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Eastern Sierra Day Ride

Updated: Jan 1, 2023

A solo ride across the state, starting from Death Valley and headed north up the Highway 395 corridor running parallel to the Nevada border. My plan was a 420-mile 13-hour day on the Hayabusa headed up the side of the Eastern Sierra, then over the Sierra Nevada range in the middle of winter.

Ride Highlights: Manzanar War Internment Camp, Independence, Crowley Lake, Hot Creek, Mammoth Mountain, June Lake, Mono Lake, Bridgeport, Twin Lakes

Early Departure at 5am from Death Valley. Spring Forward, Fall Back, means it was really 4am. The desert is as dark as pitch this time of night.

Clearwater Lights light the way: More on these lights

An hour later, the very first dim glow of sunrise. Yes, that's the Sierra Nevada Range in the distance.

Phil took the same photo a few hours after me on the same road in nearly the same spot.

One year prior when I reached this intersection, I had been in search of an art installation recently built into the middle of Owens Lake. Up in those mountains in the distance is the mining ghost town of Sierra Gordo:

I found the Owens Lake Environmental Land Art installation built into the middle of Owens Lake. More on this later... But this year, I rode off into the darkness for several hours to skip much farther north.

The Dow Villa in Lone Pine, CA is our base for the Southern Sierra Pashnit Tour.

Dow Hotel in Lone Pine dates to 1923

Lone Pine at 5:30am

Boondocking with a view

A quick stop at the Manzanar War Internment camp was a must.

Never heard of this place, click the link and learn about a fascinating slice of forgotten American history.

I couldn't stay. We'll come back to Manzanar later in the year.

Rolling through Independence, Winnedumah Hotel, est 1927

Sprawling downtown Independence, California, the county seat of Inyo County, barely 700 people live here.

Commander's House

The Commander's House was built at Fort Independence in 1873, after the Earthquake of March 26, 1872 destroyed the adobe buildings there. Commanding officers of Fort Independence resided in the house until the fort was abandoned in 1877. The fort buildings were auctioned in 1883 and the Commander's House was purchased by V.G. Thompson for $345. In 1889, the Commander's House was purchased by Mr. S.A. Densmore and moved to its present location. Although it was sold to the City of Los Angeles in 1928, it remained a private residence until 1961. In 1968, the house was leased to Inyo County and it is presently operated by the Eastern California Museum.

I just thought it looked cool.

I skipped the Owens Valley Radio Observatory. This was such a cool place I stopped at a year ago.

Exactly one year ago today, I stopped by.

This place was fascinating.

East of Highway 395 and north of Highway 168 off in the distance are the large radar dishes for the Owens Valley Radio Observatory. You can reach the OVRO 4-miles north of Highway 168 at Orvo Rd 2.2 miles east of Big Pine. The radar dishes are used to make discoveries about star-forming regions, proto-stellar disks, proto-planetary disks and galactic structure. Galactic structure. It has a nice ring to it. The first 32-foot dish arrived to this valley in 1958 and by 1959 another was added listening to echoes in outer space. By 1968, a 130-foot dish was added. Radar dishes pointed towards the heavens are often paired up with other dishes in other parts of the globe all listening to the same radio frequencies.

Tours are given monthly, generally the first Monday of every month, but you’ll need to explore the OVRO website if or when they are available to sync up your travel plans with an available tour of this very unusual facility. Learn more at

The Owens Valley Radio Observatory (OVRO) is one of the largest university-operated radio observatories in the world. It is dedicated to research in radio astronomy and astrophysics, the training of the next generation of radio astronomers, and the development of cutting-edge radio instrumentation. Coolest place ever.

First rays of sun coming over the mountains. Deserted roads while headed up Highway 395 which parallels the Sierra Nevada Range to my left.

The purpose of this day ride was to reach Crowley Lake, which sits at an elevation of about 7000 ft. The lake was created in 1941 by the building of the Long Valley Dam by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, as storage for the Los Angeles Aqueduct and for flood control.

Does it look cold?

Remember the rule, there's not such thing as a cold rider...

What an amazing view. So cool, I was wide-eyed excited.

Crowley Lake is famous for the Crowley Columns. Bad news is I couldn't get there without a 2 mile hike or a 4WD as it's all dirt roads to get to the trailhead.

