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Lone Pine & the Owens Valley

Visiting The Lone Pine Film Festival
and the historic Owens Valley

Lone Pine is a little town half way up the Owens Valley, next to the southern Sierra Nevada peaks, and immediately to the east of Mount Whitney. The Owens Valley is where Los Angeles gets much of its water, by channeling the Owens River through the Los Angeles Aquaduct. It's often used as a driving route to Death Valley, and by Angelenos traveling to the ski hill at Mammoth Lakes.

But long before most of us discovered it, the desert region around Lone Pine was used by Hollowood movie companies to film many of the early westerns. Gary Cooper, Randolph Scott, and Clark Gable were almost permanent residents of the valley during those days. Roy Rogers and Gene Autry filmed their singing cowboy films in the area, particularly around the jumbled rock formations of the Alabama Hills, just west of town. This was the place where Bogart starred in High Sierra, and Cary Grant starred in Gunga Din. Most of the Hopalong Cassidy films were made here.

Lone Pine Film Festival

So, what could be more of a natural place to celebrate those great old movies than the place they were shot. The annual film festival is a celebration of the western films of the '20s and '30s, when Roy Rogers always got the girl (Dale), and Terry Moore appeared in the "King of the Khyber Rifles."

Movies are shown, of course, but there are other events, including concerts, panel discussions by the visiting western movie stars and tours of the Alabama Hills movie locations conducted by the festival's director, Dave Holland. Past festivals have included a sunrise photo tour, a talk with film on stunts by Loren Janes (Steve McQueen's stunt double for more than 20 years), and a tour of movie town sites (scattered around the hills). Daily passes give you access to all movies and panels for the specific day. Tours cost extra as do the festival's social events.

For information and festival tickets, Go Here.

The Owens Valley

The valley set beside the rock walls of the Southern Sierra is worth visiting for its own sake. It has a fascinating history, including the sorry story of the creation of the L.A. aquaduct.

Several other small towns are located along the valley highway (Hwy 395) including Independence, Big Pine, and Bishop at the north end. The White Mountains with their ancient bristlecone pines sit just east of Bishop. The Winnedumah Country Inn, long ago the place where many of the western movie stars stayed while filming, is now a fine B&B, in Independence, the county seat. Big Pine has its retreating glacier, and the drive from Lone Pine, up Mount Whitney to the Portal Park, is an absolute delight. The hardy may want to climb the rest of the way to the peak.

Valley Highlights

Schatt's Bakkery

Bishop is the largest town in the Owens Valley: the annual scene of a fine rodeo, and just about the finest bakery we have stumbled into. It's something of a misnomer to call Erik Schatt's Bakkery just a bakery, for it's also an eating place with a few tables and a selection of sandwiches and salads, and includes a store where you can get accompaniments to the wonderful baked goods. Each morning starts about 20 varieties of bread and rolls put on the shelves, and the daily stampede begins. The bakery began with Schatt producing what they now call their "original" sheepherder's bread, a wonderfully soft, fluffy bread with a crunchy crust. Its popularity led to further types, including several sourdough varieties, a half-dozen types of rolls, plus a cheese and jalapeno round loaf that feels like it weighs a ton, it's so loaded with cheese, and is a meal in itself (for four).

This bakery is not to be missed, and you can't miss it if you're driving along Highway 395, through Bishop. It's where the large crowd is, all day long.

Red Rock Canyon State Park

Lying just south of the Owens Valley, north of the town of Mojave, this park is unique for its site—where the Mojave Desert meets the Sierra Nevada. Plant and animal species from both areas live here, in an area which features tilted and sculptured rock walls and multi-colored canyons, plus old lava flows. The shaping of the land here began about 20,000 million years ago, when the area was covered by a sea. Volcanic eruptions deposited lava and ash, and then the Sierra mountains began to rise (about seven million years ago). Several ice ages came and went, filling lakes and eroding the landscape.

You get there by driving along State Highway 14. A park information office is located on Abbot Road. A campground is also located along this road. With 50 campsites and water, the campground is an excellent place for an overnight stay before driving north through the Owens Valley, or to Death Valley.

Many visitors stay in the park for two or three days. During the orime season (winter and spring), park rangers conduct an interpretation program. Trails lead through the canyons of the park, providing views of steep colored cliffs and dry waterfalls. Desert plants in the park include great horned owls, lizards, and plenty of jack rabbits. Plant types include Joshua trees, and scores of tiny wildflower varieties appearing in the "rainy" season, before summer sets in.

For more on the Owens Valley, see our Great Drives -- Hwy. 395.

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