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Trailblazing Route 395

The roof of a Chevrolet Trailblazer with a Thule roof rack, and Mount Whitney in the background.

Route 395 is more than just the way to Mammoth

We take a road trip in a Chevrolet Trailblazer where few tread, visit historic sites just north of Los Angeles along U.S. Route 395, including Lone Pine, Mount Whitney Portal, Alabama Hills, Erick Schat’s Bakkery in Bishop, and the National Historic Site at Manzanar.

By Roy Nakano

Wed, Jan 5, 2022 10:55 AM PST

Photos by Roy Nakano.

Featured Image: The Thule roof rack cross rail package is a dealer-installed option for the Trailblazer. The "Soul Consoling Monument" in the background was the creation of stonemason Ryozo Kado, who sculpted the obelisk artwork during his incarceration in Manzanar. And behind everything, Mount Whitney is there, following your every mile along on the 395 in Owens Valley.

Treasures of the Eastern Sierra

During this time of prolonged, perpetual cabin fever (we can thank the ongoing pandemic), the urge to get out of town and take a road trip consumes many of us living in Los Angeles. That certainly applies to many of us on the LACar staff. 

And so we made plans to travel the Eastern Sierra, through U.S. Route 395 - a road less traveled than the more popular automotive arteries of Interstate Highway 5 and U.S. Route 101. We mapped out a plan to take the 395, crossing Lone Pine, Independence, reaching Erick Schat’s Bakkery in Bishop, and finally circling back to see the Manzanar National Historic Site.

While electric cars - or more specifically - electric crossover SUVs are all the rage these days, there are times when one needs to travel long distances. Tesla touts its excellent charging network, and it’s certainly the best of the electric charging networks in terms of abundance and ease of use. But there’s one vehicle that’ll beat any Tesla when it comes to long distance traveling: a gas-powered, internal combustion engine vehicle.

Checking All The Boxes

To avoid having to wait around at electric charging stations, we wanted a gas-powered car. To be able to look down the road without any sense of claustrophobia, we wanted a tallish crossover SUV. Because petroleum prices are through the roof at the moment, we wanted good gas mileage. And because the microchip shortage means purchasing prices are at a premium these days, we wanted to focus our attention on vehicles that might be good buys.

The Chevrolet Trailblazer, parked outside of the museum in Lone Pine, California.
At the Museum of Western Film History in Lone Pine, CA.

General Motors delivered a vehicle they thought checked all of our boxes: The Chevrolet Trailblazer. It’s Chevrolet’s entry in the subcompact crossover SUV arena, with a starting price of $21,600. That’s significantly less than the average price of a used car in these pandemic times. Our model was fully loaded at $31,900, and came fitted with the upgraded Ecotec 1.3 liter turbocharged engine (the recent Wards 10-Best Engines recipient), all-wheel drive, heated steering wheel and seats, and the Technology package (includes an HD rear vision camera, Bose Premium sound system, wireless charging for cell phones). Our Trailblazer AWD ACTIV is EPA rated at 30 miles per gallon on the highway and 26 in the city.

Route 395

As for U.S. Route 395, it’s a treasure trove of geography and history for Angelinos seeking to get out of town for a day or two. The route includes the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States (Mount Whitney), a lush, forest-filled side road up to the sky (Mount Whitney Portal), the favorite venue for Hollywood western movies (Alabama Hills), one of only two museums that made it onto the LA Times’ recent 40 Best California Experiences: Winter Edition (Museum of Western Film History), several examples of small town California, and an important piece of American history, remarkably restored (Manzanar National Historic Site). Venture a little further up the 395, and you’ll be in one of the best ski venues in the state (Mammoth Mountain).

What we have here is a sequel to the Humphrey Bogart classic, "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre". This time, the cameras are turned to the Eastern Sierra, and you can be the director behind the wheel. If you have a day or two to spare to get out of Los Angeles by car, there are some treasures of the Eastern Sierra that come highly recommended.

We’ve put together a route for you to follow, including a map, so you can either follow along or, better yet, get out for a road trip of your own... Check it out!

About The Author

Roy Nakano's profile picture

Roy Nakano

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.

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