Posted by: kerryl29 | September 18, 2017

California Day 10: Redwood Journey

Most of Day 10 was to be spent traveling–from Lee Vining, back over the Sierras, through the Central Valley and up the Redwood Highway to the tiny town of Miranda, along the aptly named Avenue of the Giants.  But before leaving the Eastern Sierra I decided to photograph Convict Lake–about 45 minutes north of Lee Vining–at sunrise.  I scouted Convict Lake on Day 9, in harsh mid-day light; it looked like it would make a nice sunrise location, particularly if there were some clouds in the western sky and no wind.  Unfortunately, neither of those conditions were met on this morning; the sky (regardless of the direction) was entirely clear and there was enough of a wind to disturb the surface of this good-sized lake.

The lake, in case you’re interested, is named after an incident that took place more than 145 years ago involving a shootout involving represents of the law and several escaped convicts who had holed up near the lake.  Regardless of the name, the backdrop here–Mt. Morrison and Laurel Mountain, fronted by an aspen forest–is spectacular, so even though the conditions were less than ideal, I set up in the darkness and waited for the light of dawn.

Convict Lake at Dawn, Inyo National Forest, California

When the sun rose and caught the tops of the mountain peaks, I clicked the shutter again.

Convict Lake at Sunrise, Inyo National Forest, California

I pulled out the telephoto lens at some point to make a peak portrait or two.

Mt. Morrison at Sunrise from Convict Lake, Inyo National Forest, California

As the sun continued to light more of the slopes I moved to an area that allowed me to include a larger segment of the shallow water that’s sheltered by a series of rocks that form a kind of natural marina at the east end of the lake.  That water was much less disturbed, allowing for more interesting reflections.

Convict Lake at Sunrise, Inyo National Forest, California

Before long the best light was gone and I gathered my things and headed out.  I had a very long drive ahead of me–more than 500 miles, with only about 10% of that on interstate highway–so I anticipated more than 10 hours of driving.  Because of the length of the trip I stopped very few times, despite passing through numerous interesting locations.

I stopped briefly as I was headed south on US-395, along the West Walker River.

West Walker River Black & White, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, California

And I made one other short stop, hours later, at a spot in rural Colusa County in the Central Valley.  It was extremely hot–nearly 100 degrees (F), but I was intrigued by the scene, so I pulled off on the shoulder of the two-lane state highway and made a few images.

Open Range, Colusa County, California

Open Range Black & White, Colusa County, California

I arrived in Miranda at about 5:30 PM, checked into my lodgings and immediately made the 15-odd-minute drive north to a spot that provided access to two of the most interesting groves in Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

I had spent time in the coastal redwood forests–several hours farther north–two years earlier.  But I never ventured this far south on that trip.

The Avenue of the Giants is a winding two-lane road that bends right through Humboldt County’s redwood groves.  In my limited amount of time in the area (I was only staying the one night) I turned my attention to the Founders Grove and the Rockefeller Grove, which are located no more than a mile away from one another.  It was a sunny early evening, but it was still very dark in the grove–given how low the sun was in the sky at this point and the breadth of the forest canopy.  It was also breezy, which was unfortunate.  I took a quick tour through the grove; it was beautiful, but given the slow shutter speeds I would be forced to use, I knew that I’d never be able to freeze any of the various objects swaying in the wind.  I decided to come back the following morning with the hope that conditions would be better.  And then I headed to the Rockefeller Grove.

For one reason or another, there was much less wind at this location, so I pulled out my photo gear–and my insect repellent, as the place was lousy with mosquitoes–and began a slow stroll along the grove’s loop trail.  There was still some sunshine bleeding through the canopy and creating some annoying hot spots, so I focused my attention in directions with minimal influence of sunlight until such time as the sun dropped entirely out of sight.

