The Sierra Nevada frames the Owens Valley like jagged, fierce teeth. To the east, the White Mountains rise up in gradual, sloping undulations of desert canyons and hillsides dotted with ancient, twisting figures of bristlecone pines.
In the valley, volcanic rock sits hot and pink in the desert sun. This is Cowboy and Indian country. Tumble weeds roll across Highway 395. The elusive rattlesnake finds sanctuary under cool granite boulders in the Sierra foothills. Ravens flap noisily overhead. Jackrabbits dance through the sage brush.
I wipe afternoon sweat from my brow and wonder how I wound up here. I have diverged completely from my roots by moving to this landlocked mountain desert town. A child of Pacific Northwest tide pools and dense woods, I miss the smell of ocean wind and the verdant vibrancy of forest undergrowth. Here, sage is pungent. The pinks, silvers and whites of the valley seem muted and dull under the midday sun.
Yet, something has taken hold of me here. Even as I yearn for rain, sea shells, and forests, this place continues to pique my interest. The area is steeped in a tangled history of intrigue. Bishop remains mired in a longstanding grudge against the City of Los Angeles for claiming water rights to the valley. Wildlife issues are abundant and complex, involving cattle grazing rights, wildlife preservation, and fishing and hunting disputes. The demographic is diverse, with residents spanning a spectrum of attitudes and backgrounds—ranchers, the Paiute tribe, rock climbers, fishermen, conservationists, hunters, metaphysical thinkers, and scientists.
Maybe I remain here because I am captivated by the untold stories, with so many varied protagonists. To some, Bishop may seem just a convenient gas stop along Highway 395. But, although the valley’s color palette may seem unimpressive by day, when the sun sinks behind the Sierra crest, the desert deepens into shadows of violet, umber, copper and gold. The White Mountains reflect a radiant shade of rose. It is during this hour before twilight—when the desert begins to really come alive—that I do as well.