A World Away... Mere Miles from Town
The Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, CA
If you're new to the Alabama Hills, it's a bit disorienting. First off, getting there is a bit bumpy (and when I say 'a bit', that all depends on what you’re driving).
It’s a dirt path off of Movie Road, so named for all the filming that has taken place there since the silent film era. The road was actually created for the purpose of getting film equipment and crew to set, as the unique hillside served as the backdrop for many classic westerns and sci fi settings.
It’s not the most clearly marked road; you could easily drive right by it on the way to Whitney Portals and not even know it was there. But if you happen to be driving highway 395, this is a spot worth searching out. Even if you're not prepared for dry camping, it's worth stopping to see the Mobius arch. It's a short distance on dirt road, but a very easy and short hike to a breathtaking natural arch in the rocks; likely the most famous and widely photographed formation in the park (If you're on instagram, there's a high chance you've seen it; people love this as a scene for the night sky, or just taking selfies). For many, Mobius is the reason to visit the Alabama Hills. A quick scenic point to take some snapshots and stretch the legs before hitting the road again for some other destination. For me, it was the camping.
My dad and I have a tradition of doing a big hike/ death march together for our birthdays every year, and this time it was Mount Whitney. Before we went up for our hike, my father (who has been known to visit every visitors center he passes, and is thus aware of just about every national landmark and point of interest ever designated) decided to stop off and show me the Mobius Arch. On the way, he told me a little about the area, and that you could camp there... for free! As someone who grew up frequenting many state and federal campgrounds, this intrigued me, and I knew that I had to come back.
About a month later, after camping for a couple of weeks in Mammoth, I was excited to return. Lone Pine is about half way between Mammoth and LA, so it was perfect to break up the drive and take in a different kind of scenery (My only worry was whether my wife would like it). For the uninitiated, dry camping can seem a bit daunting. It's what it sounds: like there’s no water, no toilets, no power, no provided facilities of any kind. When you go out there, you are on your own. In this way, it appeals to a very specific kind of camper. On the other hand, you’re only about 4 miles away from town to the south and about 4 miles away from the nearest designated campsite to the north, so you can still fill up on water and supplies. It may not be what you’re used to, but if you love camping, you owe it to yourself to see if this is something you fall in love with. It is quite different from California beach camping, or you having another neighbor 2 feet away from you running their generator till 10 PM.
It is just you and whoever you brought with you, you get to walk around and hear your footsteps on the pea gravel. At night you have a panoramic view in one of the highest visibility areas to see the night sky. Watching the campfire against the immense rocks and dusty rose colored sky, we couldn't help but think of The Three Amigos, when they sing "Blue Shadows on the Trail" against a painted desert backdrop. At first, with the desert silence and no one else in sight, it feels like you're on a different planet. But after a moment of reflection, you realize that you're experiencing our planet, but from a different time. Our planet before we were here, away from any human noise or city lights. This was a fun realization for me, no sign of human interference, just pure nature and peace. It's the closest you can get to the feeling of being alone in the back country, while still having the relative comforts of car camping.