4x4 eastern sierra nevada great basin 4wd independence inyo county division armstrong canyon

RECONNOITERING IN THE EASTERN SIERRA NEVADA & GREAT BASIN
BY 4-WHEEL-DRIVE
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4x4 Trails:
Division Creek / Armstrong Canyon

(Sierra Nevada East Side)

Trail Difficulty:

Moderate

Season:

Late spring, summer, autumn

Elevations:

3937' @ Tinemaha Road & Division Creek road; approx. 8265' @ road's end

Cell phone Signal:

Good

Running Surface Water?:

Division Creek (Filtration required)

Trail Travel Density:

Low

Nearest Supplies/Emergency Aid:

Independence, Big Pine – restaurant @ Aberdeen resort



NOTE: In July, 2007, a major portion of the Inyo Complex fires that struck the eastern Sierra Nevada between Independence and Big Pine, California, impacted this region as well. The trail has not been field checked since the original writing of this page, and it is not known to the author the impact the fires had on this trail or the landscape it crosses and terminates at.


In addition to the fires, in July, 2008, a major flash flood hit the upper headwaters of Oak Creek, a short distance southward. More than seven inches of rain fell in the space of less than one hour, and that figure only amounts to what the remote station at 11,000 feet recorded before it too succumbed to the floodwaters. A huge mud flow wiped out homes and the landscape all along Oak Creek, also damaging the Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery and US395; closing the highway for a very long time before repairs could be effected.


So it is not known if this trail is even passable presently. However, this page is left in place for those looking to see for themselves or for a new trail to try out.



The Sierra's east side – bold, dramatic, sheer and convoluted. No roads accomplish a complete crossover of its core, few probe its depths, most stop at its feet.



Overview of this byway.



Closeup detail from the Division Creek powerplant to the end of the road.



Closeup of road detail from Scotty Spring.

Driving along US395 north of Independence, one may glimpse a path that attempts a zig-zag path for the summits. This trail offers a short but rich bisection of what the eastern Sierra has to offer: geology, mineralogy, geography, biology and just plain 4x4 fun.

This roadway that zig-zags up the sheer face of the Sierra was born for tungsten – scheelite being the principle mineral used in hardening steel. After the Great Depression prospectors combed the eastern Sierra looking for this precious ore, as America needed harder steel for purposes including armor plating for military purposes. High up the face of the range here was found scheelite in quantities that might be worthy of further development, so equipment was hauled up to probe, thus requiring this roadway. A few mines – the Valley View, Firecracker, Pinnacle, Rudy and Glacier – were developed, this path was built to access them and haul in equipment.

Scheelite ore was found, but not in paying quantities, so the mines were abandoned and the roadway left for our exploring pleasure.


This road also crosses geological wonders also. Refer to Roger Mitchell's “HIGH SERRA SUV TRAILS” for a complete description of the geologic and botanical zones that this road bisects. Mitchell's book is a must to have with you – along with the Aberdeen quad of the USGS 7.5 minute series topographic map – for more information on what you can see and encounter on this short adventure. Mitchell also goes into the background, condition and location of mines. Mr. Mitchell and this author advise you heed the warnings found in his book and here – stay out of shafts and adits for your safety!

This byway starts off the old highway south of the small community of Aberdeen, due west of the Black Rock rest area on US395. Access to the old highway from US395 can be from Goodale Road at the north end or Sawmill Creek Road from the south. Either way, travel to Division Creek Road, about smack in the middle of these two points.

This trail starts off paved as far as the small Division Creek hydroelectric plant, then maintained dirt to the bottom of the range at Scotty Spring. Above Scotty, the pathway narrows and starts its climb. The road seems narrower than it really is – sagebrush tries its best to reclaim this byway, and so the outer two feet or so of the road is covered in sage. The road is not technically challenging but can be a bit spooky to those who are not fond of steep drop-offs – along with some measure of claustrophobia due to being hemmed in by the sagebrush and the side of the mountain. There are a few places that one can turn around, such at the radius of switchbacks. In some places rocks from above have fallen on the roadway; and in spots that the roadway crosses the large lava flow the roadway crosses gravely cinders which can allow a vehicle to sink slightly, as if in soft sand. The byway ends in Armstrong Canyon at a small flat well shaded by a pine forest.

Those who wish to camp might find the mouth of Spook Canyon or Scotty Spring a pleasant spot to set up. There is a small dam and pond at the mouth of Spook Canyon, used to feed the penstock running down to the powerplant below. There is a small spot to camp here or a grove of oaks is nearby with a level spot to set up a camper or tent. At Scotty Spring there is no surface water easy to get to due to the heavy overgrowth, but a large grove of oaks and cottonwoods offer a shady spot to camp. A fire ring and a few well placed flat boulders also enhance the camping experience.

For those inclined to hike, just above Division Creek powerplant is the trailhead for Sawmill Pass and Sequoia National Park. There is parking and a small kiosk with information.

The photos below are from July 2004. See Mitchell's book for more photos and complete information about this scenic byway – if it's still there after fire and flood.


Starting point on the byway starts at Division Creek Road and the old US395 south of Aberdeen Resort.


Above the Division Creek powerplant.


A shady oak glen at the mouth of Spook Canyon. The small pond and check dam is nearby.


The view of northern Owens Valley from the Spook Canyon camp.


A refreshing small pond that feeds the penstock for Division Creek powerplant below. A flat spot large enough for a camper is just off the photo to the right.


A shady camp at Scotty Spring. The byway up to Armstrong Canyon begins here.


The beginning of the roadway to Armstrong Canyon at Scotty Spring.


The relative narrowness of the road is shown here, although the outer edge of the roadway is an ample distance away under the sagebrush. Those with larger vehicles might get a healthy dose of “desert pinstriping.”


The first switchback is encountered above Scotty Spring within the lava flow. A nice view is afforded here out over Owens Valley. The view is southward along the road and down to Scotty Spring and Spook Canyon.


View from the first switchback into southern Owens Valley.


This is the end of travel by the author over this trail on his only attempt to take this trail. The Valley View Mine can be seen above the truck as a gray patch of rock scree, it situated along the next leg of the roadway far above (the roadway behind the truck goes off the photo midway, then crosses back above at the base of the trees).


View into Owens Valley from my turning point. The roadway into Scotty Spring and the lower road up can be seen.


Beautiful flowering plants profusely lined the roadway and pointed the way upward in the middle of it.


Unfortunately it was late in the day, so the writer had to retrace his path downward and homeward.



Additional Information

 


Maps:
USGS 7.5 minute Aberdeen, California
Inyo National Forest
(Inyo National Forest ranger stations also carry local USGS topographic maps, which can be purchased at the above link)

Books:

HIGH SIERRA SUV TRAILS VOLUME 1 – THE EAST SIDE: A GUIDE TO 35 INTERESTING AND SCENIC FOUR-WHEELING EXCURSIONS IN THE HIGH SIERRA” – by Roger Mitchell





“GUIDE TO SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA BACKROADS & 4-WHEEL DRIVE TRAILS” by Charles A. Wells



“SIERRA NEVADA BYWAYS” by Tony Huegel



Most available at most book outlets in the Owens Valley and eastern Sierra, or find it on the Internet at amazon.com or Internet book store of your choice.



Page created 2004

Page Revised: 08/23/2010