Because I love books and the Eastern Sierra, I have compiled a list of relevant books, along with some comments. These are not critical reviews because I wish to encourage more writing about this beautiful and interesting area, and many of these books are self-published and not written by a professional writer. If you yourself have written a relevant book, send me a copy, and I’d be happy to include it.
Books are alphabetic by author. Click on a cover to link to Amazon (if available) where I will receive a small commission if you purchase a book. Alternatively you can leave me a tip if you like my bookshelf. Some of these books are carried by local bookstores which I hope you will also want to support: Booky Joint, the Forest Service Welcome Centers, and Hayden Cabin.
Alpers, Tim My Sphere of Influence: A Life in Basketball Bozeman, MT: Companion Press, 2013
First up is Tim Alpers’ beautifully produced book which recounts his long history and affiliation with sports as a player and a coach in Bishop and Mammoth Lakes. Told through a multitude of photos and memorabilia, Tim’s personal stories include his successful breeding of the renowned Alpers trout and his long service as a supervisor and community member. Tim was kind enough to donate his last box of signed copies as a benefit for the Eastern Sierra Book Festival. If you would like to buy a copy, please contact me (special price of $25).
A federal district court judge, William Alsup proved himself an excellent detective, sleuthing out the clues and evidence to support his reporting. His detailed and beautifully expressed text is highly recommended. Of special note are the many photographs and maps of the area, exquisitely reproduced by the Yosemite Association.
Armstrong, Patrick The Log of a Snow Survey: Skiing and Working in a Mountain Winter World Bloomington, IN: Abbott Press, 2014
Pat recounts his decades of work as a snow surveyor in the backcountry in this charming and interesting book, complete with delicate illustrations. Prepare to be sucked into a completely different world of cross country ski trekking from cabin to cabin for weeks at a time. Pat’s close observation of the natural world, especially the wildlife, including some hilarious crows, along with his detailed explanation of surveying techniques is quite fascinating.
Austin, Mary Land of Little Rain New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1988 (First edition: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1903)
Originally published in 1903, Mary’s book of interrelated essays about Owens Valley has become a classic, still popular despite her dated and convoluted prose. My edition benefits greatly from an introduction by Edward Abbey who expresses his impatience with Mary’s prose until “you are soon absorbed by the accuracy of her observational powers.” Mary writes sympathetically about the native Americans and astutely about the water issues.
Barr, Nevada High Country NY: Berkley Books, 2004
Park Ranger Anna Pigeon goes undercover in the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park after some young employees come up missing. As she tries to unfurl a thicket of clues, she discovers her own life is in danger, leading to a terrifying chase through the snowy high country.
Filled with useful tips for one-time and regular visitors, Colleen’s book includes recommendations for lodging and dining, camping and fishing, things to do, and family activities. Her experience as a longtime visitor shines throughout. I especially enjoyed her advice about how to avoid turning a ski outing with young children into a day of hell.
A local favorite, Randy Morgenson’s biography focuses on his mysterious disappearance in the Sierra Nevada, triggering a tremendous search effort. Eric’s book paints an intriguing portrait of an strong-minded man who lived life on his terms until he encountered a force stronger than himself.
Boucher, Debbie Back to Normal Denver: Outskirts Press, 2010 Mammoth local, Debbie, penned this tale of secret liaisons revealed at inopportune moments set in the fictionalized town of Mammoth Lakes. I especially enjoyed the portrait of the social life of the locals amid trucks, parties, wood burning stoves, ski races, and snow.
Daniel retells the story of the Donner Party from the perspective of Sarah Graves, a twenty-one-year-old who heads west with her new husband, siblings, and parents. Replete with details, the story unfolds with mesmerizing inevitability, each death a blow, but never losing its sympathy for these doomed and victimized immigrants.
Dr. Hand, renowned hand surgeon in Mammoth Lakes and La Jolla, has written a wicked thriller about a hand surgeon. I hope all resemblance to real life ends there as the fictional hand surgeon uncovers a syndicate working in his hospital which will stop at nothing including torture, murder, and mayhem to protect their fraudulent and criminal activities.
Peter’s reference book offers a thorough listing of place names and a brief history of how they came to receive that name. Excellence resource for the student of the Sierra Nevada.
