“Do they not see the birds above them spreading and contracting (their wings)? Naught upholds them save the Beneficent. Surely He is Seer of all things.” — Holy Quran, chapter 67, verse 19.
Winter rains have been abundant in the Owens Valley this year (2010) and heavy snowfall covers the Sierra. Highway 395, past the intersection with Highway 14, winds through huge volcanic reefs toward a narrow notch between mountain ranges. It is not hard to imagine the flow of the lava from the active volcanoes 25,000 years ago.
Once you pass through the notch, you have come to Little Lake. On your right is a blue green shallow lake, an oasis in this desert land. Thousands of waterfowl and shorebirds visit this wetland during autumn and spring. This journey will take you to a breath-taking overlook and a wonderful place for contemplation.
Continue north on Highway 395 for a distance of 24 miles from the intersection of Highway 14, coming up from Mojave, and Highway 395. As you pass Little Lake, clearly ahead of you is what looks like an old volcano: Red Cinder Cone. Head directly toward this monument. Just before it, you will see the sign for Cinder Road and signs for Fossil Fall/Little Lake. The Overlook is 4.9 miles from the highway. Travel past Fossil Falls about two miles to the Power Line Road. Turn south (right) on Power Line Road and follow the signs to Little Lake Overlook for about 2.75 miles. Turn west (right) to the entrance.
The road winds through open desert land and on to a volcanic reef. In the spring, there should be wild flowers. As you park your car, you will see Little Lake before you and there are some benches on which to sit and contemplate the magnificent view. Ahead of you to the west is the Sierra Nevada. You can see the highway. Notice the other side of the highway and a road branching off to the side. For 100 years, this was the settlement called Little Lake. There was a stone-walled hotel and gas station. Southern Pacific Railroad had a branch line that ran through here from Mojave to Lone Pine. Tourists in the 1920s would travel up from Los Angeles, stay at the hotel and fish and swim in the lake. The hotel burned ten years ago and the rails from the railroad were taken up five years ago. Almost nothing remains of Little Lake, except for some quaintly painted advertisements on flat rocks nearby.
As you walk toward the edge of the volcanic reef, watch out for the sharp volcanic rocks. Between the highway and the lake is a site much older than the vanished settlement. A Pinto or Lake Mojave Native American village existed here more than 6,000 years ago. On the south end of the lake the Koso Panamint village of Pagunda was situated, which served as a winter village. Around this site are a lot of rock art and petroglyphs.
In 1947 Willy Stahl, an amateur archaeologist, discovered evidence of this early native settlement in a small cave near the lake. These were Pinto people who had a unique style of projectile points made from obsidian. The site and petroglyphs are protected behind barriers and are located on private property, but there are frequent tours in the spring and fall through the Maturango Museum in Ridgecrest.
As I sit on the bench on the Little Lake Overlook, I see this history. I imagine a rapid time-lapse movie. Smoke rises from the cone shaped reed shelters of the native village. Reed boats float on the lake, as men fish, women grind pine nuts on flat rocks and children are running on the lakeshore, splashing water. The film advances, a bright red Wells Fargo stagecoach rides through a cloud of dust pulled by six proud, black horses. The coach stops at a rude wooden stage station beside the lake. Impatient, gold hungry miners heading to Cerro Gordo pace nervously as a change of horses is made. The film advances, the village is gone, and the stone hotel and railroad appear, a steam locomotive belching smoke and the sound of a shrill whistle. The film advances and the dirt road going past the hotel is doted with an occasional Model T. I can see some folks on the side of the road filling a smoking engine with radiator water. The film advances, the road is now paved, 18 wheel trucks carry heavy loads and SUVs packed with skiers drive furiously north toward Mammoth. A golden eagle darts past me toward a rock crevasse below and a flock of white pelicans land on the lake.
In this ancient land, change is slow but constant. As I sit quietly on this desert bench, feeling the warmth of the sun, the soft caress of the dry desert wind, scented with sagebrush, my racing mind has quieted. I focus on my breath, this present breath. I an anchored to this place and God’s wondrous creation. The work, struggle, and ambitions of human life acted out before me in the scenes below are memories of the past. This present moment is real in this present breath I am taking. The vast expanse of this desert space opens my heart to God’s huge, compassionate love.
I remember the prayer of St. Francis’s Canticle to the Sun, and offer this up to the Lord:
“Most high, all powerful, all good Lord! All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing. To you, alone, Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.
Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten the night. He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you; through those who endure sickness and trial. Happy those who endure in peace, for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.
Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no living person can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy those she finds doing your most holy will. The second death can do no harm to them.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve him with great humility.”
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