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Bishop Visitor's Center

Oddities of nature and the stuff of human ingenuity and absurdity exist here in the Eastern Sierra just as they do the world over. The fascinating history of these weird and wonderful things is as incredible as the objects and attractions themselves. We find ourselves looking at these mysterious manmade and naturally occurring phenomena and wondering, “When? How? Why?”

Within little more than a couple hours’ drive from Bishop, in either direction north or south along US Highway 395, are numerous strange and unique attractions. The Eastern Sierra is often referred to as “the other side of California,” and these places might also make it “the weird side of California.”

Take a drive along Highway 395 and see some of the curious, grotesque, mysterious and awe-inspiring features of nature and feats of humankind.

Burro Schmidt Tunnel

Location: 163 miles south of Bishop on the Redrock Randsburg Rd near Garlock

Burro Schmidt Tunnel

One man with two donkeys, a few hand tools, a wheelbarrow, and some explosives, spent over 33 years singlehandedly digging a tunnel. It is almost a half-mile long in the solid rock of Copper Mountain in the remote Mojave Desert of California. During his lifetime William “Burro” Schmidt would never fully explain his tunnel excavation project, except to say that is was a “short cut.”

He had moved to California from Rhode Island for health reasons and staked a mining claim in the Mojave Desert’s El Paso range. At that time transporting the ore from his claim to the smelter in Mojave was along a perilous mountain trail. Schmidt is reputed to have said that he would never haul his ore to the Mojave smelter “down that back trail” using his two burros.

He became obsessed with digging and completing a tunnel and disregarded mining entirely, even though he discovered potentially rich veins of gold, silver, copper, and iron during the big dig. The tunnel, however, emerged on a high ridge well above the desert floor below and is now called the “short cut to nowhere.” Schmidt never transported a single ounce of ore through the tunnel.

Today the tunnel remains intact. Although Schmidt had no formal training it is obvious that he was a quick learner and the skills he picked up from digging, often through mishap and injury to himself, produced a feat of incredible and accurate engineering.

The tunnel, Schmidt’s cabin, and surrounding land are now under the auspices of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and can be easily accessed via road. Take a walk through the tunnel and see the commanding view of Saltdale on the other side.

Fossil Falls

Location: 104 miles south of Bishop near Little Lake

This geological wonder is a magnificent example of the forces of nature that shape our world. Technically it’s not a fossil and water no longer falls here in any abundance. This surreal canyon of basaltic black lava rock is now a natural work of art, beautifully sculpted by eons of rushing water from a prehistoric age.

The chasm is almost unnoticeable in the flat lands of the valley floor until you get quite near to it, then it unfurls below you in folds of glossy, black rock that are both beautiful and strange. The rock is smooth and shiny and distinctly different from the surrounding landscape. It is stark evidence of a time when the valley was wetter and of the inevitability of change.

Early inhabitants lived along the banks of this ancient river, where artifacts and rock art indicate a viable hunter-gatherer culture existed here some 10,000 to 20,000 years ago.

A trip to Fossil Falls is less than a mile off Highway 395 where a few minutes, a couple of hours, or an overnight camping trip will expand your view and understanding of this remarkable valley.

Charcoal Kilns

Location: 73 miles south of Bishop adjacent to the Owens Dry Lake

Remains of a Charcoal Kiln.
Photo: Vickie Taton

This is another testament to human ingenuity and not as outlandish as some of the others on this list, but nonetheless quite outstanding.

High in the Inyo Mountains of the Eastern Sierra is Cerro Gordo, once a prosperous silver and lead mine. In just 10-years from the 1860s to 1870s about $20 million dollars-worth of silver and lead bullion was shipped from Cerro Gordo. It holds the distinction of being the most prosperous mine for those metals in California history.

Soon into its development as a booming mining operation, lumber in the nearby mountains was denuded and a quality fuel for the smelters was urgently needed from elsewhere. Like with so many mines of the day, charcoal kilns were used to ‘cook’ wood into charcoal for use in smelting and purifying precious metals and produce ingots.

The logistics of Cerro Gordo were tricky, but not insurmountable. Charcoal kilns were built along the shores of the lake and nearby Cottonwood creek where, at that time, wood and water were abundant. So too was good fire-clay present in the region and, whereas most kilns of the day were built using bricks or stone, these were built from clay bricks and covered with plaster.

Cottonwood trees were cut, ‘cooked’, and transported across the lake on steamboats to the town of Keeler and thereafter hauled up the mountain by horses and mules to the smelters at Cerro Gordo. The valuable bullion was brought back down the mountain, ferried across the lake on the same steamboats, the “Bessie Brady” and “Mollie Stevens,” to Cartago where it was shipped onward to Los Angeles.

