Posted by: kerryl29 | August 14, 2017

Yosemite National Park Day 6: The Last Waltz

By the sixth day–the fifth full day–at Yosemite I had photographed at most of the locations in the valley that I’d wanted to visit.  I hadn’t necessarily experienced ideal conditions in each locale, but I’d at least had an opportunity to photograph at many of them.  So, with one final full day–during which clear skies were projected throughout–of my time at Yosemite remaining, I had the opportunity to decide where I wanted to revisit, given the predicted weather.

Valley View at Sunrise, Yosemite National Park, California

I started out at a spot I hadn’t photographed from, though I’d scouted the location several times:  Valley View.  This had been my intended sunset destination on Day 4, but I’d been so entranced when I stumbled on the scene at Stoneman Meadow that evening that I’d shot from there at day’s end.  So I photographed from Valley View at sunrise on this day instead.

Valley View Sunrise, Yosemite National Park, California

Valley View Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

The sky this morning (and throughout the day), in line with the forecast, was completely clear, so after producing a couple of images I crossed Pohono Bridge and began the journey east on the Southside Drive.  My first stop was at the southwest edge of El Capitan Meadow in the still-soft light of early morning.  With Horsetail Falls and the granite block of El Capitan in the background, I positioned myself to both avoid a foreground sign and arrange the mid-ground trees in a pleasing array.

Horsetail Falls, El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

I took note of Bridalveil Falls, and a setting moon, behind me and crossed the road to make an image of that scene.

Bridalveil Falls, El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

I then returned to the north side of the road and made one final image of the Horsetail Falls scene, just as the sun’s rays began to shine on the high ridge on the far side of the valley.

Horsetail Falls, El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

Farther east along Southside Drive I stopped in the thick of one of the valley’s conifer forests, a spot I’d identified a few days earlier during a scouting session.  I took advantage of the even light to create one image of the scene.

Valley Forest, Yosemite National Park, California

From here I drove back to the stables parking area–the same spot where I parked on Day 5 as a jumping off point for a hike along the east side of Tenaya Creek on the way to Mirror Lake.  This time I followed the creek on the west side, which provided access to an entirely different set of intimate images.

Dogwoods, Mirror Lake Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Whether it was more examples of the dogwood bloom at peak…

Dogwoods, Mirror Lake Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Dogwoods, Mirror Lake Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

…or scenes from the creek…

Tenaya Creek, Yosemite National Park, California

Tenaya Creek Intimate, Yosemite National Park, California

Tenaya Creek Intimate Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Tenaya Creek Intimate Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

…there were a seemingly endless number of images to discover.

Tenaya Creek Intimate, Yosemite National Park, California

Tenaya Creek Intimate, Yosemite National Park, California

Tenaya Creek Intimate Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

As I had discovered the previous day, this part of Yosemite Valley would remain in open shade–with Half Dome blocking any direct sunlight–until late morning.  This worked to my advantage for the second consecutive day.

Tenaya Creek, Yosemite National Park, California

Tenaya Creek Intimate, Yosemite National Park, California

Tenaya Creek Intimate Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Tenaya Creek Intimate Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

When I reached Mirror Lake, I wandered around the west and north shores without taking any images.  I felt that this part of the valley was experiencing light too harsh to photograph, but I did identify several spots from which I wanted to shoot when the light was at least somewhat softer.  I scouted a bit and decided to return later in the day.

I returned to my car and then, with several hours of harsh light ahead of me, decided to leave the car in place and take the Yosemite shuttle bus to Yosemite Village, where I wandered around in the Ansel Adams Gallery for a bit.  The valley hot spots were all very crowded during this stretch of Friday afternoon so I then decided to spend some time hiking the valley loop trail–without my camera gear.  The light, as I said, was poor but it was a nice afternoon for a long walk, so over the next couple of hours I hiked roughly seven miles on the flat trail that circumnavigates most of Yosemite Valley.  I ultimately picked up the shuttle again at El Capitan Bridge and took it all the way back to the stables.  And from there, I hiked back to Mirror Lake.

Mirror Lake, Yosemite National Park, California

It was still a good four-odd hours until sunset and the light was, perhaps, still a bit harsher than I would like, but I photographed the scenes I identified in the morning.

Mirror Lake Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Mirror Lake, Yosemite National Park, California

Mirror Lake Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Before I left the lake, a group of ducklings emerged, almost at my feet, and swam out into the water.

Ducklings Mirror Lake, Yosemite National Park, California

As I headed out of the Mirror Lake area late in the afternoon, some reflections in Tenaya Creek caught my attention.

Tenaya Creek Reflections, Yosemite National Park, California

Tenaya Creek, Yosemite National Park, California

I made the drive to a spot on Northside Drive that runs along the northern edge of Cook’s Meadow, and I spent a fair amount of time wandering around this area as the light became nicer.  There was some breeze in this part of the valley, so I had to account for that when making exposure decisions.  I determined that I needed a shutter speed of at least 1/30 second to render foliage without a blur.  I alternated my attention from Sentinel Rock to the south and Yosemite Falls to the north.

Cook’s Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Falls from Cook’s Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

Ultimately I altered my position to focus on Half Dome, to the southeast.

Half Dome from Cook’s Meadow Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

I moved about a mile west of Cook’s Meadow to an unmarked spot, east of El Capitan Meadow.  It was a spot I’d examined earlier in the week.

El Capitan Meadow Reflections, Yosemite National Park, California

Sentinel Rock, Yosemite National Park, California

Finally, with sunset nearly upon me, I zipped back to Valley View, where the day had begun some 14-plus hours earlier.

Valley View Sunset, Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California

Valley View at Sunset, Yosemite National Park, California

Valley View at Sunset, Yosemite National Park, California

And that brought the end to my time at Yosemite National Park.  With a (very) long drive ahead of me the following day and being sleep-deprived for the past week…and given the forecast for yet another clear, fog-free morning the next day, I decided to give myself a break.  Instead of getting up no later than 4:15 AM, as had been the case since I arrived in California, I could sleep until almost 6 before pulling out the following morning for the circuitous trek to the town of Lee Vining in the Eastern Sierra…

In a comment appended to the post covering Day 5 of my time at Yosemite National Park, quietsolopursuits noted how heavily photographed Yosemite is.  He’s absolutely right.  There aren’t many, if any, natural areas that are photographed as frequently, with as many recognizable elements, as Yosemite.  Consider just a few of the icons that populate Yosemite Valley:  El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite Falls, the broad scene from Tunnel View.  These elements, and many others, along with well-worn shooting positions from which to capture them, have led many people to conclude that there’s nothing new or creatively stimulating about photographing in Yosemite Valley.  “Does the world really need another shot from Tunnel View?” is a frequently asked question in the photography world, and you could pretty easily substitute one of the other iconic elements or spots for Tunnel View in the rhetorical question above.

My View of Photographic “Icons”

What makes something a photographic icon?  About some things–like the aforementioned Yosemite locales, Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park at sunrise, the Maroon Bells near Aspen, Colorado, Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, etc.–there’s a broad consensus.  And there’s generally a reason why such scenes have accrued such acclaim:  they tend to be jaw-dropping in one way or another.  Icons, in other words, are iconic for a reason.

Yosemite Valley at Sunrise from Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park, California

I have never gone to a location specifically to photograph an iconic scene and I don’t have all that many icons in my portfolio or galleries on my website.  But that doesn’t mean I won’t photograph iconic scenes if the opportunity presents itself.  Not doing so almost seems like cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.

Yosemite Falls from Cook’s Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

One of the challenges of photographic icons, as I see it, is to try to depict them in some way other than by typical or traditional means–a different perspective, a different rendering, a different time of day, from somewhere other than an official or well-worn unofficial viewpoint and so forth.

Yosemite Falls Reflections from Sentinel Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

Bridalveil Falls from Bridalveil View, Yosemite National Park, California

Misty El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Valley in Fog from Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park, California

Bridalveil Falls from Bridalveil View, Yosemite National Park, California

The point is, it’s usually possible to bring something of a fresh presentation to a frequently photographed subject.

