Inyo County was established on March 22, 1866 -- formed out of the territory of the unorganized Coso County, which had been created on April 4, 1864 from parts of Mono and Tulare Counties. It acquired more territory from Mono County in 1870 and Kern County and San Bernardino County in 1872.
Named for the "dwelling place of the great spirit" in the Mono language, Inyo County has been the historic homeland for thousands of years of the Mono tribe, Coso people, Timbisha, and Kawaiisu Native Americans.
Today Inyo County is the second largest county in California at 10,227 square miles, yet has a relatively sparse population of 18,144 (as of 2016 Census estimates). Independence is the County Seat.
Inyo County has a rich indigenous history, as well as a legacy that also traces its roots to pioneering, mining, railroading, ranching, and farming. Much of this history is not only on display today in museums and cultural centers throughout the county, but in the culture, livelihoods, and family trees of those who call Inyo County home.
Visit Inyo County's numerous museums and visitor centers to learn more about its cultural and natural history.
118 Highway 127 (east side), Shoshone, CA 92384
Furnace Creek Visitor Center
State Route 190
Death Valley National Park, Death Valley, CA 92328
Junction of highways 395 and 136
P.O. Box R, Lone Pine, CA 93545
Lone Pine Museum of Western Film History
701 S. Main Street, Lone Pine, CA 93545
Manzanar National Historic Site
Hwy. 395 (12 mi. north of Lone Pine, 5 mi. south of Independence)
P.O. Box 426, Independence, CA 93526
Eastern California Museum
155 North Grant Street, Independence, CA 93526
Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery
1 Golden Trout Circle, Independence, CA 93526
Owens Valley Paiute-Shoshone Cultural Center
2300 W. Line Street, Bishop, CA 93514
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest
Schulman Grove Visitor Center
Inyo National Forest
351 Pacu Lane, Bishop, CA 93514
760.873.2500 for recorded message
Open daily Memorial Day – November 1, weather permitting
Laws Railroad Museum and Historic Site
Silver Canyon Road, Bishop, CA 93514 (5 miles north of Bishop on Highway 6)
A photo of late Fifth District Supervisor M.L. Sorrells, for whom the Board of Supervisors renamed the Shoshone Airport in 2019, hangs in the Historic Courthouse alongside those of everyone who has served as a Supervisor in Inyo County's history.
inyo county supervisors, then to now
C.D. Begole 1866-1869
J.W. McMurry 1868-1870
John Shepherd 1869-1871
TK Hutchison 1870
A.N. Bell 1871-1875
Wm. L. Hunter 1873-1874
J.W.P. Laird 1874-1884
Charles Meysan 1875-1876*
J.B. Steward 1876-1878
Charles Meysan 1878-1882*
Elijah Robinson 1880-1884
J.D. Blair 1884-1886
Thomas C. Boland 1884-1888*
Seth G. Sneden 1888-1891
David Olds 1878-1882
Frank Fitzgerald 1891-1898
Wm. H. Uhlmeyer 1892-1894
J.R. Eldred 1894-1898
Frank Shaw 1894-1898
James Jones 1898-1910
Thomas C. Boland 1900-1904*
W.P. Yaney 1900-1908
Silas Reynolds 1908-1916
John Lubken 1908-1918*
George W. Naylor 1914-1938
G.F. Marsh 1918-1920
Amos Hancock 1920-1929
Charles Partridge 1920-1937
Charles Brown 1924-1939
O.W. Dunn 1926-1930
G.W. Naffzinger 1929-1930
John Lubken 1930-1956*
Wallace Partridge 1937-1960
M.L. Sorrells 1944-1964
Arthur Barlow 1947-1958
Frank B. Krater 1950-1954
S.P. Keough 1954-1958
Jack Hopkins 1956-1972
Edward C. Knapp 1958-1966
Alan H. Jacobs 1958-1972
Sam Cleland 1960-1968
Robert P. Fisher 1964-1977
Walter Rollins 1969-1977
Charles L. Hapke 1973-1977
Wilma Muth 1975-1983
Dick Engel 1977-1981
Richard “Mac” McDonald 1977-1981
V.E. “Johnny” Johnson 1977-1986
H.B. Irwin 1979-1990
P. Dee Cook 1981-1985
Robert Bremmer 1981-1988
Lawrence E. Calkins 1983-1990
Robert H. Campbell 1985-1992
Keith Bright 1986-1992
Paul E. Payne 1989-1997
Warren “Pinky” Allsup 1991-1992
Sam Dean 1991-1995
Robert W. Gracey 1993-1997
Julie K. Bear 1993-2005
Robert E. Michener 1995-1999
Linda Arcularius 1993-2015
Carrol “Butch” Hambleton 1997-2005
Michael A. Dorame 1997-2005
Ervin R. Lent 1999-2003
Ted Williams 2003-2007
Jim Bilyeu 2005-2009
Richard Cervantes 2005-2013
Beverly Brown 2007-2011
Marty Fortney 2009-2013
Rick Pucci 2011-Present
Jeff Griffiths 2013-Present
Mark Tillemans 2013-Present
Matt Kingsley 2013-Present
Dan Totheroh 2015-Present
A traveler makes the trip along El Camino Sierra, more commonly known today as U.S. 395 as it carves through Inyo County. Photo courtesy Eastern California Museum
The History of El Camino Sierra: Pursuit of a Modern Highway
By: Darcy Ellis
El Camino Sierra is the direct result of the tireless efforts of the Inyo Good Road Club to connect the county’s first “real” highway with the rest of the world. Establishing the El Camino Sierra was something an enterprising group of local residents saw as not just a necessity but a probable economic boon to a burgeoning tourist economy and thriving agricultural industry.
The same aesthetic wonders that currently bring thousands of visitors to the Eastern Sierra each year had begun enticing Southern California residents around the turn of the 20th century, but to get here meant a brutal, arduous journey. It was also costly and far more time-consuming than it needed to be for farmers, miners, and tradesmen to transport their goods to the blossoming Southern California markets via a tattered wagon trail.
As it happened, a nationwide campaign to develop paved roads for the benefit of rural communities – aptly named the Good Roads Movement – had been underway since the 1870s. While originally championed by bicyclists, the movement shifted its focus to automobiles as motorized transportation skyrocketed in popularity. “Car Culture” was first embraced in California in 1895, with automobiles replacing horses, wagons, even trains.
By the time those aforementioned, enterprising Inyo County residents began working in earnest to develop a proper route in and out of the county, approximately 7,000 automobiles were registered across the state. With the Good Roads Movement having fully arrived in California, local residents had the momentum and support they needed in their push for a paved Inyo County highway, and the 62-member Inyo Good Road Club was born on April 20, 1910.
The group’s lobbying and labor kicked into full gear. The 62-member club invited Governor James Gillett to join the Inyo Good Road Club and then got to work – with picks and shovels – to improve the dirt highway between Big Pine and Bishop. So impressed was Gov. Gillett that he accepted the membership, writing to the group: “I have watched with great interest, the action taken by the people in one county for good roads and I want to compliment them for doing so. The question of good roads is one of the most important that our state now has before it…”
A major milestone in the club’s efforts came just months later on August 31, 1910 when Gov. Gillett, accompanied by an all-star entourage, officially dedicated the highway in Inyo County as “El Camino Sierra” – a name coined by Inyo County Good Road Club Secretary W.G. Scott to give the group’s campaign pizzazz, even a sense of romanticism. The dedication ceremony was held at Fred Eaton’s farm in Big Pine, and included the unveiling of the very first El Camino Sierra sign. The Inyo Independent predicted in its September 2, 1910 edition, in reporting on the dedication, that El Camino Sierra “in years to come will probably be the most traveled highway in the West.”
