A Portal and a Ghost Town

Lone Pine, CA

Monday night the wind picked up and blew strongly through the day on Tuesday.  It made hiking a bit uncomfortable so we invited Sue and Dave to join us in an auto hike through a couple of interesting places in the area.  First up was a trip into the Sierra Nevada Mountains to visit the Mt. Whitney Portal.

Heading toward the Sierras

Whitney Portal is located nine miles west of Lone Pine at an elevation of 7,851 feet.  As its name suggests, it is the gateway to Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States.  It is the trailhead for the Mount Whitney Trail, a twenty-two mile round-trip hike that goes up 6,700 feet to the top of the mountain (guess we will not be hiking that one!).   The Whitney Portal Road, built by the CCC in 1936, winds its way up the side of the mountain and into a canyon leading to the Portal.

The road leading to the Portal

With the elevation gain it’s a bit chilly at the Whitney Portal.  During our visit it was about fifteen degrees colder than at Lone Pine.  Lone Pine Creek runs right through the Portal with a steep waterfall at the end of the road.

Another smaller stream running through the portal has a dam that creates a nice little pond.

Large boulders surround the parking area.

John is standing next to the rock in the lower left

Have you ever stuck your nose into the bark of  a pine tree?  This sounds a bit foolish, but if you see a very tall pine out west you may want to try it.  If the tree is a Ponderosa Pine, it will have a strong scent of butterscotch (some say vanilla).  Sue confirmed that the pine in the photo below is a Ponderosa.

Driving back down the road we were treated to great views in the distance.  In the photo below you are looking at the Owens Valley with the Alabama Hills in the middle of the valley and the Inyo Mountains in the distance.

We stopped in a large pull-out area along the winding road going down to take the photo above.  As we looked at the wall of rock on the other side of the road we were struck (not literally!) by the precarious position of many of the large boulders on the steep wall.

Some rather large objects looked as if a strong wind would bring them tumbling down onto the road.  We decided maybe it was time to “ease on down the road” as the wind was gusting pretty hard at that point.

As we drove through the valley we stopped in the Alabama Hills to find a nice spot for lunch.  The Alabama Hills are the main reason we wanted to stay in this area and we will be exploring them extensively later in the week, so we’ll write more about them in a later blog (or two).

Searching for a good spot to enjoy lunch

Looking back to the west at the Sierra Nevada Mountains

Next up on our driving tour was a trip out to visit the semi-ghost town of Darwin.  To get there we drove south of Lone Pine just a couple of miles and turned east on Hwy. 136 following the signs to Death Valley.  The road gently winds its way up into the Inyo Mountains.

Thirty miles east on that road (it turns into Hwy. 190) we turned south on Darwin Road.  We were surprised to see a large number of Joshua Trees growing in the area.

About six miles down this side road we came to the strange town of Darwin.  The town was founded in 1874 when silver and lead deposits were discovered in the surrounding hills.  At one time over a thousand people lived in the town, but the 2010 census found the population to be fifty-four hardy souls.

As you can see, outside seating is available

The town dance hall was a bit quiet during our visit.  You can’t see them very well in the photo below but there are three posters in the window.  On the right is a picture of a young Elvis (he may be currently living in town, who knows?), the center poster is Marilyn Monroe, and on her left (appropriately) is a poster of President Obama (although you can’t see it).  We couldn’t quite figure out the purpose of the broom strapped to a post on the porch.

Apparently many of the residents consider themselves artists, as there are numerous strange “artsy” displays around the town.

Sculpture of a couple embracing

Small garden complete with scarecrow

Note the hot tub!

Check out the cans in the base of the wall

Hey, even mannequins need a rest!

Yes, the have a functioning post office with their own zip code

We were curious how children in Darwin go to school.  But a little research revealed that there is no one younger than twenty-five living in the town.  We can’t verify that with any visual sightings as we did not see a single person during our driving tour through town.  You get a strange feeling as you drive through this place, and we would not have been surprised to see zombies walking around or Rod Serling in the opening of a scene from “The Twilight Zone” standing on the corner.  But it sure was an interesting place to visit!

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28 Responses to A Portal and a Ghost Town

  1. libertatemamo says:

    I’ve not to been to that Ghost Town!! Another one for the list!

  2. Ingrid says:

    Beautiful country and ‘interesting’ town.

  3. Gay says:

    Cool and strange all at the same time!

  4. Laurel says:

    I’m so bummed that we didn’t get to Darwin!! Cool photos of a totally bizarre place. You had such gorgeous skies that day for your trip up to Whitney Portal. We had soooo much fun with you guys. Wish we could have been there longer, but we’re happy for the time we had. 🙂

    • placestheygo says:

      Now you have a reason to return to Lone Pine again in the near future:) So glad you decided to stop and stay three nights!! Thanks! It was great fun hiking and exploring together. Looking forward to our next time!

  5. We have not been to Darwin, but won’t go there if ghost are lurking around watching our every move 🙂 We might have seen the sign to Darwin on our way to Death Valley from there.

  6. Those are some seriously big boulders at the Portal!

    Darwin looks a little sketchy! Fun drive by though!

    • placestheygo says:

      Darwin felt very sketchy!! Very strange place!

      You probably missed the boulders with your before dawn start and exhaustion at the end:) I imagine touring the area was the least of your concerns while at the Portal:)

  7. pmbweaver says:

    What…you aren’t doing that hike! Which was the a twenty-two mile round-trip hike or the 6,700 feet? Can’t image either really would bother either of you…lol

    I would have eased down the road…fast!

    It is Halloween. I think that broom is their decoration. Some of the art is cool looking but to see no one…that is very strange!

    • placestheygo says:

      I had thought that maybe we could get a ride to the top and then just hike the 11 miles down!! I can’t imagine doing the 22 miles.

      Never thought about Halloween! Maybe the broom actually is for the holiday…haha!

  8. allisonmohr says:

    Isn’t that area just the best? The mountains are just stunning.

  9. Sherry says:

    Really sorry you didn’t see some of what have to be very interesting residents of Darwin judging by your great pictures of the place. Love the smell of Ponderosas and what a gorgeous waterfall.

  10. Jodee Gravel says:

    We’re definitely finishing the portal road tomorrow! We never did find the mannequin, nor did we see the working post office – just the closed one on the main intersection 😦 So glad we followed you AGAIN, and got to see this funky little town.

    • placestheygo says:

      Yes, do finish the Whitney Portal Road. It is so pretty up there and the waterfall is huge!! It was hard to photograph because of the trees. The very top can only be seen from back by the pond. It is in the very back corner of the furthest parking lot. There is also a series of very small falls on the opposite side near the store.

      Glad we can be your tour guides:)

  11. We have been to Darwin twice now. Our experience has been identical to yours. You never actually see any people. I always figured that during the day, they are in the mountain mining. But, that does not explain where all of the artists are. Anybody brave enough to visit at night?!?

  12. debbiemc14 says:

    Cool place! I have not been there either! Whenever we get a chance to visit Alabama Hills, we’ll have to check it out too.

  13. LuAnn says:

    Not only did we not visit Darwin, I had not even heard of it until this post. Will definitely have to add that one to the list when we next explore the 395. Aren’t those hills fascinating? 🙂

    • placestheygo says:

      The RV Park we are staying in gave us this map with a long list of Point of Interest within a reasonable drive. So I researched a few and off we went. John didn’t include Dirty Socks Hot Spring that we stopped to see, also. Not real nice now but from what I read, it was quite the attraction back in the day. I am loving the Lone Pine area!

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