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Posted by on Sep 13, 2015 | 87 comments

Fossil Falls: A Surprise on the Eastern Sierra

I am not going to deny that I am a fan of off-the-beaten- path places and attraction.  After all, that concept is in the tagline of the blog.

One day when researching attractions around the Bishop area, I found rave reviews about a place called Fossil Falls.  Then, I remember I read a review about the place in the California through My Lens blog.


The last day of our road trip around Yosemite and Route 395 (including Mono Lake), rain interfered with our plans.  Therefore, we decided to drive straight home, arrive early and rest since we had to go to work the next day.

A hundred miles into the drive I saw a sign that took me back to that moment when I found all those great reviews about Fossil Falls.

Three seconds after seeing the sign, I told my husband to turn left at the next crossing.  Ok, I screamed out of the blue: “Go there.”  He was a bit confused but succeeded at turning.

“I believe we can accommodate the last sight of the trip,” I said.  Rain gave us a break for about an hour.

I am not going to lie.  The road in here is bumpy.  It is difficult to notice the holes in the unpaved ground.  A hole so deep shook the entire car and moved our bodies in a very violent fashion. We continue moving at a turtle’s pace.

On top of that, this area feels like an entire different planet.

I say that because the first thing you notice when you enter is a dramatic cinder cone.  This is the result of a violent eruption of trapped gases and molten material from a vent in the earth’s crust.  The material cooled down quickly when exposed to the air forming a porous red rock called scoria.

Fossil Falls Scenic Area, Eastern Sierra, California


Fossil Falls Scenic Area, Eastern Sierra, California

The red rock (or soil) is everywhere.  I think this scene is comparable to what you would see in a planet like Mars (since it is known as the red planet).

The cinder cone is surrounded by what looks like a dune or wall of thin red rock.

After driving a mile, we made it to the parking lot.

This is when you start to see black volcanic rock in all shapes, colors and forms.

Fossil Falls Scenic Area, Eastern Sierra, California


Fossil Falls Scenic Area, Eastern Sierra, California

Many, many years ago the Owens River flowed south out of the Owens Lake (hence the name of this valley).  Volcanic eruptions from a nearby range (Coso Range) changed the river’s course at least three times.  Fossil Falls were formed when the river was damned by an eruption and ran over the lava flows. The water movement sculpted and polished the black rocks we see today in the area.

The river no longer flows around the here. The waters of the Owens Lake were dried up after years of use by the Los Angeles Metropolitan area.

Fossil Falls Scenic Area, Eastern Sierra, California


Fossil Falls Scenic Area, Eastern Sierra, California

Even thought there is not a lot of water around, a sea of rocks remains.

Fossil Falls Scenic Area, Eastern Sierra, California


Fossil Falls Scenic Area, Eastern Sierra, California

They lay in the ground against the backdrop of the reddish cinder cone.

Fossil Falls Scenic Area, Eastern Sierra, California


Fossil Falls Scenic Area, Eastern Sierra, California

There are other areas where the slopes of the Eastern Sierra can be seen behind them.

Fossil Falls Scenic Area, Eastern Sierra, California

It is interesting to see all the colors that have popped up due to oxidization.

Fossil Falls Scenic Area, Eastern Sierra, California


Fossil Falls Scenic Area, Eastern Sierra, California


Fossil Falls Scenic Area, Eastern Sierra, California

In other cases, it looks like the colors come from certain fungal organisms.

Fossil Falls Scenic Area, Eastern Sierra, California

I had to take a close look at certain rocks because I wasn’t sure if the color was natural or artificial (it turns out it was natural).

Fossil Falls Scenic Area, Eastern Sierra, California

Oh, and remember those red rocks?  The form pretty patterns.  As a matter of fact, I would not mind having floors in with these colors.

Fossil Falls Scenic Area, Eastern Sierra, California


Fossil Falls Scenic Area, Eastern Sierra, California

Plants find a way to survive the volcanic terrain.

