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Educating Inyo’s frontline tourist service providers

August 3, 2011

Manzanar National Historic Site is just one of many stops on a tour of tours of the Owens Valley. The tour, spread over three consecutive Wednesdays in August is designed to inform those who work on the frontline of tourism and help supply answers to a frequent question by tourists, “What’s there to do in the valley?” File photo

The Bishop Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center will be offering a free crash course in Eastern Sierra tourism and destinations for those on the frontline of tourism.
For three consecutive Wednesdays in August, those in tourism-related fields can take a tour of some of the best attractions and destinations the Owens Valley has to offer. Reservations for the limited number of seats is required at least one week prior to the tours.
The hope is, according to organizers, that those who take the tour will be ambassadors to the area and not only inform tourists of what’s available, but maybe entice visitors to return to take advantage of even more local offerings and opportunities.
Dubbed the “Inyo County Eastern Sierra Fam Tour For Frontline Tourist Service Providers,” the program’s intent is to help locals in the tourism trade, such as front desk operators at hotels, campground hosts, chamber of commerce and visitor center workers and even select restaurant employees, familiarize themselves with the many attractions in the area.
“We all know that visitors ask desk clerks what there’s to see and do in town,” Bishop Chamber Executive Director Tawni Thomson said. Thomson added she’s heard from more than more “frontline tourist service provider” that the answer is usually, “I don’t know. I go out of town on my days off.”
She said the free tour is a chance for those who work with tourists to reacquaint themselves with, or be first-timers to, local hot spots. It will also be a way for those on the frontline to give realistic answers to such questions as how long it takes to get to certain destinations; how to get to certain destinations, period; how cars and people react to high-altitude conditions or intense weather; and why it’s worth going in the first place.
Thomson added that locals may not have the time or resources to visit the places on this tour of tours. She added the bus tour will be an opportunity for those in like-professions to share experiences and hopefully tips, helpful techniques and other tactics for dealing with the tourist.
The tour will be led by Joe Polini, recently graduated from a tour operators academy, Thompson said, and knows the area well.
The tour follows a south to north direction with a contact person for each stop. Each stop lasts about an hour and each stop comes with something to learn.
The course starts just outside Lone Pine at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10 at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center. The center greets more than 200,000 annual visitors. Those on the course will be able to find out what recreation opportunities the visitor center guests inquire about the most and what they seek in their travels to the Eastern Sierra.
Next up is the Jim and Beverly Rogers Film History Museum of Lone Pine. The museum is a wealth of memorabilia and artifacts from the hundreds of movies filmed in the nearby Alabama Hills since the 1900s. Those on the course will be able to find out how many movies have been made in the Alabama Hills, some of the actors who starred in movies, and how the town and museum celebrates its movie history every Columbus Day weekend with the annual Lone Pine Film Festival.
The course continues with a drive to and lunch at the Mt. Whitney Portal Store. Here the opportunity will be to learn to identify Mt. Whitney from the highway and not mistake it with Lone Pine Peak.
The tour of tours continues at 1:45 p.m. with a drive through the Alabama Hills. The course will teach why the Alabamas are so popular for movie making, rock climbing, mountain biking, painting and photography, and how the area got its name.
Just north of Independence, the tour continues at the Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery. The course will focus on how the hatchery contributed to the preservation of the golden trout, California’s state fish.
Day two starts at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 17 at Manzanar National Historic Site. The visit to the former concentration camp will introduce those on the course to real-life experiences of internees at Manzanar. The course will explain how the internees were forced to evacuate their homes in California, relocated to Manzanar, adapted to the area’s harsh conditions and forced to live out the war segregated from the rest of society.
The course travels back to downtown Independence to visit the Eastern California Museum. According to the course description, “The museum features exhibits that reflect the diverse natural and cultural heritage of Inyo County and the Owens Valley. The museum emphasizes artistry of local Owens Valley Paiute and Shoshone Indians through basketry and other crafts.”
The course travels north to Big Pine and beyond, starting at 1 p.m., lunch included.
The leg of this tour goes east from Big Pine to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest at elevations above 9,000 feet to visit some of the oldest living things on Earth. There is a one-mile trail at Schulman Grove, a walk among the ancients, or a visit to the temporary museum to learn about the interpretive services and exhibits available. The course will help teach about camping opportunities available at Grandview Campground and what tourists will probably seek in travels to this unique site.
The last day of the tour, Wednesday, Aug. 24, starts at 8:15 a.m. with a drive on the Volcanic Tablelands north of Bishop.
As the name suggests, the Tablelands are the flat, terraced country with a reddish hue that seems to split the Owens Valley in half and serves as the initial geographical barrier between U.S. 395 and U.S. 6. The tablelands offer a Petroglyph Loop of Native American petroglyph (rock art) sites and the historic Wells Fargo Wagon route. The course will show how the Fish Slough Road became a wagon route and how it contributed to the area’s development. Those in the course will also learn how tourists can get a free self-guided brochure of the Petroglyph Loop and learn the difference between a pictograph and a petroglyph.
The tour of tours continues at Historic Laws Museum at 11 a.m. with lunch included.
According to the course description, “The museum is an 1870 era railroad depot with various historic cabins, buildings, tools, weaponry, artifacts and interpretive exhibits. Climb aboard and explore the 1870s area train engines and railroad cars. Hop on the Death Valley Railroad Car and take an old time ride to experience what it was like in the 1800s.”
The last tour starts at 2 p.m. in what the course description touts as, “A National Park like experience without the fees and traffic.” It is referring to a drive up Bishop Creek Canyon and views of the “world class scenery at South Lake and Lake Sabrina.”
On the way back down to Bishop, the tour will take a side trip to the Buttermilk Recreation Area. The area has become increasingly popular with boulderers and other rock climbers, photographers, mountain bikers and others. Participants of the tour of tours will learn what bouldering is and observe a demonstration of bouldering at one of the climbing areas in Buttermilk.
For more information or to reserve a spot on a tour, call the chamber at (760) 873-8405.

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