Route 6: from the Sierra Nevadas to Cape Cod?
The Sierra Nevada mountains cover 400 miles along the border of California and Nevada. We crossed the Sierras and into Inyo County from just north of Los Angeles, via Rt. 14 to 395. Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States (14,496 feet above sea level) is found here, as is the lowest point, Badwater in Death Valley, 282 feet below sea level. That’s a difference of almost 15,000 feet! Bishop became our home base for exploring this dynamic area where the North American and Pacific tectonic plates come together. There are numerous wilderness and recreation areas, a National and State Parks, filled with evidence of volcanic and glacial activity. Also crossing near Bishop, to our surprise, is Route 6 . . . the same Route 6 that crosses my childhood home, Cape Cod, ending in Provincetown! It’s 3295 miles, and sounds like a tempting road trip for someday. It had never occurred to me that our little local highway stretched all the way to California!
Table Mountains are unique geological features: flat-topped mountains formed from solidified lava that erupted from the Long Valley Caldera long ago. Once barren and burnt, this high-desert area now supports a unique ecosystem of fragile plant life. The macro views of the mountainous landscape are beautiful, but the micro close-ups of tiny plants and flowers is fascinating too. The Volcanic Tablelands can be accessed just north of Bishop via some very bumpy dirt roads. Driving the 21-mile loop, we notice how the series of volcanic ash flows created some amazing shapes, textures, colors and layers as it passed over different rocks and minerals. This area is a photographer’s paradise! Hiking and bouldering are very popular here as well. In fact, Bishop is said to rival Hueco Tanks among climbers. Take care to follow the guidelines about protecting the environment before setting out.
Petroglyphs of the Volcanic Tablelands
Evidence of the Paiute and Shoshone people who lived on this land, between the Sierras on one side and the White and Inyo mountains on the other, is still seen in ancient petroglyphs on the rocks. By choice, there are few maps or signs, to help protect the art and history, but if you’re really interested in finding the petroglyphs, there are lots to see! According to Sierra Web, “The local descendants of the Paiute – Shoshone decline to share detailed information regarding the meanings or functions of the rock art. Sadly, their reluctance to offer information about the exact location of the various sites is justified. On some occasions, people have behaved destructively and disrespectfully.” Staff at the Bishop Chamber of Commerce or the Bishop Bureau of Land Management may be able to point you in the right general direction. In late 2012, thieves used power tools and saws to steal six ancient works of art from a half-mile stretch in the area, damaging other pieces in the process. Some pieces were later recovered. Other, more minor acts of vandalism happen as well, and extra care should be taken to protect and preserve.
We saw some great examples around Chidago Canyon and near the Fish Slough wetlands areas. Most of the petroglyphs are carved into the darker rocks, exposing the lighter layers underneath, providing contrast. The figures we were able to pick out looked like birds and human figures. There were also a number of geometric shapes. In the Fish Slough area, there were more of the geometric type–lots of circles and lines, while we thought we could see more animal shapes near Chidago.