Fossil Falls Scenic Area, Eastern Sierra, California

The name of this geological formation is not understood until you reach a 40 foot drop.  There you can see the gorge where the water used to “fall.”

Fossil Falls Scenic Area, Eastern Sierra, California


Fossil Falls Scenic Area, Eastern Sierra, California


Fossil Falls Scenic Area, Eastern Sierra, California

In my opinion, this is the area were the most funky looking rocks are located.  To me, they look like abstract painting.  Look how smooth those rocks are.

Fossil Falls Scenic Area, Eastern Sierra, California

We continued walking around for a several more minutes.  It was time to go back to the car since I started to feel the huge drops falling over my head.

Fossil Falls Scenic Area, Eastern Sierra, California


Fossil Falls Scenic Area, Eastern Sierra, California

I absolutely enjoyed this area.  It reminds me how much I love volcanic areas. I am glad I can say that was the last stop of a magnificent trip.


  • Fossil Falls Scenic Area is located about 100 miles south of Bishop, California on Road 395.
  • You are going to notice the signs once approaching the area.
  • The cinder cone and part of the falls is visible from the freeway.
  • The trail is about one and a half mile.  It can be longer if you wander around the area.
  • Exercise caution when walking around the gorge / canyon area.
  • There is a toilet next to the parking lot (very smelly, no toilet paper).
  • Help with the preservation of the area.  Do not throw trash or take rocks with you.

Have you see strange volcanic formations before?

Pin it for later?

Have you heard about Fossil Falls? If not, come and discover this geological wonder located in California's Eastern Sierra.




  1. The most amazing volcanic scenery that I’ve seen is in Lanzarote, Canary Islands (I have a post about it on the blog).Last time it erupted in the 19th century I think and there is a whole area where you drive through frozen lava! Truly amazing!
    Anna recently posted..Crete Road Trip: Heraklion to IerapetraMy Profile

    • I have read some articles about Lanzarote. That is truly an amazing place. I went to the blog to check the article. Your pictures are very nice.

    • I had this one on my bucket list for quite some time and was able to scratch it off. However, there are tons of places in the area that I still want to visit.

    • Thanks Lauren! California keeps surprising me.

  2. Oh my gosh Ruth, I can’t pick a favourite photo because they are all stunning! I love posts like these because you’re indulging all of my favourite things about exploring and the colours and the shapes of the rocks are just beautiful. Also, I am aiming to get another shot of that elusive wasp if it comes back again, my camera is not the best and that caterpillar was very well hidden! Lovely shots as always. – Tasha
    Natasha recently posted..Hangin’ OutMy Profile

    • Tasha, I found the colorful rocks in here very unique so, of course, I had to capture them with my camera. Glad you liked them.

  3. This is why I love traveling on our own – we can just suddenly take an unplanned turn to discover a place which I have read from someone else’s blog. Haha! I love it!

    Beauuuuutiful place!
    Pinay Flying High recently posted..Doha | Asia Live! at Doha Marriott HotelMy Profile

    • Agree! What is of interest to me may not be of interest to a larger group. I always after places like this. There are even websites dedicated to them.

  4. Very cool indeed. I’d love to explore some volcanic rock areas one day too!
    Freda recently posted..Suspended LeafMy Profile

    • I would like to visit places where there is active volcanic activity. We have a National Park in Northern California famous for that.

    • Julie,
      I know. When you think you know an area, then, another great place appears. Like you wrote, so many places, so little time!

    • I am happy that this places are conserved for the public. It is ideal to learn about geology and volcanology (well, the entire area is good for those purposes).

    • Oh, you have to see the list of places I have. That is why I love to live in California.

    • I was happy to see the sign and I was happy about the rain giving us a break to explore. Believe me, I didn’t want to be in the middle of nowhere while raining and then having to go back to the freeway thru a muddy road. Thank God everything worked out well.

    • Yes, those rocks were amazing. As I mentioned on the post, I couldn’t believe the color in some of them was natural. i had to take a close look to make sure it was real.

