The other Alabama…

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Alabama Hills
Alabama Hills

Alabama Hills in the shadow of Mt Whitney

In the shadow of Mt Whitney stands a group of rocky outcroppings with a southern-sounding name known as Alabama Hills.  It is located just west of Lone Pine off of  scenic Highway 395.  The Alabama Hills got their name from Confederate sympathizers who prospected and mined the area during the Civil war.  They were honoring the CSS Alabama, a propeller driven sloop-of-war that burned or captured 65 Union ships before being sunk by the USS Kearsarge in 1864.

This area, which encompasses 30,000 acres is designated as Alabama Hills Recreation Area and a public BLM land.  It was where Betsy resided for a few days.  A shout out  to our friends at Wheeling It who blazed this boondocking trail for us.  You see, we had been following their route along Highway 395 during the past few weeks and they introduced us to this very interesting landscape.

Entering the Alabama Hills makes you feel you’re entering a different world.  The amazing scenery of oddly rounded rocks backed by the jagged high peaks of the Sierra seemed otherworldly.  Here we witnessed big boulders piled upon bigger boulders, and balancing acts rarely seen.   Their unusual shapes have been created by many years of wind erosion and other forces.  Approximately 300 natural arches and canyons have formed in this area.  Due to this amazing setting with the high sierra as a backdrop, the Alabama Hills have been a favorite for movie companies, especially Westerns.  Hundreds of car commercials and short films have been created here as well.


Alabama Hills

Betsy on her way to a spot among the rocks

Driving along the dirt road called Movie Road, we found our boondocking spot for the next few days.  We tucked ourselves behind some large rocks and enjoyed the serenity and blackness of the starry, starry night while listening to the howling of coyotes.

Alabama Hills

Betsy’s digs

Being late in the season, we pretty much had the entire Alabama Hills to ourselves – well almost.  Our next door neighbor was parked about a quarter mile across from us. This was our first real boondocking and the perfect spot to experience it.

Alabama Hills

Our next neighbor, a quarter mile away

Using a copy of the Movie Road self-guided tour we picked up from the Museum of Lone Pine Film History, we explored film sets of some of the over 300 movies that were made in the beautiful and photogenic Alabama Hills.  Although the majority of movies made here were westerns, the more recent “Tremors” and “Ironman” used the Alabama Hills as their backdrop.  The latest western movie called “Django Unchained” stars Jamie Foxx and Leo de Caprio and  directed by Quentin Tarantino was filmed here.  It is due for release on Dec 25, 2012.

Museum of Lone Pine Film History

Museum of Lone Pine Film History

Dentist Wagon used in Django Unchained

Dentist Wagon of soon to be released movie “Django Unchained”

James Arness of GunSmoke

Steve next to his hero from “Gunsmoke”, James Arness

While here, it wasn’t just movie locations we explored.  The Alabama Hills is also known for their  various natural rock arches and many interesting formations.  We managed to find natural arches like Mobious Arch and Heart Arch.  The Face Rock is someone’s idea of art and is right next to the road as you approach Movie Road.

Lone Cowboy cruising around the movie flats


Face Rock

Mobius Arch

Mobius Arch

Heart Arch

Heart Arch

Indiana Jones

Wannabe Indiana Jones

Canyon in Alabama Hills

Driving around in the canyon

Alabama Hills

Admiring the long view

Alabama Hills

Neatly arranged rocks

Listening in for the news

During this time we were totally off the grid – no cell, no internet, no TV. We ran our generator once each morning so we could make  coffee and to keep the batteries topped off.  So how did we learn about the election results?  Our good friend Ben gave us a solar radio as a gift, and we turned it on for the first time.  We were really impressed and did not realize what a little gem we had!  Being solar powered, it is perfect for boondocking.  So, that’s how we heard the election results the morning after and also found out about impending bad weather  the following day.

Sunrise at Alabama Hills is magnificent, the sun illuminating the Eastern Sierras with a reddish glow.

Eastern Sierras

Sunrise at the Eastern Sierras

Discovering majestic Mt. Whitney – She’s a beauty!

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Mt Whitney Peak
Lone Pine

Location of Lone Pine in Owens Valley

After having a wondeful time at Bishop, we packed up and drove into Lone Pine  – 60 miles south on scenic 395.  We spent a couple of nights at the Boulder Creek RV Park so we could catch up on a few things, ie. laundry  😦   We also wanted to prepare for what we hoped would be our longest stretch of boondocking (dry camping) yet.  Once we located the perfect patch of desert for Betsy, we moved her there and got set up with fantastic views of the nearby Alabama Hills and Mt. Whitney.

Our next activity was to explore Mt. Whitney while we were assured of good weather.  As you may know, Mt. Whitney is the highest peak in the contiguous United States, at 14,497′.  The peak was named in honor of Josiah Whitney, who was chief of the survey team working at the mountain in 1864.  Whitney doesn’t look as imposing as mountains like, say, Shasta, because there are several other high peaks around it. However, it has very striking features and we loved looking at it as we first drove to the 8300′ elevation.

To get an unobstructed view of the peak, we drove  up a long switchback road on Whitney Portal Road (about 13 miles from the town of Lone Pine).  We saw a few deer crossing the road on their way to breakfast.


Deer hurrying for breakfast

The drive ended at the Whitney Portal Family Campground – elevation 8,360′.  Even if you aren’t interested in hiking further up the mountain from here, YOU MUST drive up this road if you get a chance just to enjoy the enormous panoramic views of Owens valley and the Alabama Hills.  There is also a beautiful  partially-frozen waterfall at this elevation.  Wow, this drive gets a “10” from us! 

Ice Waterfall

Ice Waterfall

Alabama Hills

A pose with Alabama Hills in the background

Jagged Mt Whitney

Mt Whitey as you drive up

Owens Valley

Owens Valley and Inyo Mountains

Owens River Bed

Owens River Bed

Since we weren’t planning (that is, in good enough shape) to climb the higher elevations of the mountain, we settled on a less stressful hike that still provided fantastic views and a good workout.  We took the Lower Trailhead which begins at the west end of the Lone Pine Campground, starting at elevation 5,640′ then climbed to over 7000′.  This trail is 4-miles one-way.  As we hiked up, we enjoyed the views of Mt Whitney, Lone Pine Creek, the Inyo Mountains, the Owens valley and of course the Alabama Hills to the east.

Upper Canyon Mt Whitmey
Clark Nutcracker Mt Whitney

We stopped for lunch at the rock grotto near the crossing of Meysan Creek and Lone Pine Creek.  This trail will end up at the previously-mentioned Whitney Portal Campground at the top. And the hike back, as they say, is all downhill.

Log Crossing Rock Formations

Heading back down, the Alabama Hills came to view.  Beautiful!

Alabama Hills

Behind those rocks is where Betsy was happily parked.