On the eastern shore are these unbelievable <natural> columns. Someday...

Rode to the end of pavement near the lake... Tempting to ride to the trailhead, but no.

Temps are in the 30s.

Roads are dry and clean though. And it's not snowing, so there's that.

Another day, I'll check out the Crowley Columns.

One more quick pic, super cool place. Zero people. Then, it was time to head north.

Crowley Lake. Quick clue of what lay ahead was the whitecaps on the lake.

Long Valley Caldera is a local basin resulting from a volcanic explosion so big is covered the western United States in ash.

A caldera is similar to a sinkhole, essentially a giant hole or depression that results from a volcanic eruption, but on a much larger scale. Magma chambers are large pools of liquid rock beneath the earth’s surface. Calderas like the one I'm riding across are formed by the inward collapse of a volcano. Long Valley Caldera is considered one of the earth’s largest calderas, running 20 miles long and 11 miles wide, creating this broad valley that Benton Crossing Rd flows across. Ash from this eruption 760,000 years ago blanketed much of the western regions of the United States and reached over 1000 miles from the eruption.

Heading north towards Mammoth while steadily climbing in elevation and I began to encounter wind gusts that would push the bike clear across the lane.

Nearing Mammoth, the wind coming over these peaks was starting to really pick up even more. My plan was to stop at Hot Creek Geologic site again. Super cool place, was riding past this for 20 years and never knew it was there. The site is located right behind the Mammoth Airport. There's a tiny sign.

However, March is a little too early. I had to ride through this giant puddle full of several inches of water and broken ice, but then...

I was stopped short. The viewpoint was just over the rise.

Stay out of the deep gravel. I meant to pull over, but the bike just sunk.

Parked in soft rocks. Better ease out of these.

Another attempt via different road. Thwarted again.

Nope. All this to reach what?

Hot Creek is a super cool place hidden behind the Mammoth Airport I had never heard of it & ridden past it countless times. It's literal. The creek is warmed by magma chambers under the creek. The water is boiling.

This is the photo I wanted to take.

Best I could do for today of Hot Creek. We'll be back.

Mammoth Mountain Ski Hill dates back to 1953 and the mountain rises to an elevation of 11,059 ft. Mammoth Mountain gets about 25 feet of snow each year. Which also means it's very unusual that I am able to ride around the Eastern Sierra in mid-March. But, it's been a dry winter with minimal snow.

Up and over 8036 ft. Deadman Summit near Mammoth Mountain.

On the north side of the summit is the June Lake Loop. Perfect day to ride the loop. This is a short 16-mile loop off the main highway and very scenic.

Known as the Switzerland of California, the loop passes by a series of mountain lakes: June, Gull, Silver, Grant, and Parker Lakes are all worth seeing.

June Lake sits and an elevation of 7621 ft. and spans 320 acres. Nearby is Gull Lake.

A noticeable landmark on the northeast edge of town at the June Lake Fire Station is a massive ball shaped rock. This spherical boulder is 18 feet tall and weighs 150 tons. It was carried by the Rush Creek Glacier to its present position. Deposited here by glacial erratics, this occurs when a piece of rock is carried along by the glacial ice and dropped far away from its starting point, even hundreds of miles. The Rush Creek Glacier carried this 150-ton rock and left it here perfectly balanced beside the fire station. Glaciers have been known to carry very large rocks vast distances, in Alberta south of Calgary, an 18,200-ton rock 135x60 feet in size was carried away from the Rocky Mountains and deposited on a flat plain in Alberta, Canada west of the town of Okotoks.

June Mountain is a ski hill created in the 1940s. Humble beginnings in the 1940s offered only a 2200-ft long tow rope near Oh Ridge for $1. By 1940, local businessmen began to envision a ski hill and the first chair lift was built powered by a small hydro-electric plant off Fern Creek. Electricity didn’t even come to the June Lake area until 1946. June Mountain Ski Hill opened in 1961 but has a much smaller feel than nearby Mammoth Mountain 14 miles the south.

Double Eagle Restaurant - looks like a good place to have lunch someday. What a view. A massive 300 ft. waterfall appears behind the resort during spring snowmelt.

Nuts. I was a few days early. The road opened up a week later.

Although, I was quite fascinated with the powerhouse right behind me. I rode right in.

