This Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) contains one of the longest stretches of riparian woodland in the Eastern Sierra, provides sanctuary to over 100 species of birds, is the site of a historic LADWP Aqueduct Camp & swimming hole and is a great place to access the 74,640 acre Owens Peak Wilderness, which sits within the canyons western end.
I’ve traveled Highway 395 so many times that I often think I’m running out of things to discover. If you’re familiar with the area you would understand just how ridiculous that last statement actually is. Cutting through the Mojave Desert in the south and the Eastern Sierra in the north, the California section of Highway 395 has a wide range of things to see and discover. There’s so many in fact, that it would be almost impossible to see everything within your lifetime.
My latest obsession while traveling through the area has been to focus on the many canyons that branch off from the highway and one of my favorite ways to scout these potential locations is by using Google Maps. One of the first things I noticed while looking at the satellite images of Sand Canyon was the incredible amount of greenery that snakes its way through the canyon. According to the BLM:
“The sound of a steam rippling over rocks beneath the rustling leaves of a tall cottonwood tree is hardly an image most people would associate with the Mojave Desert. However, the perennial stream that flows through Sand Canyon creates a sanctuary from the searing heat of the desert in one of the longest stretches of riparian woodland in the Eastern Sierra.”
The second thing I noticed while looking at the map was this section that contained a small body of water that looked very much like a nice little spring to me. Whether or not the spring was hot or cold, I still wasn’t sure but it was enough to pique my interest.
A little more digging lead to an incredible discovery.
This wasn’t just some random cold spring, this swimming hole had some pretty amazing history attached to it. According to Hands on the Land (HOL), a network of field classrooms sponsored by Partners in Resource Education:
“A giant siphon, part of the Los Angeles Aqueduct that was completed in 1913, crosses the lower section of Sand Canyon. Patrolmen and their families lived in the canyon during the 1930s and 1940s, and the men rode horseback to check on the aqueduct each day. During WWII, other men, sent to guard against sabotage, were housed in temporary barracks. Cement foundations and a rock swimming pool are all that is left as reminders of this recent occupation.”
So what I was looking at was actually part of an old camp that was built and used by workers during the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct.
One of the concrete foundations leftover from the Aqueduct Camp.
Found this incredible piece of rock in between the concrete foundation of the old camp and a section of black pipe from LA’s original aqueduct which was made from riveted steel.
While it was still a little too cold to enjoy the pool ourselves, that didn’t stop the dogs from jumping in and having a little fun. A wide variety of bird species also appear to enjoy the area:
“Sand Canyon is an excellent site for birding. Over 100 species of resident, wintering, breeding and migratory birds have been observed here throughout the years. The riparian habitat serves as a magnet for songbirds moving along the north-south flanks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains during the spring and from higher elevations to lower elevations during the winter. The canyon has been designated as a Partners In Flight site to aid in the monitoring of the neotropical migrant songbirds who spend a portion of their year in Sand Canyon as well as in Central and South America. To monitor how these species are doing on the northern end of their migration circuit, the Kerncrest Chapter of the National Audubon Society regularly performs surveys throughout the canyon to document breeding birds and migrants.”
While we didn’t see that many bird species while we were there, we did come across this oddly placed memorial over by the picnic area next to pool.
From what I was able to find online, Jonathan Wolfgang Mikel Hammerbacker was from Victorville, CA and was only 23 years old when he passed away in 2009. There’s no information on how he died, so I’m not sure if this memorial was placed here because this is the location of where he died or if it’s just a place he enjoyed while he was alive. Either way, it’s always sad when you come across memorials like this, especially when the deceased died at such a young age. RIP Jonathan.
I found this cute little homemade Easter plate prior to heading into the western end of the canyon. Looks like somebody had a fun Easter celebration, to bad they didn’t clean up after themselves. Come on people, PICK UP YOUR SHIT!
Heading west, we crossed over a wide, semi-deep, sandy stream crossing (a high clearance vehicle is recommended, at least when we where there in the spring) until we reached the end of the road, which borders the 74,640 acre Owens Peak Wilderness Area. There’s a small parking lot here if you want to get out and explore further, which we didn’t have the time to do on this particular trip. Rumor has it that there’s an old ranch and Indian village site near a grove of Foothill (Digger) pines further back in the canyon, so this is definitely going be one of those places I’ll have to come back and explore more when I have the time.
GETTING THERE: To find Sand Canyon travel north on US 395 to the Brown Road exit, approximately 5 miles north of the US 395 and SR 14 intersection. On the west side of the highway, cross the US 395 frontage road, and take the graded dirt road west toward the entrance to a large sand and gravel quarry. Just before the entrance to the quarry, take a left turn to the south on BLM Route SE117 and follow this route into Sand Canyon. The trailhead is at the far west end of the canyon approximately 3.5 miles beyond the aqueduct.