Student at Fish Slough
Student at Fish Slough
Credit: BLM

Bureau of Land ManagementFish Slough

Member Since: 09/13/2004

Primary Contact: Joy Fatooh

351 Pacu Lane
Bishop, CA 93512
(760) 872-5029

The Fish Slough ACEC encompasses 36,000 acres.

Partner Information: Fish Slough Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) is jointly managed by the Bureau of Land Management, California Department of Fish and Game, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with research assistance from University of California. Other partners in education include Bishop Paiute Tribe, Bishop Union Elementary School District, Eastern Sierra Audubon Society, Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association, Eastern Sierra Institute for Collaborative Education, Eastern Sierra Watershed Project, Inyo County Office of Education, and Inyo National Forest.

Site Tour | Site Link


Stand with one foot in a green wetland and one in the prickly gray desert. Look deep into a clear spring where endangered Owens pupfish flash blue and silver breeding colors, and up to weird curves and planes of rock formed in the blast of a giant caldera. Touch mysterious patterns chipped into the rock by native people long ago. Smell the sagebrush. Taste the saltbush. Listen for birds.

You're at Fish Slough, and everything you've been learning in school is coming to life! Fish Slough is a unique desert wetland ecosystem with rare plants and fish, an unusual geological site with highly visible seismic and volcanic features, and an outstanding cultural site including ancient petroglyphs and grinding stones.

This high desert landscape at 4000' elevation is subject to extreme temperatures, from over 100 degrees F on summer days to occasionally below 0 degrees F on winter nights. Sunshine is the norm but thunderstorms and snow flurries can arise suddenly. Plants and wildlife here are adapted to these extremes and visitors should come prepared for them!

The Volcanic Tableland lies at the meeting place of the Great Basin Desert to the north and the Mojave Desert to the south. This is also the northern end of long, deep Owens Valley. Fish Slough's waters flow into the Owens River, which meanders over 100 miles through the desert between the towering Sierra Nevada mountains to the west and White-Inyo range to the east.

The geologic forces that created the Tableland also created an oasis in these arid lands. The faulting action that lifted the East Side Bluff threw a huge block of land at its base down to the level of the water table, so that springs arose. The springs and their outflow are surrounded by wet marshlands. These, in turn, are bordered by seasonally wet alkali meadows, frosted with

a white crust of minerals left by evaporating water. Beyond these lie a saltbrush scrub plant community typical of the northern Mojave Desert, giving way to Great Basin Desert sagebrush communities at higher elevations.

Fish Slough milk vetch (Astragalus lentiginosus var. piscinensis) is federally listed as a threatened species. You cannot find this low-growing perennial forb anywhere in the world except the alkali meadows of Fish Slough. It was discovered in 1974 by Mary DeDecker, a local botanist. Nearby you may find the white flowers of the alkali mariposa lily (Calochortus excavatus), a BLM Sensitive Species that also has very limited distribution. Five other rare plant species depending on the life giving waters of Fish Slough are alkali cordgrass (Spartina gracilis), hot spring fimbristylis (Fimbristylis thermalis), Great Basin centaurium (Centaurium exaltatum), King's ivesia (Ivesia kingii var. kingii), and silverleaf milk vetch (Astragalus argophyllus var. argophyllus).

By 1948 the endangered Owens pupfish was believed extinct, but in 1964 a small population was rediscovered in Fish Slough. The Owens speckled dace is a rare subspecies of speckled dace thought to be gone from Fish Slough but rediscovered here in 2002. Biologists hope to reintroduce the once-abundant Owens sucker and Owens tui chub to parts of the slough that are safe from non-native fish. One of the many small aquatic invertebrates, the Fish Slough springsnail, barely larger than the head of a pin, is found nowhere else in the world.


You can find many prehistoric rock art sites in the Fish Slough ACEC. These carvings, called petroglyphs, were made by Native Americans prior to white settlement; their meaning is a mystery. Over the centuries many Native American cultures have used Fish Slough; most recently, the Owens Valley Paiute Indians. Besides petroglyphs, other prehistoric sites in the ACEC include temporary camps, semipermanent village sites, and lithic scatters – the scraps left from stone tool making. Remember that ALL of these clues to the past are protected by law!

Euro-American History

During the 1860s ranchers and miners began to occupy the present day areas of Bishop and Laws. These and other new settlers homesteaded land in America's deepest valley along creeks, rivers and springs. Part of the Fish Slough wetland was pioneered by Phillip Keough in 1890, who set up a stage stop near the northwest spring. The Fish Slough Road became a main wagon route to the prosperous mining camps of Benton Hot Springs, Bodie and Aurora. Freight and supplies were transported on this route, which also served as a cattle driveway. Settlers traveled this rutted and sandy road from as far north as Reno and Carson City.

Current Communities

The town of Bishop, CA still thrives, only 5 miles south of Fish Slough. Laws, to the east, is a small community with a great railroad museum; the railroad replaced the stage road and was replaced by Hwy 6, following the train route north to Benton Station. Benton Hot Springs is still a small but active community, while Bodie has become a state park and Aurora is a vanished ghost town.

Violent geologic events are the natural forces underlying Fish Slough's subtle beauty. Glowing hot rhyolite ash flowed like a scorching avalanche out of the Long Valley Caldera 760,000 years ago. This pyroclastic flow then fused to create the porous white, pink and tan rock called Bishop tuff that makes up the Volcanic Tableland. Faulting action still warps and cracks the gentle slopes, lifting some parts and dropping others. The smooth surface broke into blocks that eroded into oddly curving forms.

There are no facilities at Fish Slough. Be sure to bring water, dress in layers (weather can change suddenly), and wear sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat.

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