Tales Along El Camino Sierra Two!
By: Gayle and David Woodruff
El Camino Sierra Publishing
Tales Along El Camino Sierra Two: A Sentimental Journey Along Highway 395 throws new light on locations that may have grown dusty and unsurprising to most Eastsiders.
Through historical photographs and anecdotes, Tales Two, which went on sale May 20, lends the sleepy settlements peppered along 395 renewed depth of character.
Each of the 43 chapters of the sequel describes in no more than a few pages the stories of local buildings, humans, and geographic features. David and Gayle Woodruff used records from the Eastern California Museum in Independence to inform their stories.
This sequel opens with a fascinating recounting of the automobile boom of the early 20th century and how that influenced the government to build this ribbon of highway through the desert. It describes a tenacious effort by Mono and Inyo residents to earn some of the ample state funding for highways voted on in 1910, and later a campaign to make Highway 395 a military defense highway for the protection of the interior from Mexico to Canada.
After the history of the road is established, the book reveals some of the personalities that made Highway 395 sparkle with humanity.
An eccentric millionaire who accidentally preserved 27 miles of Tahoe shoreline, a dentist who turned a sillimanite mine in Chalfant into a sparkplug dynasty, and a Hollywood actress who built her own cabin in Lundy Canyon and became the first woman in California to hold a hunting and fishing guide license, these are a few of my favorite profiles in the book. However, each chapter will earn the eastern Sierra native some heightened respect for the land they call home. Sometimes the nostalgia made me slightly depressed, thinking that this landscape’s best days are behind it. One need only look at the expanding athletic, industrial, and social spheres of this corridor to dispel the pessimism of nostalgia.
The Woodruff’s writing was bubbly. It brought technicolor incandescence to the long-dead desperados and explorers of the west. A few too many chapters ended with a cheeky phrase like, “And all this happened … Along El Camino Sierra,” but even cornpone like this can be guiltily enjoyed in moderation.
The power of this book lies in its revelation of the foundations of this strange and remote part of the world. By gaining an appreciation for the roughnecks who settled the uninviting landscape of the Eastern Sierra you will inevitably gain a greater love for one or two of the shabby shacks so often blown by along 395.
One thing this book sorely missed, however, is any appreciation of the natives who lived in the Sierra before the settlers came. Not a single chapter tells the story of a Paiute or Shoshone who made history along this valley. The Woodruffs whitewashed the history of the eastern Sierra to an unacceptable degree.
That said, the authors never claimed that this book would be a comprehensive history. The all-too-common oversight of native history doesn’t take away from the story of the many brave and entrepreneurial Americans who blew up mountains and survived avalanches so that we might sip our Black Velvet coffee, nor does it take away from the delightful way that the Woodruffs tell their stories.
If you enjoyed the first Tales Along El Camino Sierra, you will be happy to find 43 new stories of fabulous rugged men and women to sink your teeth into.