Rockefeller Loop Trail, Rockefeller Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Rockefeller Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

One thing that became apparent during my wanderings this evening–in both groves–was that the Humboldt redwood groves are thicker, with a greater concentration of redwood trees, than I had seen in the coastal groves to the north.  Perhaps because of this concentration, the canopy of these groves was thicker and more encompassing and thus there was less light on the forest floor.  This area also isn’t as moist as the coastal region.  As a result of both of these factors, the vegetation isn’t quite as thick at Humboldt.  And there’s no rhododendron to speak of.  On the other hand, the geometry of the trunks was arguably more pleasing.

Rockefeller Loop Trail, Rockefeller Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Redwood Trunk Intimate Black & White, Rockefeller Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Rockefeller Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

While it was nice to have the forest hot spots slowly disappear as the sun dropped, it also became extremely dark, causing my shutter speeds to grow longer and longer.  There wasn’t much breeze but there was some, so I spent a lot of time waiting for lulls in an occasionally frustrating attempt to keep everything sharp.

Rockefeller Loop Trail, Rockefeller Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Somewhere around the middle of the loop I found the thickest area of ferns that I had spotted in the grove to that point.

Rockefeller Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

This area really stood out because most of the forest floor in the grove looked a lot like that in the images immediately below.

Rockefeller Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Rockefeller Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Eventually I found a nice “circle” of trunks and utilized the spot to make a looking-up photograph.

Rockefeller Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Before it became completely dark I produced a final series of images on the backside of the loop which really captured the feel of this grove for me.

Rockefeller Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Rockefeller Loop Trail, Rockefeller Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Rockefeller Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

By the time I was done with this series, it was almost impossible to see in the grove.  I found my way out to the parking area in the dark and drove back to my lodging.  I was looking forward to returning to the beauty of the Founders Grove–and possibly the Rockefeller Grove–first thing the following morning.

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Posted by: kerryl29 | September 12, 2017

California Day 9: The Eastern Sierra, Continued

I started Day 9 the same way I began Day 8:  at Mono Lake for sunrise.  This time there were some clouds in the eastern sky, and they lit up very nicely

Mono Lake at Sunrise, Mono County, California

Mono Lake at Sunrise, Mono County, California

Mono Lake at Sunrise, Mono County, California

Again, when things started deteriorate to the east, I walked down the southwest shoreline and faced the pastel peaks of the Sierra-Nevada.

Mono Lake at Dawn, Mono County, California

Mono Lake at Dawn, Mono County, California

Mono Lake at Dawn, Mono County, California

Mono Lake at Dawn, Mono County, California

When the sun came up I began the drive south on US-395 to the June Lake Loop, where I photographed both June Lake and Silver Lake in the still nice light of early morning.  I had both spots to myself.

June Lake, June Lake Loop, Inyo National Forest, Calfiornia

Silver Lake, June Lake Loop, Inyo National Forest, Calfiornia

From here I continued south on 395 toward Mammoth Lakes.  On the way, I stopped several times, when I spotted scenes that caught my attention.

Mono County Morning, California

Mono County Morning Black & White, California

I was particularly taken with an abandoned homestead on the west side of the highway, something I had first noticed the previous morning.  I finally got some light–and sky conditions–that I thought complemented the scene.  The site was surrounded by fencing, which I could have easily cleared.  Still, it was posted and even though the property was obviously abandoned, I don’t ignore posted warnings–I stay off any posted private property (or, for that matter, any private property that’s obviously private, even if it isn’t posted).  So, I remained behind the fence and snapped the image you see immediately below.

Abandoned Homestead, Mono County, California

Mono County Afternoon Black & White, Calfiornia

I arrived at Mammoth Lakes and followed the scenic loop up to the base of Twin Lakes–the first set in a series of lakes.  Unfortunately, the road above Twin Lakes was still covered by snow so I had to settle for some mid-morning shooting around the lake and then down the hiking/biking path that parallels the road back in the direction of town.

Twin Lakes Black & White, Mammoth Lakes, Inyo National Forest,, California

Twin Lakes, Mammoth Lakes, Inyo National Forest,, California

Twin Lakes Black & White, Mammoth Lakes, Inyo National Forest,, California

The walk down the road was fun.  The images that I saw were mostly on the subtle side of the “wow” continuum.

