Posted by: kerryl29 | October 17, 2017

Thematic Interruption: A Walk in the Woods

A walk in any wooded area can be therapeutic but a redwood forest hike is on another level altogether.  When the conditions are right, it can amount to a quasi-spiritual experience.

Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

I’ve spent time in seven different redwood groves in five different state and national parks over the past three years and each brought it’s own unique atmosphere to the fore.

Stout Grove, Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park, California

Whether it was the lush understory of the Lady Bird Johnson Grove in Redwood National Park..

Lady Bird Johnson Grove, Redwood National Park, California

…or the moss-covered complement of broad-leaf maples of the Rhododendron Trail in Priaire Creek Redwoods State Park…

Broad-Leaf Maple, Rhododendron Trail, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California

…or the geometric precision of the trunks in the Roosevelt Grove at Humboldt Redwoods State Park…

Rockefeller Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

…or the splash of color from the pink rhododendron blossoms at Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park…

Rhododendrons & Redwoods, Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

..each grove has it’s own character.  They may all seem more or less the same, superficially, but spend quality time in the different groves and you’ll see that every one has it’s own…well, it’s own unique personality.

Founders Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Head into your grove of choice on a quiet, foggy morning and prepare to be entranced.  The lush forest floor, filled with ferns, redwood sorrel and other forms of ground cover, will be a piercing green, soaked as everything will be with the ubiquitous moisture.

Forest Floor Intimate, Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Move away from the roadside and stop; you will hear the quiet.  Look up and see the tops of the redwoods at dizzying heights, 300 feet or more, in some instances, above your head.

Towering Redwoods, Cal-Barrel Road, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California

Wait for the sun to begin burning off the fog and treat yourself to the glorious sight of shafts of light penetrating the forest canopy.

Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

One of the things that make the redwood groves so appealing is that they’re so remote.  Depending on the specific grove, they’re a full day’s drive from any major metropolis–the San Francisco Bay Area to the south and Portland, Oregon to the north.  The largest town within a two-hour drive is Eureka, California (population:  approximately 27,000).  Given that one of the things that make a hike in the redwoods so enticing is the solitude, this is a good thing.  If you want to be alone in the redwoods–and I heartily recommend it–it’s not a difficult thing to achieve.

Spring Greenery, Rhododendron Trail, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California

There may be more spectacular locations than the redwood forests of northern California, but I’ve found few, if any, places more memorable.  And all you need to take with you to make the most of the experience is as many of the five senses as you possess.

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

Addendum:  For an exceptionally thorough guide to hiking in the redwoods, check out the Redwood Hikes website.

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Posted by: kerryl29 | October 11, 2017

California Day 12: Damnation Creek Trail

Day 12 was my first full day in the Crescent City area.  I had done some scouting of the various redwood groves on Day 11 and found that the best rhododendron blooms were to be found along the Damnation Creek Trail in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park.  The Damnation Creek Trail runs for the better part of a mile before intersecting with the Coastal Trail and then continues for the better part of another two miles all the way down to a shallow beach.  (For a somewhat hair-raising account of an experience I had long this trail two years earlier, check out this link.)

At this time, however, there were two complications.  A bridge near the end of the Damnation Creek Trail was out (according to a sign posted at the junction with the Coastal Trail), making it impossible to access the beach.  Additionally, the northern part of the Coastal Trail was inaccessible, due to a massive fallen redwood trunk, just a few hundred feet beyond the junction with the Damnation Creek Trail.  Still, I had access to plenty of stimulating material even given the limitations.

Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

It was overcast in the morning, with a bit of fog, when I hit the trail.  Even better, it was essentially windless–a virtual necessity for obtaining image sharpness given how dark it is in the forest.  (Consider my experience at the Founders Grove in Humboldt Redwoods State Park a couple of days earlier.)

Rhododendrons & Redwoods, Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Rhododendrons & Redwoods, Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

The soft, even light was perfect for photographing deep within this woodland area.

Ferns & Redwoods, Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Ferns & Redwoods Black & White, Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

After working the redwoods and rhododendrons for a while I decided to take advantage of the lack of wind by breaking out the macro lens and focus stacking a series of closeup images.

