New Online Museum Offers Insights into Eastern Sierra Transportation History by Eastern California Museum Director, Jon Klusmire
The Virtual Transportation Museum, a division of the Eastern California Museum, in Independence, CA, recently “opened” to the public. This creative online museum experience escorts visitors though the sometime humorous, often dangerous, always fascinating routes that intersected to become the history of transportation in California’s spectacular Eastern Sierra Nevada and the Owens Valley. Transportation in this remote and rugged part of the state during the 19th and 20th centuries was challenging and took many forms, from building an aqueduct to transport the valley’s water to Los Angeles to staking out toll roads though the harsh, unforgiving heart of Death Valley. Whether for transporting people, agricultural products, or the output from the area’s mines, the establishment of reliable transportation systems was crucial to the area’s economic development, and is central to the overall story of the settlement and growth of the Eastern Sierra.
In the 1800s, miners and farmers in the Eastern Sierra region (which includes the present-day Inyo and Mono counties) primarily relied on packing and freighting companies to transport their products to market and to obtain supplies. The famed 20-mule team freight wagons that plied the rough roads from Death Valley mines to Los Angeles are emblematic of the era. Eventually, several railroad companies made tracks to the region, expanding transportation options. Tourism began to replace mining and agriculture as the driving force in the local economy in the early part of the 20th century, and a modern highway system was ardently pursued by the Inyo Good Road Club. In 1911, the California Department of Transportation assumed responsibility for the state highways in the Eastern Sierra and made improvements to the region’s highways that significantly enhanced automobile travel.
When you venture into the Virtual Transportation Museum, you will be able to peruse more than 500 historic photographs accompanied by enlightening text about the region’s transportation history. Photos take viewers down the region’s first roads and highways and train routes, and provide a glimpse of early life on the main streets in Bishop, Big Pine, Lone Pine, and Independence. The Museum’s 13 sections allow visitors to read about and view photographs of the Native American inhabitants of the Inyo–Mono region, and the planes, trains, automobiles, and livestock used in the logging, mining, agriculture, water and power, and recreation and tourism industries. Along the way, visitors will meet a colorful cast of characters, from “Seldom Seen Slim,” one of Death Valley’s most notable “jackass miners,” to Norman Clyde, who made more than 100 first ascents in the Sierra Nevada and also guided the legendary Sierra Club “High Trips,” to William Mulholland, who engineered the famed Los Angeles Aqueduct, which still sends Owens Valley water more than 200 miles south to Los Angeles. Log on to www.virtualtransportationmuseum.com and enjoy traveling through the rich past of this unique part of the world.