Conifer Trio, Mammoth Lakes, Inyo National Forest,, California

Snowy Mountainside Black & White, Mammoth Lakes, Inyo National Forest, Calfiornia

Conifer Trio Black & White, Mammoth Lakes, Inyo National Forest, Calfiornia

I spent several hours at Mammoth Lakes; if the entire area had been accessible I’m sure I could have spent an entire day there…or more.  This was a common thread running through my experience in the Eastern Sierra during springtime following a snowy winter.

Before I returned north I spent some time scouting out Convict Lake, an impressive area just south of Mammoth Lakes backed by a pair of tall, snow-covered peaks.  The light was too harsh to photograph at the time, but I thought I might make the drive back the following morning to shoot sunrise from this location before pulling up stakes and heading to redwood country in the far northeast part of the state.

My mid-afternoon stop was at Panum Crater, a volcanic remnant adjacent to Mono Lake.  The relatively short unpaved road to the parking area was atrocious, but I took it slow and made it there in one piece.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, in terms of photo opportunities, at the crater, but I was thrilled with what I found:  a dry, pseudo-desert-like environment, sprinkled with isolated conifers and lichen-covered rocks.  The interesting sky conditions were a big part of the positive experience.  Black and white rendering was a regular consideration.  An added benefit was having the place almost entirely to myself.

Panum Crater Black & White, Mono County, California

Panum Crater, Mono County, California

Panum Crater, Mono County, California

Panum Crater Black & White, Mono County, California

Panum Crater Black & White, Mono County, California

Panum Crater, Mono County, California

Panum Crater Black & White, Mono County, California

Lone Tree Black & White, Panum Crater, Mono County, California

Panum Crater, Mono County, California

Panum Crater, Mono County, California

Mono Lake from Panum Crater Black & White, Mono County, California

Panum Crater, Mono County, California

I returned to Lee Vining Canyon early in the evening, with my focus on the creek now that it was entirely in open shade.  I had identified a series of images I wanted to make, in even light, the day before when the sun was still penetrating that part of the canyon.

Lee Vining Creek Intimate Black & White, Lee Vining Canyon, Inyo National Forest,, California

Lee Vining Creek, Lee Vining Canyon, Inyo National Forest,, California

Lee Vining Creek, Lee Vining Canyon, Inyo National Forest,, California

Lee Vining Creek Intimate Black & White, Lee Vining Canyon, Inyo National Forest, Calfiornia

I decided to end the day back on the north end of the June Lake Loop.  I had hoped to shoot at Silver Lake but there was a breeze which meant there would be no reflections, so I settled into the canyon between Silver and June Lakes.  The light was nice and the setting was interesting and I assumed that I’d end the day here.

Dusk, June Lake Loop, Inyo National Forest,, California

Dusk, June Lake Loop, Inyo National Forest,, California

Dusk, June Lake Loop, Inyo National Forest,, California

But the pink clouds interested me and I zipped into the car and headed to the east, back in the direction of Grant Lake.  Just as I reached the Grant Lake Overlook–a spot I had checked out when scouting the June Lake Loop the previous day–I saw an impressive sunset unfolding; it had been almost entirely obscured by the ridge line in the canyon in which I had been previously situated.  I brought the car to a halt, almost immediately found a boulder and tallgrass foreground I liked–good thing because the sunset sky was at its apogee–and fine-tuned the composition.  Lucky for me, though there had been a breeze back at Silver Lake it was dead calm in this new locale.

Grant Lake Overlook at Sunset, June Lake Loop, Inyo National Forest,, California

And with that, a day of almost non-stop photography (between drives) came to an end.  It was my last full day in the Eastern Sierra.  After a sunrise shoot the following morning I was looking at a nearly 500-mile drive, including returning over Carson Pass, to the tiny town of Miranda, amidst the appropriately named Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt County’s redwood country.

