Monday, October 26, 2015

Water Continues to Shape History in the Great Basin

This week we remember it's Saturday, and avoiding the Portal and the Alabama Hills keeps us from crowds on this hazy autumn day.

Years ago I visited the Mt Whitney Fish Hatchery north of Independence, CA, on my job with the union. I knew Bill would enjoy all the fish, and I remember it is a really beautiful location.

"Design a building to match the mountains, last forever, and be a monument for all time." MJ Connell, 1915
It is now a historic site, no longer a working hatchery. I feel bad that I didn't know the flood of 2008 wiped out not only the ponds, but Oak Creek that fed them.

I am happy to see the beautiful front pond is still here, as are the enormous Golden Trout for which the hatchery is famous. Bill is itching to grab a pole.

Volunteers with Friends of Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery continue to maintain the hatchery grounds, a simple museum and interpretive center, as well as two indoor ponds, and a small egg collection and hatching operation. Because they are not a certified hatchery, the fish they raise cannot be released in any public body of water. Instead they stock their pond, and once a year kids younger than fishing license age are invited to come and fish all day - taking home what they catch.

Hatched to live their whole lives here
 We enjoy the exhibits and the movie, but it is the continued commitment by this little community that is really moving. The hatchery property was purchased in 1915 by citizens of Independence and given to the state of California. When budget cuts threatened closing the hatchery, the Friends stepped up and kept it going, and when the state deactivated the facility following the flood damage, they cleared the front pond, completed repairs, and reopened the hatchery as a historic site. They continue to work toward reactivation.

Planting fish with mules
Wonderful exhibit of local reptiles
Lighted photos tell the history of the hatchery
Mining claims map - thousands in every mountain range
Leaving the hatchery we drive west to find Oak Creek. In 2007 fire ravaged the mountains here, leaving the watershed bare and unprotected. The heavy rains of 2008 brought logs and rocks and tons of mud rushing downhill.

Oak Creek is only now beginning to carve a new path. The south fork rushes through concrete gates set up to direct the water through the devastated canyon. Walls of mud and rock cover miles of landscape with only a handful of trees in sight. 

Gates on Oak Creek help in restoration efforts
Beat up, but still standing strong.  And trees.

Large mud flows take the place of Oak Creek
Over five feet high, full of rocks and logs
From the road, the former route of the north fork is defined by a dark line down the hill, while a thin green new route runs a few miles north.

Eight years later the level of destruction still visible here is a sobering reminder of the terrible power of rushing water. 

I want to see the extensive collection of Owens Valley Paiute and Shoshone baskets at the Eastern California Museum, also in Independence. While this sounds as appealing to Bill as oral surgery, he enjoys the local history exhibits with me.

Includes 25,000 photos covering over a 100 years of local history
Much of the area's history is shaped by the water wars
Los Angeles as the "good neighbor"
A large exhibit about Clyde's mountaineering makes me want to read more about him
Museum humor :-)
An author is giving a presentation with slides in the corner of the Anna and OK Gallery, and the lights are turned off. I have to use my cell phone flashlight to see the collection. Definitely "different", and a good excuse for Bill to take Tessa outside.

The story-teller baskets are my favorites
It is a large and beautiful compilation, including bead-work, arrowheads, and blankets. Even without proper lighting, I appreciate this opportunity.

100-year-old beaded straps
The small desert garden outside is suffering from the extended drought, but it is a pretty site, nicely maintained.

Mary DeDecker Native Plant Garden
Again we've seen things on our list, as well as new surprises we never expected.  It's why we love taking our time in our travels :-)


  1. You just never know what mind be around the next bend for sure. There are many places we visited years ago just to return and find the lakes were no longer full and creeks dry. We hated to see that. Hopefully, the next time we visit we'll be able to see a better change.

    1. As surprising as it was to find the hatchery no longer active, what we got to see was so interesting.

  2. What an amazing commitment on the part of those folks maintaining and restoring the hatchery. It must have been a real shock to you to see it so changed. Love the baskets and beaded work. So beautiful. I have such admiration for the outstanding practical art of the Native Americans.

    1. The little town is half gone, but they continue to maintain their beloved hatchery - I love that. The detail work of the baskets was incredible - especially the tight fitting lids!

  3. I love how the fish hatchery still raises some fish to keep things going and lets the kids catch them.

    That mix of fire then water sure is a bad deal. I hope El Nino doesn't tear to bad a path of destruction.

    1. The kids also get a tour and education on the fish so it's really a great program.

      I was thinking about El Nino's impact on recent fire areas - definitely on our list of places to avoid this winter!

  4. It's so inspiring when a community works together to preserve something important to them, like the hatchery. So sweet that they stock the pond with fish for the kids to catch. I hope they can realize their dream of reopening the hatchery. I would have loved seeing those baskets!

    1. They've cleaned out all the mud around the facility so I hope they can get it running again in the future! The basket collection is huge! I loved every one of them

  5. The Fish Hatchery site is lovely. Isn't it wonderful how people come forward to see that places are preserved for others! This group really had a mess to clean up. I couldn't believe the destruction from the mud! Great idea to keep the fish hatchery going and let the young ones come in and fish:) Dropping fish from airplanes! Never heard fo such a thing! Haha! Good to see that "it" is still standing strong even after being beat up...and trees!!

    The museum looks very interesting. I love the baskets and bead works! The perfection is amazing! John always enjoys photos, especially of people.

    1. I thought the same thing about the airplanes - how traumatizing would that be???? Yes, he's a good sport :-) The museum not only has the photos, but they are all labeled so are really interesting. I'm always amazed at women in long dresses living and working in those conditions

  6. With those huge trout I'll bet Bill wanted to go fishing. Nice that a group took the old hatchery on. Love those kinds of museums.

    1. He sure did! It was very personal, and we love that.