While the majority of travelers either drive straight through it or only focus their attention on the beautiful scenic attractions located west of Hwy 395, there’s a whole other side of Lone Pine, CA that’s just as exciting to explore.
Visiting Alabama Hills never gets old but for those looking for a little more something off the beaten path, take a brief detour to some of Lone Pine’s historic east side attractions. On this particular trip we’ll check out Lone Pine’s former railroad station, the ruins of Owenyo; a 13,000-acre abandoned Quaker colony that later became a switching yard, Reward Mine; once one of the richest gold mines in California and Manzanar; where over 10,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II.
Our detour begins on Lone Pine Narrow Gauge Road, only 0.6 miles from the center of town. Heading east, you’ll eventually past the Southern Pacific depot once used for Lone Pine. During the construction of the LA aqueduct, large quantities of freight were needed in the Owens Valley, so the railroad was extended from Mojave to Lone Pine for this purpose. In 1997, the former station was converted into a private residence, so please keep your distance and be respectful when passing by.
At approximately 4 miles into the route, stay on the pavement as it turns north and becomes Owenyo Lone Pine Road. You’ll probably cross paths with some grazing cattle along this portion of the detour, so drive carefully.
The old railroad bed for the former Carson & Colorado narrow gauge can also be seen on the right along this section of the route.
After about 6 miles from turning off of Hwy 395, the road begins to fluctuate between dirt and pavement, so watch your speed.
Drive another 1.5 miles until you reach a large clump of tamarisk trees on your left.
This was the former site of Owenyo (from the words Owens and Inyo), a switching yard between the standard and narrow gauge lines, operating from about 1910 to 1960.
Find a place to park but be careful, there’s lots of broken glass, nails and other sharp objects that could easily puncture a tire.
Owenyo began as a farming community established by the William Penn Colonial Association in 1902.
A little north of Owenyo, sits the mounded banks of a long-dry canal.
The canal once brought water from the Owens River to irrigate part of the 13,000-acre colony, which was abandoned in 1905 after the hot, dry, alkaline conditions of the area proved to be too harsh to grow the crops that were needed to sustain it.
In 1905, the Southern Pacific purchased the Carson & Colorado and three years later began construction of a standard gauge line from Mojave to the Owens Valley.
The new line ran along the western shore of Owens Lake and joined the Carson & Colorado four miles north of Mt. Whitney Station (which was closed after the Lone Pine Station was opened).
Owenyo was unique for a narrow gauge/standard gauge interchange point in that there was no dual gauge trackage. Narrow gauge cars were spotted across the platform and the loads transferred by hand. On the south end of the yards was a huge transfer trestle, which allowed the contents of narrow gauge cars to be dumped by gravity into waiting standard gauge cars underneath. Near the depot was a transfer gantry, of the Queen Truss design, that allowed heavy loads to be moved from three foot gauge to broad gauge equipment. Car repairs, formerly made at Keeler, were handled on the Owenyo “rip track,” just south of the depot and hotel. Like the Keeler engine shop, the Owenyo car repairers had only a cobalt blue sky for a roof. – NARROW GAUGE TO NOWHERE
After WW2, Southern Pacific began abandoning portions of its narrow gauge line: first between Tonopah Junction and Benton and then between Benton to Laws. Owenyo was killed off for good after the narrow gauge Owens Valley Branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad was abandoned in its entirety in 1960.
While there isn’t much left to see of Owenyo, you can still find some interesting traces of its past if you look hard enough.
Since this site is more than 50 years old, you can look and admire but please don’t take anything with you. It’s not only a shitty thing to do, it’s highly illegal.
The hills east of Owenyo were once populated with some of the most productive mines in the Owens Valley. The road to one of them, the Union/Silver Spur Mine, isn’t that far from Owenyo but I wouldn’t recommend traveling it unless you have a 4WD vehicle with a really good set of tires on it. The road to the mine is rough and covered with lots of pointy, sharp rocks that can easily puncture a tire, so if you decide to take this short detour off the main road, do so at your own risk. There aren’t any areas for you to turn around once you start, so you better be 100% sure you can make it and also have a emergency plan ready to go in case you don’t.