The Rest of Yosemite

The biggest fallacy I’ve seen is the notion that a place filled with icons–like Yosemite Valley–isn’t worth visiting or photographing because it’s been “done to death.”  This, to put it mildly, is patently ridiculous.  There’s so much to photograph in Yosemite Valley without relying on iconic elements, I scarcely know where to begin.

Dogwoods, Mirror Lake Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Merced River, Mist Trail Yosemite National Park, California

Tenaya Creek Intimate, Yosemite National Park, California

Conifer Forest, Yosemite National Park, California

Intimate scenes are an obvious counterpoint, but it’s certainly possible to render wide scenes from Yosemite as well without relying on iconic elements.

Misty El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

Horsetail Falls, El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

Vernal Fall and the Merced River from the Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, the point is that photography is fundamentally about seeing, even when photographing iconic places (with or without the icons themselves).  The standards by which most viewers will judge a photograph’s relative success or failure won’t change based on the presence or absence of broadly familiar elements.  So journey forth and, wherever you choose to photograph, keep your eyes–and mind–open, whether there are icons present or not.

Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

Posted by: kerryl29 | July 31, 2017

Yosemite National Park Day 5: Here Comes the Sun

While the first few full days at Yosemite were marked by a mix of cloudy skies and morning fog, that came to a crashing halt on Day 5.  Actually, the change began as Day 4 moved along and blue, nearly cloudless skies, became the norm.  There were almost literally no clouds at all to be seen at any point on Day 5.  This normally doesn’t make for particularly good photographic conditions, so I tried my best to work around these less than ideal circumstances.

I began the morning by driving to a spot along the Northside Drive of Yosemite Valley that I’d checked out on the first full day of the trip:  a location where the Cathedral Rocks formation, on the south side of the valley, is reflected in a marshy pool of water located just east of El Capitan Bridge.

Cathedral Rocks Reflections, Yosemite National Park, California

Getting into a position that allowed the full range of the rocky reflection required donning my rubber boots and wading into the water itself.  It was a muddy spot and I had to keep shifting my position to avoid sinking deep into that mud.

Cathedral Rocks Reflections, Yosemite National Park, California

I remained at this location until the sun’s rays kissed the tips of Cathedral Rocks.

Cathedral Rocks Reflections at Sunrise, Yosemite National Park, California

Cathedral Rocks Reflections at Sunrise, Yosemite National Park, California

There were other shots to be had from this spot, images that were lacking in recognizable features but might do a better job of capturing the natural emotion of this particular place at this specific time.

Meadow Moonrise, Yosemite National Park, California

I briefly stopped at El Capitan Meadow, the site of the extended morning shoot of Day 4.  What a difference a day makes; the copious mist of the previous morning was entirely absent, replaced by clear, unobstructed blue skies.  Instead of the bevy of images I’d produced the previous day, I limited myself to just two this morning.

Cathedral Rocks Moonrise, Yosemite National Park, California

Cathedral Rocks Moonsrise, Yosemite National Park, California

From here I drove to the stables area beyond the Yosemite campgrounds at the eastern end of the valley, not far from Happy Isles, and made the trek to Mirror Lake.  Before I hit the trail, I made an image or two of the bridge spanning the creek adjacent to the stables parking area.

Stone Bridge, Tenaya Creek, Yosemite National Park, California

Stone Bridge Black & White, Tenaya Creek, Yosemite National Park, California

I was treated to a many interesting photo opportunities on the trail that ran along the south side of Tenaya Creek, which flows out of Mirror Lake.

Dogwood Blossoms, Mirror Lake Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

This was another area filled with dogwoods at the peak of their bloom, just as I’d experienced at Pohono Bridge and in the Tuolumne Grove.

Dogwood Blossoms, Tenaya Creek, Yosemite National Park, California

Despite the bright and sunny conditions, this area, nestled between high cliff walls on both sides, remained in open shade until late in the morning.  That allowed me an opportunity to photograph in even light along Tenaya Creek for several hours.  The sunny conditions also produced some interesting reflections in the creek itself.

Tenaya Creek Reflections, Yosemite National Park, California

Tenaya Creek Reflections, Yosemite National Park, California

Tenaya Creek Reflections, Yosemite National Park, California

I even found a composition I liked in black and white.

Tenaya Creek Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

When I reached Mirror Lake itself, the light was becoming harsh as the sun was now penetrating this narrow area.  Still, I found a couple of scenes that I thought were worth setting up the tripod.

Mirror Lake Reflections, Yosemite National Park, California

Mirror Lake, Yosemite National Park, California

At this point, the morning was nearing an end.  I hiked back to my car and then drove out of the now extremely crowded valley.  I decided to pay a visit to Glacier Point, in the Yosemite high country to the south of the valley.  Following the Wawona Road to the Glacier Point cutoff, it takes the better part of an hour to drive all the way to Glacier Point, which overlooks Yosemite Valley and the Sierra-Nevada Mountains to the west.

There was plenty of snow up in the high country but as I approached Glacier Point it declined to a manageable amount and was, in any event, completely cleared from the road.  I hit a traffic jam–I’m not kidding–about a half-mile short of the Point parking area and we crept at a pace that was reminiscent of the Eisenhower Expressway in Chicago at rush hour.  The most maddening part of the entire experience was the realization that there was plenty of parking at the backside of the lot but people, evidently unaware of this, were crawling through the front part of the parking area in search of a spot.  In other words, the traffic jam was completely unnecessary.

I finally got into the lot, parked the car, and made my way to the overlook.  I didn’t even bother bringing my gear–the light was far too harsh.  This was entirely a scouting expedition, and it was a very useful one as I familiarized myself with the lay of the land.  I found a number of interesting vantage points and, after wandering around for about 45 minutes, decided to leave and return in about four hours, as sunset approached.  With that I returned to the valley.  It was not yet mid-afternoon.

At about 4:30 I began my return trip to the high country.  I stopped at Tunnel View in an attempt to photograph a rainbow that the sun had been producing at Bridalveil Falls all week at about this time.  The parking area at Tunnel View was a zoo, but I managed to nab a spot and quickly set up as the rainbow was already in evidence and wouldn’t last long as the angle of the sun declined.

Bridalveil Falls Rainbow, Yosemite National Park, California

Bridalveil Falls Rainbow, Yosemite National Park, California

From here, I drove straight to Glacier Point, arriving a bit after 6 P.M.  The crowds were long gone.  There were still people there, of course, but the volume was no more than 1/4 of what it had been a few hours earlier, and steadily declining.  There was no jam and I zipped straight into the lot.  I made my way to the overlook and waited a bit before beginning to photograph.

Half Dome from Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park, California

Half Dome from Glacier Point Panorama, Yosemite National Park, California

The principal elements of interest in the valley from Glacier Point are Half Dome, of course, and both Vernal and Nevada Falls, the two huge Mist Trail waterfalls that I’d visited the previous day.

Half Dome from Glacier Point Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

The light was decent when I arrived and did nothing but improve from this point on.  After playing around with a few spots along the lengthy north-south overlook, I settled into a location that I’d identified earlier that afternoon and simply waited for the light.  There were no clouds at all unfortunately, but I tried to make the best of some very nice light.

Half Dome at Sunset from Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Valley at Sunset from Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Valley at Sunset from Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park, California

Before–and after–the sun disappeared completely I pulled out the long lens and make a couple of near-portrait shots of Half Dome.

Half Dome at Sunset from Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park, California

Half Dome at Dusk from Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park, California

When earthshadow conditions were in place, I made a couple of final images before calling it a day.

Sierra-Nevada at Dusk from Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Valley at Dusk from Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park, California

And with that, Day 5 came to an end.

I had one more full day budgeted for Yosemite National Park and I was determined to make the most of it, despite a forecast of clear blue skies on Day 6…

What is it about Yosemite National Park that produces such an inclination to render images in black and white?  Is it the legacy of Ansel Adams, the most renowned landscape photographer of all time?  Much of Adams’ most famous work emanated from Yosemite and virtually all of his imagery was revealed in black and white.  When Adams started out, black and white film was the only medium of choice and, though he later dabbled in work with color emulsions, literally all of his memorable images were rendered in monochrome.

