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But there's more to the desert oasis of Bishop than meets the eye.
Travelling to Bishop, California: Bouldering, a subspecies of rock climbing, has become a major draw for the northern Californian deserts near Bishop.
I’m splayed out, legs quivering, on a vertical granite face. Climbing shoes pasted on dimples of rock, fingertips slowly greasing off thin edges, I don’t so much fall as step off the dump-truck-sized boulder that I’m clinging to and scuff back over the sandy ground to my friends picnicking nearby. My local hosts Matt and Trish – used to having genuine rock stars in their midst – offer kind words and suggest a change of pace. Spent, I’m only too happy when they offer to take me back for a taste of town.
Bouldering, a subspecies of rock climbing involving un-roped ascent of, well, boulders, has become a major draw for the northern Californian deserts near Bishop, with thousands of the international rock cognoscenti flocking to these parts each winter. Originally established as a ranching town in the 1860s, supplying beef-critters to nearby Nevada miners, Bishop’s main resource of interest these days is raw nature and the various recreational opportunities (climbing, hiking, skiing and fishing) it offers.
As we convoy back toward civilization, I take in the vastness of the sagebrush plains, the boulder-strewn foothills and the High Sierras – a crisp, serrated line of ridges and peaks jagging across the western skyline. The town of 3,500 lies midway (both geographically and geologically) between Yosemite and Death Valley and is a day’s drive from Las Vegas, L.A. and Reno. In many ways, Bishop is a kindred spirit of Squamish – a former resource town turned “outdoor capital” with an upscale Intrawest ski resort (in this case Mammoth Mountain) an hour to the north. That is, if you don’t count the rain: only a handful of inches fall here each year, with phenomenal stretches of bone-dryness.
A sweeping bend in Highway 395 pulls us onto Bishop’s classic western Main Street, where Napa Auto Parts and Bar-B-Q Bill’s country restaurant intermingle with outdoor gear institution Wilson’s Eastside Sports and late nature photographer Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light Gallery. We decide to pull over for a coffee. Entering through Spellbinder Books & Coffee, we browse our way through to the Black Sheep espresso bar in the back. I find that professional climbers aren’t the only migrants: among the down-vest and beanie crowd I encounter a former biotech exec from L.A. and an ex-dot-commer from the Bay Area behind the counter. Both have fled the corporate life to focus their Type-Aism on outdoor pursuits.
Adequately pumped from the high-grade artisanal beans, I’m ready for the next stop on our impromptu cultural tour: a stop by the town dump, where my hosts recently scored a mint-condition electric Tonka fire truck for their feisty two-year-old, Wyatt. This time we don’t find anything at Treasure Island, a section of the dump reserved for still-useful furniture and appliances. (I choose not to investigate the area under the wooden sign labelled Dead Animals.) Then – on the other end of the anthropological spectrum – we decide to head back out of town for a trek up the volcanic tablelands, spending an afternoon viewing the Paiute petroglyphs and offering up our interpretations of the cryptic figures scraped into the red rock.
The sky dims and we make our way back through the scrub to our waiting truck. Next stop, Keough’s Hot Springs. I’ll immerse myself in the steaming swirl of healing geothermal waters, let the ache seep out of my floppy forearms and maybe indulge in some shameless big talk about an epic day out on the rock.
My Secret Place
Who: U. Gary Charlwood, CEO, Uniglobe Travel International LP Where: Las Brisas Restaurant, Laguna, California Why: A fast car, winding curves, the sun reflecting off the steep sandstone cliffs before it sinks into the surf below – for me, the Pacific Coast Highway running from Newport Beach to Laguna is the quintessential Californian experience. When I’m not travelling overseas, you can find me topping off my favourite sunset drive with a Patron margarita and a dish of sea bass ceviche at Las Brisas Restaurant. lasbrisaslagunabeach.com, 949-497-5434.