Fern Closeup, Damnation Creek Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Fern Closeup Black & White, Damnation Creek Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Redwood Trunk Abstract, Damnation Creek Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Redwood Trunk Abstract Black & White, Damnation Creek Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Oregon Geranium, Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Forest Floor Black & White, Damnation Creek Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Wildflower, Damnation Creek Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Pacific Irises, Damnation Creek Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Ferns, Damnaton Creek Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

I found another batch of rhododendron before long.

Rhododendrons and Redwoods, Damnation Creek Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Rhododendrons and Redwoods, Damnation Creek Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

At this point I noticed that some of the fog was beginning to burn off and sunlight was now filtering through the canopy in spots.  This was a phenomenon I had hoped to see two years earlier but had been thwarted.  Not this time.

Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Damnation Creek Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

With the fog burned off and sunlight becoming a significant factor, I left the grove and drove to the overlook of Crescent and Enderts Beaches, at the very northern end of Del Norte Redwoods State Park.  From this perch, I spent some time photographing waves and other beach-related elements as the afternoon wore on.

Breaking Waves Black & White, Crescent Beach, Del Norte County, California

Breaking Waves, Crescent Beach, Del Norte County, California

Breaking Waves Black & White, Crescent Beach, Del Norte County, California

Crescent Beach Black & White, Del Norte County, California

Crescent Beach Black & White, Del Norte County, California

Crescent Beach Black & White, Del Norte County, California

As evening approached, I made my way to Wilson Creek Beach, which I had discovered during my time in the area two years previous.  Now familiar with the spot, I made my way to the point where Wilson Creek empties into the Pacific.  Other than the impact of the marine layer there weren’t many clouds in the sky, but I still felt that I came away with some decent images.  A group of cooperative seagulls made for a dependable mid-ground element, regardless of my specific positioning.

Wilson Creek Beach at Sunset, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Wilson Creek Beach at Sunset, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Wilson Creek Beach at Sunset, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Wilson Creek Beach at Sunset, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

The color in the western sky faded rapidly and the day’s shoot came to an abrupt end.  I had one more full day–plus a second morning–awaiting me in coastal redwoods country and I was still looking for dense fog and, hopefully, more as-yet undiscovered displays of rhododendron to punctuate the conclusion of the trip…

Posted by: kerryl29 | September 26, 2017

California Day 11: From Grove to Grove

The first order of business on Day 11 was to revisit the Founders Grove at Humboldt Redwoods State Park.  I made the short drive before dawn and could see evidence of fog.  That was positive, as it meant there would be even light in the forest, at least until the sun burned off the mist.  As had been the case on Day 10, there was some wind present when I arrived at the Founders Grove, but it was lighter than it had been the evening before.  (Still, I couldn’t help but conclude that this was apparently and inherently breezy spot as there seemed to be essentially no wind elsewhere in the forest.)  So I pulled out my gear and began to look around.  Shutter speeds were still a bit of an issue given how dark it was but this problem slowly took care of itself as it became brighter.

Founders Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

There are a lot of similarities between the Founders and Rockefeller Groves–not a big surprise given how close they are to one another (well under a mile as the crow flies).  Each has a loop trail of 1/2 to 2/3 of a mile winding through it, with little elevation change.  Both of the groves are thick with huge, mature redwood trunks.

Founders Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

I had taken a tour of the Founders Grove Loop trail the evening before so I had a pretty good sense of which scenes I wanted to photograph.  Unlike the previous evening, however, the light was soft and entirely even given the layer of fog (which was high enough to be essentially invisible at ground level).

Founders Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Founders Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Much like the Rockefeller Grove, while the forest floor was rich with greenery the volume of growth was considerably thinner than I’d seen during my visit to the coastal groves to the north, in Del Norte County, two years earlier.

Founders Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Founders Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

At points along the trail I came upon some enormous fallen redwoods, which had metamorphosed into nurse logs for the grove, critical to its health and proliferation.

Founders Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Founders Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Redwood Stump Abstract, Founders Grove Black & White, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

As had been the case in the Rockefeller Grove, I ran across one area that was particularly thick with ferns.

Founders Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Founders Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

The trail itself often served as a visual anchor, replete with leading lines.

Founders Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Founders Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Founders Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

A hollowed out redwood skeleton near the end (and beginning) of the loop was the final scene of interest.

Founders Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Founders Grove Black & White, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

After wrapping at the Founders Grove, and with the mist holding, I made the very short trip to the Rockefeller Grove, stopping briefly on Bull Creek Road along the way.

Bull Creek Road, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Back in the Rockefeller Grove, I hastened to photograph a few scenes near the beginning of the loop (heading counter clockwise) while the even light still prevailed.  I had been unable to shoot many of these scenes on the previous day due to hot spots–a function of the clear sky.

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

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

Rockefeller Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Rockefeller Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Forest Floor, Rockefeller Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Founders Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Founders Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Just as I was wrapping up I noticed the impact of sunlight in the grove.  The mist was burning off quickly.  Fortunately, I had already photographed all the scenes that I’d missed out on the previous evening.

Having completed my work, I resumed the journey north, toward Crescent City where I’d spend the final three nights of the photography portion of the trip.  It was only another two-plus hours north, but I stopped on several occasions along the way, first at Little River State Beach, just north of Aracta on US-101 where, from the highway, I noticed a plethora of wildflowers.  It was cloudy–perfect, even light–and just about dead calm.  I pulled out my macro lens and went to work.

Yellow Bush Lupine, Little River State Beach, California

Foxglove, Little River State Beach, California

Yellow Bush Lupine, Little River State Beach, California

Broadleaf Lupine, Little River State Beach, California

Varied Lupine, Little River State Beach, California

Wildflowers, Little River State Beach, California

Beach Grass Isolate, Little River State Beach, California

Beach Grass Trio Black & White, Little River State Beach, California

My next stop was a bit further up the road at Humboldt Lagoons State Park.  After stopping at the lagoon overlook to start…

Lagoon, Humboldt Lagoons State Park, California

…I subsequently moved along to the beach.  The light was pretty harsh–the “clouds” (marine layer fog, more accurately) down the road at Little River State Beach were absent at Humboldt Lagoons–at this point so I immediately thought “black and white” as I wandered about in search of compositions.  The cirrus clouds in the sky were a major part of the appeal.

Beach Black & White, Humboldt Lagoons State Park, California

I found a driftwood abstract that I really liked and, for the second time on the day, took possession of the macro lens.  I also dug out the white umbrella I often use as a diffuser and created my own soft light.

Driftwood Abstract Black & White, Humboldt Lagoons State Park, California

I then continued north until I reached the southernmost of the group of coastal redwoods state and national parks–Redwood National Park.  I’d photographed in the Lady Bird Johnson Grove during my previous visit to the area, two years earlier.  At the time it had been too early for any rhododendron blooms, but on this occasion, to my delight I saw quite a few.  It was sunny in the grove, so I didn’t photograph there.

I then moved on to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, to the aptly named Rhododendron Trail, which I hiked for a couple of miles.  There were some blooms–and countless buds–but fewer than in the Lady Bird Grove.  Again, the sunny conditions prevented my pulling out the camera during my scout.

Two years earlier, the Damnation Creek Trail at Del Norte Redwoods State Park, just south of Crescent City itself, had been the furthest along in terms of rhododendron.  I hoped that was the case again.  It was.  The Damnation Creek area was just about at peak when I visited.  Whereas two years previous I strained to find one or two spots with a decent number of blooms, this time they were everywhere.  Since a major part of the reason for my taking the considerable trouble of returning to the coastal redwood groves had been to catch the rhododendron bloom, I was extremely excited.  A significant breeze kept me from doing any photographing when I visited the grove in the early evening, but since I had another 2 1/2 days to spend in the area, I wasn’t bothered.  I’d be back, and the bloom would only get better.

Now, if I could just experience some of that famous coastal fog everything would be perfect…

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.

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

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