Posted by: kerryl29 | September 6, 2017

California Day 8: The Eastern Sierra

As I mentioned in the previous post, spring is not necessarily the best of times to photograph in the Eastern Sierra.  The major problem is that all of the higher elevation locations are often inaccessible, due to snow.  In a year like this one, following a winter with near record-setting amounts of the white stuff, there’s no chance of accessing these spots.  And so it was during my time in the region.  I could get into many of the canyons and high elevation lake areas, but only to a point.  The only area that was wide open to access was the June Lake Loop.  The road in Lundy Canyon beyond Lundy Lake was under water in places.  Lee Vining Canyon was gated off after about four miles.  Virginia Lakes Road was plowed, but not to the lakes themselves, which were totally snowbound and inaccessible.  And the Mammoth Lakes area was inaccessible beyond Twin Lakes, basically the entry point to the region.  The Bristlecone Pine Forest, near Bishop, was completely off limits.

Beyond the low elevation Mono Lake, I spent most of my time in the area in the accessible part of Lee Vining Canyon and along the June Lake Loop.  Knowing that access would be limited throughout the region I budgeted only two full days to the area.  This turned out to be a wise choice, but despite limited access just about everywhere, I saw more than enough to see how much potential the area had, and am contemplating a return to the region some day, probably in the fall.

I started the day out back at Mono Lake, from the same South Tufa area that I’d visited the previous evening.  That had been a useful experience because, as a function of the time I’d spent there, I was able to find my way around in the pre-dawn darkness.

Mono Lake at Sunrise, Mono County, California

I started out near the eastern part of South Tufa.  Despite an almost complete lack of clouds this morning, the place veritably glowed in the early light.

Mono Lake at Sunrise, Mono County, California

Given the absence of clouds, negative space was the order of the day.

Mono Lake at Moonrise, Mono County, California

Mono Lake at Sunrise, Mono County, California

 

Mono Lake at Sunrise, Mono County, California

As the sun began to near the eastern horizon, I switched gears, moving to the west, facing the peaks of the Sierra-Nevada.  The light was much softer and the contrast far less emphatic.  I was in the same place but the look was entirely different.

Mono Lake at Sunrise, Mono County, California

Mono Lake at Sunrise, Mono County, California

Sierra Alpenglow, Mono Lake, Mono County, California

The alpenglow on the snowy mountains was strong on this morning.

Sierra Alpenglow, Mono Lake, Mono County, California

Sierra Alpenglow, Mono Lake, Mono County, California

With the sun now just cresting the horizon I took one more glance back to the east.

Mono Lake Sunrise, Mono County, California

When the sun came up, I returned to my vehicle and made the short drive to Navy Beach, just a bit east of South Tufa.  The attraction here are the weird and wonderful sand tufa formations.  Anywhere from about two to six feet in height, the sand tufa are calcified sand formations that make for phenomenal abstract subjects.  If you’re into this kind of thing (and if you have a diffuser with you on a sunny day), you could spend hours working these formations.  I spent close to two hours checking out different spots.

Sand Tufa Abstract Black & White, Navy Beach, Mono Lake, Mono County, California

Sand Tufa Abstract Black & White, Navy Beach, Mono Lake, Mono County, California

Sand Tufa Abstract, Navy Beach, Mono Lake, Mono County, California

I made one final image of the lake from the Navy Beach area before returning to my car.

Mono Lake from Navy Beach, Mono County, California

I also spotted a lone conifer on a rock outcropping as I was leaving the lake area and pulled off the road to produce an image or two.

Lone Confier, Mono County, California

With the best light of the morning now gone, I took to scouting.  I started in the nearby Lee Vining Canyon.  As I mentioned earlier, the main road (CA-120) was gated after just a few miles, but a side road–a forest road that runs along Lee Vining Creek–was open for another few miles up the canyon, so I spent some time poking around in the nearly empty area.  The light was still pretty good, so I tried to make use of it.  Large swaths of the southern side of the canyon remained in open shade.

