Cyclists enjoy a ride on Warm Springs Road. COURTESY PHOTO
Bishop’s location has long provided an ideal spot to visit year-round, making it suitable for swimming, fishing, hiking and camping.
With a number of events dating back decades, the Eastern Sierra town draws tens of thousands every year, according to Bishop Chamber of Commerce CEO Tawni Thomson.
Even during a pandemic, such as what hit California and the country in 2020, there’s still plenty to do.
“Social distancing isn’t a problem in the Bishop or Eastern Sierra area,” Thomson says. “People come here because they want to enjoy solitude or go down a long walk on a dirt road.”
The closest place to having a crowd most years would be the Wanaaha Casino, formerly known as Paiute Palace.
Thomson also notes Bishop has a lot to offer beyond its main street, which is part of U.S. Highway 395.
“If what you’re seeing is only from Main Street, then you are literally missing 95% of what Bishop is,” Thomson says.
“We’re diverse in the way that people who live here and visit here,” she said. “Some people come here because they enjoy a specific sport or activity. Some people come because they like the slower, relaxed pace of life we have out here. Some people come for the sheer beauty of things and opportunities for landscape or wildlife photography.”
Thomson said while Bishop is a small town, it fills a big role. “If you want to eat, we have Italian, Mexican, Thai, Japanese and Chinese places,” she said. “Our community and businesses are diverse.”
Some hidden gems are available.
“A five-minute drive from downtown is the Laws Railroad Museum and Historic Village. It’s great for families and you feel like you can step back in time a hundred years to see an operational mining depot.”
Another gem, she said, is the Paiute Shoshone Cultural Center, which provides a story of the natives.
“We have many interesting venues for those who are interested in early California history,” Thomson said.
During the summer, Thomson said a 20-minute drive west on Highway 168 will take visitors to the Bishop Creek Canyon, South Lake and Lake Sabrina.
“Those are absolute must-sees,” Thomson says. “It might be 100 degrees on the valley floor but take that 20-minute drive and it will 20 degrees cooler in the canyon.”
The area, she said, provides ample opportunities for people who want to go camping, fishing or hiking.
“Even picnicking or simple sight-seeing is great because it’s beautiful up there,” Thomson said.
Fishing itself provides a year-round opportunity, according to Thomson.
“You can fish year-round for trout in the Bishop area,” she said. “A lot of people don’t know that. They might buy a year-round fishing license but they think they could only fish from May to mid-November.”
The normal trout season runs from the end of April through mid-November, but the Owens River and Pleasant Valley Reservoir are open all year for fishing.
“The best time to fish the Owens River is actually November, they’re not real shady and out in the open, so the temperatures are better in the winter and early spring,” Thomson said. “The lower elevations at the valley floor don’t freeze over.”
Bicycling also holds a number of opportunities, according to Thomson.
“Cycling falls into several different categories,” she said.
For those who like long distances at low elevation gain, routes go around Bishop out to Round Valley, 10 miles north and west of the town. Another route east of the town includes an area near the airport, where paved roads provide low traffic.
Inclining bike routes, or those who like to climb, are also available.
“There are some world-class routes around here,” she said. “Bishop Creek is one of them, as is Round Creek Road. People who are really determined can go up near 168 around Big Pine. That is a steep paved road that some cyclists like. It’s narrow but it doesn’t have a whole lot of traffic.
Warm Springs Loop is another one, she said, offering a 15-mile option for families. She said a good place to start or end is located on the east side of Bishop City Park.
Off-highway vehicle activities abound aplenty, according to Thomson.
“There are hundreds of miles of OHV opportunities here and we have several OHV maps available to guests,” she said. “It depends on what the season is. If it’s winter, you’re going to want to stay near the valley floor, like the volcanic tablelands or some places by the river.
A designated area called Poleta includes short trails and single tracks as well as a dirt bowl. The area is a 2,500-acre spot, though all OHV vehicles will need a California green or red sticker, or be street-legal, since it is on Inyo National Forest land.
“Poleta is a really great, developed OHV area,” Thomson said. Climbing enthusiasts also have a lot of opportunities, Thomson said.
“We have the Buttermilks recreational area and the Volcanic Table Lands, both within 10 to 15-mile rides of Bishop,” she said. “Both have world-class recognition and people travel great distances to climb those venues.”
The Buttermilks serves as one of the most popular bouldering areas on the West Coast, including high climbs and egg-shaped boulders.
Because of the area’s outdoor popularity, Thomson said the Bishop Visitor Center strongly advocates the “Leave No Trace” principle and camping in the appropriate designated places. She also notes that people need to pack out any trash they might generate, as well as to take precautions when in bear country.
“While a lot of these places are super popular like Disneyland, they don’t have places to put trash,” Thomson said. “We want to keep them as pristine as possible. What we’re finding is that outdoor recreation is becoming more popular with people who are new to climbing or to camping, but they don’t understand how to behave properly.”
She also advocating being culturally aware.
“A lot of these places that are popular with climbers are also culturally sensitive to the Native Americans in our area, so we want people to be mindful and aware of responsible camping or leaving no trash,” she said.
Thomson said the Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center supports a variety of events that attract people year-round. One of the most popular is the Blake Jones Trout Fishing Derby.
Held every March since 1968, The Blake Jones Trout Derby is always held the weekend after the Fred Hall Sports Show in Long Beach. The site of the derby is along the Owens River, just below the Pleasant Valley Reservoir, six miles north of Bishop.
The 2021 fishing derby, held March 13, would align with concerns over the recent pandemic, including awarding prizes via raffle and temporarily suspending its mass awards ceremony to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
“The fish have been stocked, the prizes are all ready to go,” explains Chamber Event Coordinator April Leeson. The Bishop Chamber understands the annual derby is a beloved tradition that draws anglers from near and far to enjoy the family-friendly fishing event. They also understand the derby is very important to our local economy. “Although less than ideal, we believe this plan represents a good balance between preserving the fishing tradition and accommodating current health care concerns,” added Leeson.
Another famous event: the Mule Days Celebration, held every Memorial Day weekend. The 2020 one was postponed, but the event has plans to return May 25-30, 2021.
According to the Mule Days organization, the event started in 1959, 52 years ago. In 1992, the mule parade started as a string of a few mules honoring Memorial Day, but the McGee Creek Pack Station’s 20 mule flag salute has become a tradition that captures, in one display, everything that the Bishop Mule Days Celebration and the packers of the Eastern Sierra stand for.”
The 20 mule flag salute started in 1992 when local packers Lee and Jen Roeser decorated ten dark-colored mules with flags and led them in the Mule Days parade. Lee said that, at the time, the packers who were involved in the celebration wanted to bring Memorial Day to the forefront of Mule Days. By 2015, the Roesers’ team had grown to 20 mules and had become a favorite among spectators.
It has also grown to encompass a parade, rodeos and countless vendors.