Just a few hours north of Los Angeles lies one of the most magnificnet arrays of hills and rock formations. During one of those Netflix +
Chill Retouch nights while Django Unchained (2013) was playing in the background I noticed that a set of mountains looked oddly familiar in a scene in which Jamie Foxx’s character leads a train of horses across a desert. With a simple Google search I confirmed my intuition. That recognizable mountain range was none other than the Sierra Nevada. Despite having traveled through Lone Pine, CA for many backpacking trips I’ve never actually stopped within that area. That’s quite a bummer since Alabama Hills is only 3-4 hours north of Los Angeles. Since I love taking photos, film history, and going outside I made the decision to round up some friends and drive up the 395 for an overnight in Alabama Hills.
…and the best part about this is overnight is that Alabama Hills is part of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public land. Meaning free camping! Granted that also means that there are no facilities –meaning potty time = digging a hole. You can stay up to 14 days in Alabama Hills BLM.
I left Los Angeles late in the afternoon with Kristy and Garrick in the new 2016 Mazda6, a city car that proved itself to be not only extremely fuel-efficient with 40mpg, but it’s also capable of handing the dirt roads that allows you traverse around all the rock formations. If the landscape isn’t encouraging enough to make you want to take a trip out to middle of nowhere then how about the fact that you can make a roundtrip back to the city on one tank of gas?
I’ll admit the ride out of Los Angeles isn’t very scenic. It consists mostly of desert and brown hills (if only we had a little bit of that wondrous thing called rain.) By leaving in the late afternoon we were hoping that we’d bypass traffic. Nope. Failed. Thankfully the Mazda6 has a very smart form of cruise control called i-ACTIVSENSE. While cruising the car gauges the relative speed and distance to the car in front and works within a speed range to keep a safe following distance and ensures that you don’t smash into someone. That would be horrible. The i-ACTIVSENSE is probably my most favorite feature of the car because while driving it frees up my mind enough so that I can think about other things such as “where is the best place to set up for a photo?” or “why haven’t I tried BLM camping until now?”
With BLM camping you’re pretty much allowed to camp anywhere as long as you abide by whatever regulations and safety measures are in place. Additionally let’s also not forget Leave No Trace. For instance at the time my friends and I went fire permits were required to use gas stoves. Another good rule of thumb is to reuse areas that had once been a campsite. We cruised around the dusty road until we found a flat area next to a bunch of rocks then set up camp. I figured that the huge rocks would provide a nice shield against the roaring winds at night.
Since it was a nearly a full moon night after setting up camp my friends and I slapped on our headlamps and scurried into the rocks for a bit of night hiking. Alabama Hills is famous for its rocks and arches. The most photo famous one is the Mobius Arch.
The following morning we woke up around 5am to catch the sunrise before heading back to the city. One of my favorite parts about being off in a remote location is that is so quiet, beautiful, and you get to watch the mountains take on a shade of purple for a brief moment. It’s very trance-like watching the sun come up. It begins with a soft yellow glow that slowly paints the mountain peaks with hues of purple and magenta. Then it leaves and becomes a saturated goldenrod.
I need, need, need to come back here. There’s so much land here to explore and climb that a simple overnight trip is not enough. My friends and I merely brushed the surface with the scenery here. Can you imagine what you could see if you spent a week out here? Imagine how the light would change and if you went on a New Moon? Note to self: Check calendar, make time for another trip.
Later this year in August I’ll be attempting to summit Mt. Whitney –the highest mountain in contiguous United States. Since Alabama Hills BLM is directly next to Whitney Portal I’m thinking that this area would make a perfect spot to begin to acclimate for elevation.
The shots I wanted to come back from this overnighter were a star filled sky with the Sierra Nevada lit by the moonlight and sunrise shots taken with a long zoom lens. For long exposures I was going to need to bring a tripod to keep the camera locked and from shaking, but I also needed to make sure that whatever gear I brought with me was portable and easy to carry because I have a habit of climbing up anything and everything for a shot. For that my tool kit consisted of:
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