Conifers & Aspens, Lee Vining Canyon, Inyo National Forest, California

Lee Vining Canyon, Inyo National Forest, California

Forest Floor Intimate, Lee Vining Canyon, Inyo National Forest, California

Cascade Black & White, Lee Vining Creek, Lee Vining Canyon, Inyo National Forest, California

Roadside, Lee Vining Canyon, Inyo National Forest, California

When the light became harsh I put the camera away and went into full-blown scouting mode, covering more of Lee Vining Canyon, then driving the length of the June Lake Loop Road (and noting many places to return to in better light).  In early afternoon I looked at Lundy Canyon and then, by mid-afternoon, checked out the Virginia Lakes area.  On the way to Virginia Lakes, which is north of the town of Lee Vining, I stopped along US-395 near Mono Crater where some budding shrubs and the rounded, volcanic boulders caught my attention.

Mono Crater, Mono County, California

It didn’t hurt matters that some clouds had rolled in.

Mono Crater Black & White, Mono County, California

I reached the Virginia Lakes Road and, within a short distance on this steep incline I discovered something interesting.  I found a pullout and walked back on the road nearly a quarter of a mile to check out what I’d spotted.  From the narrow shoulder, I produced several images.

Northeast View, Virginia Lakes Road, Humboldt-Toyabe National Forest, California

Aspens & Conifers, Virginia Lakes Road, Humboldt-Toyabe National Forest, California

As I climbed higher on the drive, snow drifts became larger and larger until there was nothing but snow.  The lakes themselves couldn’t be reached–that part of the road had not yet been plowed.  But near the end of the plowed road I found several spots that I found interesting and stopped again.

Big Sky, Virginia Lakes Road, Humboldt-Toyabe National Forest, California

Big Sky Black & White, Virginia Lakes Road, Humboldt-Toyabe National Forest, California

Snow-Covered Mountain, Virginia Lakes Road, Humboldt-Toyabe National Forest, California

It was early evening by the time I reached US-395 and I returned to some spots on the north end of the June Lake Loop that I’d seen earlier in the day that were now in open shade.

Unnamed Cascade, June Lake Loop, Inyo National Forest, California

Horsetail Falls, June Lake Loop, Inyo National Forest, California

Aspen Trunks, Silver Lake, Inyo National Forest, California

I decided to end the day back in Lee Vining Canyon.  By the time I got to the section of Lee Vining Creek that I’d scouted that morning, it was nearly sunset.  Most of the area was in shade.

Lee Vining Creek, Lee Vining Canyon, Inyo National Forest, California

Waterfall at Sunset. Lee Vining Creek, Lee Vining Canyon, Inyo National Forest, California

Roadside, Lee Vining Canyon, Inyo National Forest, California

I caught the last light on the canyon wall to the northeast and called it a day.  I would spend the next day much as I’d spent this one–sunrise at Mono Lake and then poking around at spots to the south, this time as far as Mammoth Lakes…

Posted by: kerryl29 | August 30, 2017

California, Day 7 Across the Sierra-Nevada

When I first planned a spring trip to Calfiornia–some time toward the end of 2015–the itinerary was more or less the same as the one I ultimately implemented in 2017:  Yosemite Valley, the Eastern Sierra and coastal redwoods, in that order.  At the time of initial planning, I though that there was a very real chance that the first transition–from Yosemite Valley to the town of Lee Vining, my base for my time in the Eastern Sierra–could be made via Tioga Pass (CA-120).  And, in fact, if I’d made the trip in 2016 (or any year since 2012) it would have been possible; the latest opening date the previous five years was May 18.  (I was to make the crossing on May 20.)

But the winter of 2016-17 saw near-record snowfall in the Sierras.  By the time I left the Midwest for California I had known for months that there would be no chance to cross Tioga Pass on May 20, 2017.  (The pass was finally opened on June 29, the latest date since 1995 and tied for the second latest since 1980.)  Fortunately, I had established a Plan B for getting to Lee Vining on this trip.  Unfortunately, this meant detouring all the way to Carson Pass (CA-88), nearly as far north (on the eastern side of the Sierra-Nevada mountain range) as Lake Tahoe.  What would have been a 77-mile, two-hour drive via Tioga became a nearly 400-mile drive that would take all day via Carson.  But, as I said, I had prepared for this contingency.

