On the Road, Part 7: Inyo, CA
by Kiko Matsing
From Badwater, we headed north on Highway 190 to Furnace Creek–an oasis of palm trees and tourist trap amenities. It was getting late in the afternoon, but it turned out to be the best time of the day to see the area around Stovepipe Wells. The Devil’s Cornfield formed endless rows of arrowweed–a bushy shrub adapted to blowing sand and soil erosion by growing in tufts like corn shock. It was amber/gold in the setting sun. Up ahead, we were surprised by sand dunes that suddenly rose on our right; it looked absolutely Saharan with its late afternoon shadows. We got excited–having missed White Sands in New Mexico–and just had to stop and come up close to take pictures. On the sand, we noticed tracks probably made by sidewinders. Spooky!
We ended up spending the evening at Lone Pine, a town that thrives on being right next door to major tourist destinations such as Death Valley, Sequoia National Park, and Mt. Whitney. It celebrates a faux-cowboy culture, i.e., the Wild Wild West according to Hollywood; the Beverly and Jim Rogers Museum of Lone Pine Film History was just next to our motel. No wonder. To the west, towards the Mt. Whitney Portal, are the Alabama Hills, which served as recurrent backdrop for movie and TV westerns. We drove through a gravel path called Movie Road. Scenes from The Lone Ranger (1949) were shot there, as well as Humphry Bogart’s final shoot-out with the cops in High Sierra (1941).
It still amazes me that Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48 at 14,505 feet, and Badwater, lowest point at -282 feet, are just 135 miles apart. We were not able to go up very far though, as the roads were snowed in, and we did not have chains on our tires. We were, however, able to hike at a leisurely pace for a couple of hours, and still see spectacular vistas of the southern part of the Sierras.