300 mile day

Los Angeles Travel Blog

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Mojave street scene
This is not my usual blog, but a road trip from Los Angeles to Mammoth Lakes. I have driven this 300+ miles countless times in the past 20+ years. You know how when you do it so often, it becomes routine, and you don't take any photos or think of it as anything but a long drive. So I thought during this most recent trip, I will do some "drive-by shootings" and take some maybe boring photos to document this drive. Most of the photos were taken while I was driving, sometimes at about 70 miles per hour, so the quality isn't great. But I also put in some photos from previous trips which were taken when I stopped to explore the place.

I left around 1:30pm from Los Angeles on the Foothills Freeway (the 210), along the San Gabriel mountains westward, it was a nice sunny day, but a little hazy, perhaps from the wildfire going on in the west.
Mojave fast food restaurants
Near Los Angeles every summer, wildfires are always a threat and this one has been going on for 2 weeks and have burnt 116 square miles already! I then took the Interstate freeway (I-5) known as the Golden State Freeway (or simply "the 5" as we call it) north a short distance. The Los Angeles Aqueduct can be seen rolling down its channel down the hill on the right of the freeway. Well, people may or may not think about it, but Los Angeles is a city in a desert transformed by water from the Sierra snowpack and in the Owens Valley, which is basically the route I am taking today. You may want to rent the 1974 movie "Chinatown" starring Jack Nicholson talked about the Department of Water and Power in Los Angeles and how it got water from the north.

I turned to the state route (SR) 14, the Antelope Valley Freeway, which turned east through the mountains toward the Mojave desert.
Airplanes mothballed at the Mojave airport (they are very small in this photo)
Along this stretch of the freeway is the community of Santa Clarita, which when I first started going to Mammoth had "nothing", oh, maybe it had a few houses, but nowadays, this is a booming suburbia with tons of housing developments along the freeway and beyond on the hills. It also stretched along the 5 north all the way to Magic Mountain (the amusement park) and beyond! I drove over the interchange of the freeway from the 5 to 14 which fell during the big earthquakee of 1994 killing a California Highway Patrol policeman on motorcycle. The interchange is named after him now called the Clarence Wayne Dean Memorial Interchange.

The mountains gave way to flat desert, and I arrived at the "high desert" and through the cities of Palmdale, Lancaster and Rosamond.
Joshua trees in the Mojave desert, looking south
This was the site of a once proposed international airport to replace LAX, but I suppose it came to nothing because it's too far from Los Angeles. There are a lot of outlet malls in Palmdale, I think you will find all the brands here. But the streets are not named so creatively, we have Avenue A through Z going east-west crossing the freeway, which now is going north-south (I am going north). In the city of Rosamond is the important and famous Edwards Air Force Base, where many flight histories were written, including the one where Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947. Edwards also is the western landing spot for the space shuttle, although I never got to witness it, I have been to air shows here, which I believe still is held yearly. This is also the place where I took David and Eric to see Halley's Comet back in 1986, I woke them up around 3am and asked them if they wanted to go, and sleepy as they were, they did, so we drove out here because the sky would be dark enogh and we saw the comet.
Looking north, the south end of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Smaller Joshua trees can be seen in the distance.
I wonder if they still remember it.

Pretty soon I was in the city of Mojave, the sign outside of town said "Home of Spaceship One", the first non-government manned spaceship built by the company founded by Burt Rutan here. The sign used to say "Home of Voyager", the airplane flown by his brother Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager (not related to Chuck Yeager) which set the record for non-stop around the world flight without refilling back in 1986. This is the place where many airplanes are mothballed, they are just parked out there in the airport and although I took a photo, the airplanes were too small to be as impressive as seen in person. Mojave is a good place to get gas for the car, or a quick meal for the tummy. Along the road are all the fast food restaurants you can imagine. On the left (west) side of the road is the railroad, and we often seen freight trains going by.
A big Joshua tree by the road north of Mojave
In the distance, I saw the wind power generators on the hills near Tehachapi. I refilled the car and drove on.

