Things Are Still Fine in Lone Pine, CA!

If you’re fans of old western movies as we are, a visit to Lone Pine, CA should be on your must-do list.


Well, one of Hollywood’s favorite western movie locations, the Alabama Hills, are right here.  It’s where hundreds of cowboy and war movies have been filmed since 1920.  The Museum of Western Film History should be the first stop to not only get your bearings, but also to learn about specific locations of the area’s appearances in Hollywood feature films.  After that, grabbing a self-guided tour book that describes famous movie locations will be the start of a unique day of exploration in the area.

We always get excited when we watch an old movie and recognize the places we’ve seen here, yelling, “been there!” together 🙂

Miss Alabama Hills greets visitors at the entrance

But you certainly don’t have to be an old western movies fan to enjoy this place, as we discovered years ago.  On this visit we wanted to replicate the wonderful experience of dry camping in the Alabama Hills as we did last time.  The area is BLM land, and free dispersed camping is allowed and therefore very popular.  We could have gotten an excellent spot, but it was not to be as a severe cold spell was sweeping through during our stay.  We ended up settling in at nearby Boulder Creek RV Resort as our home base, exploring the area in our car.

This picture from six years ago shows what we were hoping to do again, but no joy

Nonetheless, we were excited to re-explore this surreal scattering of massive boulders.  The hills were named by southern sympathizers in 1862, commemorating the victories of the confederate ship CSS Alabama.  These beautiful rock formations are nestled at the foot of the Sierra Nevada, anchored by Mount Whitney and offering sweeping desert vistas.  The closest comparison I can make to these formations are the ones at Joshua Tree National Park and the Granite Dells in Prescott, Arizona.

The awesome Sierra Nevada is the backdrop to the west, with the tallest peak in the lower 48 right there
Behind me and to the east are the Inyo Mountains

If time is on your side, locating the many arches that have formed here over the eons will surely add fun to your explorations as you scramble up, down and around the boulders.  Along with several others, we were able to find the most popular one, Mobius Arch:

Mobius Arch
Steve framed me and Mount Whitney through Mobius Arch
These look like the stacks of bread we had just seen at Erick Schats Bakkery in Bishop – yum!
A resting elf
A real rock climber – no, that’s not Steve!

Alabama Hills is only one of the highlights making Lone Pine a worthwhile stop.  The town is a gateway to the entire southern Sierra Nevada, flanked to the west by a wall of jagged granite peaks including Mount Whitney (14,496′) – here’s a post about our visit to that beauty.  Climbers and hikers camp here on their way to Whitney, and it’s also a jumping-off point for road trips to the lowest point in the country, Death Valley National Park (more on that in my next post).

From the Alabama Hills we could see the zig-zagging road up to our next adventure…

Hiking at Horseshoe Meadow

The Horseshoe Meadow area is a popular entry point into Inyo National Forest and Sequoia National Park, with plenty of camping/picnicking opportunities.  Getting there is an adventure in itself, with a 6,000′ elevation gain through many switchbacks as you drive up from Lone Pine.  We stopped several times to enjoy panoramic views of Owens Valley, our RV park, mostly dried-up Owens Lake and the Inyo Mountains to the east.  The Alabama Hills looked pretty small from way up here!

At his fingertip is Boulder Creek RV Resort where Betsy was resting
Looking north at the road and the Alabama Hills
To the south was what’s left of Owens Lake, which the City of Angels has pretty much sucked dry

Construction of the road we followed up here was initially started in the early 1920’s as a water and recreation route to the upper basin, but the plan didn’t pan out and construction was halted.  Then in 1960 a proposal was made for a ski resort development which led to a continued effort to complete the road, but those plans failed due to environmental concerns.  Fortunately the project was eventually completed in the 1980’s, and today we were happy to be enjoying the breathtaking views from up high!

Our main goal for the day was to hike one of the challenging trails that began at Horseshoe Meadow, at 10,000′ of elevation.  We chose the Chicken Springs Lake via Cottonwood Pass Trail, a moderate trek that took us through Lodgepole and Foxtail Pines along the northern edge of a huge meadow.  We scaled Cottonwood Pass, which serves as a gateway to the Golden Trout Wilderness and Sequoia National Park.

