Located within the sprawling, dusty Great Basin Desert, Lone Pine sits in Owens Valley, surrounded by the sandy-coloured crags of the Inyo mountains to the east and the teetering Sierra Nevada range to the west.
One mountain, in particular, has brought Lone Pine recognition: Mount Whitney, which at 4,421 metres is the tallest in the state. Hikers come from far and wide to scale it or to walk stretches of the Whitney Portal National Recreation Trail, using Lone Pine as their base and travelling along the Whitney Portal Road to the trail start. The area is also popular for trout fishing, climbing and backcountry skiing.
Mount Whitney and the surrounding boulders of the Alabama Hills have also brought a surprising sprinkling of movie magic to this otherwise unassuming town.
In the 1920s, movie directors used the peaks as backdrops for their silent Westerns, and they’ve been coming here ever since – more than 400 movies have been shot here, as well as TV shows and commercials.
Film buffs should pay a visit to the Museum of Western Film History, which includes memorabilia from locally set movies and shows, such as The Lone Ranger and Django Unchained. Visitors can grab a locations map from the museum and head off to explore the area’s various filming locations along Movie Road.
Western fans should make sure they’re in town for the annual Lone Pine Film Festival, which takes place in the second week of October (next year marks its 30th anniversary). It celebrates Lone Pine and its surroundings as a symbol of the American West, with film screenings, rodeos and guest panels on the agenda.
The town’s Main Street is like a mini film set itself, dotted with saloon bars, barbecue joints and goods stores, with neon signs hanging above restaurants and motels.
I stayed at the Comfort Inn, located on South Main Street, whose hallway walls are filled with photographs of the stars the town has hosted, from John Wayne to Gary Cooper (rooms start from $84 a night).
Mark Meredith, travel trade director of Visit California for the UK and Ireland, explains that Lone Pine’s location on Route 395 adds to its appeal: “The frontier town is a gateway to both the highest and lowest points in California – Mount Whitney to the west and Death Valley’s Badwater Basin to the east.”
With its friendly locals, ethereal mountain backdrops and surprising history, Lone Pine was a rewarding pit-stop on my road trip – and will no doubt delight your clients too.