Some History of the Indian Wells Valley and surrounding areas in Kern, Inyo, and Mono Counties

1776 – Padre Francisco Garces twice crossed the Kern River near the mouth of the canyon. He named it Rio de San Felipe. Fr. Jose Zalvidea 30 years later named it La Porciuncula. The Mexicans called both the river and the mining district at the mouth of the canyon Rio Bravo.


1822 – Alta California belonged to Mexico after its independence from Spain.

1826 – Jedediah Smith crossed the Sierra, probably at Ebbetts Pass, and explored the streams of the San Joaquin Valley. He brought back tales of high mountains and the potential for beaver pelts to his trapper friends in the Rockies. They soon came west. They must have done a good job of trapping because beaver have been mostly eliminated from the Sierra streams.

1830 – Ewing Young and Kit Carson explore Great Central Valley’s streams looking for beaver and other fur-bearing animals.

1833 – Joseph R Walker came past Mono Lake area on his way to Monterey but didn’t mention having seen it

1834 – Joe Walker came through the pass that bears his name from the Kern River area on his way to explore the Owens Valley.   He followed Canebrake Creek up its draw and over the pass, crossing the notch just south of the hill of where the road now goes. In 1843 he led several wagon trains south through the Owens Valley and west over Walker pass to the Central Valley. He became the “local guide” for many parties. Walker Pass became a major trade and travel route.


1841 – The Bartleson-Bidwell party struggled over Sonora Pass on their way to rich farmlands promised them in Mexican California. Many other settlers followed over the passes even before gold was discovered. California and Oregon farmlands were worth the trouble, they were told. True!

1844 – John C. Fremont explored the San Joaquin Valley with U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, even though this was quite clearly Mexican territory.

1845 – Walker and John C. Fremont explored and mapped Owens Valley. Kit Carson, Richard Owens, and Ed Kern explored and named places. For a month they camped at the confluence of the North and South Fork of the Kern River, now under Lake Isabella. Mexico wasn’t paying much attention to what the Americans were doing in Alta California.


1846 – Many wagon trains were coming to promised fertile farming fields in the Oregon Territory and to Mexican California. The Donner Party got stuck by a pretty lake in early November- (46 were rescued, 42 didn’t make it); ten thousand Mormons came west to settle in the Salt Lake valley.

1848 – Alta California and the whole southwest territories were ceded to the United States government by Mexico as a result of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo after an 18-month battle. The United States territories stretched from sea to shining sea. John C. Fremont wanted to be governor of California, but he wasn’t appointed. He moved to Coulterville area along what is now Hwy. 49.

1848-49 – Gold rush in the Sierra foothills.

1849 – The Bennett and Manly parties were marooned in Death Valley. They arrived on Christmas Day and had many problems, ran out of food, sent for help, got rescued because the jayhawkers were able to find water at Indian Wells, got to Mojave, and brought back food to rescue the group. No one died, in spite of the name. Many other parties followed the correct route over Cajon Pass to Southern California.


1850 – California became a state on Sept. 9, with 27 counties. Kern Co. was a part of Mariposa Co.

1852 – Mono Lake was “discovered” and named by an Army patrol while chasing Indians out of Yosemite Valley. The men discovered gold flakes in the area. It didn’t take long for prospectors to pour over the Sierra to explore the Mono and Owens basin mountains for riches.

1853 – Gold was discovered in Greenhorn Gulch and Keysville, causing a major gold rush to the Kern River Valley in 1854.

1854 – Fort Tejon was established in the Grapevine Canyon along the wagon road between the Los Angeles basin ranchos and the San Joaquin Valley. It was maintained until 1864 to keep peace between the Indians and the settlers and their stock arriving in large numbers. Between 1850 and 1858, over 586,000 head of sheep and 70,000 cattle were brought to California over the southern Emigrant Trail. In 1857 the Camel Corps arrived at the fort, but that experiment didn’t work well.


1858 – Butterfield Stage and Mail service from St. Louis to El Paso, Tucson, and Yuma, through the Anza Borrego area, to Ft. Tejon, up into the foothills north of what is now Bakersfield to skirt swampy Tulare Lake, to Visalia, Stockton, and San Francisco. The line ran only 3 years until telegraph replaced the need for rapid mail service and trains provided better transportation.

