Rocks, mountains and the sky, Alabama Hills
California Destinations Travel Story USA

Alabama Hills. Two days in Wild West

Our journey to the American Wild West, to the place where Hollywood Westerns were filmed, where cowboys and Indians chased each other, and the bandits plundered post coaches. Why go to India, the Middle East, the Gobi Desert, Africa or fly to other planets, if they were created in Alabama Hills - a couple of hours from the bustling and crowded Hollywood. We spent only two days there, but I wanted to stay for a week, take a walk among the bizarre rocks, admire the rugged beauty of the desert. And, maybe, to hike the 14,496 mountain peak, which snow cap picturesquely accentuates the yellow stones of Alabama Hills.

In Lone Pine, unassuming little town closest to the Alabama Hills, we arrived late when darkness swallowed up Sierra Nevada mountains and famous rock formations. Only a few restaurants open on Thanksgiving evening were lit up. Next day we started late with scrambled eggs, coffee and the breathtaking view of white Sierra caps and a sharp crown of Mount Whitney. Why hurry, we already got the best picture.

View on Mount Whitney from Lone Pine, CA
View on Mount Whitney from Lone Pine, CA

The Alabama Hills whimsical rocks are one of Hollywood’s favorite filming locations. The first movie was shot there in 1920 and made this area the icon of American West. Since then the Alabama Hills appeared in hundreds of movies and TV shows such as Star Trek, Gladiator, Iron Man, The Lone Ranger.

The yellow tree, Alabama Hills
The yellow tree, Alabama Hills

These stones and plains, nestled in the shadow of Sierra Nevada, stood in for India, the Middle East, the Gobi Desert, Africa and even other planets.

Rocks, mountains and the sky, Alabama Hills
Rocks, mountains and the sky, Alabama Hills

To get there is easy – just take Whitney Portal Road from Lone Pine and drive till you see the face of Alabama Hills. It’s time to leave a car and start exploring by feet.

Face of Alabama Hills
Face of Alabama Hills

It was a hot day and soon we started to dream about cool shadows and conifer trees of Sierra. The same road after vertiginous switchbacks took us halfway up Mount Whitney. We stopped in the middle of ascent to take a look at Owens Valley, distant rock formation, and the Panamint Range. Far-far away behind that ridge is Death Valey and Teakettle Junction.

Owens Valley, California
Owens Valley, California

As we draw closer to the mountains the view changed dramatically, cliffs seemed more and more massive until suddenly they overwhelmed us. It was such a beautiful drive up and a nice switch up from the rocky desert below.

Mount Whitney from the road
Mount Whitney from the road

The road ends at Whitney Portal surrounded by huge granite walls. Mount Whitney Trail starts its steep climb nearby to take you up to the highest mountain in lower 48 states. It was not our ambition this time – we enjoyed the chilly air and jolly sound of multiple tiny streams.

Running Creek near end of Mount Whitney road
Running Creek near end of Mount Whitney road

The biggest waterfall in the area is almost frozen, it gives you strong hint what to expect on the summit of the 14,496 mountain peak.

Lone Pine Creek Falls
Lone Pine Creek Falls

Late afternoon we went back to noticeably hotter Alabama Hills and turn to an unpaved road that took us deep into the valley. If you had to pick a road in California with the most movie connections, what will come to your mind? Sunset Boulevard? Maybe Mulholland or Melrose? They’re all good, but another road exists in California with much history and it is called The Movie Road.

The Movie Road, Alabama Hills
The Movie Road, Alabama Hills

The rounded rocks along the road appear in sharp contrast to the chiseled peaks of the Sierra Nevada. They were formed at the same time and are geologically part of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Rocks, Alabama Hills
Rocks, Alabama Hills

Percolating water molded the sharp granite blocks and sculpted the many unusual formations of the Alabama Hills.

Breathtaking camping, Alabama Hills
Breathtaking camping, Alabama Hills

Meanwhile, the sun was slipping away behind the high peaks of the Sierra, the last sunrays highlighted the Panamint Range.

Last sunrays of the day, Alabama Hills
Last sunrays of the day, Alabama Hills

Sunset did not bring expected colors. After sun completely disappeared everything became bluish without any red hues.

Twilight, Alabama Hills
Twilight, Alabama Hills

Next day started early – we were heading for sunrise.Waking up was a struggle – it always is for me. What the blessing that in November “early” is around 7 AM.

Sunrise over Whitney Portal Road
Sunrise over Whitney Portal Road

Soon the day’s first rays painted the mountains with warm light and the highest peaks were colored rose by alpenglow. There is something magical about this place.

Mount Whitney at sunrise, Alabama Hills
Mount Whitney at sunrise, Alabama Hills

Often peculiar rock shapes remind you of something. I saw a skull on the below picture, Alex said it reminds him a bad tooth.

First morning rays, Alabama Hills
First morning rays, Alabama Hills

Once the sun was fully up, the rocks lit up in amazing shades of gold, yellow and orange.

Bright rocks and the dark Panamint Range
Bright rocks and dark Panamint Range

After taking one more photo of the yellow cottonwood we headed back to Lone Pine for breakfast.

Live among rocks
Live among rocks

We drove to Alabama Hills one more time for some more exploring. This time we choose Hogback Creek Road. It brought us to tiny creek almost completely hidden among the bushes.

Sandy Hogback Creek Road
Sandy Hogback Creek Road

Eventually, the road carried us to the other side of the Movie Road, a little bit more rough and bumpier.

Alabama Hills rocks
Alabama Hills rocks

For now, it’s time for our Starship to head to the more civilized part of California.

Dusty road in Alabama Hills
Dusty road in Alabama Hills

Lone Pine Smokehouse had some great reviews on Yelp, so we stopped there for some pulled pork and enjoyed the beautiful red sunset. The restaurant is located just across historic Dow Villa Motel that hosted Hollywood producers, directors, and stars – John Wayne, Gene Autry, Errol Flynn, Robert Mitchum and Clayton Moore.

Historic Dow Villa Motel, Lone Pine
Historic Dow Villa Motel, Lone Pine

The Alabama Hills, you’re the surreal and wildly beautiful place. We’ll be back again soon.

In conclusion, let take a couple of roads in the Alabama Hills.

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