A March 2002 trip
to Lone Pine by Gwilym Owen
Quote: Spectacularly nestled in Owens Valley on I-395 between Mt Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48 states of the US, and Bad Water in Death Valley - the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere
Mount Whitney towers above Lone Pine and is very easy to get to along the Whitney Portal Road which passes through the hauntingly beautiful Alabama Hills made famous by the 300+ films that were shot there, most of which were Westerns.
At the end of this road is an 11 mile trail (closed in winter) that leads to the summit, Mt Whitney borders the Sequoia National Park and the surrounding alpine meadows make for ideal backpacking in the summer.
Lone Pine makes for an excellent base for outdoor activities during all seasons as it is adjacent to the Inyo National Forest and John Muir and Golden Trout Wildernesses, offering year-round fishing, fabulous hiking, biking, horse riding and sightseeing. Or you can relax near the water and enjoy boating, golf at the Mt. Whitney Golf Course and hunting at the Lone Pine Pheasant Club.
The Alabama Hills are only 2 1/2 miles away along the Whitney Portal road, be sure to take Movie road which is marked by a plaque to journey through all the different film locations in a site still used to this day. You can download and print off a movie location map from the informative Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce and Tourist Information Website.
If you''re around Lone Pine in October, you can drop in on the Annual Lone Pine Film Festival, featuring films, music, stunts and a whole plethora of other activities!
So c''mon over to Lone Pine - there''s tourist gold in them thar hills! YEE HAAAA!
Please also note that the weather round these parts can get very harsh with the chance of the highway being closed. The road to Mt Whitney is also subject to closure, and the road to Death Valley is actually quite a difficult road with rapid changes in altitude and many precipitous drops - always make sure your car is properly equipped and you are sufficiently rested before undertaking routes away from the main highway in difficult conditions, if at all.
This route is so remote that even Greyhound buses have stopped services and you now have to rely on an intermittent bus service between Ridgecrest City and Bishop called The Crest.
Once at Lone Pine however, there are plenty of opportunities for Mountain Biking such as a relatively short ride to the Alabama Hills.
John Wayne himself stayed here often during his many visits to Lone Pine shooting Westerns, and there is actually a small shrine paying homage to him on the ground floor in the common area behind the reception. Even as early as the 20’s Hollywood was looking for movie locations with varied terrain and Owens Valley seemed to fit the bill nicely with snow-capped Sierras, the hauntingly unique Alabama Hills, as well as deserts, mountain lakes and streams all in such a small locality. Obviously when the film crews came on location, they needed lodging and Walter Dow, a Lone Pine resident, realised that building a hotel would be perfect to capture this market – hence the Dow Villa Hotel with its magnificent view of Mt. Whitney and the Sierras.
During its heyday, the Dow Villa Hotel played host to countless Hollywood producers, directors and stars including such luminaries as John Wayne, William Boyd, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Pat Buttrum, Stewart Granger, Errol Flynn, Robert Mitchum and Clayton Moore.
The motel section of the establishment appears to have well appointed and modern guestrooms including dataports for your laptop – the deluxe rooms even have whirlpool tubs in which to rest those weary limbs after a long day in the driving seat.
For food, PJ’s a decent 24hr American Style diner is next door to the motel and there are several other choices along the main street. The deluxe rooms also come equipped with a microwave as well as the usual coffee making and fridge facilities, so you can also do some self catering if you wanted to.
The motel is centrally located on the main road in Lone Pine and offers easy access to the local attractions of Mt Whitney, Death Valley, The Alabama Hills and Owens Valley. It is AAA 3-star rated, though hotel is not rated due to its historic background.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 30, 2002
Dow Villa Motel
310 South Main Street, Lone Pine, California 93545
Lone Pine, California
The rounded, weather eroded contours of the Alabamas and their rich brown colours form a sharp contrast between the sharply sculptured granite edges of the High Sierra mountains. Against this backdrop, the Alabamas look almost antique in nature as if they have been filmed in the sepia tones of old picture stock.
It is precisely their haunting and otherworldly nature that has made them such a compelling film location...
The Alabama Hills have also had their own share of real life drama as it was here that the Owens Valley Indian wars were fought to a bloody end in 1861-62, forcing the exile of the Paiute Nation.
The Alabama Hills also got their slightly incongruous name at about the same time as they were named after the Confederate warship responsible for wreaking havoc to northern shipping during the Civil War.
Prospectors sympathetic to the Southern cause named their mining claims after the 'Alabama', which eventually stuck to these unique hills.
Interestingly, the Northern steamsailer, 'Kearsarge' sunk the Alabama in 1864, prompting northern sympathetic miners to naming a nearby mining district, mountain pass, peak and a town, 'Kearsarge'...