1859 – Indian wars broke out in the Owens Valley. The Army set up Camp Independence on July 4 with the intention of keeping peace between the Paiutes and the settlers who were moving cattle on to the Indian lands. Alney McGee brought cattle from Tulare over Walker Pass, and Sam Bishop brought cattle and horses in from Fort Tejon. Problems continued until 1863. Over 200 Indians were killed in various battles. The Battle of Bishop in 1862 involved 50 settlers and 500 Indians.

Finally a treaty was signed in July, 1863. The Army escorted 998 Indians to a reservation near Fort Tejon and Camp Independence was temporarily abandoned. The Army maintained a presence at Fort Independence from 1865 to 1877, though most of the remaining Indians gave up their traditional way of life and began working for the white settlers. Paiute lands had been overrun with cattle and sheep. The piñon pines, which the Paiutes depended upon for a pine nut crop each fall, were rapidly being cut down for fuel for the mine smelters.


1860 – Discovery of silver in and around the Owens Valley and gold farther north in and near Bodie. Dr. Darwin French discovered silver in the Cosos and started the Darwin mines. The Comstock was producing silver east of Lake Tahoe in what is now Virginia City. Much gold was being mined around Mono Lake, and large gold mines were producing in Aurora.

1860 – Discovery of gold in the Kernville area. The Big Blue Mine prospered.

1861 – The settlement of Whiskey Flats formed below the Big Blue mine and provided various services. In 1864 its name was changed to a more “respectable” Kernville. Glennville was established in 1857 and Woody and Claraville in 1862.

1861 – Mono County was formed from Calaveras County. Aurora was designated County Seat (though it was later discovered to be in Nevada.)


1862 – Borax was discovered by John and Dennis Searles in Searles Lake but they didn’t mine it until 1873.

1863 – Col. Baker owned Kern Island. Baker’s fields held corn, beans, potatoes, and alfalfa.

1864 – California State Geological Survey set the border with Nevada, explored Sierra, and discovered Mt. Whitney to be tallest peak.

William Brewer came through the Indian Wells Valley and is supposed to have said “A more Godforsaken, cheerless place I have seldom seen – a spring of water – nothing else.”

1865 – Gold was discovered on Clear Creek south of Isabella and the fast-growing town of Havilah was founded to accommodate the mines in the area.


1866 – Portions of Tulare and Los Angeles counties were split off to form Kern and Inyo Counties. Havilah was chosen Kern County Seat as it was the largest town in the county at that time. Havilah boasted the county’s first newspaper.

Independence was designated county seat for Inyo County. Mines and mills were operating in many areas of the Owens Valley. Ranching, particularly raising of vegetables and fruit orchards, was thriving throughout Owens Valley and south in to the Indian Wells Valley to supply the mines and settlements.

1868 – The toll wagon road was completed over Sonora Pass to connect the Mono and Bodie mines with the markets on the west side of the Sierra.

1869 – Bakersfield was founded with the opening of a post office. It soon had a thriving newspaper.

1869 – The transcontinental railroad project was completed when the Central Pacific line over Donner Pass was joined with the Union Pacific line. In 1870 a rail line reached Bakersfield. By 1875 the railroad was pushed east to Caliente, and in 1876 the Tehachapi Loop was built and the train track went to Mojave and then to Los Angeles down Mint Canyon later that year. Mojave received borax from Death Valley and Boron, gold from Randsburg, and silver from Cerro Gordo, all to be sent on the railroad to the little port town of Los Angeles where most of it would go by boat to San Francisco.


1870 – Bridgeport became the Mono County seat when Aurora was discovered to be in Nevada and its mines were declining; the Bridgeport Valley had over 9,000 acres in production of wheat, oats, barley, hay, potatoes, butter and cheese. Supplies for mines also came from Mono Lake and by wagon from Owens Valley.


1871 – Cerro Gordo mines were going great guns, with 4,800 people and 1,600 mules living there. Mine production was 2,200 tons of ore that year. Heavy wagon loads of 83-pound bars containing silver and lead, with minor amounts of gold and copper, were hauled daily down the Yellow Grade Road by Remi Nadeau’s sturdy mule-drawn freight wagons to Swansea. In 1872 the ore was shipped by steamers Bessie Brady and in 1877 also on the Mollie Stevens across Owens Lake to Cartago, then again by wagon to the train at Mojave.

