The latest installment of On Location with John Wayne visits an Old Hollywood haunt on the eve of yet another star attraction rolling into town—the John Wayne Grit Series.
Written by Jenn Thornton
In the race to enter the John Wayne Grit Series, the half-marathon and 10K trail slated to take its mark Oct. 15, 2022, in Lone Pine, California, the Journal goes on location to discover—and rediscover—a small town with a Hollywood-sized reputation as a hotbed of Western film. If you don’t know it by name, rest assured you’ve seen it backdropping John Wayne movies like The Oregon Trail (1936) and How the West Was Won (1962).
Small in comparison to the immense landscape surrounding it, the Eastern Sierras enclave of Lone Pine is closer to the interior of the American West than the coast. It’s beautiful if rugged country, with natural wonders and, in particular, the Alabama Hills, popular with all kinds of folks. Flock to the Alabama Hills Recreational Area and find stunning geologic features favored by the outdoorsy. Hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking and horseback riding are all pastimes here. Artistic types, meanwhile, including sketch artists and photographers, are drawn to what is a watercolorist’s canvas of weather-beaten rock formations and carefree wildflowers. Camping is prevalent in these parts, too, with all major campgrounds in close proximity to—what else?—Movie Road.
About those movies… more than 400 films have been shot in and around Lone Pine alone, from Gunga Din (1939) to more recent crowd-pleasers like Iron Man and Django Unchained. One can experience the rich history of Lone Pine cinema at the Museum of Western Film History, which tips its ten-gallon hat at Old Hollywood and its golden age cowboys. It also trains its lens on the dramatic local landscape, examining the role this terrain played in cinema through the decades.
If you’d rather watch film history as its being made, the Lone Pine Film Festival (Oct. 6-9, 2022) is an event-heavy affair, including a showing of the 50th anniversary of John Wayne’s The Cowboys (1972), followed by a Q&A with actor Robert Carradine (Oct. 6), who played “Slim Honeycutt” to Wayne’s “Wil Andersen”; as well as Big Jake (1971), also featuring a Q&A with Patrick Wayne (as “James McCandles” and Duke’s real-life son) and Christopher Mitchum (as “Michael McCandles”). Among the festival-sponsored tours is the Bar 20 Ranch Tour, which will feature a car caravan out to the historic Lubken Ranch, which was featured in the first Hopalong Cassidy film made in 1935, not to mention productions including Bonanza. The Introduction Tour, meanwhile, will offer newcomers a sneak peek of Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills and its role in Hollywood history. The tour will stop at movie sites such as Gunga Din Bridge, Lone Ranger Canyon and Gene Autry rock.
Stay in town for the John Wayne Grit Series benefitting the John Wayne Cancer Foundation and its work to raise cancer awareness. The race will blaze a trail through the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area with a scene-stealing Mt. Whitney looming majestically in the background. Expect another John Wayne classic!