It’s one of the most viewed locations in the United States, but almost nobody knows its name.
It has served as the location for hundreds of TV shows and movies from Gladiator to the iconic 1950s TV series The Lone Ranger, and countless cowboy movies of the 20th century.
Based under the tallest mountain of the contiguous United States, Mt Whitney at 4421m, the Alabama Hills have been a spectacular filming backdrop with their environment of rugged boulders and weathered rock formations within a four hour drive of Los Angeles.
I picked up my Ford Mustang (red, of course) from Los Angeles International Airport and drove out to Death Valley National Park with only a backpack, a tent and a camera for three weeks of exploring the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
A week into my journey, I drove into the small town of Lone Pine, Inyo County, California to find a place to pitch my tent for the night.
Upon inquiring at the local visitor centre for free camping locations, I was asked had I heard of the Alabama Hills.
My answer was simply, no.
My initial thinking was it must be a place that only locals knew about, and the visitor centre guide was making it out to be more important than it was.
How wrong I was.
I quickly learned how recognisable and grand the landscape was.
A landscape that many of us have grown up with in TV shows and movies.
In addition, I also learnt a new term in my travelling vocabulary, ‘dispersed camping’ — the American term for free camping outside of designated areas.
Handy to know.
I was handed a map of the area with well-known movie and TV show filming locations marked and told I could camp anywhere I wanted to.
As I drove my Mustang along the gravel roads twisting among the hills and exotic rock formations, I realised the staggering beauty of the location I had stumbled upon.
I pitched my tent on nightfall and settled in for the night.
Waking before sunrise to photograph the light illuminating the scenery around me, the rich hues of violet, orange and blue were stunning.
Later a cavalcade of 10 black SUVs rambled past while I was outside my tent eating breakfast.
In the afternoon I found these SUVs filming deeper within the Alabama Hills, no doubt for a TV interview.
Adding to the drama was the ever present peak of Mt Whitney at nearly twice the height of our own Mt Kosciuszko and rising to a prominence of 3072m.
Climbable with only a permit, which I did not have, I climbed to 3063m — the maximum permissible without a permit — to Lone Pine Lake.
A perfect blue sky provided a perfect mirror reflection on the lake with the soaring peaks above — a truly breathtaking vista.
In hindsight, this was in stark contrast to the snow blizzards and below-zero temperatures that were to come further north in the weeks ahead, not to mention an encounter with an unseen bear.
But that’s another story.
Since returning from this trip, I love watching a TV episode at home or a movie at the cinema and instantly recognising if it was filmed in the Alabama Hills, while pointing out where my tent was pitched when I made the hills my home — if only for a few nights.