In 1873 Colonel Stevens set up his sawmill at the head of Carroll Creek to provide lumber for building, but also wood to turn in to charcoal at the two kilns beside the west shore of Owens Lake. Logs and sawed timber came down a flume all the way from 10,000 feet to the shore of the lake! The steamers took the charcoal back across the lake to the smelters at Swansea after unloading their silver bars at Cartago. The Bessie Brady burned in 1882, but the mines were declining anyway. The Railroad came the next year. Export of Cerro Gordo ores to refineries in San Francisco gave the small port city of Los Angeles a big boost.


1872 – On March 26 a magnitude 8.5+ earthquake hit Lone Pine, killing 29 people and causing long fault scarps over 20 feet high to form. These hills can still be seen today north of Lone Pine. This earthquake remains the largest so far in the State of California. Visit the grave of about 14 of the victims on the fault scarp hill just north of Lone Pine.

1873 – John and Dennis Searles formed San Bernardino Borax Mining Company in Searles Marsh. Their mill produced 100 tons of borax per month and was hauled to San Pedro by mule teams.


1873 – Bakersfield City was incorporated. In 1874 the Kern County Seat was moved there from Havilah. The town boasted a bank and county hospital. The people of Bakersfield were advised to “plant the Australian Gum Tree, or Eucalyptus, because they are a most valuable wood producer… trees grow more rapidly than the willow or cottonwood, its wood is very hard and strong and durable and it splits as readily as redwood or cedar.”

1874 – Cerro Gordo Mine in the Inyo Mountains needed more water and installed an 11-mile-long pipeline, which brought 90,000 gallons of water per day to the site. Daily production was now 18 tons of ore which was smelted into 400 bars of silver bullion.

1874 – Tiburcio Vasquez, whose hideout was in Robber’s Roost, robbed stages and freight wagons along the eastern Sierra, especially near Coyote Wells (Freeman Junction) until he was captured later that year. To discourage such robberies, the Cerro Gordo and Panamint mines began making bullion ores into 300-pound balls that could not be carried on a horse!

1874-77 – The blooming Panamint City mines in Surprise Canyon below Telescope Peak produced $1 million in silver bullion. To dissuade robbers, 700-pound balls were formed.


1876 – Southern Pacific RR reached Mojave from L.A. Freight trip for borax just got shorter!

1878 – Large scale irrigation projects began in the Owens Valley to supply the ranches with water by way of ditches from the Owens River and from the Sierra streams. Gold was discovered in Mammoth in 1875, the rush to Bodie was in the 1870’s, in 1876 gold was found at Lundy and Tioga. The Great Sierra Mining Co. built a wagon road to Sonora in 1878 to haul in mining machinery to these mines.


1881 – The Mono Mills Railroad, later called the Bodie & Benton RR, was built from Mono Mills on the southeast shore of Mono Lake to Bodie to provide lumber and firewood for the town’s people and large timbers for the mines. It ran until 1917.

1881 – Borax discovered in Death Valley. In 1883 William Coleman bought the claims and founded the Harmony Borax Works. He had 10 freight wagons made to haul his borax to Mojave by mule. The famous “20-Mule Teams” took10 days to cover the 165 miles. The road was used for five years and never had a breakdown!

1880 -1900 – No new strikes were found in the Owens Valley area, and silver prices dropped drastically. Mining declined as did the fortunes of the farmers.


1883 – Carson and Colorado narrow-gauge railroad was completed from Keeler to Carson City. This railroad changed the way freight in the Owens Valley was handled. Ores could now be shipped north on the train to Carson City smelters, and vegetables and farm products from the Owens Valley had a

better means of transport to markets north and south. Most trading was now done with San Francisco rather than through Los Angeles. The rail line, which was sold to Southern Pacific in 1900, continued to haul freight and passengers until 1960, when the “Slim Princess” made her last run and stopped in Laws. Visit her on the tracks at the Laws Railroad Museum 6 miles northeast of Bishop.

1888 – Bakersfield acquired telephones. By 1889 the town had gaslights, and by 1900 electric lights. Bicycles, the ones with the big front wheels, were seen on the streets.