Half Dome from Glacier Point Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Silver Apron Black & White, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Is there something about Yosemite that naturally begs for monochromatic treatment or is it simply the weight of Adams’ Yosemite portfolio that causes so many photographers, including me, to “see black and white images” so frequently at this locale?  Is it a combination of both?

Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Stone Bridge Moonset Black & White, Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California

I spent a bit of time a couple of weeks batting these questions around with highly accomplished photographers Danny Burk and E.J. Peiker, both of whom have photographed at Yosemite.  While the “Ansel impact” was universally acknowledged, Danny noted “I think it has much to do with the place being filled with (mostly colorless) stone, plus water/pines. None of these have a lot of color.”

Foresta Falls Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Mirror Lake Reflections Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

It’s true; it’s arguable that one of the things that makes the Yosemite landscape so recognizable is the combination of elements that are relatively devoid of color–the gray of the dominant granite cliffs and edifices that ring Yosemite Valley, the whitewater of falls and rapids, the extremely dark green of the predominant conifers.  (It’s worth noting, I suppose, that this effect is heightened by snow cover in winter and the whites of dogwood blossoms in spring.)  There are exceptions, of course, but it can be reasonably said that the essence of what makes the quintessential Yosemite landscape is the lack of color.

Half Dome from Sentinel Bridge Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Horsetails Falls from El Capitan Meadow Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

I’ve blogged about black and white imagery in broad terms, on more than one occasion, over the years and outlined the kinds of conditions that I think make for good b&w photography.  But at Yosemite, I often found myself thinking “black and white” even when conditions weren’t necessarily of the text book monochrome variety.

Misty El Capitan Meadow Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Conifer Forest Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

On all but one or two instances, I wasn’t consciously aware of the “Ansel Effect,” but I think it would be naive to believe it wasn’t at least a secondary factor in some of my photographic choices while in the park.    Adams’ imagery is so iconic that I have to believe it’s seeped into my subconscious.

Tenaya Creek Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Tenaya Creek Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

After much consideration, I’m still unsure of the relative weights–exactly why was I so attuned to black and white at Yosemite?  How much was it the nature of the predominant elements?  The Ansel Effect?  The conditions?  Surely all of these things made an impact.

Merced River from Valley View Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Tenaya Creek Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

There may even have been a bit of a lingering effect, as I often found myself thinking “monochrome” as I transitioned from Yosemite to the Eastern Sierra.  I have to believe that, while the conditions and/or elements warranted it, I was more attuned to images that would benefit from black and white treatment than I ordinarily might…as a function of the experience at Yosemite immediately preceding.

Half Dome from Cook’s Meadow Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Tenaya Creek Intimate Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Whatever the ultimate explanation, the tendency to pull out the informal black and white “filter” felt organic to me at the time.  I never had the sense that I was outwardly searching for monochrome-friendly scenes.  I try, to the extent possible, to avoid looking for specific types of images when in the field as doing so has the potential to make me miss things I might otherwise see.  But I never had that feeling.  There really is something about Yosemite and a black and white impulse…

As I mentioned in my description of Day 3 at Yosemite, there was valley mist early in the morning.  A perusal of the expected weather conditions at daybreak on Day 4 suggested that there would be fog again, so I planned accordingly.  I had scouted El Capitan Meadow a couple of times earlier in the trip, and photographed there briefly on Day 3, but on this occasion I decided to make it my sunrise destination, in the hopes of catching the light/mist combination that can make mornings so enchanting.  Given that the fog had prevailed at El Capitan Meadow longer on the morning of Day 3 than at any of the locations further east in the valley, I thought it would be a good option.

Misty El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

It turned out to be a good call, because as the light came up I could see that there was indeed copious mist in the meadow.   My previous scouting sessions had shown that, due to some minor flooding of the Merced River, there were areas of the meadow with pools of water that ordinarily would be dry…or, at the very least, not wet enough to produce reflecting pools.  I had donned my rubber boots before wandering into the meadow and they allowed me to wade into some marshy areas that I otherwise would have avoided.

Misty El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

Misty El Capitan Meadow Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

When the sun rose high enough in the eastern sky its beams started to kiss areas of fog and low-hanging clouds to the west, making for some occasionally dramatic backdrops.

Misty El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

One of the nice things about El Capitan Meadow–and most, if not all, of the meadows in Yosemite Valley, for that matter–is that there are compelling views in just about every direction.  Cathedral Rocks lies to the south and the edifice of El Capitan itself is to the north.  A pleasing view down the valley is the payoff to the west.  The view to the east is probably the least interesting, given the presence of a road, often filled with parked cars, representing the cutoff between the one-way passages of Northside and Southside Drives.  But given what I had at my disposal, I often found myself looking to my left or right, or turning around completely to make sure that I wasn’t missing something behind me.

Misty El Capitan Meadow Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Misty El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

The mist was swirling around, changing even now-familiar scenes by the minute.  Every time I thought that the fog was lifting for good, a new curtain would lower, making the misty conditions persist for several hours after sunrise.

Cathedral Rocks from El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

Cathedral Rocks from El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

I used all three of my lenses in the meadow that morning, and was just wrapping up with an ultra-wide perspective (see below) when I noticed a park ranger approaching me.

El Capitan Morning Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

He asked me if I wouldn’t mind clearing out of the meadow as a helicopter was coming in to land at about 9 AM (just a few minutes away by this time) to assist in a rescue training operation they were going to undertake.  So, I gathered my things and returned to my car, then made my way down the road a short distance to stop, for the second time on this trip, at Bridalveil View to photograph Bridalveil Falls, under significantly different conditions than those I had encountered on my first full day in the valley.

Bridalveil Falls from Bridalveil View, Yosemite National Park, California

There was still a significant amount of fog in this part of the valley and I tried to take advantage of it.

Bridalveil Falls from Bridalveil View, Yosemite National Park, California

Bridalveil Falls from Bridalveil View, Yosemite National Park, California

From here, I looped around the Pohono Bridge to head back to the eastern part of the valley and spent most of the rest of the morning there.  It was now hours past sunrise but there was still some lingering fog here and there.  I stopped when I got to Sentinel Meadow, got out and wandered around for the duration of the morning.

Sentinel Rock Moonset, Yosemite National Park, California

Upper Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

Upper Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

I found another unexpected pool of water in Sentinel Meadow, and made use of it to nab reflections of Yosemite Falls and some of the elm trees in the meadow.

Upper Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

Upper Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

I gradually worked my way west in the meadow, until I reached the area around Swinging Bridge, and stopped there to make some images looking both up and down the Merced River.

Merced River from Swinging Bridge, Yosemite National Park, California

Merced River from Swinging Bridge, Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Falls and the Merced River from Swinging Bridge, Yosemite National Park, California

I crossed the river and gradually wound my way toward Cook’s Meadow, stopping near Yosemite Village to make an image of an incredibly full dogwood tree with Yosemite Falls in the background.  The light for this shot was harsher than I would ordinarily like, so I converted the image to black and white for presentation.

Yosemite Falls and Dogwood Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

I reached Cook’s Meadow after exploring a few spots along the Merced River, and when I reached the meadow I focused my attention on more pools of water…

Yosemite Falls Reflections from Sentinel Meadow Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

…before taking aim at Yosemite Falls directly.

Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Meadow Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

It was somewhere around noon when I wrapped at the meadows and I decided that this was the time to take on the Mist Trail.  The Mist Trail is a very popular hike in Yosemite Valley that winds its way past the thundering–at least in the spring–cataracts of Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall.  It runs about seven miles in a loop, past around and above both waterfalls and and back to the trailhead; the route involves approximately 1900 feet of elevation gain (and then, on the way down, loss).  It’s a steep hike.  I drove to the closest area allowing parking and it was completely full, so I ended up having to back track all the way to Stoneman Meadow to ditch the car.  I could have taken the valley shuttle bus to at least get me closer to the trailhead but I didn’t feel like waiting for a bus to show up so I simply walked the mile or so to the trailhead.  Given my parking position, I was looking at a nine-mile round trip hike.