Gillett’s visit included stops in Lone Pine, Independence, and Bishop, in addition to Big Pine. The Inyo Independent reported that during his various speaking engagements, the governor “spoke of the spirit of improvement he noticed throughout the valley … He told of the wonderful benefits to be derived from good roads. He spoke of the vast amounts of money that was poured into Europe every year for trips to the Alps and other places … and that these people would come here if the fact was only made known to the world, and that fact could be made known if the people here would realize it.”
Realize it they did, to the extent that the Inyo Good Road Club became one of the most active Good Road Clubs in the state, relentlessly lobbying for state money and arranging motor tours for legislators as the number of automobiles in California reached 1.9 million by 1929.
The club also helped promote motorized travel on sister “El Camino” routes that would form a loop from Southern to Northern California, crossing the Sierra Nevada range in the process: El Camino Real (San Francisco to San Diego); El Camino Sierra (a southern section from Los Angeles to Inyo County, the original middle section through Inyo County, and a northern section stretching to Lake Tahoe); and El Camino Capital (Lake Tahoe to San Francisco).
With support from the American Automobile Club and State of California, the Inyo Good Road Club spearheaded the monumental 1912 California Pasear Tour of these routes as an effort to promote the upcoming 1915 Pan Pacific Exhibition in San Francisco.
And while many others were involved in the development of a statewide highway system, the vision and drive of the Inyo Good Road Club served as a source for inspiration and emulation for similar efforts. It was the local, fervent belief that, if you build a road, they will drive on it – as well as residents’ enthusiastic willingness to grab a shovel and get to work – which convinced lawmakers to invest in these rural roads.
El Camino Sierra did indeed prove beneficial not just to Inyo County residents, but countless visitors – all of whom were unwittingly taking a step back in time as they enjoyed the convenience of a modern-era road. El Camino Sierra, after all, traces the same path forged by the Native Americans, and followed by gold-seekers, stage coaches, aqueduct wagons, freighters, mule skinners, farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and early tourists in successive generations.
Today, the route of El Camino Sierra is traced by U.S. Highway 395, which is a “good road” indeed, used by 350,000 motorists a day and millions each year.
Turns out the predictions made in regard to that fateful August day in 1910 came true:
“We wonder if early settlers of the Owens Valley … laid by their campfires and dreamed of the many eyes that would be turned to the beautiful valley bounded by the High Sierras – the range of mountains which in the near future will become the playground of tens of thousands every year … The visit of Governor Gillett and his party this week is, more than anything in the past, the signal for that transformation to come. The event, fathered by men who are doing their best to boost the valley under the title of the Inyo Good Road Club, marks a new epoch in the history of the valley” (Inyo Independent, September 2, 1910).
Sources: Howard Walker; the Inyo Independent; “California Road Trip” (Google Arts & Culture); Wikipedia; “The Bumpy Road to El Camino” (by Ted Williams); Caltrans District 9
More than 100 residents and former residents -- some in period costume for the occasion -- pose for a photo in from of the Inyo County Courthouse on Inyo County's 150th birthday in 2016.
inyo county turns 150
On March 22, 2016, a massive crowd gathered at the foot of the Historic Courthouse steps in Independence to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Inyo County's establishment. The sesquicentennial celebration was the culmination of several months of activities held throughout the county, and even many months' previous of planning and organization on behalf of county staff and a volunteer committee.
The occasion was marked by a special meeting of the Inyo County Board of Supervisors at which the Supervisors approved a special proclamation in honor of the 150th anniversary, and then adjournment to the ceremony that featured the presentation of colors by the Inyo County Sheriff's Color Guard; a fly over from China Lake Naval Weapons Center; remarks by special guests; the presentation of special proclamations from neighboring jurisdictions, the California Assembly and Senate, and the U.S. House of Representatives; remarks from members of the Board; and an old fashioned pie social at the Legion Hall.
