Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Lone Pine, Part II

Between Lone Pine and the Sierras are the Alabama Hills, a line of rock formations that are unique; we’ve never seen anything like them anywhere else.  Driving along “Movie Flat Road”, you expect to see the Lone Ranger and Tonto around every turn – so many westerns were filmed here.  Surprisingly, there is nothing left of any movie site, since the area is BLM land, everything must be returned to it’s natural state after filming.  It’s a shame in a way, imagine being able to roam the streets of a wild west town, the golden temple of Gunga Din, or the streets of Perfection in the movie Tremors!  But even without the sets, the Alabama Hills are amazing - lots of side roads into the rocks, hiking trails everywhere, and best of all, fabulous views of the rocks with the Sierras and Mount Whitney in the background.  One formation we saw could be called the “heart” of the Alabama Hills (below).Alabama Hills
Alabama Hills & Sierras2

Alabama Hills Heart Rock
We traveled north one afternoon to the small town of Independence and visited the Mount Whitney Historic Fish Hatchery, an interesting  and beautifully maintained state facility built in the 1940’s using 3400 tons of native granite.  Although it’s not active now, it’s maintained for visitors, and like the hatchery we volunteered at this year, had a large pond of “display” trout to view. 
Mt Whitney Fish Hatchery
On another day, we drove east for a day visit to Death Valley.  It’s an interesting day when you can start by looking at the highest point in the continental US (Mt Whitney 14,405’), then drive to the lowest point (-287’).   We visited Death Valley in the late 70s while living in Las Vegas and remember asking ourselves “what’s the attraction"?  After all they don’t call it “nice to look at” valley, or even “moderately pleasant” valley…’s DEATH valley!  And there’s a reason for that.  Miles and miles of rock, sand, and scrub brush, a place where even the snakes carry canteens.  But we made the trip, stopped at the Furnace Creek (another great descriptive name), visitor center, then turned around and headed back home…..asking ourselves why did we drive all that way?  I’m sure there are plenty of people who love Death Valley, but for us, we’ve permanently crossed it off our bucket list. 
Death Valley Overlook
No visit to Lone Pine would be complete without a stop at the Museum of Film History, a wonderful collection of all things filmed in the area.  As “Boomers”, it’s a reminder of our younger years spent waiting for Saturday morning and Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autrey, and of course, Roy Rogers.  Old posters, TV clips, and memorabilia like the “cowboy hat hall of fame” bring back old memories, and there is an extensive collection of props used in newer movies also.   We enjoyed the movie “Tremors” and Brenda made friends with one of the movie’s “Graboids”.  At the entrance, we marveled over the custom Cadillac of Nudie Cohn, the man who put the rhinestones on cowboy suits.  He must have been very successful judging by the “Nudiemobile”, covered with real silver dollars and other uh, stuff.    We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to this museum, and recommend it to all.Lone Pine Movie Museum
Shootist Coat and Hat Hall of Fame
Brenda with Graboid

We left Lone Pine with a promise to ourselves that we’d return again, perhaps next time in the spring or early fall when it’s a bit warmer.  Back on Highway 395, we headed south for a stay at Edwards Air Force Base.  I’ve visited Edwards many times in my working life, and it’s a bit easier to take, although not much, visiting it as a retiree.  Edwards is the Flight Test Center for the Air Force, and if you wanted to pick a place where a failed test aircraft could fall out of the sky and not damage anything, this is the perfect place.  Think Death Valley with a runway.  But it has a nice Famcamp, a good commissary, and is the only decent place in the area to spend a night.  We took a tour around the base, past the Test Pilot School and into the NASA area where we saw the two Space Shuttle carriers, now without a mission, parked on the ramp.  From a distance, they look like regular Boeing 747s, but if you look close, you’ll see twin tails that were needed since the Shuttle blocked the airflow over the normal tail.  Next to the aircraft is the shuttle mating facility, where they would lift the shuttle onto the back of the 747.  Test Pilot School
Shuttle Carrier
Shuttle Mating Facility
The base Famcamp has good facilities, and there aren’t many rodents thanks to the pretty camp coyote that paid us a visit:
Campground Coyote
We’re on our way to the San Clemente area for a stay at Camp Pendleton’s San Onofre campground and a Thanksgiving visit with our daughter and her husband.  After that, we’ll be traveling back to Texas for our winter stay.  We may not have anything interesting for a while, but don’t go away, we’ll be back!  For all of our readers, Brenda and I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving Holiday!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Lone Pine, California, Part I

