The delicate balance of managing the Alabama Hills

By Deb Murphy

The Alabama Hills can be viewed from two different perspectives. For indigenous people and other locals, the Hills are a special place of beauty, a piece of art that took the earth eons to craft. For a growing number of visitors, it’s a unique place to come and play.

The issue facing the Bureau of Land Management and stakeholders is developing a management plan that, according to BLM Bishop Field Manager Steve Nelson, balances use and conservation.

That will take the wisdom of Solomon.

Owens Valley residents are used to looking at vast open spaces with no people in the picture. With the current dispersed camping in the Hills, local eyes see an RV as a scar on that landscape.

Currently, Nelson and the local BLM office is involved in the transfer of land to the Lone Pine Paiute Shoshone Tribe. That transfer was included in the Natural Resources Management Act that gave the Hills a National Scenic Area designation.

BLM will host a series of workshops and take a “collaborative approach with the Alabama Hills Stewardship Group,” Nelson said. But, for now the office hasn’t formulated its exact approach. He anticipates a series of workshops focused on specific topics.

“The overall land use is already done,” Nelson said. “We’ll focus on maintaining and improving the landscape.”

Fifteen years ago, the Stewardship Group’s mission statement emphasized the serenity, fragility and unspoiled nature of the area, said Kathy Bancroft, Tribal historic preservation officer for the Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Reservation. Since then, more visitors are flocking to the area. She tells the story of a potential zip line festival whose promotor saw massive crowds attending. Despite efforts to squash the event, the promotor showed up but was escorted out of the area for lack of a permit.

But, maintaining the serenity of the Alabama Hills is doable, she said. Education has to be part of the solution. Stewardship Group members and BLM Ranger Dave Kirk spend time on weekends talking to visitors, discouraging the spread of over-used camp sites. “Dave talks to people,” she said, “and those people talk to others. But, he’s only one guy.”

Kirk is allowed to suggest campgrounds at Tuttle Creek, said Stewardship member Mike Prather, “but there’s no requirement” for visitors to use it.

The Group focused on the Scenic Area designation because of what Prather described as a clear decline in the area, a decline that impacted visitor experience and the health of the landscape. Following a long process of community workshops, the now-legislated designation would allow existing uses but also develop a plan to manage the area.

“Visitation used to be seasonal,” he said. “Now it’s year round” and has reached 100,000 a year.

The Stewardship Group has replanted areas where the semi-primitive campsites have expanded. The Group will continue to do that kind of work, Prather said.

Nelson is optimistic that the final management plan will achieve the balanced goals. “It’s personally important to me,” he said. “I want the Hills in a good spot before I retire.”

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19 Responses to The delicate balance of managing the Alabama Hills

  1. Steve June 12, 2019 at 8:17 am #

    Okay the haters are going to hate.

    I have been driving “Off Highway”, I don’t use “Off Road” to describe my use of dirt roads. To say “Off Road” is to say I am driving where no roads exist, and that would not be true. I drive my highway legal and insured VW Baja. I have driven the same Baja for over 45 years all over this State on both highways and dirt roads. I have made it a point to go where I have never been and take that road to it’s very end. With my wife, friends and now grandchildren.

    So many places and great times. I love the exploration and finding new cool places. My plan is to do this for many more years. If I see you out there I always wave, if I see you stopped I stop and ask if you are okay. If you are on foot I will slow way down and ask if you are okay.

    Hope to see you out there having fun.

  2. June bug June 11, 2019 at 3:39 pm #

    Again with the wild exaggerating dd. Ur really gonna go with u could drive for 8 hrs a day 7 days a week and not drive on the same road twice. Let’s see that’s 56 hrs, even at a snail’s pace of twenty mph on my quad thats nearly 1200 miles. There are not anywhere near 1200 miles of road in the Alabama hills. I could ride every road up there in a few hrs maybe 4 if I stop for pictures. I think there are real problems the campers are bringing, such as tent camping with no bathroom facilities. U can only go behind that Bush next to ur tent so many times before,well u know. That’s a real problem that has real solutions. Not the imaginary boogieman on their atv.

  3. Paul June 11, 2019 at 2:57 pm #

    Perhaps we can give Friends of the Inyo another $750,000.00 to close a bunch of roads in the area?

    • David Dennison June 11, 2019 at 6:19 pm #

      ….money well spent….if not for FOI,Sierra Club and other environmental groups that carry a lot of clout,our valley would probably resemble Littlerock Dam…turning a once peaceful,quiet camping and fishing area in the Antelope Valley for families to go to into a place to assemble and mud-bog,drink,raise hell,dump trash and fight…totally destroying the lake basin…untill it got so bad and out of control the whole area got shut down,including the road getting there..not only to the ORV’ers,but to everyone.. “Google” that and see what it USED to look like there,and see what it looks like now and got to be.

