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You can't miss Lone Pine along Hwy. 395. Just look for the one-stoplight Western-style town 10,772 feet directly below the continental U.S.'s tallest mountain, Mt. Whitney, at 14,505 feet tall.

With a current population of only 1,600, Lone Pine has served as Hollywood's backlot since the first cowboy Western was shot in 1915. All the big action stars for over a half century shot more than 350 movies in the Alabama Hills, just west of town. Western TV shows like Gunsmoke and Wagon Train took over filming in the late 1950s. John Wayne returned one last time, after shooting numerous movies here, for his last filmed appearance &mdash a Great Western Bank commercial. The town's most recent big budget shoot was Robert Downey, Jr.'s 2008 sci-fi epic, Ironman.

The Museum of Film History, a fairly new Hwy. 395 attraction, was built to resemble an old neon-marquee movie house. The museum hosts displays of Lone Pine film memorabilia and shows a Lone Pine-filmed movie every Thursday night. Each year on Columbus Day weekend, 1,500 guests enjoy the four-day Lone Pine Film Festival, recently holding its 21st annual gathering with celebrity panel discussions, film location tours and, of course, films shot in Lone Pine. After a visit to the museum, one can actually drive along Movie Road and jump off the same rocks where Roy Rogers tackled bad guys.

With on-location movie filming decreasing in Southern California, Lone Pine plays host to commercial productions throughout the year. “Where else but Lone Pine can you shoot a truck commercial in mountain snow in the morning, and shoot desert sand dunes in the afternoon 10 miles away?” noted one local official.

Travelers and the movie biz alike have been staying at the Dow Villa Motel since the mid-20s. Walking through the restored lobby and down room hallways takes you back to a previous era. You just know someone famous has slept in your room (760-876-5521). Enjoy the best burgers in town with venison, buffalo, ostrich or veggie burgers at the Mt. Whitney Restaurant (760-876-5751). Almost everyone that works there is related to longtime owners Kathie and Dean.

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mbkasteleyn Nov. 29, 2010 @ 10:02 a.m.

Ken - Very interesting article. Was even able to "Google-Earth" the Dow Villa Motel :o) Will put Lone Pine on the list of places to visit.

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