January 2006: Alabama Hills


Lone Pine, California

Lone Pine rests in the shadow of Mt. Whitney,founded in the early 1800s to supply pioneer ranchers and, later, miners. The town got its name from a single pine tree that grew in the
boulder-strewn foothills of the Cascades, beside the creek meandering through an area known as the Alabama Hills. The Alabama Hills consist of rounded, weathered granite boulders
placed across a desert flatlands that form a sharp contrast with the sharply sculptured ridges of the Sierra.

These majestic backdrops and rugged rock formations began attracting the attention of Hollywood, 212 miles to the west, in the 1920s. You can hike with your dog along Movie Flat
Road, a wide, dusty dirt road that runs through the Alabama Hills and is one of the most recognizable movie sets in Hollywood history. Beginning with Tom Mix in the silent era, every
major Western star rode down the road on horseback at one time or another. Roy Rogers appeared here in his first starring role in Under Western Stars and Bill Boyd, known on the screen as Hopalong Cassidy, filmed so many roles in Lone Pine that he moved here. The Alabama Hills hosted one of the largest location shoots in history when 1200 extras staged the climactic battle scene in Gunga Din. Other notable westerns among the more than 100 films shot here include The Lone Ranger, How The West Was Won, and The Gunfighter.

Although the golden age for Lone Pine has gone the way of the Hollywood western, film crews occasionally still appear. Bad Day at Black Rock (Spencer Tracy/Ernest Borgnine)
used the area to build an entire town along the railroad tracks in 1955 and, more recently, Fred Ward and Kevin Bacon battled giant earthworms in the Alabama Hills in Tremors.

Mt. Whitney is the highest point of the High Sierra - at the very top of the continental United States. The 14,496-foot peak was discovered in 1864 by a California biological survey team and
named for its leader, Josiah Whitney. The first people to stand on the summit were three fishermen who climbed to the top in 1873 and the highest mountain in the Lower 48 almost carried the head-scratching name "Fishermen's Peak" when a bill was introduced into the California Legislature to commemorate the ascent. The governor, however, vetoed it. The Whitney Portal Trail up Mt. Whitney was completed in 1904 and the stone shelter at the summit built in 1909. Wood was dragged to the summit by mules and the stone shaped and cemented on site with hand tools. The trail is typically snow-free from July to October and hikers cram the slope for a chance to tag the summit making this one of the most popular hikes in the United States. Permits are doled out up to six months in advance; contact the Inyo National Forest Wilderness Reservation Service at 888-373-3773 or 760-938-1136.

The first thing canine hikers will want to know about the Whitney Portal Trail is whether dogs are allowed. Yes. The most important thing to know is that dogs will not be allowed to make the final ascent to the summit. Most of the trail is in the dog-friendly Inyo National Forest but the summit itself is in Sequoia National Park, that doesn't allow dogson the trail. Dogs can go as far as Trail Crest at about 14,000 feet so to tag the summit you will need a partner staying in Outpost Campground with your dog.

Lone Pine on Highway 395. From here it is a 13 mile, paved trip to the Whitney Portal Trail trailhead, passing through the Alabama Hills.