Published: October 2009Instant Adventures

Next Weekend: Wild Roads

Sierra Waterworks

Text by David Hanson
Map by Joyce Pendola

Wedged between two of California’s great ranges (to the west, the Sierra Nevada; to the east, the Inyo Mountains), the Owens Valley is a lush catchment basin buttressed by the tallest peaks in the lower 48. It’s also a high desert oasis—or at least it was until Los Angeles began diverting the valley’s water almost a century ago. (The ensuing California Water Wars inspired movies like Chinatown and books like Cadillac Desert.) But recently, thanks to a long-overdue water restoration program, the Valley has started to look a lot like its old self, and the fall colors offer reason enough to get reacquainted. Try fly-fishing the clear-running Owens River or sport climbing a sunny crag, then soak in natural hot springs near Mammoth Lakes—the best are just off Warm Springs Road—while basking in the alpenglow of the big peaks.

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