The remnants of the Owens Lake Silver-Lead Furnace can be seen north of Keeler along Highway 136. PHOTO BY AARON CRUTCHFIELD
By Cheryl McDonald
We Americans are typically a motivated, goal-oriented culture. If we are driving somewhere, whether for business or for pleasure, we have a tendency to choose the fastest route possible.
Get to the destination so we can have fun, right?
Well, what about making the trip part of the fun? Adding a little extra time to the trip can add history lessons, wildlife enjoyment and art appreciation as well as some enjoyable sightseeing. I was turned on to this idea several years ago, and now it is really hard for me to just drive from “here” to “there.”
Here are a few ideas to enrich your drive up Highway 395.
No matter what time of day you are starting your trip, a stop in Olancha for breakfast, lunch or dinner at the Ranch House Cafe is hard to resist. Everything is delicious, the service is friendly, and the restaurant is a piece of iconic American history and charm.
Now that you are fat and happy, consider taking a detour on Highway 190 going east across the dry Owens Lake. Off to the right you will find a patch of sand dunes called Olancha dunes, which are enjoyed by offroad enthusiasts and sand dune lovers in general.
The remnants of an old tractor can be seen north of Keeler along Highway 136. PHOTO BY AARON CRUTCHFIELD
Owens Lake was a massive body of water that was used to ferry ore from the mines in the White Mountains across to the mule teams that transported it 275 miles to Los Angeles. Now mostly dry, Owens Lake is a testament to the early water wars of California history and one of its claims to fame now is that it is the biggest source of dust pollution in the entire United States.
Mt. Whitney is seen at sunrise from Lone Pine.
PHOTO BY JEFFREY PANG VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMON
Lone Pine says "Howdy". PHOTO BY AARON CRUTCHFIELD
If you are interested in birds, Owens Lake is also designated by the National Audubon Society as an Important Bird Area due to the thousands of shorebirds that migrate through each fall and spring between the Arctic and Central and South America. So have your binoculars ready!
Once you reach the other side you will come to a dead-end at State Route 136. If you go right you will head toward Death Valley, and if you go left you will head toward Lone Pine, which will take you back to Highway 395. As you travel Route 136, you will go past a small cemetery that is where some of the folks from Keeler and Cerro Gordo are buried, and then you pass through the town of Keeler, which was where much of the ore processing was done before it was shipped across the Owens Lake on its journey to Los Angeles.
Now Keeler is somewhat of a ghost town as well as a home to several artists. It is worth a drive through to see some of the abandoned sites, including a railway station, a factory and the country club — swimming pool and all. As you wander through town you will see several creations by local artists who build art from junk and have a great sense of humor as well as a talent for recycling things left behind.
Please be respectful — people live here and it is all private property.
As you leave Keeler, you will be blessed with an incredible view to the west of the grand Sierra Nevada, including Mt. Whitney, which is the highest point in the lower 48 states and your road back to Lone Pine to continue on your journey north, adding only an extra 35 miles to your trip and a treasure trove of memories that can last a lifetime.
Cheryl McDonald is a local resident and artist. Visit her art gallery in Randsburg or see more of her work at www.cherylmcdonaldcreative.com.
The stagecoach used in “Django Unchained” is seen at the Museum of Western Film History. PHOTO BY PAUL HERMANS VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS