Many a movie has been filmed in the Alabama Hills, just west of Lone Pine, California. More than 300 movies, in fact. But we weren’t there for the movie history—we actually didn’t even know it was a popular movie set until we arrived—we were just looking for a free place to camp as we headed north on U.S. Route 395.
Wikipedia can tell you more than we can about which movies were filmed in the Alabama Hills. So can the Lone Pine Film History Museum. Here are just a few you might recognize: How the West Was Won, The Lone Ranger, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, and Django Unchained. When this plaque dedicated by Roy Rogers was part of the directions we received for getting to the boondocking area that probably should have been our first clue to the area’s history: “Turn right at the movie plaque and continue down the dirt road…”
We have stayed in very few places as quiet as the Alabama Hills. We even had neighbors—this area of BLM land is not a secret within the RVing community—but our closest neighbors were probably 1/2 mile away. It was beautiful and peaceful and free! We definitely would have stayed longer if there had been any hint of a cell phone signal, but since we were still working we had to move on to greener cell phone and internet pastures. After a delicious breakfast at the Alabama Hills Cafe (get the breakfast burrito, it’s delicious!), we continued north on 395 toward Mammoth the next morning.
We didn’t have reservations, as usual, and the two campgrounds we had hoped to stay at in Mammoth Lakes were full. We broadened our search a bit and Reserve America showed three first-come first-served sites available at Convict Lake, just 10 miles south of Mammoth, so we headed that way and crossed our fingers that the online calendar was accurate.
Not only were there spots available, but Convict Lake ended up being far better than the two campgrounds we looked at in Mammoth. Suzanne wants to know, “How is it that I grew up in California and had never heard of Convict Lake?! It’s beautiful!” The lake is a few miles west of 395 at the end of a curvy road and set behind a row of hills, so you can’t see it until you are practically on top of it. All of a sudden there it is, with its clear blue water and majestic backdrop of snowcapped mountains.
Convict Lake got its name from a shootout that happened here on September 23, 1871, when a group of convicts who had escaped from a prison in Carson City, Nevada, came face-to-face with the posse that was chasing them. The convicts killed two of the posse members and managed to escape, but they were captured just a few days later. Two of the peaks behind the lake are named for the fallen posse members.
It was a little windy for kayaking while we were at Convict Lake, but we went for a few great trail runs on the 3-mile loop around the lake and other nearby trails. In the evenings, deer wandered down and walked right through our campsite. One even stopped and looked in the window. We loved it so much here that we ended up staying four nights instead of one. And we’re lucky we arrived on Thursday because all of the campsites were full by Friday afternoon.
In addition to the trails right around the lake, there are countless hiking trails to choose from in the area. We did two scenic hikes that both started in Mammoth. The Sherwin Lakes Trail starts at the south end of town and is 6 miles roundtrip. We overachieved and continued further up the trail toward Valentine Lake. It was definitely worth the long climb up the switchbacks to the beautiful alpine lakes at the top.
The Duck Pass Trail starts near Lake Mary and can be as long as 11 miles roundtrip if you make it up and over the pass (elevation 9,120 feet) to Duck Lake. Snow stopped us at the pass, however, so we ended up hiking about 5 miles roundtrip. This was a fun hike—we lost the trail a few times when it was buried under several feet of snow but we always found our way again…eventually. We stopped just below Duck Pass for a picnic lunch at Barney Lake and then hiked back down.
Sherwin Lakes Hike
Duck Pass Hike
While we were living at Convict Lake we also spent time in Mammoth. The Looney Bean became our go-to coffee shop for good internet service and delicious caffeinated beverages. And we had a fun night out with friends at The Village. We forgot to take a picture with Thomas and Michelle while we were there, so we stole the cute photo below from their blog.
We met Thomas and Michelle last year when they responded to Kevin’s ad looking for help at our farm near Savannah. They had recently quit their jobs to travel the country in an RV, “workamping” along the way. As workampers they spend part of their time traveling and part of their time living and working in one place. After several months living and working at the farm, they moved on to other adventures. They are spending this summer workcamping at a lodge in Mammoth Lakes—not a bad gig!
After a fun night out with Thomas and Michelle, we packed up our things and left Convict Lake the next morning. We continued north on U.S. Route 395 to Lee Vining, and then turned left on Highway 120 toward Yosemite. We’ll pick up here with our next blog post. For now, we’ll leave you with this picture of our deer friend from Convict Lake looking into the RV. He’s so cute it’s worth using this picture twice in the same blog. See you on down the road!
Additional Photos from our time along 395: