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USA: California: Bishop, Coloma, Hearst Castle, Laguna Beach, Lone Pine, Los Angeles, Mammoth Lakes, Mono Lake, Monterey Bay, Palm Springs, Pismo Beach, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Solvang, Yosemite National Park
Mammoth Lakes, California, USA: Slopes & Lakes
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
A 5-hour drive from Los Angeles takes you to a beautiful world of its own. Serene lakes surrounded by the Sierra make for a great stay. The majestic slopes invite skiers in winters (and beyond) while the summers invite anglers, hikers and mountain bikers. Welcome to Mammoth Lakes.
I was in Los Angeles for a Trade Show. That gave me an opportunity to join in a 3-day familiarization trip to Mammoth Lakes. I was in group consisting of travel professionals from around the world. We were hosted by California Tourism Board.
Our outbound journey was scheduled in a bus. Actually, those who wish to avoid the drive can opt to take a flight from Los Angeles. At the time of my visit there were 7 daily flights. If you ask me, I would certainly recommend a drive. The advantage is 2-fold. One, it’s a scenic drive through the Owens valley that cuts Eastern Sierra to the left and the White Mountain range to the right. The drive passes through Lone Pine and Bishop that have attractions to keep visitors engrossed for a while. Two, a traveler can combine the trip with Yosemite National Park with an option to complete the loop by including San Francisco or Las Vegas. While we drove to Mammoth Lakes, our return journey was a 50-minute flight.
We left Los Angeles at 9AM. Our first stop was at 11:30AM at Beverly and Jim Rogers Film Museum in Lone Pine.
Nestled in the foothills of the Eastern Sierra Mountains, the little town of Lone Pine and the nearby Alabama Hills has been the location for hundreds of films, commercials and television shows. Since the early years of filmmaking, directors and actors, producers and their production units, large and small, have packed up and left Hollywood for the great outdoors. Approaching the 100th anniversary of The Roundup (1920), the first documented film produced in the area, Lone Pine has played host to hundreds of the industry’s best known directors and actors, among them directors William Wyler, John Ford, George Stephens and William Wellman; and actors as diverse as John Wayne, Bing Crosby, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Downey, Jr., and Jeff Bridges. For movie buffs and television viewers around the world these hills in the Owens Valley have portrayed the wilds of the American West (Bad Day at Black Rock, 1954), the valleys of the Himalayas (Gunga Din, 1939), and the Arabian Desert (Iron Man, 2008).
More recent productions such as Tremors and Joshua Tree, were filmed at "movie ranch" sites known as Movie Flats and Movie Flat Road. In Gladiator, actor Russell Crowe rides a horse in front of the Alabamas, with Mount Whitney in the background, for a scene presumably set in Spain. Star Trek Generations was filmed here in addition to Overton, Nevada and Paramount Studios. This range was one of the filming locations for Disney's Dinosaur. More recently, many parts of the films Iron Man and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen were filmed here. The museum exhibits an extensive collection of real movie costumes, movie cars, props, posters, and other memorabilia. This collection tells the story of filming in the area in and around Lone Pine from the early days of the Round Up to the modern blockbusters of today such as Iron Man.
After a delicious lunch at the museum, we left for Bishop, our next destination about 2 hours away. Before we departed, Joe Pollini, hopped on our bus. He lives in Bishop and is a tour guide. I guess he would be in his sixties, but his enthusiasm would put a 40-year old to shame! Joe was exceptionally good with his knowledge of the region and his narration was excellent. He has my recommendation in case you plan to have a guide ride with you. As we drove towards Bishop, Joe pointed out the history and the making of the valley. I was intrigued to learn that most of the land belongs to Los Angeles Water and Power Department. There was early resistance from the locals as water was being taken away via ducts to quench the thirst of the city of Los Angeles.
At 3PM we were given a warm welcome by the Bishop Tourism Board. Chilled orange juice and freshly baked cookies from the famous Erick Schat’s Bakkery (I suggest you make a stop to taste their famous Sheepherder Bread and other delights) cheered us up to visit Laws Railroad Museum which was about a 10-minute drive from downtown, if I may. You see, Bishop is a small community with the main street just about a mile long. It has only one traffic light.
On May 10, 1880, the Carson and Colorado Railroad Company was formed and incorporated by William Sharon, H. M. Yerington and Darius Mills. They planned to run the narrow gauge railroad from Mound House, Nevada, and the Carson River to the Colorado River, calling it the C&C Railroad. It never reached the Colorado River but stopped at Keeler, California. It has often been referred to as "the railroad that was built 300 miles too long or 300 years too soon"
As the word was out that the railroad would run east of the Owens River, people started to arrive at what is known now as Laws. A new railroad town was built. It took 3 years for the rails to be laid from Mound House to Laws, with the first train arriving in April of 1883. The depot, agent's house, section boss's house, outhouses, water tank and turntable were all ready when it arrived.
In addition to the railroad buildings other construction quickly followed which included many homes, barns, and corrals, two general stores, a rooming house, eating house, hotel, boarding house, pool hall and dance hall, blacksmith shop, post office, barber shop, powder magazine and warehouses. Several industrial buildings followed later. Many ranches surrounded Laws and used the railroad to ship their crops.
