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Don’t want to go fishing? Then go exploring

April 25, 2014

Crater Mountain, actually an old volcano, and the jagged black rocks peppering the surrounding landscape are evidence of a super eruption that took place 72,000 years ago. Photo courtesy Friends of the Inyo

The truly addicted angler may have to be carted away from his mountain lake or stream in handcuffs. But in the heat of the afternoon when fish and most sane species retreat to cooler temperatures, consider exploring the some of the history of the Eastern Sierra, maybe even from the beginning.
Depending on how one defines “living,” the Sierra Nevada mountains are distinctly alive and on the move, in a northwestern direction to be more exact. The area has been a strong lure to geologists, including Dr. Allen Glazner, distinguished professor at the University of North Carolina’s Geological Sciences and author of “Geology Underfoot in Death Valley and the Owens Valley” with Robert Sharp.
Glazner is a California native captivated by the extremes of Inyo County, from the highest peak in the lower 48, Mt. Whitney at 14,497 feet to the Badwater Basin in Death Valley, 14,779 feet lower and only 135 miles from the Whitney Portal. What may seem simply odd, or even curious, like the scattered, jagged black rocks near U.S. Highway 395 between Big Pine and Independence, to most became a life’s work for Glazner.
According to Glazner, the challenging terrain on either side of Owens Valley and into the mountains is a result of part of California moving northwest in an effort to join up with the Pacific plate and divorce itself from the North American plate. This movement started the process, said Glazner. California, Nevada and Western Utah all feature parallel mountain ranges separated by valleys. Bishop sits in one of those valleys between the Sierra and Whites/Inyos. Keep moving due east and the pattern repeats itself. “The plate movement stretched the mountains into ranges with deep valleys,” he said, “like a piece of rubber or a block of clay.” The stretching/breaking action opened spaces in the surface of the sarth. The ensuing flow of magma, in a variety of forms, eventually became some of the distinct features in the terrain, many of which locals and visitors drive by on U.S. Highway 395.
The earthquake that shook the valley in 1872 is testament to the life in the Sierra. Glazner said the quake caused 10 feet of motion and a three-foot vertical lift in some areas. One of the permanent changes is evident in the sharp drop just below the Baker Creek campsite east of Big Pine; more are evident in Southern Inyo closer to the epicenter.
“Long Valley is a caldera,” said Glazner, “left over from a super eruption about 72,000 years ago” long before recorded human history. Calderas are formed when the lid of a volcanic crater falls in on the magma level beneath. Crowley Lake is the southern edge of the caldera so large it took geologists a while to realize it was a caldera. The caldera stretches to Glass Mountain, going straight through Mammoth Mountain, measuring 20 miles east/west and 10 miles north/south.
The jagged black rocks scattered on either side of U.S. Highway 395 south of Big Pine: basalt lava flows from an old volcano, Crater Mountain. Word of caution: hiking up the seemingly smooth, rounded Crater Mountain requires hard-soled shoes. The rocks cut through rubber soles.
The Obsidian Domes in Mono County were once craters, made up of pumice and obsidian, or black glass, formed as the magma cooled.
Later in the year, check out Devils Postpile. Easily accessible on the Reds Meadow Shuttle out of Mammoth, the site is a series of vertical columns, abnormally thick lava once trapped behind a dam of glacier ice that cooled slowly.
And Glazner’s list of marvels goes on, Fossil Falls in Southern Inyo, the Alabama Hills just west of Lone Pine, the Waucobi lake beds in northwest Death Valley, Convict Lake and the glacial moraines, the Hilton Creek fault closed because of the water.
Which brings us to the next “must do” in the Eastern Sierra – after a long day fishing, visitors can soak in the springs heated by the heat just below the surface.
Long Valley is home to a series of natural hot springs. Regular soakers can hone in on these sites, but describing access is problematic. Take Benton Crossing Road at the green church just below the Mammoth Airport. Two and a half miles and two cattle guards later, turn right following the dirt road and heading left when given a choice. A mile in is a parking lot and wooden boardwalk to Wild Willy’s. For the best view from a natural hot tub, stay on the road past the second cattle guard, turn left at the bottom of the hill looking for a small, flat hilltop and signs of white mineral deposits.
Further north, a mile south of Bridgeport, sits the Travertine, three pools with a view. Turn east off U.S. Highway 395 at Jack Sawyer Road.
Developed hot springs start just north of Big Pine at Keough’s Hot Springs with its pool fed by natural hot springs. Temperate natural pools are abundant in the immediate area. Benton Hot Springs sits at the intersection of S.R. 120 and 6; Grover Hot Springs soothes sore muscles four miles west of Markleeville off S.R. 89 at 5,000 feet.
If more recent, recorded human history seems easier to wrap one’s head around, there are plenty of small, local museums to quench your curiosity.
The Laws Railroad Museum, north of Bishop off U.S. Highway 6, recreates the village that sprang up around the Carson and Colorado Railroad Station in 1880. The initial plan was to run the narrow gauge line from Mound House, Nev. And the Carson River to the Colorado River. The line made it as far as Keeler on the east edge of Owens Lake. As area mines closed down and the trucking industry ramped up, the trains stopped running in 1959. The only thing that remained of what was a small town was the depot, agent’s house, oil and water tanks and the turntable. The buildings and the last train were donated to Inyo County and the City of Bishop. Today, the museum is operated by the Bishop Museum and Historical Society with the community literally put back together with historic buildings moved on site from up and down Owens Valley, filled with artifacts that tell the story of the area’s early citizens.
Visitors can get a view into the valley’s history from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the summer, or 10 a.m.-4 p.m. during non-summer months. Runs of the Death Valley railroad car are scheduled for holiday weekends from Memorial Day to Labor Day and the museum hosts a GeoCache event on Saturday, May 10.
Independence is home to the Eastern California Museum, located east of U.S. 395 at 155 N. Grant St. The museum, or the idea of preserving the culture of the valley’s Native Americans as well as the early settlers to the area, has been around since 1928, moving to its present location in 1968. Today, extensive exhibits give visitors a look at the people and the life they led from the mid-1800s into the 20th century, when Model Ts replaced horses and mules. Photo exhibits follow the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct and the conflicts that followed. Cabins at the Japanese internment camp at Manzanar have been recreated. The museum is one of those places visitors may come into to escape the heat (it’s air conditioned and free) and spend hours wandering through the exhibits, then pick up a flyer and take a Walking Tour of Independence to explore some of the restored and preserved homes and buildings from the past. The museum features an equipment yard out back and access to a walking path to Dehy Park.
South of Independence and just east of U.S. Highway 395 is the Manzanar National Historical Site where life in the World War II Japanese internment camps has been preserved. The location was once home to the Paiute, then an apple orchard. As Los Angeles Department of Water and Power continued buying property and water rights into the late 1920s, the orchard and small community around it were abandoned. In 1942, the U.S. Army leased the 6,200 acres from LADWP to build the site which eventually housed 11,070 Japanese Americans for the duration of the war.
The site now houses artifacts of that time and gives visitors a sense of the people and culture that inhabited the camp until 1945 as the residents built their own unique community. It may not reflect the best of American history, but it serves both as a reminder and a testament to those who lived here.
The 45th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, hosted by the Manzanar Committee, is taking place this weekend – starting at noon today.
Manzanar is open from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. every day but Christmas. For more information, call  (760) 878-2194 ext. 3310, visit  www.nps.gov/manz  or check out  www.facebook.com/ManzanarNationalHistoricSite.

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