If you love landscape photography, there are a few places in America you simply must photograph, and the Alabama Hills is one of them. The Alabama Hills is a several-mile-wide patch of rocks and eroding hills, at the foot of Mount Whitney — the highest point in the lower 48 states. While you’re shooting, you must find this arch — simply known as the Alabama Hills Arch — and you must frame your photo with the mountain peaks perfectly centered under the arch. Yeah, I knew I was taking a picture that a thousand others have also taken. This time, I didn’t care. It was beautiful.
It was also especially rewarding, because of all the effort it took to find this arch. On down the page, I’ll explain exactly how to find it, so your quest can be easier than mine. But first, let’s explore the entire area.
You enter the Alabama Hills on Whitney Portal Road, which begins in the middle of downtown Lone Pine. As you enter the hills, this smiling creature will greet you.
The first rule of photographing the Alabama Hills is get up early. The light is best here, just after sunrise, as the sun illuminates the red volcanic rocks, as well as the Sierra Nevada mountains in the background. If you try exploring this same area in late afternoon, the light will be terrible — and once the sun dips behind the mountains, forget about it.
From Whitney Portal Road, turn onto Movie Road. It’s appropriately named, since dozens of westerns were shot here in the Alabama Hills. Back in town, you can pick up a brochure that helps you find the specific spots where your favorite old movie was made.
Movie Road is easy to drive, in any kind of car. However, many of the interesting rock formations are off the beaten path. Some of the side roads that split off from Movie Road are in good condition, while others are too bumpy, too steep, or too narrow for any vehicle, except perhaps an ATV.
No matter where you go, you’ll find great views of the hills and the mountains.
This is one of my favorite spots along Movie Road, where the road makes several tight curves, then tops out at a great viewpoint. I took a picture here during my 2005 visit to the Alabama Hills, and just a few months later, I saw a truck advertisement in a magazine, shot in this very same spot.
I traveled all the way to the northern end of the Alabama Hills.
There are an endless number of photos to be taken here, and I’m willing to bet you won’t end up shooting any of the same spots that I did (with the exception of the arch, of course).
It sure feels like I wandered into a car commercial. That Rav4 was one of the best rental cars I’ve ever had.
Dr. Freud would like to know what you see in this picture!
During all my driving around, I was hoping to somehow stumble across the elusive Alabama Hills Arch. I only had one clue as to its location:
My National Parks Annual Pass featured a picture of the arch. I repeatedly pulled it out of my wallet and compared it to my surroundings. I noticed the most prominent peak (which, I believe, is not Mount Whitney, despite the fact that appears to be the tallest point), as well as the peak to its right, and the fractured red-rock hill in front of it. I knew if I lined up all the pieces, just right, I would be close to the arch.
I stopped at a parking area just off Movie Road, when I saw this rock. It’s not exactly an arch — more like a pair of windows — but I figured it might be a sign that I was close. After circling this rock…
… I noticed that a nearby cluster of hills looked promising. I decided this would have to be the final place that I would look, since I had already spent a couple of hours searching.
Just as I was about to give up, I found it! The Alabama Hills Arch was even more graceful and perfect than I had expected. It’s small, if you compare it to the formations in Arches National Park, but it’s still large enough to sit underneath, or walk through.
After spending so much time searching for the arch, I took even more time to shoot it from every possible angle. Once I was done, I found a well-established trail, that led back to the same parking area where I had parked.
There’s only one sign marking the trail to the arch, and if you didn’t know where to look for the sign, you’d never find the trail. So, to save you all the trouble of searching for the arch and the trail, here’s how to locate it:
From Whitney Portal Road, turn on Movie Road. As you drive along Movie Road, watch for a rock monolith that stands at least 20 feet tall, right next to the side of the road. Just beyond it, there’s a large parking area. This is where you want to park. You’ll see the small sign near one end of the parking area. The trail is lined with rocks, but it drops down the hillside from the parking area, so it’s not easy to see. The arch is only about a five-minute walk from the parking area.
After leaving the arch, it was almost time to check out of my motel room, so I drove back to town and finished getting dressed, packed, and prepared for the trip across Death Valley.