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Rock quarry

Famous Alabama Hills arch gives photographer the slip.

September 06, 2005|Janet Cromley

HOW do you capture a legend?

The picture-perfect Alabama Hills arch, just west of Lone Pine, Calif., has chewed up the scenery in numerous commercials and old-time movies such as "How the West Was Won," "Gunga Din" and "Comanche Station." After seeing the arch on postcards and in books, Outdoors Channel photographer Thomas Kelsey was smitten. He began combing the Alabama Hills Recreation Management Area at the foot of Mt. Whitney in search of it. While there, he discovered something profound: There are a lot of arches in the Alabama Hills.

At one point, he thought he had found it. He climbed 20 feet up a nearby rock and shimmied out on his belly, then dangled his camera over the side and snapped a picture with a self-timer. It was a fine picture (left) -- but it wasn't the arch.

Like a good paparazzo, Kelsey wasn't deterred. He returned to the hills, this time with an arsenal of maps and pictures. After a short hike from a parking area down a dirt path called Movie Road, he turned a corner and nearly ran into it (above): a luminous granite arch big enough to stand in, framing Mt. Whitney.

According to Inyo County film official Chris Langley, the arch may be too beautiful for its own good. "A lot of filmmakers who shoot here don't want the arch in the background because it hogs all the scenery. Kinda like a movie star."

Kelsey still isn't satisfied with his picture. He plans to return in April, when there's snow on the Sierra mantle, and shoot at sunrise. Maybe next time he'll get a decent picture.

-- Janet Cromley

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