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A Day with Contrasty Tours at Independence

It was a chilly morning at 52°F. The high wind yesterday brought down the temperature dramatically. Welcome to the first day of fall! We thumbed through pamphlets of tour guides trying to decide where to go. It seemed odd to list a fish hatchery as one of the points of interest on the tour guides of Inyo County. So we decided to check it out. Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery is located just north of Independence, a small charming town 15 miles north of Lone Pine.

A short paved road took us to the fish hatchery. Stone retaining walls built with granite rocks welcomed visitors at the entrance. The stately building stood high on the ground with the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains as its backdrop. The clay roof Tudor style building is featured with granite rock walls. A lovely pond laid in front of the building. As we approached the pond, a group of wild ducks and a school of giant rainbow trout quickly swam towards us, breaking the reflection of the building. It was such a beautiful place in the middle of nowhere.

We threw feed to the pond trying to feed the fish. All the ducks and fish jumped onto each other fighting for the food! But it seemed that ducks got most of the food each time. Although it was still chill in the early morning, two artists sat in their lounge chairs sketching on their pads. We walked around the pond to the entrance of the building only to find that it is not opened until 10 a.m. We were an hour early.

Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery B& W

Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery B& W

We went back to the fish hatchery later and toured the inside of the building. The fish hatchery was built in 1917 commanded by California Department of Fish and Game and it played a vital role in saving golden trout. The fish hatchery ceased its operation due to damage from the flood. A devastating fire in 2007 burned the watershed above the hatchery but fortunately the building was intact. Volunteers restored the pond and turned the fish hatchery into a tourist attraction. It was a pleasant visit to the fish hatchery.

Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery

Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery

Leaving the fish hatchery, we headed towards Mazourka Canyon. We crossed the fault scarp that was caused by the enormous earthquake centered at Lone Pine in 1872. We saw the granite spire on the crest of Inyo Mountains from distance but it didn’t shine as silver in the sun as it said to. We returned when the paved road ends. On our way back to Independence, the imposing Sierra Nevada Mountains filled up our vision straight ahead. It was a splendid scene with endless high mountains spanning across the western side of Owens Valley. The eastern face of Sierra Nevada Mountains are steep when the earth pulled apart, dropped Owens Valley and raised Sierras. This wall of high mountains is so grand with mesmerizing crests!

We turned to Onion Valley Road in the center of the town. We were delighted by the close view of the beautiful peaks. The triangular Kearsarge Peak looked like a giant pyramid. The shorter Independence Peak sat by its left. A small version of Alabama Hills lay at the foot of the mountains. We drove along enjoying the changing scenery along the road. The brown hills appeared colorful with yellow sagebrush flowers and rust colored spent flowers. The road started to climb up the mountains. We saw two campgrounds by the road and continued our trip. Several crows hovered above the hillside at a curve. Then we came to a deep turn. It was a narrow two lane road with few traffic. The road kept going up and we went across more deep switchbacks. We had no idea how long this road was.

Stephen at Vista Point on Onion Valley Road

Stephen at Vista Point on Onion Valley Road

After climbing quite high in the mountain, a wide vista point appeared on the left of the road. Stephen pulled over the truck and we stepped out to appreciate the view. Down there was Owens Valley. We saw the winding mountain roads where we came from snaking on the mountain. Independence Peak showed her face in the mountains and it looked so close. We resumed our trip climbing up. I reached the tour guide pamphlet and took a close look at the illustrated route for Onion Valley Road. I was astonished to see the numerous switchbacks shown on the route. I realized that we were on an unplanned adventure and I could feel my adrenaline went up immediately. I didn’t dare to look down at each sharp turn and hoping the road took us to the destination soon. The guide said the length of the road was 13 miles and it would take 45 minutes one way. Oh my God!

U Shaped Onion Valley

U Shaped Onion Valley

After going through at least another 5 or 6 switchbacks, a U shaped valley unfolded up ahead. Tall pines and meadows appeared by the road and we were finally at Onion Valley. That was a valley way up high in the mountain with an elevation of 9,200 feet. To our surprise, there were over twenty vehicles on the parking lot. Backpackers were hiking on the trail into John Muir Wilderness. There was a slender waterfall on Kearsarge Peak. Independence Creek wound its way down from Independence Peak. It was cold with evidence of ice on the puddles. We took a walk in the small Onion Valley Campground. There was no portable water here and no camp hosts. Bears are active around here even at this high elevation. A wooden frame with the sign of Sequoia Kings Pack Trains crossed above another narrow road. Up in the mountains is the habitat for endangered Sierra bighorn sheep. The steep granite slope provided an ideal location for bighorn sheep to escape from mountain lions. Most hikers were young men. A father put up his warm jacket, a wide rim hat, and a bandanna, and helped his little boy preparing for the challenging hike. What a brave father and boy!

Deep 90 Degree Turns on Onion Valley Road

Deep 90 Degree Turns on Onion Valley Road

We started our way down the steep mountain road. A small mule deer showed up by the road and ran down the slope agilely. After a while, there was another mule deer appeared on the edge of the road ahead. Our truck slowed down and it crossed the road. It seemed like it took forever to get down. More vehicles were climbing up. This made driving down more difficult. It was a big relief when we touched the ground of Owens Valley. The adventure was scary and excited.

Thus we had a day with contrasty tours: a relaxing tour to a fish hatchery, and an adventure that drove up adrenaline.

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