Lone Pine, California doesn’t look like much at first. It’s a dusty desert town of a few thousand, on highway 395, on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevadas. There might still be only one traffic light. So what makes it a great vacation destination?
The Lone Pine Film Festival
Here are some of the movies filmed in this part of California: Gunga Din, How The West Was Won, Star Trek, Tremors, Springfield Rifle, Joshua Tree, Gladiator, and Maverick. John Wayne, Gene Autry, Gary Cooper, Kirk Douglas, Robert Mitchum, William Boyd, and dozens of other movie stars have all spent time in Lone Pine. Television series filmed here include The Lone Ranger, Have A Gun, Bonanza, and Wagon Train. Spend much time in Lone Pine, and later, when you’re watching movies at home, you’ll find yourself saying “Hey I’ve been there.”
More than 200 movies, and numerous television series have been filmed in and around the area. The Lone Pine Film Festival, which is held in early October every year, features the classics, as well as more recent films. If you watch many movies, you can see familiar movie scenery any time of the year.
The Alabama Hills
Drive a few minutes south of Lone Pine, turn west, and you’ll find the Alabama Hills, one of the most unique geological areas you’ll ever see. Rounded and smooth rocks are piled up in the most amazing formations. You may recognize some of the scenery from old westerns. On the south side of town, at the visitors center, you can get free maps that will guide you to rock arches, caves and other sights. You’ll have to walk into mazes of rocks to get to the better ones.
Lone Pine is the gateway to Mount Whitney. At 14,496 feet, it is the highest mountain in the lower 48 states. Whitney Portal Road starts in the center of town, and takes you 20 miles up to the trailhead and campground. The Whitney Portal Trail goes to the top. It’s a strenuous hike, and the 22-mile round trip is best broken into two or three days, with a night or two spent in the beautiful high country. By the way, you’ll find snow up there most of the year.
The National Forest Service has designated much of the Inyo National Forest and Sequoia National Park around the mountain as “The Whitney Zone.” To hike within this area you need a permit, which can be obtained from the inter-agency visitors center on Highway 395, just south of Lone Pine. Plan ahead, as permits are limited, and a seperate summit stamp may be required now to go to the peak of Whitney.
There is a campground behind downtown – to the west, and several nice motels in Lone Pine. The visitor’s center south of town has a lot of information on activities and sights in the area. The reservoir south of town is good for fishing and swimming. The Beverly and Jim Rogers Museum of Lone Pine Film History will open soon. Actors have gun battles in the local bar just to entertain you (no charge).
My wife and I love Lone Pine. Where else in California, or anywhere else, can you – all in one day – go swimming, watch a gunfight, explore caves and rock formations in the desert, then drive up the mountain for a snowball fight?