By Greg Aragon
The 1930s was a great time for Hollywood westerns and for the city of Lone Pine, Calif. Film crews came looking for adventure in the nearby Alabama Hills, where giant granite boulders provided the perfect backdrop for hideouts, ambushes, stage coach rides, and gunfights. These movies brought big names like John Wayne, Gene Autry, Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn, Roy Rogers, Robert Mitchum and Clayton Moore to name a few.
When daily film shoots ended, many stars and crew members headed back down to Lone Pine and stayed at the new Dow Hotel, which was built by local resident Walter Dow to accommodate the Hollywood influx. The hotel originally had 55 rooms and large porch with incredible views of the Eastern Sierra Mountains and Mt. Whitney. In the 1950s the hotel expanded with the addition of The Dow Villa Motel.
I discovered Lone Pine and The Dow Villa on the way home from a recent trip to June Lake, near Mammoth. I heard a lot of good things about the area, but I didn’t expect to find such a quaint small town feel and old American West charm.
My getaway began when my friends and I checked into room number 105 at the Dow Villa Hotel. Also known as the Roy Rogers suite, the accommodation is classic 1920s country. It features two rooms connected by a Jack and Jill bathroom. The bedroom has a comfy queen bed, large TV, office desk, closet, window overlooking the hotel patio and water fountain, and a private entrance. The living room boasts a sleeper sofa, big windows looking to the courtyard, large TV, closet, coffee table and chairs, and a hat/coat rack.
The suite also comes with a full size kitchen with table and chairs, sink, refrigerator, stove and clock with a lasso wrapped around it. The bathroom has a shower/tub combination. The suite is accentuated by lots of fun, old pictures of Roy Rogers and some of the movies shot in the area.
Once checked in, we explored town. With a population of about 2,000, Lone Pine is located along U.S. Highway 395 in the heart of the Owens Valley. When the 395 gets to Lone Pine it narrows and becomes Main Street. The thoroughfare is lined with western-styled buildings, sporting goods stores, an old fashioned local market, an old wooden saloon, a store selling rocks and gems, and a few restaurants.
The restaurants are hearty and popular with hikers, outdoor people, and fishermen who pass through town on their way to nature areas such as Owens Valley and the Eastern Sierra, including the Golden Trout Wilderness and 14,505-foot Mt. Whitney. The latter, the highest point in the contiguous United States, is about 13 miles west of town and is accessed via Whitney Portal Road.
Whitney Portal Road climbs nearly 5,000 feet from Lone Pine as it zigzags its way up the face of the Eastern Sierra before reaching 8,300-foot Whitney Portal, the gateway for hikers bound for the summit.
We weren’t up to summiting Mt. Whitney, so we explored the Alabama Hills, where hundreds of western, science fiction, thriller and other movies have been filmed. Located about 2 miles up Whitney Portal Road, the hills are full of massive rounded boulders, resembling something from the surface of mars. The rocks are great for climbing on, biking and horseback riding around, and exploring by car. There are also countless spots in the hills to park and set up camp for the day.
One of the most famous spots in the 30,000-acre protected area is the Mobius Arch, a huge arch that majestically frames Mt. Whitney, making it a perfect photo spot. It is easy to see why so many movies were filmed here.
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We've spotlighted Ida Lupino as a powerhouse director on here before, but her initial big break into Hollywood was through acting. Lupino starred in "High Sierra" (1941) along with Humphrey Bogart, which filmed it's most climactic scenes on Whitney Portal Rd. and on Mt. Whitney. The car that Bogart drives near the end of the movie is on display at the museum!
From the Alabama Hills we visited the Museum of Western Film History. Here, at the base of the Alabama Hills, we browsed hundreds of incredible movie artifacts and exhibits from the earliest days of silent movies to some of the latest releases. Exhibits include displays on John Wayne, Roy Rogers, Randolph Scott, Gene Autry and The Lone Ranger. Others showcased movies include “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” “Iron Man,” “Django,” and “High Sierra,” all of which were filmed in the Alabama Hills.
For more information on visiting Lone Pine and staying at the Dow Villa Hotel, call (800) 824-9317 or visit: www.dowvillamotel.com.