    • Thanks for stopping by! I will take a look at your video.

  5. Wow…what amazing photos! I love the contrasts in the colours and the one of all those pebbles…So cool!
    Zita recently posted..Monument ValleyMy Profile

    • Thanks Zita. The place is cool indeed. I think I wasn’t expecting so much variety.

  6. I love your description of seeing the sign and deciding on impulse to fit one more thing in. We do that all the time. David drives and I make the impulse decisions. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but it is nearly always an adventure.
    Lyn (aka) The Travelling Lindfields recently posted..Hartley’s Crocodile AdventuresMy Profile

    • Jan, I have seen the cinder cone many times while driving thru the freeway. However, it is the first time I stop to take a close look. The area is full of all this cool features.

  7. Oh wow! I had no idea that was even there. I suppose because we always just get to Bishop and stop. What an amazing place!

    Thank you for sharing it with us for Photo Friday!
    Jen recently posted..Photo Friday – Lake MarsMy Profile

    • Yes, this is quite far from Bishop, so, I am assuming you have not driven around here. But, like I have mentioned before, the Eastern Sierra (and in general the Sierra) is full of surprises.

  8. Wow, Fossil Falls is such a dramatic landscape. It’s too bad, though, that all the water’s been diverted.
    Rachel Heller recently posted..Six (!) Seoul PalacesMy Profile

    • I think it would be nice to see the water running and falling around here. However, the landscape is very dramatic without water.

    • I know Tonya. I was impressed too. I saw pictures of the place before my visit but never saw details about the rocks or the area where the water used to fall. I think I took a good amount of time to explore.

    • Yes, it was interesting to learn more about the history of the area. There were some signs explaining what happened there when the volcanoes were active.

    • Thanks Kelly. I believe we are all surrounded by beautiful places. It is just a matter to go out and find them.

  9. Road trip to Highway 395 is one of the most spectacular road trips so far. So many beautiful sceneries and many varied landscape throughout the length of the road trip. You are making me wanna go out and drive again 🙂
    Photo Cache recently posted..Cabo’s Got The BluesMy Profile

    • Totally, agree. That is why is has been named one of “America’s Most Beautiful Drives” so many times. If everything goes well, I may be returning next weekend to check out the fall colors. You should go out and drive again!

    • Honestly, it is exciting to take a look at all those rocks. I have way more pictures of colors and patterns but had to decide what to post.

    • Thanks Tara. You have described my fascination with new places in very beautiful words. It is like these places stay on my mind after I read about them. Then, I remember about them when I am in the area.

    • Elaine, this is one of those places which do not receive a lot of attention. As I mentioned in the post, I discovered it thru Yelp. As a matter of fact, I have discovered a lot of neat place in Yelp.

  10. On first look that russet red mound looked like an iron ore mine in The Pilbara in Western Australia. I have been to Hawaii and visited volcanic areas which I found extremely interesting. However this area is fascinating. I love those rock formations.
    Kathy Marris recently posted..Queensland: Rainforests, Outback & BeachesMy Profile

    • Kathy, very interesting comment. I have been to mining areas and have to say the rocks are very colorful in some of those areas. I have been only to Oahu so, I have not seen the active volcanoes.

    • Uhhh, the Galapagos would be an interesting place to visit from a volcanic point of view. I have read post of the lava caves in there. Thanks for stopping by.

    • I am sure kids will enjoy this area. There are so many little things to see and kids are natural explorers. The day I visited there was a group of about 20 kids (ages 8 to 9) hiking around.

    • I should have done some weird posses and pretend I was in space. Not sure if this place has been used in movies but I know other spots with odd looking rocks (in California) have been used.

    • Isn’t that fantastic? The American Southwest is famous for its red rocks but there are a lot of places in Australia with red rocks too!

    • Karen, places like this are hard to find in travel magazine or even on specific promotion material. Why? Because nobody makes money of it. That is why I love to read blogs and Yelp reviews.

