Most RVers who have driven the length of California know well its major north-south arteries—Interstate 5, U.S. 101 and state highways 1 and 99. Those busy highways are all west of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Not so familiar is U.S. 395, which runs on the east side of the mountains. A 220-mile stretch of U.S. 395 is called the Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway, and nestled in the middle of it is the small town of Bishop.
The highway runs right through the heart of Bishop and is the lifeblood of the city’s commerce. To explore the Eastern Sierra there is no better place to set up base camp than Bishop. To drive through, and not stay for a day or two or three, or maybe a week, would be a missed opportunity.
Bishop offers multiple ways to park the portable log cabin. Pull into Brown’s Town, on the south end of Bishop, and enjoy shady trees and grassy campsites. Or, at the north end, there’s Highlands RV Park, a more traditional tree-shaded asphalt and cement setting. Bishop RV Park, with 40 full-hookup spaces, is within walking distance of shopping, dining and other attractions. For those wanting to commune with nature the means are available. North, just outside the city limits, are campgrounds with names like Pleasant Valley and The Mill Pond. Claim a spot, set up a base camp, unhitch the trailer or disconnect the tow-along from the motorized Conestoga, and get to exploring.The area offers excitement in any direction, and in any season. To the south are other small towns, Big Pine, Independence and Lone Pine, all gateways to the towering rugged Sierras. In the White Mountains east of Big Pine are some of the oldest living things on the planet. The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is home to bristlecone pine trees that grow in soil where no other tree will survive, and have lived through drought and fire. The oldest date back over 4,000 years, and are still growing.
Jutting into the sky to Bishop’s west are the majestic Sierras and a sportsman’s paradise. Fishing in small creeks and lakes, hiking on trails, or backpacking into the craggy backcountry will provide all the challenges any mountain loving person can handle.
To the northwest lies Mammoth Mountain, a giant sleeping lava dome that holds the famous ski area of the same name. In the mountain’s outback are many of nature’s wondrous beauties. Be awed and bedeviled by the rock formation known as The Devils Postpile—pillars of stone standing vertical in tall five- and six-sided columns. They formed millions of years ago when the lava was spewing and flowing freely throughout the area.
It is a 2.5-mile walk from the Devils Postpile trailhead to the beautiful cascading water of Rainbow Falls. It’s considered an easy trail, but be warned, the less than fit will be challenged.
Even the person who doesn’t love nature can enjoy Bishop. Five miles west, on Highway 6, sits the old town of Laws. It was once a bustling railroad settlement larger than Bishop. Today, it’s a museum; the old buildings and displays speak of the history of railroading and bygone days of mineral mining.
Along Bishop’s Main Street reside businesses of fame. Shat’s Bakkery has been in business since 1907, baking its famous sheepherder’s bread and scrumptious sweet gooey treats. Just up the road and around the bend is a barn red building housing some of the best jerky in existence. Mahogany Smoked Meats opened its doors in 1922, and has become a must stop for anyone desiring a variety of tasty jerked, smoked or cooked meats.There is something to see and do in every season in the Eastern Sierra. Winter’s icy grasp offers snowboarding and skiing in Mammoth. When winter’s chilling breath subsides and spring blossoms, Crowley Lake beckons the angler. The lake holds monster brown and rainbow trout; many a record-setting fish has been extracted from its cold water. Summertime is perfect for swimming, hiking and biking. And in autumn, to stand in the Eastern Sierra and view nature’s beautiful colors of the season is something everyone should behold.
If your plans revolve around Memorial Day weekend, get a year’s head start on those base camp reservations. During Mule Days, fans of those cantankerous critters converge on Bishop for days of fun and excitement. Parades, mule competitions at the Tri County Fair Grounds, and general mayhem are all part of celebrating those hardheaded, long-eared varmints.This is only a small sampling of the recreational and sightseeing opportunities in the Eastern Sierra. Explore the area with a drive up Highway 395 and don’t bypass Bishop. But then, since Highway 395 runs right through the middle of town, that would be pretty hard to do.
John R. Swaim is an avid RVer and writer. He has traveled throughout the country searching for places and sights missed, or bypassed, and forgotten by modern inter- and intrastate highways. He says, “Making the old and forgotten new again and remembering places that are off the beaten trail is a wonderful life experience that should be shared.”Research Campgrounds, Plan RV Safe Routes & Turn your phone into an RV GPS.
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