At 14,505 feet, Mount Whitney is the tallest mountain in the continental United States, and one of the most popular spots to hike and climb. In addition to these things, it also has a number of high alpine lakes located nearby (such as the Meysan Lakes), and a number of lakes located along the trail to the summit - such as Mirror, Consultation - and Lone Pine Lake. While Lone Pine Lake is technically not on the trail to the summit, as it is off a short spur trail, it is a great short hike for beginner backpackers and hikers, and for those parties looking to take more than one day to summit Mount Whitney.
While the gold rush of the nineteenth century in California was largely confined to the northern portion of the state, prospectors also fanned out to all regions of the state, seeking to strike it rich. In San Diego County, most of the mining exploration occurred in and around the town of Julian, but the largest and most productive mine was located a little bit further south, in what is now Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. In 1870, gold was discovered, and after a great deal of legal difficulties, the Stonewall Mine began operating. Over a fifty year period, the Stonewall Mine became the most productive and profitable mining operation in the county, producing over two million dollars of gold.
Although California is a "young" state historically to many people, it does have a rich pre-European history, and a rich post-European history. From Fort Ross, the first Russian settlement in California, to the Kings Highway (El Camino Real) and the many missions present on it, California has many historic locations - some of which are secret, and some of which are not. Although it is hidden in plain sight, Fort Point is perhaps one of the more obscure destinations in California, even though it is the state's only Civil War fort.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: in order to save the world/survive the apocalypse, a lone wanderer/group of travelers travels across a rocky wasteland near some tall snow-capped mountains, and along the way, encounters zombies/aliens/cowboys/zombie-alien-cowboys. Sound familiar? Of course it does. It’s the plot from every summer blockbuster you’ve ever seen. You know where they’ve been filmed? I do. The Alabama Hills. Where are the Alabama Hills? Why, they’re at the base of a little-known mountain: Mt. Whitney. They’re also located right next to the town of Lone Pine, California, right off the I-395, and near another geological feature that I just talked about – Fossil Falls.
What are the Alabama Hills? The Alabama Hills are another interesting geological feature in the Eastern Sierra. According to the experts, they are the same age as the Sierra Nevada; and are made up of two types of rock: aged volcanic rock; and weathered granite. (More rock info here). While I can’t get into the geologic particulars of the area, I can tell you that this is a great area to explore in terms of bouldering, hiking, and photography.
The Top Things to Do in the Alabama Hills. Unlike Fossil Falls, I’ve been visiting the Alabama Hills for years, ever since I started climbing Mt. Whitney and its companion peaks. While I haven’t yet explored the entire region, I have been in numerous spots and have never had a bad time. One of the key things to remember about the area is that it is BLM land; so it is almost an open area for exploring, either by vehicle or foot. In my opinion, the best thing to do is to simply head out into the hills to have an unplanned and unmapped adventure, assuming you’re prepared and don’t get lost! If you’re more into the tried and true, the below recommendations are also fun too!
1) The Mobius Arch. On many of my early visits to the Alabama Hills, I explored portions of the area, and found many weathered openings and arches. Years later, I started getting questions about the “Mobius Arch”. At first I assumed it was like the Devils Punchbowl, and that everyone had their own Mobius Arch but after a while it became clear that it was a specific named spot. Again, in my opinion, the hills have many Mobius Arches, but now there is a specific Mobius Arch that has a specific trail and parking area that has been constructed by the BLM. To get to the actual named Mobius Arch, you will want to drive West on Whitney Portal Road from Lone Pine for three (3) miles until you reach Movie Road, which will be on the North (Right). Follow Movie Road for 1.5 miles until you reach a T-Junction. Once you reach the T-Junction, you will see the BLM parking area for the arch; and from the parking area, it is a .5 mile hike to the arch. While this is a stunning feature, keep in mind that it has become perhaps the most popular part of the Alabama Hills. You will see people on this hike; and chances are, you will see a number of photographers at the arch, striving for their own signature shot!
2) The Lathe Arch. This arch is located immediately to the West of the Mobius Arch, although it is much smaller arch than its larger friend. In order to get to it, you’re going to follow the directions listed above for the Mobius Arch. Like the Mobius Arch, the Lathe Arch has some great photography opportunities, and has a great view. However, as I said above, the Alabama Hills do have many of these eroded features, so if you’re looking for an arch, hole, or other angle that has not been photographed by many people, get out there, and find your own. I guarantee there are plenty of spots that have yet to be discovered.
3) The Self Guided Movie Road Tour. Did I mention something about movies at the beginning? Yep, I totally did. While the Alabama Hills always had “Movie Road”, some of the features and their attendant movies and TV shows were a little harder to find. While you could always speak to some of the locals in Lone Pine about where to go, now the BLM has a handy board in the Alabama Hills marking locations, and it also has a handy printout here online of how to proceed and where to go.
4) General Exploration. As I’ve mentioned frequently, the area is fairly open, and there is plenty to do, from looking for old mines, to fishing in certain spots, and just general camping, hiking, bouldering and photography. One word of caution: beware the Lone Pine Devil. Other than that, have a great time!
Interested in what other people think of the Alabama Hills? Check out my friend Paulina's thoughts here!
What is Fossil Falls: It is an area with unique geologic features. The area was part of the Coso Volcanic Range, which was an active volcanic area thousands of years ago. Some of the remnants of this volcanic activity can be seen in the form of a cinder cone, Red Hill, which is next to Fossil Falls. The other remnants of this volcanic activity are the “falls” themselves, which is a large area of basalt (hardened lava). This large sheet of basalt blocked portions of ancient Owens River, and probably portions of the Owens Lake. The significance of this is that during the last ice age, water from receding glaciers (and the river and lake) flowed over this basalt, smoothing it, eroding it, and forming the canyons and holes that remain today over a period of thousands of years. Today, what remains is smooth basalt that has eroded into a distinctive geologic area. (For more information click here and here).