Thursday, August 11, 2016

Lone Pine, CA

From Joshua Tree, we head north on Hwy 247 towards Barstow and then Hwy 58 to Hwy 395 northward. We pass through the old mining district of Randsburg. The town itself is intriguing and we keep saying that we'll stop on one of our trips, but just not this time.
Approaching the mining district of Randsburg

Traveling north on Hwy 395 towards the Sierras

Colorful mine tailings around Randsburg
In Lone Pine, we turn left onto Whitney Portal Road to look for a campsite for the next few days. The first is Lone Pine Campground which is very popular with Mount Whitney climbers and said to be the most beautiful.  It is a great campground with wonderful views of Whitney. Unfortunately, hardly any of the sites are large enough or flat enough to accommodate our van.
Views driving up Whitney Portal Road

Guardian of the Alabama Hills

Mount Whitney ahead

Mount Whitney towers over the Lone Pine Campground

We end up at Tuttle Creek Campground and find a nice campsite next to a babbling brook and with a great view of the eastern face of the Sierras. While we are relaxing, a Fish and Game truck pulls up into the campsite next door and empties several buckets of large trout into the brook. The fishermen around the camp are delighted.
Great campsite
Pool with freshly stocked trout

Peter checks the maps by the brook

After relaxing, we walk around the campground to explore our new surroundings. In the process we meet a man from Sebastopol CA who is driving a shorter Sprinter. He tells us he is going on a hike up the mountain to an abandoned Buddhist Retreat Center. He says it was built in the '60's using mule trains to bring up materials as there are no roads and only a steep hiking trail for access. Over the years, the remote location made it hard to maintain so it fell in disrepair and was abandoned.  He invites us to join him, but the hike sounds more than we want to handle at this time of the day.  
Last of evening's light grazing the tops of the mountains

Morning view of Mount Whitney

The next morning promises a glorious day.
Morning at Tuttle Creek

Nice day

Time to go exploring

After breakfast, we return to the town of Lone Pine to see the The Museum of Western Film History. This area is a popular movie location for Hollywood movies, especially westerns, because of the spectacular scenery and relative short distance away. In fact, over 400 movies have been filmed in the Alabama Hills, including such classics as Gunga Din.
Museum of Western Film History

Authentic stage coaches and wagons

Primitive shock absorbers

Cowboy TV western serials have also been filmed here, including my childhood favorites of The Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, The Cisco Kid, and even parts of Zorro.
The Lone Ranger

and his shirt & hat

Oh - I'd like a pair of those

Not only western movies have been made in this area. In fact, the museum documents the transition from westerns to more modern movies featuring gangsters, a variety of bad guys, and even Sci-Fi monsters.
Transition from horses

to car driving gangsters

The most notable movie made in this area recently was Quinton Tarantino's Django Unchained. When we are about to leave the museum we meet the curator, Catherine Kravitz, and we ask her about the Django exhibits they have on display. She says the whole town really enjoyed getting to know Quinton Tarantino and his crew while they were filming around Lone Pine. Contrary to his bad boy film image, she found Quinton to be a really nice guy. In fact, he personally donated his director's chair, the iconic wagon, and a movie poster to the museum.

We also tell her we plan to explore the Alabama Hills. She then gives us an excellent map of the area showing not only where various movies were shot, but also hiking trails and points of interest. We profusely thank her and walk away feeling lucky to have met her.
Django poster

This wagon has a prominent role in Django

Quinton's chair

We then drive north on Hwy 395 to Independence where we have lunch at the Owens Valley Growers Co-op. It's small with a friendly staff, an interesting selection of items in the store, and great food in the cafe. We are glad to have arrived just before 12 noon as the cafe is popular with locals who soon fill up all the tables.  After lunch, we meet a young couple with a ranch outside of town. I am intrigued by their small dog sitting up tall in their large truck. They bring out Chica to introduce us. She is a very sweet and friendly chihuahua who they found in the local animal shelter.  They have nothing but praise for their local shelter and the great pets available there.
Wildflowers at Owens Valley Growers Co-op

Chica sitting tall in her truck

After lunch, we drive a short distance back south on Hwy 395 and turn right at the sign to Manzanar. Now a National Historic Site, Manzanar was once one of 10 detention camps that held US citizens of Japanese descent from 1942 until their closings in 1945 to 1946. The internment of over 100,000 Japanese Americans ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt shortly after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor is certainly not one of the high points of American history. No other ethnic group of American citizens suffered the same loss as these Japanese Americans, not the Germans, nor the Italians. Executive Order 9066 forced all Japanese citizens of the US to abandon their homes, farms and businesses to live in remote and desolate camps during the years WWII raged.

In 1980 under pressure from the Japanese American Citizens League, President Jimmy Carter appointed a commission to investigate the camps. In the report Personal Justice Denied, the commission found little evidence of any disloyalty by the American Japanese concluding the dislocation was more motivated by by racism. They recommended the US government pay reparations to the survivors. In 1988 President Ronald Reagan followed through by signing the Civil Liberties authorizing a payment of $22,000 to each camp survivor.
Turn off to Manzanar

Guard tower

Fire truck used during internment

As detailed in the book Farewell to Manzanar and the many personal accounts of the internees, life was hard in the camps. Over time, however, the people themselves transformed the camps into more typical small American towns of the time including recreational facilities, schools, farms, orchards, and even a luxurious Japanese garden.
One of the barracks housing internees

Remains of an elaborate Japanese garden

Basketball court

Monument to those who lived and died here

Monolith in garden

Guard stations at the entrance/exit

Once leaving Manzanar, we again head south on Hwy 395 and turn right onto Moffat Ranch Road following the Film Museum curator's recommendation. This dirt/gravel road winds it way through the middle of the Alabama Hills back towards our campsite.  The first part of the road is through a large private ranch where they specialized in raising livestock for the many Hollywood movies. Even though the Hollywood film business has slacked off, the ranch still provides pack animals for expeditions into the Sierras. 
Moffat Ranch Road

There's a rock arch

We stop to meet some of the locals

Entrance to the Alabama Hills

which affords spectacular views of the mountains and rocks

as well as many natural arches

We stop at the parking lot for the Mobius Arch Loop Trail. It's an easy hike through fantastic rock formations in front of a backdrop of the Sierra Mountains.
Mobius Arch Loop Trail

where we meet Jabba the Hutt

Alabama Hills & Mount Whitney

Classic western scenery

Peter poses by Mobius Arch

The road back to camp through the arch

Mobius Arch with Sierra Mountains

By the time we reach our campsite, the clouds are hanging heavier in the skies and the weather forecast is telling us to expect rain by morning. For once, the forecast is right, so we pack up in a light drizzle and head for home. We had hoped to stay another day or two, but with widespread rain moving in home seems to be the best alternative.

Even though the rain has cut our visit short, we are still glad to see it after the many years of drought. Rain is welcome anytime.

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Retired and enjoying life.