Alabama Hills Photo Trip

My husband and I went on a second photo workshop with Keith and Brian, aka Zenbro, this time to the Alabama Hills at the foot of Mt. Whitney, outside Lone Pine. I’ve been having so much fun with my Nikon D40 – and my husband with his D40X – that I want to experience as many learning opportunities as possible. Keith and Brian’s outings are an easy, no pressure way to have fun and focus on exploring your creative passion. Most of us are so busy taking care of our lives, that even if we love photography, we rarely are able to spend focused time on it. That’s why these getaways are so good for the soul. The first one we did was a night photography workshop in downtown L.A. (photos)  But this one was much more satisfying.

We drove up to Lone Pine Saturday morning, getting there in plenty of time to explore Movie Road and then drive up, up, UP to the Mt. Whitney portal at 8,500 feet, before meeting up with the group at noon at the legendary Dow Villa Hotel/Motel. What a lovely historical location.

We reviewed the plans for the day and some creative exercises to try, and headed out to the windblown people-like Alabama Hills, remnants of the ancient, 100 million year old mountains that originally reached seven MILES into the sky. Not only were they massive, they ran east/west rather than the usual north/south. Now they looks like globs of clay that have either been dropped in piles, or oozed up from the earth below into remarkable shapes and images.

We caravanned out to Movie Road and then on to various stops to try and find the most interesting examples to photograph. Ansel Adams, who called the Eastern Sierra, the Range of Light, in a great pun, spent years photographing this area. And the TV/movie studios have shot dozens of films here because of the unique landscape. The Dow Villa has a shrine to John Wayne and books featuring the films and film festivals held here. It’s the town of Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and many more.

So we found a spot, and began shooting, as the wind blew us to hell, knocking over tripods, irritating eyes and being generally miserable. The cold morning eased into the 80s and the sun/wind combo on the skin sucked the moisture right out. Steve unloaded all my gear and took off to fish, as the rest of us, 9 in all including Keith and Brian, focused our eyes up on the hills (and hopefully none were in the hills focusing at us!). One of our exercises was to find ourselves in the rocks – something that represented us in some way. I found several images that  echoed the female body, and there was no shortage of male-like structures, as well. But it was the various heads, faces and animal images that gradually revealed themselves. Lions, horses, lobsters, squid, birds, rabbits, Indian chief head, the skull – all linked together with fissures of broken rock that laced through the formations like bead necklaces, graceful and casual and understated. All this with the might Mt. Whitney and Eastern Sierras lurking in the background and clouds being spiked, swirled, stretched and feathered into gorgeous images above.

We moved to another location to explore that, then another and another, before heading up to the Portal. There I found my husband happily fishing in the stocked pond. Cold at the end of the day, he didn’t want to quit. The group went on above to shooting the light on the Panimint mountain range across the valley from Mt. Whitney while he and I shared a glass of cabernet to keep warm.


We all met back up at the hotel lobby and ambled over to the Merry Go Round for dinner – great steak – then returned to the motel to looks at everyone’s pictures. What a learning experience that was! We all saw so many different things, interpreting the same images with our own point of view.


The wind howled all night and when we got up at 5:30 am to catch first light on the mountains, it was still blowing — and COLD. We grabbed some coffee and headed out to a place near where we were the day before and waited for the light to touch the peak of Mt. Whitney and its sawtoothed neighbors. Fingers started to numb even with gloves. My husband had to put on one of my knit hoodies under his manly jacket to help stay warm (oops, should I not have said that???). I climbed and walked and hiked around to get as many angles as I could, to find as many forms, faces, and abstract images as I could. Finally, the sun was up and stomachs called out for breakfast.


We headed back to town, ate at the Sierra Cafe (they just happened to have exactly 10 seats left, all together). It was when we went into the Dow Villa lobby to take a group photo that we saw the news on the fires. We couldn’t take that photo fast enough so we could head home. We did so just before 10 and fought the wind all the way home. As we approached the turnoff to Angeles Crest the Castaic fire smoke was billowing over the mountains to the west. Winds were so fierce rocks were being blown off the rock walls. Steve called it on how bad this firestorm was going to be though I though he was being overly dramatic. Actually, I think I shared his fear, I just didn’t want to acknowledge it. We didn’t sleep too well that night, and made a rough plan for how we would escape if need be.


But I still need to document the household items, get the important papers in one fireproof container that we can grab, get all the pet supplies accessible — I don’t think my cats want to share a carrier. So I have my to do list, now I just need to DO.


I’ll post the trip pix to Flickr and post one here shortly.