Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Going North - Lone Pine, CA

Our most northerly destination in California is Lone Pine, famous for the hundreds of movies and TV series shot here, including High Sierra with Bogie, Joe Kidd with Clint Eastwood and Robert Duvall, The Great Race (one of my favourite movies from the 1960s) with Jack Lemmon, Peter Falk, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood, Gunga Din with Cary Grant (with the Sierra Nevadas standing in for the Himalayas), Hop-along-Cassidy features, the Lone Ranger, and more recently Tremors, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, and Star Trek VII: Generations.  Here's a complete list.

Our campsite in the Alabama Hills
The scenery is majestic.  To our immediate west are the snow-capped, jagged granite peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, with Mount Whitney just northwest standing at about 14,500 feet, the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states.  We are camped in the foothills of this section of the mountain range, the Alabama Hills.  Here, the granite has been eroded not by freeze and thaw like the high peaks, but by a process called exfoliating which causes the rock layers to fracture and peel.  To our east is the Owens Valley and Owens Lake (now mostly a dry, briny lakebed).  West of this valley are the Inyo Mountains, not as tall as 14,000 feet but still big with beautiful golden folds.  Death Valley is behind this range.  The result is a scene unlike anywhere we've seen so far.
Grady enjoying the scenery during his morning walk
Lunchtime in the snow at the foot of the Mt. Whitney Portal Rd.

Once again, there are tons of dirt roads through the Alabama Hills and up into the Sierras.  These roads were developed over the past 80 years by the multitude of film crews as a way of hauling cameras and other gear in and out of movie shoots.  We follow Movie Road (the main dirt road so named for this area's claim to fame) for several miles, and fork west onto Hogback Road across the valley towards the Sierra Nevadas.  At about 5,800 feet elevation, there is slush and snow covering the road.  Hmmm, I thought this is what we were leaving behind in Ontario!  It is here, against these grandiose mountains where we stop for our picnic lunch and, thanks to the sun, it is fairly mild sitting on the tailgate above the snow in only a long-sleeve t-shirt.  We can see the steep, almost vertical, grey granite cliffs with pockets of snow in crevices blowing down the mountainside.  Dozens of black ravens are catching thermals, floating above us.  At night, while having a campfire and watching the stars (no moon so the Milky Way is easily visible as is the Little Dipper), we hear an owl calling, probably from miles away.

The town of Lone Pine is fairly small, but typically authentic and quaint with some authentic western buildings, the fabulous Film History Museum, and a wonderfully informative Visitor Center with many exhibits displaying the nature and history of this scenic area.

Marilyn with the killer worm from the movie Tremors
The Lone Pine Film History Museum boasts many exhibits from the hundreds of movies (mostly westerns) filmed here.  I must admit, I'm not familiar with many of the titles, but I've certainly heard of the old film stars - Gene Autry, Audie Murphy, Roy Rogers, and Randolph Scott to name just a very few.  The museum has costumes made for Dale Evans by designer Nudie Cohn as well as his custom, tricked-out El Dorado Cadillac, the car used by Bogart in the movie High Sierra, and the stagecoach used in the movie Rawhide (no relation to the TV series).  There is also an exhibit for Django Unchanged, the latest Quentin Tarantino flick partly filmed here.  An informative 15-minute film describes the movies made here, the stars who visited, and the history behind the locations.  For $2, we purchase a booklet that will help us find shoot locations along Movie Road in the Alabama Hills where we are camped.

Aside from the fun and fame of the movie shoots, there is serious history in this area too.  An earthquake in 1872 leveled the original town of Lone Pine and we visit the gravesite where the 27 victims were buried, 16 of them in a common grave.  Today, only a fence and a plaque are visible, as is the 20-foot high scarp (uprising) created by this quake which was about the same magnitude of San Francisco's earthquake of 1906.

Memorial in the Manzanar cemetery
But most touching to us is the Manzanar National Historic Site, the site of the first of 10 relocation camps built in the U.S. to house Japanese-Americans during World War II.  The buildings have all been removed at the request of the land owner - the Los Angeles Water & Power company as the LA Aquaduct runs through this area.  Manzanar was, from 1942 to 1945, "home" (aka a prison camp) to about 10,000 Japanese-Americans, two-thirds of whom were born in America and were therefore U.S. citizens.  These people had to leave behind their homes, businesses, professions, and everything they couldn't carry (including their pets); most had nothing when they left the camps at the end of the war, although a few had managed to rent their homes to neighbours.

While they did not suffer the brutalities of the concentration camps half a world away in Europe, they were still prisoners behind barb-wire fences who faced prejudice, humiliation and human indignities.  But during the three and a half years at the camp, they built lives and a town complete with a general store, barbershop, beauty parlor, bank, school, hospital, churches and a newspaper.  Most had jobs working in the fruit orchards, raising livestock, tending gardens (vegetable and ornamental), digging irrigation canals, or working in the camoflauge netting factory located in the camp.  Others were doctors, nurses, teachers, police officer or firefighters.  They were paid for their work, from $12 to $19 per month.

Offerings left on the memorial at Manzanar
In 1988, President Reagan issued a formal apology and each survivor was awarded $20,000 - small compensation but a wrong at least acknowledged.  All that is left today is a huge auditorium which now serves as the Visitor Center and exhibit hall (including an excellent 22-minute film on the camp and a few of the survivors), a few reconstructed barracks in which the internees lived, and a cemetery with a memorial.  Only 15 people were actually buried here, nine of whom were relocated after the war at families' request; others who perished here were cremated and the ashes were returned to their families after the war ended.

The same thing happened in Canada, except that men were separated from their families and sent to work camps, and most prisoners weren't released until 1949 (four years AFTER the end of the war).  The Canadian government had sold the Japanese-Canadians' property and belongings in order to pay for their food and housing, so these people truly lost everything.  What a horrible mark in mankind's history; one we can never erase but must remind ourselves of constantly to help prevent following the same ugly path.

Since a very cold spell is expected, we head 300 miles south to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.  We drive through gorgeous, although cold and very windy, sunshine all the way down state Highway 395 to Interstate 15 where the clouds are dark and signs announce icy conditions on the highway west through the San Bernardino Mountains.  This worries me - we have never pulled the trailer in snow or ice, but if big trucks can do it, then so can we; and it'll be good practice for our drive home to Ontario.  We head down the mountain pass into fog and rain - we are lucky that we are on the very edge of the front passing through and the sun is just starting to peak out.  The ice has melted.  As we continue south and head back east a bit from the interstate towards the state park, we run into ice pellets blowing into us and across the road.  We are, once again, back in the mountains, with elevations just over 3,000 feet.  Fortunately, the roads are still dry and not slippery.  As we near the park Visitor Center and campground, it is dark and we have to descend over 2,000 feet along a very twisting, steep mountain road for about 10 miles.  But we arrive safely and have a late dinner.  Later that night, I realize how tense I must have been in the passenger seat as my neck, back and upper arm muscles are throbbing.  Grady is just happy to be out of the truck after such a long drive that started at 9am and ended at 6pm.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. That first pic is amazing. We were at a Japanese Internment Camp (Amache)in Colorado. Sandra Dallas wrote Tallgrass about that place. You might like to read it. Keep safe.