Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery

Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery
Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery

Located just outside of Independence, Inyo County, California the Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery has played an important role in the preservation of the Golden Trout.  Beyond the hatchery’s primary purpose, the site makes an excellent location to pull off the highway, relax in the shade and enjoy a picnic lunch.  This is how I was introduced to the hatchery 30 years ago, and it is still much anticipated stop each time I travel the 395 highway.

The fish hatchery began life in 1915, when the town of Independence raised money for and subsequently purchased a 40 acre parcel of ideal land in Oak Creek.  Using foresight not seen in our time, Fish and Game Commissioner M. J. Connell directed he direct the design team “to design a building that would match the mountains, would last forever, and would be a showplace for all time.”  Charles Dean of the State Department of Engineering and the design time team decided upon a “Tudor Revival” architectural style.

Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery Display Pond
Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery Display Pond

Utilizing a budget of $60,000 the hatchery project was started in March 1916 and complete one year later.  The building was built using 3200 tones of  local granite quarried nearby, boasts walls up to three feet thick and features a Spanish Tile roof.  When the facility was brought online in 1917, the hatchery could produce two million fry per year.  The fish hatchery operated until 2008, when on July 12th a flood and mudslide tore down the Oak Creek watershed which in 2007 was burnt in a wild fire.  The resulting mudslide buried the fish rearing ponds, destroyed four buildings and killed the entire population of Rainbow Trout.

The pond offers some beautiful flowers in the spring.

Currently a restoration project is in process, however the fate of the hatchery operation remains unknown.

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Hot Creek Geologic Site

Hot Creek Geologic Site is located near Mammoth, Lake just off the 395 Highway in Mono County, California. The stream originates from Twin Lakes in Mammoth and continues on to Lake Crowley. The site is located near and a beautiful cold water stream which is located over a geothermal vent. Warm water is heated from a magma chamber located about three miles below the earths surface and bubbles up into the steam warming the water.

Hot Creek located off the 395 highway near Mammoth in Mono County, California
Hot Creek located off the 395 highway near Mammoth in Mono County, California

The Hot Creek does offer excellent fishing opportunities and popular among fly fisherman. Fishing used to be limited to barbless hooks.

No Swimming

The stream is now closed to swimming becuase “Earthquakes can cause sudden geyser eruptions and overnight appearances of new hot springs at Hot Creek.  Water temperatures can change rapidly, and so entering the water is prohibited. ” Reports of hot water geysers up to 6 feet tall in 2006 and rapidly fluctuating temperatures apparently caused the closure of the stream to swimming.

My grandfather used to point out that some hot water vents where not in the same locations as when he was a child. Perhaps, within my life the hot springs area has become too dangerous to swim.

J Rathbun

As a child and young adult, the stream was open to swimming and my family did this routinely on almost every trip. I recall active conversations about the possibility of an geyser eruption which would kill us and we understood the risk of swimming. However, we also understood the possibility of an such an event was very remote when one considers the geologic time tables. My grandfather used to point out that some hot water vents where not in the same locations as when he was a child. Perhaps, within my life, the area has become too dangerous to swim.

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Hunter Mountain Road

Hunter Mountain Road is a lightly used moderately difficult road which delivers you to one of the most remote and beautiful parts of Death Valley National Park, California. Starting at Teakettle Junction, the twenty four mile route climbs up over 7,128 feet about sea level over a high mountain pass. 4×4 is recommended and you will encounter loose rock, sand, washes and wash boards.

Hunter Mountain Road start at Teakettle Junction in Death Valley National Park
Hunter Mountain Road start at Teakettle Junction in Death Valley National Park

Racetrack valley is one of the most remove portions of Death Valley, and Hunter Mountain Road is empty compared to it. It is likely that you will not encounter another vehicle while in this area. The route is technically not difficult, however it is possible to find deep sand in a few places. There are no services in this route, so be sure to plan accordingly. Cell phones will probably not work in the area, so you are on your own.

The trail is an excellent route to see some beautiful back county. There are many places of historical interest such as mines shafts and mining camps. This is an excellent area for nature lovers, bird watching and just a great scenic drive.

The Lost Burrow Mine is located off Hunter Mountain Road in Death Valley National Park, CA
The Lost Burrow Mine is located off Hunter Mountain Road in Death Valley National Park, CA

From the Hunter Mountain trail, you can visit other fun destinations to explore, including:

A sorting screen at the Calmet Mine in the Goldbelt Springs Mining District, Death Valley National Park, California
A sorting screen at the Calmet Mine in the Goldbelt Springs Mining District, Death Valley National Park, California

Our last trip to up the trail was cut short by thunderstorms. We did an overnight at Home Stake Dry Camp and watched lightening strikes all night. When we drove the trail, it was a bit muddy and the sand was saturated with water. We had no issues from the overnight showers, but when it started to rain on us again at Goldbelt Springs, we opted to be cautious and turned around. I really would like to spend more time exploring this area.

