High Desert Memories - A Hometown Journal Commemorating Ridgecrest California
Of course now there is no visible evidence of that damage. The businesses along Hwy. 395 are aimed at tourists. Lone Pine the gateway to the Mt. Whitney Portals, Alabama Hills and further north; Bishop, Mono Lake, Mammoth Mountain and other such vacation spots visited by the citizens of LA and other major Southern California cities.
Just about 60 miles (or 1 hour) north of Ridgecrest on 395, is the city of Lone Pine. Many of us who grew up in the Indian Wells Valley have made many trips up here over the years. Whether it's to head up to Mount Whitney, which towers over this part of the Sierra Nevada range at 14,491 ft., or to fish and camp along the way or even just passing through on our way to destinations north, it is a wonderful little town with a great deal of history. In the pictures above you see the damage to some of the stores and buildings in Lone Pine after the big earthquake of 1951.
I particularly love Lone Pine for it has a great many memories for me. I love the old Lone Pine Park with the creek running through it. Lone Pine had quaint little gift shops where you could buy American Indian jewelry and kachina dolls along with all kinds southwestern arts and crafts. There is the Lone Pine Hospital where I had my tonsils out and both my sisters and brother were born. Trips to doctor appointments were made less traumatic with a promise of a hamburger and chocolate milkshake at the Mt. Whitney cafe for good little girls. Even the traumatic experience of having to stay in the hospital after a tonsillectomy was relieved by having a view from the window of horses grazing in a green pasture. Sometimes we would even drive up to Lone Pine just to picnic in the park and visit the gift shops and Schat's Bakery, when it was still there. Sometimes we still make a day of just driving up to Bishop, stopping all along the way. First, breakfast at the Ranch House cafe in Olancha, then stopping in Lone Pine and on up to Independence, Big Pine and finally Bishop. It's a very pleasant day trip with lots to see and do along the way. When you know the history of much of it, it makes it really fun.
These days, my favorite time to visit Lone Pine is during the Lone Pine Film Festival. The festival this year will be October 7-9, 2005. It's a wonderful time of year to spend the day or weekend. There are so many things going on from tours of the movie sites to all of the vendors and food offerings along with a parade and lots of western entertainment. For those of you who might imagine you have never been to the film festival, you most certainly have in one way or other. Because the number of films that have been done right there in the Alabama Hills would amaze you. You will find that you have seen a great many of them. Certainly if the only movies you ever saw were John Wayne films, you have been to the film festival, after a fashion. Which is all the more reason I think everyone would enjoy the festival. There really is nothing quite like seeing the actual sites of many of your favorite movie scenes.
The earliest films done in this area start in about 1920. Lone Pine has quite a tie to Hollywood in its very long connection to the movie industry. There is also a wide variety of film genres that have found their backdrop in the Alabama Hills. It is true that many westerns have been done here. But did you also know that Gunga Din, Charge of the Light Brigade, Around the World in 80 Days, Star Trek V, G.I. Jane, Terminal Velocity and Gladiator were also filmed here. It's no wonder that you may have been there without ever realizing it!
Of course, my favorites are always the westerns. When Lone Pine is doing the film festival, they provide both guided tours of the movie sites as well as maps so you can drive along on your own self-guided tour. There are wagon rides and outriders on horseback and if you're lucky, you may even encounter someone like Hopalong Cassidy riding his beautiful golden horse. I did. It was a thrill. And there is something really surreal about standing where John Wayne stood in one of his famous scenes from The Big Trail or North to Alaska or maybe even the Three Godfathers. Not to mention all the other famous westerns and famous stars who have made the Alabama Hills and Lone Pine their temporary home while working on movies that we all remember and enjoy.
Cathy Padgett Schmeer
Story line this page by Cathy Padgett Schmeer