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Mile 41: Lone Pine

In the previous blog post (on Kanab), I discussed the value, fun and importance of writers attending Western film festivals. The Lone Pine Film Festival (like many of the other Western film festivals scattered around the United States and the world) shares many of the same attributes as Kanab: a rich film history, great celebrity guests at the festival and a chance to immerse yourself in the Old West.

What I would like to do is highlight some of the things, above and beyond the festival, that make a visit to Lone Pine unique and well worth the trip.

First, it is the permanent home of the Museum of Western Film History. The museum has long been home to all things Lone Pine and Western, which alone makes it worth a visit. But the museum has expanded, and in addition to covering the area in and around Lone Pine (Alabama Hills, the Eastern Sierra, Owens Valley and Death Valley), they are expanding their archives and artifacts to cover the broader Western movie genre.

More than 400 movies (almost all Westerns) have been filmed in the Alabama Hills and Lone Pine, and if you expand that to include the Eastern Sierra, the number grows to over 800, far too many to list. But here’s a partial list of Western stars who shot one or movies there: John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Spencer Tracy, Gene Autry, James Stewart, Joel McCrea, Randolph Scott, Gregory Peck, Clint Eastwood and dozens of others.

The second draw (again, beyond the festival) is the area known as Alabama Hills. It is one of the oddest and most eerie collections of rock formations to be found in the world. Commercials, movies and music videos have all taken advantage of the unique location that is the Alabama Hills. It’s an amazing place to camp, RV, hike and four-wheel drive. And it’s just a short trip away from the long-abandoned Cerro Gordo mine, once the largest silver mine in California.

It’s fair if at this point you’re asking what this has to do with writing your first Western. Beyond the points shared in the Kanab essay, allow me to share a personal example.

I joined a group of my RV and Jeep friends for a day trip to Cerro Gordo. It was an exciting discovery, and it had my imagination racing. By the end of the day, I changed the location and focus of an entire novel so that I could place it at Cerro Gordo. I made multiple trips back to Cerro Gordo, and for better or for worse, you can read the results in “Ambush at Red Rock Canyon,” the sixth book in the Brock Clemons Western series.

That’s the beauty of visiting locations, reading Westerns, watching Westerns and any type of immersion in the Old West — including film festivals. You never know where they will take you, what avenues they might open, what ideas might sprout and what discoveries will inspire you to better stories and more writing.

Plus, they let me ride in the parade!

I wish you good writing, and if you have a question or something you’d like to share, send me an email at [email protected].

Thank you, enjoy and keep writing!

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