Explore The Eastern Sierra Along Route 395
Explore The Eastern Sierra Along Route 395
Explore The Eastern Sierra Along Route 395
Treasures Of The Eastern Sierra
Lone Pine, Mount Whitney Portal, Alabama Hills, Erick Schat’s Bakkery in Bishop, and the National Historic Site at Manzanar are all on the itinerary on this tour of historic sites just north of Los Angeles along U.S. Route 395.
Photography by Roy Nakano unless noted otherwise.
Featured image: The Chevrolet Trailblazer on the way to Manzanar, CA. Mount Whitney looms in the background.
Getting Out Of Los Angeles
From LACar headquarters in Monrovia, we take California State Route 210 westbound, staying on the 210 when it splits with State Route 134. The 210 takes you north to Interstate Highway 5 in the San Fernando Valley suburb of Sylmar. Take Highway 5 north for a brief moment until it meets State Route 14. The 14 will take us north through Palmdale and Landcaster until it meets U.S. Route 395 in Kern County. From there, it’s northward on the fabled 395, as we head up towards Owens Valley.
Another option would be to join Interstate 15 somewhere, use that to get over the mountains surrounding the L.A. basin, and then go north on 395 in Hesperia. This is particularly smart if you happen to be in Riverside or Orange County, or if the traffic conditions are such that you want to avoid anything within 30 miles of downtown L.A.
U.S. Route Highway 395
The roots of U.S. Route 395 go back to the California gold rush days. Before being designated a United States numbered highway, the corridor went by several names, including "El Camino Sierra". At one time, it reached into San Diego County. Today, it extends from Hesperia, California on its southern tip and the Canadian border on the northern end. It’s the major passageway through California’s Eastern Sierra.
On the way up, we pass by Owens Lake, a massive, dry bed off of the 395. Owens Valley was once a lush area, but that changed in 1913, when water from the Owens River was diverted into the Los Angeles Aqueduct. That caused Owens Lake to dry up, which also impacted the entire Owens Valley.
Lone Pine is home to the Museum of Western Film History, which itself makes a trip here worthwhile. There’s also a Ranger Station, a couple of hotels, and a golf course. Lone Pine even has it’s own airport!
For this trip, Lone Pine is the starting point for our first destination: straight up Whitney Portal Road for 13 miles to the top of the portal. We start the journey from U.S. Route 396 (called Main Street in Lone Pine) and take Whitney Portal Road.
Mount Whitney Portal
The switchbacks going up to the Mount Whitney Portal look daunting, but don’t focus too much on that. Instead, notice that the surroundings become more lush and the temperatures cooler, bearing little resemblance to the warm, arid valley below. Once we reach the top of Whitney Portal Road, there’s a waterfall to greet us. All in all, a very worthwhile diversion for anyone passing through Lone Pine on the 395.
The Alabama Hills
Heading back down Mount Whitney Portal Road, just before you're back in Lone Pine, there’s a side street called Tuttle Creek Road. Take a right and head to the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area - a dramatic series of rock formations that rival some larger and more well-known parks and recreation sites. It’s a popular venue for Hollywood movies of the western variety (How the West Was Won, Bad Day at Black Rock, Django Unchained) as well as a few of the un-western variety (Iron Man, Tremors).
Oddly, the Hills were named after a Confederate warship by prospectors sympathetic to the South. After the warship was sunk by the Union’s USS Kearsarge in 1864, prospectors sympathetic to the North named a nearby mining district, mountain pass, mountain peak and town after the Kearsarge.
For leisurely tourists, the Alabama Hills has one great attribute - you can pretty much see the entire site without getting out of your car. Tuttle Creek Road winds every which way through Alabama Hills. And if you want to read up on its history, you can do that at the Museum of Western Film History in Lone Pine just down the road.
Independence and Big Pine
When you've explored Alabama Hills, make your way back to the 395. This might be by turning around and going back to Whitney Portal Road or, if you've driven far on Tuttle Creek Road, it might be better to head east on Lubken Canyon Road.
