Alabama Hills

Located near Lone Pine, CA the Alabama Hills are an awesome spot to visit and explore in Inyo County.  Large boulder formations erupt from the ground and create a maze of canyons, trails and roads. This feature in itself, is more than enough fun to justify a trip to this area, however add to the equation that the Alabama Hills has appeared in more Hollywood movies than one person can name and you have the perfect combination of terrain and nostalgic history.

Alabama Hills outside of Lone Pine, California
Alabama Hills outside of Lone Pine, California

The location are featured in many “Western” movies and is the birth place of the Lone Ranger, Star Trek and Iron Man. A final punctuation mark is the area is located in the foothills of Mount Whitney (14,505 ft), the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states.

Access to the locations is extremely easy, just follow Whitney Portal Road west out of Lone Pine, and take a right turn on  Movie Road. From here the possibilities are almost endless. The BLM publishes the “Movie Road Touring Brochure” which gives directions on how to find the film locations of some of your favorite movies.

Looking down on the Alabama Hills and Owens Valley from Whitney Portal
Looking down on the Alabama Hills and Owens Valley from Whitney Portal

There is an over-abundance of camping locations within this location.  I would love to camp in this site, with the only draw back being the number of tourists driving the trails. This is actually a big draw back for me.  Most of the trails are easily accessible by almost any vehicle on the market. My last trip, we saw a brand new Porsche driving movie road.  

Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, California
Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, California

The routes are short and easy traisl, however, there are a labyrinth of roads and canyons to explore and get lost. The fun can be search for and finding the filming locations of some of your favorite movies or televisions shows..

The area is managed by BLM. Camping is allowed by the BLM, however camping should follow all rules, regulations and the leave no trace principles in order to protect this resource and camping destination. Personally, my preference is to camp at the nearby Tuttle Creek, Lone Pine, or Mt. Whitney campgrounds.

Take your time and enjoy.

Alabama Hills Trail Map

Resources

Ubehebe Lead Mine

The Ubehebe Lead Mine is located just west of the Racetrack Playa Road off of the Bonnie Claire Road.  Discovered in 1906, the mine is located on the west side of the Racetrack valley just south of Teakettle junction.    The site was started as a copper mine and during to coarse of its operation would produce lead, copper, gold and zinc.

Ubehebe Lead Mine Trail sign located just off of the Racetrack, Death Valley, CA
Ubehebe Trail sign located just off of the Racetrack, Death Valley, CA

In February, 1908 a large eight foot thick vein of lead ore which was perceived to run through the mountain changed the mines name and destiny.  In order to prepare, the site hauled in 26,000 lbs of provisions to feed and supply a crew of eight men for the duration of the summer.   When processed the order produced significantly lower than expected.  The lack of water, remote location and less than desirable returns caused production of the Ubehebe Lead Mine to be sporadic.

Ubehebe Mine with tramway visible at the top of the hill, Death Valley, CA
Ubehebe Mine with tramway visible at the top of the hill, Death Valley, CA

The site currently has a main adit which is blocked off about 10 feet inside of the entrance.  Several other adits are located up the hillside and all are blocked to entry at this time.  There are a few collapsed buildings of light construction that have given their all against the harsh environment and several foundations are also evident.  An aerial tramway was built to the northern works and a single tramway cable is still suspended and connected to tramway on the ridge above.

Exploring the Ubehebe Mine tails pile, Death Valley, CA
Exploring the Ubehebe Mine tails pile, Death Valley, CA

The entire area has undergone extensive washing: bits of rail and pipe sections lie about near the mine, as do crockery fragments, pieces of glass, and tin cans that have worked down from the camp site. The several dumps nearby contain nothing of historical significance.

Looking back at the jeep, Death Valley National Park, CA
Looking back at the jeep, Death Valley National Park, CA
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Racetrack Valley

TeaKettle Junction lets you know you are starting to get close to the Racetrack.
TeaKettle Junction lets you know you are starting to get close to the Racetrack.

Racetrack valley is a rough graded road which departs the Ubehebe Crater site and heads south into the desert. The road is rough, but easily passable in a regular car. However, when entering back country areas such as this it is always a good idea to have the insurance of a reliable vehicle, high clearance, four wheel drive, etc…  Do yourself a huge favor and air down your tires if you are properly equipped to air up when the trip is over.

Looking north from the Lippincott Mine towards the Racetrack off in the distance.
Looking north from the Lippincott Mine towards the Racetrack off in the distance.

The racetrack valley road is a 25 miles one way trip to the playa. The road is grated, but can be heavily wash-boarded depending on the time of year, rain fall, etc…

Along the way, there are many side trips and alternate trails to help expand your visit.