1892 – Standard Consolidated Mining Company installed AC power to the mill at Bodie from a hydro project on Green Creek. Since the engineers didn’t know if power could turn corners, they made the 13-mile line straight as an arrow to Bodie. Remnants of the Green Creek power plant and dam can be seen, as can the clearing for the power line as it comes over the hills into Bodie from the southwest.

1893 – Sequoia National Forest Reserve was formed. The town of Isabella started.


1895 – Rand Camp was founded and became the town of Randsburg. The Rand Mining District’s fabulous gold strike at the Yellow Aster brought over three thousand people to the area by1896; many more followed.

1896 – Johannesburg was founded. Much gold and later silver were found in the area.

1896 – Wells Fargo & Co. express offices at Havilah, Weldon, and Kernville closed after a big stage robbery on the Kernville and Caliente Stage line. Most of the activity had shifted to the Rand Mining District anyway.

1897 – The “Randsburg Railway” (terminus at Johannesburg) connected to the Santa Fe tracks 28 miles south near “Four Corners,” Kramer Junction. Ore could be shipped by rail to Barstow and to Mojave and Los Angeles. The line closed in 1933 when production from the mines of the area slowed.

1897 – Ballarat post office was opened as gold was discovered in nearby canyons. It closed in 1917. Today gold mining is active again in the canyons south of the ghost town at the Briggs Mine.

1898 – The Pacific Borax Company bought out Searles SBBM co. owned by Borax Smith.


1899 – Oil was discovered in the Bakersfield area. A different kind of rush started for “black gold.”

1900 – Gold and silver were found in the Nevada mines of Tonopah, Goldfield, Rhyolite, Manhattan, and Round Mountain. The Owens Valley people had new markets and shipped produce and meat over there by wagon and the narrow-gauge train. Power from Bishop Creek goes to these mines!


1905-1907 – The City of Los Angeles begin buying Owens Valley properties and water rights.

1907– Funds were appropriated from Congress for construction of the Los Angeles aqueduct.

1908 – The Nevada and California Railroad (now Southern Pacific) extended the Owenyo line north from Mojave into the Owens Valley to serve the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct and to make freight connections with the Carson and Colorado Railroad at Owenyo station, northeast of Lone Pine. Aqueduct construction continued until 1913. Mules were used more than any other means of transport around the construction. The cement plant in Monolith, east of Tehachapi, was founded to provide cement for this immense project. When completed, the aqueduct included over 12 miles of steel pipe siphons (visible as the black pipe in Nine Mile, Short, and Jawbone Canyons), 142 tunnels, mostly through the Sierra west of the Indian Wells Valley, and 2 major reservoirs at Haiwee.

Sidings and 53 construction camps were eventually used; those in the Indian Wells Valley included Siding 16, changed to Magnolia and in 1913 changed to Inyokern, and Siding 18, changed to Brown in 1909, when George Brown built a hotel there. The post office at Brown remained in service until 1948. Water spilled into the L.A. basin in 1913, but the City of Los Angeles continued to buy irrigation districts, water rights, and property in the Owens Valley well into the 1940’s.

Meanwhile, the ever expanding chemical industry founded the town of Trona (the name of a mineral containing borax and potash), and then Argus, West End, and Pioneer Point and their respective chemical processing plants. 1898 – Pacific Borax Co. bought out the Searles brothers; 1912 – electric power came; 1913 – American Trona Corporation built the Trona plant and company town; 1914 – Trona Railway was built to haul the plant’s products to the railroad in Mojave; 1926 – American Potash and Chemical Corporation bought out Pacific Borax; 1955- Westend plant was built; 1962 Stauffer Chemical Corporation plants; 1967 – Kerr McGee bought out American Potash and then Stauffer in 1974, then North American Chemical Co, IMC, and today the entire complex is owned by Searles Valley Minerals, an Indian Company


1903 – City of Bishop was incorporated and already had electricity from hydroelectric projects up on Bishop Creek. The Nevada Power, Mining, & Milling Co supplied power to Tonopah and Goldfield.

1903 – Jack Keane discovered gold in the mountains of Death Valley. By 1907 there was a 20 stamp mill working at the bottom of the hill. The tramway and buildings are still there, in pretty good condition. See Death Valley maps.

