I had a long discussion with my brother the other night, and the topic of our local mountain ranges came up.
When people go to the Owens Valley, what strikes them most is the giant Sierra Nevadas on the west side of the valley. They’re really a sight to behold, especially after seeing glacier-capped peaks from 110 Fahrenheit heat from the below sea level in Death Valley. The eastern boarder of the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, it holds woods, creeks, and elevations above 12,000 feet that draw adventurers and tourists from all over.
However, the eastern side of the Owens Valley has its own range of mountains that, while lower in elevation and a little drier, hold awesome scenery, history, and solitude the Sierras can’t beat. The Inyo and White ranges are the secret secluded spot for the ones looking for someplace quieter to adventure.
As a local to the area, I have an equal appreciation for the Sierra Nevada mountains, the Inyo mountains, and the White mountains. I like the pines and abundant wildlife that flourish in the Sierras but I also love the arid ranges on the other side. The Inyos and the Whites are primarily desert, most peaks not breaching 8,000 feet, but have no populated areas to the east of them for hundreds of miles in some cases.
Even though it’s pretty arid, it used to be the population area a thousand years ago. There are natural hot springs, pine nuts, wild game, and— best of all— no large predators. Bears and mountain lions stick to the Sierra side, while the biggest carnivore one might come across is a coyote in the Inyos. Because of the plentiful supplies and relative safety of the area, there are numerous locations of ancient Paiute Indian camps with arrow heads, pottery shards, stone circles, and bow trees (juniper trees used to make hunting bows; they would find straight trees, cut notches on the top and base, then wait a season for it to dry. Afterward, they would cut it, bend it, string it, and hunt with it).
Aside from the history of the area, from Native American history, to mining and railroad history circa 1880, and the Bristlecone Pines, some of the oldest living things on the planet, there are secluded trails. The Pacific Crest and John Muir trails, while popular, are pretty crowded. There are a number of places in the Sierra Nevadas that are tucked away and far from the “freeway” feeling, but just about anywhere in the White and Inyo ranges you are guaranteed peace and quiet. While there aren’t many places to get water there are a number of places good to camp and hike if you’re really looking to get away from it all.
It’s tough terrain, but it has a sort of beauty to it that drew people there hundreds of years ago and draws the odd adventurer to discover a landscape hidden from the rest of the world.