Hollywood first came to the Alabama Hills in Lone Pine in 1920, to use the unique scenery in more than 300 feature films since that time...
Old Movie stars such as Tom Mix, Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry and the Lone Ranger, used to shoot it out with outlaws here. Classics such as 'Gunga Din', 'Springfield Rifle', and 'How the West Was Won', were filmed on sites now known as 'Movie Flats' and Movie Flat Rd (pictured). The area has been used for current movies such as Speilbergs 'Tremors' shot in the 80's and in 1992, 'Joshua Tree'.
The Alabama Hills, the Sierra Nevadas and the Owens Valley are still being used in movies and countless car commercials - perhaps you will remember them?
Such is the volume of work filmed here that if you watch films or the TV at all, you cannot hope but have seen this location at some time or other! Some of the most recent include the 'Mask of Zorro' and 'Gladiator'...
It is a perfect backdrop that will be used for many years into the future...
The best thing about coming here was being able to retrace the steps of some of my favourite movie stars with a map that I bought at the Indian Trading Post which marked each of the most famous areas, which movies were filmed where and who the different movie stars were...
List of movies shot at Lone Pine
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 4, 2006
Lone Pine, California
Attraction | "Mt Whitney - Tallest in the Lower 48 States"
At 14,495feet, (4417m) Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states of the USA and because of this and the relative ease in which to reach it, it is the most frequently climbed peak in the Sierra Nevada, if not in the US.
The National Park Service and the US Forest Service, who manage the Whitney Portal Trailhead, have implemented a permit system to minimise the impact of day-hikers on the Mt. Whitney backcountry. All hikers entering the Mt. Whitney zone, including day-hikers, are required to obtain a permit.
Mt. Whitney can be most directly reached by a 10.7 mile (17.1 km) trail from Whitney Portal, 13 miles (21 km) west of the town of Lone Pine on the east side of the Sierra. Ice axes and crampons are needed in spring and early summer, but technical climbing equipment is not usually necessary between mid-July and early October. The elevation at the trailhead is 8360' (2550m). Permits for this trailhead must be obtained through the Inyo National Forest. Please read the reservation information provided by the Forest Service if you are interested in going to Mt. Whitney from Whitney Portal. Contact the Mt. Whitney Ranger District, PO Box 8, Lone Pine, CA 93545, for additional information about this trailhead.
There are other routes besides Whitney Portal from which to reach Mt. Whitney. These leave from less heavily-used trailheads, but require a longer hike to reach the summit. The High Sierra Trail leaves from Giant Forest on the west side of Sequoia National Park, and takes a minimum of 6-10 days to complete.
Lone Pine, California
A classic case of when a handy shortcut turns into an adventure of its own...
From Death Valley the only place that seemed to present itself as a place to stay was Lone Pine. Our guidebook only really said that John Wayne used to stay at the Dow Villa Hotel and that a lot of westerns used to be shot in the hills around...
When we arrived, we found that there was a lot more to do here!
Arriving at night along the potentially difficult and dangerous route 136/190 from Death Valley, we got a room for the night in the old part of the Dow Villa Motel, where John Wayne stayed, for only $21 as it was winter.
For that price the room was fairly basic, but it was all we needed! We then had pizza at a diner across the road before turning in.
We woke early the next morning because we knew we had a lot of distance to cover - we had to be on the Californian coast by nightfall after visiting both the Alabama Hills AND the Sequoia National Park!!!
We first visited the Indian Trading Post for directions and also to admire their 'autographed wall' before taking a quick tour of the Alabama Hills and Movie Road to see where all the the films had been shot before heading south down I395, stopping only in Olancha for some Jerky.
Next we took a shortcut into the High Sierras along route 178 and past some fine Joshua Trees to the beautiful Lake Isabella where we turned off into high forested mountain country along route 155.
Once we crested the range, we came down into rolling meadows of dairy country before turning north onto route 65 with orange groves on both sides of the road.
Just outside the small town of Exeter, we turned onto route 198 for the Sequoia National Park...
The best things were being able to stay in the same hotel as so many past western stars and producers, seeing the autographs carved into the walls at the Indian Trading Post was also very memorable.
The Alabama Hills themselves were amazing to see because of their curious formations and because of all the movie history they hold...
It was slightly disappointing that the Whitney Portal road was closed as it would have been nice to drive at least as far as the lake below Mt Whitney.
Stopping at Gus' Jerky was a good journey breaker as was when we stopped with all the Joshua Trees around us.
Driving up into the mountains above Lake Isabella gave us our first taste of driving in mountain forests in the US, then we had the fun of passing a herd of cows on the road in the meadow foothills of the sierras followed by the huge groves of Oranges - it was great to see such a huge diversity in such a short time!