Many–most, in fact–of the people who hike the Mist Trail either stop at the base of Vernal Fall or hike to the top of Vernal and turn around.  I’d estimate that no more than 25% of those who start on the trail continue on to Nevada Fall.  I planned to do the entire hike.

The light was harsh when I set out, but there was no avoiding this.  Given the length of the hike, to obtain good light–think late afternoon–for any part of the scenery, it’s necessary to set out by early afternoon, as I was doing.  It’s also impossible to take the trail past Vernal Fall without getting wet, at least in the spring.  The mist coming from the waterfall, along with the wind created by it, is so strong it’s like walking through a heavy rain shower for the better part of ten minutes as you climb the numerous steps cut into the cliff face.  I knew this, so I brought a hooded, waterproof jacket with me and carried a garbage bag to protect my tripod (same bag I used at Tuolumne Grove in the rain a couple of days earlier).

Before you get to the point where you get soaked, there’s a rocky outcropping that reaches into the waterfall’s outlet stream.  Basically, you’re standing atop a huge boulder, which is quite slick, even when bone dry.  Still, it’s a good spot to get a look at Vernal Fall, so I ventured out there with my tripod and produced the below image.  The breeze was causing the foliage to blow, but–given the bright light–obtaining a shutter speed to freeze the leaves wasn’t difficult.

Vernal Fall, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

I made my way back to the trail and resumed the climb, stopping part way up to don my rain gear.  I saw several spots in this area that would have made for good vantage points for photographing the waterfall but there was far too much spray to be able to keep the lens element dry, so I kept climbing the stairs until I reached a natural platform, about 2/3 of the way up the falls.  This spot remains dry as the breeze blows the mist downstream.  At this point I pulled off my rain gear.  I noticed that, when the sun was out (it was occasionally ducking behind a stray cloud), a rainbow formed at the base of Vernal Fall.

Vernal Fall Rainbow, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

When the sun went behind a cloud, I pulled out the long lens and produced the intimate shot you see below.  It took several tries because I needed a slow shutter speed and the wind was causing the conifer branch to dance.  I finally got a lull and was able to successfully execute the image.

Vernal Fall Intimate Black & Whie, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

The area above Vernal Fall is a rocky spot that many people use to sunbathe.  I focused my attention on the creek (technically the Merced River) above the falls and the top of the waterfall itself.

Merced River Above Vernal Fall, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Vernal Fall Black & White, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Vernal Fall, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Merced River Above Vernal Fall Black & White, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Hiker volume drops off dramatically as one follows the trail above Vernal Fall on the way to Nevada Fall.  The trail initially passes through an area of the river known as the Silver Apron, a long slide that runs over slick rock.  I spent some time here to make a few images of features that I found of interest.

Silver Apron, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Silver Apron Abstract Black & White, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

The trail climbs steeply above the Silver Apron, up to Nevada Fall.  The sound of the 600-plus foot waterfall is evident before it comes into view, but eventually you see it.  I stopped along the trail in a couple of spots to photograph Nevada Fall.

Nevada Fall, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Nevada Fall Black & White, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Nevada Fall, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Eventually the trail, which at times seems to go straight up, crests the Nevada Fall cliff face and, after walking down a short spur, you find yourself almost directly above the waterfall, looking down in the general direction of Vernal Fall.

Nevada Fall, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

I spent some time examining the stream above Nevada Fall.

Above Nevada Fall, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

You have a choice here of returning the way you came or hiking a segment of the John Muir Trail which forms a loop that will eventually take you all the way back down to the point below Vernal Fall, several miles away.  If you take the Muir Trail, as I did, along the route, you have to walk through an area where–in years following heavy snowfall–the melt runs right down a rock face over the trail itself.  It’s like walking through a downpour for about 20 seconds.  I again donned my rain gear, covered the tripod with the garbage back and put my head down until I cleared the several hundred feet of cliff face runoff.

By this time it was late afternoon.  Scarcely past the runoff area I found an overlook that provided wonderful views of Nevada Fall with Liberty Cap astride it.  The light by this time was nice and getting nicer by the minute.

Liberty Cap and Nevada Fall from the John Muir Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Liberty Cap and Nevada Fall from the John Muir Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Liberty Cap and Nevada Fall from the John Muir Trail Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

I again pulled out the telephoto lens and spent some time isolating Nevada Fall from this point.

Nevada Fall Intimate, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Nevada Fall Intimate Black & White, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Further down the trail I found another perspective, one that allowed me to incorporate a foreground.

Liberty Cap and Nevada Fall from the John Muir Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Eventually, the trail reached a point where it was astride the Merced River, not far above the location where a footbridge provides a view of Vernal Fall, only a mile or so from the trailhead.  Before reaching that point, I found a spot along the river that took my breath away and I stopped to create a memory of it.

Merced River, Mist Trail Yosemite National Park, California

Merced River, Mist Trail Yosemite National Park, California

I reached the footbridge–a spot I’d crossed on the way up, nearly seven hours earlier.  When I’d reached this spot early in the afternoon it was teeming with people.  At this point, after 7 PM, I had the place entirely to myself.  On my earlier visit, the light had been harsh, but now it was even, except for the rocky edifice behind Vernal Fall which was lit up with directional sunlight.  The strong contrast required a series of bracketed frames for later assembly.

Vernal Fall and the Merced River from the Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

I eventually made my way all the way back to my car at Stoneman Meadow.  My plan had been to race to Valley View, a location alongside the Merced at the western end of the valley, to shoot sunset but what unfolded in front of me at Stoneman caused a reboot.

Yosemite Falls from Stoneman Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

I started off with a shot of Yosemite Falls, as a set of clouds, lit up by the setting sun, drifted by.  Then, as I walked to the northern end of the meadow and turned around, I saw what was going on to the southeast.  Half Dome, partially obscured by low-hanging clouds, was accepting the last light of the day.  My eyes nearly bugged out of my head and I scrambled to find a suitable vantage point.

Stoneman Meadow at Sunset, Yosemite National Park, California

Stoneman Meadow and Half Dome at Sunset, Yosemite National Park, California

At some point, a “hole” in the clouds allowed direct light to fall on only a small portion of Half Dome’s iconic face.

Stoneman Meadow at Sunset, Yosemite National Park, California

Stoneman Meadow at Sunset, Yosemite National Park, California

After a few minutes, the light faded as the sun dropped below the cliffs at the southwest end of the valley and the show was over.

It had been another day of epic length–roughly 16 hours in the field.  It wouldn’t leave me much rest for the next day, which would prove to be more or less as long.

 

Posted by: kerryl29 | July 11, 2017

Day 3: More From Yosemite

The weather forecast for my second full day at Yosemite National Park called for partly cloudy conditions in the morning with increasing cloudiness around noon with rain likely in the afternoon.  My original plan was to head back to the Cook’s/Sentinel Meadow area for daybreak but for some reason, as I approached the turnoff for the Wawona Road, I decided to give Tunnel View a try instead.

Bridalveil Falls from Tunnel View Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

The classic shot of Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View–one of the most recognized scenes in the world–is made at sunset, but since the view is ostensibly east-facing I was intrigued with the possibility of a colorful sky and morning mist in the valley (given the chilly temperatures and relatively high humidity), creating a somewhat different look to this iconic scene.  It’s only a few minutes from the turnoff to the overlook; it was still dark when I reached the viewpoint and there were only a few other people present.  As the light came up, mist in the valley was indeed revealed; I’d made at least one good call.

Bridalveil Falls from Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park, California

As I waited to see if the sky would light up, I concentrated on long lens views, focusing my attention on Bridalveil Falls and the fog that was weaving its way through the forest in the valley below.

Yosemite Valley in Fog from Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park, California

Eventually, the clouds to the east began to light up very quickly.  I switched cameras and went with a wider, more traditional perspective, including El Capitan on the north side of the valley.

Yosemite Valley at Sunrise from Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park, California

It became clear after a few minutes that the color wasn’t going to expand very far into the sky so I went back to the telephoto lens and zeroed in on Half Dome and the slopes at the east end of the valley.

