Our next stop as we continue south on Hwy 395 is the tiny town of Lone Pine. It’s been over a week since we arrived in Lone Pine, and with not a single blog post to show for it I guess we have some catching up to do. All last week I kept telling myself that we had done so little a blog post was hardly warranted. It wasn’t until I sat down to write this post that I realized in the past week we have stayed in three different spots, gone on a hike up the tallest mountain in CA (only part way up), toured the wondrous Alabama Hills in search of arches, visited the famed Film History Museum, and took part in two fabulous gatherings with some fellow RVrs. Whew…no wonder I didn’t have time for blogging.
Our first few days in the area we spent at the BLM run Tuttle Creek Campground. At a mere $5/night for a huge site with stunning mountain views we were not complaining. Not to mention that for the first time in a month we had easy access to fresh water, trash and recycling. It’s amazing how much you appreciate these little luxuries after hauling around bags of trash in search of a suitable receptacle, and lugging heavy jugs of water to and from the truck week after week.
Even with these grand amenities, and the more than reasonable price tag, we couldn’t help but yearn for something more. Something free and primitive and awe inspiring. You see, boondocking is addicting. Especially once you learn the ropes and figure out that you can very easily, and very comfortably, live in your self-contained vehicle with no constraints of numbered sites, or the annoyance of loud neighbors who insist on burning smoky fires 24-hours a day. After a while it becomes the preferred method of living. Hauling around your trash, seeking out sources of water, and constantly monitoring your tanks is no match for some of the absolutely stunning places that you can find off the grid and out of the campground. For example, there’s this:
That’s right, after 5 nights at the campground we broke free. We had even paid for two more nights, but who cares about $10 when you can be here? This incredible spot among the rocks is in an area called the Alabama Hills. This 30,000 acre area of intriguing rock formations lie at the base of the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The rounded contours of the Alabamas have been etched over the years by wind and water creating a sea of soft looking boulders that stand in sharp contrast to the jagged granite peaks of the Sierra Nevadas.
Since the Alabama Hills are on BLM land (Bureau of Land Management) that means you are allowed to camp in the hills for free. Provided you follow a few simple, common sense guidelines of course. While the Alabama Hills are a popular spot for camping, they are also notorious for their ability to render a once strong cell signal completely useless. This tiny fact is what kept us away and led us to the campground in the first place. Because contrary to how it may seem sometimes here on the blog- we are not on vacation. We both work during the week and to do that must have a usable cell signal. Despite all the reports about weak cell signals, we just couldn’t accept the fact that these hills were not for us. Especially after visiting our RV friends Nina & Paul in their awesome spot in the hills- where they got a perfectly usable 3G Verizon signal I might add.
So we drove around the hills a few times and found what seemed to be some great spots with a great signal. Then we bite the bullet, left the campground and moved a few miles down the road to freedom. Only it wasn’t that easy. Those previously great spots turned out to be not as great as we first thought. Cell signals are tricky when there is this much rock to bounce around on. Every time we parked and thought we had a steady signal a few minutes later it was gone. Finally, we settled on a secluded spot nestled among the rocks where the signal appeared to be strong and steady. And it was. For almost an entire day. Then it began wavering between a strong signal and a weak signal. By the second day the signal strength was so weak that I gave up on it all together. Tim played around with all our various antennas and boosters to no avail. Eventually we accepted the fact that at the end of the weekend we would have to either seek out a new spot or move back to the campground. In the meantime we throughly enjoyed this very cool spot. Tim decided the rocks were his own personal “adult-sized playground” and proceeded to climb all over taking photos of us from above and just generally enjoying himself.
While we were out in the hills we had the pleasure of spending two evenings with fellow RVs Nina & Paul of Wheeling It, and Nikki & Jason of Gone with the Wynns. Both were camped nearby in the hills and we decided to have a spur of the moment Halloween gathering. This was our first time meeting Nikki and Jason. Aren’t they cute?
