Not a more pleasant place exists on this earth than Little Egypt-not far from Bishop, California in the Eastern Sierra. This area is in the Pinyon Pine forest and is unique for its nice deer trails and eroded granite rock formations. Many of them look like small pyramids with stark white decomposed granitic sand and old gnarly Pinyon trees interspersed with large Jeffrey Pines and giant California Mahogany. It has the look of a living Japanese landscape garden.
The history of Little Egypt is interesting and the area is currently private land owned by Los Angeles. What that means is that there is no camping allowed on Department of Water and Power land. They purchased the water rights to the spring in the valley and surrounding country back in the 1930s from a farmer who was growing barley up there. He had constructed a road up a steep hillside in the teens to get wagons into the valley. He tapped into the spring and brought water down by riveted pipe to irrigate the fields that he burned the brush off and fenced in.
Old cans and broken glass reveal the site where a couple of structures stood that have since been removed. On one occasion I had the opportunity to speak with a couple in their late eighties who remember seeing the cabins in Little Egypt. They described how during prohibition, people would come up to the cabins to drink, gamble and party with prostitutes. Little Egypt has its share of ghostly mysteries both historical and archeological.
This hanging valley that was cut off by a lateral glacial moraine was truly the premiere late summer and fall Pinyon pine nut gathering and hunting spot for the native people. There is evidence of their presence everywhere in the valley from rock rings (shelter sites), bedrock mortars, metates (grinding dish), manos (grinding stones), arrowheads, rock shelters and super-beautiful campsites.
A lot of wood was harvested from the hillsides all around Little Egypt and piles of cord wood can still be found that were never retrieved. In more modern times they drove Jeeps and trucks to the far end of the valley and cut some huge Jeffrey trees. One of the remaining mongo-Jeffrey trees still stands, because it was too big to cut down with a DBH (diameter at breast height) of nearly nine feet. The road has all but disappeared since the 1980 earthquake brought down large boulders and blocked off access by motor vehicles. Now the road is a nice trail that makes for an easy one-mile walk. Sometimes nature imposes its own restrictions on what type of use there is going to be in our modern world.
I found a tree carving that said H.E.S 96 and the same chiseled into a rock next to a bedrock Indian motar. I originally thought it was the farmers initials and a boundary marker. A gentleman named John Williams, who has surveyed the Eastern Sierra extensively, contacted me to tell me that the carving on the tree and rock were in fact survey marks. “The markings you found on trees and rocks are not anyones initials. They are land survey corners for an original Homestead Entry Survey (HES 96) and Bearing Trees (BT). The survey is dated May 19, 1914 by W.H. Friedhoff for the Homesteader Milburn C. Hall.”
The valley of Little Egypt gets hot and is somewhat protected from wind. It slopes down slightly and was perfect for gravity flow irrigation. It is hard to tell that anything was there as one looks at it today.
Most of the hiking up out of the valley is on steep, sandy slopes. It is not too hard to get into tight spots in the cliffs and one has to be careful and sometimes back track to get out. It is very beautiful and the views out over Bishop are astounding. Everywhere are photo opportunities and things to discover and explore. It is best to stay up high on the slopes to avoid getting sucked down into deep ravines.
From Little Egypt it is possible to keep hiking up into the Coyote Mountains and gain high elevations in the Sierra-like peaks. The most pleasant zone is in the 7,000-9,000 foot level in the Pinyon and Limber Pine zones where the birds incessantly chatter.
Little Egypt can be accessed ten miles west of Bishop on Hwy 168. Turn left at the Bitterbrush campground entrance. Drive one tenth of a mile and make another left onto a short, dirt road that goes down to Bishop Creek. Park above the creek, wade across in low water with old tennis shoes, and walk to the left to the base of the slope. Look for the old road/trail and you are on your way to “walk like and Egyptian.” If the creek is too high to ford, drive back down the highway a couple of miles to the power plant and cross below the intake dam. A small trail goes up from there to the lower part of Little Egypt, where rock climbers often venture.
This is one of those secret spots, intrepid explorer, and you didn’t hear it from me!