Friday Field Trip: Bishop, California

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In my novel, Us, Now and Then, Bishop is where Sam Wylder gets stuck during a snowstorm on his drive to Carson City. It’s also where Grace’s grandparents live. I’ve stopped there on many drives between my current home in Northern Nevada and my home town in Southern California.


Bishop sits at the northern edge of the Owens Valley. It is the largest town in Inyo County. Inyo County has the distinction of containing both the highest and lowest elevations in the contiguous United States; Mt. Whitney, 14,496 feet above sea level, and Badwater in Death Valley, 282 feet below sea level. A difference of nearly 15,000 feet.


Its history includes not only Native Americans but the famous explorers John C. Fremont and Kit Carson. Samuel Addison Bishop established a cattle ranch there in 1861 to supply beef to the nearby mining town of Aurora. Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) was a well-known resident of Aurora.

A contentious battle over the water rights to Owens Valley began in 1905 and 1907 when William Mulholland, superintendent of the Los Angeles Water Department purchased most of the valley from farmers and ranchers at bargain prices. While he told them it was for a local irrigation project, his plan was to send Owens Valley water south to Los Angeles. By the time the now-famous Los Angeles Aqueduct was completed in 1913, it was too late for valley residents to take any action. Today, Los Angeles receives 70% of its water from the Owens Valley and the Eastern High Sierra. With the diversion of water to Los Angeles, the Owens Lake and lower Owens River dried up and many valley residents were forced to leave. The Owens Valley-City of Los Angeles conflict inspired the 1974 film Chinatown.Bishop 10

Today Bishop, because it is on US395, the north-south artery along the Eastern Sierra, serves as a hub for tourists. It’s literally on the road to Mammoth, Yosemite, and Lake Tahoe, so skiers, fishermen, hikers, and campers alike stop here to fuel up. Most of them stop to stock up on Sheepherders bread, cheese bread, sweet rolls, and sandwiches at Erick Schat’s Bakkery.



If you happen to be traveling in the area, I also recommend you stop and stretch your legs at the Laws Railroad Museum just outside of town.


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