Frank B. Baiamonte

Photography . . . Travel . . .

Monday, May 21, 2018

Road Trip - Lone Pine, California - Part 1

Heather and I recently went for a four-day 790-mile road trip to the town of Lone Pine, California.  Lone Pine, located on US-395 about 280 miles north of San Diego, sits in the high desert Owens Valley at about 3,700' elevation, between the Sierra Nevada and Inyo Mountains.  The town dates back to the 1860's, and since about the 1920's the area (including the nearby Alabama Hills) has been the location for the filming of many movies and TV shows.  We've been driving past this little town for years but have never stopped.  This time we spent three nights there, and it was great. 

I refreshed the maps in the navigation system . . .



. . . packed up the Xterra . . .



. . . activated the speech-recognition and turn-by-turn direction features of the navigation system . . .



. . . and we hit the road.

Our first stop was the visitor center at the Rio Tinto US Borax mine outside of the town of Boron, California.  A giant hole in the ground (California's largest open pit mine) can actually be quite interesting.  The open pit is over two miles long, and even with my ultra-wide lens I could not get all of it in the frame.





They don't use the Twenty Mule Team rigs to move the borax these days, now it's giant haul trucks with 12' foot high tires.



I had to do it, the sign did say it was a "selfie station".

Later we stopped at Fossil Falls to check out the rather interesting geology.  This geological feature was formed 20,000 to 10,000 years ago, when melting glaciers in the Sierra Nevada range flowed down over and eroded a basaltic lava flow from a nearby volcano.





We stayed at the Dow Villa Motel, which was built in 1957 alongside the older (1923) Dow Hotel.  The rooms have been modernized, and this is probably the best hotel in the area, and very nice.  It's also very well located, walking distance from several very good restaurants including Seasons, the Merry Go Round, The Grill, and the Alabama Hills Cafe, all of which we can recommend.



It was a little on the cool side (almost raining actually) on Tuesday morning, and our first stop was the Alabama Hills for some wandering and hiking in the rock formations.  Film production companies have been filming here since the 1929's, and many famous movies and TV shows were filmed here, including The Lone Ranger, Gunga Din, Tremors, Star Trek  Generations, Iron Man, and countless Westerns.





The Alabama Hills today are at about 4,500' elevation, and close to the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  On Tuesday when we were there the Sierras and the Inyos were pretty much covered in clouds and mist.



From what I hear you can frame a view of Mt. Whitney in this arch, which would make for a pretty cool picture.  Not on the day we were there.  It's somewhere in that direction, under the cloud cover.



Eventually the clouds started to break up, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains came into view, more or less.




We decided that was a good sign that it was time to get back in the Xterra and head up to Whitney Portal to check out the trailhead to Mt. Whitney.  As we climbed in elevation the clouds came back.



Continued in Part 2.

This blog post is in five parts.  Click on Older Posts at the bottom right side of the page if they don't all show up.  There are links to galleries with more photos in the last post.
    

Road Trip - Lone Pine, California - Part 2

We headed out the back way from the Alabama Hills and connected up with Whitney Portal Road to take it to the end at just over 8,300' elevation.  

Living in San Diego, this not something we are used to seeing.



There was an off and on light rain turning to light snow on the drive up, but still some spectacular views from the road.  This is looking out over the Owens Valley and Alabama Hills, with the Inyo Mountains in the background.



Looks like someone may have missed a turn.  It also looked like a long way down.






We eventually got to the end of the road, and hung out and enjoyed the snow for a bit before heading back down towards town.  No hike to Mt. Whitney Lake for us that day.



Lots of great views driving back down towards Lone Pine.











As we drove past the Alabama Hills on the way back down we stopped for a couple more pictures.





Our next stop was the Museum of Western Film History in Lone Pine. 



This museum has some great exhibits, including a whole room dedicated to one of my favorite movies, Tremors.  I even took a selfie with an actual prop used in the movie, a full-sized Graboid.



We finished off our first full day of sightseeing with a short trip out to see the Owens Lake Trails, part of the Owens Lake Dust Mitigation Program, a joint venture of the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power and the various other companies and agencies that control the lakebed.  The LA DWP has set up a series of hiking trails out to newly restored wetlands.  It was a wet, cold and very windy drive out onto a series of levees that extend out into the playa of Owens Dry Lake, which is not all that dry in some places now.



The shelters are cut from pieces of aqueduct pipe.




When we got back to the motel we found this parked in front of our room.  It did not surprise us.



Continued in Part 3.
    

Road Trip - Lone Pine, California - Part 3

The weather was a lot nicer on Wednesday morning, so we decided to head north to check out a few things along US-395 up towards the town of Independence.  

Nice view of the mountains from the hotel parking lot.



Our first stop, after a great breakfast at the Alabama Hills Cafe, was Manzanar National Historic Site, about halfway between Lone Pine and Independence.  



We had been there before, so we did not spend a lot of time this visit.  Anyone passing through this area should stop and see this, and learn about the history.





From the back of the camp there is pretty much nothing until you get to the base of the Sierras.



Our next stop was the old Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery, which was built in 1917.  The interpretive center was closed the day we were there, but we mostly just wanted to see the building itself, with the mountains in the background.











Our original plan for the day had been to drive up to see the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, in the White Mountains at about 11,000' elevation.  We spoke with the Forest Service rangers and they strongly suggested that we wait for better weather and road conditions later in the year.  Heather pulled out the map and looked for something else interesting to check out.  She found a small road on the map labeled Onion Valley Road, that appeared to head west from Independence up into the mountains to a meadow.

Onion Valley Road winds its way up to 9,200' elevation at the site of the highest pack horse station in the Sierras, at the eastern side the Kearsarge Pass.  It was grey and cold at the end of the road, with a bit of snow just starting to fall.  The views from the road were spectacular.







Once we got back down towards the valley we checked out some side roads.







Decisions . . . decisions . . .



When we do these road trips I like to do at least some advance research on things to see and do.  More often than not we'll change or modify the itinerary to suit what we actually encounter or feel like along the way, and sometimes I'll just plain forget that something is there.

When we were coming down from Whitney Portal on Tuesday we stopped at one point to get some pictures of the valley below.  A driver heading uphill, who could see we were headed down, stopped in the road to ask me if the waterfall at Whitney Portal was flowing. After I told him that we did not see it, Heather said to me "There's a waterfall up there?" in that tone of voice that really means "You knew there was a waterfall that I would really want to see, and you didn't take me there?"  I did know about it before we got there, but once we got there I completely forgott that there is a waterfall at the end of Whitney Portal Road, not far at all from where we were.

So, on Wednesday on our way back south to Lone Pine, when the weather was a lot warmer, and the sun was more or less out, we decided to take the backroads across the outside of the Alabama Hills and go back up to Whitney Portal to find the waterfall.  This time we could actually see the mountains we were driving towards.








Continued in Part 4.
    

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San Diego, California, United States
About me . . . When I'm not working I like to be out exploring and photographing. I do this blog just for fun, and to be able to share these images with friends. I hope you enjoy viewing these images as much as I enjoyed creating them.

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Header image: Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, Cibola, Arizona. End image: Downtown San Diego, California skyline from Coronado Island. Profile picture: Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho, by Heather Baiamonte.