The Alabama Hills What You May Not Know

As photographers, we travel all over the world to famous and not so famous locations. One interesting location I have been to on multiple occasions is The Alabama Hills, California.  Yes, in California! 

The Alabama Hills, in the Owens Valley, is about a mile above sea level and nestled under the impressive eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada mountain peaks of Mount Whitney (14505’) and Mount Williamson (14380’) to mention two of the many high peaks in the area.

Alabama Hills

HISTORY

I could never figure out how those great photogenic Hills got their name.  Since the 1920’s Hollywood shot many Western movies in those Hills using many famous actors such as Gene Autry, Tom Mix, Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger Series, and the Bonanza Series to name a few. Once during October while in Lone Pine, the gateway to the Alabama Hills, I witnessed a Western Film Festival.  The local theater ran old Black & White Westerns 24/7 for a few days and there was no charge for entry.  Some of the old cowboys who starred in those old Westerns would come to town just to be “seen” again so I was told by locals.  Other “characters” also came to town just to be seen. 

Alabama Hills

During this annual event the town put marker signs out in the Alabama Hills themselves where various Western scenes were shot.  In fact, each pedestal marks the exact location where one can view the same earthly shapes and outcrops above or next to the marker depicting a still clip of the Western movie scene showing that specific location along with the movie name, actors, year and other information about that specific Western movie.  I must have seen at least 30-40 of these markers during this visit even though not one bit of information was given about why the area is called The Alabama Hills. At the time I was sure the name was associated with some Western movie shot there or actor but later found out that was not the case at all.

One could never have dreamed of how the name “Alabama Hills” came to pass. As it turns out, US Civil War history left its mark on these “Hills” forever, even though these Hills were thousands of miles from the heaviest of Civil War battles, not to mention naval battles.

 At the outset of the American Civil War, many prospectors sympathetic to the Confederates named their mining claims the Alabama Hills after the Confederate warship CSS Alabama deployed during the American Civil War.  Later, it seems the entire area took on the name of “Alabama Hills”.  Curiously, the Confederate twin screw, sloop-of-war CSS Alabama was built in England in 1862 and attacked 65 Union merchant and naval ships during her two-year deployment which the miners cheered while out in California. More unbelievable is that she was sunk during the Battle of Cherbourg in 1864 in international waters, outside the port of Cherbourg France by the Union steam sloop-of-war, USS Kearsarge. Union sympathizers gave the name, Kearsarge, to a town near Independence, CA not far from the Alabama Hills and Lone Pine, CA.  Furthermore, the CSS Alabama’s remains were only discovered over a hundred twenty years after this battle in 1984 by a French Navy Minesweeper off the coast of Cherbourg, France in about 200 feet of water yielding the bell, seven cannons and many other important collectables and artifacts which the US claimed and some are now back in the USA in a museum in Mobile, Alabama since 2010. 1.)  What is most surprising to realize is that the US Civil War extended all the way to Northern France with a naval battle. Of course, many other international naval battles also ensued during the US Civil War.

IMAGES

The Alabama Hills yield many terrific outcroppings that are worthy of interesting and unusual photography today. I mainly like to shoot in this area with a monochromatic camera or Achromatic Digital back, but on occasion, color sunrises yield magnificent results at Mobius Arch off Movie Road.  The benefit of shooting B&W cameras is that even during the day image captures are highly likely while looking for luminance values which means more time is available for image creation other than at sunrise or sunset. Since each and every time you go out to capture the Mobius Arch, you will have varying conditions.  The three examples below illustrate this, including the use of different focal length lenses and lateral stitches with a technical camera.

Alabama Hills

Alabama Hills

Alabama Hills

To me a B&W image taken at this same location for a sunrise does not have the same emotional feeling as the color image.

Alabama Hills

There are several arch rocks in The Alabama Hills, but this one, Lathe Arch, is situated just behind Mobius Arch and is smaller than one might imagine, so it is easy to miss.

Alabama Hills

There are so many outcroppings that one can spend the better part of a week exploring these interesting rock outgrowths as well as framing majestic mountain peaks towering behind foreground formations.  Often rock fingers make for interesting image captures as do the setting suns rays at sundown just behind the mountain peaks. In addition, low hanging clouds can add drama to any image, especially in B&W.

The Alabama Hills, in the Owens Valley

The Alabama Hills, in the Owens Valley

The Alabama Hills, in the Owens Valley

The Alabama Hills, in the Owens Valley

Many other outcroppings resemble various figures such as dinosaurs, other animals or human heads, familiar objects and faces. Just use your imagination.

The Alabama Hills, in the Owens Valley

The Alabama Hills, in the Owens Valley

The Alabama Hills, in the Owens Valley

It seems only one’s imagination is the limiting factor here where walking all the way around and away from an object wherever possible might yield unexpected results that are unusual and even surrealistic in nature.  Just let your creative juices flow and you might be surprised at what you can capture in The Alabama Hills.

The Alabama Hills, in the Owens Valley

Before leaving Lone Pine try to get up to the Whitney Portal which is a steep uphill drive to behold, not to mention the lovely waterfalls above the picnic area at the top of the parking area where the road loops back around before heading back down the mountainside. Of course, this road is closed during the winter months.

The Alabama Hills, in the Owens Valley

The Alabama Hills, in the Owens Valley

OTHER VARIATIONS OF IMAGES FOLLOW:

As with anywhere, each day brings a different rendition and then when you add in time of year there are infinite permutations possible at each location. Below are more examples of some images I tend to enjoy studying from time to time.

The Alabama Hills, in the Owens Valley

The Alabama Hills, in the Owens Valley

The Alabama Hills, in the Owens Valley

The Alabama Hills, in the Owens Valley

The Alabama Hills, in the Owens Valley

NOTE: Even though I live in Florida I just want to emphasize that I am in no way a spokesperson for Lone Pine, CA nor the Alabama Hills—I just very much enjoy creating images there.

1.) Source: Wikipedia


Louis Foubare
October 2019
Louis Foubare
Stuart, FL

After nearly loosing my eye sight, the decision in 2011 to buy a digital camera in order to leave something on earth if blindness were to set in has given me the energy and drive to capture images of all sorts. In one word it is Life that I capture in all its shapes and forms. Life has various meanings to each of us, but it is Life that is crucial to me no matter where it is found. I very much like to see Life and live Life. On one hand, I am a photographer who captures earthy, gritty, emotional and moving street scenes with a worldly emphasis. And on the other hand, I am also a photographer who loves the openess and solitude of the beautiful and moving landscape environment where ones artistic juices are allowed the freedom to flow to their maximum. Sometimes that means dramtic colors and other times it means capturing the scene in stong and intense black & white images. In January 2016 I was again fortunate enough to receive the coveted Jay Colson Portfolio Award at FOTOfusion where 50 professional photographers and photo editors voted my portfolio the best. Winning this Award once is an honor, but now that I have won it three years in a row, it is an overwhelming achievement. Below are links to various articles written about my photography and what moves me to capture my images. Cuba Article-Leica User Forum My Street Photography-Leica User Forum My Landscape Photography-Leica User Forum

Article Type: Tutorials, Columns, MISC

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