With another cloudless, fog-free daybreak forecast at Yosemite I allowed myself the luxury of sleeping until nearly 6 AM; it was indeed a clear sky with temperatures too warm (and humidity too low) for any morning fog, so I hit the road by roughly 6:30.  I stopped several times in Merced Canyon, part of the Sierra National Forest, just west of Yosemite National Park.  I had photographed here, briefly, on Day 3, but had a few other spots I’d wanted to check out, under different lighting.

Hillside, Sierra National Forest, California

With direct sun on the northern side of the canyon, the reflections in the shaded Merced River were very interesting in spots and I hastened to experiment with them.  Between the reflections of the sunlit slopes, the blue sky and the cascades in the swiftly moving river, there were numerous interesting options upon which to concentrate.

Merced River Reflections, Sierra National Forest, California

Merced River Reflections, Sierra National Forest, California

Merced River Reflections, Sierra National Forest, California

The route I had to utilize to reach CA-88–far to the north of my starting point–took me on a scenic journey through the western Sierra foothills.  I stopped in a couple of places to make images.  The light wasn’t the best, and the sky was completely devoid of clouds this morning, but I was intrigued by the scenery nonetheless.

Lone Tree, Mariposa County, California

Oak Cluster, Calaveras County, California

I finally reached CA-88 some time early in the afternoon and began the climb toward Carson Pass.  As I reached the high Sierra I saw copious snow drifts and passed a number of lakes that remained entirely iced and were completely covered by snow.  I finally found a bit of open water when I reached Silver Lake.  A few recreational boaters were sharing the lake water with some stoic Canada Geese.

Silver Lake, Eldorado National Forest, California

Silver Lake Black & White, Eldorado National Forest, California

I continued east on CA-88, passing the snowed-in Caples Lake.  I finally reached Carson Pass itself–named after Kit Carson–at Red Lake Vista, an impressive scenic overlook on the south side of the road.  Red Lake, lying far below, remained almost entirely snow-covered, but I still found a number of interesting scenes to photograph…virtually all of them with a telephoto lens.

Tree Skeleton in Snow Black & White, Inyo National Forest, California

Red Lake Vista, Inyo National Forest, California

Snowy Conifer Slope Black & White, Inyo National Forest, California

Rocks and Trees in Snow, Red Lake Vista, Inyo National Forest, California

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

Tree Cluster in Snow Black and White, Red Lake Vista, Inyo National Forest, California

Red Lake Abstract Black & White, Inyo National Forest, California

I then descended the pass and eventually found myself in the Carson Valley Plain.  I made my way to US-395 in Gardnerville, Nevada and began the final stage of the drive to Lee Vining, California–roughly an hour and 45 minutes to the south.  It was now late afternoon.

After stopping, and not photographing, at a scenic overlook about 10 miles south of Lee Vining, I made my way to my motel, checked in, and quickly drove to Mono Lake–about 20 minutes to the southeast.

Mono Lake was the main reason for this circumscribed–I would only be on the ground in the Eastern Sierra for two full days plus an evening and a morning–visit to the area.  Spring isn’t typically regarded as the best time to visit the region as much of the area on the eastern slopes of the Sierra-Nevada remains inaccessible due to lingering snow.  But Mono Lake, at a much lower elevation, is generally reachable year-round.

The lake is best known for the fascinating tufa–unusually shaped and textured volcanic rocks that pierce the waters of the lake, which saw its water level drop significantly decades ago to slake the thirst of the greater Los Angeles area.  When the water levels receded, the tufa were revealed.  A court order, issued years ago, requires the original water level of Mono Lake to be restored–which is happening very slowly.  In the meantime, the tufa remain visible and prominent, particularly in an area known as South Tufa, located on southeastern part of the lakeshore.  It was here that I hastened on this first evening.

