The Mobius Arch in Alabama Hills in California is amongst one of the photographed places in the state and a favorite for would be stargazers and astrophotographers. The famous arch perfectly frames the tallest mountain in the contiguous U.S. – Mount Whitney and is amongst the most photographed arches in California.
Mobius Arch Sunset
The Arch is a mere 5-minute walk from an unpaved parking lot, and due to this easy access, it’s often crowded with photographers on the weekends. I was fortunate enough to have visited the Mobius Arch when it was not as popular years ago when I lived in Sacramento. I car camped in the parking lot for a night and right at the break of dawn scrambled to find a trail to the arch to take some sunrise photos and then stayed around for the sunset.
Back then, it was quite tricky to find the arch as it was located on an unmarked trail and only a handful of people knew about its location. The arch came to infamy because of the late legendary photographer Galen Rowell and since the publication of his magnificent book, Mountain Light: In Search of the Dynamic Landscape, many photographers of all walks started to look for Mobius.
Mobius Arch Loop
Today, the loop trail to the Mobius Arch is marked and graded, so it is more of a leisurely walk than a hike. That fact alone makes it a very crowded place on the weekends. In the years that I have photographed the Arch, I was often alone in solitude taking my time as I see fit to frame the majestic mountain beyond to the arches’ natural frame.
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The Mobius Arch is one of many arches in the Alabama Hills. It is not by any means an impressive arch like the ones in Arches National Park, but it is nonetheless impressive in its own right. At a mere 6 ft. High and 17 ft. Wide, you would use your normal focal lenses to frame Mt. Whitney with the arch. Next to the arch is an even smaller arch called the Lathe Arch – it too can frame Mt. Whitney with some clever maneuvering of camera positions.
While the Mobius Arch is the main draw of the area, it’s not the only thing that makes Alabama Hills a major destination for photography and adventure. The orange rocks that make up most of the landscape is a weathered volcanic rock that is 200 million years old, and the potato-shaped boulders are aged around 80 million years old. Indeed, the scene takes on an otherworldly appearance, like you were transported into an alien realm.
That and it’s proximity to Los Angeles make an ideal place for movie locations – if you’ve watched movies such as Gladiator, Iron Man, Gone in 60 Seconds, then you’ve probably seen the landscapes of the Alabama Hills. The famed “Movie Road” leads to many film locations within the Alabama Hills and through Mobius Arch and about a dozen or so other arches in the area.
Mobius Arch Milky Way
The other thing that Alabama Hills is excellent for is Astrophotography. The closest town, Lone Pine, barely has a population and there are no cities around for hundreds of miles – this means very low light pollution in the night skies. During the summer months you can see the Central Milky Way, and if you have an exceptional vision, you can see the Andromeda and the Triangulum galaxies with your naked eye.
Ideally, you would want to come here on a weekday during mid-summer months when you can see the Milky Way. The weekends can get crowded with other photographers. Car camping is the way to go if your purpose is pure photography. You can wake up before the sun rises and be there at sunset and get up around 3-4am to see the Milky Way blazing the skies. A tripod is a must in all instances.
How to get to the Mobius Arch
Drive towards Lone Pine from Highway 395, and you will come across the only stoplight in town, go west on that road (Whitney Portal) for 2.5 miles until you reach Movie Road. Here you want to make a right and then go about a mile and a half. Once you reach a fork on the road go right, and you will then enter a parking lot, and from here you can see the markers on the trailhead for Mobius arch.
Other Attractions Nearby
The Eastern California Museum – This museum is located in the nearby town of Independence and chock-full of history.
Lone Pine Film and History Museum – You have to check out this museum if you’re in Lone Pine. It’s the biggest attraction in town and full of historical stuff about movies filmed in the Alabama Hills.
Bishop – It’s the biggest town nearby and worth a visit for its choices of restaurants. I would also recommend you check out the Mountain Light Gallery by Galen Rowell, but I heard they’ve recently closed – which is unfortunate since it’s one of the best photographic galleries in the world.
Bristlecone Pine Forest – It’s quite a ways but not too far from Lone Pine. It’s also one of the most majestic places in California to visit outside of the Alabama Hills. It’s home to the oldest tree in the world!
North Lake – If you happen to be visiting the area during autumn I highly recommend driving a few more miles to North Lake. It’s an easy drive and very colorful in autumn.
Where to Stay
I like to camp out in my car or tent in the Alabama Hills so I can wake up early catch the early rays of the sunrise without having to drive to get there. However, if you prefer a little more comfort, there is the Comfort Inn Lone Pine or the Historic Dow Hotel