Many who come to ski don’t know that a significant mining community lived up Old Mammoth Road in what was then called Mammoth City. Several thousand people endeavored to pull gold out of the Mammoth rock despite the challenges posed by the annual snow fall. Many surprises about that historic era are revealed in this slim volume. I should mention that this book was re-published and enhanced by Genny Smith, who played such an important role in recognizing and preserving much of the Mammoth Lakes history.
Local prolific writer David Carle takes us back to the period between 1934 and 1941 when Los Angeles commissioned 2000 men to work on the aqueducts and the 11-mile tunnel under the volcanic craters of the Mono Lakes Basin. This novel presents the story of a young fish biologist sent to survey the watershed of Mono Lake who falls in love with a local girl whose family was forced from their ranch in Owens Valley.
In a book that is more important than ever, David explores our state’s history of facilitating development in naturally dry regions by importing water. An optimist, David argues that mistakes of the past can be remedied if we embrace the scarcity of water as a fact of life.
These Acadia books follow a rigid format which may or may not work for you: heavy on photos, light on text, 128 pages at most. Nevertheless, they have commissioned the right experts for this topic. David is a 19-year ranger at the lake, and Don is a 75-year resident of the area.
Joan looks at California from her perch in New York and reconsiders her personal history, the history of the state, and, as is the case with so many good memoirs, her mother. I found many surprises here, especially her dissection of the hypocrisy of California’s self-image of rugged individualism while completely economically dependent on federal funds from railroad money to defense contractor funds. Eye-opening.
This is a must have for mountain bikers or even just those who want to ride the town bike paths. Excellently illustrated with copious maps, this little guide contains a wealth of information. Fun!
Remarkable autobiography of Owens Valley longtime resident doctor, a woman, who emigrated to California with her family and attended medical school in San Francisco at a time when women didn’t do such things. Full of stories and vignettes, this book also was recast and salvaged by our own Genny Smith.
Dismiss any idea that this might be a boring old history book. Francis’s book is not only the go-to source of historical information, he can spin a tale about the Sierra mountain characters with the best of them. Francis originally came to California after graduating from Harvard and worked briefly for a publisher. He joined the Sierra Club and eventually as its president and bulletin editor for many years although his day job was as an accountant.
Fiddler, Claude The High Sierra: Wilderness of Light. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1995
Claude’s beautiful photographs are matched here with quotes about the mountains from such famous observers as John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, and Marion Randall Parsons. Quite engrossing, and it behooves us to remember what photographic equipment was available in 1995. For some reason the Amazon hot link does work, but I didn’t want you to miss out on the beautiful cover.
Jack is a former physician who returned to school following his retirement to pursue a master’s degree in history. I highly recommend his dramatic and original book which vividly portrays the seriousness and dedication that he brought to the task of telling this local story of how grassroots activists teamed up with political bigwigs to protect our little region.
Beautiful coffee table book about how the ski resort grew from Dave McCoy’s rudimentary rope tow into the world class phenomenon it is today. Chock full of photos and rounded out by Martin’s succinct prose, the book is a primer on the history and characters that built the region and community.
Gardner, Sid The Faults of the Owens Valley New York, NY: Iuniverse, 2009
A ruthless killer is on the loose in Owens Valley. He appears to be leaving messages about the history and politics of the area, exploiting the fears and biases of locals and law enforcement. Sid spent his teenage years in Owens Valley, and I particularly enjoyed his knowledge about where someone might hide out amongst the forest roads and expanse of the long valley.
An avid hiker, Sharon offers two separate books about interesting hikes and history of the area.
This unusual book is valuable reading for those who venture into the wilderness. Ann’s experience as a psychotherapist adds depth as she provides practical advice and thoughtful explanations about the psychological challenges that long-distance hikers, rock climbers, and backpackers face. She explores the lure of the wild as well as what terrors can lurk out there. She describes the symptoms of fear and how to cope with them. Her unique voice rings throughout, both warning and encouraging. I know I’ll hear her voice in my head next time I get into trouble out there.
Not popular with the locals, Sue’s book focuses on the secrets of Nota Lake, a sort of amalgam of Bishop and June Lake, following the death of a local detective. Sue’s heroine, Kinsey, is not fond of the outdoors or outdoorsy people, and it shows. Still it’s amusing to think of Sue or Kinsey in the Eastern Sierra, if only to see what a city slicker finds objectionable.
Grasseschi, Wendilyn Go On Get out there Mammoth Lakes, CA: Mammoth Times, 2012
Delightful guide to local hikes, including Wendi’s impressive photography and intimate knowledge of the area. Her joy in sharing the local splendors is palpable on every page. [not available on Amazon – maybe try the Mammoth Times?]