Half Dome at Sunrise from Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park, California

The color started to fade only minutes after it had arrived and I went back to the wider angle.

Yosemite Valley at Sunrise from Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park, California

Clouds began to take over the eastern sky completely and it became evident that the dawn color had peaked.

Bridalveil Falls from Tunnel View Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

I grabbed a telephoto shot or two more in the even light and then grabbed my things and raced back down to the valley floor in the hopes of capturing some misty scenes before the fog lifted.

Sentinel Rock Moonset, Sentinel Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

Upper Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

The mist was already being depleted when I reached Sentinel Meadow, but I managed to nab a few images before it burned off completely.  The sun was piercing through what was left of the clouds and the fog.

Sentinel Rock Moonset, Yosemite National Park, California

Upper Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

I slowly made my way through Sentinel Meadow to the Merced River, ultimately crossing a bridge, which took me to Cook’s Meadow, on the north bank of the Merced, in the direction of Yosemite Falls.

Upper Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

White-Tail Deer, Sentinel Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

Upper Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

Upper Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

By the time I crossed the river the mist was all but gone and the sun was starting to directly impact the granite walls on the north side of the valley.

Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls from Cook’s Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls from Cook’s Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

Upper Yosemite Falls from Cook’s Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

Upper Yosemite Falls Reflections from Cook’s Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

I retraced my steps back toward the river and made one image on my way back to my starting point.

Upper Yosemite Falls from the Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California

I then drove around to the north side of the valley, crossing Sentinel Bridge, and stopped near Yosemite Falls.

Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

Then I continued west until I reached El Capitan Meadow.  Unlike the previous day, where I’d only scouted, I pulled out my gear and wandered around a bit, surprised to find occasional bits of lingering morning mist.

El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

Tree Cluster, El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

The forecast had called for increasing clouds as the morning wore on and that’s indeed what happened.  By the time I reached the Pohono Bridge at the western end of the valley it was almost totally cloudy.  I stopped at the bridge to work with the dogwoods located along both sides of the river.

Dogwood from Pohono Bridge, Yosemite National Park, California

The wind was much lighter than it had been the previous day so I concentrated on intimates of dogwood branches arching over the river.

Dogwood from Pohono Bridge, Yosemite National Park, California

I also spent some time working with river abstracts.

Merced River from Pohono Bridge, Yosemite National Park, California

Merced River from Pohono Bridge Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

When I was done at this spot it was around noon and completely cloudy.  Coupled with the light winds, the conditions were perfect for a return to the Tuolumne Grove in the high country, where I’d been washed out the day before.  I had discovered phenomenal dogwood blooms in the grove and now I had an ideal opportunity to produce the images I’d had to forego the previous day.  Just prior to the turnoff for the Tuolumne Grove on CA-120 I took note of the scene in the Crane Flats meadow–a nice assortment of freshly budding aspens were in evidence.  I figured I’d take another look at this spot on the way out.

Tuolumne Grove, Yosemite National Park, California

It took better than a half-hour to reach the grove parking lot, which was no more than half full.  With no rain in sight–it was a bright overcast–I made a hasty hike down to the sequoias.  The interspersed dogwoods were, if anything, even more magnificent than they’d been the afternoon before and since I’d scouted the grove in the rain I knew just where I wanted to go.

Sequoias and Dogwoods, Tuolumne Grove, Yosemite National Park, California

Sequoias and Dogwoods, Tuolumne Grove, Yosemite National Park, California

On some of the wider images I had to wait for people to move out of the way, but there weren’t that many visitors and very few of them spent much time lingering in the places I was photographing so there wasn’t much of an impediment to deal with.

Sequoias and Dogwoods, Tuolumne Grove, Yosemite National Park, California

Dogwoods Blossoms, Tuolumne Grove, Yosemite National Park, California

Dogwoods Blossoms Closeup, Tuolumne Grove, Yosemite National Park, California

While my attention was principally on the dogwoods, they weren’t the only subjects of my images.

Sequoias Black & White, Tuolumne Grove, Yosemite National Park, California

Forest Floor Closeup, Tuolumne Grove, Yosemite National Park, California

But inevitably, I returned to the dogwoods.

Dogwoods, Tuolumne Grove, Yosemite National Park, California

Sequoias and Dogwoods, Tuolumne Grove, Yosemite National Park, California

After several hours with the dogwoods and sequoias, I returned to the trailhead and made the very short drive to reexamine Crane Flats.  When I got there , there was a jam…I figured wildlife, and I was right.  A momma bear and two cubs were far off in the meadow.  I saw them, and pulled my gear out, but they were too far away to be anything but specks.  A park ranger, wisely, was hanging around to make sure that none of the 20-odd visitors present did anything stupid, like walk into the meadow to approach the bears.  After about five minutes, the bears wandered into the trees at the far end of the meadow and the other attendees all gradually left.  I then scoped out the shot that had attracted my attention in the first place–the aspens.  The composition I liked was attainable from the edge of the road.

Aspens, Crane Flats, Yosemite National Park, California

It started to drizzle, briefly, while I was at Crane Flats, but it never amounted to much and by the time I was descending back toward Yosemite Valley on Big Oak Flat Road it had ceased completely.  On the way down, I stopped at a pullout that I’d scouted the day before, which provided fairly easy access to both Cascade and Tamarack Creeks, both of which were torrents of snow melt runoff.

Cascade Creek, Yosemite National Park, California

Cascade Creek, Yosemite National Park, California

I crossed the road several times and was able to check out a number of different perspectives from the bridges that span the creeks.  A number of other people were examining the creeks from the bridges as well and taking pictures of themselves and/or others in front of the creek waterfalls…often by standing in the middle of this winding, blind-curve-filled relatively high-speed road which made me repeatedly shake my head as cars routinely screeched to a stop.  Fortunately, there were no accidents.

Cascade Creek, Yosemite National Park, California

Tamarack Creek, Yosemite National Park, California

I found ways to safely descend to near-creek level for both Cascade and Tamarack, but I didn’t find any (safe) photo points that I liked as much as the ones from up on the bridges, so I didn’t make any additional images.

It was late afternoon when I reached the valley floor and I decided to check out the area around Bridalveil Falls.  I had taken a quick look the day before; the parking area astride the short trail to the base of the falls remained partially flooded, and after pulling into a spot in a dry section of the pavement I found a photo location that I liked, at the far end of the lot.  I moved around a bit before settling on a specific long lens composition.

Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

I wandered into the forest surrounding the Bridalveil parking area and found another couple of images, far off the beaten track, that I decided to capture.

Dogwood, Yosemite National Park, California

Conifer Forest, Yosemite National Park, California

I went back to the foot of Bridalveil Falls and found the conditions similar to the previous day:  the amount of wind being produced by the waterfall itself was driving mist all over the viewing area, soaking absolutely everything and everyone.  Attempting to photograph from this spot would have been an exercise is frustration.  So, I went downstream to check on the creek that serves as an outlet for Bridalveil; it ultimately drains into the Merced River.  After poking around a bit, I found a couple of compositions that I found interesting, including the one you see below.

Bridalveil Outlet Stream, Yosemite National Park, California

It was early evening by the time I wrapped at Bridalveil; it was still cloudy and that plainly wasn’t going to change.  I decided to spend the remaining daylight photographing along a section of the Merced River west of the park, in the Sierra National Forest; I’d driven through this area on the way in on the first day.  So I meandered around a section of the river roughly 10 miles west of the park boundary, in an area known broadly as the Merced River Canyon.

Merced River Black & White, Sierra National Forest, California

Merced River, Sierra National Forest, California

Even this far downstream, the Merced River was simply flying, a function of all the water resulting from the slow melting of the snow pack in the High Sierra.  I dabbled around five or six different spots along a five-odd-mile section of the river, along CA-140.

Merced River, Sierra National Forest, California

Merced River, Sierra National Forest, California

As the light faded, I found one final location, east of the previous spots, and settled in for the last couple of shots of the day.

