Seemingly Endless Piles of Rounded Rocks
Just west of the town of Lone Pine are a strange set of foothills comprised of picturesque rounded rocks piled up for hundreds of feet or more, behind which are the tallest peaks of the Sierra Nevada, including Mount Whitney. Among these rounded rocks were shot hundreds of Westerns, not to mention horror films, sci-fi, and you-name-it. Following is a ridiculously partial list:
- 3 Godfathers (1948), with John Wayne and directed by John Ford
- Around the World in 80 Days (1956), with David Niven
- Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), with Spencer Tracy
- Chaplin (1992), with Robert Downey, Jr.
- Django Unchained (2012), directed by Quentin Tarantino
- Gladiator (2000), with Russell Crowe
- Gunga Din (1939), with Cary Grant
- High Sierra (1941), with Humphrey Bogart
- Lost Horizon (1937), with Ronald Colman
- The Ox-Bow Incident (1942), with Henry Fonda
- Ride Lonesome (1959), with Randolph Scott
- Riders of the Purple Sage (1925), with Tom Mix
- Zabriskie Point (1970), directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
And the list goes on and on, including whole series of Westerns with the Lone Ranger, Jack Hoxie, Hopalog Cassidy, Randolph Scott, Tim Holt, Ken Maynard and others too numerous to mention. Not for nothing is there a Lone Pine Western Film History in town. In fact, the perfect visit to Lone Pine should include a visit to the museum (allow two to three hours) and a morning visit to the Alabama Hills, where so many films were shot.
The Alabama Hills Cafe on Post Street in Lone Pine
Actually, why not make a Trifecta out of your visit? Eat breakfast or lunch at the Alabama Hills Cafe and Bakery for absolutely delicious food lovingly prepared. On our trip last week, Martine and I ate there for three meals: one breakfast and two lunches. The restaurant is closed for dinner, and you may have to wait for a table. (If necessary, do so: It’ll be worth your while.)
Sunset in the Alabama Hills
Martine and I were in agreement: Our two favorite towns on our recent trip to the Eastern Sierras were Bishop and Lone Pine. More about Bishop later. If it weren’t for the fact that Lone Pine is a little too close to the Mojave Desert, way too close to Owens Dry Lake which, on windy days, is the largest source of dust pollution in the United States, and if it weren’t such a small town, I wouldn’t mind living there.
Oh, yes, there is one other thing: Not only is Lone Pine only 71 miles (114 kilometers) by air from the recent earthquakes at Ridgecrest, but, back in 1872, there was a major earthquake that destroyed a good part of the town and killed twenty-seven people. When you consider that the tallest peak in the contiguous forty-eight states—Mount Whitney—is just a few miles to the west, I suspect that some more disasters are in the cards for this sweet little town.
So much for the negatives. Lone Pine holds an honored place in film history for being situated close to the Alabama Hills, which for almost a hundred years have been one of the major shooting locations for movie Westerns. From the days of Jack Hoxie, Tom Mix, and Ken Maynard to the TV Westerns of the 1950s and 1960s, the Alabama Hills were seen in hundreds of film and TV productions. For this reason, the town is the site of the Museum of Western Film History, which is worth two or three hours of your time if you have any love for the genre (as I do).
Just Beyond the Alabama Hills Are the Snowcapped Sierras
Although we spent almost two hours riding the washboarded dirt roads that wind through the hills, I would gladly have allocated more time. Unfortunately, the heat was beginning to build, so I didn’t get out to take the many little hikes to particularly interesting rock formations and filming locations. Instead, we headed north to Independence to take another look at those coyote dentures I wrote about yesterday.