Oh to be young again… Evocative and quick-paced, Mammoth Mountain is a mashup of Jack Reacher and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The writing brings us right back to those youthful days when people, incidents, and love seemed to swing into view and then speed away to make room for the next unexpected event, hitting us with an emotional intensity that we now can only vaguely conceive of. The tales of local color and sites will especially resonate with those who remember the old days in Mammoth.
Excellent recounting of the David versus Goliath tale of Mono Lake, how a graduate student and friends founded the Mono Lake Committee and built a grassroots movement to save the lake from the clutches of LADWP. The story resonates today as water in California continues to be a contemporary and divisive issue.
Do you enjoy the stories of the Old West? Bret Harte will serve up the most romantic versions of the all, complete with gamblers, miners, and secrets.
Hess, August The Kid from Mono Mills: Augie’s Century San Bernadino, CA: 2016
Sweet stories of growing up near Mono Lake by Augie Hess, a native American and ski competitor and contemporary of Dave McCoy. [not available on Amazon. Maybe try the Mono Lake Visitors Center?]
Very readable with excellent illustrations, this introduction provides the basics to one of the most fascinating geological areas on earth.
An overview of the efforts to exploit and protect the lake, this history corrects the notion that the lake should be considered “pristine” or untouched by humans. It contains fascinating photographs of various surprising activities from underwater bomb testing, plane crashes, and a marine complete with boat races.
Mammoth Lakes lies huddled in the longest stretch of wilderness in the lower 48 untraversed by a single road. The stories of the roads that cross the Sierra to the north and south of us tell of native American trade routes, early explorers, the gold rush, the Pony Express—romantic stuff indeed.
The primer on the “water wars” during which LADWP acquired the water rights to the Sierra runoff in the Owens Valley in order to develop Los Angeles. Kahrl attempts to avoid taking sides on this controversial topic and presents the facts in a straightforward albeit dramatic fashion. However his conclusion that taking the water was necessary falls into question today when it has become clear that no amount of available water will ever be enough for the metropolis built in a desert.
NEW BOOKS FROM THE KASTORS, MAMMOTH LAKES’ FAVORITES!
Practical advice for the novice as well as the pro. If you harbor a dream of marathoning, I’d start here.
Deena’s bestselling book about her mental journey to becoming a winner. Her generosity in sharing her intimate story is remarkable. Thanks, Deena!
Local hero and marathon star Meb pens a practical guide to eating, sleeping, and running if you want to win. It includes wonderful photos of him training in Mammoth and of his family in San Diego.
Jon turns his usual deft hand to a young man’s ill-fated retreat into the Alaskan wilderness, a story full of baffling decisions and a very disturbing ending. I include it here because of the insights it offers into the mind of a conflicted young man and the draw of the wild.
Kurtak, Joseph et al. Mine in the Sky: The History of California’s Pine Creek Tungsten Mine and the People who Were Part of It Publication Consultants 1998
I became aware of this rare book after I spoke with a woman who grew up in Pine Creek. Her daddy worked at the mine, and she had lots of stories of this remarkable close-knit community elevated above Bishop.
Primarily photos and a minimum of text, it presents a competent overview of the history of the tallest mountain in the lower 48. It serves as a good reminder that the mountain is in fact mis-named.
Originally from Vermont, Andrea became famous as an alpine skier, the first American to win two Olympic gold medals. After the breakup of her marriage, she moved to Mammoth Lakes to raise her children where she became an avid rock climber and environmentalist.
Although it’s hard to read, Benjamin’s research makes a compelling case for the depiction of the killing of California’s native American population as genocide because of the complicity of the federal government.
Heart-rending tragedy is told in excruciating detail, complete with photographs of a shocking explosion of incompetence, bad judgment, mistakes and horrible luck, resulting in too many deaths under the ice of Convict Lake. I especially appreciated Richard’s investigative reporting into camps for so-called delinquent children and the spotty oversight of these forgotten bad kids.
You don’t hear much about this era, but if you are like me and really enjoy the Basque culture and history, it’s a surprising and enjoyable escape to think of these young skilled sheepherders coming all the way over from Europe to find themselves in the Eastern Sierra. Talk about culture shock.
Serious review of the amazing phenomenon of lonely Basque sheepherders expressing themselves through their carvings into the aspens of the Eastern Sierra. Prepare to be touched.
