Lone Pine usually means a pit stop for a bite and a bathroom break at the Pizza Factory… and if Lucy’s been really good on the drive, we’ll let her blow a couple of quarters in the toy tank. Most likely, we’re on a mission to see family, or I’m heading to/from L.A. for work. I am glad that it’s a 25 mph limit through town because I’m always caught gawking at Mt. Whitney beaming in its glory at 14,505′ – much like surfers crane their necks for a glimpse at the swells on coastal drives. I then start dreaming about the time we ski mountaineered it a few years ago only to get turned around a few hundred feet from the summit (read that blog). But that’s a whole other story…
Working in the film industry, I oftentimes hear from friends working in the Alabama Hills – most recently on Iron Man 3, Django Unchained, etc. The area has been used/abused by “Hollywood” since the early 1920’s. I’ve popped into the Lone Pine Film Museum and it’s pretty cool studying all the history- definitely worth a peep if you’re passing by. The area is magical. The golden-colored rock formations and arches carefully sprinkled through the rolling hills – and the beauty is amplified with the Sierras as a backdrop.
Here are a few fun facts about the area:
- There are two main types of rock:
- Metamorphosed volcanic rock, approximately 150-200 million years old
- “Potato-shaped” boulders that are 82-85 million years old. These are rounded and many stand on end, due to centuries of spheroidal weathering.
- The area is named after the C.S.S. Alabama – a confederate warship from the Civil War. At the time, many California mining prospectors were sympathetic to the Confederates. The C.S.S. Alabama was successful for the confederate side, so the prospectors started naming mining claims after it – eventually naming the whole region the Alabama Hills.
- Since the early 1920’s, over 150 movies and tv shows (mostly Westerns) have filmed here for the “rugged” landscape. Here are a few productions you might find recognizable:
- (Older Productions) – Hopalong Cassidy, The Gene Autry Show, The Lone Ranger (original tv show), Gunga Din, How The West Was Won, Bonanza, Gunsmoke
- (More Recent Productions) – Star Trek V and VII, Gladiator, Tremors, Iron Man, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Django Unchained, The Lone Ranger (2013 movie), etc
I was recently driving home from work in L.A. (day-playing on Agents of Shield) and had the bike on the rack. I finally forced myself to turn off on Whitney Portal Rd. with one intention – exploring!! Of course, I’m kicking myself for taking so long to do it. I pulled over, parked, jumped on the Niner, and started riding up the paved Whitney Portal Rd. This was a great warm up to get the stale out of my legs before hitting dirt.
Before long, I was at Movie Rd – the main artery / graded dirt road that bisects the northern Alabama Hills area. Obviously, this area is the most exploited for filming. You can explore endless double-track trails that splinter off the main drag, and some singletrack if you look carefully 🙂 Some trails connect, and some dead end at camping spots… but it’s always easy to get back to the “main drag”. The scenery is breathtaking in all directions, and there are dozens of natural arches- kind of like a mini Moab. Many of the popular arches are named: Mobius Arch, Lathe Arch, Eye of the Alabama, Whitney Portal Arch, etc. The guidebook has a couple “rides” listed for the area, but honestly if it’s your first time in the area, just jump on your bike and ride. Go where the wind takes you. It’s fun that way. Pretend it’s 1920 and you’re going on a location scout for a movie. Pedal ’til your heart’s content. Be bold. You can pretty much ride this area year-round. If you’re really adventurous you can climb up the to the old Moffat mines and earn stellar views and a fast descent back down.
Views of Whitney and the Sierra loom in the distance with snow capped peaks, making for a gorgeous contrast to the desert landscape you are riding through. There is free camping all around, so it’s a great place to stay for a full moon jaunt – especially with Lone Pine so close by to stock up on beer.
Ok. Time to get off the computer and ride a bike somewhere. Hoot!