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Eastern Sierra's largest Natural "Hollywood Back Lot" Exhibit


Movie History in the Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, California

It didn’t take long after the invention of moving pictures for Hollywood to discover a spectacular location within a few hours’ drive. Since the early years of filmmaking, directors and their production units have used the Lone Pine and Eastern Sierra area to represent the iconic American West. The first documented feature film shot entirely on location at Lone Pine was The Roundup (1920), a silent Western starring Fatty Arbuckle in his first feature film which made good use of the incredible scenery near Lone Pine, with the weirdly eroded, jumbled rocks of the Alabama Hills (name for a Civil War battleship) backed by the snowcapped peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Over the years, Lone Pine has played host to all of the Hollywood studios; hundreds of the industry's best known directors, William Wyler, William Wellman, John Ford, George Stevens, John Favreau and Quentin Tarantino among them. The list of actors who worked in the area is extensive and also includes John Wayne, Bing Crosby, Humphrey Bogart, Barbara Stanwyck, Jeff Bridges, Jamie Foxx Spencer Tracey, Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, Randolph Scott, Audie Murphy and Robert Downey, Jr. to name a few.


Bishop Field Office

of the BLM

The Alabama Hills appeared in hundreds of movies and TV shows beginning in the 1920s and continuing to now, mostly American Westerns – although for many films, they stood in for India, the Middle East, the Gobi Desert, China and even Africa in two Tarzan Films. Sci-fi producers have found the Alabama’s “out of this world,” for movies like Star Trek V and VII, Deep Space 9; and a perfect landscape for the backdrops of Tremors, Gladiator and Dinosaur. Countless documentaries, product commercials for TV and print have used the areas unique rock formations and valleys as a palette for their products.

The pace of movie making slowed only slightly after the 1950s as the Western genre became less popular Most recently, Lone Pine has been the location for several key scenes in Iron Man, Django Unchained, and the, pending 2013 release of Disney’s new - The Lone Ranger.

Western TV Shows peaked in the late 50’s, with over 26 series running in prime time any one week, The Alabama’s were home to many of the series and or episodes including; Have Gun Will Travel, Gene Autry Show, Annie Oakley, Bonanza, The Lone Ranger and Hopalong Cassidy to name a few

Most parts of the Alabama Hills are public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM Bishop Field Office issues about 30 to 40 film permits a year for movies, TV shows, commercials and still photo shoots in the Alabamas. Permittees agree to be fire-safe and not to disturb wildlife, vegetation or artifacts, and to take every bit of trash away when they finished. BLM representatives meet with the director or scouts beforehand and monitor during and after filming, to make sure this fantastic place stays as wild and beautiful as ever.

Alabama_12How They Were Formed



Both the Alabamas and the Sierras resulted from a cataclysmic uplifting of the earth’s crust about 100 million years ago. Millennia of wind, snow, and wind-blown sand have shaped the unusual rounded formations seen in the Alabamas. In contrast, the Sierras were weathered by the continual freezing and thawing typical of higher altitudes.Wildflowers bloom earlier in the Alabama Hills than in the nearby Sierras. Desert paintbrush, prairie smokes, and lowly penstemons are likely to be spotted in May and June along the arid hillsides. Lucky springtime visitors may also encounter male sage grouse gathering in open areas and “strutting” as part of their mating ritual.


Alabama Hills

Stewardship Group

The rounded contours of the Alabamas contrast with the sharp ridges of the Sierra Nevada to the west. Though this might suggest that they formed from a different orogeny, the Alabamas are the same age as the nearby Sierras. The difference in wear can be accounted for by different patterns of erosion

Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, towers several thousand feet above this low range, which itself is 1,500 feet (460 m) above the floor of Owens Valley. However, gravity surveys indicate that the Owens Valley is filled with about 10,000 feet

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(3,000 m) of sediment and that the Alabamas are the tip of a very steep escarpment. This feature may have been created by many earthquakes similar to the 1872 Lone Pine earthquake which, in a single event, caused a vertical displacement of 15–20 feet.

There are two main types of rock exposed at Alabama Hills. One is an orang e, drab weathered metamorphosed volcanic rock that is 150-200 million years old. The other type of rock exposed here is 82-85 million year old biotite monzogranite which weathers to potato-shaped large boulders, many of which stand on end due to spheroidal weathering acting on many nearly vertical joints in the rock.

Dozens of natural arches are among the main attractions at the Alabama Hills. They can be accessed by short hikes from the Whitney Portal Road, the Movie Flat Road and the Horseshoe Meadows Road. Among the notable features of the area are: Mobius Arch, Lathe Arch, the Eye of Alabama and Whitney Portal Arch.


People often question why the Alabama Hills are named after a southern state that these granite rocks look almost nothing like. The connection between the Alabama Hills west of Lone Pine and the state of Alabama do have a connection, but a somewhat indirect one.

The story goes back to the Civil War when the Confederacy had a screw-sloop-of-war built in secret in 1862 at Birkenhead, United Kingdom by John Laird Sons and Company. After commissioning in international waters the CSS Alabama went on a two-year rampage of naval encounters, eventually sinking at least 65 Union ships. The ship under the command of Captain Semmes sailed to Cape Town South Africa and on to the East Indies. The ship sailed back to Cherbourg, France and the captain requested dry dock to make repairs.

By this time the ship had become rather famous, and Southern sympathizers mining in the Alabama Hills named their mine and eventually the mining district west of Lone Pine the Alabama Mining District. The CSS Alabama had become almost legendery as Union ships seldom encountered the ship at sea and survived to talk about it.

The USS Kearsage under the command of Captain Winslow made for the port of Cherbourg and with the help of another Union ship had the Alabama boxed in. What ensued was the most famous of the Civil War naval battles. Captain Semmes chose to fight rather than to rot away in dry dock and through diplomatic channels relayed his challenge to Captain Winslow.

After three days, the Alabama sailed out to challenge the Kearsarge and was reduced to a sinking wreck. Captain Semmes had not known that the Kearsarge had been armor clad in the Azores a year ago before pursuing the Alabama and he later said he would not have challenged the Union ship if he had known this. The Kearsarge rescued a majority of the survivors but 41 including Captain Semmes were rescued by the British ship the Deerhound and taken to England.

Northern sympathizers in the Lone Pine area had their turn at naming things to celebrate the victory of the USS Kearsage. Kearsarge Peak north of Lone Pine, the Kearsarge Pass and the next mining district north of the Alabama Mining District is called the Kearsarge Mining District. Finally the town of Kearsarge was located on the Carson and Colorado Narrow Gauge RR line just east of the town of Independence. By driving out Mazourka Canyon Road you can find the site to this day, now marked by a historic plaque and some ruins.

In November of 1984 the Alabama wreck was discovered and in 2002 a diving team recovered her bell and other items from the ship. While most of these historic battles did not happen in the Alabamas, a famous battle of the Owens Valley Indian Wars of 1861 to 1864 did. The battle of the Alabama Hills was one of the most famous of the skirmishes, battles and massacres of this war.


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Arches of The Alabama Hills
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Contact Info

The Museum of Western Film History
701 S. Main Street
Lone Pine, CA 93545