1902-04 – The Kern Power Co. built the Borel canal and Borel hydroelectric power plant near Miracle Hot Springs, and Kern #1, 2, and 3 plants and aqueduct systems to supply electricity not only Bakersfield, but also to Los Angeles to run the many electric street cars.

1905 – Kern River Canyon Road was completed from Democrat Hot Springs into the South Fork Valley. To get there from Bakersfield still required either going up Caliente Creek and Walker Basin, or over Breckenridge Mountain.


1905 – In Death Valley, the gold mines at Skidoo produced over $6 million in gold until 1917. They only problem was lack of water at the townsite, so a 23-mile long pipeline was built to bring water from Telescope Peak, and from that came the saying “23 Skidoo”! Scram!

1905 – Walter Scott (Death Valley Scotty as he would later be called) with the backing of Santa Fe and his friend Albert Johnson, hired a train to run from Los Angeles to Chicago in record time, 45 hours, July 9-11, 1905.

1906 – Greenwater, a copper mining “town” sprang up in Death Valley. It only lasted 13 months, but it was a real boomtown for a while with a post office and newspaper! Not a big copper deposit.

1907 – Rhyolite and Bullfrog mines opened near Beatty; all had electricity from Bishop Creek. The Tonopah and Tidewater railroad connected Tecopa, the Ryan Siding, Beatty, the Rhyolite siding, and other mines to Goldfield, Nevada in the north, down to UP and SF lines at Kelso and Ludlow.


1909 – Homesteaders arrived in the Indian Wells Valley as aqueduct construction continued.

1910 on – The old stage and freight roads traversing the valley became well-traveled highways. Cars came with the aqueduct construction personnel. The Homestead, now a fine restaurant, along with nearby Indian Wells Lodge, Nine Mile, Little Lake Hotel, Gill’s Oasis, and Dunmovin all grew up to serve the public. The road up Sherwin Hill was completed and paved in 1916, now called Lower Rock Creek Rd. “Old 395” served until the 4 lanes were put up Sherwin Grade in the late 60’s.

1910 – The Owens Valley had 4500 settlers producing apples, grapes, corn, wheat, potatoes, alfalfa, honey, sheep (43,000 of them!), horses, and cattle. Artesian wells had existed as far south as Independence, but the intake to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, LADWP, canal system at Aberdeen shortly dried up the water works in the southern end of the Owens Valley. There was no longer water for the lower Owens River nor for the shrinking Owens Lake. It completely dried up by 1927.


19111915 – Cerro Gordo mines had another boom for zinc ore and salvage more lead and silver ores.

1912 – The Robertson family homesteaded in the Indian Wells Valley and in 1913 the Bowman family had 160 acres along what is now Bowman Road. The Crum family established a dairy (where the Indian Wells Valley Water District offices are now). The area was known as “Crumville.”


1913 – Death Valley’s official weather station recorded 134 degrees, still a record.

1917 – Mt. Whitney Fish hatchery was completed. Fish planting began in Sierra lakes and streams.

1920 – The Indian Wells Valley had 360 acres of fruit trees (half in apples), alfalfa, melons, broom corn, and cotton. The northern Owens Valley, by contrast, had 75,000 acres in production, but Los Angeles was buying farms and water rights very fast, and farms were being abandoned.


1920 – The U.S. Geographical Board gave the name Indian Wells Valley to our area, consolidating what had been Brown, Salt Wells, and Inyokern Valleys. China Lake was named for the Chinese railroad workers who migrated down after building the Carson and Colorado railroad in the Owens Valley. They mined borax on the north shore of the playa for a short time. Chinese talents were also used to build the freight wagon roads. Remains of Chinese rockwork can be seen at the Slate Range Pass on the old wagon road which went from Red Mountain to Ballarat.

1920 – A health resort was established at Coso Hot Springs, east of what is now the Coso Junction rest area. Long before that the Native Americans in the area used the hot muds.

1923 – Construction of the Little Lake hotel finally finished. By then a dam has been built at the south end of the tule marsh and the many springs had made a substantial Little Lake as we know it today. The Post Office building is still there – closed in 1995.

