Jdub’s Unforgettable Drive #2. U.S. Highway 395 in California from Ridgecrest to Bishop

Mt Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous 48 states (14,501 feet)

     We start today’s journey in the California high desert town of Ridgecrest just east of the southern tip of the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountain range. We will focus on a section of highway that yields stunning views of some of the most beautiful mountains in the world. A drive that is a short distance from anywhere in California, yet has landscapes that vary from desert rocks to tall snow covered peaks dotted with lakes and waterfalls.
     Highway 395 begins humbly in the high desert town of Adelanto where dust, sand, and heat rule the landscape. As you travel north the highway takes on a scenic byway with vistas all around. Those who wish to keep traveling down this road will likely end up in Reno, Nevada. However, few realize that highway 395 taken to the extreme will take them to the Canadian border in Eastern Washington State. Today we begin in Ridgecrest and there are two main ways to get to the start of this drive. One way is to take highway 14 out of Santa Clarita, then follow the road past Mojave to meet up with 395 just north of Ridgecrest. The other way is to take Interstate 15 and join 395 in Adelanto.

     As you start out you see mostly desert landscape as you work your way past China Lake Naval Center. Then you come to Owens Lake, which became famous for dust storms after Los Angeles diverted its water supply from the Owens River in the early 20th century to send water down south. Now there is is an effort to give the water back and reclaim the wetlands birds use when migrating.

Area in the Alabama Hills where the temple in Gunga Din was filmed

     After Owens lake things get interesting. You will come to the sleepy town of Lone Pine and by now you will be gawking to figure out which of the giant peaks off to your left is the great Mt Whitney. Lone Pine is a good place to stop and explore as there is much to see in and around this high desert town. I recommend a left turn at Whitney portal road. A mile or so up and you will be in the midst of the world famous Alabama Hills where movies such as Gunga Din starring Cary Grant, Tremors starring Kevin Bacon, and High Sierra starring Humphrey Bogart were filmed. Not to mention every ones favorite The Lone Ranger.

Alabama Hills

     These unique rock formations captivate your mind visually and kids will like to climb up and down their smooth rock faces. You will want to go higher up Whitney Portal Road for 13 miles as you climb higher and higher to about 8400 feet to the Mt Whitney Portal, this is where the trail to Mt. Whitney begins. Near the trail-head is parking and a general store where you can buy souvenirs and get a bite to eat. You will want to walk up and take pictures of the Whitney Portal Waterfall, there is also camping and fishing around the small lake nearby. If you plan on hiking be sure to grab a permit before you go as they are hard to come by, people come from all over the United States to climb the tallest peak.

Whitney Portal Falls

     There are fishing streams throughout the hills beginning around Lone Pine. After Lone Pine and before Independence you come to Manzanar, site of a WWII Japanese internment camp. There is a nice museum and an auto tour. The museum has clean restrooms and they have done a nice job explaining what life was like for the Japanese American citizens there. They also have a nice air conditioned theater with a 20 minute film. As you head north you will go through other small towns such as Independence and Big Pine. There are many scenic areas to pull over and look around. You will see lakes, rivers, and the towering peaks of the Eastern Sierra Nevada all around. Then you will come to the town of Bishop, the largest town on 395 until you get to Carson City. There you will find places to eat and rest. You have to visit Erick Schats Bakery while you are here, not going will make the trip incomplete. Here you can try different breads like sheepherders, squaw, sourdough, beer, and  my personal favorite, the world famous chili cheese bread, It has jalapeƱos and cheese baked throughout the bread. If you happen to be around Bishop in the morning go into Schatts and ask if they have any Ollie-bollens or (Oliebollen). Ollie-bollens are dutch pastries similar to, but in a whole different league, than donuts. These ollie’s are filled with apples and raisins, and come dusted with sugar or coated in sweet  glaze. I like to say they’re like donuts for adults as they are not nearly as sweet as a donut and go equally well with a cup of coffee or a glass of milk. I am sure a visit to Schats will be one of the highlights of your trip as you walk around their store smelling all the different breads and pastries being made.

     If you want to stay in Bishop overnight there are many places to stay, including a Holiday Inn Express right on 395. There are also several places to eat in Bishop, including one of my favorites Whiskey Creek, they have a gift shop and serve western home-style fare. Also be sure to stop by Mahogany Smoked Meats just north of Bishop on 395. There they have all sorts of premium smoked meats and jerky and all of the meats are smoked with real mahogany wood for a deep down smoked flavor.

     From Bishop you can reach many areas for camping, skiing, fishing, hiking, or photography. If you drive north you can be in Mammoth in 45 minutes. There are several places to fish off highway 168 which is accessed by turning left on West Line Street out of Bishop. Even further north you can access Tioga Pass Road which runs through Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite Park’s east entrance. These drives will be featured in future posts so please stay tuned.

     Thanks for taking the time to read my blog, I hope you enjoy it and I hope that you have a chance to go and see these places firsthand. As always stay tuned and drive safe. Thank you.