The Alabama Hills were named by Confederate sympathizers mining in the hills outside Lone Pine. The Alabama had sunk over fifty Union ships in less than two years. I needed that explanation for the name. There is absolutely nothing in this area that reminds us of Alabama. The weird, picturesque rock formations of the Alabama Hills are granite eroded by water into rounded shapes. The majestic backdrop of the High Sierra mountains behind them is also eroded by water, but in the form of ice, which carves and cracks granite into jagged crags. Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48 is part of this light gray backdrop.
Hollywood discovered this unique area when Fatty Arbuckle came here in 1920 to film. Depending on where you point your camera, you can get high, jagged, gray mountains or round, orange-brown rock piles with nooks and crannies to hide in. Since then more than 300 feature films have been shot in the Alabama Hills along with dozens of movie serials, and car commercials. The Alabama Hills have given us the impression of what the cowboy west really looked like. These days, Hollywood uses this weird scenery to convey out-of-this world planets and exotic locations such as in Afghanistan. We went to the Museum of Western Film History in Lone Pine which had a twenty-minute film filled with clips from work shot here. It was amazing how many looks this place can have. The museum was full of props, many from the black & white TV shows Ken loved as a little boy. He also waxed nostalgic when he saw the old film projectors that he used to run in college. Each projector had its own lighting system and could only run about thirty minutes of film, so he constantly had to switch back and forth and keep an eye on the burning arc lights. A lot more to it than pressing "play."
We got a movie location map of the Alabama Hills and cruised around its dusty, dirt roads looking for the spots listed. Film crews are required to take everything away when a shoot is finished. During the annual Lone Pine Western film festival, signs are put out to show the exact locations. We did a lot of guessing, but it really didn't matter. It was all fabulous. Many of the rocks erode into arch shapes. We found the moebius arch and saw Mt. Whitney looming behind it. The arch shaped like a heart was also amazing. There's a website that lists over 200 arches in the area that were found by a local man who died at age 92. Without signs and markers it would take that long for anyone to find them all.
We drove to the base of Mt. Whitney and had the kind of view you usually get from an airplane when we looked back at the Alabama Hills. People were camped everywhere we drove, both on the flanks of the mountain and hidden between the rock formations of the Alabama Hills. It almost made us sad we had left the motor home back in Bishop, but the car was so filthy after driving through the dust. We just might have to come back and do some boon docking.