70 mi / 112 km
Independence is one charming little town and it's also the gateway to two incredible regions that are a stark contrast to one another. The mountain oasis of Onion Valley with its stunning alpine lakes, and the barron landscape of Mazourka Canyon that towers upward in the Inyo Wilderness.
To start things off, duck into the Eastern California Museum for a fascinating collection of photographs and artifacts. Don't miss the Paiute basketry, showing off the remarkable artistry skill of the Paiute people who roamed these resource rich regions in days gone by.
Start heading up towards Onion valley following Independence Creek (on your right) until you eventually cross it at Seven Pines. Its ponderosa pine lined banks were once full to the brim with small native fish. So many that the Paiutes would scoop them out of the water by the basketful.
That was until Trout and Bass were introduced in 1873, creating a fishermen's paradise, but one that also drove the smaller native fish to near extinction. Notice the prominent peaks ahead; Independence, and to its right, the triangular Kearsarge Peaks, which you'll soon be switchbacking up.
It's not long off and you'll be smack bang in the beautiful Onion Valley. Pull up a chair, sit back, relax and take in the magical mountain scenery. For the adventurers and those really wanting to stretch the legs out, check our recommended hike. There's many trails to invest in here, however this is our favorite of the bunch that most people completely miss.
In the summer of 2019, a team of researchers embarked on an ambitious expedition here, aiming to find the rare and elusive 'Sierra Nevada Blue'. This particular butterfly had been the subject of much speculation and had piqued the interest of researchers worldwide due to its limited distribution and delicate beauty.
For weeks, the team tirelessly explored the trails and meadows of Onion Valley, hoping to catch a glimpse of this elusive creature. They were almost about to give up when they suddenly struck jackpot. While hiking near one of the high alpine lakes, they stumbled upon a small clearing carpeted with vibrant wildflowers.
To their astonishment, the air around them came alive with a flurry of wings as dozens of Sierra Nevada Blue butterflies danced around them in a mesmerizing display. Overwhelmed with excitement, the team quickly sprang into action. They meticulously recorded the behavior and characteristics of the butterflies, capturing stunning photographs and videos that would later grace scientific journals and publications.
The steep granite slopes here are also home to a much larger creature, the Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep. These half sheep, half deer with large curled horns choose to roam selectively in these rocky high-alpine ridges. Unfortunately due to hunting and disease from introduced livestock, their numbers have dwindled to all-time lows. If you see one up here, you can call it your lucky day.
Now for the real adventure for those with a 4WD - Mazuorka Peak and Canyon! Head back east past Independence towards the 80-foot granite spire Winnedumah Paiute Monument that shines silver in the sun.
Welcome to Bend City! Featuring 60 homes, five mercantile stores, two hotels, two blacksmiths, a shoe shop, tailor shop and laundry. Oh wait, we're in the wrong decade! You'll likely be hard-pressed to find anything left of this once prosperous mining district that you've just drove through the center of.
It's not long before the road starts to narrow and climb past creosote bush and barrel cactus. The area you're heading into is steeped in 100+ years of gold mining history. Several tunnels and shafts traverse underneath the mountains here. Don't be fooled to go into any of these dangerous underground lairs. Don't worry, the lack of views as you climb are about to pay off with one heck of a surprise at the top!
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