It’s difficult to describe Mono Lake when it first comes into sight.  I’d seen pictures before, of course, but they didn’t really prepare me for the in-the-flesh look.  Much of the South Tufa area resembles what one might expect from an extraterrestrial landscape.  After wandering around a bit in the ever-improving light of early evening, I first set up near what amounted to a natural arch in a tufa outcropping located about 100 feet from the water’s edge.  Despite using an ultrawide angle lens, I needed five stacked images to get the entire frame sharp, given how close I was to the rock face.

Tufa Arch, Mono County, California

I pulled back a bit to show more of the structure in a second image.

Tufa Arch, Mono County, California

I trudged on to the east, where tufa rose like islands from the shallow waters of this part of the lake.  A pair of peregrine falcons were nesting atop one of the rocky structures and native gulls were everywhere.

Mono Lake, Mono County, California

Mono Lake Sunset, Mono County, California

Mono Lake at Dusk, Mono County, California

Mono Lake Sunset, Mono County, California

Mono Lake Sunset, Mono County, California

Mono Lake at Dusk, Mono County, California

It was breezy at this point, so reflections were no better than so-so.  Still, the light was nice, despite the mostly cloudless sky.  The only clouds were relatively close to the horizon in the eastern sky and I did my best to take advantage of them.  As the sun faded below the Sierra peaks behind me, I turned around and walked back along the shoreline to the north.  I was now more or less facing the sunset.

Mono Lake Sunset, Mono County, California

As the light faded and I was preparing to leave, I suddenly saw a truly evocative rock outcropping.  I immediately thought of my wife as I moved into position to make the below image–the last of the day–which I have entitled “The Pledge.”  See if you can see recognize what I saw.

“The Pledge,” Mono Lake, Mono County, California

After a long day of travel (and photography) I planned to get up at 4:30 the next morning so I could be back at Mono Lake for sunrise–by all accounts the best time for photography at this location.

Posted by: kerryl29 | August 21, 2017

Thematic Interruption: Loving Places to Death

The signs were unmistakable from the word go.  On Sunday, May 14, the day I drove from the Bay Area to Yosemite National Park on CA-140, when I was within about an hour of the park I came upon a digital road sign that informed me:  NO PARKING AVAILABLE IN YOSEMITE VALLEY.  The meaning of the sign was clear–there were so many vehicles already in the park that there was no space to put any more of them.   As it was early evening by the time I came on the sign I assumed that it was broadcasting a message left over from earlier in the day.  The seemingly endless stream of cars heading in the other direction–away from the park–served as evidence in support of that conclusion.

Stoneman Meadow at Sunset, Yosemite National Park, California

When I was putting together the arrangements for my trip to California this past spring I very deliberately followed two principles when finalizing the schedule:  minimize time in the park on the weekends and be in and out of the area before Memorial Day.  It was no accident that I arrived on a Sunday evening and pulled up stakes shortly after dawn on the following Saturday morning.  And it was similarly non-coincidental that my time in the park ran from May 14 until May 20 (Memorial Day weekend began on Friday, May 26).  I knew that the busiest time at Yosemite runs roughly from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.  And I had seen reports from April about miles worth of bumper to bumper traffic jams entering the park from the west on weekends.

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

By spending virtually all of my time at Yosemite on weekdays and by getting up very, very early each morning I was able to spend a number of hours each day in mostly, if not entirely, empty landscapes.  Yosemite Valley, minus the crowds, is an enchanting place; I say this from experience.  But even on these weekdays, as the morning moved along, the number of people present steadily increased every day.  By 10 AM each morning, and at least through the middle of every afternoon, the valley was crowded.  Parking areas were filled to overflowing throughout the entire eastern part of the valley and traffic, particularly on eastbound Southside Drive, was consistently heavy.  Activity in the valley dropped steadily as late afternoon drifted into evening, but even when the sun set, things never quite returned to the complete silence of early morning…until the next day.

Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

So even when Yosemite Valley isn’t particularly crowded, it’s still pretty crowded…if you get my drift.

