I have always loved the Eastern Sierras and was stoked to bring Paul to spend some time in the area. Driving down Hwy 6, onto the 395 and into Bishop felt like coming home for me. The Sierras stretch north and south as far as you can see and the town of Bishop sits at the base of these imposing peaks. Our first couple days mainly consisted of scoping out the town for camping options, coffee shops, trails and, of course, taco (and other eatery) establishments. Developed campgrounds in California are notoriously expensive; most of the Forest Service sites are about $25/night in this area, which would bust our lodging budget way too quickly. After one night in a rare $5 campground aptly named “The Pit” we opted for some dispersed sites off two dirt roads just north of Bishop: Casa Diablo and Fish Slough.
The cycling in the area offers thrilling views, but not so thrilling dirt. On our first of only two rides we decided to head out Casa Diablo, which eventually leads all the way to Crowley Lake, for a long Saturday workout and found it, let’s say, fun in its own unique way. Again, the mountain backdrop was fantastic, but the road alternated between rough washboard and soft sand that I found practically impossible to pedal through – good strength work! Later in our stay we rode an out and back on Fish Slough Rd, which was much more reasonable: better dirt with the same awesome views.
We were dying to get up to some mountain trails so soon into our stay we gently urged the Beauville up a few thousand feet to Sabrina Lake, about 20 miles out Hwy 168. The trail starts at about 9,000 ft and climbs through forest, above tree line and past several of the umpteen alpine lakes hidden around the John Muir Wilderness. I convinced Paul to scramble up a rocky incline when we made it to Midnight Lake and got my wanna-be bouldering fix in for the day while refueling with some peanut butter M&Ms.
Closer to town there is an off-road vehicle/hiking/biking trail system called, The Druids, that could be a good spot to get in some everyday runs, including a no-joke mile or two steep climb. We also found endless miles of dirt roads and canal paths just a couple blocks east of downtown. Although pretty much pancake flat, these could potentially be perfect for winter dirt runs when the higher mountain trails and roads are inaccessible. For post workout refreshment, the main street of Bishop offers quite a few options, including a local brewery, Mountain Rambler, that we visited a couple times for beers, fries, beet hummus and tacos. A small traditional taqueria across the street, El Ranchito, fed us well one evening before a movie at the quaint movie house next door. Just before heading out of town, Paul discovered $1.75 tacos at a hidden Mexican market a block of the main drag that also offered amazing homemade salsas. Our mornings were spent alternating between the local Looney Bean or Black Sheep Coffee which pours their own roasts at only $2 a cup, and serves simple breakfasts and baked goods, as well as draught and bottled beer for an afternoon option. Also of note is the Great Basin Bakery with an irresistible gluten free “Sierra Mud Cookie.”
Our second venture into the Eastern Sierras near Bishop took us up toward South and North Lakes near Sabrina where we first hiked. An afternoon 3.5 mile walk up Tyee Lake trail led us to Lake George where we were excited to catch three coyotes (we wanted to call them wolves, but not likely in the Sierra) hunting a doe taking refuge in the lake. We hung out for a while, watching the coyotes patrol the lakeshore as the deer swam back and forth looking for an escape. The sun was starting to get low, so we headed back down without witnessing the outcome. I hadn’t expected the fall colors to be as brilliant as they were, nor the number of tourists looking for perfect autumnal photos that weekend, but we were able to find a narrow side road shaded in picturesque golden aspens for a couple nights of camping. Possibly my favorite trail so far in this area, Bishop Pass starts around 9,500 feet at South Lake and climbs to almost 12,000 feet, cresting on the edge of Kings Canyon National Park. The views on both sides of the peaks were phenomenal and there was a fun rocky switchback section near the top. Plenty of developed campgrounds are available along the road to South Lake, as well as on the winding dirt road up to North Lake where we spent the next day trekking up Piute Pass and playing around in the rocky, marshy basin up top. Returning to Bishop, we were greeted with quite the windstorm and hoped for a shower advertised at one of the laundromats just off Main St., but apparently showers are only available 8-10 pm — past our bedtime! My hair would have to stay hat hidden a few more days.
After a couple weeks, Bishop felt like a good fit for us and spent some more time hanging around to get a deeper impression of the town – though obviously we keep reminding ourselves we have plenty of places to see! There is a definite climbing culture around town, rather than the running vibe up the highway in Mammoth and we met quite a few Los Angeles folk on our weekend hikes that like to make the four or five hour trek out of the city. The sunny days, lack of substantial winter snow, small town feel (although Hwy 395 serves as the Main Street with plenty of traffic) and access to all that the Sierras have to offer make it pretty desirable. Plus, up the road just 40 miles lies Mammoth, where we spent a couple of blocks of time running even more breathtaking mountain trails (see next installment of The Unbeaten Path!).
Before turning east for good, or for the winter at least, we spent a few nights 40 miles south of Bishop in Lone Pine, with one stop outside of Big Pine on the way. After a chilly evening camped in a pullout off Big Pine Rd., Paul ran the Five Lakes Loop while I gave myself a rest. The town of Big Pine has very few services but down the road Lone Pine offers a bit more. There are several saloons, a market, and one coffee shop with Wi-Fi and gluten free bread alternatives for breakfast or lunch sandwiches. We actually ended up using McDonalds for wifi a couple of days, trying to scrimp on cheap coffee. As far as camping goes, there are a bunch of options up Mt Whitney Portal Rd. We paid $8/night for a couple sleeps at Tuttle Creek Campground before discovering that dispersed camping is readily available all throughout the Alabama Hills, just 5 miles outside of town. The Alabama Hills are an unusual, and sometimes otherworldly, group of rock formations that do not resemble the neighboring Sierras in any way. The area has been used frequently as movie sets, hence the name of the main drive through them, “Movie Road.” We found a great spot for our last night several miles down Movie Road where fewer people were camping. I had fun climbing around on the rocks, practicing my amateur and awkward bouldering; Paul ran out the dirt road one afternoon in the hot sun, wishing he was back in the mountains, I think. We woke on our last morning in the Eastern Sierra to fantastic sunrise views of the steep, looming peaks highlighted with orangey-pink clouds and blustery wind. Finding the whole town of Lone Pine shut down due to power outage from the gusts, we turned the Beaumont east and pushed on. The next few stops – Vegas by way of Death Valley – were going to be quite the contrast.
- Running/Hiking Bishop Pass
- Bishop Movie Theatre
- Watching a Coyote hunt
- Alabama Hills
Until next time, get dirty and feel good.