Be it a skyscraper, sign, or a mountain top, the High Sierra is a mountain range filled with tall tales and even taller peaks. The land of -EST some might say! A place where the tallest peak in the continental United States resides. The deepest canyon in America. Trees that are the biggest in the world. It’s no wonder people like John Muir, Ansel Adams, and Mark Twain were inspired by them. Yes, the Wonders of the Sierra are a must see. But there are countless underrated landmarks in the High Sierra that provide residents as well as regular visitors a visual cue that they are home. Here’s a taste of these hidden gems.
Flying “A” Gas Station
The iconic tram face at Palisades Tahoe. Shimmering waters of Donner Lake. There is no shortage of landmarks in and around Truckee, but one quietly stands at the center of the historic downtown area that many don’t even realize is a landmark – the Flying “A” Gas Station. The fire engine red sign with its white curvy architecture harkens back to another era. A time when these vintage gas stations dotted the Golden State. Restored in 2008, it now is a fixture that overlooks weekly community gatherings such as Truckee Thursdays. If you’ve seen all the main sights, here’s a list of other low key or underrated landmarks in Truckee.
The Giant Root Beer Mug
Widely believed to be the first private recreational subdivision in the Sierra Nevada and was named after two famous Mother Lode authors – Mark Twain and Bret Hart. By the 1930’s due to its ideal elevation, location, and affordable cabins, it became a summer getaway. It was at that time in 1933 when the wooden arch that is the town’s trademark was built and still be viewed today. While the sign itself is an iconic landmark, another more hidden one that’s just as unique is the giant root beer mug next to the Rock of Twain Harte pub. These giant mugs adorned Frostop locations all over the country in the 50’s and 60’s. Today, this has been restored and repainted to now read: Twain Harte, Heart of the Sierra.
You pretty much could say any attraction in Mono County is underrated. It is home to some of the most beautiful and least visited parts of not just California but the lower 48. Driving down Highway 395, there’s one structure that calls out more than any other. A historic lodge that has stood in its location for more than a century. A rest stop for weary travelers including the famous author, Mark Twain. It is none other than the Bridgeport Inn.
Erected in 1877 as a waypoint for miners on their way to goldrush boom towns such as Bodie, California and Aurora, Nevada. While the surrounding buildings and road surface have changed, the interior is still very similar to what it was like back when it was built. Even if you don’t stay in the inn, we highly recommend enjoying a meal in their dining room. If you squint a bit and listen very carefully, you may hear the ghosts of yesteryear trudging through on their way to make their riches.
Mariposa County Courthouse
Located right in the center of one of the best mountain towns to visit in California any time of year, you’ll find a tall white building constructed in a Greek Revival Style – the Mariposa County Court House. It’s been standing guard in the town of Mariposa since 1854, making it the OLDEST working courthouse west of the Rockies. The interior is still adorned with the original chairs and benches inside the courtroom. With modern conveniences tucked away like electric lights and computers, it makes you feel as if Atticus Finch from the book “To Kill A Mockingbird” may walk right out its doors at any moment.
South Lake Tahoe
On your way towards South Lake Tahoe from Reno International Airport, the scenic drive features many eye-catching sights along the way. The tall peaks of the Sierra Nevada. The first glimpse of the jewel of the Sierra – Lake Tahoe – as you descend from Spooner Summit. But as you begin to near South Lake Tahoe, you’ll come upon a 300-foot tall monolith. Often referred to as Tahoe’s Rock of Gibraltar – Cave Rock. The long dormant volcano lookout juts out into the lake providing a rare 180-degree view of Lake Tahoe’s waters as well as containing two tunnels to allow traffic through for US-50. Besides being one of the best places to take in the sunset not just in Tahoe but the entire Sierra, it’s also rich in history.
Cutthroat Brewing Company
Just an hour outside of South Lake Tahoe, you’ll discover the least populated county in the state and the picturesque historic town of Markleeville. The town itself is a gateway for those exploring the Ebbetts Pass Scenic Byway in the summer and a quiet basecamp to ski the steeps at Kirkwood Mountain Resort. Down the road, you’ll find Grover Hot Springs State Park, where you can hike through mountains and meadows and then relax in the hot springs.
In the center of town at the intersection of US-89 and Montgomery Street you’ll find Cutthroat Brewing Company. Situated inside what was the Alpine Hotel, this building was built in 1862. What makes this structure unique is that it originally was erected as the Fiske House in Silver Mountain City. It was then dismantled, board by board in 1886 by A.M. Grover and a crew of men. Each board was marked and many of the old square nails were saved. It was then re-erected on this site and named the “Hot Springs Hotel.”
The Summit Sign At Mammoth
Famous for epic powder days and amazing summers, Mammoth Lakes is worthy of a visit in every season. For any visitor or resident, the first landmark that comes to mind in Mammoth is the Minarets. This sub-range in the Ansel Adams Wilderness provides a perfect backdrop against Mammoth Mountain’s peaks and the surrounding region.
For Mammoth Lakes, one landmark that many take pictures of but rarely give kudos is the Summit Sign at Mammoth Mountain. Marking the top of the mountain which stands at 11,053 feet. Over the years, there have been several renditions of it. In 2019 after two decades of wear and tear, a new one replaced the old one. It now stands a hefty 24 feet tall. This version was built from the trunk of a giant pine tree felled by an avalanche. Along its length, you’ll find markings to show just how deep the snowpack is. Snow or no snow, you can take a scenic gondola ride and capture this sign as well as the Minarets all in one go!
Regardless of where you visit, the highest point always pulls your eyes to it. For the town of Bishop, that’s Mt. Tom. This super model of peaks stands at a hefty 13,658 feet in height. Looming nearly 10,000 feet above the Owens Valley like a guardian. It’s no wonder that the first name given to the mountain is Winuba, meaning “Standing Tall” in Owens Valley Paiute (Nüümü). The routes up Mount Tom are not technically difficult, most are class 2-3, but they are all strenuous and long. Or just enjoy this beauty of a mountain as part of an auto tour of Bishop.
Author: Alex Silgalis
Alex founded Local Freshies® in 2014 to be the #1 website providing the “local scoop” on where to eat, drink & play in mountain towns throughout North America. When he’s not writing and executing marketing strategies for small businesses & agencies, he’s in search of the deepest snow in the winter and tackiest dirt in the summer.