Westward, Ho!

On the edge of the Eastern Sierra, at the foot of Mt. Whitney (the highest point in the contiguous US at 14,505 feet), lies a fascinating collection of boulders, arches, and desert scenery, known as the Alabama Hills, just outside Lone Pine, CA. This place hasn’t escaped the attention of the world, and has been featured in countless movies, particularly Westerns (one of John Wayne’s favorite spots), but even more ‘recent’ films like Gladiator have scenes that used this rugged terrain as a back drop. There’s literally boulders everywhere of all shapes and sizes – a true natural playground. The rock is very soft and crumbly, and due to spheroidal weathering many of the boulders are shaped into round potato like structures. The area is particularly famous for its arches, which by now aren’t much of a secret anymore – in fact you can get the GPS coordinates for the most striking ones pretty easily. The most popular one is Möbius Arch, made famous by the late Galen Rowell (sometimes it is even referred to as Galen’s Arch). In the early winter morning, soon after the sun kisses the granite arch, a shadow forms on the base of the arch, completing the circle and forming a shape reminiscent of a möbius strip, hence the name. With the snowy Sierras in the background, it can hardly be any more picturesque.


“The Granite Sensation” ~ Möbius Arch, Alabama Hills, CA
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40mm f/4 L @ 28mm, tripod, polarizer
Exposure: iso 200, f/16, 20 sec
Processing: Because of the polarizer I had to even out the sky a bit.

The night after I arrived it actually snowed about an inch in the Hills, which doesn’t happen too often. Unfortunately the sunrise was a bit too cloudy to capture anything then, and within a few hours most of the snow had melted (this is a desert, after all). The following morning is when I captured the above photo, in addition to one I had scouted out during the day. I wanted to find a scene that invited the viewer to come in and explore all these crazy boulders, but that turned out to be quite challenging! I found it similar to photographing a forest, in a way, but this time with a background. So I spent many hours wandering through the boulders, looking for a cohesive and interesting scene. During my explorations I came across some petroglyphs as well – clearly the Native Americans liked this place too! I’m not sure if this species still exists, but I think of it as a cross between a cat and a scorpion, perhaps they just had a really good imagination..


The Scorpion-Cat, I suppose the natives either had a great imagination, or knew of some creature I’ve never seen. If you happen to know anything about the age/genuineness of something like this, let me know!

Eventually I found my composition, and after shooting the arch in the predawn glow, I quickly made my way to the spot. The clouds were cooperating perfectly, and turned the brightest pink I’ve ever seen, it was an incredibly beautiful view.


“Westward, Ho!” ~ Alabama Hills, CA
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40mm f/4 L @ 24mm, tripod, single axis panorama head, 2-stop hard GND
Exposure: iso 200, f/11, 1.3 sec
Note: Sometimes the internet plays with colors a little, the blues in the sky aren’t quite so ‘nuclear’ in the full rez file.

After exploring these hills for some time I went out into Owen’s Valley around Bishop (after eating some delicious dutch Oliebollen from the ‘dutch’ baker Eric Schat). The winter foliage is really quite beautiful in the valley, lots of bright yet soft oranges, reds, and magentas. I went out scouting for a spot to photograph the Sierras from along the banks of the Owen’s River, and brought along my big lens in case I came across any birds along the way. Within minutes I lucked out and found a Sora, a rather elusive bird creeping through the reeds on the edge of the river.


Sora ~ Owen’s River, CA
The Tech: Canon 20D, 500mm f/4 L IS + 1.4x tc, monopod
Exposure: iso 800, f/5.6, 1/200th

There were a surprising number of birds out for the chilly gray day that it was. I was really hoping to catch a picture of a kingfisher that kept calling from his perches among the beautiful red tinted bushes along the river, but every time I got within visual contact (and still way too far for a photo) he would take off again! As consolation, on my way back to the car, I spotted a Loggerhead Shrike posing in a beautiful collection of dried plants in front of those red bushes, and he was more than cooperative!


Loggerhead Shrike ~ Owen’s Valley, CA
The Tech: Canon 20D, 500mm f/4 L IS + 1.4x tc, monopod
Exposure: iso 800, f/5.6, 1/200th

There’s more to come.. this was quite a successful trip, and I gathered a number of images I’d been hoping for, so check back soon!

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4 Responses to Westward, Ho!

  1. cmf says:

    Thanks Floris – we enjoyed the vicarious adventure as always! ps Rick wants to know – “did you find any scheelite in them thar hills?”

  2. Ariel Bravy says:

    Beautiful images floris. The Alabama Hills shot sings and the shrike image, particularly with the pastel background, is beautiful. Love the scrorpicat too. 🙂

  3. Penny Moore says:

    Hi Floris…fabulous pictures…..makes fred and i homesick.we need to make a trip to the alabama hills again sometime soon. Penny & Fred

  4. Ryan says:

    Yeah, kingfishers are punks like that.

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