Merced River, Sierra National Forest, California

Merced River, Sierra National Forest, California

And that brought the end to a long–approximately 15 hours all told–day of photography.  This was to become a regular timetable for me on this trip, including the next full day at Yosemite.

Posted by: kerryl29 | July 5, 2017

Yosemite National Park, Days 1 & 2

It took me roughly 14 hours to get to Yosemite National Park from my base in Chicago.  That included a flight of approximately four hours and a drive of about the same duration from San Francisco International Airport to Yoesmite’s western gate.  Add, in no particular order, the usual airport nonsense on both ends, the drive to O’Hare and a stop for provisions on the drive to the park and you have…a long day.

Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California

I had a bit more than an hour of daylight remaining once I finally reached the park.  As I mentioned in the intoductory post to this series, I’d been to Yosemite once before–16 years earlier.  I didn’t remember all that many details from the previous visit–when the conditions in the park were far different (hotter and drier–my previous visit was in early September) than I’d experience this time around, so I hoped that I’d have a few hours for exploration on this first evening–to establish a sunrise location for the following day, at the very least.

Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California

That wasn’t going to happen.  Not surprisingly, in retrospect, I was pretty much immediately entranced by early views of the Merced River and stopped at a roadside pullout where I spent about 45 minutes producing a few images that would prove to be pretty pedestrian.  I made it another mile or so, caught the sight of some dogwoods across the river and stopped again, in what was now fading light.  I still hadn’t set foot in the valley proper, and I really shouldn’t have stopped, but I couldn’t help myself.  I hadn’t expected to see blooming dogwoods in the valley–I’d been led to believe that I’d be too late for the dogwood bloom in all but the highest elevations of the park–so I was pleasantly surprised to have been misinformed.

Merced River and Dogwoods, Yosemite National Park, California

The sun was almost down by now and the granite peaks and towers high above me were catching the last rays of the day.

Merced River at Sunset, Yosemite National Park, California

By the time I finally reached the Pohono Bridge, at the far western end of the valley, the sun was down.  I rounded a bend on Southside Drive, just beyond the bridge, and saw a brilliant sky in the rearview mirror.  I pulled off the road, grabbed my gear and raced to a nearby, unnamed meadow.  I quickly sought out a composition–something I hate to do when the light is changing–and managed one image before the sky faded to gray.

Yosemite Valley at Sunset, Yosemite National Park, California

While the photography was over, I spent another 20-odd minutes finding my way to Bridalveil Falls and Tunnel View before heading out.  I hoped that this would save me some time the next day but it was evident that a good chunk of my first full day in the valley would be spent getting my bearings in the valley proper.

Sunrise during my time in Yosemite was around 5:40 AM, which meant a lot of days getting up at 4 to be out the door by 4:30 so I could be on site by 5 or thereabouts.  That pattern began on Day 2 (May 15), though there would be no sunrise this day.  The forecast was for cloudy conditions with a strong likelihood of showers moving in by late morning.  I found my way to the deserted Sentinel Bridge parking area by a bit after 5 AM and started wandering around.  I spent the next few hours amid Cook’s and Sentinel Meadows, in the eastern part of the valley.

Yosemite Falls Reflections from Cook’s Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

While Yosemite National Park is notorious for crowded conditions (more on that in a later thematic post) I discovered that for several hours after daybreak there were few people around, regardless of where I went.  This was helpful for exploring–and for image making, as I didn’t have to worry about people straying into my field of view.

Half Dome from Sentinel Bridge Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

It didn’t take me long, given the wide views of the meadows, to orient myself with regard to some of the iconic Yosemite features:  Half Dome, Sentinel Dome, Yosemite Falls, Cathedral Rocks, El Capitan, etc.  I spent the remainder of the non-crowded part of the morning doing a combination of scouting and photographing.  The light was even, which was good for some things; for those objects that did better with something other than a cloudy sky, I made some mental notes about what conditions would lend themselves to a return visit later in the week.

Yosemite Falls from Cook’s Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

The valley was very, very wet.  After a record winter snowfall, the melting snow pack was now filling the waterfalls to bursting.  And the Merced River had overflowed its banks in places, creating standing water in spots that are normally dry.  The marshy areas of the meadows invariably contained pools of water.  All of this made for an emphasis on reflections.

Sentinel Meadow Reflections, Yosemite National Park, California

And waterfalls.

Yosemite Falls from Cook’s Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

From Cook’s Meadow, north of the Merced River, I wandered over to Yosemite Falls and walked the short trail to the foot of the cataract.  I thought I’d see what sorts of compositions I could make from this spot, but the spray was overpowering.  Even though there was virtually no ambient wind, the breeze being generated by the waterfall itself was whipping the nearby trees back and forth and generating enough mist to make any attempt to photograph from this spot an exercise in frustration and misery.  I retreated back down the trail and found numerous spots from which to photograph Yosemite Falls.

Lower Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

One of the noteworthy things about Yosemite Valley is that the waterfalls are so large and the views are so commanding that there are numerous ways to incorporate the major falls into scenes.

Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

Upper Yosemite Falls Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

After several hours working around Cook’s and Sentinel Meadows, I moved west, took a look at El Capitan Meadow (without photographing, though I scouted extensively) and then moved on to inspect the area near Bridalveil View, at the western end of the valley.  I found blooming dogwoods at the edge of the Merced River and decided that the conditions warranted breaking out the camera again.

Bridalveil Falls from Bridalveil View, Yosemite National Park, California

It was difficult to get into position to produce the above image–which itself necessitated focus stacking to keep the foreground and background sharp.  I had to wedge my way behind a large rock while the tripod–low to the ground–was delicately balanced on a steep slope that dropped to the river’s edge.  It took some doing; the hardest part was establishing the exact composition because it was very difficult to see the image on either the LCD screen in Live View or through the camera’s optical viewfinder, given the position of the rig.  But I persevered.  I also found several other compositions I liked, none of which required contortions on my part.

Bridalveil Falls from Bridalveil View, Yosemite National Park, California

Bridalveil Falls from Bridalveil View, Yosemite National Park, California

Bridalveil Falls from Bridalveil View, Yosemite National Park, California

I wrapped my way around the drive to the area near the Pohono Bridge, where I admired some beautiful flowering dogwoods.  But this spot, by this time in the morning, was windy, so I while I put forth some effort scouting, I did no shooting.  Instead, I wandered on foot to the nearby Fern Springs, where numerous intimate images are possible.

Fern Springs, Yosemite National Park, California

Fern Springs, Yosemite National Park, California

I had to wait out a brief shower while at Fern Springs (a portent of things to come).  When I wandered back to my car, which I had parked in a pullout near Pohono Bridge, I walked across the bridge and found a shot that I thought I could make without much influence from the wind.  So picked my way down to the edge of the Merced River, just above the bridge, and set up.

Dogwoods, Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California

After making mental notes of several shots to attempt on return visits (there would be several to the Pohono area), I followed the drive to the Bridalveil parking area and more or less repeated the experience at Yosemite Falls.  I followed the paved trail–after picking my way through a partially flooded parking lot–up to the foot of Bridalveil Falls and, predictably, observed the massive breeze created by the powerful waterfall as it blew mist all over everything.  I retreated, again, without ever making an attempt to photograph.

It was late morning by now and I worked my way back to the west, out of the valley, to the parking area near Cascade Falls.  The crowds were coming in earnest now, and the less time I spent in the valley proper, the better, I figured.  The Cascade Falls lot was about 2/3 full, but people typically stop here only briefly before moving on.  I had no trouble photographing both the falls and the creek below, though I did have to wait out a couple of misleading peeks of sunshine.

Cascade Creek, Yosemite National Park, California

Cascade Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

The area containing Cascade Falls is a narrower canyon, of sorts, than the broader Yosemite Valley to the east.  Perhaps that’s why fewer people congregate here, even though Cascade Falls is ostensibly as impressive as the waterfalls in the valley.