Where Highway 395 runs west of the old shoreline of the now dry Owens Lake, is a dirt road leading to the historical landmark that is the Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns. These 25-foot wide structures are an eerie reminder of an economic and environmental era that is now vastly different in the region.

Tuttle Creek Ashram

Location: 63 miles south of Bishop, near Whitney Portal (and 1.6 miles of rough 4×4 track and a fairly strenuous 3.5 mile roundtrip hike up into Tuttle Creek Canyon)

The mountains have long been considered spiritual destinations for people seeking solitude and enlightenment. To climb lofty peaks and be closer to the heavens or view the world from an ‘otherworldy’ perspective is a goal to which many have ascended.

Buddhist monasteries perched high in the mountains of China, and temples that dot the foothills and ice-clad peaks of the Himalayas, are numerous. For pilgrims seeking something here in the USA, the Sierra Nevada holds one such special, spiritual place.

The Tuttle Creek Ashram is tucked high into the mountains above Lone Pine at 8,000 feet above sea level. In 1930 a couple, Franklin Wolff and his wife Sherifa – both philosophers, mystics and writers, began construction on the 2,000 square foot stone building designed in the shape of a balanced cross to symbolize the principles of equilibrium.

In the ensuing years the ashram has been vandalized, all-but abandoned, almost dynamited to rubble, and finally evaluated as historically significant and nominated for recognition in the National Register of Historic Places. It is now under the jurisdiction of the US Forest Service.

The location of the ashram was specifically chosen to be near the highest point in the contiguous USA, Mt. Whitney, as the couple believed the spiritual point of a country to be near it’s highest elevation.

Coyote Teeth Dentures

Location: 42 miles south of Bishop at the Eastern California Museum in Independence

Coyote Teeth Dentures at the Eastern California Museum

What would you do if you were living a meager life in the early 1900s in a remote mountain community and had lost all your teeth? Perhaps you’d count your pennies and go see a local dentist. Perhaps the closest dentist is in a town far away and you can’t afford the time or expense.

A gruesome artifact, now on display in the Eastern California Museum in Independence, seems to tell the story of a man who, in about 1930, found himself in this predicament. What he did is not just grotesque, but rather ironic as well.

He fashioned a set of dentures from the teeth of a dead coyote!

He made the now famous Coyote Dentures by melting celluloid from toothbrush handles, molding the mixture to the shape of his gums, then pressing the yellowed coyote teeth into the cast.

Perhaps he wasn’t poor just miserly, but he definitely was macabre.

Two-Headed Lamb

Location: 6 miles north of Bishop on US Highway 6 at Laws Railroad Museum

The birth of Siamese twins to farm animals is not exceptionally rare, but it is always rather shocking.

Sometime around 1940, on a local farm northwest of Bishop, Siamese twin lambs were born. The conjoined twins were born joined at the neck and, although they are known as “the two-headed lamb” or “the two-faced lamb,” they each actually have a complete body too.

According to the daughter of Clifford Jones, who lived on the farm since a child, the lambs lived for a short time and after their death he stuffed the lambs for posterity. They are now on display at Laws Railroad Museum along with a myriad other intriguing artifacts of the weird and wild west.

Gravity Hill

Location: 7 miles west of Bishop on E. Bishop Creek Rd, just off State Route 168 (E. Line St.)

Un-Gravity Hill

There is a particular spot on a quiet, remote road just west of Bishop where you will not experience the effect of gravity quite like you will anywhere else. In fact it should be called “Un-Gravity Hill.”

At a precise point in the road where it appears to be heading uphill, you can stop your car, place it in neutral, and it will slowly begin to move forward and upward. At first your vehicle will slowly creep forward, then it will gain speed going uphill! Then, as gravity gets a grip on this crazy situation, the car will slow and finally come to a stop. You might get to the crest of the hill or you might not. It all depends on how strong the force is that day.

It is an optical illusion of the freakiest kind. How fast and far you travel will depend on your starting point and the weight and rolling resistance of your vehicle.

May the force be with you!

Pet Cemetery

Location: 7 miles west of Bishop on Tungsten City Rd, just off Highway 395

Pet Cemetery on a wintery day

This is a wildly wonderful place where hundreds of beloved pets are buried. Here it is just possible that their eternal spirits are running along the trails, jumping in the streams, or stalking through the bushes that they so loved when they lived here.

The area is hauntingly beautiful and the feeling of love is palpable and a sensation of enduring loyalty is ubiquitous. The love and gratitude displayed by the care with which this area is used and maintained makes it clear that these well-loved animals are deeply missed. Many grave sites show evidence of frequent visitation, and fresh cut flowers are a strange and colorful sight in this otherwise dusky desert. There are beautifully carved crosses and elaborate gravestones with sweet epitaphs and heartfelt remembrances. The sites are adorned with toys, collars, leads, and bowls so an energetic spirit can play exuberantly and quench its thirst.

