Against the Traffic: From Lone Pine to Death Valley, California

Lone Pine, California is a sleepy little town. For me it was a great jumping off spot for my journey into Death Valley. Before your trip into the park, do not miss Alabama Hills which is the subject of my next post. But first, let’s discuss Lone Pine.

It is located 16 miles (26 km) south-southeast of Independence, California at an elevation of 3727 feet. The town is located in the Owens Valley near the Alabama Hills. Since Death Valley is unbearable in the dead of summer, February was selected for this photographic adventure. Lone Pine and most of the Owens Valley have a high desert climate characterized by hot summers and cold winters. January temperatures range from the middle fifties to upper twenties. This information is critical in your preparation as you may be shooting in near freezing conditions, extremely warm conditions, early dawn and evening shoots as well extremely challenging high sun glare shoots, especially once you reach the dunes of Death Valley.

The town is small and quiet and provides ample affordable housing and restaurants. There are drugstores, markets, clothing stores, gas stations, etc. for provisions that might be needed.


I landed in Las Vegas and drove across the Amargosa Valley, through Death Valley and eventually arrived in Lone Pine some 5 hours later (approximately 240 miles). May I recommend that you rent as sturdy a vehicle with as high a clearance as possible. Some of the roads you will be taking once you are exploring the park can be extremely challenging. There are some locations where you will be without cell-phone service and with no AAA or gas stations for miles. Make sure to carry plenty of drinking water and snacks. Clothing should be carried to provide for extremely varying temperatures. Sturdy boots or walking gear a must. Sun glasses, sun block, compass, road maps and full camera gear should be carefully considered.

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If you are coming from the Los Angeles area, the trip is about 4 hours north on US 395.

Before our venture into the Alabama Hills, there are a couple of sites in and around Lone Pine that you might want to consider. Mount Whitney is the highest summit in the contiguous United States with an elevation of  4,505 feet (4,421 m). I am contemplating this as a future photographic adventure. Though only about 23 miles on US 395 S or 16 miles on Whitney Portal Road, the trip will still take about 1 hour 15 minutes as the roads are rough. It is home to the Lone Pine Film Festival, each October. This small, high desert community has much to offer. I will discuss more about the film festival in conjunction with The Alabama Hills as that is where most of the films were shot.

Down the road from Lone Pine is the National Historic Site of Mazanar. The somber, skeletal remains of Manzanar remind us of a shameful chapter During World War II. “Tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans were forcefully deported to various relocation camps throughout the nation.” During my stay in Lone Pine I observed many Japanese-Americans who had come to pay their respects. I personally visited Mazanar with the thoughts of capturing some interesting images, but found the site unyielding for me on that day. Perhaps I wasn’t seeing particularly well. Sometimes it just happens that way.

The Sierra Nevadas loom in the background and I was able to capture “Sierra Nevadas” which was one of my favorite images on The Road to Death Valley.

Let’s get to bed early as  tomorrow we will beat the dawn on our way to The Alabama Hills.


Happy Shooting

Rich Smukler