Friday, October 23, 2015

Movie History Under a Majestic Mountain

The steep and rugged Sierra Nevada range dominates the view moving south to Lone Pine, CA, on Wednesday morning. Yellow brush covers the basin and occasional stands of colored trees break up an otherwise stark terrain. Steady wind and a steep downhill into Independence, keep it interesting.

All about the mountains
Boulder Creek RV Park is the only one in Lone Pine, and has everything we need. Including Dave and Sue, and John and Pam :-) It also has the first completely level site we've had in over 30 stops. Sweet.

Lovely and level
Boulders yes, creek no
We spend a lazy afternoon then head to town for dinner with our new friends. Unfortunately Eric and Laurel beg off after a very busy day, so the rest of us get caught up on our individual adventures since we last connected in Carson City. We do so enjoy them!

I sleep in until almost 9 AM on Thursday, and a couple hours later suggest we try the local (and highly recommended by Pam) cafe for brunch.

Just as wonderful as described - both the food and the people. Guy in cowboy hat and boots sits at the counter finishing his breakfast. Pays for his meal and chats with the waitresses for a bit. They go back to the kitchen and a couple and their toddler enter the cafe. The cowboy greets them, brings them a couple menus, points out the specials, and leaves. A while later he returns with some aluminum pans for the kitchen, says good-bye to the youngster again (who lights up and waves), and is gone once more. Gotta love small towns.

Whetting your appetite for the rocks just up the road
Although I'm anxious to see the amazing Alabama Hills, I think that seeing the small movie museum first will make the location even better. Hundreds of movies - mostly B Westerns from the late 20's through the early 50's - have been filmed in these hills. I know we can pick up a small map that takes drivers to the location of several specific filming spots. Gotta do that!

The dentist wagon from D'Jango Unchained greets you at the entrance (the "d" is silent)
The Lone Pine Film History Museum is a small building with a large collection of memorabilia. Separate exhibits for some of the bigger names - Tom Mix, Randolph Scott, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Lone Ranger, Audie Murphy - are surrounded by dozens of more obscure movie posters few have likely ever heard of. We watch the 15 minute movie covering the long and interesting history from silent films (what's with the heavy make-up on those cowboys?) to Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr. without mascara).

Mom spent one summer in acting class with Tom Mix
More personal trivia - one of my first bosses was Tex's daughter
The area is well known for the westerns filmed here. Entire towns, stage stops, ranches, and Indian villages were built and then taken down over the years. Even today it doesn't take much imagination to imagine The Duke riding a giant horse across the range, or Gene Autry singing with a posse' around a campfire.

But what I find most interesting is the number of non-westerns that used the area for live sets. The older Gunga Din is probably the most well known, but Tremors, Star Trek, Iron Man, Bad Day at Black Rock, Samson and Dalila, and dozens more were all made here as well. 

A huge temple was built and then removed
The Tremors exhibit was one of my favorites
Tony Stark demos his new weapon under Mt Whitney

Very few references to the women of all these movies. The exceptions are the exhibit for Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and the small shadow box for one of the first stunt women - Polly Burson.

I don't remember Dale in shorts, but she would have looked great!
Small frame around a corner
As a young girl I loved Barbara Stanwyk, Lee Remick, and Maureen O'Hara, who all portrayed strong women in the movies referenced here. 
After the museum it was off to the place in real time! With the movie location map in hand, complete with GPS coordinates, we take Movie Road (of course) north to the Gunga Din site.  At each site Bill is able to line up the exact location from approximately the same place as the scene was shot

Location of Gunga Din huge camp scene - #1 on the map

It is a fun way to start exploring this beautiful and unique area. The brown, round boulders are such a contrast to the blue, sheer points of the Sierras to the west. Mt Whitney keeps watch over all us tiny mortals playing in the rocks.

Love. Period.

Lookin cool in shades
Whale sticks his tongue out
Acorn rock
Artist as art
Sierras, majestic and powerful
Climbed a few hills into the boulders, followed a few dirt roads, found one arch, and want to come back to see more before we leave.

Off Whitney Portal Rd
Drive up Whitney Portal Road to the pavement's end, but not "feeling" the dirt shelf road to the top, so we head back to town. We still have a week to try it again, and Sue did say there's more fish up there :-)


  1. Isn't this such a fun place!

    I'm not sure you were on the Whitney Portal Road. There isn't any dirt shelf section. The Whitney Portal Road is paved right to the top where it end in a large parking area with the Portal, a store, waterfalls, a pond, and two trailheads. You'll be fine going up. The road isn't bad at all.

    1. Oh wow, I confused it with another road altogether - will definitely head up there (maybe today)!

  2. There are so many fun places we can find along the roads. You just never know what might be around the next corner for you to enjoy.
    We've been lucky that most of the sites we pull into are fairly level. However, we have sure had challenges too.

    1. We haven't had any bad ones so far, but this one was completely level before we put jacks down, a first for us :-) The real joy for us in taking our time has been the unexpected places.

  3. I like the idea of starting your Alabama Hills excursion with a stop at the movie museum first! Such an amazing area, those mountains are a spectacular backdrop!

    1. The little map was really fun, with pics of the movie scene for us to "line up". With just nine of them (the 10th one is "guess"), it's a quick intro to the hills, and then you can just play on your own. Loved it!

  4. Just added the RV park and Lone Pine to the spreadsheet of places to visit. Also noticed I had linked it in the spreadsheet when another person suggested a visit. My notes including looking into the Alabama Hills BLM area.

    Thanks for the wonderful photos.

    1. The Alabama Hills are all BLM, so where we were driving there were several rigs boondocking near the beautiful rocks. There's also dry camping at nearby Tuttle Creek - large sites and clean pit toilets. It's a great area - you'll love it.

  5. Haven't spent much time in the Sierras yet I do love mountains, and rocks. And small towns too. Nice museum, brings back many memories.

    1. This is a great spot for all of that for sure! My parents loved Zane Grey so seeing all the movie posters was definitely full of memories :-)

  6. Such a wonderful and photogenic landscape, isn't it? Small wonder that so many movies have been filmed in the Alabama Hills. We really enjoyed our visit to the film museum, too -- Hopalong Cassidy was Eric's childhood hero. :-) Great photo of the artist in the boulders!

    1. She reminded us of you........think it was the hat :-)))

  7. This place is getting to be a hot spot. Yours is the 3rd post from there I've read. It's been on my list ever since I found out Roy and Dale were filmed there. I swear my dad seriously looked like Roy Rogers. Love the cafe story and the personal touches about MIx and Tex. You have to a Californian for those things I think. Your rock captions are great. "Love, period". Perfect!

    1. Thanks Sherry :-) We've been laughing about three posts from three different perspectives.....all here at the same time. There's a lot of personal history for me along this route - Roy and Dale were my all time favorites.

  8. We still haven't managed to get to the Alabama Hills. Looking forward to it though! Great write up.

    1. Thanks :-) You'll love it here - the Sierras are magical.