Even if you’ve never been to the small town of Lone Pine, you’ve seen the Alabama Hills & Sierrasarea in movies and on television.  From the old classics like “Gunga Din” and “Charge of the Light Brigade”, television shows like “The Lone Ranger” and “The Roy Rogers Show”, up to more recent movies such as “Joe Kidd” and “Tremors”, this area has been a popular filming location due to it’s incredible scenery.  With Mount Whitney, the lower 48’s tallest mountain, and the rock formations of the Alabama Hills, it’s a wonderland of majestic mountains and magical rock formations.    We spent a week here, and could have spent even more time exploring the hills and learning the history of the area.
Our first morning we woke up to a coating of fresh snow on Mount Whitney,  the perfect start to a day of exploring.  I don’t think we’ve ever had a better view from our motorhome. (don’t forget to click on the picture for a larger view)
RV Park View of MountainsWe took the road up to Whitney Portal, a climb well into the mountains and high above the valley.  It was cold at the parking area, and a short hike took us to a frozen stream, transformed into a crystal waterfall.  Along the road back down, there were great views of the Owens Valley, once a fertile area but now desert due to the water needs of Los Angeles.
Road View of Mt Whitney Frozen Waterfall
Owens Valley View
Each Day, as we drove through the area, the mountains changed as weather moved through.  Looking at the mountains, it seems that sometimes you’re looking at a painting on the horizon.  But words can’t describe the beauty -  perhaps these images will help:
Sierra View2
Sierra View
Sierra View3
Sierra Canyon View
There’s also a lot of interesting history in the area.  We visited Manzanar National Historic Site, like Heart Mountain (which we visited earlier this year), a former relocation camp for Japanese during WWII.  Like Heart Mountain, the visitor center and museum were very informative in telling the story of how our government imprisoned it’s own citizens, but unlike Heart Mountain where all of the original structures were removed, here some remain.  Entering the site, you pass by the same guard shacks that the internees passed in 1942.  The visitor center is housed in the same auditorium that was built in 1944 by the camp population.  It was sold and moved after the camp closed, but was located, moved back to the site, and renovated to become today’s main visitor’s site.  An auto route travels through the camp where remains of old structures are visible, and passes by the cemetery,  a poignant reminder of the people who lived and died here.
Manzanar Visitor Center
Manzanar Visitor Center2
Manzanar Cemetary
We’ve got more to share with you on our visit to Lone Pine, so check back soon to see Part II!

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Roaming Around Reno

Reno, for us, is one of those cities that has a confused identity.  On the one hand, it is a gaming city, with a somewhat shabby downtown of large casinos, but it also has newer upscale areas to the south and north, and interesting places to explore in the surrounding area. Sparks Marina RV Resort We always stay at the Sparks Marina RV Resort, one of our favorite places because of it’s great amenities and professional staff.  It’s also in a convenient location; close to I-80 and Highway 395, with plenty of shopping, dining, and even a casino or two nearby. 

Tahoe AspenAfter settling in, we decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and took a drive over the mountains to Lake Tahoe.  It was a beautiful drive, although a bit cool at the top of the pass, and the mountains were covered in golden slashes where the aspen had changed to it’s fall colors.

Lake Tahoe was quiet this time of year, the parks were almost empty and many of the homes and restaurants were closed for the winter.  It was nice to just sit on a bench in the sun and soak in the scenery.  Brenda on the Tahoe Beach

Donner LakeWe also took a drive up to Donner Pass and explored the town of Truckee.  The climb above Donner Lake took us through some beautiful scenery, but the bustle of I-80, heavy construction at every turn, and cold temperatures made for a short day trip.
Viginia City Main StreetOur favorite day trip in the area was to Virginia City, the once-booming mining town now restored.  Of all the “old” mining towns we’ve visited, we like this one best.  Uneven wooden planked sidewalks and buildings carefully restored make you Scrooge Benchfeel that you’ve traveled back in time….except for the prices, which are definitely 2011.  We enjoyed walking the main street, looking through the shops, and learning about the area’s history at the visitor center.  As always, there was a “Christmas Store”, one of those places that women have to explore and men are loathe to enter.  Finally through, a store with a place for the men to sit and wait.  I took full advantage of the “Scrooge Chair” while Brenda shopped. 

Virginia City MineAs you drive through the  town and the surrounding area, it’s a rare view that doesn’t have mine tailings or a still operating mine; apparently there’s still silver in “them thar hills”.  

The route back to Reno took us through the mountains with a long descent back into the valley.  It was a clear day and gave us a great view of Reno and the area.  Downtown looks great from a distance, which in our opinion is the best place to view it from….Reno Area View
Reno DowntownWe’ll be heading down Highway 395 and the eastern side of the Sierras, so stop back and visit!