Little Lake, CA

The settlement of Little Lake sits along bustling Highway 395 in Inyo County, with the Coso Mountain Range to the east and the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the west. The earliest incarnation of the “town” was called Pinto Village, named after the Native Americans that inhabited the area 3,000 years prior, leaving thousands of petroglyphs and pictographs on the basalt cliffs surrounding the lake. The lake was called Little Owens Lake, but later changed by the military in 1875 to just Little Lake.

Prior to the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct the small settlement was a stage stop for those traveling between Mojave, and points north such as Darwin and Cerro Gordo. In preparation for the construction of the aqueduct the Southern Pacific Railroad began construction of the “Jawbone Branch,” which ran from the town of Mojave to Lone Pine with a stop at Little Lake.

 

Little Lake in 1936.

Little Lake in 1936.

 

Sign for Bramlette's Bass & Crappie Fishing.

Sign for Bramlette’s Bass & Crappie Fishing.

 

Outdoor fireplace from the old camping and picnic grounds. Look closely and you'll see that there on petroglyphs on the rock behind the fireplace.

Outdoor fireplace from the old camping and picnic grounds. Look closely and you’ll see that there on petroglyphs on the rock behind the fireplace.

 

The first post office was established at Little Lake in July of 1909. William Bramlette purchased the property in 1914, and operated a small hotel.  In 1919, the Bramlette family began the construction of the Little Lake Hotel (opening in 1923). As the years progressed several additional businesses were added including a café, a Chevron Station, and an auto garage. For a stint there was camping, fishing, and boating permitted at the lake.

In 1954 the Sierra Nevada Gateway and its businesses were sold to Burl Sr. and Isabel Matheny, who continued to develop the tiny transportation hub into a destination all its own.

In 1989 a fire destroyed the upstairs portion of the Little Lake Hotel, it remained closed thereafter. The Post Office continued to operate out of the ground floor until 1997, when it finally closed the doors for good. At what point the other businesses like the gas station and auto garage closed is unknown to me.

 

Date unknown of this photograph. The Little Lake Hotel is the second building on the right.

Date unknown of this photograph. The Little Lake Hotel is the second building on the right.

 

The clubhouse of the Little Lake Ranch Hunting Club.

The clubhouse of the Little Lake Ranch Hunting Club.

 

Inside of the clubhouse.

Inside of the clubhouse.

 

A lot of dead birds hanging on the wall.

A lot of dead birds hanging on the wall.

 

Little Lake today is owned by the Little Lake Ranch Hunting Club, a millionaire boys club, an exclusive group of privileged city boys that descend on the area each year to hunt waterfowl. What remained of the Little Lake Hotel, and other would be historic structures were torn down by these new owners. A few years back they had planned to demolish the old Post Office (the building used prior to joining the Little Lake Hotel) building on the west side of Highway 395, but enough public outcry has apparently saved it at this point.

Several years back I was invited by the clown that was at the time the caretaker of the property to tour the site. I visited on two different occasions, each time was interesting (more on that some other time), but I did have the opportunity to document the petroglyphs and pictographs around the lake, and stay inside of one of the bunkhouses on the property.

 

Overlooking Little Lake at sunset.

Overlooking Little Lake at sunset.

 

A random abandoned workshop on the Little Lake property.

A random abandoned workshop on the Little Lake property.

 

The Post Office structure which remains standing on the west side of Highway 395.

The Post Office structure which remains standing on the west side of Highway 395.

 

For the casual visitor there isn’t much to see at Little Lake, the east side of the freeway where the lake is, and where the hotel and various other businesses were located is closed to public visitation. On the west side of the highway (Little Lake Road) there is the dilapidated post office structure which is barely hanging on. If you watch the ground closely near the post office structure you will likely locate sherds of obsidian which was brought there by the Native Americans when they lived at Little Lake.

Part of Little Lake Road travels through a small stretch of narrows with basalt cliffs on both sides. Pay attention here for fading advertisements painted on the rock for businesses at Little Lake and Olancha. Prior to the construction of Highway 395 this road was the main road entering and exiting Little Lake.  Along with the advertisements there are both petroglyphs from the Native People and inscriptions from early travelers pecked into the basalt. I’ve also managed to located two sets of fairly deep mortars in the bedrock from the Native days of inhabitation.

 

Little Lake Road, running through basalt cliffs on the west side of Highway 395.

Little Lake Road, running through basalt cliffs on the west side of Highway 395.

 

Painted advertisement for a General Store in Olancha.

Painted advertisement for a General Store in Olancha.

 

Inscriptions left by early travelers.

Inscriptions left by early travelers.

 

Inscription left by an even earlier traveler. A 3,000 year old coso-style bighorn sheep petroglyph.

Inscription left by an even earlier traveler. A 3,000 year old coso-style bighorn sheep petroglyph.

 

They walk amongst us...

They walk amongst us…

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.