Tread lightly on the paths that run across the grounds where our best friends are laid to rest. Perhaps here is where they now run unencumbered for eternity. Look for them. They are there.

Wagon Wheel Ruts in the Rock

Location: 19 miles north of Bishop on the Old Sherwin Grade, near Swall Meadows

Mining was big business in California 100 years ago and here in the Eastern Sierra it was a tough business. Many mines were way up in the mountains and the craggy crests and rocky ridges presented monumental challenges for transporting ore and goods to and from the mines. Those hardy pack animals, the magnificent mule, which are still used today in the rugged backcountry, were teamed up in trains of 20 mules to haul huge wagonloads up and down the mountains.

The proof of their labor and the hardy packers who drove the teams along the trails has been permanently etched into the rock of the Sherwin Plateau north of Bishop. Deep ruts were slowly carved into the Bishop Tuff, as this rock is known, and the remnants of this old road now appear incongruous with the wild surroundings of the mountain slopes.

There are a number of good examples still discernible on the hillside and if you listen carefully you might hear the braying of the mules and creaking of the wheels as if carried on the wind from a century ago.

Crowley Lake Columns

Location: 30 miles north of Bishop, on the shores of Crowley Lake

Cave of columns on the shores of Crowley Lake

An exceptional set of circumstances due to an artificially created reservoir has resulted in exposing a fascinating and unique natural feature that was obscured for thousands of years under the earth. The Crowley Lake Columns were slowly unmasked by the powerful waves of the lake pummeling the softer rock of the cliffs. Researchers have only recently begun to study this unique natural phenomenon and one scientist said, “From the very first moment I laid eyes on this weird and wondrous place a year ago, I was smitten. It made me go back to school to get a master’s degree in geology.”

Aliens at Crowley Lake

According to a recent study, researchers from UC Berkeley have determined, “that the columns were created by cold water percolating down into — and steam rising up out of — hot volcanic ash spewed by a cataclysmic explosion 760,000 years ago.”

Access to the pillars is by boat, on foot or 4×4 vehicle and then only in the warmer months of the year when lake is not frozen and the ground not covered in snow. Once there, though, it almost appears as if an alien life form is growing out of the sand and creating a dark labyrinth into which one might just disappear … forever.

Bishop Visitor Center

The Bishop Visitor Center, located at 690 N. Main St. in Bishop, is not so weird, but it’s wonderful how much information you can find there. Staff can supply directions and maps, brochures and links to more material online, and tell you much more about all these and other fantastical places to visit in the Eastern Sierra.

This is our weird, wild and wonderful world.

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3 days ago

Heading into the weekend dreaming of backcountry lakes... which is your favorite?
#DreamNowVisitLater #KeepBishopSafe
Thank you Instagram user @kimonlhi for this spectacular shot!!
... See MoreSee Less

Heading into the weekend dreaming of backcountry lakes... which is your favorite? 
#DreamNowVisitLater #KeepBishopSafe
Thank you Instagram user @kimonlhi for this spectacular shot!!

Comment on Facebook Heading into the ...

Would have guessed Split Mtn, but have only flown over these mountains twice.

Too many to choose, the higher and more remote the better

Saddle Bag Lake. ❤️

Blue lake! The best, at least I know of~!!!

I need a good-looking tour guide(male) to show me around on my next visit. 😉🐈😷

So beautiful. I miss being up there.

Mt. Aggasisz? I probably butchered that spelling.

Blue Lake

Blue lake❣

Sabrina

Dorothy Lake

Horton Lake

Dorothy and Mildred

Beautiful

Beautiful

Upper Lamarck

Beautiful

That’s beautiful.

Nice 👍

Ruwau Lake, Tyee Lakes, upper Lamark lake, Blue lake, & Little Lakes Valley.

Terra Rankin

Lake.

Any part of Bishop is fine, I JUST WANT TO BE THERE TO ENJOY THIS BEAUTIFUL PLACE! 😀❤️😄💙

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4 days ago

Our friends at Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association welcome everyone to stop by for in-person visitor service plus a great selection of area maps, books and more. They do a great job of helping our guests recreate responsibly!Thanks ESIA for providing helpful information and advice to visitors on responsible recreation in our region! ... See MoreSee Less

Our friends at Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association welcome everyone to stop by for in-person visitor service plus a great selection of area maps, books and more.  They do a great job of helping our guests recreate responsibly!

5 days ago

Community: a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals (Oxford Dictionary)
We are grateful to our COMMUNITY locally and afar, for loving and supporting BISHOP and Inyo County. ❤️

Here is a little glimpse of how our community has pulled together over the past few months:
www.bishopvisitor.com/eastern-sierra-covid-stories/
... See MoreSee Less

Community: a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals (Oxford Dictionary)
We are grateful to our COMMUNITY locally and afar, for loving and supporting BISHOP and Inyo County.  ❤️

Here is a little glimpse of how our community has pulled together over the past few months:
https://www.bishopvisitor.com/eastern-sierra-covid-stories/

Comment on Facebook Community: a feeling...

