We recently went to Mammoth for a long weekend to see the snow. But some of the best parts of the trip were the places we stopped along the way. And the best part was that each of our stops was a mini science lesson.
Located on the east side of the 395 off of Cinder Road, Fossil Falls is the byproduct of volcanic activity and a rushing river. Thousands of years ago, the nearby cinder cone erupted, splattering the surrounding desert with lava and rock. As the lava poured into the Owens River, the rushing water sculpted and polished the rock. Today, with the flow of Owens River diverted and Owens lake now dry, all that remains is the fossil of what was once a majestic waterfall. Stone cliffs and ballasts and holes bored out of the center of giant rocks show years of erosion and is truly amazing to see in person. Photos do not capture the depth or the detail that you find at Fossil Falls.
There is a small parking lot with restrooms at the trail head. It is a short hike from the parking lot, maybe half a mile. It is rocky though so wear appropriate shoes. Also, this is not the place to let your kids run free. Little ones should be kept close and supervised at all times. There are steep drop-offs, and it’s a long way down. Lots of holes in the rocks so watch your step!
Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns
You can read the history of the Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns here. It’s located off 395 just north of Cartago. There is a small Historical Landmark sign on the road. When you turn onto the road you will see the commemorative plaque, but you can not see the kilns from this location. You must continue down the road about one mile to see the kilns. They are surrounded by a fence now, but it is interesting to look at and think about the history and the changes that were made to the landscape because of the gold rush, the mines, and the kilns. An area that once featured a flowing river and plentiful trees is now barren and dry. Just past the kilns is a passageway through the hillside but we did not drive that direction to further explore the area, so I’m not sure what lies beyond the kilns. Although it was interesting to see, it felt a little creepy out there.
Hot Creek Geological Site
This was my second favorite stop and I wish that we could have spent an entire day exploring this area. You can read all the details about Hot Creek here. We saw and explored the main stretch from the photo but there are trails along the gorge that go much further than we were able to discover given our time-frame. But the warm water and the blue-green algae and knowing the background of the ancient volcano piqued my interest and the scenery was stunning. I will go back here and spend time exploring. There are restrooms in the main parking lot, although they weren’t pretty when we visited and only two of six were open. The walk down was a bit steep so wear appropriate shoes for this one.
Mt. Whitney Hatchery
My husband loves fishing and so we are often subjected to trips to area fish hatcheries. Not so bad when they have the quarter machines to get food to feed the fish, but sometimes a trip to the fish hatchery can be less than amusing. Our third and final fish hatchery for this trip was the Mt. Whitney Hatchery (yes, I did say third). Fortunately, this was the most exciting hatchery we’ve been to. The Mt. Whitney hatchery is no longer operational, but some areas are still open to visitors. The hatchery is located on an alluvial fan and receives a lot of natural mud flow from the nearby mountains. The hatchery and several of the buildings were destroyed years ago and the rainbow trout were killed, so the hatchery function was shut down. However, this is one of the most stunning hatcheries you’ll find complete with fish pond, castle, and fish food machines. I’m not lying when I say there were some seriously large trout in that pond. Check it out if you are ever out that way. Pack a lunch, it’s a great spot for a picnic. The visitors center slash museum is open from April through September. Unfortunately we were there in March so we didn’t get to go inside but it’s still worth the stop. Learn more about the Hatchery here.
What’s your favorite side trip on your way to Mammoth? Share your hot-spots!