Saturday, May 30, 2015
Alabama Hills | Serendipity
In planning my drive last winter up the east side of the Sierra Nevada I learned of the Alabama Hills. What a curious name for a place in California! A little internet searching and a call to a Fresno based photo friend, Dan Sniffen, lead me to this place. After learning there was an arch there one could frame the mountain peaks in I asked Dan how to find it? Easy, he said, drive in, park, look for the rock that looks like a breast and hike that direction. You can't miss it!
A few days after receiving Dan's mysterious directions I arrived late in the afternoon. The place is miles of boulders piled on top of boulders. I was thinking to myself I'll never find the arch.
The sky was gray and threatening rain. And I had about two hours to scout the place and come up with a plan for the morning. Luckily, I was able to pick up a map at the Visitor Center.
The size of rock formations are huge- the smaller ones are car sized and the larger formations are hundreds of feet high.
I was becoming increasingly skeptical about finding this "rock with a nipple on it". Surprisingly, it didn't take long to find the land mark Dan referred to.
Having found the arch after a bit of hiking, I carefully drove back to the motel wondering if I would be able to find the arch in the dark the next morning. 4am came all too soon. It had rained hard overnight and it was creepy dark when I drove back to begin the hike in. The rain had caused the sage to bloom overnight. It was the most impressive, overpowering fragrance I have ever encountered. Through the dark, up and down the path wound to the arch. I was too late! Several other photographers had beat me to the spot. I had to wait my turn while they got the shot in the best light before sunrise. One guy had more gear than any photographer I had ever seen. More than any one person could ever carry. Turned out his wife schlepped the gear for him. when I remarked that was a lot to lug around, she said it was so much easier now in the digital era compared to when her husband was shooting 8 x 11 large format film! Having planned two mornings here, I wasn't too worried about getting my shot. So I turned my attention to other scenes as the morning light raked across the land.
The next morning I set my alarm for 3am, determined to get there first. The alpenglow on the peaks was an intense red.
I did get the arch shot I had focused so much effort to get, but something magical, unplanned, unforeseen was about to happen. I packed up and began to head back out. The good light was gone, the show was over. If I hurried I could still make breakfast at the motel and get a good start toward Mono Lake, my next stop. As I'm hiking back to the car, a bank of low clouds blew in obscuring Mount Whitney (the highest peak in the lower 48 states). As I looked back over my shoulder one last time I saw a diamond shaped hole open up in the clouds. Could this be an opportunity for something special?!? I ran back up the trail frantically searching for a foreground while guessing where the peak in the distance might be. The hole in the cloud was moving fast and I knew I would only have one, maybe two clicks at it, if the hole even managed to blow in front of the peak. I don't recall having time to set up my tripod. I flipped the Optical Stabilization switch on, fired off a test shot, checked the histogram, took a couple of calming breathes and a moment later the hole slid into place revealing the famous peak. Click! I have to chalk my favorite image from the Alabama Hills to serendipity.