Outside of Mojave, the 14 winds northeast and I went through Red Rock Canyon, a state recreational area. I had stopped here before and I had taken the dogs there. Kevin used to call this the "Red dog canyon" because we had Sash the red haired Siberian Husky then. Sadly Sasha is no longer with us, but I have posted a photo of her in this canyon. This canyon has the eroding red rocks, and over the years, more have eroded and fallen off the mountain. Many years ago when we drove to Mammoth on a ski trip, a bunch of my friends borrowed my mom's Lincoln town car and the car broke down near here on the way, and they had to get help from Mojave, it wasn't fun. But on the return trip, the car broke down AGAIN here! I think about it every time I drive past here.
Going uphill to Red Rock Canyon north of Mojave


North of Red Rock Canyon, the road is so straight for a while, it's positively boring. But eventually I see the round top of the red cinder cone at the south end of the Owens Valley. This is the half way point, and we now have lots of volcanic features along the way. Shortly past the red cinder cone, I drive past the town of Olancha, and its "mystery factory". For the longest time, we drove past this huge factory along the highway, which has no labels, and since we did not know what kind of factory it was, we called it the "mystery factory". Eventually, someone told us it's a bottling plant for water, and now it even sports a sign saying "Crystal Geyser", I bet most of you who drink this brand of bottled water had no idea it came from here! Oh, and here was the lowest snow level I saw one year driving to Mammoth, not counting the snowfalls in Los Angeles which didn't really stay on the ground for more than a day.
Red Rock Canyon sign


I turned north onto highway 395 and keep going through Owens Valley.
Owens Valley is named after the now dried up Owens Lake, and Owens River. They are dried up because the water which used to feed them have long be diverted to the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which takes the precious water to Los Angeles. The lakebed has a tiny bit of water, and lots of pink algae. During windy days, the dust storms from the lakebed are really terrible. I heard that there is now a plan to put water back into the river and lake, as a result of some long-fought battle with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. But, there is no water there as I drove by.

The town of Lone Pine is next. Lone Pine is the nearest town to Mount Witney, the tallest point in contiental United States, at 14494 feet.
Hillside of Red Rock Canyon
The valley floor is at about 4000 feet, so the mountains loom about 10000 feet from the valley floor. Since I was driving in the afternoon, the sun was in the west, so I couldn't take a good picture of it. I have posted photos from previous trips though. Ansel Adams' famous photo of Mount Witney with the dark Alabama Hills in front, and grazing horses at dawn was taken here.

But this part of California is really not well populated, and that's why during WWII, American citizens and residents of Japanese orgins were sent here to the internment camps, Manaznar is one (of 10) such camp north of Lone Pine, and it has been turned into a Manzanar national historic site to remember this shameful part of American history. The weather was not as bad as Siberia of course, but it was plenty remote from civilzation.
An old photo of Sasha the red Siberian Husky at Red Rock Canyon


More small towns follow, Independence is next, north of which is the road leading to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, where the oldest living (now 4772 years old) being "Methuselah"on earth still live on the White Mountain range. It would be a couple of hours drive on windy mountain road to get there. This is something you should spend a whole afternoon on.

Next to follow is the town of Big Pine, then I am in the much bigger town of Bishop. Just south of Bishop I saw the dishes of the Owens Valley Radio Observatory run by the University of California, the dishes are on tracks and can move around, making a much larger virtual telescope.
Red Rock Canyon taken in 2004


There are several notable places in Bishop, Erick Schat's Bakkery is definitely a must-stop destination for anyone passing through Bishop, also the  beef jerky at Meadow Farms Country Smoke House at the north end of town. And for the photography and art lovers, Galen Rowell's Mountain Light Gallery. Galen Rowell was a famous outdoor and nature photographer, you probably have seen his photos even if you may not have known they were his. For example, the one of the Tibetan Potala Palace with a rainbow, or the wild horses running on the plains in Patagonia below the snowy peaks of Fitz Roy, or the two loving emperor penguis in Antarctica (which was on the cover of National Geographic magazine).
Red Rock Canyon taken in 2004
He and his wife Barbara died in a small airplane crash near Bishop in 2002. They had made Bishop their home even though they have travelled ALL over the world. The gallery has been run by his son.

