Connections to the Past – Part 2, Olancha

My family has always enjoyed spending time in the eastern Sierra Mountains. I remember many summers as a kid, camping at Rock Creek Lake and visiting the cabin that my great-grandfather built in Swall Meadows, just south of Tom’s Place. When I met my husband Jeff, then started a family, we continued exploring the Sierras several times a year. It seemed natural that we would some day purchase a vacation home somewhere along Highway 395.

In 2011, we found a home listing in Olancha, a small town near Lone Pine, the hub of outdoor adventure. It was a small ranch house built in 1953 on 10 acres at the foot of the Sierra Mountains. In addition to the house, the property came with outbuildings from the original Lacey cattle ranch established in 1913.

On the edge of the Owens Lake and adjacent to Death Valley, this area has an incredible history. During the time of the Civil War, the natives living in the area clashed with the settlers and conflicts ensued throughout the decade. Cerro Gordo and other mines brought miners seeking fortune, a ferry and a narrow-gauge railroad to the area. Lead and silver were mined and sent to San Pedro via mule coaches. Thieves like Tiburcio Vasquez hid out in the canyons and regularly robbed these shipments.

Silver wasn’t the only commodity being sent to LA. The Los Angeles Aqueduct was built to transport the fresh snowmelt for the ever-growing population down south. Good or bad, the Owens Valley has seen plenty.

Being history buffs and nature lovers, the ranch seemed a perfect fit for us and we quickly scooped it up.

Our first ghostly experience happened at the Ranch Motel when we stayed there during the home inspection period. We knew it had a reputation for being haunted and from the highway it looked pretty creepy but that only intrigued me. While watching television, I had gotten up from the bed and “someone” brushed up against my forearm. It didn’t feel like a spider web; it felt like a human hand touching me momentarily. When we woke up in the morning, Jeff reported that he had felt his toes being touched while he was sleeping. These experiences didn’t dissuade us. We were excited to head to our new ranch house.

From the first day we arrived on our property, we felt a vibe. It wasn’t a scary feeling, but a welcoming one, like we belonged there. It was so beautiful, too. We had amazing 360-degree views of the lake and mountains. There were birds, jackrabbits and a warm hugging wind. We learned before too long that history literally lived in the dirt there, frozen in time. We would just kick up some dust and something neat would surface. We found so many things that first year: horseshoes, bottles from the 1800s, iron and stone tools, square nails, a pocket watch, arrowheads, a partial gun powder pouch and lots of colorful marbles. It was exciting to find these treasures.

Just like our home in La Crescenta, we would see strange things. One day, Jeff was standing out in the yard looking at the views. He saw a man wearing a work shirt and jeans walk toward the old cowboy bunkhouse and disappear behind it. Concerned that there was a stranger on our property, he went to investigate but by the time he rounded the corner, the man had vanished.

Another day, I came for a visit by myself. I noticed that the marbles I had collected and placed in a vase were perfectly lined up on the tile floor. I called home to ask who had left the row of marbles and no one had. It was just another typical day in the Bolan household.

Hope everyone had a spooky Halloween!

Susan Bolan