A new Inyo County guide service can take you down back roads to some of the County’s most unique, historic and hard-to-reach places. Inyo Portal, founded this year by guide Dennis Vance, offers personalized day trips with pick-up service. “I do intimate tours,” Vance explained, “intimate tours meaning I don’t drive a big bus, I’m not going to take a lot of people; the most I would take is four.”
Instead of a bus, Vance boasts a Toyota FJ Cruiser custom designed for off-roading. “Some trips I limit to two,” Vance added. “Because of the terrain, there are a couple trips I do where there is significant off-roading; in other words there is a lot of vibration and moving around, going over rocks, and these are not just normal roads. Some people have never actually been in off-road vehicles that are designed to handle that.”
Born in Los Angeles, Vance found his way to a permanent home on the Eastside three years ago. He settled in Independence, where opportunities for off-road and hiking adventures are endless, as well as opportunities to increase his knowledge of the area. “If I’m not out I’ll spend my time at the [Eastern California] Museum in Independence,” he said. “So I’ve learned a lot about the pioneers that have come through here, and the history obviously of the Aqueduct.”
Sheet: What brought you to the area originally?
DV: Truthfully, I would say my heart. You know, you figure out one day that this is where you belong. I’m an Angeleno, born there in the 40s, I’m in my 60s now, but I feel like I have a new life up here.
Through his own journeys, Vance has discovered long-forgotten mining camps, Paiute petroglyphs and rock formations, seldom-seen waterfalls and some of the best views of the Sierra from across the way in the Inyo and White mountains.
“If you haven’t been up high in the Inyos, you haven’t really seen how Mount Whitney just sits on top of everything else,” he said. “When you’re down low, at Lone Pine and in that area, you really can’t get a sense for the height of Whitney. But if you’re across the Valley, you see it.”
Those who choose to tour with Vance are “not just going to look out the window at this and that,” he said. “I will tell them what they’re looking at, or if there’s any particular pioneer or mining history to it, or agriculture or ranching, then I’ll share with them some of the pioneering stories along the way.” Vance offers tours to the Cerro Gordo Mines, Champion Sparkplug Mine, Bristlecone Pine Forest (by way of Silver Canyon), Saline to Owens Valley Salt Tram, Olancha and Inyo waterfalls, and many more sights.
As a certified Wilderness First Responder and former Inyo County Search and Rescue volunteer, Vance is also qualified to take demanding trips deep into the heart of the mountains.
In addition to his tours, Vance offers service to difficult-to-reach trailheads. “Hikers that want to get up into the Sierra, sometimes they just don’t have the vehicle,” he said. “They’re coming from out of town and they need some help to get up to a trailhead, for instance, Red Lake would be one. Shepherd Pass would be another one, or even more remote than that would be Baker Creek, which is out of a place called Coyote Flat.”
While residents of Mono County might consider winter a time for limited vehicle touring and hiking options, Vance is at no loss for suggestions for day trip tours in Inyo County. “One popular winter trip that I like to do is Papoose Flat, which can be done from the Big Pine Highway 168 through Death Valley Road, up into the Papoose region, then taking the clients up to Mazourka Peak for a wonderful view of the Owens Valley,” he said. “There’s true off-roading up there; some very difficult terrain that the Forest Service allows us to go on. Then exiting through Mazourka Canyon; [there are] a lot of mines there in those areas.
“A tour to the south would be Centennial Canyon, which is a beautiful hike into a wonderful spring canyon with petroglyphs, which is on your way to Darwin. Then going through Darwin, you can take the old pioneer miners’ route through China Gardens and then exit through Death Valley. There’s a waterfall in there, it’s called Darwin Falls, that then comes out into Panamint Springs. So that makes a nice day trip. Lunch around Panamint Springs, and Panamint Valley itself offers a lot of challenging runs and trips through the winter months.
“Skiers are up here for Mammoth, and that’s pretty much all they think about. They don’t realize that there is so much to do on the Eastern side, the Inyo side, and also in the Coso Range. There’s an awful lot of adventures to be had in the winter months that you don’t normally think of.”
Vance’s passion for the landscape is evident in the depth of his knowledge of the land, as well as his lyrical descriptions of journeys. A self-described poet, Vance peppers both his Inyo Portal website and blog with pieces of poetry. “There is a short saying that I have, which is that your journey is my passion,” Vance said. “That’s probably the key word for me. I am passionate about the land. For me, it’s grounding. It’s like being home. Even though I wasn’t born here, I’m not of pioneer extraction, this is where I belong. I’m part of it.”
Inyo Portal offers average daily rates on full day trips at $375, with $50 extra for each person after, up to a maximum of four. For more information, call 760.878.2211, toll free 855.413.2211, or visit inyoportal.com.