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Lone Pine

TRAVEL TRIVIA   Where was Charles Manson's first court appearance following the Tate La Bianca murders?
                                                                 Scroll to bottom for answer

Lone Pine Museum of Film History

“A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and hearty ‘Hi Yo Silver’!”   Step through the doors of the Lone Pine Museum of Film History and “Return with us now, to those thrilling days of yesteryear. The Lone Ranger rides again!”   Inside you will find one of the best tributes to that Hollywood icon, the American western.

Since 1920 the Alabama Hills have been the setting for hundreds of movies.  Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and of course the Lone Ranger have all outwitted the bad guys in the rocky outcrops here.  Once movie goers lost interest in westerns the film industry returned to Lone Pine to shoot scenes for recent blockbusters such as Disney’s Dinosaur, Django Unchained and Gladiator.

The museum’s curators have done a commendable job of bringing the big screen to this small town. There is enough content to keep you entertained for awhile and still drive to Mammoth in time for dinner. It’s easy to find a Lone Pine Film Museumstaff member if you have any questions.

A common thread throughout the museum are boots, saddles and outfits designed by Nudie Cohn.  Nudie was “discovered” by Tex Williams and quickly became known as the Rhinestone Tailor.   Any oater star worth his saddle wore a bejeweled “Nudie Suit.”  Later he designed clothes for the likes of Elvis Presley and Elton John.  He even gave Cher a little nip and tuck long before she ever heard of Botox.

The main hall is filled with memorabilia from Tinseltown’s love with the area: the stagecoach from Rawhide, Hopalong Cassidy’s chaps, vintage movie posters, hats, saddles and the list goes on.  The displays range from Fatty Arbuckle in The Round Up to Steve McQueen in Nevada Smith.  If you are too young to remember these matinee idols, there is an area with props from Iron Man and Star Trek V.   My favorite is a graboid from the cult classic Tremors.  Kevin Bacon and Reba McEntire starred in this movie which I am sure they would just as soon forget.

The museum’s Wild West Theatre airs a short documentary about Hollywood and the Alabama Hills every half hour.  Be sure to stop by the gift shop and pick up a copy of the Movie Road Self-guided Tour. It contains directions to 10 movie locations along with still shots so you can line your pictures up perfectly. Then it’s time to head for the hills!  

TRIP TIP!  A couple of times each month the museum screens contemporary and family films in their Wild West Theatre. It's a great way to spend the evening if you are staying in or around Lone Pine.  Call for show times.

701South Main St. Lone Pine, Ca (760) 876-9909

The Grill

One of the relatively new kids in Lone Pine is the Grill, located next to the Dow Villa Motel in the downtown district. A simple American menu served in simple surroundings make for a simply satisfying meal.

The décor can best be described as modern utilitarian.  Hardwood floors and mostly bare walls give the restaurant a clean uncluttered feel.  There is a shaded patio next to the street with comfortable wicker furniture.  Relaxing enough that a burger and iced tea on a breezy evening might make you overstay your welcome.

The Grill is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  The bill of fare is mainly American, cooked California style. Eggs Benedict at The Grill Simple recipes with a minimal amount of ingredients create a dish where the flavor of each component comes through while complimenting each other.  Though this method of cooking has been around forever, for some reason Californians decided that they invented the technique a couple of decades ago.

We had breakfast here during one of our recent stays in Lone Pine and enjoyed it so much we went back for dinner.  For our morning meal I had the Eggs Benedict.  The Grill does not offer 20 variations on a theme.  They serve a Salmon Benedict and the classic course; a slice of grilled Canadian bacon lays on a toasted English muffin.  A perfectly poached egg is placed on top of the bacon, then everything is covered by their freshly made Hollandaise sauce; creamy and buttery with a trace of lemon.  A sprinkling of green onions is added for good measure.  On the side was a serving of crispy seasoned home fries.  Simple, right?

If for no other reason, go to The Grill for dinner to see Bob, one of the waiters.  If you order dessert, when Bob delivers it, he unexpectedly bursts into song.  Surprise, he's a pretty good singer.  We were too full after knocking down some great burgers and beer to have dessert, but Bob took a shining to our dining partner.  No solo, but he did give her a free cookie!

446 South Main St.  Lone Pine CA 93545

Alabama Hills

Tucked between Lone Pine and the Sierra Nevada, the Alabama Hills go unnoticed by most drivers traveling highway 395.  However, the eerie jumble of rocks has been a magnet for movie producers, photographers and rock climbers for years.  Many books and websites are dedicated to finding movie-filming locations in the area.  One of the best is Kevin Closson's The Great Silence Blogspot.  I suggest purchasing the Movie Road Self-guided Tour booklet available at the Lone Pine Film Museum.  GPS coordinates and directions are listed for 10 different filming locations throughout the area.  We prefer to disregard the GPS settings and find the movie sites by the seat of our pants method.

django: unchained

Still shot from Django Unchained (2012)
filmed in the Alabama Hills

To get to the Alabama Hills turn west at the only stop light in Lone Pine.  Continue driving up Whitney Portal Road.  The landscape changes rapidly after leaving town.  One point of interest is Face Rock.  Directions aren’t needed; you’ll find it on your own.

At Movie Road turn right.  This is a well-maintained dirt road; 4WD and high clearance vehicles are not necessary.  Immediately you see why Hollywood loved filming here.  It just feels like the Old West.  While exploring the wind carved granite formations you can almost feel the bad guys hiding behind the next rock.  At any time you might be where Gary Cooper, Gene Autry or the Duke once stood.  Even the boys from Bonanza produced an episode here.