1924 – Albert Johnson began building his Death Valley Ranch. Later this would be called “Scotty’s Castle” after its frequent occupant, Walter Scott, “Death Valley Scotty”. The stock market crash of ’29 also stopped construction at the Ranch, but really only the pool out in front of the house wasn’t done. Today Scotty’s Castle hosts History Tours every day of the year. Rangers dress as the people of the ranch in the 20’s. Your guide just might be Scotty, himself! The pelton wheel still makes electricity.

1931 – A ceremony was held at Red Rock Canyon to celebrate the paving of Highway 6 from Los Angeles to Bishop. Even with the road, the 30’s were a period of decline in the Owens Valley. Los Angeles continued to buy the farms and water rights and the mines were not producing well.

1933 – Death Valley National Monument was created.

1936 – Joe Fox bought the Crum dairy and built a house of tufa for his family. It is still at the southwest corner of Ridgecrest Blvd. and Norma St. in Ridgecrest. Swamp coolers made in Trona.

1939 – Pine Creek tungsten mine started, bringing some employment to the Owens Valley. Los Angeles continues buying lands and water rights into the Mono Basin.

1939 – The Benthams had a store and service station at “Bentham’s Corner,” where the Bank of America is now located in downtown Ridgecrest.


1941 – The Ridgecrest Post Office was established and town was officially renamed. (Ridgecrest was the winner in a contest by one vote over Sierra View). Electricity came in 1943 with the Navy.

1941 – Dave McCoy brought the first portable rope tow to the Mammoth Mountain area and to McGee Mountain. Mammoth proved to have better snows. Los Angeles Department of Water and Power began work on Long Valley Dam to form Crowley Lake, and put a tunnel under the Mono Craters to bring June Lake Loop and Mono Basin water to Crowley Lake. Mono Lake beings to decline without the creek waters flowing into it.

1942-46 – Manzanar Relocation Camp, between Lone Pine and Independence, housed over 10,000 people of Japanese ancestry, even though most were U.S. citizens. When the camp was dismantled in 1946, many of the buildings were brought to NOTS, China Lake. (see below)


1943 – The United States Navy established a giant research, development, test and evaluation facility in the Indian Wells Valley, closing ranching and mining activities in the huge land holdings and establishing a “village” on base called China Lake. The facility was called NOTS, the Naval Ordnance

Test Station, until 1967 when it became the Naval Weapons Center. Harvey Field completed near Inyokern. It became the Inyokern Airport when the Navy planes moved to Armitage Field at China Lake. Today the Naval Air Warfare Center remains the Navy’s premier test and development center.


1946 – Muroc Army Air Field established; renamed Edwards Air Force Base in 1956.

1948 – Congress appropriated funds for a dam at the confluence of the North and South Forks of the Kern River to prevent flooding of the City of Bakersfield. The City had suffered extreme flooding in 1867, 1893, and even in 1950 as the dam was being constructed. The 1950 flood was measured at 30,000 cubic feet per second. Normal high release from the dam today is 3,000 cfs.


1952 – Major earthquakes on the Garlock fault severely damaged Tehachapi and then Bakersfield.

1953 – Los Angeles DWP completed the Owens River Gorge hydroelectric plants. Lake Isabella dam was completed in March.

1954 – The road to Mammoth Mountain was paved. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area began; 6 chairs had been installed by 1965; 26 chairs by 1993.

1954 – Walter Scott, Death Valley Scotty, died. He is buried on Windy Hill just above the castle, with his dog Windy.


1959 – Lake Woollomes and Lake Ming were created along the Kern River for recreation purposes.


1961 – June Mountain Ski Area started; it was bought by Dave McCoy in 1986, and Interwest in 1999.

1963 – The City of Ridgecrest was incorporated. Los Angeles began work on a second aqueduct and completion of the reservoir system to the Mono Basin. President Kennedy visited NOTS.


1970 – Construction completed on the second barrel of the Los Angeles Aqueduct from Haiwee Reservoir, doubling the capacity to remove surface and ground water from the Owens Valley and Mono Basin. Mono Lake began a very rapid decline. Water wars between residents of the Eastern Sierra and the City of Los Angeles continued. The Owens valley ranchers (who lease their land from the City of Los Angeles) were experiencing severe well drawdowns. Native vegetation was dying due to drop in water table levels in the Owens Valley.


1973 – Cerro Coso College Campus opened on the hill south of Ridgecrest.

1978 – The Mono Lake Committee was formed to try to stop Los Angeles from causing so much environmental damage to both Mono Lake and the Owens Valley ecosystems.


