour drive from Sacramento. The rivers and lakes of the Owens Valley are renowned for their year-round trout fishing. In autumn, its tree-covered slopes turn brilliant hues of amber, orange, yellow and gold. While the snow-capped mountains surrounding Bishop are a winter wonderland for skiers and snowshoers, the valley floor seldom sees any snow.
A few miles northeast of Bishop on Highway 6, Laws Railroad Museum and Historical Village is a special place that will take you back in time to the “good old days.” Thirteen acres of exhibits include a church, school, homes, mining shacks and ranch buildings. There’s also a huge assortment of all the things that were commonplace over 100 years ago, but are never, or seldom seen today. Another must-see in Bishop is the Mountain Light Gallery, founded by the celebrated wilderness photographer Galen Rowell. It features extraordinary images of the High Sierra as well as from around the world.
Bishop also boasts a spectacular outdoor art gallery. Educational and historical murals showcase the area’s western traditions and highlight the work of several local artists. You can pick up the driving map and guide to the 18 murals at the visitors bureau located on Main Street near the entrance to Bishop City Park, which is also a great place to relax, enjoy a picnic, or let the kids run around to their hearts’ content. Across the street, there’s the famed Erick Schat’s Bakery, “Home of the Original Sheepherder Bread,” baked fresh daily since 1907. The original sheepherder plus other delicious breads and pastries are worth their weight in gold here. A sandwich bar, cappuccino drinks, and imported specialty items attract many visitors.
From Bishop, take U.S. 395, 15 miles south to Big Pine. Then turn east on Highway 168 towards the harsh and windswept White Mountains to see the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, a hauntingly beautiful landscape dotted with the oldest recorded living trees on Earth. Continuing south on Highway 395 to the town of Independence, you’ll find one of the West’s finest collections of Native American baskets, beadwork, garments, and several exhibits related to Manzanar.
From Independence, heading toward Lone Pine, history lovers shouldn’t miss the Manzanar National Historic Site, where more than 10,000 Japanese Americans were interned during World War II. Established by the National Park Service, the original auditorium is now restored as an interpretive center with exhibits and a film, serving as a reminder of the fragility of American civil liberties. Though Manzanar’s memories are unpleasant, its breathtaking backdrop of Mt. Whitney rises over 14,000 feet into the Sierra sky, making it the highest peak in the 48 contiguous states!
Postcard from Bishop
187 South Main Street
La Casita Mexican Restaurant & Cantina
175 South Main Street
524 North Main Street
Yamatani Japanese Restaurant
535 North Main Street
Best Western Creekside Inn
Joseph House Inn Bed and Breakfast
376 Yaney Street
1030 North Main Street
Bishop Area Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center
Laws Railroad Museum & Historical Site
Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light Gallery
Bodie Ghost Town
90 miles north of Bishop at Bridgeport
Rainbow Pack Outfitters
Brock’s Flyfishing Specialists
Keough’s Hot Springs