Inyo County in eastern California is a land of extremes. It claims the highest and lowest points in the lower 48. Mount Whitney with an elevation of 14,505 feet is 85 miles west of Death Valley National Park’s Badwater Basin at 282 ft below sea level. Stay in the towns of Bishop, Big Pine, Independence, and Lone Pine while exploring the area.
United offers seasonal flights to Bishop from San Francisco and Denver, making it easy to start your California adventure here.
While the scenery in Inyo County is absolutely mesmerizing, so is its local culture and history. Here are four spots to explore.
1. Watch and Listen to the Sky
There are few places in the country where you’ll be treated to a better view of the night sky than the Eastern Sierra. With little light pollution thanks to a low population density and more than 330 clear nights each year, the high desert of Inyo County is even more beautiful when the sun goes down. From the outdoorsy town of Bishop, drive just 10 minutes west to Buttermilk Road. A world-class bouldering destination by day, you’ll get an unparalleled night time view of Mt. Tom and Wheeler Ridge.
Still can’t get those magnificent stars out of your head? To learn more about the night sky, stop by The Owens Valley Radio Observatory in Big Pine on the first Monday of every month at 1 p.m. for a tour. Focused on radio astronomy and cosmology, the observatory affectionately known as “Big Ears” literally listens to space.
Six miles south of Independence, an estimated 10,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated because of their ethnicity after the bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II. While most of the internment camp was dismantled after the war, a replica barrack and mess hall offer insights into camp life, and the restored camp auditorium serves as a visitor center.
Peer through a window into the area’s rich past at the Eastern California Museum in Independence. You’ll find baskets from Owens Valley Paiute-Shoshone and Death Valley Panamint-Shoshone, the Slim Princess, a fully restored narrow gauge steam locomotive, tales of local mountaineer Norman Clyde and a petrified mammoth leg from the Ice Age.
Five miles north of Bishop, go back in time to see what early railroad settlements looked like at Laws Railroad Museum. Each restored building and train help paint a picture of life in the Owens Valley more than 100 years ago. Ride the green 1927 Death Valley Railroad car during the summer. The American Mule Museum also has an exhibit on site where you can learn about the history of the mule. For more mule fun, visit Bishop’s Mule Days May 25-29, 2023.
Near Shoshone, stop by the China Ranch Date Farm where you’ll find a lush oasis filled with date palms. Go on a guided nature walk to learn more about the area before stopping by the gift shop to purchase different varieties of dates and products made with the fruit like nut bread, muffins and more.
China Ranch Date Farm, south of Tecopa off Furnace Creek Road; chinaranch.com