Lizzie on Location

Californication | May 10, 2010

Near Mount Whitney

My trip to Bull Head City ended in a hangover, which I drove off by way of a trip across the desert to California.  Not like Hollywood or even San Fran.  Nope.  My one and only stop in Cali was the Eastern Sierras.  Bishop to be exact, a small town just south of Mammoth Lakes in the Owens Valley.  This was the first time I had been to California and it was not at all what I expected.

The Inyos, the mountain range that runs east of the Owens Valley

First of all, after having spent what felt like weeks in the desert (in reality it was just barely one week) I was excited to get to Bishop where surely at 4,000 feet in elevation and nestled in the Sierras it would be green.  Well, not exactly.  It was MUCH greener than Phoenix, Bull Head City, Death Valley, and some of the other places I drove through to get there; but it was not a lush forest.  As I climbed north as well as higher in elevation I waited and waited for the tree line.  And then I was in Bishop.  And the tree line never came.

This was to be my first lesson in California topography and landscape.  I literally had no idea that it was an arid climate.  I expected trees everywhere.  I mean my friend works for the forest service and her friends fight wildfires.  It is easy to assume that there is a forest given the little information I was going off of.  Kim must have laughed at me a million times for my astonishment at the reality of Bishop.

As I headed north through the Valley I spotted what looked like salt flats to me.  Now, admittedly I do not nor did I know much about the geography of California; especially the Eastern Sierras.  However, I was pretty sure there were no natural salt flats, and the expanse of this particular one was alarming.  I had to find out more.

Owens Lake... Well what remains of it.

Upon my arrival one of the first questions I had for Kim was if I had indeed seen slat flats and whether they were indeed natural or not.  Kim explained that those salt flats are a huge controversy there in the Owens Valley.  What I had seen was the Owens Lake (Lake Owens?)  Apparently, the county of LA has been buying up property throughout the state for its adjoining water rights.  Long ago (pretty sure within the last 100 years though) they had purchased land (not sure how much) adjacent to the lake and began pumping the water out of the lake to provide drinking water to LA.  No surprise to anyone with some environmental knowledge that soon the lake dried up leaving a toxic salt flat in its place.  LA county continued to move north draining more of the valleys lakes until the local population had had enough and began fighting back.  However, the environmental damage of the draining of Owens Lake has been done and like the rest of the world’s fresh waterways that have dried up from human mismanagement, California is left with a huge disaster that needs to be dealt with.  And yet somehow, even though my degree is directly related to the study of this I had never heard of it. That is the true disaster of the situation, that informed American’s don’t know about this nor is it at the front of our concerns nationally.

Environmental Degradation of the Owens Lake CA

I arrived the Saturday before Easter and was welcomed into California with tickets to see the Banff Film Festival which was touring in Bishop that weekend.  Being that I was born just outside of Banff, it was exciting to see something from the area where I entered the world.  There were a ton of really cool short films, but the one that stuck out the most in my mind was a documentary done by a Brit who rode a tandem bike from the arctic circle in Alaska to the very tip of Argentina.  He chose the tandem bike for the opportunity to make friends while completing the challenge.  It took him 2 years.  I could understand some of the feelings he had experienced during the trek.  Like loneliness for example.  However, I would face like 11 hours of loneliness; he experienced 3 weeks at a time.  Oh and I was driving 10,000 miles and he was biking like 29,000.  But these are minor details.

Kim's Neighborhood in Bishop, CA

Bishop itself is a small town, with just 3,000 people.  But it is one of the cutest little places in the country and has tons of great local shops.  The population is also very passionate about shopping local and supporting local economy.  This was a refreshing change to much of the country where WalMart and big chains are the everyday places to go.  There are tons of great little restaurants that use local products as well as many thriving galleries.  The Owens Valley is so beautiful there are countless opportunities for artists to create beautiful interpretations of the surrounding landscapes.  There is also one of the best used book stores I have ever seen.  It’s reasonably priced and has a HUGE selection.  Oh and in typical style, it snowed while I was in Cali.  Yes, I realize I am probably one of the only people who would go to California not expecting to see snow and then have that happen (remember Atlanta?)

North end of Bishop CA (it had snowed while I was there)

Bishop is also home to cowboys and some major federal land management departments in addition to artists.  The Feds and the cowboys apparently are at opposing ends on the debate over how to properly use and manage land.  One thing they can both agree on though is that developing it or letting LA have their water is a non option.

Picturesque!

While in California I experienced minor dehydration and elevation sickness (probably due to the dehydration.)  I had no idea what was wrong with me.  It felt like I was car sick when I was still and not moving.  It was horrible.  But a little water and some sleep was all I needed to put me back in the game.  This was not the first time I had experienced dehydration while on a major vacation…. There is a running joke between my little brothers girlfriend and him that I always go so hard on vacation that I get deathly ill upon my return.  My sickness came on a day when I had planned to go to the Japanese Internment Camp in the area for a little historical lesson.  Unfortunately I missed out on that trip.

There is SO much to do in the Eastern Sierras between the natural setting and the historical sites that a person could spend years discovering it all.  I had a few days and made the natural hot springs in the area my priority.  I had never been to hot springs and know that many of them are too hot to sit in or have now been funneled into bath houses worldwide.  Kim and her friends took me to the hot springs down the road from them.  It was about 40 degrees out that night and I was under the impression that these springs would be deep like a hot tub and HOT.  In reality they were shallow like a bath tub and fairly warm but not as hot as the temperature I would have had drawn my own bath water to.  And while it sounds like I am complaining, I am not exactly.  It was really cold and windy the night we went and that didn’t help to make me comfortable in reality.  However, I have to say that if it had been 10+ degrees warmer I would have been as happy as a pig in shit there.  It’s amazing.  You drive not far off the main highway and bam, you are in the middle of hot springs that are free and open to the public.  The best thing is there really isn’t any signage so its mainly locals that go.  The backdrop surrounding you is amazing, but the water is diverted during the day to a bath house and you are charged for sitting in hot water that can be freely accessed after dark naturally.

Eastern California is beautiful and has tons to offer any traveller.  Don’t think you will be alone even south of Tahoe and Mammoth.  Bishop has so much to offer that people from all walks of life and interested in all types of activities come to Bishop, if just to stop for lunch on their way north for ski vacations.

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To begin with, this is not for baby ears or the weak. By baby ears I mean people with sensitivity issues and the under 18 crowd. I am crass and if you are easily offended by my language and/or opinions and/or comments and/or behavior, you can get the fuck over yourself..... (sorry mom and anyone else who loves me but wishes my mouth was less filthy.)

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