You are treated to a remarkable display of nature’s handiwork in the Alabama Hills Recreational Area. There are incredible rock formations dotting the landscape as far as the eye can see. You can’t help but be overcome by the sense of wonder and amazement at the sea of golden granite boulders rising up from the desert floor. Tucked away here and there are rock arches formed by time and the elements.
These massive boulders have been chiseled away leaving impressive holes through the center forming perfect archways. Most of the arches that have been found have and East/West view.
The Alabama Hills have become a popular setting for many movies and numerous commercials. Movie Road intersects with Whitney Portal Road about 3 miles west of Lone Pine.
View our “Ancient Rock Fantasies” map, a map of the Picture Rocks Circle.
How They Were Formed
The Alabama Hills are a golden-brown wonderland of rounded hills and twisted rock formations lying between Lone Pine and the Sierra. The Alabamas, once incorrectly touted as “the earth’s oldest hills,” are now known to be the same age as the Sierra, both being formed a “few million years ago” by faulting.
Identical in composition, their difference in appearance comes from different weathering processes. Up high, the freezing, expanding and thawing of rainwater and melting snow has caused the more chiseled splintering of the granite. Down in the warmer valley, the Alabamas took shape when “the climate was more moist and the rock was covered with soil,” according to a recent geologist’s report printed in “California’s Eastern Sierra” by Sue Irwin. As the climate became drier, erosion slowly stripped away the soil mantle, exposing and shaping the piles of boulders we see today. Water and wind continue the shaping process. 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. Photo by GLV Photography.
How They Were Named
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.
Interpretive Hikes and Films
The Bureau of Land Management Bishop Field Office, Alabama Hills Stewardship Group and Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association offer interpretive hikes and films of the Alabama Hills. You can see the schedule on the BLM website.