Marathon’s Man


Runners take your mark! The John Wayne Grit Series races its way to Lone Pine, a stronghold for the western legends of Hollywood history.

Written by Jenn Thornton

If the rocky wilds of Alabama Hills, near Lone Pine, California, looks as if it was plucked from a film set, that’s because in the decades since the crew of a Fatty Arbuckle western rolled into town in 1920, it has functioned as a back lot for a number of Hollywood films, including John Wayne vehicles How the West Was Won and The Oregon Trail.

Naturally, the shadow of the Big Man permeates a place that proved particularly fertile territory for Duke, who became something of a regular around these parts. It was a mutually beneficial relationship: Lone Pine played a particularly prominent role in Wayne’s storied and stratospherically popular career and he perhaps more than any other figure helped cement Lone Pine’s place in Hollywood history. Striking an old-timey tone with wooden storefronts and wagon-wheel décor, Lone Pine is home to the Museum of Western Film History, where American western film memorabilia and memory collide, and Duke gets his due. The aforementioned John Wayne vehicles are just two of the dozen westerns he made off the dusty roads of the Alabama Hills. While Wayne is cinema’s most beloved American cowboy to ride to stardom in and around Lone Pine, Tom Mix, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Jack Palace and Clint Eastwood also filmed projects here. Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart and Gregory Peck worked in the region too, as did Russell Crowe for the modern Oscar winner Gladiator.


So steeped in Hollywood lore is this hub, the forthcoming Lone Pine Film Festival (Oct. 10-13, 2019) has, since 1990, dedicated a weekend program featuring guided tours, stars and stunt actors, film historians and more. This year the festival has an opening act: the John Wayne Grit Series’ half-marathon and 10K “Alabama Hills Run” benefitting the John Wayne Cancer Foundation and its work to raise cancer awareness. Lacing up Oct. 5, 2019, the race hits the ground running—or walking, should one choose—through storied Eastern Sierra territory that is back-dropped by the stunning sentinel of Mt. Whitney. In this classic California country, it’s worth noting that one might consider the name “Alabama Hills” a plot twist straight out of a Hollywood movie were it not completely true. According to the Museum of Western History: “The name Alabama Hills was established during the Civil War. In 1863, Southern sympathizers in Lone Pine discovered gold and named their mining claims after a celebrated Confederate ship. Before long, the name applied to the whole area.” (Another group of Union sympathizers, meanwhile, were close by, north near the aptly named Independence.)

Seduced by the romance of an earlier era, the Lone Pine of today is still plenty prospected, only by fans of American western films from all over the world. Now, with the John Wayne Grit Series, they can hop in the saddle for the John Wayne Cancer Foundation. Not to ride, but certainly to run.

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