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TRAVEL TRIVIA   Who is Mount Whitney named for?
                                                                Scroll to bottom for answer

Independence

Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery

According to California's Department of Fish and Game web site the "Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery has been closed for use as a fish hatchery".  That is partially true.  In July of 2008 heavy rains triggered a massive mudslide that tore through the hatchery grounds destroying buildings and rearing ponds.  A four foot layer of mud and debris was left in its wake.  After surveying the damage DFG geologists determined the area to be unstable and prone to future flooding.

Enter  the Friends of Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery, a grass roots effort dedicated to restoring and preserving this century old landmark.  With the help of countless volunteers and thousands of man-hours, The Friends have brought back the hatchery's tranquil beauty.  The DFG has handed over the day to day management to this volunteer group but is operating 2 troughs in the hatchery to see how trout can acclimate to changing water conditions.  The program seems to be a success.  Starting in 2010 groups of trout reared here were planted in Diaz Lake.

Situated just north of Independence, Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery is an oasis in the Owens Valley.  Lush,Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery well-manicured lawns amid shade trees offer a relaxing place for a picnic.  Clean restrooms are close by.   There is a pond next to the picnic area stocked with brood trout.  Once a year the fishpond is opened to junior anglers hoping to catch a lunker.  The hatchery is constructed of native granite in an English Tudor style.  Inside the main building is a gift shop and an interpretive center.  The interpretive area offers an educational history of trout husbandry in the Sierras.  The rearing troughs are also in here. 

If you wish to donate click on Friends of Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery to visit their web site.

TRIP TIP!  Bring plenty of quarters!  As stated earlier the  pond is loaded with large trout.  There are a couple of vending machines around the pond that dispense a handful of fish food for 25 cents.  Toss some food into the water and watch hundreds of trout turn into a feeding frenzy.

FUN FACT!  Rainbow trout are not native to Eastern Sierra lakes.  Stocking programs began in the mid 1800's.  Originally the fish were put in milk jugs and brought to back country lakes by mules. 

1 Golden Trout Circle (a mile north of town) Independence, Ca 93526 



Big Pine

Copper Top BBQ

It feels good to be a trendsetter.  We first stopped by this joint over a year ago and were blown away by the high quality BBQ in a one horse town.  Unfortunately before I got a chance to write about Copper Top BBQ Yelp awarded it the Best Restaurant of the Year for 2014!

Some of Hank Otten's favorite memories are of camping in the Eastern Sierras as a teenager.  In 2013 he combined his love for the area as well as a passion for barbecue and opened up shop in Big Pine. Like a scene out of "Field of Dreams", he built it and they sure came!  Not only does Hank cook up some darn good eats, he is an easy person to talk to.  Hank lives by the principle that "Food Makes Friends". Imagine tending the Weber at a holiday block party and all your neighbors come over to chat and see what you're cooking.  Now imagine doing that every day.  Hank may have one of the best jobs in the world.
Hank Otten at Copper Top BBQ
Copper Top BBQ does most of their cooking Santa Maria style.  Premium cuts of meat are seasoned with a simple rub then cooked over an open pit fire.  Hank goes to the trouble of bringing in Red Oak wood from Paso Robles, keeping the traditional method true.  St. Louis pork ribs are barbecued to perfection in the establishment's namesake: an oversized copper topped roaster.

It's hard to recommend one dish over another.  Everything is that good.  A good place to start is the Sampler Platter.  Tri-tip, ribs and chicken are served with sauce, your choice of sides and a roll.  Copper Top BBQ's homemade sauce tastes like ones we've tried in North Carolina; a fantastic blend of vinegar and mustard unlike the ketchup and molasses based varieties we are used to.  The sauce is served on the side, but by all means try it.

If Copper Top were to have signature dish, my vote would be for the Fire Roasted Green Chili with Beans.  I spent 15 minutes trying to talk Hank out of his recipe for this bowl of smoky bliss to no avail. Another tip: instead of the usual fountain drinks go with one of the Death Valley Bottled Sodas, made nearby at Indian Wells Brewery.  There are a half dozen unique flavors to choose from.

Copper Top BBQ sells prepaid cards.  These would be the perfect gift to give (or receive from) any Highway 395 fan.

Trip Tip!  Copper Top BBQ now has online ordering.  Go to their website, order from the online menu and pay for it with a credit card.  Your meal will be waiting for you in 15 minutes.

310 N. Main St.  Big Pine, CA 93513



Bishop

Apple Hill Ranch

A few generations ago hundreds of farms and ranches flourished in the Owens Valley.  Beef and produce raised in the area supplied nearby communities and central Nevada.  Had it not been for the destruction brought on by the Los Angeles aqueduct this region might look similar to the San Joaquin Valley  on the other side of the Sierras.  A few farms are in business today, including Apple Hill Ranch, located a few miles south of Bishop.  Apple Hill Ranch is distinct because it is an organic U-pick farm open to the public.

Apricot Tree at Apple Hill RanchRick and Laura Lee DeVore have been growing first-rate fruits and vegetables at Apple Hill Ranch for over 20 years.  In the orchard you'll find mouth-watering cherries, pears, nectarines, plums and peaches.  There are 15 kinds of apples.  An abundance of vegetables are scattered throughout the property .  Green beans, carrots, garlic and squash are just a few of the goodies you'll find.  Berries are there for the picking, too.  An eraser board hung on the barn will guide you to what is ripe. 
            
