Mt Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, towers 10,000 feet above this low range, which itself is 1,500 feet above the floor of Owens Valley. However, Gravity surveys indicate that the Owens Valley is filled with about 10,000 feet of sediment and that the Alabama's are the tip of a very steep escarpment. This feature may have been created by many earthquakes similar to the 1872 Lone Pine earthquake which, in a single event, caused a vertical displacement of 15-20 feet.
There are two main types of rock exposed at Alabama Hills. One is an orange, drab weathered metamorphosed volcanic rock that is 150-200 million years old. The other type of rock exposed here is 90 million year old granite which weathers to potato-shaped large boulders; many of which stand on end due to spheroidal weathering acting on many nearly vertical joints in the rock.
The Alabama Hills were named for CSS Alabama. When news
of the Confederate warship's exploits
reached prospectors in California sympathetic to the South, they named many
mining claims after her, and the name came to be applied to the entire
mountain range. Then, when Alabama was sunk off the coast of Normandy by USS Kearsarge in 1864, prospectors
sympathetic to the North named a mining district, mountain pass, a peak, and
a town after Kearsarge.