Alabama Hills, Mono Lake, Bodie Ghost Town - Desertscapes, Star Trails, and Long Exposure Photos, July 2012
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9 July 2012:
The 395 Tour. My first solo trip of the summer was to go up Route 395 in Central California. I was excited. This was the first trip I had taken where the primary focus would be to take photos. And I would be keeping crazy hours, staying up late to do night photography, and waking up early to catch the first beautiful rays of the sun. Sleep is for the weak.

And the first stop was Randsburg, only two hours away, near where Highway 14 and Route 395 come together.

And why would anyone live in the brutal heat of the Mojave Desert with no water source? Gold, of course.

Left: the Santa Barbara Catholic Church in downtown Randsburg.


Originally Rand Camp, springing up from the gold mines nearby, Randsburg is 3500 ft. (1066 meters) in elevation, with highs of 110 degrees F (43 C) and 10 F (12 C) in the winter.

And really, Randsburg is a semi-ghost town, and has a small population that lives here, with a museum, an ice cream shop, art galleries, and more.

Left: sun shining through the horns of a skull at a Randsburg saloon.

But of course, Randsburg, like any old ghost town from the California Gold Rush of the 1800s, has its abandoned ghost homes as well, such as this old chair inside a well-ventilated house.

And this, of course, is the well-ventilated house.

The mighty Sierras from Route 395 as I drive north to Lone Pine.

I arrived in Lone Pine, checked in to the Dow Historical Hotel, and then set out for the nearby Alabama Hills. There was a photography workshop at Mobius Arch, so instead of competing for space with them, I wandered around the vicinity.

I found the Alabama Hills quite reminiscent of Joshua Tree, although Joshua Tree doesn't have the imposing and craggy Sierras looming nearby. The tallest peak here is Lone Pine Peak. Tucked in the back, with its extra teeth, is Mount Whitney, the highest summit in the contiguous United States with an elevation of 14,505 feet (4,421 m).

After the photography workshop group left, I mostly had Mobius Arch to myself, with only a French family visiting the arch. The French and the Germans seem to have a great appreciation of the desert, as I have run into them in the Atacama Desert, Joshua Tree, and would run into many during this trip as well.

Title: Mobius Arch Polaris Star Trail
Info: Nikon D90, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens, Feisol tripod. 65 minutes total, composed of 130 30-second photos, all ISO 1600, f/4.5. Light painted with my handy head lamp.
Photography: Ken Lee
Location: Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, California, USA.

A hot evening, especially when running around "light painting". But I also had a chance to lay on my back and watch the stars. I actually began dozing off when a car pulled up. You can see some of the light from the head lights on the arch.

The swirling stars are magical, a result of the long exposure of the camera capturing the movement of the stars. Polaris, the North Star, is in the middle, and all the stars appear to rotate around it, this movement, of course, primarily a result of the rotation of the earth.

Title: Mobius Arch Milky Way
Stuff: Nikon D90, Tokina 11-16mm lens, Feisol tripod. ISO 1600 at f/4.5, 30-second exposure. Light painted with head lamp.
Photography: Ken Lee
Location: Mobius Arch, Alabama Hills, California, USA

Depending on how you look at it, this photo seems to have a very elemental timeless sort of feel, or a view from another planet in a science fiction movie. You can see part of the Milky Way near the bottom. This photo was taken facing south.

Title: Mobius Arch South Star Trails
Info: Nikon D90, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens. 50 minute exposure in total (stacked), composed of one hundred 30-second photos f/4.5, ISO 1600 each. Light painted with red head lamp.
Photography: Ken Lee
Location: Alabama Hills, California, USA.

Another star trails photo, also stacked, a 50-minute total exposure. You can see the curvature of the Northern and Southern Hemisphere in this photo, which was taken while facing south.

Title: Alabama Hills Big Dipper
Info: Nikon D90, Tokina 11-16mm lens, Feisol tripod. ISO 1600 at f/3.5, 20-second exposure.
Photography: Ken Lee
Location: Alabama Hills, California, USA

Barring one-day excursions to the desert, this is the first trip I had ever taken where the primary purpose was to take photos. And much of it was going to be taken late at night. I was quite excited, and ended up staying out until 1:30am taking photos or lying on my back and watching the stars.

Title: Milky Way over the Sierras
Info: Nikon D90, Tokina 11-16mm lens, Feisol tripod. ISO 1600 at f/4, 30-second exposure.
Photography: Ken Lee
Location: Alabama Hills, California, USA

The Milky Way over the mighty Sierras, looking basically south toward the Sierras from the Alabama Hills.

10 July 2012:
I would be keeping crazy photographer's hours, staying out late, as I had last night, and waking up early. 4:30 am, I was up, and by 5:30 am, I was at Mobius Arch with Dave Hood, another photographer, whose camera is shown here, setting up for the beautiful rays of the rising sun.

Throughout this trip, I would keep running into photographers. After all, who else is going to be out during the evening or at the crack of dawn in the middle of the desert?

And this is the ubiquitous photo of Mobius Arch in Alabama Hills, framing the Sierras through the arch. Galen Rowell took a famous photo of this, although his was in winter, with the peaks glistening with snow.

After photographing Mobius Arch, the strong sun's harsh light reducing most photographs to a giant glare and the sun beating down on us, II returned to Lone Pine to visit the Lone Pine Film History Museum. Just about anyone growing up in the United States watched the old Lone Ranger movies, and I was no exception, so upon seeing the shirt that Clayton Moore wore while yelling "Hiyo Silver" and careening around the Alabama Hills, I had to take a photo of it.

Hundreds of movies have been filmed in the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, including the epic "Gunga Din", as shown in the Lone Pine Film History Museum. Many commercials, movies, and TV shows are still filmed here to this day due to its relatively close location to Los Angeles, its accessibility, and of course, it's beauty and rugged terrain.

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Ken's photos of Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as photos of Peru, Burma, India, Morocco, China, Thailand, Ghana, Ecuador, and elsewhere, have appeared in many books, magazines, websites, and galleries.  Visit the Ken Lee Photography Website. Some of Ken's select photos may be purchased through his Imagekind Store.

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Alabama Hills, Mono Lake, and Bodie Ghost Town: Desertscapes, Star Trails, and Long Exposure Photos, July 2012
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