I need a Go Pro…

Trail Summary

NameHunter Mountain Road
LocationDeath Valley National Park
Distance24.7 miles
DifficultyEasy to Moderate

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Goldbelt Springs

A discovery by the famous prospector “Shorty Harris“, led to the founding on the Goldbelt Springs mining district off Hunter Mountain Road in Death Valley National Park, California. The earliest known occupants of this area were a seven member family Saline Valley Panamint Indians who, despite the higher elevation, would winter in the area.

A sorting screen at the Calmet Mine in the Goldbelt Springs Mining District, Death Valley National Park, California
A sorting screen at the Calmet Mine in the Goldbelt Springs Mining District, Death Valley National Park, California

Gold was discovered in the area, just a few miles away by Frank “Shorty” Harris in the later half of 1904. Following “Shorty”, miners migrated into the area utilizing a route from Ubehebe via Willow Springs. Soon, small claims were staked out on the northwest slope of Hunter Mountain. Harris, L.P. McGarry, E.G. Padgett (Pegot or Paggett), Joseph Simpson, and W.D. Frey were among the first credited with strikes. In January, 1902 the Gold Belt Mining District was established and recorded.

A sign clearly marks the Calmet Mine
A sign clearly marks the Calmet Mine

Initially the site looked good for mining development. There was a water source and fuel to facilitate mining operations. High grade gold ore with small silver veins was discovered on four foot ledges prompted optimism in the sight. The ore was assayed at $8 – $176 or $38 to $240 in gold depending upon the source. On this news, plans for a town were starting to be developed.

A completely flattened structure at Goldbelt Springs, Death Valley, California
A completely flattened structure at Goldbelt Springs, Death Valley, California

In February of 1905, enough capital was available from investors from San Francisco to allowed expanded exploration of the area. Not much is available of this exploration, however by the fall of 1905 and exploration was abandoned. It could be inferred that the ore quantity and quality was not sufficient to justify the expense to those investors.

Regardless, smaller operations continued in the area of Goldbelt Sprints, from 1905 to 1910 including operations by Annetta Rittenhouse of Los Angeles, H.W. Eichbaum of Venice, L.P. McGarry of Pioneer, and W.S. Ball of Rhyolite.

More Ruins near the old mining camp
More Ruins near the old mining camp

In 1916, “Shorty” Harris again road into the area near Hunter Mountain. World War I had increased the price of tungsten. Harris pulling from his previous exploration probably knew of the mineral, and soon found a tungsten mine. By March, he had produce several hundred pounds of tungsten ore worth some $1500.00.

An abandoned truck silently waits for its owner to return in Goldbelt Springs.
An abandoned truck silently waits for its owner to return in Goldbelt Springs.

Throughout the 1940s and 1960’s various small operations were mining the area. This would include mines called Calmet and also nearby Quackenbush. The site today has smaller ruins. A truck and mine are still visible and an ore sorting platform is standing at the Calmet location. The wooden structures are completely flattened by time and the elements.

An old mine tunnel
An old mine tunnel

Mine Summary

NameGoldbelt Springs
LocationHunter Mountain, Death Valley National Park, California
Latitude, Longitude
ProductionGold, Silver, Copper, Tungsten, Talc
Year Productive1904 –
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Teakettle Junction

Located at the intersection of Hunter Mountain Road and Race Track Valley Road, Teakettle Junction is a unique point of interest in Death Valley National Park, California.

Teakettle Junction at the intersection of Hunter Mountain Road and Race Track Valley Road, Death Valley National Park, California
Teakettle Junction at the intersection of Hunter Mountain Road and Race Track Valley Road, Death Valley National Park, California

Aside from the mile post at the intersection, the only thing which causes you to take note is the odd tradition of hanging teakettles from the sign. Typically, teakettles are decorated with fun messages and greeting along with the date of their trip. Our family participated in this tradition and it was a big hit with my son. The National Park Service will periodically remove the teakettles, where, I am sure the send them to the National Archives.

Ryan and I hanging our teakettle at the sign.
Ryan and I hanging our teakettle at the sign.

The origin of the tradition and name of the site is not completely known. There are rumor’s around that it could be so named because the roads in the area will bounce you around like a teakettle.

The site is located about 21 miles from Ubehebe Crater and offers access to Hunter Mountain Road, Racetrack Valley, Lippincott Mine Road and Saline Valley beyond.

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