The decline and demise of Laws and the railroad were the result of the local mines closing, trucking becoming cheaper than rail freight and the city of Los Angeles buying most of the valley for the water rights. By 1959 when the railroad ceased operation, there was no trace of any of the buildings at Laws as they had all been torn down for salvage. Only the depot, agent's house, oil and water tanks and the turntable survived. All the other buildings you see at the museum today were doomed for destruction locally but were saved by being moved to the museum grounds. The 11-acre open air museum is open year round and admission is through donation.
At Laws Railroad Museum time flies. It was already 4:30PM. It was time for us to reach our final destination – Mammoth Lakes which was about an hour’s drive away on Highway 395.
By 5:30PM we were at the gates of Sierra Nevada Lodge our home for the next 2 nights. Quickly freshening up, we all gathered in the reception to be fitted with ski equipment that would be provided by Black Tie Ski Rental. Good to know that the Black Tie team members come to your doorstep to fit you with the right equipment. This facility comes as a boon especially during peak ski days when the wait at ski rental stores could be hours long. Since I don’t ski I opted out. Instead, the next morning, I would be on my own exploring the slopes and the landscape in and around Mammoth Lakes.
After a welcome reception hosted by Sierra Nevada Lodge, we enjoyed a sumptuous and delicious dinner at Rafters – the restaurant of the lodge. In attendance was a live band. Though I had the option of hanging out late, rocking with the music, I preferred to call it a day. It would be another long day tomorrow.
After breakfast the next morning, we were ready to inspect a few hotels and the amenities they offered. Our visit took us to Westin Hotel, 8050 (it’s the altitude in feet, by the way), Alpenhof Lodge and The Village. After the visit the group was ready to ski the Mammoth Mountain. Every member of the group took off to the lifts based upon their ski-skills. I detoured to the scenic gondola to reach the mountain peak.
Whist the group would ski the entire day, I planned to spend an hour atop and return to the base at 12 noon. Using the scenic gondola I reached the top. It was quite windy and I could feel the chill. However, that did not deter me from venturing out in the open to enjoy the panoramic view that the location offered. I wish I could ski or snowboard… the excitement with skiers and snowboarders was contagious.
As scheduled I was at the restaurant at 12 noon. Joe Pollini was kind enough to drive all the way from Bishop just to take me around. After a quick, but hearty burger lunch, Joe and I set out to explore the region. We had a car at our disposal and about 5 hours to explore.
That afternoon, we drove for about 100 miles, both on and off the road. Our sites for the day included small treks and stops at Convict Lake, McGee Canyon Creek, Rock Creek Lake, Crowley Lake and Hot Creek Geologic Site. While the pictures will do a better job, here’s a quick note highlighting the wonderful places.
Convict Lake is in the Sherwin Range of the Sierra Nevada. It is known for its fishing and the dramatic mountains that surround the lake. Mount Morrison makes for a great backdrop. Convict Lake's surface lies at an elevation of 7,850 feet.
The lake was named after an incident on September 23, 1871, where a group of convicts escaped from prison in Carson City. A posse, from Benton, led by Deputy Sheriff George Hightower, encountered the convicts near the head of what is now Convict Creek. Posse member Robert Morrison, a Benton merchant and Wells Fargo Agent, was killed in the encounter, and Mount Morrison was named after him.
McGee Creek, offers access to the John Muir Wilderness for hiking, fishing, and horseback riding. The canyon and creek side boast spectacular colors in the fall and wildflower landscapes in the summer.
Rock Creek Lake is a great location for camping, fishing, hiking, backpacking, mountain biking or simply relaxing. At the time of my visit the lake was frozen.
15 miles from Mammoth Lakes, Crowley Lake is a reservoir on the upper Owens River. It was created in 1941 by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power as storage for the Los Angeles Aqueduct and for flood control. It is known for its trout fishing: between 6,000 and 10,000 anglers hit the lake on opening day, which generally falls on the last Saturday of April. As luck would have it, I was there just a day prior to the opening of the fishing season. People were busy with their boats. On most of the lakes that I visited, chairs were being laid to reserve the best spot!
As Mammoth Creek leaves the Sierra and flows east into the Long Valley Caldera it is joined by warmer water from geothermal springs at the Hot Creek State Fish Hatchery. From this confluence the stream is named Hot Creek, though its water temperature seldom exceeds 68 °F (20 °C) until it reaches Hot Creek Gorge 8 miles east of Mammoth Lakes. In the Hot Creek Gorge numerous Long Valley Caldera hot springs near and in the stream bed add warm to hot water into the stream. Its mouth is at the confluence with the Owens River upstream from Crowley Lake.
As scheduled we reached our hotel at 5PM. A special trolley was waiting for us to show us around town. Our guide for the evening was Mammoth Lakes’ Mayor in the waiting, Matthew Lehman!
We left on our city tour at 5:30PM. We drove through the town enjoying the wonderful landscapes, housing neighbourhoods (many Hollywood celebs have their homes here), ski locations and spent some time walking around the Twin Lakes. On our way back, we were extremely lucky to spot a baby bear. I am told, in summer time, it’s very common to see bears roam around.
At 7PM we alighted at The Village. Our dinner was hosted at Smokeyard. It’s a fantastic place to enjoy BBQ cuisine. The dinner and the rest for the night prepared us for another long day we would negotiate tomorrow – Mono Lake.
Mammoth Lakes Image Gallery Photo viewer
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