“Small Town with a Big Backyard” – Bishop, CA

Hawthrone NV November 2019-25

One thing that you learn when you are full timing is that you have to be flexible. David and I wanted to travel south on Hwy. 395 but we encountered a small problem. When we called several campgrounds between Carson City, NV and Bishop, CA, they had already closed for the season. Located at higher altitudes, these campgrounds do not remain open during the colder months of the year. After talking with Judie and Mark, they recommended that we take Rte. 95 south through Nevada and then we could get back on Hwy. 395 near Bishop, CA. They also encouraged us to stay at Walker Lake State Recreation Area which is one of their favorite campgrounds on that route. We took their advice and we were glad that we did.

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Walker Lake is a natural lake that is 11 miles long and 5 miles wide. The Walker Lake State Recreation Area where we camped is about 75 miles from Reno, NV. The lake was very pretty and the campground overlooked the lake. We did notice that the lake level was quite low. After doing some research, we learned that much of the water that would normally flow into the lake was diverted upstream due to agriculture. As a result, the lake level has dropped about 181 feet over the past 135 years. Upon closer inspection of the lake, we saw a lot of algae in the water. Sadly, contamination has also affected the natural fish species. Although Walker Lake was picturesque, I would not recommend swimming in it.

Mark also encouraged us to visit the Hawthorne Ordnance Museum. Since we were not far from Hawthorne, David decided to drive into town and check it out. In this small museum, you can see 20th century ammunition, uniforms, photos, memorabilia, and newspaper clippings. The town of Hawthorne is home to the large 226 square mile Hawthorne Army Depot facility.

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David has always wanted to climb down into a military tank and he got his wish.

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After spending a couple of nights at Walker Lake, we made our way to the town of Bishop. One of our first stops was the Visitor Center downtown where we met a very knowledgeable volunteer. He had lived in this area for quite some time and he helped us map out our time there. He recommended a number of great things to see and do in and around Bishop. We left there with a long list of options from which to choose. We were not able to do everything listed but what we did select turned out to be fabulous.

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Our first excursion was to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the Inyo National Forest. We drove about 45 minutes into the mountains on a windy and narrow road to reach these amazing ancient trees. Set atop the White Mountains about 9,000-11,000 feet above sea level are the oldest documented bristlecone pines. Some of the trees in the Methuselah Grove are 4,851 years old. They are the oldest recorded living things on earth.

The Great Basin Bristlecone Pines are found in the mountains in eastern California, Utah, and Nevada. The oldest ones are in California. These ancient trees prefer cold, dry, wind swept climates and white rocky dolomite soil which helps protect them from damaging fires. As a consequence of the harsh weather conditions, they have developed unique ways to ensure their survival. Their roots grow close to the surface so that they can capture moisture more easily. They also have hard dense resinous wood that is insect resistant. Unlike other pine trees, these Bristlecone Pines are shorter, weather beaten, gnarly and have very little bark which gives them an unusual appearance.

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While in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, we hiked two short interpretative trails: the Pinyon Nature Trail and the Discovery Trail. We also stopped at the Sierra View Overlook which provided a wonderful view of the Owens Valley below and the Sierra Nevada range.

We are glad that we made the effort to visit this truly magnificent ancient forest that is a testament to Nature’s resilience.

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Another day we set out to explore parts of Bishop Creek Canyon. We drove up into the Sierra Nevada range. Our first stop was South Lake. Located at 9,768 feet above sea level, this natural lake is surrounded by 13,000 feet peaks. From the South Lake parking lot, there are also a variety of trails that lead to additional alpine lakes farther up in the mountains in the John Muir Wilderness Area. We chose to hike a trail that paralleled South Lake and offered some outstanding vistas. While the trail was in very good shape, we did encounter an icy section that we had to circumnavigate. Also, we were lucky because there were not many people on the trail that day. Some other hikers told us that in season it can be very crowded. We hiked for a few miles, stopped at a great overlook, ate our picnic lunch, enjoyed the lovely views, and then hiked back. It was a beautiful day and a wonderful hike.

From South Lake we drove up the North Fork to Lake Sabrina. This man-made lake was formed when the California Nevada Power Company dammed up Bishop Creek in 1907-1908. Lake Sabrina is at 9,128 feet above sea level and is nestled at the base of some very beautiful high mountain peaks. It is a very popular destination for boaters and fishermen alike. In season, the Lake Sabrina Boat Landing operates a café and a boat launch and it has boat rentals and fishing supplies as well. Even though it had closed for the season, we still saw a number of fishermen who were fishing from the lake’s shore. We walked across the dam and around part of the lake while there. While I preferred South Lake, this lake was pretty too.

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We discovered that the town of Bishop has some good eats. We enjoyed dining at the Burger Barn (an out-of-the-way restaurant with great burgers and fries) and the Holy Smoke Texas Style BBQ restaurant (great BBQ with large portions). We also visited the Great Basin Bakery (good GF chocolate chip cookies) and the Schat’s Bakery (great breads and goodies but not any GF options). We definitely did not go away hungry.

Bishop is truly the “Small Town with a Big Backyard.” This area has a lot to offer and we only scratched the surface of what there is to see and do here. These are a few of the places that we did not have time to visit: the Laws Railroad Museum and Historic Village, Keough’s Hot Springs, Intake Lake, Pine Creek Crags, the Owens Valley Paiute/Shoshone Museum, and much, much more. It appears that we will have to come back here again to explore more of the Eastern Sierras. What we did see and do during our stay in Bishop, however, we thoroughly enjoyed.


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