Mules, Spark Plugs, and a Sharpie
Bishop, California, just might be the ultimate base camp. Situated between the Sierra Nevada range to the west and the White Mountains to the east, Bishop’s locale on the floor of the Owens Valley allows the town to largely escape winter’s snows, thus providing a year-round exploration epicenter.
Still the only incorporated community in Inyo County, Bishop has been a “real” city since 1903. Gas, groceries, lodging, a police force, and a hospital are all available within city limits. Explore the rugged backcountry by day, and return to civilization after dark.
Late last November, over Thanksgiving weekend, we did just that. Time was limited, as it always seems to be. What do you do when time’s limited? You go with a guide, or at least a guidebook. We had two books along for the ride, and Roger Mitchell’s Inyo-Mono SUV Trails took the helm on our first day. Mitchell’s book highlights 40 backcountry adventures in this pristine land that ply trails ranging from unpaved to unruly, but nothing on the order of the Hammer Trails in Johnson Valley.
Of all the offerings in Mitchell’s book, adventure No. 16 called our name the loudest. What automotive enthusiast wouldn’t be a bit intrigued by “The Champion Spark Plug Mine”?
Officially called the Black Eagle Mine during its operating years between 1920 and 1945, the mine produced a rare aluminum silicate mineral called andalusite. Why does andalusite matter? It can be made into a ceramic that’s an ideal spark plug insulator. Eventually, a synthetic ceramic was developed that made andalusite unnecessary, but for 25 years, Champion Spark Plugs had a direct connection to a remote mine high up in the White Mountains.