Alabama Hills Natural Arch
Photo © Langley
A favorite subject of photographers and filmmakers, the Alabama Hills Natural Arch, also known as Mobius Arch, can be found off Movie Road in Lone Pone, California. A lovely contrast to the towering escarpment of the eastern Sierra Nevada, the massive boulders scattered throughout the Alabama Hills have been chiseled away leaving impressive holes through the center forming perfect archways.
While the rocks of Alabama Hills are identical in composition to the 14,000 foot peaks looming above, the difference in appearance is the result of the weathering processes. Up high, the freezing, expanding and thawing of rainwater and melting snow has caused the more chiseled splintering of the granite seen at Mount Whitney. Down in the warmer Owens Valley, the Alabamas took shape when the climate became drier, and erosion slowly stripped away the soil mantle, exposing and shaping the piles of boulders. Water and wind continue to shape the landscape and rocks to this day. The beige and blacks in the mottled coloring are the result of being stained for millions of years by the oxidation of the iron minerals in the rock.
The Alabama Hills have become a popular setting for many movies and numerous commercials. The Alabama Hills Natural Arch is easily accessed via a drive down the famous Movie Road that intersects with Whitney Portal Road about 3 miles west of Lone Pine. Following a sharp turn to the east, the Alabama Hills Stewardship Partnership has placed a small sign and constructed an easy-to-follow trail to the arch. With Mt. Whitney visible through the arch, this spectacular natural landmark provides a picture-perfect setting in a tumbled landscape.
The unusual name Alabama Hills came about during the Civil War. In 1864 Southern sympathizers in Lone Pine discovered gold "in them thar hills." When they heard that a Confederate cruiser named the Alabama had burned, sunk or captured more than 60 Federal ships in less than two years they named their mining claims after the cruiser o celebrate. Before long the name applied to the whole area. Coincidentally, while Southerners were prospecting around Lone Pine, there were Union sympathizers 15 miles north near Independence. And when the Alabama was sunk off the coast of France by the U.S.S. Kearsarge in 1864, the Independence people struck back. They not only named their mining claims "Kearsarge" but a mountain peak, a mountain pass, and a whole town as well.
The Alabama Hills is a favorite spot for hiking, picnicking,landscape photography and the Movie Road Tour. Whether you are here for the Sierra views, identifying native plant life or photography, this area offers a variety of activities. The Alabama Hills Arch Nature Trail Walk was created in partnership with the Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association and the Alabama Hills Stewardship Group.
Directions to the trailhead:
- Take Hwy 395 to Lone Pine.
- Turn west (at the stop light) onto Whitney Portal Road, drive 2.5 miles to Movie Road, turn right.
- After 1.5 miles you will come to a "Y" in the road.
- Go right and pull into the dirt parking area immediately on your left.
- You will see the trail sign on the left side of this parking area; this is where you begin your arch walk.
The walk takes approximately 15 minutes, round trip on hilly terrain.
The outstanding features and environment of the Alabama Hills have attracted movie makers, commercial companies and tourists from all over the world. Since the early 1920s, movie stars such as Tom Mix, Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry and the Lone Ranger, have been shooting it out with outlaws. Classics such as Gunga Din, Springfield Rifle, and How the West was Won, were filmed at sites now known as "Movie Flats" and at Movie Flat Road. During 1993 portions were filmed with Mel Gibson for Maverick , released in 1994. A massive set was built in the Alabama's formations and filming continued for three weeks. Portions of scenes for the movie The Shadow were filmed during 1993, starring Alec Baldwin. Some movies filmed more recently have been GI Jane, Star Trek Generations and Disney's Dinosaur. The Alabama's serve as the backdrop to many commercial and still advertisements each year in a huge variety. Clothing ads, models, camping gear, electronics, vehicle and Federal Express ads to name a few. It was a first in 2005 to have the Alabama's used as the background for a video game. The community of Lone Pine hosts an annual three day event called the "Lone Pine Film Festival" every Columbus Day weekend in October. They feature guest speakers from previous films, actors, guided bus tours and over 120 photo plaques mounted at the original movie site locations for the public to enjoy. The Beverly and Jim Rogers Museum of Lone Pine Film History opened in October 2006 and celebrates and preserves the long and varied film history of Lone Pine, Death Valley and the Eastern Sierra.
While enjoying the scenic and recreational values of the Alabama Hills, hikers, rock climbers and sightseers should use the utmost caution at all times. The few remaining mine shafts and tunnels in the general area should be avoided because of the extreme hazards they represent. False bottoms might give away or tunnels collapse because of deteriorated shoring timbers. The Alabama Hills are beautiful, but there are hazards that could injure the unwary or unprepared visitor.
Year round weather permitting. During the summer, the arch is best visited in the cool of the morning or early evening.