  4. David Dennison June 11, 2019 at 11:47 am #

    …Steve,you could drive west on Whitney Portal road to Movie Road entering the Alabama Hills,and if you were to travel the dirt roads OPEN to motorized traffic in the area 8 hours a day for a week,you could do it without being on the same road or turn-out into the same area twice…so please don’t say or think,or be telling people roads in the Alabama Hills have already been closed..the only one I can think of is the little 1/4 mile stretch from Movie Road leading to Shark’s Fin,thanks to mis-use of the area and the driving over and trampling of vegetation in that area and beyond above Lone Pine Creek…the problem is,the “group of users”,they don’t stay on the dirt roads,they want to drive and ride off the roads and beaten path,onto and into everywhere in the area,roads or not…

  5. Quacque June 11, 2019 at 11:25 am #

    People are not being excluded. Activities are being excluded. You can still go wherever you want, you just can’t bring your favorite car. And the argument that ‘we used to be able to drive there, so we should always be able to drive there’ is too silly to engage with. The Cuyahoga river used to light on fire; lynching used to be a favorite sport. Things change, and so do people. Is the best long-term plan to keep the Alabama Hills beautiful forever to turn it into an OHV park?

    • David Dennison June 11, 2019 at 1:16 pm #

      Quaque…..All anyone has to do to see what opening up an area to OHV and ORV traffic does is head south a ways….first stop.Red Rock Canyon,about 20 miles south of the Ridgecrest turn-off….the area has been closed to ORV traffic for years,but the damage done back in the 70’s-80’s still visable… next,onto Jawbone Canyon,another few miles south….go by there on any given week-end and see what is happening there…the damage,the crowds of people….if you want or need further evidence,drive to Eastside Lancaster,out around 200th St…an area open to ORV’s,racing and other events back in the late 70’s….again,damage done over 40 years ago still there for the eyes to see…in your post,it says things change….some things don’t…damage to the land,the wildlife never goes back to how it once was…that never changes..

  6. Steve June 11, 2019 at 7:21 am #

    Roads in the Alabama Hills have already been closed. And more will be closed.

    It is the way one group is singled out as the bad guys and the ones that need to be kicked out. Like we should not even have a say.

    Why do I and so many others go into the back country to see how wonderful it is. Because I love this area. I do not want it destroyed and turned into a trash dump.

    If all of us come together as a complete group of users we have more power to keep it clean and open.

    In my post I did not condemn any group of users, only asking that more roads not be closed to motorized vehicles.

    Hope to see you out there.

  7. Scott June 9, 2019 at 5:30 am #

    The visitation is really off-the-charts these days, really picking up within the last five or six years, I think. The “viral” nature of social media is mostly to blame, that and lots of stupid articles in publications like Outside, saying things like you can always find a great camping spot! Easy access! Etc. On weekends now, it’s a sick fight to find a place to camp. We made the mistake of going on a weekend last year, and I was truly shocked. Car after car after RV after truck after van was tooling around like hungry sharks hunting for campsites. Every. Last. Site. was taken. I think we got the last one, actually. It’s a bummer, but if you’re stuck with weekends, as I was until I retired, it’s now a sucky experience. In general, though, I agree with another poster who said the area is actually pretty clean. It seemed to be more trashed back in the old days. I’ve always picked up trash and used toilet paper (ugh), and once we hauled a dumped TV out of there! So many pig people.

  8. June bug June 7, 2019 at 6:24 pm #

    David dennison, u are exaggerating the situation so much it’s sounding borderline psychopathic. For everybody else I would say go see for yourself and make up ur own mind.

  9. David Dennison June 7, 2019 at 12:41 pm #

    June bug……I’ve lived in Lone Pine for over 19 years,and have gone into the Alabama Hills walking and hiking many times…almost always during the week-days when the crowds of people are less to deal with.Most of the times I do that I come back with lots of trash pick-up,to the point I carry the big blue trash bags now when I go..and more than a time or two,the trash bag being so heavy,I either drag it behind me or leave it ,get back to my truck and drive back to get to where I left it if I can…usually beer bottles making it to heavy too carry out over my back…and rarely those bottles in a fire pit….usually just thrown around and about in a “week-end party area “…one time about a mile and a half or so onto movie road,a left turn and near the big rock where there’s always week-end parties and off roaders,obvious when they finished off a beer they threw it against the rocks,shattering it,and leaving it for others (me) to clean up…and lots of damage where they went past and were riding into the “no motorized vehicle ” time,as you turn on movie road,about a quarter mile to the area where lots of people park and camp, across from Shark’s Fin,there were two big trucks with big tires sitting on the rocks there,at least at a 60 degree angle onto the rocks,with about 10 guys posing for a photo around the trucks..don’t know how they got the truck into the angle the truck was sitting,until I was there the next day…long,deep “burn-outs” their tires did to the ground to get it that way up on those rocks and take those photos to send back home…like I said,not so much the campers leaving the messes or doing the damage to the area,more so the rowdy off-roaders and late night partiers and their groups that need the baby-sitting.

