Olancha was inhabited by Indians living among the verdant meadows on the southwest shore of Owens Lake before 1863. That year, Minnard Farley constructed his mill on Olancha Creek. Farley came east of the Sierra Nevada Range in 1860 in search of the legendary “Lost Gunsight Lode”, popularized a decade earlier when an emigrant crossing Death Valley lost his gunsite and replaced it with some local soft metal he found, which later proved to be rich silver, found in the nearby Coso Range.
By December 1863, Farley had built an eight stamp mill with five amalgamating pans, a sawmill and a blacksmith shop. Indian uprisings later in the decade culminated with the burning of Farley’s mill in 1867. By then, nearby Cerro Gordo began glowing brightly in the nearby Inyo Range, attracting stages to run north from Los Angeles, then a small burg 175 miles south. Olancha became a stage stop.
Two steamships were constructed to carry payloads of Cerro Gordo silver bullion across Owens Lake, which tied up at Cartago Landing, a couple of miles north of Olancha. Soon Olancha was bustling with traffic inbound and outbound from Cerro Gordo. A post office was opened at Olancha September 23, 1870 and has remained open ever since!
After mining died down, Olancha remained as an agricultural center. Many ranches raised livestock and produce, watered by abundant streams and springs (imagine that!). Ranchers have, for more than a century, driven cattle and sheep into the Sierra Nevada Range and nearby Monache Meadows for summer range for their cattle, and large cattle drives still are the norm today.
In 1910, the Southern Pacific Railroad reached Olancha with their Owens Valley Branch (the “Jawbone”, which is now undergoing salvage), built to provide construction materials for the Los Angeles Aqueduct, a 250 mile long aqueduct to feed pure Sierra snowmelt to the growing city, and is still in use today. Olancha continues to hold a stable population of around 200 citizens. A couple of restaraunts serve hungry tourists traveling along US 395, along with a couple of gas stations.
A large water bottling plant is located a mile north, serving the popular Crystal Geyser brand bottled water. Anheiser-Busch Brewing Company also owns property and pumps pure well water for use by their bottling plant in Los Angeles.
Nearby attractions include: Olancha Sand Dunes, the Sierra Nevada streams and backcountry meadows, Dirty Socks Hot Spring, Cerro Gordo ghost town, Fossil Falls, and a gateway to Death Valley. Today, decaying and abandoned old buildings are sagging and crumbling among occupied and cared for-homes. (History content by: David A. Wright).
Local businesses include the famous Gus’ Jerky stand, a Mobile station and a few motels that harken back to the 50’s. Excel Bridge Manufacturing builds bridges here and trucks them up and down California; a few even seen in Mammoth.
Just north of Olancha is an even smaller town called Cartago. You’ll notice the big lemon house with a dinosaur and oversized ant on the side of the Hwy…maybe someone’s art talent on display.
To the east of Olancha around the north side of Owens Lake is an even funkier town called Keeler. I imagine the residents here love their isolation.