Heroes Shooting Blanks

Movie Flats

Riding off into the sunrise at Movie Flats

I just spent a couple of days camping in and hiking through hero country. No, it wasn’t a battlefield. And yet it was. If that sounds contradictory, it should become clear shortly. It is a princely place if you’re drawn to southwest high desert country like I am. This tract of land is situated near Lone Pine, California and is in the Alabama Hills, a name which has nothing at all to do with Alabama. The area has it all: sun, sagebrush, cactus, canyons, and jumbles of huge golden boulders. If that isn’t enough, topping it off is the grand mountain vista backdrop of Mt. Whitney and its surrounding high Sierra peaks. I’d better confess right here that I’m not the first to notice the ultra-western-ness of these features. The Hollywood movie industry noticed it 90 years ago.

Now you’re beginning to get the picture, so to speak. Driving through Lone Pine, you can hardly miss the movie museum, tie-ins to the film industry, and the sign telling you this is “Hollywood’s favorite location.” The boast is that hundreds of movies and TV shows have been shot here since the 1920s. Many of them were Westerns, meaning lots of shootouts took place here. Hence the heroes. Yes, the characters were shooting blanks, but you can now understand my quandary over whether or not to call this place a battlefield.

As soon as I turned onto the dirt road that took me into Movie Flats, as the site is known locally, the place had a familiar feel to it. And for good reason because I’d probably seen it a hundred times before. Many of my childhood TV heroes chased, shot it out with, and traded punches with outlaws and Indians here. From the names given to landmarks here you might even guess who some of them were. There’s Lone Ranger Canyon, Gary Cooper Rock, Hopalong Cassidy Ambush Rock, and Gene Autry Rock. Humphrey Bogart, Gregory Peck, James Garner, Kirk Douglas, Susan Hayward, Tyrone Power, Erol Flynn, Randolf Scott, Roy Rogers, John Wayne, Bing Crosby, Barbara Stanwyck, Russel Crowe, and Jeff Bridges all filmed here. How the West was Won, Gunga Din, High Sierra, Along the Great Divide, Charge of the Light Brigade, Yellow Sky, Gladiator, Bonanza, Rawhide, and Maverick are just some of the movies and TV shows shot here.

When I hiked around, some of the western film clichés of my childhood flooded over me. Those of my generation surely haven’t forgotten box canyon, gulch, ambushes from behind rocks, head ‘em off at the pass, they went thata way, Kemo Sabe, and Hi Ho Silver, Away! I could almost hear the William Tell Overture playing in the background and bullets from six-guns ricocheting off the rocks. And of course when I reached a creek, which was actually just a seep with a trickle of water, I was extra careful to avoid any deadly quicksand. And I just knew on the drive out, I’d be humming “Happy trails to you, ‘til we meet again.”

Recommended Reading:
Guy Going Under—a hero who “kind of likes just doin’ nothing”
Wall Drug Heroes: Historical Western Photos

Movie Flats and the Trona Pinnacles (see Heroes Shooting Blanks Part 2) 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 — 1 Comment

  1. Twentieth Century Fox operated a movie ranch in this area before donating the land to Malibu Creek State Park. In addition to Robert Altman’s classic 1970 film MASH and the subsequent television series, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, and PLANET OF THE APES were also filmed in the park (among others).

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