Westerns weren’t the only movies filmed in this unique landscape.  Over the years the Alabama Hills have portrayed other countries and different worlds.  Areas around here became India in Gunga Din. Parts of Gladiator were filmed nearby.  The Alabama Hills’ otherworldly rock composition became an alien planet in the Star Trek series.

More recently the Alabama Hills have become a popular site for commercials.  Almost every major car company has shot footage around here.   We happened to be in the area when Dodge was filming advertisements for their Ram pickup trucks.

Rock climbers and photographers will have a field day.   Countless natural rock arches dot the landscape.  A good place to start looking is at the Heart Arch parking area.  Take Movie Road about a mile and a half to where it makes a right turn (close to #10 in the tour book).  The parking lot is on the left.  Heart Arch can be seen to the east.  A short trail leads to Mobius Arch, one of Alabama Hills’ more famous landmarks.  Another half dozen formations are within a half mile.

    Alabama Hills Oil Painting

Seasons Restaurant

The range of dining choices along 395 never ceases to amaze us.  Lone Pine is most noted for fast food and buffalo burgers, not fine dining.  And yet right in the middle of town Seasons Restaurant has been serving nouveu American cuisine for years.  In our opinion Seasons could hold their own against Mammoth’s upscale eateries.

Seasons Restaurant is only open for dinner.  We would not recommend stopping if you are on a bonsai run up to Tahoe.  Eating here is an experience and the service is unhurried.  But if you are staying in Lone Pine or nearby and want something more than diner food, it doesn’t get any better.  Reservations are suggested; coat and tie are not.

The menu is surprising.  In the middle of a desert you don’t expect to be offered fresh scampi, pan seared salmon, duck, lamb or a full page of mouthwatering steaks.  One thing I found odd was the Idaho rainbow trout.  In an area famous for its fishing, you'd think local trout would be on the menu.  The wine list seems sufficient but not Seasons Restaurant Cheesecakepretentious.  I wish I could comment on the virtues of a well-aged merlot, but my usual choice of dinner beverage comes from Anheuser-Busch. 

Our dinner started with a small loaf of piping-hot sourdough bread and a bowl of French onion soup.  The bread reminded us of Boudin’s Bakery in San Francisco.  We are suckers for onion soup and Seasons' version fills the bill.  The broth had a rich flavor with the right amount of onions.  The cheese was a crusted mass of melted bliss.  To eat it we had to twirl our spoons around it like strands of spaghetti.

The salad was well chilled and crisp with homemade ranch dressing.  We finished it just as the last slices of bread disappeared.

Debbie and I decided to split an order of elk medallions.  I had never tried elk before, it was interesting.  Elk is very lean; Seasons did a nice job of preparing it.  It was chewy but tender, if that makes sense.  There was no gaminess but it lacked the robust flavor of beef.  The port wine sauce covering our medallions was excellent.  The cranberries and walnuts added texture and flavor.

Discovering Seasons Restaurant was a pleasant surprise, kind of like grabbing a coat out of your closet and finding money in one of the pockets.

206 South Main St.  Lone Pine, Ca  93545  (760) 876-8927


Without the perseverance of countless individuals and organizations Manzanar may no longer exist.  It would have been just as easy to sweep this grim chapter in American history under the rug.

Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor President Roosevelt signed executive order number 9066.  It established security regions and authorized exclusion of any or all persons from said areas.  The Manzanar War Relocation Center was established and within months thousands of Japanese Americans, mostly citizens, were detained here. According to internee William Hohri, “We had about one week to dispose of what we owned, except what we could pack and carry for our departure by bus…to Manzanar.”

Fueled by paranoia and prejudice Manzanar was hastily constructed in this remote region.  Barbed wire and eight guard towers surrounded the perimeter, manned by MPs with searchlights and machine guns Manzanarpointed toward the compound.  Temperatures routinely rose above 100 in the summer and fell below freezing during winter.  Barracks made of plywood and tarpaper offered little relief from the constant wind.  Communal toilets stripped the Japanese of any dignity they may have left.

Today the National Park Service manages the Manzanar National Historic Site.  Ongoing reconstruction projects have made this an enlightening place to stop.  You should start your tour at the interpretive center.  Opened in 2004 it is housed in what was originally the high school auditorium.  A twenty minute film chronicles what life was like here.  A memorial covers one entire wall with the names of all 10,000+ internees.  In another area is a replica of a barrack interior.  There is a scale model of Manzanar which demonstrates the vast size of the compound.  Spread throughout the building are numerous examples of  the anti- Japanese sentiment prevalent during the war.  Be sure to pick up a brochure from one of the rangers. It contains a self-guided driving tour of the park.

Outside a guard tower stands close by.  It is a monument to what this place really was: a concentration camp.  The Japanese people were prisoners of war.  A hundred yards from the interpretive center are two barracks.  They will give you a taste of life as a detainee.  Plans for building a mess hall are in the works.  The rest of Manzanar consists mainly of concrete walkways and foundations of buildings long removed.

The cemetery is easily accessible.  It’s a quiet place to pause and reflect.  150 people died at Manzanar. 15 to 80 were buried here.  Of those approximately six remain today.  Act appropriately.  You can examine the offerings that  have been left here, either in remembrance or protest.  The concrete monument in the middle simply reads "soul consoling tower".  It was erected in 1943 by internees.

10 miles north of Lone Pine; 6 miles south of Independence

TRAVEL TRIVIA ANSWER  The Inyo County courthouse in Independence.  Manson and his followers were arrestedInyo Courthouse at the Barker Ranch in Death Valley on arson and auto theft charges.  While awaiting trial in Independence, Los Angeles detectives started piecing together evidence from the Tate La Bianca case and charged Manson with the murders.