  11. That sounds like an awesome place to visit. What great sights. Fortunately, I get to see lots of volcanic rock here in New Zealand but I never tire of seeing it.
    bettyl-NZ recently posted..macro practiceMy Profile

    • I am sure I would love New Zealand then. I think I will never tire of volcanic rocks or landscapes. They can be quite different.

  12. I really enjoyed your story of fossil falls. The colours are so beautiful and the red is different to the red we get here with our iron rich landscape. I’m glad your husband agreed to make that turn in the road.

    • Hello Stella, thanks for stopping by. This is what I call a true red (more of a ruby shade). I have seen other reds that are more on the orange scale.

  13. Beautiful photographs! I’ve only went hiking in volcanic terrain once (in Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines) — and what struck me as well was how plants can thrive in such unforgiving conditions. Thanks for this post!
    Liz recently posted..Chasing Autumn in South Korea: A Leaf-Hunter’s ItineraryMy Profile

    • Uhh, that sounds like a fun hike. I have also read about the Taal Volcano in the Philippines. I would like to visit that place too.

  14. Ah, this place escaped my attention until now. It looks very beautiful, I’d love to go there. It’s not even far from Los Angeles. I love those colorful stones.
    Anda recently posted..The Weekly Postcard: Greetings from EngadinMy Profile

    • I know it is not that far from home but worlds away. I hope to return to the Eastern Sierra soon.

  15. Hi Ruth. What an interesting looking area. I love the views, the vegetation, and the colors. It kind of looks like you could be on another planet. The cinder cone makes for a dramatic beginning.

    Thanks for co-hosting Travel Photo Thursday this week. #TPThursday
    Nancie recently posted..Budapest: Favorite Photo MemoriesMy Profile

    • I see the pictures over and over again and I keep thinking about how bizarre the landscape is. Like you mentioned, looks like another planet. Would have liked to get closer to the cinder cone but the road is not that good.

  16. What an awesome place! I love the rock formations and the colors. Desert places and open spaces are so beautiful in their ruggedness. Your photos are great at showing that. By the name, is/was the area also for fossils? Thanks for sharing such a cool site!
    Nancie Lee recently posted..The Writing’s on the Wall at Petroglyph National MonumentMy Profile

    • Nancie, I am not sure about the origin of the name. Not sure if it is meant to imply you are looking at “fossilized” falls. There is not a lot of information about the place on the Internet.

    • I think the scene would look better under better light conditions. This is located in a valley, so, you have mountains on both sides. Those mountains are gorgeous.

    • Thanks Lauren. It is a place that deserves a visit.

    • Ha, ha! The toilet was beyond horrific. At least, I had a good time there. But, you know, I had to warn other (just in case).

    • Yes, volcanic areas are so interesting. You are not quite sure what to expect or what you are going to find. We have some nice areas on the West. I want to visit way too many.

  17. I agree with you, Ruth: Sometimes it’s the off-the-beaten-path places that surprise you the most. I’ve seen a lot of lichen on rocks, but never seen it in that yellow-ochre color before. There are so many new things in volcanic areas. Those smoothed boulders with holes in them are cool enough to incorporate into a landscape plan. How large are they?

    I liked your closeups of the pebbles and I’d like to have floors in those colors too. I’d like to see what they look like after a rain; I’ll bet the colors pop!
    Linda Bibb recently posted..River Cruise Journal: Cologne and ChocolateMy Profile

    • Most of the boulders are not that big at all. There are some that are about six feet high.

  18. Hello, it is an amazing place, the landscape looks like that of another planet! The rock formations and colors are wonderful. Great photos. Have a happy day!

  19. Desolate, but colorful. it reminds me of the Big Island. Matt Damen would be right at home.

  20. Those rocks are amazing Ruth. I really like the dark grey lunar looking ones that obviously had had hundreds of thousands of years of water washing through them to cause those hollows.
    Sally@Toddlers on Tour recently posted..How to Keep Fit while TravellingMy Profile


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