Southern California Day Trips

California: El Camino Sierra

Road Trip Number One is my favorite road right now. It is the highway otherwise known as El Camino Sierra, the 395, which runs on the outskirts of Los Angeles all the way through parts of Nevada, and back into northern California, ending around the Susanville area.

On my most recent road trip, I drove about half of the 395. I took off on a Sunday afternoon at noon from Los Angeles for meetings in Mammoth the following week. Shockingly, there was not a lot of traffic that particular day in Los Angeles, and I made good time.

As I was driving, I quickly realized that I forgot to pack undershirts. So my first stop was on the outskirts of Lancaster, where I found a 99-cent store. This was off of the 14 Freeway. My trajectory had me go from the 405 to the 5 North Freeway, and then over on the 14 Freeway into Lancaster.

After my quick pit stop, it was a quick jaunt through the town of Mojave, passing through California City, and to a stop that I have never stopped at before, but I’ve driven at and have wanted to, and that’s Red Rock Canyon State Park. Red Rock Canyon State Park is pretty well known as a filming ground for multiple science fiction films, or even a couple of westerns. Not as much as the Alabama Hills, which is something that I’ll be writing about later, but it has its own history of filming, as well.

I pulled off on the side of the 14. I briefly entered the Red Rock Canyon, to a picnic area where there’s basically a clean bathroom, a picnic table, and a beautiful red rock canyon standing right in front of me. There were a few tourists taking pictures. It looked like they were about to go for a climb. I was only stopping very briefly. And in those brief couple of minutes, I was able to take in the beauty of the area. After about 15 minutes of walking around and taking pictures, I hopped back in my car, and headed out back onto the 14.

Just about where the 14 and the 395 meet, out of nowhere, is something that should be a mirage, but it’s not. It’s an actual brewery. Indian Wells Brewing Company sits in the town of Inyokern, I believe Inyokern County. It is a fantastic brewery. It’s an old brewery, it didn’t just spring up recently. I think it’s been around for, well, at least 20 years. And what they’re well known for is their amber ale. The brewery has a beer and you can buy their beers right on draft. It also has an impressive collection of candies to choose from. There’s an outdoor drinking area with plenty of picnic benches and a nice view of the surrounding desert landscape. After one single quick beer, and a purchase of some fresh brews for later, I headed back onto the highway.

Very soon the 14 hit the 395, and I couldn’t have been happier to be back onto my favorite highway. Next stop was in the town of Lone Pine, and I was able to make it just in time to catch the Museum of Western Film History in the City of Lone Pine. They close at 5:00 on Sundays, and I was able to get there by 4:40. I had known about the film museum ever since I started traveling the 395, but what I didn’t realize was how many films, a lot of films that I had actually watched, have been filmed in the nearby Alabama Hills.

The Alabama Hills are another impressive array of red, auburn hills on the foot of Mt. Whitney, between the town of Lone Pine and Mt. Whitney, where a significant amount of westerns have been filmed in the golden age of Hollywood westerns. But also, a number of science fiction films have been filmed, either in Alabama Hills, or nearby Death Valley, including several Star Wars scenes, Tremors, several Star Trek sequence of movies. It’s pretty impressive. You can check out some of the pictures here in the list of films that have been filmed in the area. I highly recommend a stop in the Alabama Hills, if you have the time to do so. And if not, at least check out the film museum.

After Lone Pine, it was a quick jaunt through the towns of Lone Pine, Independence, and Big Pine. Once again, I had to pass by the entrance to the Ancient Bristlecone Forest. I didn’t have time to make a quick half-day trip stop over to there, and the heat’s probably going to be too punishing in any event.

My next stop was just on the outskirts of the town of Bishop. I stopped off at the Paiute Casino. I had to make a phone call and be in a spot where I knew I could get some coverage for about half an hour. The casino is compact, clean and nice. It’s a simple, one-room, with a few tables. It has a $3 Texas Holdem poker, and multiple video poker machines, friendly staff, easy to get in and out of. It also has a gas station right on the lot. So it’s going to be one of my favorite places to fill up.

After Bishop and the Paiute Casino, it was a straight shot up to Mammoth. And the tradition continues for me. Every time I stop into the town of Mammoth, I always eat at my favorite place, which is the Mammoth Brewing Company, which is an impressive piece of property, multi-level, indoor/outdoor, friendly staff, phenomenal menu, especially if you’re a foodie, like me. And, delicious beers.

After dinner and a few beers at the Mammoth Brewing Company, I stayed at the Westin Hotel, which is probably going to be my go-to place in Mammoth from now on. Very comfortable rooms, friendly staff, beautiful views, a pool that is heated, a jacuzzi that stays open til 10:00 p.m., a 24-hour gym.

The next day, it was a quick road trip up to Bridgeport for my meetings. And the road along 395, up to Bridgeport, was beautiful, surrounded by trees. I passed by Mono Lake, which is an impressive view of a very large, and important, body of salt water. More on that later.

Headed up to Bridgeport to the County of Mono seat. And Bridgeport is a small town, but a cute and quaint town. It has a courthouse that goes back to the late 1800s. Bridgeport was also the setting of a famous film noir, Out Of The Past. And, it has pretty good spots to eat. I have eaten at the Nacho Place along the main highway.

After Bridgeport, it was back down to Mono Lake, and a stop at the world-famous Mobil Gas Station, in Lee Vining, where you can get some of the best fish tacos and local brews on tap with a beautiful view of Mono Lake from a gas station.

Here are some pictures from the trip. I will post a little movie I created soon:

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