1984 to 1993 – severe drought in California. Lakes and reservoirs reached very low levels. No extra water from Sierra streams for recharge of ground water in Owens Valley (or anywhere else).

1986 – **The Maturango Museum moved to its present location in Ridgecrest and opened in October.

1990 – The State Supreme Court rules in favor of Mono Lake; water exports from Mono Basin are to be severely restricted until Mono Lake rises to a target level.

1991 – Courts order LADWP to rewater lower part of Owens River from intake to the Lake. No progress.


1994 – The California Desert Protection Act signed-10/31 upgrading Death Valley and Joshua Tree to National Parks and creating Mojave National Preserve. It also created many BLM Wilderness Areas in the desert mountains and enlarged Red Rock Canyon State Park to include Last Chance Canyon.

1996 – The Great Basin Air Pollution Control Board working with LADWP to find solutions to the Owens Lake “dust problem”. Proposals include flooding some of the lake, planting salt grass, and covering some with gravel.   Mono Lake is rising nicely thanks to some very wet winters!

1999 – Interwest bought Mammoth Mountain and June Mountain Ski Areas.


2000 – 75,000 acre “Manter” fire in Dome Lands Wilderness Area; burned places along Kennedy Meadows road but mostly in Domelands. Salvage logging started.

2000 – President Clinton designates Giant Sequoia National Monument within Sequoia Nat’l Forest.

2001 – Los Angeles DWP begins working on covering 10 sq. mi. of Owens Lake bed with gravel, vegetation, and water; to finish the whole project by Dec. 2005. Some areas now flooded, some areas planted in salt grass.   Mono Lake maintaining level (not rising) from 2 dry winters.

2002 – 150,000 acre “McNally” fire in North Fork canyon – to Johnsondale and the ridge above in Giant Sequoia Nat’l Mon (but no Sequoia groves were involved), and up the Sherman Pass road to the crest and on to the Plateau. Major damage in the canyon due to winds and drought

2002 – LADWP finally produces ESR on Lower Owens River Rewatering project. Major objections raised.

2002   various of California’s USFS forests taken to court over salvage logging practices. Drought continues, but logging slows way down.

2003 –CALTRANS wants to straighten and widen road on west shore of Mono Lake. Major objections.

2005: – LADWP taken to court (again) about rewatering project – severe fines per day until water flows! Owens Lake grass-growing project working rather well. Installing more sprinklers to rewater more bed 2004-2005 Winter one of the wettest on record in our area! Southern Sierra received 180-200+% snow pack. Rivers flowing, lakes full, snow in the mountains well into summer. Death Valley spring flower show one for the books! Only 1998 was better.

2006: Mammoth Ski Area sold again! Real Estate crazy! Wet winter late. WATER in Lower Owens River, finally. Mayor Villaraigosa pulled the switch.   (first ordered in 1991).

  1. 40 cfs flowing in the river. Recovering very nicely! Canoeable!! very dry winter- 25%.
  2. 2008. Owens River doing very, very well. Snowpack only 80%. Piute Mtns. Fire. Mono Lake drops.
  3. 2009. Work continues on Owens Lakebed. Web cams available to check on dust.  Real estate bust.

2010   Work still continues on Owens Lakebed… Owens River doing amazingly well. Lots of snow!!
2011   Wet Winter, great wildflowers around IWV. First Ridgecrest Wildflower Festival.
2012, 13; Work continues on Owens Lake. Drought bad, wildflowers few
2013 – drought continues – really serious!
2014 – drought continues!!  Snowpack way below normal.  LA changing what they do on the lake – more gravel, less water
2015 – Snowpack lowest on record for Southern Sierra!  LA working on aqueduct, does not transport water to LA.

2016 – LA trying to open pumps which had been “permanently shut down” up near Laws.  Snowpack still low in Southern Sierra.
“Art Work” and trails now on Owens Lake!  See maps, get info at LADWP site, or at Lone Pine.  Interesting stuff!
LADWP continues to work on the lake.  Winter flooding of some of the ponds.


Compiled by Janet Westbrook   P.O. Box 554   Ridgecrest, CA 93556

Professor of Biology emeritus –   Cerro Coso College, Ridgecrest, CA

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