I had the distinct pleasure of doing a motor tour with Joe Pollini of the Bishop Visitor Information Center (visitbishop) a couple of weeks ago. We started in Bishop, at the Visitor Center next to Bishop City Park, made our way up West Line Street to Buttermilk Road, then backtracked a bit to Ed Powers Road and out to Round Valley. We included just a couple of brief side trips up Pine Creek Canyon and on the Owens River Gorge Road before heading back to town on the highway.
This is a tour you can easily do in a morning or an afternoon. We recommend stopping by one of our friendly coffee houses for you favorite beverage before heading out on this pleasant loop, and it never hurts to throw a pair of sturdy shoes in the car in case you decide to explore a little more on foot.
From U.S. 395 (or Main Street) in Bishop, you’ll want to head west on Line Street and once you get past the main part of town you’ll see Manor Market on the left, and Cerro Coso Community College, also on the left. Shortly after you pass the college, be on the lookout for a large mosaic historical landmark on your left.
This monument marks a moment of conflict between the original inhabitants of this land, the Paiute and Shoshone tribes, and the newly arrived settlers. You can look back out over the valley and the city of Bishop from this vantage point, and to the west see the road that leads up to Bishop Creek Canyon and the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Back on the road and heading west for just a little while longer, be on the watch for Buttermilk Road on the right. Turn off on to Buttermilk Road and park to the side so you can get out of your vehicle and take a good look around.
Standing at the monument and looking at the Sierra Nevada mountains, you’ll see Basin Mountain on the left and Mt. Tom on the right. Behind Basin Mountain lies Mt. Humphreys. You’ll have a clear view of Horton Canyon, and remember it as you may want to hike all the way to Horton Lakes in the summer. At the base of the mountains and, roughly north of where you are standing, are the Tungsten Hills. Now a popular horseback riding, running, mountain biking, and ORV destination; the hills were named for the Tungsten Mines that flourished between 1910 and 1915. Looking to the northeast, you can see the Volcanic Tablelands and Chalk Bluffs, made up of Bishop Tuff and deposited there by a catastrophic event about 760,000 years ago when the Long Valley Caldera exploded.
When you are ready, head back down Line Street (east) to Ed Powers Road, and take a left. Take Ed Powers almost to U.S. 395, and turn left on Millpond Road. Follow Millpond Road past Millpond Equestrian Center and Millpond Recreation Area, and make another left on Sawmill Road. Sawmill Road was named for the sawmill that used to supply wood for the mines, and was located where Millpond Recreation Area is now.
Sawmill Road meanders through Round Valley and is a great place to look for Mule Deer during the winter months, when the herd is down from the mountains. We recommend heading up to Horton Creek Campground and getting out of the car to look around, perhaps for deer and other wildlife. Horton Creek Campground is a popular camping spot in the summer months for climbers because it is close to both the Buttermilk Boulders and the Owens River Gorge, both world-class climbing areas.
Back on Sawmill Road, you’ll pass the Arcularius Ranch and one of the last of the old corn cribs. You might also spot deer grazing in the pastures with the cows, and see some wintering mules and horses.
When you get to Pine Creek Road, consider a side trip up the canyon (checking road conditions first, especially after recent snowstorms). You’ll pass the small community of Rovana, which was built to house the miners and their families when the Pine Creek Mine was in operation. For an education trip back memory lane, check out the Eastern California Museum video on the tungsten mine.
A bit further west up Pine Creek Road is another climbing area you’ll spot to the right, the Pine Canyon Crags. You’ll have to pull off the road and hike a bit to get close to this fascinating area, but it is worth the effort.
At this point you can turn around and follow our route, or continue on up the road to view more of the spectacular canyon and get a glimpse of the mine (which is closed now, and off-limits to visitors). In the summer months, Pine Creek Pack Station operates near the end of the road and offers pack trips into the wilderness above.
If you follow our route, we headed east on Pine Creek Road and crossed over U.S. 395 on to the Gorge Road, and at the “T” turned left (north). We traveled along the graded dirt road keeping an eye on the huge pipe that carries water from the Sierra to Los Angeles, and just after the pipe disappears underground, you’ll find a road to the right. Take that just a short ways to a parking area above the Owens River Gorge. Click here to watch a short video of Joe describing the hike and the area.
You’ll want to stay and explore, but we had to hop back on to U.S. 395 south and head back to work… we hope you’ll stop by, get more accurate mileage from Joe or one of our other knowledgeable hosts (and perhaps even more information & tips on what to see and where to go), and stay tuned for the next VisitBishop motor tour!