Beyond the pass we followed the Pacific Crest Trail for about a mile to reach Chicken Spring Lake at 11,242′.  The path was rocky in spots as we gained elevation, but multiple switchbacks reduced our huffing and puffing.

Our hike began at a broad and sandy entrance to Cottonwood Pass, heading west
Looking back at Horseshoe Meadow from the pass
Looking west toward the Great Western Divide
The rocky hillside near Chicken Springs Lake was scattered with Foxtail Pines

We took notice of the many interesting dead and gnarled pines:

There were hundreds of them along the north side of the lake
Partially-frozen Chicken Spring Lake sat nestled in a small glacial cirque
Rocky slopes south of the pass
We couldn’t believe we were still on the trail at 4pm, a long day for us

At 10.5 miles this was our longest hike in the Sierras, and because we’d started late due to the freezing temps we didn’t get back to Betsy until almost 6pm!

On the drive back down Horseshoe Meadow Road we pulled over again to view the sinking sun shedding its last rays over Lone Pine (click photo to enlarge).

Captured in a panorama stitch: zig-zag Horseshoe Meadow Road below; Alabama Hills at the upper left, depleted Owens Lake to the right and Owens Valley flanked by the Inyo Mountains in the center




    • You looked so cold at the beginning of that Chicken Lake hike!! But wow, what a beautiful day and gorgeous scenery. I’ve never heard of Foxtail Pines, either—and I was thinking exactly the same as Joodie, that the beautiful sculpted shapes remind me of Bristlecone Pines.

      We love the Alabama Hills area and scrambling among the cool rocks. That’s a great photo of you, ML, framed by Mobius Arch. And the photo of Steve perched in those giant rock formations. You guys did a fabulous tour of Hwy 395…we really want to get back there, and you’ve given us some great new ideas for hikes. Happy Thanksgiving! 🙂

  1. Foxtail Pine? That was a new one! It reminds me somewhat of the bristlecone. I also thought the rounded rocks of the Granite Dells resembled those in Joshua Tree. Too bad those City Angels were so thirsty they nearly dried out the lake. I think we may just copy your 395 route plan entirely in the future. We often end up coincidentally on the same routes and hikes, but I think this one and your Alaska route I’m just gonna lift as is😁

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. That rock formation really does look like a loaf from Schats Bakery! The road up to Horseshoe Meadow does give beautiful views, but it still gives me the wiggles thinking about driving up it! Chicken Springs lake is beautiful, I don’t know the difference between Bristlecone and Foxtail Pines, they look the same to my untrained eye! Happy Thanksgiving to you and Steve, we’re thankful for your friendship.

  3. Gorgeous scenery and pictures MonaLiza! Love, love those rock formations and the gnarly dead trees. Hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving…gay

  4. I’ve heard nothing but great things about the Alabama Hills… The only downside seems to be how popular it has gotten with RVers. When we finally make it over that way, I hope we can score a site in the area (along with good weather). The picture of your site from several years ago is the stuff boondocking dreams are made of!!

    Speaking of which, the rock formations in that area are so impressive. Love the photos with you guys in them because it shows just how impressive the scenery really is. The photo at the arch is especially awesome because it includes the enormous mountains in the back and the tiny ML in the front. Great stuff!

    Speaking of which, I really don’t know why you had to give away that that was not Steve rock climbing. I never would have known!!!

  5. My last day of backpacking the entire John Muir trail was to Lone Pine after we hiked down from Mt. Whitney. I would like to go back and explore the area more. Looks like you have a great time there. Happy Thanksgiving!

  6. I just love this area. The Alabama Hills are a never ending playground with so much scrambling. You found a nice long hike. Most of the good hikes seem to be 10 milers. Your photos are calling me back there!! Sorry there wasn’t snow on Mt Whitney for your photos.
    Hope you and Steve had a nice Thanksgiving. Thanks for your friendship!!

  7. We too are thankful for all the friendships we’ve made as we travel along. Great boondocking spot from your earlier travels, bummer it was too cold this year. Looking forward to seeing you in Tucson.

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