“An address by Henry G. Hanks, delivered in the San Francisco Academy of Sciences and reported in the Bulletin of February 1, 1864, stated that the New World Mining and Exploration Company left San Francisco March 4, 1860. Among its twenty or more men were Col. H. P. Russ, the leader; T. H. Goodman, afterward captain of one of the military companies at Camp Independence, and later a high official of the Southern Pacific; O. L. Matthews, who was to become Inyo County’s first judge; and John Searles. Dr. S. G. George headed a contingent which included S. G. Gregg, in after years Inyo’s Sheriff; W. T. Henderson, adventurer; Moses Thayer, and others. This detachment met and joined the San Franciscans at Walker’s Pass, and the combined forces entered Owens Valley. A subdivision went eastward from Owens Lake. The north-traveling section established a camp on Owens River, a few miles southeast of the site of Independence. Dr. George observed, through a field glass, the bold outcroppings of the Union lode, and he and Russ went to examine it. Finding the prospect encouraging, camp was moved to the vicinity of the croppings, and the men proceeded to organize Russ mining district, the first semblance of any form of civil government in the territory now included in Inyo County. Russ was chairman of the meeting and George was its secretary. Hanks, in his address, gave the date as April 20, 1860. Among the claims located at this time were the Union, Eclipse and Ida.” – The Story of Inyo
It was a slow go up the road but once we got there the snowy Eastern Sierra views were well worth it.
Foundations and rock walls are scattered throughout the area.
There’s also a cool little outhouse for those who forgot to take care of their business down in Lone Pine.
Other names associated with this mine include Mount Whitney-Union, Big Wedge, Monte Carlo, and (as part of the Union Mine) Little Bill claim. The BLM lists the most eastern claim as the Silver Spur. The vein was developed by 3,000 feet of underground workings in 8 adits. The mine yielded 100,000 ounces silver prior to 1902. Additional silver, gold, lead, and copper were produced until 1939.
Big Wedge Mining Co. constructed the mill in 1934. Ore was ground to a fine powder and mixed with water, frothing reagents, and collecting reagents. When air was blown through the mixture, mineral particles clung to the bubbles, which then rose to form a froth on the surface. The waste material settled to the bottom. The froth was then skimmed off, and the water and chemicals were distilled or otherwise removed, leaving a clean concentrate. This process, also called the froth-flotation process, was used for a number of minerals at the time, especially silver.
Looking down at Owens Valley from the mill ruins. The Alabama Hills can be seen in the upper left.
After driving back down to Owenyo Lone Pine Road, we continued north until we intersected with Manzanar Reward Road. Turn right onto the dirt road leading up to the base of the Inyo Mountains, which is fairly well maintained up until you reach the lower ruins of a small mill. If you don’t have a 4WD vehicle, I suggest you park somewhere around this area. Hike or drive (4WD only) the dirt road heading northeast up into the mountain and you’ll eventually find the entrance to the Reward Mine.
Reward is actually a cluster of several different mines and structures from various eras. The first mining operation in Owens Valley was discovered here in 1860. Originally known as the Eclipse Mine and later as the Brown Monster, it wasn’t until 1896 that it officially became known as Reward.
A 30-stamp mill was dismantled in 1903 and replaced by a 20-stamp mill which was located at the mine site and connected to the upper workings by a gravity tram.
An overhaul in 1911 brought electrical power to the mine but all operations were shut down the following year in order to install a cyanide plant. The mine remained closed for the next 20 years.
Mining resumed in 1932 and continued until the 1980’s. The mines are estimated to have produced $600,000 of gold, over 102,000 ounces of silver, 30,900 pounds of copper and over 203,000 pounds of lead from 1889 to 1951.
Production levels after 1951 are not available but they were most likely lower than the previous years the mine was in operation.
After exploring the Reward Mine, head west on Manzanar Reward Road back toward’s Hwy 395. Just before reaching the highway you’ll cross an old airstrip that was part of the Manzanar War Relocation Center, where some 10,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry were confined during World War II. Manzanar is Spanish for apple and before Los Angeles drained the Owens Valley, there used to be orchards full of them here.
All three of us had been to Manzanar before but it’s always an interesting place to stop and explore when you have the time.
Fifteen of the 150 people who died at the Manzanar War Relocation Center were buried here; most of the others were cremated. Six burials remain today. Relatives removed the other nine after the war.
After a long day of exploring, Castro’s Tacos located at 227 N Main St, Lone Pine, CA 93545 really hit the spot.