The community stories are wonderful

The big deal when I was growing up was going to the Tri-County Fair rodeo, taking in a movie, and having dinner...all over Labor Day. Then there were the trips from Mammoth to Bishop to go to the grocery store, topped off by a stop at Schatz for sandwiches and to buy bread. What a wonderful place!!!

Used to watch movies at this theater back in the early 70's. Great memories wonderful town. I visit just about every year and enjoy the old school vibe. My parents started AYSO soccer in Bishop. I used to bicycle down the street as a kid, drop a fishing line and pull out lots of trout.

No Bishop does not need a Walmart mart or another supposed better grocery store. We do not have the people to work them. Plus we have new buildings that weren't supposed to be built and a whole mess of empty buildings. We want to keep it a small town feel.

I was sorry to hear that the JC Penny store closed there. I used to work there when I lived in Cali. I had the most wonderful coworkers and the best boss ever!!! Bishop will live on in my heart forever.

Remember Jill Kenmont👍👍

Great little town Bishop is, leave it alone. My mom graduated from Bishop High school, we went to Bishop many years for Christmas with my Grandparents

I was born in Bishop and moved out around 1990. I've moved all over California since then, and no matter where I moved to I always wanted to go back. Some day... Maybe when my kids are all grown and out of the house I'll take my wife and dogs and move back...

Great town. can't wait to come visit when things calm down. Missed Mule days and our family reunion at the lodge but we will be back

Looking forward to visiting as soon and we can! We love Bishop!

Love Bishop! Just passed thru Monday on the way back from Yosemite!

Bishop is in one of the most beautiful settings on Earth. The eastern Sierra and the Owens Valley will persevere.

I love that Bishop is a smaller town. It part id it s charm for visitors. Needed some items last trip , found them in town and what friendly people !! And you should fit your town , not always for the town to fit you.

3 yrs ago we just started driving , landed in Bishop, stayed several days, just loved that trip, no fish but who cares .... 😍🎣🚗💨💨

best town in California

We believe in Bishop. Stay well. <3

Between 1934 and 1939, I spent some Saturday afternoons watching movies at the theatre in Bishop - think the Hollands owned it then - one of the Holland boys was in my elementary school grade. Best wishes to all.

Bishop is fine the way it is.

Please don't change! I love you the way you are!!

We would like to keep it that way, but there are a lot of people coming into the area now who are leaving their trash on the ground & putting graffiti on any available surface. Do that S... at home, not in our town.

You have no idea how badly I need to visit You Bishop.

Saw it has been 100 degrees up there.

Play my brother Danny scene Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory at that theater years and years ago

Lived here in the early 80’s

Soon as possible.

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6 days ago

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Comment on Facebook 1451682461820094_2725270674461260

Love Bishop been there a couple times I can’t wait till I go back to visit 😊👍

love bishop

Was there many times.

Live there and love it

Love Bishop!

Love Bishop.

wish I still lived there

I’m a Hoosier that loves to visit Bishop!

Love Bishop too!

Gateway to heaven or as close as you can get

Been in bishop twice. ❤️ both times

It's beautiful, clean, but, to darn hot 😎😎😎😎

Love Bishop. Born and raise there

My home town

Does anyone know if they are having the car show in October this year?

we just move out here and we need a store to buy home stuff like target or even walmart 😤😫

Be there on 22sd for a week of camping and fishing creekside RV park

Is the KMart there out of business?

Make this a sticker for purchase.

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1 week ago

Bishop’s beauty continues to amaze us. 😍

#keepbishopsafe!! Thank you!!

Photo by Sean B Plunkett
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Bishop’s beauty continues to amaze us. 😍

#keepbishopsafe!! Thank you!!

Photo by Sean B Plunkett

Comment on Facebook Bishop’s beauty ...

So beautiful. Love Bishop and miss it so much.

Gorgeous photo! Stay safe my friends! We hope to see you in 2021!

So beautiful, love your site 🙂🙂❤❤

So beautiful. A field of Lupins.

Beautiful only 108 degrees

So Gorgeous! 😍

Beautiful!

Gorgeous!

Beautiful

Beautiful

Absolutely beautiful

Love the flowers...but need to get rid tourists...we have followed all the rules..NO TRAVELING..NOT YET...but are counties get more C-19..please leave and take your 🗑 with you

Awesome!!! Sean plunkett

Very beautiful picture

Pretty Hot right now but Beautiful ❣️

Beautiful

Beautiful

Beautiful.

What plant is this?

Andrew Peterson

Eileen Stephens

So beautiful

Beautiful picture

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