Hiding in plain view just north of Bishop, the 14,450 acre Volcanic Tablelands Wilderness Study Area offers a wonderland of exploration and adventure for all levels of curiosity and fortitude. The area is home to a number of rare or endemic species including the Owens Valley pupfish, of Species in a Bucket fame (google that phrase, you’ll find the story), and Fish Slough Milk Vetch, to name two examples. Three main habitat types characterize the area including the Fish Slough wetlands, seasonally wet alkali meadows, and the drier uplands called the Tablelands.
The geologic history of the area is a fascinating tale of gigantic volcanic eruptions, which occurred a geologic blink-of-the-eye in the past at 760,000 years ago. In the eruption, 600 cubic kilometers of material were released. As a comparison, if you are old enough to recall the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens in Washington, that eruption ejected scarcely more than a cubic kilometer of material. Fast-forward a handful of glacial cycles and wetter/drier oscillations and we now have an amazing playground of bizarre rock formations, enchanting canyons, unlikely ephemeral streams and numerous (and protected by law) archeological sites.
Recreational opportunities abound and include: birding, hiking, bouldering, camping, photography, hunting, horseback riding, and motor touring on designated roads.
To get started, head north out of Bishop on Highway 6. Take a left several miles out onto signed Five Bridges Road. In a couple of miles, past the gravel pits, you’ll reach an area where the road has three options. Choose your poison – bearing right onto the Fish Slough road leads to the wetlands and some spectacular examples of fecund desert riparian areas. Heading more or less straight leads to the Casa Diablo road, gateway to many a fine day hike. Bearing left leads to the parking area to the popular Happy Boulders climbing area and some of the premier Owens River fishing holes.