Following is the text from Inyo County's Proclamation commemorating the sesquicentennial:
BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, COUNTY OF INYO, STATE OF CALIFORNIA,
COMMEMORATING COUNTY’S 150th ANNIVERSARY
WHEREAS, Inyo County was officially established by the California State Legislature on March 22, 1866, largely carved out of territory from other California counties, including Mono, Tulare, Kern and San Bernardino; and
WHEREAS, the name Inyo is a Native American word derived from the area’s first inhabitants, who included members of the Paiute-Shoshone, Panamint-Timbisha, Shoshone, Mono, Coso and Kawaiisu Tribes, and
WHEREAS, prior to being established as a County, the area that would become Inyo County played a critical role in the settlement of California during the Gold Rush of 1849 by serving as a popular route for prospectors and other “49ers” through Death Valley and the Eastern Sierra; and
WHEREAS, the silver mines of Cerro Gordo were the first in a long line of local mining operations producing a variety of valuable minerals like borax, gold, tungsten, boron, salt, and soda which led to the exploration and colonization of the eastern side of California and the growth of Los Angeles; and
WHEREAS, Inyo County, comprised of 10,227 square miles, is the second largest geographic county in the State of California, is the ninth largest in the contiguous United States, with about 98 percent of that land in public ownership, providing un-paralleled recreational opportunities and sweeping open spaces; and
WHEREAS, a large portion of the public lands in Inyo County’s Owens Valley are owned by the City of Los Angeles and have been providing precious water to Los Angeles for more than 100 storied years via the Los Angeles Aqueduct, thereby replacing Cerro Gordo ore with liquid gold and enabling Los Angeles to become the second largest city in the United States; and
WHEREAS, the landscapes of the Owens Valley have served as the location for more than 400 feature films, from silent movies to modern day thrillers, from our favorite western movies and television shows, to science fiction films like Tremors, as well as modern day blockbusters like Iron Man; and
WHEREAS, Bishop, the only incorporated city in the County, is the Mule Capital of the World, which honors and celebrates the contribution made by local high-country packers who, with the aid of their trusty, steadfast, sure-footed mules, forged access to the vivid spectacular panoramas of the Sierra Nevada back-country now enjoyed by a wide-variety of recreationist from across the globe; and
WHEREAS, the High Sierra backcountry in Inyo County was explored by pioneering mountaineer legend Norman Clyde, who, along with the first generation members of the Sierra Club, advanced modern mountaineering-climbing techniques and wild lands advocacy; and
WHEREAS, Inyo County is a land known for intriguing extremes that include Death Valley’s Badwater Basin, the lowest land elevation in the United States; Mt. Whitney, the highest land elevation in the lower 48 states; 14 of California’s 15 peaks topping out above 14,000 feet in elevation, along with the Ancient Bristlecone Pines, the oldest trees on Earth; and
WHEREAS, Inyo County located in central California, encompasses the scenic splendor of the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains, as well as the dramatic desert landscapes of Death Valley, making it a year-round picturesque playground for millions of visitors from around the State, the Nation and the world each year; and
WHEREAS,El Camino Sierra, Highway 395, has traversed the County’s westerly north-south access, along the Sierra Crest since 1834 with the first recorded trip by Joseph Walker, which is now as much a place as it is a roadway; and,
WHEREAS, Digital 395, a major fiber optic trunk line completed in 2013, promises to join the El Camino Sierra in providing access to the County’s intellectual resources and quality of life and serve as the next generator of economic prosperity for the next 150 years; and,
WHEREAS, on March 22, 2016 Inyo County will celebrate 150 years of welcoming visitors who come to Inyo County to experience the unique, diverse, irreplaceable outdoor recreational opportunities available in one of the most beautiful, accessible, pristine places in California, the United States and across the globe.
NOW THEREFORE BE IT PROCLAIMED, this 22nd day of March, 2016, the Inyo County Board of Supervisors hereby joins with the citizens of Inyo County in commemorating and celebrating Inyo County’s 150th anniversary.