A Breathtaking Hike and a Sad Farewell ~ Sierra Nevadas, CA

whitney portal trail
Lovely Lone Pine Lake, set in a granite bowl

We have bid a sad farewell to the Sierra Nevadas and moved on from the Alabama Hills due to the threat of a high-wind warning.  Our original plans were to leave a few days hence anyway, so we thought erring on the side of caution was prudent for us.  Our friends Nina and Paul had plans to stay another week, so hopefully the high winds bypassed the Alabamas and we will all be treated instead to some of Nina’s fabulous photography of snow-capped peaks in an upcoming post.

All four of us had planned a second hike before our departure, sadly not to be, but fortunately we did hike the Whitney Portal Trail  to Lone Pine Lake, which was spectacular for viewing soaring granite walls, stunning fall colors, and a lovely lake at the end.  It was rather exciting to think that we were trekking up the same trail that those summiting Mount Whitney hike, although our journey was a much abbreviated version – 2.5 miles vs. 13 miles to the summit.

The gang headin’ out!
Stunning fall colors racing up the canyon

Whitney Portal is one of the busiest trailheads in the Sierra Nevadas and is most often hiked by those going the full distance.  Our 5-miler round-trip began at 8365 feet with a 1500 foot elevation gain to Lone Pine Lake, a far cry from the 6100 foot gain required to summit.  It is a well-maintained trail and a hike that we highly recommend if you are in the area.

Terry enjoying an amazing view to the desert floor below

Although our time here was cut short, we soaked in a lot of natural beauty and enjoyed a breathtaking hike, sharing some good times with friends along the way.  It’s no wonder we are bidding a sad farewell to this magical place.

Lenticular cloud above the Alabama Hills ~ “Sierra Wave”

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A Boondocking First ~ The Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, CA

Alabama Hills
Camped at the Rawhide movie Grave Site

We are on our first big “boondocking” adventure, thanks to RV buddies Nina and Paul.  They slowly indoctrinated us at June Lake where we were dry-camping but now it is the real deal, truly goin’ naked out on BLM land.  I must say it is invigorating, just like running around naked in the wilderness would feel, and now that I mention it, we could definitely traipse through the desert au natural if the mood hit as campers are few and far between here.

First happy hour

Our location, chosen by none other than the lovely RV bloggess Nina, is in the Owens Valley just west of Lone Pine, CA in the Alabama Hills.  If you have never been, this place seems a bit otherworldly.   Technically the Alabamas are part of the Sierra Nevada Mountains but considered more a range of hills and they look nothing like the Sierras.

Sunrise in the Alabama Hills

The Sierras stand as tall, rugged granite peaks all around us, with Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the lower 48 states towering above them all at 14,505 feet.  The Alabamas, however, although about the same age as the Sierras, roughly 150 million years old (give or take a few million years), are a volcanic rock that has been weathered over millions of years to resemble large potato-shaped boulders that have been turned on their ends.  It is believed that the same cataclysmic events shaped both the Sierras and the Alabamas.  A millennia of driving winds and snow are the tools that sculpted the unusual shaped granite boulders that are now the Alabama Hills, strewn throughout this desert landscape.

Rugged Mt Whitney seen through Mobius Arch

Approximately 300 arches dot these 30,000 acres of Alabama Hills, the most famous being the Mobius Arch, which is a favorite of photographers.  If you place yourself just right, you are able to capture Mt. Whitney within this lovely curved arch.  The trail to the arch is a short ¼ mile hike and from there you are free to explore the many unusual boulder pilings against a backdrop of granite peaks.  It is important to keep your bearings out here as the piles of boulders all begin to look alike after a time.  I must admit to getting a bit turned around and coming out at a completely different location than I had entered but was still able to find my way back home.

With landscape this otherworldly, you gotta know that something special has happened here, right?  Heck, the name alone had me wondering why ‘Alabama Hills’ in the middle of California?  First, let’s get that answer out of the way.  The Alabama Hills were named for the Civil War Confederate warship, USS Alabama.  It seems there were a few wayward prospectors wandering them thar hills who were sympathizers to the Confederate cause.  They named these hills and it stuck!

Alabama Hills beauty
Geological changes at their finest

Probably what this area is most noted for is the 150+ movies and roughly a dozen television shows that were filmed here, most notably old Western movie productions, dating back to the early 1920’s.  A few of the more notable Western films include Gunga Din, How the West Was Won, Rawhide, Bad Day at Black Rock and a few non-Westerns filmed here were Gladiator, Iron Man, and Star Trek Generations.  A few of the old television productions, for those of you who can remember (I was a wee bit too young!) were Tom Mix, Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger, and The Gene Autry Show.

Lone Pine Film Museum

If you tour the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center at the south end of Lone Pine, and you should because it is very well done, you can pick up a booklet that will take you through a self-guided tour of the Alabama Hills movie filming locations.  As long as you are in the area, a stop by the Beverly and Jim Rogers Museum of Lone Pine Film History is pretty fascinating as well.  We discovered shortly after flipping through the Movie Road tour guide that our rigs are situated at the Rawhide movie Grave Site.  Does Nina know how to pick a site, or what?!

I have lots more to share about this amazing area, along with a couple fabulous hikes, which I will do in subsequent posts, provided my Internet connectivity cooperates.  We are out in the boonies, you know!  Although it hasn’t stopped those techie engineers Nina and Paul from blogging away!

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