  10. June bug June 6, 2019 at 10:11 am #

    Geez David dennison to hear u tell it the Alabama hills are looking like the town dump. As someone who been going into the Alabama’s for many decades it is not the way your describing it. The campers today for the most part clean up after themselves and others. Today compared to 20 to 30 yrs ago I would say much less liter, the broken glass in firepits cleared out. It’s pretty darn clean up there. I would say go see for yourself and make your own mind up.

  11. David Dennison June 5, 2019 at 8:20 pm #

    Thing about it is,just like with most things,the bad apples ruin it for many… times in the Alabama Hills,here come the groups of off roaders speeding on the trails then driving off trail,past the “no motorized vehicle” signs…other times,the guys with their big trucks and tires parked high ON the rocks snapping photos and putting them on facebook. After every three-day weekend,if you hope to avoid the crowds BY taking a walk on Tuesday morning,might be a good idea to bring along a big blue trash bag….and gloves so when your picking up the broken beer bottles you won’t cut your hands like I’ve done…and then,of course,there’s the guys claiming “It’s my land,and can do and go as I please”…which they do….following none of the area rules…the open camping doesn’t seem like a big problem,if people learned to clean-up after themselves…The Scenic Area designation will only help….IMO.

  12. Steve June 5, 2019 at 10:50 am #

    It is so easy to think hiking people are good people and they should be the only ones to have access. But when you start kicking groups out the end result is the whole place can be closed to anyone not paying at the gate for a guided tour.

    If you have off highway vehicles and love to tour the area with the wind and sun in your face. You loose the freedom to access. So stay home and please don’t spend your money here. You are not wanted.

    What group is next on the list, horses, Mt bikers, climbers and no more auto commercials filmed in the area.

    So please don’t ban one group, it is a slippery slope to over regulation.

    • Paco June 6, 2019 at 10:51 am #

      “But when you start kicking groups out the end result is the whole place can be closed to anyone not paying at the gate for a guided tour.”

      This is a nonsensical fallacy, a strawman constructed to sound ominous but really it’s just a lot of hot air.

      • Steve June 7, 2019 at 7:05 am #

        I don’t think it is hot air. In my 40 plus years of living in the Owens Valley I have seen lots of roads and areas closed to “Off highway vehicles” in the name of protecting it for future generations. But if it is closed by blocking the road with big rocks then who get’s to go see it?

        Taking away dirt roads for all of us by claiming the area to be “road-less”. When in truth the roads that have been around for over 100 years in the same area should be open and stay open for future generations to explore and see for them the first time like I did.

        I always haul out all my trash and then some, to leave it better than I found it. That is something my dad told me to do and I teach my kids the same thing.

        Paco, I do not know you and you do not know me. I rarely post a commit because the attacks form people no mater how will intended my commit.

        So please pick up more trash than you came with and have a great time exploring the outdoors.

        • filbert June 10, 2019 at 6:47 am #

          If roads are blocked, then equestrian and pedestrian users still get to use it.
          100,000 pedestrian or equestrian users may be comparable to the 1000 vehicle users when you discovered it.

          • David Dennison June 10, 2019 at 1:52 pm #

            filbert….realistically,we all know they’re never going to “block the roads” in the Alabama Hills…this day and age,fear mongering for those that try to spin it when certain areas are closed to motorized vehicles.. ..which many areas up there should be…no one is going to restrict people driving on the dirt roads or installing toll booths and “guided tours only”…just a way to try to scare people,usually the off-roaders that want access to every inch of land trying to scare people into thinking “they’re trying to take our land away”,much like we see on the news when some try to say “they’re trying to take everyone’s guns away”,when in fact,only trying to implement restrictions to those that shouldn’t own guns…fear mongering,scare tactics,and sadly,many that choose to believe it…welcome to the new America…..trump’s America,where someone can spin and lie about things and have 40 % of the population all getting angry and believing the lies and what’s being said ….

  13. Gerry June 4, 2019 at 8:42 pm #

    It is very obvious open camping restricts access to non campers (visitors) , trash is left behind, and sanitary disposal issues, many non rv users dont have black holding tanks. This is a special geologic site and historic site that should be protected from off road vehicles. I recommend designated parking areas for hiking and no camping. BLM should increase public camping like Tuttle Creek to make up for restricting camping in Alabama Hills


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