Alabama Hills: awesome & silly

On the way back from our week in the Eastern Sierra around Mammoth Lakes we made a little detour into Alabama Hills, above Lone Pine. The place is famous for its interesting rock formations that have been a backdrop for numerous movies. One of the named roads is called “Movie Road” or “Movie Flats Road” and many information panels are placed around the giant boulders to allow visitors to learn more about the movie history of the location.

It is also extremely popular among photographers, in particular the beautiful “Moebius Arch” – a rock arch that, albeit vaguely, resembles a Moebius strip (the three-dimensional object, or perhaps surface, with only one side and only one boundary – fascinating…). I was curious to see it in its actual setting, since it appears in so many photographs made with a wide-angle lens, where the perspective is rather distorted, or at least deceiving. I wanted to know: how big is that thing, actually? (answer: not that big;-)

Rock formations like this aren’t that unusual in California – in San Diego, we have quite some along Interstate 8 in the high desert, and particularly accessible ones at Valley of the Moon – sometimes described as “a patch of Joshua Tree, minus the Joshua Trees”. Speaking of which, Joshua Tree National Park is very famous for similar formations, and on our Eastern Sierra trip we also saw some on Highway 120 East, before it drops down to Historic Benton, and ultimately meets Highway 6 at Benton.

And while the accumulation at the Alabama Hills is quite massive, it’s really the vicinity to the Sierra and in particular Mount Whitney that make this particular spot so unique – and what you need to do is to line up Mount Whitney with the Moebius Arch, framing the highest peak of the contiguous United States in the arch. That’s the trophy shot that everyone needs to get there.

It is absolutely silly. The walk from the trailhead to the arch is maybe five minutes, and we hit that spot on a Saturday at noon, in the worst possible light. Nevertheless, there was a guy there making a movie! He acted as if he owned the place, had his camera bag and stuff nicely spread out and essentially ruined it for everyone else. Two other photographers were actually waiting for him to finish his take so that they could get their trophy photo. And as I walked back, three others hiked in. At noon on a clear blue day.

So since the Moebius Arch was occupied by people, I found another nearby rock arch, and used that to frame Mount Whitney for my cellphone trophy photo. ;-)

That’s really all I need to get from this place. Don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely awesome and terrific – but this particular photo? It’s been made over and over again. With some variations of course. I just don’t understand why people go to places like this and don’t even make the attempt to make it their own, and find something to photograph that shows a bit more of their personal vision.

There’s so much to see at the Alabama Hills and so much to photograph (well, maybe not on a bright & sunny day at noon…) – why not just let that damn Moebius Arch and the idea of framing Mount Whitney in it be entirely, and find something else to photograph that can be made truly yours?

Oh and, since I mentioned how deceiving perspective can be with a wide angle lens (and yes, the iPhone camera with its 29mm-equivalent focal length is indeed wide angle), here’s what I mean… this is the same rock arch as in the photo above, only this time from the other side, not down low, and with a certain furry companion on top of it. :-)

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3 thoughts on “Alabama Hills: awesome & silly”

  1. I went to the Arch at dawn – there were three other guys there jostling for space – one guy plopped down with legs spread wide and his gear piled on each side of him.

    I left too.

    Love the picture of Toni. Perspective changes everything.


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