Sunday, October 19, 2014

Mountains, Movies and More in Lone Pine

I found my limit. I now know the maximum wind I am willing to drive Scoopy in based on our very gusty trip to Lone Pine. It's a good thing we got going early, because if we had waited and traveled in the even gustier afternoon, we probably would have had to find a place to stop and wait it out. There's just nothing enjoyable about getting smacked broadside by 25-30 mph gusts.

Wind aside, the scenery of the Sierras was stunning. Literally breath-taking, the kind of beauty that elicits lots of oooohing and ahhhhing. The kind that makes Steven undo his seatbelt and dart from window to window with camera in hand. At one point as he was leaning across Scoopy's sloped dash trying to get the perfect shot, I flipped on the engine brake without warning and he flew right back into his chair. I didn't do it on purpose, but if he doesn't stop roaming around, I might!

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The views and ever-changing light on the way were spectacular

We arrived at Boulder Creek RV Park and got set up. Considering the lush areas we have mostly traveled in, Steven and I both commented that we were now really and truly in the desert. The Flintstones would feel right at home at Boulder Creek. Lots of rocks. (Guess that's why they call it "Boulder" Creek, although, there ain't no creek here, at least one that had any water flowing, so there's that.) Of course, the mountains were amazing, and we could see them right outside Scoopy, but the relentless wind made it impossible to sit outside and enjoy the view. I admit I was underwhelmed at first, but mostly I was just exhausted from the drive.

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Our site at Boulder Creek and the awesome view of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

We were told that the winds were not typical for this time of year, so we made plans to do most of our outdoor activities on later days when it was supposed to calm down. We watched the weather reports like hawks. For two days and nights the wind howled. Then finally, it stopped. And that's when we completely and totally fell in love with Lone Pine and the entire Owens Valley.

Without question, the scenery is the star of Lone Pine, but there's lots to do here even when the weather isn't perfect. We stopped in to visit the Lone Pine Film History Museum, which was awesome. Even if you don't know it, believe me when I tell you that you've seen this area before. The majestic Sierra Nevada mountain range and the awesome Alabama Hills have served as background for all kinds of storytelling. Tony Stark in Afganistan? Nope - Lone Pine! "The Lone Ranger", "Star Trek" (totally cool alien planet stuff here), that scene in "Tremors" where that nasty wormy thing that sprang from the ground, "Django Unchained", and just about every shoot-'em-up-singin'-cowboy B-Western you can think of, all filmed right here. If you love film history (Steven) and even if you don't (me), it's well worth a stop to visit this little gem of a museum.

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The Film History Museum. The wheels on this stagecoach were bigger than Scoopy’s!

There is also Movie Road, which you can drive to see the exact spots where a lot of this filming took place. It wasn't a highlight for us, because a.) nothing is marked (maybe we needed a map?) and b.) the road isn't paved. On the day we went it was so washboardy we had to turn around - too teeth-rattling even in our little Toadie Hopper. Our neighbors at the RV park went and got lost, so they weren't all that impressed either.

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Once we turned onto Movie Road, we were transported to another world…

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One of the few signs in the area giving info about where the old classic “Gunga Din” was filmed

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Despite the rough road, the views were magnificent with lots of cloud drama!

Can’t you just imagine the Lone Ranger and Tonto here, or the Away Team from Star Trek?

One of our favorite drives turned out to be Horseshoe Meadow Road. Again, not having a map, we had no idea where it led to, and for some reason I thought it was a loop. It wasn't. We found ourselves on a 30-mile trip straight up a mountain with more switchbacks than I can count. We ended up at an elevation of 10,000 feet and the views of the valley were fantastic, particularly dry Owens Lake. Once we reached the end of the road (it literally ends at a rustic campground) we found out that Horseshoe Meadow was still a 4.5 mile hike, so we decided to save that for another day. We simply did not come prepared for a long hike (no map! no water!), but it's on my bucket list now. 

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The view from high up on Horseshoe Meadow Road looking out on Lone Pine

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Selfie at the top of Horseshoe Meadow Road!          End of the road, with warnings!

There is a lot of history in the area, and while much of it is fun, some of it is just downright sad. The Manzanar National Historic Site, the site of one of ten camps where over 110,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II is located just north of Lone Pine. Considering the massive size of Manzanar at it's height of operation, there's not much left to see, but the visitor's center is well worth the trip and they do a good job of educating visitors on daily life for the people who were imprisoned there. Clearly, this was not one of our country's finest hours. There is a 3-mile drive to take, but Steven and I chose to walk through the now-abandoned streets rather than drive. For us, it was much more up-close and personal way to learn about it.

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Manzanar National Historic Site was a surprisingly moving experience

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Remnants of gardens and streets where row after row of barrack-like housing once stood.

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Gravesite at Manzanar and reconstruction of the housing.

South of Lone Pine is the very dry Owens Lake. It is an interesting place to see, and it has a fascinating history. In the early 1900s, Owens Lake covered over 100 square miles and was up to 50 feet deep. Then a couple of shysters from Los Angeles showed up having decided their growing city needed that water more than the residents of the Owens Valley. They cheated farmers out of their land, built an aqueduct, diverted the water and drained it dry in just a few years. That's the simplified version, but the whole thing just kind of blows my mind.

What remains today of Owens Lake as seen from Horseshoe Meadow Road

For RVers, the Alabama Hills are well-known for boondocking. You can just head up Whitney Portal Road and take a turn on just about any road and find a cool place to park for free, nestled in the giant baked potato-like Alabama Hills or in a rustic campground. We were eager to work on our boondocking chops, ready to test our limits without hookups of any kind. We had booked a four-night stay at Boulder Creek, but we decided to stay an extra day and kept an eye out for the perfect site. We found it and on departure day, we moved nine miles to Tuttle Creek. It was glorious.


  1. Your blog may just keep me on the road till I can get back to California and visit this place. Damn, so many places yet to see!

  2. Fred, I TOLD you we needed to go there! Awesome blog. Thanks.

  3. there is so many places to see and stay's a big world out there and thanks for taking us along!
    promise to stay seated until the bus is in park!

  4. It really is unusual to have wind up there this (that) time of year - March and April it doesn't stop for weeks :-( Love all the big puffy clouds on the mountains - beautiful! I'm so glad you got to enjoy the Owens Valley, even with its bizarre history of camps and stolen water and brown and gray landscape, it is one of my favorite places :-)

  5. We also visited the Manzanar Historic Site and chose to walk instead of drive. It left us both with a feeling neither of us could describe. We stayed at Boulder Creek RV park several times and found it a great stop to explore the area.

  6. Luckily we just missed the winds and were in Lone Pine a few days ago. We stayed at the Tuttle Creek BLM Dry campground. Hope you are having fun!