Michael Strickland's blog on all things travel: news, deals, destinations, dreams and more.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Alabama Hills and Iron Man

We went to see "Iron Man" tonight (at $12 each, thank you, New York). When the lights dimmed and the first scene started unspooling, I had one of those movie/travel moments when I said to myself, "I've been there!" No, I haven't been to Afghanistan, the setting for the brutal opening scene. But I've been off-roading in Alabama Hills, where they shot the sequence.

How did I recognize the location so quickly and definitively? If you've been there, you would too. The Alabama Hills are a distinctly picturesque range of boulder-strewn foothills near Lone Pine, California, on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Even if you avoid filming the most distinctive features of the terrain, as director Jon Favreau did, it's still easily recognizable.

The uniqueness of the landscape is what makes it a Hollywood favorite. Films have been shot there since the 1920s, featuring such old-time faves as Tom Mix, Hopalong Cassidy and the Lone Ranger. The Alabama Hills have also been a backdrop in more recent movies like "Tremors," "Star Trek Generations" and "Gladiator."

I became acquainted with the Alabama Hills on one of the group camping trips I've written before. While it was great fun off-roading around the boulders during the day (when I shot this photo), my fondest memory was driving a truck full of campers across the dirt roads after dark, a full moon silhouetting the jagged landscape, Frank Sinatra crooning from my speakers and echoing off the rocks.

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