Abandoned Highway 395
Highway 395 in California runs north to south about 100 miles west of Death Valley. The highway runs east of the Northern Sierras with views of the tallest mountain in the continental United States, Mt. Whitney.
Highway 395 is dotted with natural and man-made sites to see, which includes multiple abandoned and “living” ghost towns.
This high desert has some pretty weird history.
The City of California City was incorporated in 1965 in Kern County, California. Covering over 200 square miles, California City ranks 3rd in land area on the state’s largest cities, but population checks in at barely 14,000. California City is not a ghost town, but is not exactly what it was created to be.
In 1958 real estate developer Nathan Mendelsohn bought 33,000 acres of Mojave Desert to build a metropolis city that would rival Los Angeles. What he ended up with was 200 square miles of dirt roads and lots, still waiting to be paved.
I first learned of California City from a show on the Science channel, What In The World? The show uses satellite photos of weird stuff on our beautiful planet. CalCity can be seen from space as a large city still waiting to happen.
Olancha is an unincorporated town along highway 395 in Inyo County. It was first established in 1860 when ore was found nearby. Olancha became a full fledged town in 1870 when a post office opened.
Olancha’s claim to fame is a small cameo appearance in the Charles Manson saga. In August of 1969 Diane “Snake” Lake, the youngest member of the Manson Family, and Manson’s right hand man, Charles “Tex” Watson were ordered to go stay in the Olancha area by Charles Manson himself. It was only two days after Tex Watson assisted other members of the Manson Family in murdering a very pregnant Sharon Tate and her house guests. Snake was not an accomplice in the murders, and didn’t even know anything about them until they were in Olancha and Tex Watson admitted to her what he had done at Manson’s request. While in Olancha, Snake was arrested for indecent exposure for swimming nude in the motel pool. Shortly after, Snake and Tex left Olancha for Barker Ranch in Death Valley, where the whole of the Manson Family was arrested for theft and vandalism. While in custody multiple members were charged in the Sharon Tate and La Bianca murders.
Dunmovin is an ghost town in Inyo County, California. Dunmovin was originally called Cowen Station, named after James Cowen, the first homesteader in the area. Cowen Station was a freight station for the nearby silver mining town of Cerro Gordo.
James Cowen cashed out his mining claims in 1936 and moved away. The name was then changed to Dunmovin, and a post office even moved in and operated from 1938 to 1941. The town consisted of a service station, cafe, and store. Like many other communities along Highway 395, it ended up drying up and blowing away.
While we visited the ghost town in November of 2020, there did seem to be one residence still occupied…but I am unsure if it was a squatter or …?
Fossil Falls Campground
Our temporary residence while exploring Highway 395 was the Fossil Falls Campground, 5 miles south of the Coso Junction. Fossil Falls is a primitive campground with picnic tables and fire rings. There is an old fashioned hand pump for water. Inside the campground are the actual Fossil Falls, which are not falls, but are indeed fossils. The campground is BLM land and the nightly charge is only $6.00.
There were many more places to visit along Highway 395, but our little travelling family had a bit of a tragedy in the area. Our very loved, and very missed yellow lab, Milo, passed away while we were in the area. He took ill very suddenly. We traveled over 100 miles to get to the nearest veterinarian clinic, and they were hopeful, but things took a turn for the worse. We spent the rest of our visit in the area in mourning…and to be truthful, we still are. Our “pets” are our family. They are our soul mates. Their love is unconditional, and they make us better humans.
Rest in peace, my Milo love. We love you.