Okay, so they don’t usually look like that, but it was Halloween. Also they get extra credit for begin the only ones who dressed up. Nikki and Jason are full-timers who have very successfully navigated their way into the world of creatively self-employed RVrs. One of the things they do -and do very well I might add- is produce videos. Their fun and witty blog features a bunch of quirky and informative videos all about their particular brand of RVing. Knowing all this I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised when they showed up and informed us that not only was this casual pumpkin caring gathering going be turned into a short film, it was also going to be turned into a contest. Lucky for them, we are an easy going bunch and agreed to both the filming and the contest. I mean, how can you say no to two people who show up dressed as zombies with pumpkins and a box of wine?
With very little preparation, and no prior knowledge of this competition, I am not sure Tim and I are even in the running to win this thing (also how can we compete with the sob story Nina & Paul told about being first time carvers and having to use a potato peeler), but if you do want to vote (for us of course), just leave a comment here or below the video on youtube. It turned out to be a very fun way to meet some new fellow RVs and have a blast enjoying Halloween.
We also had another gathering before they all left the area on Sunday. It was a kind of an impromptu potluck with some really tasty food including spicy potatoes cooked by the Wynns in their solar oven, and a Cuban flan made by Nina & Paul that was amazing. I contributed some Quiona Pumpkins Patties that tasted fine, but came out so ugly that I couldn’t bear to document them with photographic evidence. In fact, I didn’t take a single photo of the entire gathering. So you’ll just have to take my word for it that it was a night full of witty conversation and pearly white smiles all around (especially Jason ;)
We also took time out of our busy socializing/rock climbing/searching for the perfect boondocking schedule to visit the film museum in town. The Lone Pine Film History Museum chronicles the history of moviemaking in the area. And what a history it is. Starting with the first silent westerns shot here in the 1920s this area became a mecca for film makers who loved the Alabama Hills for its close proximity to Hollywood while providing a remarkable backdrop for the movies.
Buck Jones, Hoot Gibson, John Wayne, William Boyd as Hop-a-long Cassidy, the Singing Cowboys, Cisco Kid, The Lone Ranger, Rawhide, How the West Was Won, and Showdown are just a tiny sample of the movie stars and popular westerns that helped bring hollywood to the Alabama Hills. Between 1920 and 1950 the Alabama Hills were featured in over 300 movies and also served as a stand in location for other countries such as India, China, Afghanistan. For the 1939 blockbuster Gunga Din, which was supposed to be set in India, the movie studio built an entire Hindu temple in the hills. More recently the Alabama Hills have served as the setting for sci-fi movies including Star Trek V, Iron Man, Gladiator, and Tremors to name just a few. While neither Tim or I are fans of Western Movies, and at least I am definitely not a fan of sci-fi, we still enjoyed learning about the movie history of the area. The museum features a short film as well as numerous exhibits and artifacts. It was well worth the $5 admission fee in my opinion.
Finally, we did manage to get out one day for some hiking in the Mountains. Lone Pine is the home to Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in California. In fact, at 14,505 feet it is the highest mountain in the lower United States. Many ambitious soles flock to Lone Pine every year to climb Mt. Whitney. Most do it in two or even three days, but there are those who tackle the entire climb at once. Since we were in no way prepared for a hike such as this, but still wanting to experience some of that mountain magic, we decided to tackle the 5.5 mile round trip hike up to Lone Pine Lake. This hike follows the same trail that travels all the way to the top of the mountain, and we saw more than a few hikers loaded down with packs and gear obviously on their way up or down from the summit.
It was a relatively mild hike with some steep sections, lots of switchbacks and tons of incredible views. We reached the lake and enjoyed lunch on a comfy log while contemplating the likelihood that we would some day return and make the multi-day hike to the top. It seems we both agree the likelihood is high.
As I write this post it is Sunday night and as of this morning we decided to move back to the campground. We want to stay around for another week and it seemed our best best for a sure-thing strong 4G signal. When we arrived the place was practically empty and we had our pick of sites. Here we are in site 28 way at the back of the campground with no one else anywhere near us and a nice little creek in our back yard. Guess we can’t complain too much can we?