The fantastic rock formations of the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, California, have been favorite subject matter for photographers for many years. The combination of jumbled and roundly eroded rock rising up from the Owens Valley with a backdrop of the dramatic eastern face of the Sierra Nevada mountains is hard to beat.
Scattered throughout the Alabama Hills are a number of interesting rock arches. At one time, some photographers and concerned conservationists tried to keep the location of the arches a secret, but word started to get out, and now the whereabouts of some of the most prominent arches are well known. The Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce even gives out a map with directions to some of the arches.
The most striking of the arches, and the most popular with photographers, is often referred to as Mobius Arch due it’s shape. I believe that it was master landscape photographer David Muench that made this arch famous with an image made years ago showing Mount Whitney viewed through the arch.
Mobius Arch is one of those shown on the CofC map (available at several stores in town) and is quite easy to find. From US Highway 395 in the center of Lone Pine, turn west at the stop light on the road signed for Whitney Portals. Drive 2.5 miles and then turn right onto Movie Flat Road. Follow this road (sometimes bumpy but no problem for passenger cars) and veer right at a “Y” junction at 1.5 miles. Pull into the large parking area immediately on the left. A well-marked trail starts from the northwest corner of the parking area. The trail descends into a wash, then climbs back up, heading north to a jumble of rocks. The arch will suddenly appear in front of you after a short ¼-mile walk.
Before heading back to the parking area, look for a faint path to the left immediately after leaving Mobius Arch. A few steps will take you into a slot where you’ll be right next to a narrow, flat arch, nicknamed Lathe Arch, which can also be used to frame Mount Whitney.
Back at the parking area, look for a small heart-shaped arch near the top of tall rock formation to the northeast.
For the best photos of Mobius Arch, hike out before dawn and have your composition lined up when the sun first hits Mount Whitney and the ridge of Sierra peaks. Stick around for awhile, until the sun hits the arch itself. In this high desert environment, the beautiful golden light lasts just a few minutes.
There are a couple of campgrounds in the area, as well as several motels in Lone Pine. For more information about the Alabama Hills National Recreation Area, check the Bureau of Land Management website. If you’re in need of camping or outdoor gear, the friendly folks at Elevation have crammed an amazing amount of great stuff into their little store on the corner of US 395 and Whitney Portal Road.