Sierra Nevada Mountains, California – Spring 2016 Road Trip – Day 4 – Sherman Pass & The Eastern Sierras

Our 4th day started out by heading back into the Central Valley, where we once again stopped at a farm market, this time for fresh picked cherries, strawberries and apples for snacks while we drove through the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Immediately after leaving Porterville we started back up into the mountains, spending the 40 miles winding our way along California 190 until we came to the junction for Sherman Pass, where the highway crosses the Kern River.

There was a parking lot for people to go fishing, so we stopped for a break, asking one of the locals if they knew if the pass was open (it is normally closed all winter). Assured that it was we decided to go through the pass, as opposed the much longer route around the southern end of the mountains.

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As soon as we turned onto this road we had to dodge boulders in the middle of the road, but that was short lived and our drive continued up the mountain. Eventually we peaked out at 9200 feet in elevation, the highest point of the pass, where the temperature had dropped from the 70oF in Fresno to 36oF, cold enough to retain much of the winter snow, giving me an opportunity to throw some late May snowballs.

The route across the pass and subsequent mountains is 137 miles, and after dropping down into the valley for the Eastern Sierra’s the temperature was back up to 77o F.

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Heading up the valley on U.S. 395 we soon arrived at Fossil Falls; a unique geological feature located in the Coso Range of California where volcanic activity in the mountain range, along with meltwater from glaciers in the nearby Sierra Nevada, played a role in the creation of the ‘falls’.

Walking along the path to Fossil Falls was across extremely uneven footing from the basaltic flows was challenging, but eventually we arrived at a sheer 50′ drop off into a ravine filled with similar rocks.

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The flows occurred between 400,000 years ago and 10,000 years ago. There are large, perfectly circular penetrations in the basalt that are erosional features called potholes. The black polished rock looked odd scattered over acres of desert but we climbed over rocks to stand along the edge and peer down into the deep ravine.

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Lone Pine was our next stop, going up into Alabama Hills to see the movie trail where TV and movie scenes were filmed. The desert and western scenes for films like Django, Gunga Din, Rawhide and How the West Was Won were all shot here, with a movie trail looped us through the specific sites for each. Also of interest is a natural stone arch that was situated directly on the movie trail.

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Further up the valley is Manzanar, California, now a National Historic Site, but was initially built in 1942 as an internment camp; where the United States government ordered more than 110,000 of men, women, and children who had been forced to leave their homes were detained them in remote, military-style camps. While a few were Japanese immigrants, most of the men, women and children were US citizens.

The Historic Site had a number of building from the 1940s, including the Block House, a building that provided living quarters for a family. The Block House had one coal heater, and a mattress which meant that the family had to fend for themselves if they wanted other items. We also saw the Barracks, originally a cluster of fifteen buildings. The barracks (shacks) were built of only pine planking covered with tarpaper, on concrete footings, with about two feet of open space between the floorboards and the ground. Knotholes gaped in the uncovered floor.

Despite the injustice of it all, and the poor conditions, these people made toys, furniture, and household items from leftover crates and trash left from supplies brought into the camp, as well as creating gardens for food and beauty.

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The camp required the Japanese ethnic detainees to hold jobs.  They served in jobs to help their captors, the US military, during WWII at the camp and sometimes the detained were sent out of camp to help alleviate the labor shortage, for instance, picking vegetables elsewhere.

In addition to the barracks and block house, our tour of the grounds showed us rubble of a Catholic church, and sites where a Buddhist temple, school, hospital and post office once stood.

At the back of the camp was a cemetery, with a tall white monument engraved in Japanese writing standing in the center of a fenced area. The fence was decorated with multi-colored paper chains that looked like lotus flowers.

We walked among the graves but we could only feel ashamed of how our country treated its own citizens.

 

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We left Manzanar and drove along the highway seeing rain in the distance with storm clouds that hung at the top of the mountains. The Sierra Nevada Mountains flanked the highway to our left with peaks between 11,000 and 14,000 feet in elevation.  We saw Mt. Whitney from a far with a snow blanketed peak. Mt. Whitney is the highest point in California at 14,494 feet.

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Our day ended at Bishop, California to stay the night. After dinner at a Japanese restaurant, we returned back to our hotel, the Creekside Inn.

The hotel served freshly made cookies as we walked in so we had some for our dessert while watching Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, where the Penguins tied the series at 3 games each; so final game seven will be played in Pittsburgh. During our entire trip we were able to either watch the game, or in a few instances, listen to it on the satellite radio that the Chrysler 300 Rental Car had.

While watching the hockey game, we were able to look out our hotel window to see a rainbow wedged between two mountain peaks. It was an unusual sight in the way it was situated between the peaks.

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