Apple Hill Ranch also sells free-range chicken eggs.  You can either pick up a dozen in the refrigerator next to the owners'  residence or grab an empty carton and head over to the hen house.  Store bought eggs pale in comparison to the quality you get here.  I guarantee they won't be fresher.  A word of warning.  Some of the chickens are not overly eager to give up their potential offspring.  They won't hurt but you will find out where the term "hen-pecked" comes from.  Goat cheese supplied by a couple from Bishop is for sale.

Next to the barn is a park like setting with a gazebo, pond and shaded grass area.  A brook meanders through the spot.  This is a great place for a picnic!  The chickens and the De Vores' dog may decide to join you.  A few peacocks strut through the property , including a rare albino one.  It is said that if you see a white peacock, you will have eternal happiness.

All the produce is seasonal.  Check Apple Hill Ranch's Facebook page to see what is ripe.  Early spring would be a great time to visit and smell the fruit blossoms.   And pick up a dozen eggs.

TRIP TIP  By bringing your own cartons you'll save 25 cents per dozen eggs.

475 Sierra Grande  Bishop, CA 93514  (760) 937-0413


 

Mule DaysBishop Mule Days is unquestionably the largest annual event in the Owens Valley.  The six day celebration is held around Memorial Day each year.  What started as a small gathering of mule packers testing their skills for bragging rights has developed into the fun filled spectacle you see today.  During Mule Days the normally quiet town of Bishop welcomes over 30,000 visitors.

Rodeo style competitions run from Tuesday through Sunday.  Part of the entertainment value comes from the small town charm of the show.  Mule Days is not the polished production associated with pro rodeo circuits.  Mistakes happen and the crowds love it.  Then there's the animals.  Mules are known to be stubborn.  The long ears are generally well trained but every now and then when you want them to go right, they're going to turn left.  Their obstinate behavior adds to the excitement.

Some of the events include roping, barrel racing, timed obstacles and carriage driving.  Two of the fan picks are chariot racing and the packing scramble.  In the packing scramble a dozen outfitters bring their Mule For Saleteams into the arena.  After unpacking the animals cowboys charge in firing blank gunshots scattering the mules and causing havoc.  The muleskinners must then round up their beasts, repack them and race a lap around the arena.

Mule Days is more than just competitions.  The city hosts an arts and craft show in the city park.  A concert is held Thursday night featuring well known country music stars.  Friday is the Mule Days Golf Tournament.  Saturday the parade comes to town.  This is the longest running non-motorized parade in the United States.  Highway 395 is closed down during the moving display of floats and bands.  And what Western celebration would be complete without country dances and barbecues?  Git along little dogies! 

Memorial Day Weekend, Bishop Ca.



Great Basin Bakery

While Erick Schat's is busy serving travelers and tourists, the Great Basin Bakery caters to Bishop citizens and anyone who is lucky enough to find the place.  Finding similarities between the two is like comparing apples and oranges.

The Great Basin Bakery is tucked away a few doors west of Main Street  in what appears to be a converted auto garage.  The only sign is on the front door.   When the door is open you can't even see the sign.   Even before you enter, the scent of fresh baked goods fills the air.  There are a few tables lining the wall for those who want to dine in.

Everything is baked on the premises.  Local ingredients are used as much as possible.   Aside from their artisan breads  the bakery  offers bagels, muffins, scones, cinnamon rolls and a lot more.  Each dayGreat Basin Bakery different treats are put out for sale.  One day the special might be maple pecan muffins, the next day it's artichoke pesto bagels.

Great Basin Bakery has sandwiches to go or eat there, including filled croissants.   A half dozen home-made soups are rotated on the menu so you can try a new one every time you visit.  Don't forget some iced tea or lemonade to wash everything down.  Black Sheep Coffee, a local company, is available hot or iced.  

If they sold nothing else, we would stop for their cookies.  Baked daily, these toothsome wonders come in a baker's dozen varieties.  On our last stop we picked up some Cowgirl and Lemon Butter cookies.  All their cookies are made with natural ingredients you can pronounce.  No preservatives are used.  The Cowgirl has walnut slivers and dried apricot pieces mixed in.  The combination works well.  The Lemon Butter is light and tangy without being overly sweet.

The Great Basin Bakery is open 7 days a week.  They start at 6:00 AM (6:30 on Sundays) for you early birds. The bakery is open on holiday weekends, a big plus for vacationers.

TRIP TIP!  Great Basin Bakery sells frozen gingerbread and sugar cookie dough during the holiday season; ready to thaw, roll and bake.  How you answer when friends ask for the recipe is up to you.  You may also call in the day before you visit and the bakery will hold any of your selections, insuring you don't leave empty handed.

275 D Main St.  Bishop, Ca. (760) 873-9828
Northwest corner of Lagoon Street and Hwy 395


                               

TRAVEL TRIVIA ANSWER   Josiah Whitney.  In 1860 California's legislature created the office of state geology to map out and survey the state.  Whitney was named to head the department.  For the next ten years his team traversed and mapped California's geographical features.  In 1874 Whitney published the most comprehensive land survey to date.  In July 0f 1864 Josiah Whitney was recognized for his work by having the state's highest peak named in Josiah Whitneyhis honor. 

Over the years there has been controversy regarding Mt. Whitney's name.  On August 18, 1873 three fishing buddies by the names of Johnson, Lucas and Begole were the first party to record an ascent to top of the mountain.  They chose to name it Fisherman's Peak.  The title was popular with the locals but in 1891 California officially recognized the name as Mount Whitney.  After World War ll there was a failed grass roots movement to rename the peak after Winston Churchill.


www.owensvalleyhistory.com