The Alabama Hills is a National Recreation Area managed by the BLM just north of Lone Pine, California. It is a land of potato shaped boulders and myriad arches. Over 400 movies and TV shows have been shot in the Alabama Hills. Mount Whitney is just to the west of Alabama Hills and towers almost 10,000 feet above the hills. Many of the Alabama Hills arches frame Mount Whitney and Lone Pine Peak, also to the west.
Mobius Arch is the most famous of the Alabama Hills arches. The arch is best at sunrise when its better side is lit and it frames the alpenglow on Mount Whitney and Lone Pine Peak. You are likely to see other photographers at Mobius as well, even at sunrise, and the best area for shooting is small, so get there early, especially on weekends. Getting to Mobius Arch requires a short .25 mile hike over an easy trail. Lathe arch is just to the southwest of Mobius Arch and is best at sunrise as well.
Other photogenic arches within Alabama Hills include the Eye of Alabama, Boot Arch, Cyclops Arch, Hitching Post Arch, Space Case Arch, and Whitney Portal Arch. After Mobius Boot Arch is perhaps the most photogenic arch in the hills. It is good at both sunrise and sunset. At sunrise the alpenglow of the Eastern Sierras fills the background. At sunset the White Mountains east of Owens Valley / Lake provide the background. Boot Arch does not draw the crowds of Mobius. It is also good for Milky Way shots in the late summer and fall. Combine it with Cyclops Arch which is only 0.2 miles away. The Eye of Alabama frames Lone Pine Peak and Mount Whitney when shot from its back side. To access the rear (east side) of the arch hike to its front right side (as seen by you) and turn east. Just after you turn there is an easy scramble up to the arch via a crack. Space Case Arch can be accessed via a short off-tail hike beginning at either the Mobius Arch trail or at the Eye of Alabama trailhead. About twenty feet north from Space Case arch you'll find Baseball Bat arch. It looks more like a corn dog to me. While you can scramble up to Baseball Bat your photos of it won't get any better.
After Mobius Arch and Boot Arch Whitney Portal Arch is perhaps the most photogenic. The arch sits twelve feet above the ground. Good images can be had from ground level, or you can bring an 8 - 10 foot ladder and shoot through the arch to frame Mount Whitney or Lone Pine Peak. The hike to the arch is 0.6 miles one way. The hike is moderately difficult carrying a telescoping ladder as I did. Whitney Portal Arch is best at sunrise for the alpenglow on the Eastern Sierras, or early to mid-morning when the west facing side is lit.
There are over 400 other arches in the Alabama Hills, of which 300 have been documented by Eugene Carsey. His website http://www.eugenecarsey.com/camp/alabamahills/arches.html contains GPS coordinates, images, and travel directions for these 300 arches. Eugene's website is often down; if it is search for a recent copy of his website on the internet archive at https://archive.org/web/ . Another great source of information is the book "Arches of the Alabama Hills" by Orlyn Fordham. It contains the GPS coordinates and good photos of 72 arches within the Alabama Hills National Recreation Area.
The high desert of Lone Pine is best visited during the spring or fall though winters are reasonable as well with daytime highs in the mid-fifties. Summers are hot and crowded and should generally be avoided unless you are planning to climb Mount Whitney. For me the best time of the year to visit is during November when the cottonwood trees are changing color, the yellow of the trees contrasts nicely with the darkly colored boulders and arches.
Most visitors combine trips to the Alabama Hills with:
Climate data for Lone Pine can be found at here.
The town of Lone Pine is less than five minutes away from the Alabama Hills and has good services with many motels and restaurants. Lone Pine is very camper friendly. The BLM operates the Tuttle Creek Campground which costs $5 per night. Pit Toilets, fire rings, and picnic tables are available. Water is available March to October. Dump stations are closed in the winter. No reservations.
AN even better alternative is dispersed camping available within the Alabama Hills. Camping is free, 14 day limit, first come first served. Campsites are not marked but as you drive the many roads with the Alabama Hills you will find a great many suitable sites, some of which are big enough for large RVs. Sites are scenic and private. The downside - no water, tables, or toilets. Quiet hours are 10PM to 6AM. The Google map below contains the locations of over 60 of these campsites within Alabama Hills.
In January of 2021 the BLM published a revised management plan for the Alabama Hills. Following final approval fifty dispersed numbered sites with fire rings will be created as well as a map showing their locations.
The Cerro Gordo Mines form the basis of a small ghost town about 45 minutes from Lone Pine. There are several largely intact buildings remaining. Unfortunately The American Hotel burned down in June of 2020. It is being reconstructed and as of December, 2020 the basement had been dug and leveled. The American Hotel was the most photogenic of the buildings, especially the inside. Prior to visiting Cerro Gordo call Robert Desmarais, the property manager, at 760 876-5030 and ask about road conditions.
