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Road Trip to Alabama Hills of Hollywood Fame

Discovering a hidden gem on a weekend getaway

Stepping Back in Time

Alabama Hills, a BLM recreational area, is about a five-and-a-half-hour drive from St. George. Nestled at the foot of majestic Mt. Whitney, this remote and rugged desert landscape took my breath away with its dramatic and imposing rock and boulder formations and spectacular vistas stretching as far as the eye could see. It was easy to imagine being alone in a pristine and unpolluted wild place, since there are no amenities or paved roads, and almost no other indications of civilization, except for a few other travelers. This was the perfect getaway to explore miles of wide-open spaces, enjoy hiking and other outdoor activities and bask in the peaceful solitude of being in touch with nature.

What We Saw

The valley landscape is a mix of massive and uniquely shaped outcroppings of rugged metamorphosed volcanic rock, layered among oddly rounded sandpaper-like boulders made of biotite monzogranite. This terrain is overshadowed by the jagged, angular peaks of gray granite that form Mt. Whitney and the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. These timeless rock outcroppings and mountains were created millions of years ago and serve as a backdrop, towering over fields of fragile wildflowers that appear and disappear from spring through fall.

Hollywood Fame

Alabama Hills first gained fame in the early 1900s when nearby Hollywood discovered it was a conveniently perfect location for filming western movies and TV shows that were popular in those days. Hundreds of movies, including classics such as "How the West was Won," "The Lone Ranger" and "Hopalong Cassidy," as well as more recent movies and TV shows have been filmed here.

One day we meandered up and down Movie Road, a well-maintained dirt road named in honor of this history. We stopped often to identify some of the famous locations where Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, John Wayne and almost every other "silver screen" cowboy, rode their horses and chased the bad guys. Then, after a day of exploration, we visited the Museum of Western Film History in the nearby town of Lone Pine and were drawn further back to the days of the "old west" as we learned more about the movies and superstars that made Alabama Hills a permanent landmark in Hollywood history.

Photographing Alabama Hills

Both the serious photographer and the snapshot shooter will find endless photo opportunities to discover in every direction and around every bend. I found the time of day just before sunrise to be the most photogenic and pleasing to the eye. This is when the harsh landscape is tempered with soft shadows and bathed in a rosy warm color palette. One very early morning we found a location facing Mt. Whitney to enjoy the morning show. We watched as the mountain range slowly appeared out of the dark night sky as the first sunrays of the day bathed the tips of the rugged peaks and turned them a soft magenta hue. As the sun continued to rise, revealing more of the mountains, the colors slowly turned to warm orange. Then came the grand finale as the entire morning landscape was flooded in beautiful golden light. I had a "moment" and thought to myself, “Even Hollywood couldn’t top Mother Nature in producing such a glorious scene!”

"Even Hollywood couldn't top Mother Nature in producing such a glorious scene!"  ‒ Karen Lund Larsen