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Uncrowded Lone Pine has rich film history

One of the best weekend getaways our region affords is to Lone Pine, California. It’s uncrowded — a small town of about 2,000 people — and lies in Owens Valley at the foot of the Sierra Nevada’s spectacular eastern slope. The area is rich in camping, hiking and fishing opportunities and is the site where many popular movies were filmed. Even the four-hour drive there can be fun, for much of it is via uncrowded highways through open and attractive country.

Just outside of town is the 30,000-acre Alabama Hills Recreation Area, a land of granite boulders in whimsical and unusual formations awaiting your exploration. The main gravel road through this area is Movie Road, along which you can explore the rock on short strolls, hike into hidden canyons or find one of the area’s many arches.

One of the best, Mobius Arch, is found by hiking along a 0.8-mile loop, with the trailhead about 1.5 miles northwest on Movie Road from Whitney Portal Road. Go right at the fork and the parking area is on your left. From the parking area, at about 4,666 feet, follow either the east or the west trailhead through the formations to reach the arch, then continue back to make a loop hike. It is easy hiking, but it undulates over the terrain. This hike is best done early in the day, when you can catch the morning glow on Lone Pine Peak and Mount Whitney, framed within the arch.

Hollywood discovered the area more than 90 years ago. Remember all those scenes of gunfights among the boulders? Chances are they were shot here. Many of the sites can be found, without too much effort, directly off Movie Road. It is a gravel road, but unless there has been heavy rain, it is suitable for passenger cars.

You can pick up a copy of the Movie Road Self-Guided Tour booklet at the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce and Tourist Information Center, 126 S. Main St, or call 760-876-4444. Highlights include sites that represented the Himalayas of Asia in the 1939 film “Gunga Din,” starring Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Sam Jaffe.

While in Lone Pine be sure to visit the Museum of Western Film History, at 701 S. Main St. Here you’ll see a great collection of movie props, costumes, saddles and other memorabilia including some from the more recent films “Iron Man” and “Tremors,” as well as hundreds of items from the most famous old Western films and television shows. There also is an entertaining 15-minute orientation film. Through October, the museum is open 10 a.m-6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays. It closes an hour earlier in winter and is closed on major holidays. Call 760-876-9909.

Lone Pine has been accommodating to visitors since the 19th century, and campgrounds, motels, restaurants and other tourist services are listed on the chamber of commerce website. Also there is a listing of the upbeat and offbeat special events of the region. One of the most unusual is Mule Days, set for May 23-28 in nearby Bishop, which celebrates the usually underappreciated hybrid and its importance to the West. This year’s Lone Pine Film Festival, saluting the sort of Westerns typically made here, is set for Oct. 6-8.

Deborah Wall is the author of “Great Hikes, A Cerca Country Guide” and “Base Camp Las Vegas: Hiking the Southwestern States,” published by Stephens Press. She can be reached at deborabus@aol.com.

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