As you leave Ubehebe Crater, you will be driving south and gradually gaining elevation. Take your time and enjoy the drive, if you are lucky you may see a big horn sheep herd. The road gradually gains in elevation and climbs through a Joshua Tree Forest.

Once you reach the pass, the road continues to drop in elevation all the way down to the playa. Continue straight through tea kettle junction, and bear left down the valley past the side road to the Lippincott mine, which is a great side trail.

The Racetrack Playa of Death Valley.
The Racetrack Playa of Death Valley.

As you continue past the road to the Lippincott mine the road drops down to the Racetrack Playa itself. The first stop is ‘The Grandstand’ which is an outcropping of rock located in the north west corner of the racetrack. The second stop is the parking area to hike towards the stones. Don’t try to hike to the stones from the first Grandstand parking lot, or you will be hiking significantly further.

The highlight of the trip, is a short hike to the sailing or racing stones. The start of the hike is the parking area at the southern end of the racetrack playa.

Jeeps and Labradors are not allowed on the playa!

To reach the stones hike east from the parking lot across the playa towards the dark stone hillside. It is short FLAT, meaning really FLAT hike towards the stones. Be sure the check the temperatures before you leave, and bring lots of water. This is true with anything you might want to do in Death Valley. Don’t walk on the playa if it is wet or muddy.

The Racing stones.
The Racing stones.

At the end of the 30 miles road there is a small primitive campground for overnight visits. Be sure to check with the National Park Service for regulations of back country camping within the park.

Every racetrack needs a grandstand.
Every racetrack needs a grandstand.
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Lippincott Mine Road

The Lippincott Mine Road is a one way road from Death Valley’s Racetrack Playa to Saline Valley. It is a steep trail which is not for the novice or the feint of heart. Greeting you at the trail head is a sign which reads:

“Lippincott Pass, 4×4 High Clearance, No Tow Service, Caution”

Experienced drivers using 4×4 high clearance vehicles only.  What traveler in their right mind could resist a challenge like this? Provided you are equipped to do so.

Lippincott Mine Road from Racetrack Valley, Death Valley National Park, CA
Lippincott Mine Road from Racetrack Valley, Death Valley National Park, CA
Looking back at some amazing landscapes near the top of the Lippincott Mine.
Looking back at some amazing landscapes near the top of the Lippincott Mine.

The top of Lippincott Mine road starts at the end of the Racetrack Valley road and descends into the west towards Saline Valley.  The road is steep and narrow but is not too technical.  At the top of the route is the Lippencott Mine site which gives the road it’s name.  The Lippincott Mine offers great views of both Saline and RaceTrack Valley.

Looking down at the Lippincott Mine Road from the Lippincott Mine, with Saline Valley in the distance.
Looking down at the Lippincott Mine Road from the Lippincott Mine, with Saline Valley in the distance.

There are several structures, and mines to explore and a lot of time could be spent exploring the site on foot.  The Homestake dry camp offers a great spot of overnight in the area for those of us who are so inclined.

The remains of the Lippincott Mine at the southern end of Race Track Valley.
The remains of the Lippincott Mine at the southern end of Race Track Valley.
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John Bull Trail 3N10

The John Bull Trail 3N10 has the solid reputation as one of the toughest and most challenging trails in the Big Bear mountains of San Bernardino County.   This trail should only be done with in a group of well-equipped short-wheelbase vehicles. Lockers are recommended, but not always required. The entire trail is strewn with boulders of various sizes. There are also a number of sharp drop-offs along the way. Be prepared for scratches, dings and flat tires. This trail is not for stock SUV’s.

The trail is part of the “Adopt a Trail” program through the National Forest Service, and has been adopted by the So Cal Broncos (east end) and the Waywegos 4 Wheel Drive Club (west end).

Running the trail west to east is somewhat easier, there is a campground at the western starting point. Most off-roaders prefer to start at the east end of the trail. The official start point is off of the Burnt Flats Trail (3N02), although many catch it at the end of 3N32.

Around April/May 2009 the ends of the John Bull Trail 3N10 has had more boulders pushed in to make more difficult “gateways”, which prevent under-equipped 4x4s from running the trail.

A Forest Service Adventure Passes are required if you plan on stopping along the way. As of September 2016, forest visitors parked in standard amenity recreation fee sites in the four southern California national forests must display a valid recreation pass. This includes sites on the Angeles, Cleveland, Los Padres and San Bernardino National Forests. Such is the once great state of California.

Trail Summary

NameJohn bull Trail
LocationBig Bear, San Bernardino, California
Length14.4 Miles
Elevation Gain1768 feet
Route TypeLoop
DifficultyDifficult

John Bull Trailmap