Cascade Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

Cascade Creek, Yosemite National Park, California

Cascade Creek, Yosemite National Park, California

It was early afternoon by now and the rain still hadn’t fallen in earnest.  In fact, it was about as bright as it had been all day, though still overcast.  I decided, as long as it was cloudy, to head up into the high country, via Big Oak Flat Road, which leads up to the Tioga Road.  Tioga Pass was closed, due to all the snow (up to 14 feet in places, according to contemporaneous reports) but the road was open as far as the Tuolumne Grove of sequoias.  Another sequoia grove–the Mariposa Grove, located in the high country to the south–was closed (due to extensive trail work, the area closed in 2016 and isn’t due to reopen until fall of 2017), but the Tuolumne Grove, though less impressive from a sequoia standpoint, reportedly had a large number of dogwoods and, if they were in bloom, the even light of this cloudy day would be perfect, I reasoned.

On the way, I decided to make a side trip to Foresta Falls, located in a relatively newly obtained and very lightly visited parcel of the park.  Foresta, located on Crane Creek, is accessed by following a lonely road into the middle of nowhere, basically, which dead ends at a trailhead–an old decommissioned county road–that leads about 1.5 miles to the falls.  When I got to the trailhead I found the tiny parking area deserted.  I gathered my things and made the relatively easy hike to the falls.  I was there in about 15 minutes.  While much, much smaller than the main falls in the valley (and Cascade Falls, for that matter), the water flow was still prodigious and the spray significant.  I walked across an old bridge that crosses Crane Creek just below the falls; it was impossible to photograph Foresta from here as the spray was too great.  I went to the far side of the bridge and found a very photogenic tree skeleton to use for secondary interest and went about fine tuning my composition.

Foresta Falls Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

I then went further down the trail on the far side of the bridge and broke out the telephoto lens.

Foresta Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

On the walk back to the parking area, I saw a scene down in the creek that looked interesting.  Getting to creekside for a closer look took some doing as I had to scramble down the steep hillside and then climb down a rocky ledge to the edge of Crane Creek.  But I was glad I did when I saw the scene before me.  I set up my tripod very low and produced the below image.

Crane Creek, Yosemite National Park, California

I was thinking about other scenes I might investigate along the creek bed when it started to rain.  Great.  I knew that I had to get back up that steep bank–I’d descended about 75 feet from the ridge that contained the trail–before it got extremely wet or I might not make it out of the gorge.  So I worked quickly, but carefully, and got out without incident.  But it continued to rain, lightly, for the rest of the uphill slog back to the car–a distance of about a mile.

It took me about 30 additional minutes to get up to the Tuolumne Grove–a couple thousand feet in elevation above Yosemite Valley.  The car thermometer was reading 39 degrees when I pulled into the parking area (it had been about 60 down in the valley).  Shortly after I arrived, it seemed to stop raining.  Against my better judgment, I decided to make the four-mile round trip hike (with several hundred feet of elevation change) down into the grove.  Sure enough, when I got about 3/4 of a mile down the trail, it started to sprinkle and it never really stopped, thought it slackened several times.  I used the opportunity mostly to scout.  The dogwoods were magnificent.

Sequoias and Dogwwods, Tuolumne Grove, Yosemite National Park, California

I pulled the camera out a couple of times, when the rain was especially light, and produced two usable images.

Dogwood Intimate, Tuolumne Grove, Yosemite National Park, California

Finally, I had to put the camera away for good as the rain got harder.  While cursing the rain–which, coupled with the cold, made for a pretty miserable experience on the hike back uphill to the parking area even though I’d come prepared with a garbage bag to cover my tripod–I had seen enough to know I had to come back at some point to capture more of what I’d seen in the grove.

It was about 6 PM by the time I got back to the car–a bit more than two hours before the theoretical sunset.  But the rain never stopped the rest of that day so I packed it in at this point.  The forecast for the next day was very similar to this one–cloudy with rain likely beginning late morning.  I was fine with the cloudy part (that would give me more chances to shoot at the Pohono Bridge area and to revisit the Tuolumne Grove.  The likelihood of even light was important, because the forecast for the rest of my time at Yosemite was for a series of bright, sunny days, but I was hoping to escape the rain…

Posted by: kerryl29 | June 26, 2017

California Dreaming

About 15 years ago I was an active participant on a nature photography forum.  One of the other regulars was a California-based photographer who claimed he never left the state to photograph; he said there was no need to go anywhere else, that everything he could ever want as inspiration was available somewhere within the confines of the Golden State.  That made some semblance of sense to me at the time.  After all, I knew that California possessed hundreds of miles of rocky coastline; towering snow-capped mountains; innumerable square miles of desert; countless scenic lakes, rivers and creeks; seemingly endless stands of forest.  But there’s something about seeing–about experiencing–that variety oneself that engenders another level of understanding.  That’s what I hoped to do when I planned my first extended photo trip to California.

Merced River at Sunset, Yosemite National Park, California

Upper Yosemite Falls from Cook’s Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

My original intention was to go to California–Yosemite National Park, the Eastern Sierra and the coastal redwoods area in extreme northern California–in the spring of last year.  But, for a number of reasons, that didn’t work out.  I had to cancel those plans about 2 1/2 months before the trip–which was to take place in the second half of May–was to begin.  I revived the idea–with the hope of making the journey this year–some time during the fall of 2016 and then more or less firmly committed in the early part of the winter to make it happen in the spring of 2017.

Mono Lake at Sunset, Mono County, California

Pine Trunks, Yosemite National Park, California

As those of you who have been following this blog closely know, I did some shooting in the redwoods country of far-northern coastal California a couple of years ago, as an add-on to a trip to the southern Oregon Coast.  On that trip, I was so close to the coastal redwood groves (less than two hours) that I thought it would be foolish not to experience the towering forests, so I augmented my plans to spend a few days in the area.  I had hoped to catch the rhododendron bloom on that trip, but was too early.  I also experienced almost literally none of the daily fog that I had been told would be ubiquitous among the redwood trunks.

Upper Yosemite Falls Reflections, Cook’s Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

Grant Lake Overlook at Sunset, Inyo National Forest, California

I wanted to make this trip in the second half of May for two principal reasons:

  1. I wanted to spend time in Yosemite Valley when the waterfalls were certain to be running
  2. I wanted to give myself a real chance of catching the rhododendron bloom in the redwood groves of the northern coastal region

Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

I did want to visit the Eastern Sierra region as well–a place I’d never been to previously (I’d been to Yosemite once previously–more than 15 years ago and during one of the worst times to visit the Valley (early September); and, of course, I’d been to the redwoods region in 2015).  I strongly suspected that spring wasn’t the best time for the Eastern Sierra but, much like my 2015 redwoods experience, I figured given how close I’d be, it would be foolish not to include thisvisit, even for just a few days, as part of the itinerary.  (This turned out to be more complicated than I initially anticipated when I first started planning this trip more than two years ago, but I’ll leave that story for another post.)

Dogwoods and Sequoias, Tuolumne Grove, Yosemite National Park, California

Merced River, Sierra National Forest, California

Now, if you know something about the geography of the region, you’re probably thinking something along the lines of:  are you out of your tiny little mind?  The coastal redwoods of northern California, most significantly, are hundreds and hundreds of miles from Yosemite (not to mention the Eastern Sierra).  It’s true; I bit off quite a bit when I planned this itinerary.  I knew that there would be some long drives from place to place and I could have mitigated this tremendously if I’d omitted the redwoods.

Last Light on Half Dome from Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park, California

Cascades Creek Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

But…if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you know that if a place captivates me, even though I don’t see it the first time under the best of conditions, I have a…I’ll be judicious and call it a “tendency” to want to go back.   (Some might describe it as an “obsession,” but that’s neither here nor there.)  In fact, not seeing a place under good conditions makes me more likely to want to return than would otherwise be the case.  This has happened with regard to the Canaan Valley of West Virginia; it was true of Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park in the Canadian Rockies; why on earth wouldn’t it be true of the redwoods?

