This region covers the area from Little Lake to Bishop, including Lone Pine, Independence and Big Pine restaurants and attractions. A few noteworthy stops along the way are the Alabama Hills, Eastern California Museum in Independence and Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery.
A more suitable name for the Owens Valley could be the Valley of Anguish. In the mid 1800's white settlers arrived in the valley and took over the Paiutes' tribal territory, by force when necessary (a storyboard at Coso Junction rest area relates the history of the Owens Valley Indian Wars as told by the Paiutes). At the turn of the century the area was again the center of turmoil with the development of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. The Los Angeles basin's insatiable thirst for water drained the Owens Valley of its most precious resource, leaving the parched land you see today. Finally, during World War Two, prejudice and paranoia led to the detainment of thousands of American Japanese at the Manzanar War Relocation Center.
To learn more about the people that made the Owens Valley what it is today visit www.owensvalleyhistory.com; an in depth look at the history that shaped this land.
Coso Junction Rest Area
Rest areas aren't often thought of as points of interest. However, the one at Coso Junction, about 20 minutes north of the 395/14 junction, does merit a few comments. There is an interesting storyboard and roadside marker here. The well maintained facility also has a shaded picnic spot and a gravel section for Fido to stretch his legs. This particular rest area is well worth the stop.
The storyboard is a moving narrative of the Paiutes’ clash with white settlers which is told on a series of memory boards. It is written from a Native American’s viewpoint, starting with life before outsiders took over their land and ending with their surrender in 1863. In addition to their viewpoint, there is also an excerpt from a soldier’s journal who occupied the area during the same time. These two accounts capture your imagination, taking you back in time, to walk in their shoes and feel their frustrations. We were saddened by the violence and manipulation our government used against Native Americans.
Next to the picnic area is a marker designating highway 395 as a Blue Star Memorial Highway. The National Garden Club in New Jersey started the Blue Star Highway Program in 1944 as a way to honor Americans fighting in World War II. It has since been expanded to include all those who have defended our country, past and present. The blue star symbolizes the star on service flags popular during WWII. Only families of military personnel could fly this banner which consisted of a red border surrounding a white field. Each blue star on the flag represented a loved one in the war. Those who made the ultimate sacrifice were remembered with a gold star.
17 miles north of Pearsonville; 40 miles south of Lone Pine
Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns
Halfway between Cartago and Lone Pine are remains of Owen Valley’s early history: Sherman Stevens’ Charcoal Kilns. Sadly, time and the elements are slowly eroding this landmark. Without the kilns or the abandoned railroad bridge support nearby, would Los Angeles have become the smog producing metropolis it is today? A historical snapshot of this area will help in understanding the role the kilns played back in the day.
Imagine it is 1876 and you are standing by the kilns. The first thing you notice to the east is Owens Lake. It is immense, covering over 100 square miles and 30 feet deep. Two steamships, the Bessie Brady and the Mollie Stevens, are working a triangular route around the lake. They transport passengers, supplies, lumber and silver bullion to the pier at Keeler across the lake; to Cartago, five miles to the south; and to Stevens’ Landing on the shore below.
Two miles north of Keeler are the remains of Swansea, heavily damaged by the 1872 Lone Pine earthquake. A few miles above Keeler in the White Mountains is the boom town of Cerro Gordo where miners discovered silver in 1865. Cerro Gordo is California’s first major and richest silver strike, producing over 13 million dollars worth of silver bullion. Southeast of the lake is Darwin, another mining community.
Runoff from the Sierra Nevada provides more than enough water for the ranches, farms and meadows in the valley. With all the people and activity in the area, infrastructure is needed so a road was built around Owens Lake to accommodate the ever-increasing commerce in the valley. Immediately to the west of you is the Sierra Camino (which will later become highway 395) connecting Los Angeles to Carson City. At the northern intersection of these routes a stagecoach stop quickly developed into the town of Lone Pine. At the southern junction is the town of Olancha.
Look around you. Smoke is rising into the sky from the kilns as they transform wood into charcoal needed to fuel the smelters across the lake. Workers are milling around the office, supply store, and tents several yards away. To the west in Cottonwood Canyon Sherman Stevens has built a logging camp and sawmill to supply timber for his business. The flume he erected to carry the wood from the mountains down to the kilns is not too far from where you are standing. The sound of lumber rushing by and the laughter of drunken loggers taking a shortcut to the valley can be heard from the flume.
That’s enough dreaming, now back to the present. The nearby railroad bridge support comes from another chapter in the Owens Valley history. In the early 1900’s Southern Pacific Railroad built a railway from Mojave to north of Lone Pine. It transported the equipment and supplies needed to construct the Los Angeles Aqueduct. But that is another story.
10 miles north of Olancha; 12 miles south of Lone Pine
Olancha Sculpture Garden
Just south of Olancha a lonely hitchhiker is thumbing a ride to L.A.. She's been out there for a few years but no one has stopped to pick her up. Maybe it's because she is 12 feet tall and weighs a ton. A more reasonable explanation is that most motorists barely catch a glimpse of her as they race by at 80 miles per hour. Most of those that see "The Hitchhiker" pass her off as redneck yard art. If you slow down a bit, though, you'll spot a few more metal statues on the southbound side of 395. Welcome to Jael Hoffmann's Sculpture Garden.
About a dozen works of art are displayed near "The Hitchhiker". Jael has chosen this medium to exorcize her demons. Many of them personify the yin and yang present in society. As Jael puts it, "Most of my work reflects the dichotomy of suffering: the acceptance of certain lies, while rejecting the pain of their existence." Though each metal sculpture represents a point in her life, they urge you to interpret them in your own way.
One of the statues depicts a man gazing into the sky at his heavenly home. His head is held high in anticipation, holding his hands together behind his back. But maybe he is turning away from home, his head bowed in shame. Two lizards are trying to bite the other's tail off in "Viscous Cycle". The question is, who's the captor and who's the prey? "Be Kind Not Right" shows four figures holding signs. As the words change from kind to right their smiles become scowls.
"Give and Take" is a brightly colored piece of art featuring a person holding two containers and a mirror instead of a face. Next to it a sign admonishes, "Put something in give container, then retrieve something from take container. You can give without taking, but not the other way around. If you choose to take without giving, the mirror will make you face yourself, and the eyes will follow you forever and ever. Just like in real life."
TRIP TIP! The road to the scuplture garden is narrow and difficult to see. As you approach "The Hitchhiker", signal, slow down and leave plenty of room behind you.
Southbound side of Hwy 395 11/2 miles south of Olancha
just north of Walker Creek Road