Cerro Gordo ghost town is at 8,500 feet in elevation and is accessed via Cerro Gordo Road. This is a steep packed dirt road. A 2WD vehicle is normally sufficient, except following a rain or in the winter after a snow. While the road is not difficult to drive, it is steep, narrow, and there are drop-offs. Some will be uncomfortable driving it. Cerro Gordo Road continues past the ghost town to Saline Valley Road. 4WD low is required to continue on to Saline Valley as the road becomes very rocky with wash-outs.
To get to Cerro Gordo from Lone Pine drive south on US 395 / Main Street to the intersection with CA 136. Turn left at the intersection and drive 13.0 miles (just past the town of Keeler) to Cerro Gordo Road. Turn left and drive 7.7 miles on Cerro Gordo Road to the ghost town.
Cerro Gordo is privately owned and only gets a few visitors per day. It is open every day from 9AM to 4PM in the winter months, and from 9AM to 5PM when daylight savings time is in effect. Admission is $15 per person and a liability waiver form must be signed. The website cerrogordomines.com contains more information about access. Cerro Gordo was sold in late 2018 but remains open to the public. As of March, 2021 you can pay the admission fee when you get to Cerro Gordo.
Although the American Hotel is no more the interiors of the Assay Office and the museum are worth shooting. The bunkhouse has been renovated and can be skipped. The remains of the Ice House frame dry Owens Lake in the far distance.
The Trona Pinnacles are about 90 minutes south of Lone Pine. They are an excellent destination for night photography. From late February through early August you can capture the full span of the Milky Way over the Pinnacles using an ultra-wide lens and a panorama head. Shoot a composite of two images during the moon's 3rd quarter. For the first image the moon, setting to the west, will light up the west facing pinnacles. Shoot the second image of the Milky Way after the moon has set and combine both in Photoshop. Alternatively you can try to light paint the pinnacles while the Milky Way is up, this is difficult when shooting a panorama.
The pinnacles are also a good destination at sunset when there are good clouds present. To get to the Trona Pinnacles from Lone Pine take US395 70 miles south to exit 97 - California 178 and turn left. Continue on 178 4.5 miles to Jacks Ranch Road and turn right. Take Jacks Ranch Road 2 miles and turn left onto Ridgecrest Blvd. Continue of Ridgecrest Blvd / CA 178 for 19.7 miles and turn right onto Pinnacle Road. Follow Pinnacle Road for six miles to the main parking area. Good lodging is available in Ridgecrest (population 29,000), and dispersed camping is available at the Pinnacles. Late February through early June is the best time to visit the Pinnacles as temperatures are mostly pleasant and the full arc of the Milky Way will be visible.
To view the map in Google Maps please click anywhere on the map above.
Alabama Hills is covered by the Lone Pine, Manzanaro, Mount Langley, and Union Wash maps. A merge of these four maps is available below. The Lone Pine GeoTiff on both Topoquest and libremap.org is corrupt so I downloaded the GeoPdf from the USGS National Map Server and converted it to a GeoTiff. All four maps above and the merge map can be downloaded in a variety of formats by clicking or right clicking below.
Alabama Hills Index Map
Alabama Hills Topographic Maps
|Geo Tiff/Avenza||KMZ||Oruxmaps||KMZ Decollared||Oruxmap Decollared||Avenza Decollared|
|Lone Pine||KMZ||Oruxmap||KMZ Decollared||Oruxmap Decollared||Avenza Decollared|
|Manzanaro||KMZ||Oruxmap||KMZ Decollared||Oruxmap Decollared||Avenza Decollared|
|Mount Langley||KMZ||Oruxmap||KMZ Decollared||Oruxmap Decollared||Avenza Decollared|
|Union Wash||KMZ||Oruxmap||KMZ Decollared||Oruxmap Decollared||Avenza Decollared|
|Merge of all four maps||NA||NA||KMZ Decollared||Oruxmap Decollared||Avenza Decollared|
Cerro Gordo Topographic Map
|Cerro Gordo Peak||KMZ||Oruxmap||KMZ Decollared||Oruxmap Decollared||Avenza Decollared|
Trona Pinnacles Topographic Map
|Christmas Canyon||KMZ||Oruxmap||KMZ Decollared||Oruxmap Decollared||Avenza Decollared|
The Poker Room in the American Hotel
Alabama Hills Index Map
Heart Arch Telephoto
Eye of Alabama
Eye of Alabama framing Lone Pine Peak
Space Case Arch
Hitching Post Arch
The Milky Way over the Trona Pinnacles
The Cerro Gordo Assay House
Owen's Lake Framed
Boot Arch at Sunrise
Whitney Portal Arch shot from a ladder