Elk, Priaire Creek Redwoods State Park, California

Sentinel Meadow Moonset, Yosemite National Park, California

The plan was to fly out to California (for a variety of uninteresting reasons, this ended up meaning San Francisco, despite the overall lack of convenience of SFO), spend 5-6 days at Yosemite, then drive to the town of Lee Vining, in the Eastern Sierra, and from there to Crescent City in Del Norte County and finally back to the Bay Area to fly home.  As I mentioned earlier, that’s a lot of driving from place to place.  I’d planned to spend a minimum of three nights in each shooting location so, I told myself, the place-to-place driving wouldn’t be too onerous.  Right.

El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

Deer, Sentinel Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

The truth is, I knew that the long drives would be grueling.  But, once I’d gotten it in my head where I would go on this trip I simply wasn’t willing to give up on any of the locations.  I was committed to them.  Or ought to be committed somewhere.  Or something.

Merced River, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Foresta Falls Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

So, I returned to the redwoods in the hopes of catching the rhododendrons…and fog.  (Spoiler alert:  I ultimately got both.)

Rhododendrons and Redwoods in Fog, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Bridalveil Falls from Bridalveil View, Yosemite National Park, California

So, in the coming weeks I’ll chronicle the trip, with the occasional interruption for some thematic thoughts about the experience.  I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Snag in Snow Black & White, Red Lake Vista, Inyo National Forest, California

Dogwood Branch, Tenaya Creek, Yosemite National Park, California

After wrapping up at Matthiessen State Park, I made the short drive on IL-71 to the Owl Canyon parking area, the jumping off point for the hike to LaSalle Canyon in Starved Rock State Park.  The trail follows a staircase, with a lot of steps, from bluff level to river level, then takes an oftentimes muddy trail west along the Illinois River to the mouth of LaSalle Canyon.  From there it’s roughly a half mile to the head of the canyon where the LaSalle’s waterfall lies.

Waterfalls were my main focus while in Starved Rock on this day as the there had been several days of heavy rain in advance of my visit.  When there’s a lot of rain in north-central Illinois, the ephemeral waterfalls that flow through most of Starved Rock’s numerous sandstone canyons are at their most impressive.  As I followed the trail that traverses the east side of LaSalle Canyon, I reached a point where I could hear the waterfall before I could see it.  When I finally saw the fall, I was pleased as it represented as nice a flow as I’ve seen in my many visits to LaSalle Canyon.

My first view was also my first image after arriving in Starved Rock.

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

As you can see, the waterfall ultimately empties into the canyon’s reflecting pool.  That pool is drained by an outlet stream that ultimately empties directly into the Illinois River.  I decided to use the pool as the focal point for shooting down the canyon.

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

LaSalle Canyon Black & White, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

I spent most of the rest of the time I was in the canyon centering my attention on the waterfall itself.

LaSalle Canyon Black & White, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

It’s possible, with relatively little difficulty, to walk behind the waterfall, which I did, and photograph it from that perspective.  You simply have to dodge the many water droplets that drip that fall, seemingly randomly, from the overhang.

Behind the Falls, LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Behind the Falls Black & White, LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

There are also numerous spots from which to obtain cross-sectional views from both sides of the cataract itself (though I limited myself to the south side of the fall on this occasion).

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

LaSalle Canyon Black & White, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

From here, I continued on the trail to Tonti Canyon, which is actually a side canyon of LaSalle, located on the west side of the gorge, not far from the mouth.  The Tonti Canyon waterfall is a much longer drop than LaSalle’s, but nowhere near as wide.

Tonti Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

For my money, Starved Rock is at its finest with fresh spring growth or in the fall, when the leaves turn.  And, in both cases, after a good hard rain.

Tonti Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Tonti Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

After a particularly hard rain, a second ephemeral waterfall appears in Tonti Canyon.  It was in evidence on my visit, and you can probably see it, even in these small renditions of the images I captured that day, represented by the mid-ground splash pool visible in the shots below.

Tonti Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Tonti Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

On the hike back to the Owl Canyon parking area, while still astride the Illinois River, I saw something out in the water that caused me to stop and pull out the telephoto lens.  It appeared that a sizable number of white pelicans were gathered out on the river and that was in fact the case.

White Pelicans, Illinois River, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

White Pelicans, Illinois River, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

After returning to my car I drove several miles east, to the parking area for Kaskaskia and Ottawa Canyons.  I often visit nearby Illinois Canyon–the easternmost canyon in the park–but it was a mud pit on this day so I eschewed it for time spent in Kaskaskia and Ottawa.  I checked out Ottawa first.

After examining several more conventional viewpoints I finally found a usable foreground, though it necessitated putting myself in an awkward position on the slope adjacent to one of the canyon’s walls.

Ottawa Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

On the way out I took one more shot, looking straight up the canyon toward the waterfall at its head.

Ottawa Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

I then made the short hike to Kaskaskia Canyon.  The waterfall here has always intrigued me, given the interesting set of logs that have resided for years right at the falls’ choke point, but I’d never taken a wider shot of Kaskaskia that included the waterfall…until this visit, when I used an aged, downed log lying on canyon detritus as foreground interest.

Kaskaskia Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

I then went with a more “normal” focal length, using the lush ferns growing on the left-hand wall of the canyon as part of a leading line.

Kaskaskia Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

It was late afternoon by the time I finished at Kaskaskia and I decided to call it a day as it would take roughly two hours to drive home.  No matter how often I return to Starved Rock, I almost always come away with a few images I’m pleased with–which is part of the reason why I keep coming back year after year.

To see more of my imagery from Matthiessen State Park, check out this gallery on my website.

To see more from Starved Rock, check out these galleries:  Illinois Canyon; LaSalle Canyon; other Starved Rock canyons

Next:  An introduction to my May trip to California:  Yosemite National Park, the Eastern Sierra and Redwood country on the northern coast

This year, there was a stretch of days at the very end of April/beginning of May in northern Illinois that involved rain.  Lots and lots of rain on something like four or five days in a row.  When a large quantity of rain falls in northern Illinois I think about heading out to Starved Rock State Park, which lies in Ottawa County, about 100 miles southwest of my Chicago area base.  With terrain utterly unique for the immediate region, the park consists of a series of sandstone canyons that lie just south of the Illinois River.  When there’s enough rain, ephemeral waterfalls flow near the heads of most of the park’s canyons, which explains why the park pops into my mind after a downpour or two.

Just a mile or two to the south of Starved Rock lies the less-well-known Matthiessen State Park.  Despite the proximity, Matthiessen has its own water source–a creek that drains Matthiessen Lake and flows into the nearby Vermillion River.  As best I’ve been able to tell, there’s no water source connection between the two parks.

Giant’s Bathtub Waterfall, Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

I’ve photographed at both parks numerous times over the years with my most recent previous visit coming in the spring of 2016.  This time, on my last full day in the Chicago area for several weeks, I was blessed with a mostly cloudy, low wind day.  That, plus all the recent rain, made for some excellent conditions for photographing waterfalls.

I decided to visit the Upper Dells section of Matthiessen first on this day.  There was as much water flowing through the canyon as I’ve ever seen, making it impossible to navigate the area without getting wet…unless the appropriate footwear was available.  Fortunately for me I had my knee-high rubber boots with me and dutifully donned them before descending to creek level.

Giant’s Bathtub Waterfall Black & White, Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

When the water’s running at Matthiessen, the most interesting part of the Upper Dells, to my eye anyway, is the area from the base of Lake Falls, at the top of the canyon, to below the spot known as the “Giant’s Bathtub,” about midway down the dells.  With care, on this particular visit, I was able to keep the water from ever being much over mid-calf as I wandered around this section of the canyon.

Giant’s Bathtub, Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

There were spots along the way that were dry, allowing me to set my backpack down and better work my compositions.  Most of the images you see were made with my tripod set up very low–at knee level or below.  It was much easier to carry out these photos without being weighed down by my pack.

Giant’s Bathtub Waterfall, Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

I worked my way downstream, then back up, and played around with a few intimate images.

Upper Dells Black & White, Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

After climbing back out of the canyon I made one final image–something I’ve been looking at for years:  a bird’s eye view of the canyon from the bridge that spans Lake Falls.

Above Lake Falls, Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

Having spent a bit of time on the appetizer, it was now on to the main course–various canyons at Starved Rock State Park.  I’ll cover that experience in my next entry.

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