The cable tramway is one of the more interesting things I've researched in writing articles. Small rail cars are pulled all the way up the mountain side with steel cables.

This cable tramway is still in use today by the power company to maintain the dams on Agnew & Gem Lake. The steep railway was originally an elevated wooden trestle. In the 1950s, the elevated wooden railway was torn down and the slope back-filled then graded smooth, being completely rebuilt with the tracks on the ground. The incline tram is pulled up the mountainside with a single steel cable powered by an electric motor at the summit at a max grade of 60-degree incline. The steel cable on the Agnew Tram is 1-mile long. Train cars pulled up supplies to build the dams at Agnew Lake and Gem Lake. The lake was name for Theodore C. Agnew, an early settler, and is a glacial lake left behind from the Rush Creek Glacier. A short Y-switchback spur was added in 1953 to allow the tram cars to divert to Agnew Lake Dam.

Southern California Edison Company - Rush Creek Hydro Plant

Closed road meant backtracking

June Lake Ski Hill was rather quiet.

This area is known for high winds coming over the range. Takes about a 60mph gust to blow over a semi trailer. I had to look that up.

Looked recent, but no one was paying any attention to righting this semi presumably blown over by the wind gusts. Sudden wind gust got me a few miles later and hit with such surprise, it blew the Hayabusa clear across the road, scared the sh!t out of me.

Now you tell me.

I have been to Mono Lake quite a few times through the years and brought many tour groups there. But never seen it like this with white caps. The white stuff on the far side are dust clouds on the far shore.

These Tufa (pronounced too-fah) Towers are what the lake is famous for.

Winds were just whipping across the lake.

Mono Lake normally looks like this on a calm day. Glass.

Today, it was angry.

Winds kicking up dust clouds on far side

Then, as I was headed up the highway, I passed by Cemetery Road. That sounds interesting. I wonder what's down this random road? Most likely a cemetery. Instead, the winds had blown down this tree across Cemetery Rd.

Found a way around the downed tree and low and behold there was my cemetery. Seemed a good place to be laid to rest, on a hilltop overlooking the lake. The wind coming over the range was whipping, so I leaned against a large tree to block the wind. That seemed a bad if not disconcerting idea as the large tree was wiggling all over the place.

What can you do but ride through it?

Check that flag. It was blowing. It reminded me of range flags.

Rode up to 8138 ft Conway Summit and as I pulled off the highway for a picture break, I popped out the kickstand and as it hit the ground, a gust of wind hit me and picked the front of the motorcycle off the ground. Holy crap. The bike came up on the kickstand and the rear wheel with the front tire in the air while my panic muscled the bike back down onto the ground.

Check out the dust cloud on the far side of Mono Lake, that's just crazy.

Bumping over 8138 ft. Conway Summit

I think this is where Clark & Ellen came to retire. Or maybe Cousin Eddie runs this.

Made it into Bridgeport to check out the second-oldest courthouse in California still in continuous use built in 1880.

Highway 395 is one of the longest continuous roads in the United States. It runs north-south from Mexico to the Canadian border. The Eastern Sierra portion in California has numerous spider roads, dead end rides that spur off into the range, usually to a mountain lake. Even after 30 years of running around California, I still am slowly checking each one of these spider roads out to see what's at the end of the road. Still haven't ridden them all, but I'm workin' on it. So, this was another treasure hunt.

Let's see what is at the end of Twin lakes Rd out of Bridgeport.

This is Twin Lakes Rd outside Bridgeport.

And the wind, kicking up whitecaps.

My playground for today: Twin Lakes at the bottom & Mono Lake (site of all the crazy wind) at top left.

Came all this way to check out a resort at the head of the lake. There's a marina, lots of cabins, and it looks like a cool place to spend some time.

View from my timeout break for the days ride.

Last photo of the day for this ride. Our Death Valley motorcycle tour was hugely fun and ended up being 1300 miles in 3 days. The ride up the Highway 395 corridor through the Eastern Sierra Nevada Range was a rare treat for this time of year with the lack of snow - that's not normal. But it was worth taking advantage of.

Headed to Sequoia National Park next.

Learn more about multi-day tours with Pashnit Motorcycle Tours or discover many more curvy roads on California Motorcycle Roads.

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