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By The Light Of The Moon

Alabama Hills - By The Light Of The Moon

It was a crisp and cloudless morning in the Alabama Hills which sit at the base of the eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California.

I was up before dawn in a darkness tamed by the light of a 3/4 moon which hung high over head. It was as if God was holding up a lantern to illuminate my morning. The light was soft, soothing and usable. I never bothered to turn on my headlamp.

With a flick of my wrist my camp stove began to hiss, then there was a sharp plastic click, instantly followed by the most happiest of whooshes. Shortly thereafter the much anticipated blue flame appeared and began its joyful dance celebrating the beginning of a new day. Water gurgled out of the water jug followed by the familiar metallic sound made when pouring water first makes contact with my empty metal coffee pot. The pot grew heavier as water continued to splash its way closer to the top.


The earth crunched below my boots as I moved from the water jug toward the stove. Five separate crunches, there was no other sound, just five, separate, crunches. A momentary pause. More silence. Metal meets metal with a clank as the coffee pot comes to rest upon the stove top. I smile.

If not for the hiss of the stove there would be complete silence. A sensation rarely experienced. For a moment I considered turning off of the stove, but my cravings for a mug of steamy hot, earthy, black coffee easily won over.

As I settled in, my camp chair groaned and squeaked as the fabric stretched and rubbed against the aluminum frame. Cradling my white 1950's diner style coffee mug in both hands I slowly brought the mug to my mouth for my first sip of the day. The coffee gurgled as I sucked in my first sip. My eyes rolled into the back of my head with complete satisfaction as the aroma and earthy richness tickled my senses. Instantly I knew that this was going to be a good day.

Sitting in my camp chair facing west. In a little more than an hour the sun would rise behind me. Directly in front of me the majestic eastern Sierra rises abruptly from the Owens Valley. As the morning progresses, black gives way to dark blue, the stars dim gradually and the details of my surrounding environment casually become more apparent.

It's quiet, but not total. A very faint breeze drifts past my left ear. My chair squeaks. I slurp in another small mouthful of hot black coffee. There's more detail in the foreground. The distant mountains still hide their secrets in dark shadows. But, even at this hour I begin to notice and appreciate the contrast that is before me. It's not a difference in colors or light and dark that I notice (that will become more apparent later in the morning), but rather a juxtaposition between shape, line and form. The mountain peaks of the Sierra tower high above the Owens Valley and where I sit in the Alabama Hills. Mt. Whitney rises more that 10,000' above the small town of Lone Pine, CA in the Owens Valley. In my immediate view, the eastern Sierra looks tall, edgy , steep, hard, jagged and knife-like. In comparison, the Alabama Hills look stunted, round, smooth, gentle and potato-like. Isn't it interesting the things one notices before being fully caffeinated?

Another sip of coffee. The morning continues its march. The moon still lingers above, but not as obvious. An owl hoots from somewhere in the distance out in front of me. Hoot-hoot, hoot, hoot it calls. I answer back with my silent attention and curiosity.

Finally it was time to go make some photographs. As I shouldered my camera backpack I thanked the moon for its companionship and then I took the first of what will be countless crunchy footsteps in search of new experiences and photographs.

Below are a few photographs I made on this morning. I hope you enjoy!

Alabama Hills - Rock Formation Silhouette, Sunrise_3334

This rock formation was the backdrop to my camp and silhouetted nicely in front of a very beautiful sunrise.

Alabama Hills - Base Camp Sunrise_HDR_3346_47_48

A little later in the morning. This is a three shot HDR of my camp. This proved to be the most beautiful sunrise of this trip.

Alabama Hills and Eastern Sierra Awash in Alpenglow

Even later into the morning. Just after sunrise, alpenglow illuminates the high peaks of the eastern Sierra with a wonderful warm reddish light.

Alabama Hills - Morning Light and Long Shadows

With the sun still low in the sky I positioned myself so that I could use my shadow to help tell the story of what it is like to be out photographing at this edge of the day. In real life my shadow was about 18' long!

Alabama Hills - Taking It In

Out exploring. This was a ten minute walk from my camp. I framed this shot up but it was lacking and there was nothing around to give a sense of scale so I decided to get in on the act myself.

I set a one minute timer. Released the shutter, ran to the edge of this rock, climbed up onto its shoulder and put myself into position. Where I'm standing I'm about 10' above the ground. It took two tries to get it right. Mt. Whitney is in the background (it's the peak just to the right of the two needles which are just to the right of the big foreground rock on the left.) Mt. Whitney is the highest point in the continental United States - 14,505'.


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