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 🙂
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.
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.
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:
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).
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!
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.
We took notice of the many interesting dead and gnarled pines:
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).