Mobius Arch & The Alabama Hills Photography Guide

The Alabama Hills is a well known landscape photography location, popularised by Galen Rowell and Mobius Arch. This article is a photographer's guide to the Alabama Hills, covering several locations including Mobius Arch, and some lesser known arches in around the area.

MOBIUS ARCH

Mobius Arch is the area's main photographic draw, and is arguably a very photogenic feature in the area, aligned south-east to catch the sun, it frames the Sierra Nevada, Mt Whitney and Lone Pine Peak within its span.

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How to get there?


- Take Route 395 to Lone Pine
- At the town’s ONLY stoplight, turn West onto Whitney Portal Road
- Drive 2.5 miles, then turn right onto Movie Flat Road
- After 1.5 miles, you’ll come to a Y-fork in the road, bear right
- Almost immediately after bearing right, pull in the parking area on your left

From the parking area a small path leads briefly into a wash then climbs out and sets off cross-country. The path has since been cairned on both sides, so it's easy to follow even in the dark.

Mobius Arch is sandwiched in a small gully, there’s not a lot of room for manoeuvre, or indeed landscape photographers and tripods. Get their early to avoid disappointment and a choice position. This does require hiking the trail in the pitch dark, but with the trail fairly well marked and a headlamp this doesn’t pose an real issues.

 

When to shoot?

Whilst many may prefer sunrise, personally, false dawn provides the most opportunities. In the right light, the sandstone arch glows pink and red, and is magical if combined with alpenglow on the Sierras. As soon as the sun crests over the horizon, the scene is soon replaced with harsher tones, though sunrise does add some definition to the arch by introducing more shadow.

Winter, between Sept to Nov, provides the best light. The sun rises directly onto the arch, whereas in the months either side, the direction won’t be face on. Winter also raises the prospects of dustings of snow on the Sierra’s, which add some character and definition to the mountains.


LATHE ARCH

This tiny arch sits snugly beside Mobius, and can be easily overlooked by photographers focussed on the main icon of the area. Despite being tiny -- just the height of an average backpack it is possible with a wide angle lens to use frame a vast chunk of the Sierra mountains beneath Lathe Arch.


How to get there?
 

Lathe Arch is a little west of Mobius arch. Look for it to the rear of Mobius arch, it’s to the left of you as you emerge from the arch back onto the trail heading back to the pullout.
 

 

When to shoot?

The arch is its golden best just after dawn, making an ideal stop immediately after Mobius, when the sun has risen only a few degrees in the sky. The gully is so small that it’;s difficult for more than 1 person to shoot at a time, your ability to shoot it will depend on how many photographers are in the area. It’s also great spot for catching alpenglow on the Sierra Nevada, given you bring the mountains closer and more in frame than with Mobius, but that could mean forgoing your ideal spot at Mobius if you can only afford 1 day on location.

LADY BOOT ARCH

Definitely worth a look is the characteristically tortured lady Boot arch, also known as Cowboy Boot. It hasn’t got the grace or traditional shape of an arch like Mobius, or like those you'd expect to see in Arches National Park. It’s more awkward and tortured. But it has a certain something about it.

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How to get there?

Carry on past the Mobius Arch parking lot, and drive 2.8 miles, you’ll initially head East before swinging North. After the 2.8 miles, you’ll come to a fork in the road. Take the left hand fork and drive a few hundred yards till you see a pullout on the left hand side of the dirt-road. From the pullout, you can see Lady boot North East of you. 

 

When to shoot?

The arch is North facing so it is not an ideal candidate for full sun or side-lighting, but the early morning sun has worked well for me in the past, giving shape and form to it’s orange lichen encrusted surface. A lot of the dough ball boulders you see around the Alabama Hills surround the arch which can make for interesting foreground candidates.

Don’t limit yourself to a single day, or just Mobius Arch, there’s plenty to shoot and many compositions to be found.

Overall late or early winter are good bets. In January the snowbound tops make for a more interest and geological contrast in your shots. Plus the winter skies are more likely to be clear, meaning the peaks are less likely to be shrouded in cloud. September through to early November are equally good seasons for illuminating Mobius arch. Also the sun is further South East at this time of year, so the side-lighting on the Sierra Nevada is more prominent revealing more of the mountains' form.

Paul Marsden

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