Sometimes you want the anonymity of a hotel, a place where you can check in, get your key, and go to your room. And sometimes you want to be greeted at the door of a quaint inn by a gracious host, escorted to your room, and offered a glass of wine.
Oh, Joseph House Inn, you get me.
When we arrived, it was only seven at night, but it may as well have been one in the morning. To recap: we’d awakened that morning in the Mojave desert in a tent, did a little hiking, drove a few hundred miles, took a tour of a movie museum, met a bunch of mules, visited one of the most emotionally exhausting historic sites in America, and after nearly seven hours of total driving time found ourselves at the Gateway to the High Sierras. Which is why, when the lovely young man who brought us our glasses of wine offered some suggestions for dinner, we politely thanked him, snuck out our patio door, and picked up Taco Bell to go, which we then proceeded to eat in bed while wearing robes and watching who-knows-what on TV.
Yes, we got Taco Bell. DON’T JUDGE. Sometimes you just want a Nachos Bell Grande and don’t care that the chips on the bottom are completely soggy by the time you get to them so you fold them up like a New York-style pizza. At least I didn’t fall asleep with sour cream and neon yellow cheese sauce in my hair.
Breakfast the next morning was at eight. After checking for stray hot sauce packets, we loaded up our suitcase and headed to the dining room. Our host, Myriam Ruland, greeted us and we sat with a fellow guest by the name of Arlene, who’d been a patron of Myriam and her mother Hilde since 1978 when they ran the Swiss Cafe in Mammoth Lakes. As Myriam went back and forth from the kitchen to the dining room, the four of us chatted and Jim and I learned a bit about the Joseph House Inn.
The house was built sometime in the early 1940s by Mr. Joseph, who, like Yuma’s Sanguinetti, made his money in grocery stores. You can still shop at Joseph’s Bi-Rite in Bishop, although it hasn’t been owned by anyone in the Joseph family in decades. Neither has the former mercantile’ s house, which was in need of attention when Myriam and Hilde bought the home in 1996. You’d never know it; the inn was beautiful, with a spacious living area and an expansive lawn featuring several sitting areas, a pond and a small creek. All of that water meant the place was a favorite stop for ducks - a lot of ducks. There were 200+ fowl on the property when the Rulands bought it, which explains the whole duck motif they’ve got going on.
We briefly met Hilde when she popped in and out like a jack in the box. This was, apparently, her usual practice. “You need to take out the batteries” for Mom to slow down, Myriam said, and a previous guest had given Hilde a stuffed Energizer bunny for her 84th birthday to illustrate the point.
The Inn was a block from US 395, otherwise known as Main Street in Bishop, so we turned the corner and stopped in at Erick Schat’s Bakkery, known for its Sheepherder Bread. Every day, this legendary place bakes six times as many loaves as there are people in Bishop. While we wanted to try some of their prodigious output, it was so packed and the towers of baking racks so tall I nearly pushed our way out of there screaming (I might be slightly claustrophobic). I had to be content with the smell of yeast and flour baking on a hot stone.
Back on the blissfully uncrowded sidewalk, we explored the picturesque town. When I say picturesque, I mean that literally. Bishop is covered in murals. There are fifteen illustrating its history. Most are painted, and one is made of sculpted ceramic tiles and mosaic and was created by 216 locals. Bishop is also home to the Mountain Light Gallery, which features the works of renowned landscape and mountain photographer Galen Rowell.
While Bishop has a lot to offer, the town has had its struggles, mainly because of its big bully of a neighbor to the south. Starting in the early 1900s Los Angeles started buying up land in the Owens Valley, where Bishop is located, because they wanted to build an aqueduct and take the valley’s water. In 1913 that aqueduct was built. More than a century later, most of the valley floor between the Eastern Sierras and the White Mountains is still owned by a sprawling city more than two hundred miles and a mountain range away.
This obviously damaged the valley’s economy and prospects for growth, but it also preserved the rural landscape, making Bishop and the Owens Valley a pastoral getaway that attracts people looking to escape from big city life for a bit. If you’re coming from LA, though, you should probably bring your own water.
We left the Mule Capital of the World - oh, wait, did I forget to mention that? Sorry. Bishop is the Mule Capital of the World, so proclaimed because of the huge number of mules in the area and the annual Mule Days festival and parade, which takes place every Memorial Day. Once we learned that, the bunch of mules we’d seen as we were driving out of the Alabama Hills suddenly became clear.
Before making our way into Nevada, we stopped at the Laws Railroad Museum. Laws was a station on the Carson and Colorado, or C&C, Narrow Gauge Railroad, which ran from Mound House, Nevada, to Keeler, California, through Laws. During its glory days the railroad provided a means of transportation and communication for the people who lived in the Eastern Sierras. The last train ran on April 30, 1960, and by that time the town around it was gone. The museum recreates what a railroad and mining town was like, including a ranch house and an old gas station. Only the Agent House and the Depot are original buildings, and some of the station’s equipment is there, too, including the oil and water tanks used to refuel the steam locomotives, and the 1883 turntable. It has the feel of an abandoned railroad town, with the exception of the tractor graveyard. That’s just a little odd, but cool nonetheless.
For more information on Bishop, California, check out their Visitor Information Center. They're a fantastic resource for your visit.
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