Now it's almost home stretch, but this is where we start climbing, from about 4000 feet on the Owens Valley, the car climbed now to about 8000 feet and I see the reservoir Crawley Lake, and north of that the airport at Mammoth, optimistically called Mammoth Yosemite Airport. It's true that it's only about 100 miles from here to the Yosemite valley. Kevin awaits me at the airport, and we fly back to Santa Cruz, with a beautiful sunset in front of us.


thenewextrememimi says:
Very informative!
Posted on: Oct 24, 2007
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Mojave street scene
Mojave street scene
Mojave fast food restaurants
Mojave fast food restaurants
Airplanes mothballed at the Mojave…
Airplanes mothballed at the Mojav…
Joshua trees in the Mojave desert,…
Joshua trees in the Mojave desert…
Looking north, the south end of th…
Looking north, the south end of t…
A big Joshua tree by the road nort…
A big Joshua tree by the road nor…
Going uphill to Red Rock Canyon no…
Going uphill to Red Rock Canyon n…
Red Rock Canyon sign
Red Rock Canyon sign
Hillside of Red Rock Canyon
Hillside of Red Rock Canyon
An old photo of Sasha the red Sibe…
An old photo of Sasha the red Sib…
Red Rock Canyon taken in 2004
Red Rock Canyon taken in 2004
Red Rock Canyon taken in 2004
Red Rock Canyon taken in 2004
Beautiful formation at Red Rock Ca…
Beautiful formation at Red Rock C…
Eroding rocks at Red Rock Canyon
Eroding rocks at Red Rock Canyon
Straight as an arrow road for at l…
Straight as an arrow road for at …
roadside restaurant north of Majove
roadside restaurant north of Majove
Oh the red cinder cone is just bec…
Oh the red cinder cone is just be…
Red cinder cone getting larger
Red cinder cone getting larger
Red cinder cone closer (view from …
Red cinder cone closer (view from…
Part of a 3 car caravan moving hou…
Part of a 3 car caravan moving ho…
North of cinder cone.
North of cinder cone.
A fresh jerky store in Olancha
A fresh jerky store in Olancha
Entering Olancha, and still a ways…
Entering Olancha, and still a way…
Ah ha, the mystery factory in Olan…
Ah ha, the mystery factory in Ola…
The mystery factory now has a labe…
The mystery factory now has a lab…
Owens lake, looking toward the roa…
Owens lake, looking toward the ro…
Another view of Owens Lake, dried …
Another view of Owens Lake, dried…
A building by the Owens Lake
A building by the Owens Lake
Entering Lone Pine
Entering Lone Pine
going through Lone Pine
going through Lone Pine
Looking toward Mount Whitney at Wh…
Looking toward Mount Whitney at W…
Storefront in Lone Pine
Storefront in Lone Pine
A view of Mount Whitney from winte…
A view of Mount Whitney from wint…
Entrance of Manazar National Histo…
Entrance of Manazar National Hist…
Another view of Manazar
Another view of Manazar
The watch tower of Manazar (recons…
The watch tower of Manazar (recon…
Farming north of Lone Pine
Farming north of Lone Pine
the town of Independence
the town of Independence
Dont blink or you will miss the t…
Don't blink or you will miss the …
On the way out of Independence, a …
On the way out of Independence, a…
Entrance to the Ancient Bristlecon…
Entrance to the Ancient Bristleco…
Owens Valley Radio Observatory run…
Owens Valley Radio Observatory ru…
cattle grazing south of Bishop
cattle grazing south of Bishop
Mountain Light Gallery by Galen an…
Mountain Light Gallery by Galen a…
Schats Bakkery is quieter at this…
Schat's Bakkery is quieter at thi…
Sunset on the way home
Sunset on the way home
Sunset
Sunset