Continuing north on the 395, on the way up to Bishop, you’ll notice the abruptly lower speed limit signs as you pass the towns of Independence (where the 395 turns into Edwards Street) and Big Pine (where it becomes Main Street again). Here’s a tip: obey the signs. The townspeople will appreciate it, and in the end so will you.
Erick Schat’s Bakkery in Bishop
We’ve heard lots of good things about a bakery up in Bishop that goes by the name of Erick Schat’s Bakkery. We also learn that its owner, Erick Schat, has just passed away in October of 2021.
It turns out, the Schat family tradition goes back to 1893, with a line of bakeries that originated from Utrecht, Holland. Jacob Schat immigrated to the United States and the 1950s, and sponsored the rest of his family to the USA in 1958.
Here’s where it gets a little complicated. According to Deb Murphy of Sierra Wave Media, the original Bishop bakery was actually started by the Schoch family (not to be confused with the Schat family). The Schochs built a stone oven to bake sheepherders bread, which Jacob Schat, and then brother Erick Schat carried on the tradition.
As to why it’s named Bakkery instead of Bakery? We suspect it has to do with the Schat family’s Dutch lineage, where bakery is spelled bakkerij. As to our take on the food at Erick Schat’s Bakkery, the food is good but the baked good are better.
Manzanar National Historic Site
Heading back down (south) on the 395, stop at the Manzanar National Historic Site, located near Independence. Approximately 11,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry were incarcerated in Manzanar for the duration of World War II. The residents in Manzanar where uprooted from their homes and placed in the concentration camp without any trial. The U.S. government at the time said it was for the protection of the inmates, but the guards in the towers at Manzanar had their rifles pointed inward, ready to shoot anyone that escaped. 10 camps were established in the early 1940s to hold the Japanese Americans. Aside from the camp at Northern California’s Tule Lake, the population at the Manzanar site was the largest. To this day, it eclipses the population of any city in the Owens Valley.
It took close to 25 years after the last inmates left Manzanar before an effort was made to preserve it as a historic site. Manzanar had been abandoned and left to deteriorate until the first pilgrimage was organized in 1969. Three years later, the pilgrimage organizers, now organized as the nonprofit Manzanar Committee, succeeded in having Manzanar named as a California Historical Landmark. In 1976, it was registered as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument, and in 1985, it was designated a National Historic Landmark. In 1992, Manzanar was designated a National Historic Site.
The National Park Service usually discourages reconstructing structures or artifacts except in unusual circumstances and if certain stringent criteria are met. Manzanar evidently met the criteria, as the site now contains the restored high school auditorium (which also houses the visitors center), a mess hall salvaged from a closing military facility, a replica guard tower, and reconstructed housing facilities. There’s also a driving tour with 27 points of interest. In short, today's Manzanar National Historic Site is a breathtaking place to behold in the Owens Valley.
The 395 is pretty much the only way in and out of this area. So, from Manzanar, it’s a straight - but picturesque - shot down the 395 until it meets California State Route 14 in Kern County.
From there, it’s up to you if you take the 14 through Palmdale and Lancaster and on to the 5, or if you opt to continue further south on the 395, joining the folks heading home from Sin City on the 15 over Cajon Pass, dropping you into Riverside.
About The Author
Roy Nakano gave birth to LACar in the late '90s, having previously delivered LA Audio File back in the '80s. Aside from the occasional review, Roy likes to stray off the beaten automotive path: "Six Degrees of Reparations" reflected on the regretful ethical paths taken by car companies throughout history. "Traveling Through the Past and Present of the Green Book" looked at businesses that took a stand against racism and the man that wrote the book on where to find them. "Best Cars to Drive in Rush Hour Traffic" was an LACar guide published in the pre-GPS era. "In Search of the First Datsun 510 Tuner" looked at one of the milestones in the origin of import tuners.