The southern end of US Highway 395 is in the Mojave Desert near Hesperia, CA. It proceeds northward for 1,300 or so miles to the Canadian border. It goes through 4 states. Its Nevada portion is the smallest. California’s section is the most dramatic. Most of it is designated scenic. I have always wanted to drive all of the California portion of 395, and now I have.
On the trip we just completed, Ruth and I entered Highway 395 south of Lakeview, OR and followed it all the way to the Mojave Desert. We stayed overnight in the growing town of Ridgecrest in this desert before heading north again on 395 to see what we had missed. As it turned out, we had not seen a lot. Our favorite town on this route was Bishop, CA. We thought we would drive 395 almost back home in March, 2021 when we took our first post-COVID trip after a year of travel inactivity, but now we are glad we didn’t. There is too much to see including Mount Whitney and Topaz. Highway 395 is so rich in attractions that we spent a lot of time talking about returning.
The reason we drove it in May instead of March was the weather. This highway that we had been on portions of before in all four states has lots of elevation, and we were in for a big surprise. On our first night on the road in mid May it snowed in Lakeview, and we were in falling, drifting snow for a couple of days as we headed south on 395. Fortunately, the roadbed remained clear so we were able to keep going, and the snow made the journey memorable.
By the time we got near Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states, the weather had improved. Mount Whitney, which we saw from Lone Pine, CA, is 14,505 feet tall. We learned from locals that most people mistake Lone Pine Peak for it. Mount Whitney (seen above) is to the right of Lone Pine Peak and rather anonymously behind it. Mount Whitney is actually a series of jagged peaks with the real mountain in the middle. A local woman in a museum took Ruth and me outside to see the actual Mount Whitney, which is incredibly close to the lowest point in the United States, Death Valley. We were told that spring is the best time to climb Mount Whitney despite the fact that a couple of climbers were already in trouble on the trail to the top. We learned about Mount Whitley in a visitor center. We were warned not to attempt to climb it without first reading a handbook about it and obtaining a permit. Snow is a possibility year round, and July and August can be rainy months up there with lots of thunderstorms. Permits can be gotten at recreation.gov. We were told that climbing Mount Whitney is extremely difficult. A lot of climbers attempt this feat without the right equipment and fail to acknowledge the fact that those on the trail gain almost 7,000 feet in elevation. Proper training for this climb is a good idea.
Seeing Mount Whitney is just one of the many delights of travel on Highway 395.