This situation isn’t unique to Yosemite National Park.  At Zion National Park in Utah, administrators are pondering the institution of a reservation system–unprecedented in the history of the U.S. National Park System–as a way to address overcrowding problems in Zion Canyon.  I’ve been told of waits of more than an hour simply to board one of the buses at Zion–even on weekdays–during the summer high season.  I myself have seen overflow crowds at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, at Cades Cove and Roaring Fork, among other places.  I’ve detailed at great length the significant restrictions on access that Parks Canada has put into place in the Lake O’Hara area of Yoho National Park in British Columbia.

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

There are essentially two relevant considerations as a function of these crowding conditions.  In no particular order they are:

  1. What this crowding is doing to the natural places themselves and the wildlife that lives there.  It goes without saying that such conditions are putting strains on these places, in the form of erosion, species (both plant and wildlife) pressure and general ecological degradation.  These kinds of circumstances were directly cited as reasons for implementing the restrictions at Lake O’Hara and Parks Canada has announced that conditions have materially improved in the area in the years since limited access has been imposed.
  2. How crowding directly impacts the very experience of being in these places in the first place.  Speaking for myself, there are few things I find as frustrating as confronting crowds that are more typically associated with urban centers when visiting natural areas.  Part of the attraction of spending time in natural areas–at least for me–is the opportunity to experience solitude.  It goes without saying that a feeling of solitude is a difficult thing to achieve in a crowded place.

Merced River, Mist Trail Yosemite National Park, California

What is to be done about all of this?  I’m not sure, but I’m firmly convinced that doing nothing is not an option.  Given that part of the stated purpose of setting aside lands in the first place is to make them available for public use it’s discomfiting to ponder the idea of implementing policies that will result in restricted access.  On the other hand, another primary purpose of the designation of national parks and monuments is to protect these lands–and not just from formal development.  Part of the public lands mission is preservation.  When public access and preservation clash, as is increasingly the case, something has to give.

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

Ultimately, preservation must win out.  If the very nature of public lands is threatened by public access, than limitations on access must be implemented.  Care should be taken to limit access as little as possible–these are public lands, after all.  But in the end, the very character of what’s being accessed must be preserved.  What’s the point of setting these lands aside in the first place if access is going to degrade them beyond recognition?

Tenaya Creek Reflections, Yosemite National Park, California

An argument can be made that a red line has already been crossed in the case of Yosemite National Park, particularly in Yosemite Valley.  The valley itself amounts to less than eight square miles.  Between lodgings and campgrounds, thousands of people stay in the valley each night and countless thousands more enter the park each day.  By virtually any reasonable assessment, Yosemite Valley is overdeveloped and overcrowded.

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

You can experience this just about every single day from mid-morning until late afternoon/early evening, almost anywhere in the valley, from Yosemite Village to the drives on both sides of the Merced River to just about any of the valley-accessible trails.  During those hours, Yosemite has more of the feel of a city park than a natural area.  You can make a direct comparison–between how a place like Yosemite Valley ought to feel all of the time and how it actually feels most of the time by doing what I did each day–getting up very early and wandering around while dawn breaks and more than 99% of each day’s visitors are still asleep.  Imagine peace and quiet, accented by the sounds of powerful waterfalls churning in the distance and birds chirping from the trees; contrast that with the incessant rumble of RV, tour bus and passenger vehicle engines; coupled with the unavoidable noise generated by thousands of people; and “complemented” by the jarring scene of an endless stream of traffic.  What kind of an experience are you hoping for when visiting a national park?

Misty El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

I’m not sure what this problem’s solution looks like, exactly.  Should it be something like what is reportedly being considered at Zion (i.e. a requirement to reserve access in advance, at least during the busiest times of the year)?  Is it something like what has been put in place at Lake O’Hara (i.e. a soft quota system, limiting daily access)?  I’m not sure.

Make no mistake, I’m well aware of how costly it already is to visit a park like Yosemite.  Lodging in the area is absurdly expensive and the last thing I want to see happen is for the realities of supply and demand to work to the sole advantage of profiteers.

But something must be done or Yosemite–and other singularly magnificent places like it around the country, the continent and the world–will face a fate much like that of the valley of the Truffula trees in Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.

We love our national parks, but we appear to be well on our way to loving them to death.

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

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.

 

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