5 Things To Do In The Alabama Hills – Lone Pine, CA
The Alabama Hills gather their name from a Confederate warship responsible for wreaking havoc to northern shipping during the Civil War. Prospectors sympathetic to the Confederate cause named their mining claims after the Alabama and eventually the name stuck to these unique hills.
This is not our first rodeo in the Alabama Hills. This crazy, outer-worldly landscape gripped us the very first time we drove down Hwy 395 and we’ve been captivated by it ever since. Whenever we come here we kind of lose ourselves, rarely venturing out except for the occasional high-mountain hike. Anyone who’s ever spent any time here will totally understand. The rocks and trails provide endless days/weeks/months of activity and every corner you turn opens up something new….a new view…a new canyon…another hidden treasure. And yeah, all of it is pretty darn spectacular.
And it’s different every season too. In early spring the hills abound with wildflowers, wind and snow-capped mountains. In summer they bake in the high mountain heat and by fall they once again cool to a pleasant chill. Every year the Alabama Hills are celebrated by a The Stewardship Group in April, and once again during the Lone Pine Film Festival in October.
But what really makes the hills attractive is that they are just so different. 82-200 million year old granite rocks, weathered and rounded to bulbous shapes form impossible sculptures of red-orange that stack and balance in even more impossible ways. Backed, as they are by the spectacular 10,000 foot-plus peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains it’s a sight unlike any you’ve ever seen before.
The fickle weather of the high mountains only adds to the allure, creating colors and moods that are different almost every moment. Morning it might be utterly still and peaceful, by afternoon it might whip up with a crazy wind, by evening the clouds scatter the light in a million ways and by night a billion stars fill the sky.
It’s a highly addictive place.
But rather than wax poetic for pages (which I’m rather prone to do) I thought for a change I’d go more on the practical side and just show you what there is to do here. It’s more than you might think, and by the time I’m done I think you’ll understand why we rarely venture out….
Those of you who follow the blog already know that the Alabama Hills is one of our all-time favorite boondocking spots. This is BLM land and they allow you to camp on any pre-used (cleared-out) site for up to 14 days. They do ask that you practice minimal impact and do not crush the surrounding vegetation, so chose your sites carefully when you come and make sure you can both get in and get out without impacting your surroundings.
There are several nicely “beast-friendly” sites all fairly easy to get into, but the absolute best sites take a more nimble vehicle. If you have a 4WD car, van or truck you can find supremely isolated spots that us “beastly” types can only dream about. There are hundreds of these hidden in the hills and you are almost guaranteed to be alone. Most of the sites are surrounded by cool rock formations and have a view of the fabulous Sierra Nevada Mountain range in the background.
P.S. Internet signal is extremely fickle in the hills so for those who need it, next-door Tuttle Creek Campground has excellent signal, is an outstandingly scenic spot and a steal at only $5/night. It can take any-sized rig and we often camp there too.
2/ Movie Gawking
One of the “claims to fame” of the Alabama Hills is that over 400 movies have been filmed here since the 1920’s, most of which were classic Westerns. Remember movie stars like Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry and the Lone Ranger? Can you recall the films Gunga Din, Yellow Sky, Rawhide and How the West was Won? They were all filmed here and the movie history is such a deep part of the hills that this area is often called “Movie Flats”.
Start your trip with a visit to the Lone Pine Film History Museum in town and finish up by downloading the free self-guided Movie Road Touring Brochure (or pick up a printed version at the Visitor’s Center) for a whirl through the Alabama Hills. If you’re a western movie buff you will absolutely love it here!
3/ Arch Hunting
The Mobius Arch, which is accessed via an easy 1/4 mile hike from the Y-end of Movie Road is probably the most famous arch in the entire Alabama Hills.
It’s a fine arch, gracefully rounded and over 8 foot high and it’s particularly famous because of the view through the middle. If you’re eager enough to get here at sunrise you can capture first light on the highest mountain in the contiguous US, Mt.Whitney right smack through the opening. Photographers drive here from all over for just that.
Lesser known however, are over 200 or so other arches that are hidden all over the hills. A few of these are listed HERE, but the vast majority are un-named and un-marked, hidden between rocks and only accessible by “hunting” in the hills. For those of the geocaching persuation, there are a nice selection of geocaches hidden around the area too, several of which are right by arches. I will say no more….
The 30,000 acres that encompass the Alabama Hills Recreation Area contain literally hundreds of thousands of boulders and coarse granite walls. There are established popular routes with ratings of 5.09 to 5.10c, plus a bunch of additional lesser routes. You can see a summary of some of the more well-known routes HERE or, for those of you dedicated to the art, you can check out a more detailed guide here -> A Rockclimber’s Guide to the Alabama Hills.
Less technical folks, such as ourselves have endless low-tech bouldering opportunities and there’s enough variety for absolutely any level of skill. Even if you’ve never bouldered before, scampering amongst the rocks here is easy since the granite is rough and very “grippy”. Just watch those hands and butts….this is skin-removing stuff!
5/ Biking & Jeeping
For those who prefer wheels, be it two or four the Alabama Hills abound with biking & jeeping opportunities. Miles of dirt roads, many of which (especially within the rocks) are rather technical make for excellent wheeling adventures. We’ve bicycled for years all over these hills and still find manage to find new roads and trails almost every time we go out. Remember to bring lots of water though ‘coz this is dry desert and an easy place to get dehydrated. For jeepers wishing to venture further out, check out the excellent free guide Motor Touring In The Eastern Sierra (you can also pick-up a hard copy at the Visitor Center in town) which covers not only the Alabama Hills, but also trips within ~50 miles of here.
So there you go folks. See why we almost never leave?
Sadly we’ve come to the end of our sojourn this time around. The Spring winds are moving us on (a tad earlier than we expected) so we’ve got one last day before we drive north. We’re going to spend that precious time wisely in a place that we truly love…right here in the hills.
P.S. The Alabama Hills are entirely dog-friendly so feel free to bring pooch along on all of your adventures.