Our route north was originally going to include stays in Lake Mead, Death Valley National Park and Zion National Park. But since we had to spend an extra month in San Diego due to Angel’s surgery, our time to get to the Canadian border was cut short so our friend Nina suggested we drive up U.S. 395, towards Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills.
As we considered that, an early spring and rising temperatures ruled out a stay in Death Valley. And we had planned to get on 395 once we left Death Valley anyway, so we opted to change our route yet again and drive on this scenic highway from its southern point.
Our first destination was in the Owens Valley, and as we entered the valley, east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and west of the White Mountains, I began to realize why this drive is loved by so many. The peaks surrounding the valley tower over 14,000 feet, and include Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states, making the Owens Valley the deepest valley in the United States.
As we approached our campground, the Alabama Hills added yet more diversity to the landscape. The hills look as if giants have tossed and stacked giant rounded rocks all around. The beautiful colors of the earth and the jagged peaks as backdrops make this a spectacular place.
Both the Alabama Hills and the peaks surrounding them were the result of uplifting over 100 million years ago. But freezing rainwater and melting snow created the more jagged look of the higher mountain ranges, while warmer weather and drier climate in the valley caused wind and water to erode the earth, unveiling the sculpted rocks.
The Alabama Hills were named by miners who were Confederate sympathizers. They named their claims after the Confederate vessel Alabama, famous for having sunk and captured many Federal ships during the Civil War, and the name remained.
Later, when the Alabama was sunk by the U.S.S. Kearsage, Union sympathizers in the area named a nearby pass, a mountain and a town (now a ghost town) after the Union vessel as reprisal.
We stayed in a very nice BLM campground wIth lovely views of the surrounding scenery. Check out our review of the Tuttle Creek Campground here.
The adjacent town of Lone Pine is best known for the many movies, particularly Westerns, that have been filmed in the area. Over 400 of them since 1920. Yes, this landscape looked very familiar.
Our stay in Lone Pine was short but memorable. We hiked a bit around the Alabama Hills, also known for the arches large and small hidden amidst the rock formations.
We paid a short visit to the Film History Museum, full of beautiful old movie posters, a few vintage cars, costumes, and other artifacts. I love movies but was a bit disappointed that I wasn’t familiar with as many of the westerns as I thought I would be.
So it seems I didn’t watch that many Westerns after all. For those who are fans of Westerns, this museum is absolutely a must see.
And many other types of movies were filmed in the area, including a genre known as Easterns. In the Eastern Gunga Din, for example, the Sierras stood in for the Himalayas. In others. the Alabama Hills stood in for other middle eastern locales.
Two of our favorite displays featured the Lone Ranger and Hopalong Cassidy and their corresponding creeds, shown below, worth a closer look.
There are tours throughout the Alabama Hills that identify the specific places where different movies were filmed. These places are identified by little markers. I can definitely see the appeal of visiting the specific place where one of your favorite movies was filmed.
And there is lots more to explore in this area, we are hoping to come back this way on our return to southern California.