Heroes Shooting Blanks Pt. 2: Is there any location Hollywood hasn’t discovered?

I’m beginning to think the answer to the question posed in my title is “no.” At least in the West within a thousand miles of LA. After leaving Movie Flats in the Alabama Hills, the lovely but surreal setting of the Trona Pinnacles became my next camping destination. The pinnacles are located on the playa of Searles Dry Lake in the Searles Valley, just one valley west of Death Valley National Park in this harsh basin and range country. If you read my earlier post on the Bennett-Arcan wagon train party’s 1849 escape from Death Valley, it might interest you to know that another party became trapped in Death Valley about the same time. The Jayhawkers abandoned their wagons as well and walked out by way of Searles Valley. They acted to save themselves from a situation of their own making, so they were only heroes in a limited way. Yet even this marginal heroism beat what followed after this place too became a popular filming location, like Movie Flats. The cameras here weren’t shooting good guys shooting outlaws and Indians. The cinematography was of a different type.

Before I explain what the cameras turned out, allow me to describe this place and what makes it unique. The Trona Pinnacles are located just a few miles south of Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, a huge military range larger than the state of Delaware. And to the south and east is an even larger area made up of the Naval Air Weapons Station Mojave, Goldstone Deep Space Tracking Station, and the army’s Irwin National Training Center.

The Searles Lake bed is not completely dry and in one area hosts one of the most diverse saline mineral deposits in the world. As in Death Valley, borate was mined here and hauled out by wagons and 20-mule teams. However, the most valued minerals are gems found on the playa in brine pools. Pink halite and hanksite are especially treasured by collectors. The latter is found in only one other place in the world.

But I digress because it is the Pinnacles that are the most visible and geologically fascinating feature of this valley. They comprise over 500 tufa (not to be confused with tofu) towers. The Pinnacles too are delicate, but not in the same way as tofu. These somewhat delicate structures formed thousands of years ago when the lake bed actually held water. The towers gradually grew under water and are the product of a complex interaction between blue-green algae, the alkaline lake water, and the calcium-rich mineral-bearing water rising out of the earth from springs on the lake floor. Tufa towers are also found in and around Mono Lake and other places, but the ones here are more spectacular.

The effect is other-worldly. Phantasmagorical (this is a word I’ve always wanted to use), even. Now that I’ve said this you might be able to guess what kind of filming such an unusual setting lends itself to. Yup, science fiction is one. Think Planet of the Apes. But by and large, commercials are shot here, which gets me back to my opening and the heroes-of-all-types theme that I often write about. Do commercials even have heroes? I reckon by some stretch of the imagination they do, even if their appearance is fleeting. Maybe if I actually watched more commercial TV and didn’t skip commercials when I did watch, I’d have recognized the Pinnacles backdrop like I recognized the scenery at Movie Flats in the Alabama Hills. Maybe the Marlboro man on horseback wouldn’t have fit in here but it would be interesting to see that animated smart-assed green gecko set in this location. However, I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for that.

For more photos and information about this area as well as local movie locations, see the Ridgecrest Area Convention & Visitors Bureau or the Ridgecrest Regional Film Commission.

Also see: Heroes Shooting Blanks – Pt. 1

Movie Flats (Heroes Shooting Blanks Part 1) and the Trona Pinnacles are but two of the interesting and remote places in Marianne Edwards’ book California Boondocking, The Desert and Eastern Sierra: A Frugal Shunpiker’s Guide. This book, along with her other Guides can be found at Frugal RV Travel.
Anyone interested in RV boodocking might also look at Edwards’ Boondockers Welcome website.


Heroes Shooting Blanks Pt. 2: Is there any location Hollywood hasn’t discovered? — 1 Comment

  1. The Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS), China Lake, encompases 1.1 million acres of land in California’s upper Mojave Desert, accounting for approximately one-third of the Navy’s total land holdings. The land, ranging in altitude from 2,100 to 8,900 feet, varies from flat dry lake beds to rugged piñon pine covered mountains. The majority of the land is undeveloped and provides habitat for more than 340 species of wildlife and 650 plant types. The area was once also home to Native Americans, whose presence here is marked by thousands of archaeological sites, and to early miners and settlers whose cabins and mining structures are still found scattered throughout the Station.

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