Frightening story of a wagon train lured by gold fever that finds itself marooned in Death Valley. Looking death in the face, two young men decide to set off on their own to seek help.
Okay, it’s not strictly speaking about the Eastern Sierra, but the progress of scientific athletic training and analysis is so fascinating I had to include it.
Entertaining and serious depiction of Bodie and Aurora, the book also recounts how their violent reputations affected those who lived or were headed there.
Bill’s book about undertaking serious training to become a competitive cross-country skier is amusing and eye-opening. His details about ski waxes and ski racing add credibility and interest to the book, and his revelations about the internal conflicts of a man who has reached a certain age are meaningful.
A colossal undertaking, this photo album tells the story of Mammoth Mountain, how Dave McCoy and a gang of git-‘er-done folks grew the area from a few rope tows into the world-class ski resort it is today.
Fascinating, detailed biography of the peculiar but visionary founder of Deep Springs College, the tuition-free “cowboy” college located to the east of Big Pine, where a few select young men learn about leadership, intellect, and farming.
A history teacher brings some remarkable characters of the past to life.
Julie recounts her frightening episode years earlier that nearly kept her from setting foot in the wilderness ever again and her subsequent discovery of the importance and pleasure of unplugging and traveling the John Muir Trail with her kids and spouse.
A realistic portrayal of the role of women in moving west and settling the frontier, including the sympathetic inclusion of the role of Chinese prostitutes.
An oldie but goodie. The title says it all except that we have some really spectacular trees in the Sierra Nevada.
This one gave me the courage to write The Mammoth Letters, another memoir of place, as Annie is drawn to this ranch in Wyoming and learns about its wildlife, locals, and history.
Genny Smith has brought this classic book back into print with additional research and information about trailheads, wildflowers, climate, water, fishes, mammals, augmented by new drawings. If you travel up 395, you should check out this book.
Another important book about Mammoth Lakes that has been resurrected thanks to Genny Smith. Stuffed with old photographs and anecdotes, the book covers the time when Mammoth City failed as a mining town but became a tourist destination along Mammoth Creek until it up and moved over to SR 203 in time for Dave McCoy to turn it into a ski destination.
Perhaps the most thrilling story of our region, this tale of robbery, murder and vengeance explains why Convict Lake is so named. A window into the wild west and the rascals who were part of its culture.
Rinehart, C. Dean and Smith, Ward Earthquakes and Young Volcanoes Genny Smith Books, 1982
This small book recounts the events and aftermath of the 1980 Mammoth Lakes earthquake and the 1872 Lone Pine quake along with a brief discussion of the Inyo and Mono Craters. Well explained, and the photos are astonishing.
Rose, Cathy, Ingram, Stephen Rock Creek Wildflowers Sacramento, CA: California Native Plant Society, 2015
Charming and useful book, beautifully designed and small enough to tuck into your backpack. Not available through Amazon, so order it through your local bookstore.
Dean includes here the memorable S&R endeavors from his long tenure on the Mono team. He’s been involved in some crazy stuff.
A rousing mystery of a Mammoth local attempting to understand her twin’s death with help from the beyond. Terry has other mysteries also set in Mammoth.
Includes thirty driving and walking tours of our most fascinating geological phenomena. Very well presented and a must have for 395 travelers.
Another classic brought to you by Genny Smith, this handbook covers the traditional sights to see along 395 along with photographs and drawings. There’s a reason that over 67,000 copies have been printed.
This story of a girl who is pursued through the Adirondacks by a clever criminal captivated me when I was young. It’s a kid’s book but surprisingly nuanced.
Now the title really does say it all except I’ll add that the photos are good and the details about the fatality rate of early pilots and crews are shocking.
This edition contains the original illustrations which is pretty cool. Chapter Thirty-Seven deals with Mono Lake which Twain didn’t like.
Serious work here complete with illustrations, index, maps, bibliography, personal histories and photos.
My go-to book when visitors come to town.
This short book covers the six months that Twain spent mining before he turned to a more lucrative occupation.
Heavy on photographs, it tells the history of this famous Death Valley resort, along with other history of the valley.
Historical short pieces about places of interest along 395. Entertaining and educational.
The story from the San Francisco Daily Evening Post about Wright’s journey to Monoville and Mammoth City in 1879, as well as Twain’s recounting of the infamous and perhaps mythical cement mine. One crazy yarn.