Lone Pine is located 16 miles (26 km) south-southeast of Independence, at an elevation of 3727 feet (1136 m) in Inyo County, California, United States. The population was 2,035 at the 2010 census, up from 1,655 at the 2000 census. The town is located in the Owens Valley, near the Alabama Hills. From possible choices of urban, rural, and frontier, the Census Bureau identifies this area as “frontier”. On March 26, 1872, the very large Lone Pine earthquake destroyed most of the town and killed 27 of its 250 to 300 residents.
After an incredible drive through stunning scenery in Death Valley I was not expecting much from our brief one night stay in Lone Pine. How wrong I was. This small town located just east of the Sierra Nevada range and below the magnificent Mount Whitney is a gem of a place. With its incredibly scenic location and the history of film making around this town makes this place a must-visit. Just a few miles west of the town are the Alabama Hills which has some very unique and bizarre rock formations which have attracted many film companies here over the years.
During the 1870s, Lone Pine was an important supply town for several nearby mining communities, including Kearsarge, Cerro Gordo, Keeler, Swansea, and Darwin. The Cerro Gordo mine situated high in the Inyo Mountains was one of the most productive silver mines in California. The silver was carried in ore buckets on a strong cable to Keeler, and then transported four miles northwest to smelter oven at Swanseas. To supply the necessary building materials and fuel for these operations, a sawmill was constructed near Horseshoe Meadows by Colonel Sherman Stevens that produced wood for the smelters and the mines. The wood was moved by flume to the valley, where it was burned in adobe kilns to make charcoal, which was then transported by steamships across Owens Lake to the smelters at Swansea, located about 12 miles south of Lone Pine.
In 1920, the history of Lone Pine was dramatically altered when a movie producion company came to the Alabama Hills to make the silent film The Roundup. Other companies soon discovered the scenic location, and in the coming decades, over 400 films, 100 television episodes, and countless commercials have used Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills as a film location. Some of the notable films shot here in the 1920s and 1930s include Riders of the Purple Sage (1925) with Tom Mix, The Enchanted Hill (1926) with Jack Holt, Somewhere in Sonora (1927) with Ken Maynard, Blue Steel (1934) with John Wayne, Hop-Along Cassidy (1935) with William Boyd, The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) with Errol Flynn, Oh, Susanna! (1936) with Gene Autry, Rhythm on the Range (1936) with Bing Crosby, The Cowboy and the Lady (1938) with Gary Cooper, Under Western Stars (1938) with Roy Rogers, and Gunga Din (1939) with Cary Grant.
In the coming decades, Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills continued to be used as the setting for Western films, including West of the Pecos (1945) with Robert Mitchum, Thunder Mountain (1947) with Tim Holt, The Gunfighter (1950) with Gregory Peck, The Nevadan (1950) with Randolph Scott, Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) with Spencer Tracy, Hell Bent for Leather (1960) with Audie Murphy, How the West Was Won (1962) with James Stewart, Nevada Smith (1966) with Steve McQueen, Joe Kidd (1972) with Clint Eastwood, Maverick (1994) with Mel Gibson, and The Lone Ranger (2013) with Johnny Depp. Through the years, non-Western films also used the unique landscape of the area, including Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur (1942) with Robert Cummings, Samson and Delilah (1949) with Hedy Lamarr, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) with William Shatner, Tremors (1990) with Kevin Bacon, The Postman (1997) with Kevin Costner, and Gladiator (2000) with Russell Crowe.
Just before the sun went down we had the opportunity to take a brief drive through the Alabama Hill area. With the Sierra Nevada range to the west and the sun going down this made for some stunning vistas.
Early the next morning I revisited the Alabama Hills to capture Mount Whitney and the other peaks in the Sierra Nevada range in the beautiful pink light of dawn.
Mount Whitney is the highest summit in the contiguous United States and the Sierra Nevada, with an elevation of 14,505 feet (4,421 m). It is on the boundary between California’s Inyo and Tulare counties, 84.6 miles (136.2 km) west-northwest of the lowest point in North America at Badwater in Death Valley National Park at 282 ft (86 m) below sea level. The west slope of the mountain is in Sequoia National Park and the summit is the southern terminus of the John Muir Trail which runs 211.9 mi (341.0 km) from Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley. The east slope is in the Inyo National Forest in Inyo County.
Our visit to Lone Pine was all but too short and we soon had to be back on the road towards our next location, Yosemite National Park. As we headed north on California 395 we had a magnificent view of the Sierra Nevada mountains to the west.