Sunday, November 27, 2016

Lonely Adventuring in Lone Pine

It’s funny to think that when we went on our first trip to Mammoth in February of 2014, we thought that it was going to be a dreary 6-hour drive through the boonies, passing cities with thrilling names like Lone Pine and Big Pine.  But as it turned out, the entire drive was full of these I-wish-I-had-my-camera moments.  There were lots of cool and random things to stop by and discover.  A few points of interest that we've pulled over for so far were Manzanar, Red Rock Canyon State Park, Pine Creek, Bishop, Convict Lake, and other roadside vistas and restaurants.  We've barely scratched the surface of what other odd and interesting landmarks line the Highway 395 – ghost towns, a wind farm, rock formations, hot springs, quirky museums and shops.  It is great that there will always be something new to see, and that the drive to Mammoth can be an adventure in its own right.

The Alabama Hills is a collection of strange and rather sinister rock formations at the base of the Eastern Sierras in the Owen Valley.  I saw that it was only 10 minutes off the beaten path, right in Lone Pine.  I had to use the promise of four-star Yelper-reviewed barbecue as leverage to bargain for a mid-drive hike.  Unfortunately for us all, there was no barbecue to be had, as the pit was closed for the season (but why??).  Well, just as I thought, Wes was willing to see the Alabama Hills anyway, barbecue or not.

 Perhaps the best thing about this place is that if you weren’t looking for it, you would never know that it was there.  It was even more magical because very, very few people were there.  It's just so random of a place, and so small.  I realize now that natural wonders are everywhere, not just in the national parks.  It's just a matter of being in the right place at the right time, with eyes wide open.

This is Lone Pine.  It's one of those little old towns where you'd stop to use the restroom, get some gas, and maybe eat something quickly before getting back on the road.  We never eat at fast food joints when we roadtrip, because walking into a small restaurant is often the best way to get personal with a place.  Based on our experience at the kitschy Alabama Hills Cafe, we came to see that Lone Pine is actually charming in its own quaint way.

After our hopes for having barbecue were dashed twice, we followed Yelp to this little cafe with diner-style food.  It's almost too cheesy that we ended up at this place, which is clearly themed after our afternoon destination.  There were maps on the walls with the various rock formations, which helped us familiarize ourselves with what we were about to see while digging into chicken fried steak and a hand-carved turkey sandwich on rye bread with yellow mustard.

Wes was in love with this chicken fried steak.  It's always these random all-American cafes that seem to do it best, right?  This was not only humongous, but also made-to-order, super flavorful, and tender throughout.  My sandwich was nothing too special, but it was a very solid sandwich, and also huge.  The people next to us didn't even get through half of their food, but they stared as Wes and I polished everything off.  They also stared because we were being so weird with taking pictures.  But they were super nice about it.

The road was very empty and it quickly brought us to some jaw-dropping cliffs, known as "The Spooks."  They call this "Movie Road," because a ton of Old Westerns and even recent movies such as Ironman and Transformers were filmed here.

The sun sets quickly out here.  By 3:30, the cliffs were already golden, with dramatic shadows bringing out every face and jaggedy edge.  Definitely wouldn't want to be here alone after dark.  We had fun climbing up onto all of the oddly-shaped boulders, despite the fact that we were pretty creeped out.  We only saw five other people around for the entire time that we were here.

This looks like the Chicago bean!
There was even a dinosaur.

And then on our way to the trailhead to see the arches, we had to stop at a truly ethereal and beautiful sight.  There was one lone, almost perfectly symmetrical tree growing among these boulders, covered in golden yellow leaves that somehow hadn't fallen prey to winter yet.  It looked almost like a candle flickering in a dark corner.

With the sun quickly sinking behind the mountains, we hurried to the arches.  I sort of have this weird fascination with natural arches, so this was a must-see.  I had seen a few pictures online of the Mobius Arch here, and was shocked that something like that was so accessible here!  It seemed too good to be true that we were going to be able to encounter a mini Arches National Park right in our path.

We drove for another five minutes to get to the trailhead.  Saw some people on an ATV randomly!

The trail is named Mobius Arch Loop Trail.  It is super short and easy - Mobius Arch is the big famous one of three named arches on this trail.  People recommend hiking the loop in a counterclockwise direction to best encounter all of the arches, so that is what we did.

First arch - Lathe Arch!  I almost missed it, but Wes spotted its flat opening.  We scrambled up the boulder to get a good look at it, over it, and through it.  It's amazing!

Second arch - Mobius Arch!  This is the well-known one, shaped almost like a ribbon with a kink in it, perfectly looped overhead in a large arc shape.  The light was quickly fading but we climbed in and really interacted with it.  It was great because literally we were the only ones here - it makes me wonder, how many Californians know about this place?

Third arch - Heart Arch!  Its peculiar heart-shaped opening can only be admired from down below, and is really two holes, and one of them looks like a "heart" when you're standing at a certain angle at a distance.

We could see many places where erosion continues to occur: arches in the making.  Although Wes wondered if any animals were living underneath them, I wasn't afraid to stoop down to get a good shot through nature's coolest doorways and windows!

And, one more arch sighting en route...

Heh heh.

Until next time, Mister Dinosaur!

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