On my way home from Mammoth last weekend, I made a brief detour up Rock Creek to see the fall colors. The aspens near Upper Pine Grove and Lower Corral ranged from yellow to orange, and I could see a small spot up the side of Wheeler Ridge that was already red.
Near Upper Pine Grove
Near the cabin at Lower Corral
The rabbitbrush blanketing the Owens Valley was too gorgeous to simply drive past, so I also pulled over in Olancha and had a brief conversation with the cows about what a perfect day it was.
I joined my parents in Mammoth over this past weekend so that we could attend the memorial service / barbecue for Herb London in Bishop on Saturday. It was an absolutely gorgeous day filled with music, laughter, and great storytelling. I'm sure Herb would have approved. I had the pleasure of catching up with a few old friends, so I thought I'd share the handful of photos I took...
Cattle in a field in Lone Pine graze below the magnificent range of the High Sierras in California. In middle right of range is Mount Whitney, the Old One, with its two twin spires on the left of the peak. Betsey Bruner/Arizona Daily Sun
BETSEY BRUNER Arts & Culture Editor Arizona Daily Sun | azdailysun.com Posted: Sunday, September 18, 2011 5:00 am
When my Phoenix cousin, Brad, asked me to photograph his wedding this summer in Lake Tahoe, Calif., I jumped at the chance for a family reunion, and a road trip.
Planning my route, I decided to get to there via U.S. Route 395 in California, a highway I have long considered one of the most stunning in our country.
A JOURNEY FOR DAD
I also had sentimental reasons for picking that route: My dad, William, who died last July at age 97, had spent many summers in his late teens and later in life hiking and camping in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, which many nickname the High Sierras or the Sierras.
He had also climbed Mount Whitney, which, at an elevation of 14, 505 feet, is the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. The Paiute Indian Tribe had called it the Old Man or the Old One, a fitting name for a stately and dramatic peak.
The steep Sierra Escarpment on the east side of the range parallels the highway for miles and is a huge fault-block created in the Cretaceous Period (145.5-65.5 million years ago) as a molten rock mass rearing up sharply from the west to the east.
The result is a drive with amazing views for hours of lovely, jagged peaks, so it is not surprising this section of the highway is called the Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway. The byway identifies 23 scenic turnouts and interpretive displays from Topaz Lake in north Mono County to Little Lake in southern Inyo County.
The highway also serves as a connection to the Los Angeles area for the communities of the Owens Valley, Mammoth Lakes and Mono Lake and is used as an access for both the highest point in the U.S., Mount Whitney, and the lowest point in North America, Death Valley.
RIDING THE RAILS
Probably the best sightings by car of the granite face of Mount Whitney are from the little town of Lone Pine, whose Whitney Portal (8,360 feet) at the west of the town is the preferred trail and gateway to an ascent of Whitney.
This was the way my dad always went, with his pal, Warren, as they escaped a Los Angeles suffering from the effects of the Great Depression.
They "rode the rails" from L.A., hopping into a passing train without paying, almost like the so-called hobos or homeless vagabonds.
They would probably have to hitch a ride on car or truck from the east-west train line in the Mojave to get to the road north to the Sierra.
Carrying only blanket bedrolls, thin jackets and canvas backpacks, they supplied themselves with slab bacon, canned goods like milk and even carrots and eggs.
They picked up mules at the old mule station at Whitney Portal, and lived for a few months on trout they caught in the many lakes up high.
Mount Whitney, with an elevation of 14,505 feet, is the highest summit in the contiguous United States. As seen from the east side, the two distinctive needles make it easier to spot as it looms just over two miles above the town of Lone Pine in the Owens Valley below. The ancient and worn Alabama Hills are in the foreground. Betsey Bruner/Arizona Daily Sun
MUCH LOCAL HISTORY
Mount Whitney is still considered a challenging but manageable climb for amateurs (with training) and professionals alike, and the little towns below -- Lone Pine, Independence, Big Pine and Bishop, the largest city in the Owens Valley -- offer good eats and cozy places to stay, some with wonderful views of the magnificent mountain range. The range is also part of the larger John Muir Trail, another very popular backpacking route.
Also visible surrounding Lone Pine are the Alabama Hills, the ancient weathered hills of metamorphosed volcanic rock that are about 200 million years old, as compared to the 90-million-year-old granite of the Sierra Nevada range rising sharply behind.
The corridor going through these little towns has been used since the California gold rush. Before our highways were numbered, it was known by several names including El Camino Sierra.
After leaving Kramer Junction on SR 58 in the Mojave Desert and climbing up to higher elevations, travelers can stop at Randsburg, dubbed a living ghost town, for evidence these gold rush days.
The living ghost town of Randsburg (population 69) is in Kern County, Calif., just off U.S. Route 395 as it climbs out of the flatlands near Kramer Junction heading north to the Sierra Nevada or High Sierra mountain range. Gold was discovered at Rand Mine near the site in 1895. It's a fun spot to stop and stretch and even has some places to eat and sleep. Betsey Bruner/Arizona Daily Sun
MANY GREAT STOPS
Randsburg is just one of many very fun sojourns possible as one drives along Highway 395. Other stops include a high concentration of natural hot springs along the way, the Manzanar National Historic Site, a internment camp where Japanese Americans were imprisoned during World War II (near Independence), and, one of the best destinations in the vicinity, Mono Lake.
The lake is located northwest of Bishop as Highway 395 climbs up more than 3,000 feet in elevation, past Crowley Lake, Mammoth Lakes, June and Grant lakes and the community of Lee Vining.
Dating back at least 760,000 years ago, it is a terminal lake in a basin that has no outlet, so that dissolved salts make the lake very alkaline and saline. In fact, Mono Lake has nearly three times the concentration of salt as the ocean.
There is a state-of-the-art visitor center there with many displays to illuminate the story of the lake, including information about the unique and lovely tufa or limestone formations dotting the lake.
GREAT WATER WARS
The ecology of Mono Lake was threatened when Los Angeles extended the Los Angeles Aqueduct system farther upriver into the Mono Basin.
The original system was completed in 1913 when water was diverted from the Owens River, ultimately providing half of the water for Los Angeles and robbing farmers and ranchers of land and water.
This act incited the California Water Wars, a fierce and long-running episode in history, which also inspired the 1974 film "Chinatown."
Highway 395 briefly crosses over into Nevada, where one can cross back over to California on one of the connecting highways at Gardnerville or Minden, and on to South Lake Tahoe, my ultimate destination.
Betsey Bruner can be reached at email@example.com or 556-2255.
I think anyone who spent time at Rock Creek as a child remembers playing with the ground squirrels. Well, Jim Bull shared this story, with photos...
"One of the years we were up, I was bored and fascinated by the number of ground squirrels digging everything up all over the place, so I set up a trap near the shower house and caught a pair of them in short order, then built a box with the help of Ron Clark and somebody on staff, to take them back south to Claremont, where they lived for about 2 years. Only problem was they did not hibernate as was their normal process and eventually died from the heat or something else."
I was thrilled to find another message in my inbox with photos from Jim Bull, Jr. More iconic images from the early 1960s! The last photo Jim sent was of his brother Ben, his mother Libby, and Jim sitting in front of the store. Now we get to meet the photographer, Jim Bull, Sr. Here we have my dad Kib, Jim Jr., Ben, and their dad Jim Bull, Sr.:
And what was always one of the most fun events at the Lodge? Fish truck day! I can't tell you how many people still talk about how much fun they had riding the truck, carrying the sloshing buckets, or watching the fish stream from the truck into the pool near the upper bridge.
The man standing on the truck in this image is Charlie McNeil, and that's my dad again in the plaid shirt to the right of it. Libby and Ben Bull are on the far right in front of the Lobby. Does anyone know who the others might be? (Click on the photo to see it full-size.)
Here's much of the same crowd at the dumping spot:
A huge thanks to Jim for sending these along - they made my day. There are details I had completely forgotten about. Remember the red box on the porch of the lobby? It held Forest Service tools (axes, etc.) at the ready in case of fire. And who remembers the banner across the road? My parents did not!
I apologize for not posting anything here for such a long time; I've been too busy with other projects.
Since I enjoyed this brief story posted on Dave McCoy's blog about the owners of another Eastern Sierra lodge, I thought I'd share it here. Many of you who have visited the Mammoth Lakes area in addition to Rock Creek might have crossed paths with Bob Schotz or visited his Woods Lodge at Lake George. As you'll see in the blog post, he also built several prominent buildings around Mammoth.
You might also want to poke around in some of Dave McCoy's other posts; he's been sharing a lot of historic photos of Mammoth Mountain and the area in general, in addition to his own recent photography.
Rock Creek has lost one of its great personalities. I got word this morning that Herb London has died. He was a huge presence in my life at Rock Creek and it's difficult to think that he is gone. I'm sure most everyone has some personal memory of him, from seeing him at the Pack Station to sitting in the lobby at the Lodge listening to his stories. The most vivid image I always recall is seeing him at Lower Corral, an Airedale or two never far from his side. Rock Creek and all the people who love it will miss you, Herb. Craig, our thoughts are with you.
Written by Benett Kessler Thursday, 31 March 2011 20:35
For some ten years back in the 60s and 70s, Herb London sat on the Inyo Board of Supervisors. He was a no nonsense, down to earth, straight talking man who was passionate about proper public planning and wilderness, and he was a story teller extraordinaire. London died Wednesday morning at his home in Ojai with his family and his dog Gus at his side. He was 92.
London was not a man of pretense. His son, Craig London of Bishop said his Dad was a very basic person. "He never bought anything just because if was new." London's Bishop home was simple and adequate. It looked like part of the land.
London sat on the Inyo Supervisors between 1964 and 1977. He was there when Inyo filed an environmental lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles over groundwater pumping. He opposed a road to Horseshoe Meadows. His son said London "didn't want uncontrolled growth."
John K. Smith, Inyo County's administrator for 30 years, said that London was "one of our better board members. He had a way of evaluating a problem and coming up with a real sensible conclusion." On the personal side, Smith and London made trips to Sacramento together. Smith said, "He was enjoyable to travel with. As a packer, he had a lot of stories. He was constantly entertaining."
London grew up around Glendale, graduated from UCLA with a degree in Agricultural Economics. He worked for American Airlines and was active in the Military Air Transport in World War II.
Herb and wife Marjorie and others bought Rock Creek Pack Station in 1947. They eventually bought out the other partners and operated the pack station for over 50 years. Craig London continues to run the business.
Family said London was responsible for creating the Millpond Recreation Center and fought for Wilderness that provided access to all types of people. He was one of the founders of Bishop Mule Days.
Herb is survived by his wife Aleta, his son Craig and wife Carmen and his loyal Airedale, Gus. Memorial gatherings in both Ojai and Bishop will be scheduled at a later date. For those who want to remember Herb, a memorial fund for trail maintenance on the Mono Pass Trail will be established in conjunction with the Sierra National Forest; or donate to any animal-based charity.
Note: the photo above was later replaced on the Sierra Wave site with the one below, so I'm adding it here too. Not the Herb we were used to seeing at Rock Creek, but a great photo of him.