Posted by: kerryl29 | June 26, 2017

California Dreaming

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

Merced River at Sunset, Yosemite National Park, California

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

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

Mono Lake at Sunset, Mono County, California

Pine Trunks, Yosemite National Park, California

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

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

Grant Lake Overlook at Sunset, Inyo National Forest, California

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

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

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

Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

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

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

Merced River, Sierra National Forest, California

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

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

Cascades Creek Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

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

Elk, Priaire Creek Redwoods State Park, California

Sentinel Meadow Moonset, Yosemite National Park, California

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

El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

Deer, Sentinel Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California

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

Merced River, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Foresta Falls Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

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

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

Bridalveil Falls from Bridalveil View, Yosemite National Park, California

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

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

Dogwood Branch, Tenaya Creek, Yosemite National Park, California



  1. Some gorgeous teasers you’ve presented here! The dogwood over water was the frosting on the cake. You nailed it as far as California having it all, or very nearly so. Though personally I’d extend the territory to include anything west of the Rockies. Perhaps one of the few thing they’re missing is the Red Rock country of the high desert.

    That snag in B&W is giving us a hint of the snow that’s currently flooding parts of the Golden State. I’m itching to hear how you did in the High Sierras with the records setting snow they had this past season. Hopefully no echoes of the Donner Party. O_o

    • Thanks, Gunta.

      There are some things that California is missing, landscape-wise. The Colorado Plateau doesn’t extend that far west so, as you point out, no red rocks. And no kaleidoscope of fall colors as found in the North Woods. No cypress swamps either. But all in all, there’s a lot more there than is lacking, no question.

      No, no Donner Party-like issues. 🙂 In fact, there was still so much snow in the high country that there was very limited access. The road to Glacier Point in Yosemite opened three days before I arrived. But none of the High Sierra passes south of Carson Pass were open when I had to head to Lee Vining (May 20). Ebbets, Monitor and Sonora Passes are now accessible but Tioga is still closed (and there’s no estimated opening date). Monitor was the only one of the other three that opened before I left California on May 28.

      Once I crossed over to the Eastern Sierra via Carson Pass, access to the high country was similarly limited. The Tioga road eastbound was gated just four miles east of US 395; the Mammoth Lakes area was inaccessible beyond Twin Lakes. The Virginia Lakes road was open up to about five miles west of the first Virginia Lake. Lundy Canyon was technically accessible beyond Lundy Lake but the road was under several feet of water in places, making it a no-go without a high clearance vehicle (and impossible to hike). The Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains was closed (I think it just opened this past weekend).

      I’ll comment on this matter more in later posts.

  2. WOW … wonderful. I don’t believe I have seen a blog set this strong in a long while … if ever. I love everyone. There is truth to what the photographer said about California. I feel similarly about Colorado and just want to widen my radius a bit. Great compositions and scenes!

    • Thanks very much, Denise!

      You mentioned Colorado–I plan to be out there at the tail end of September/beginning of October (SW Colorado–the Elks and San Juans).

  3. Great shots! I especially love the B&W photo of Yosemite.

    I’ve lived in California my entire life and I will never get tired of its beauty. You’ve captured it wonderfully 🙂

    • Thanks very much!

  4. Looking forward to the rest of this trip Kerry. I like how you write about your trips and if I ever get over to the USA I’ll be looking through your archives for more information. Sounds like it didn’t all go quite to plan just from the few comments in this post 🙂 But obviously you got some pretty special images.

    • Thanks, Lee!

      The trip went pretty much according to expectations. The only real limitation was that extremely heavy winter snows made the trip from Yosemite to the Eastern Sierra a lot longer than it otherwise would have been (because it kept certain mountain pass roads closed) and that access to high country locations was reduced. But I always knew that both of these things were real possibilities (and by the time I left for California I knew that they were certainties). In terms of photo opportunities, it had minimal effect.

      • Fantastic! I had thought you may have fallen down a rabbit hole and wasted some days at the end of the earth 🙂

        • Ha. Everything went well until I saw the March Hare… 🙂

          Seriously, all in all it went really well.

  5. I think that only you could take in those three areas as quickly as you did and come away with the images that you’ve posted here. I’ve seen many other images of the parts of Yosemite that the images in this post are from, but never the same excellent compositions that you came up with!

    • Thanks very much, Jerry–I really appreciate the kind words.

      And thanks for noticing the Yosemite compositions. The images I posted are more or less a random assortment of what I’ve processed to date–which is probably only 10-15% of the total images fro the trip. I tried hard during my time in the valley not to rely on obvious compositions. Even on the one extended time when I photographed from Tunnel View, where producing unique images is a real challenge, I played around with the telephoto lens quite a bit. And I didn’t go up there as sunset approached, as most people do. I wasn’t interested in jockeying for position with a bunch of other tripods, so I went up there at sunrise.

  6. Your pictures are absolutely wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing them.

    • My pleasure. Thanks very much for the kind words.

  7. I love this series, especially the placement of a tree in the foreground with lovely lines as a part of the composition for the backdrop. Beautifully placed.

    • Thanks very much, Jane!

  8. I am soaking up the beauty of your photographs! Stunning scenery and animals. You capture the essence beautifully.

    • Thanks very much, Roland!

  9. […] had a bit more than an hour of daylight remaining once I finally reached the park.  As I mentioned in the intoductory post to this series, I’d been to Yosemite once before–16 years earlier.  I didn’t remember all that […]

  10. This post is a great introduction to your trip.Looking forward to seeing and reading more.

  11. Yosemite is the most beautiful place I visited in California 2 years ago, always good to see some pics of it 😊

    • Thanks for taking the time to stop by and leave a comment.

  12. Your photos are beautiful!

    • Thanks very much!

  13. When I came back from California, the first thing they asked me was whether or not I went hiking at Yosemite. Definitely adding this to my bucket list.

    Thanks for sharing. Beautiful pictures!

  14. Beautiful 💜

  15. Your photos are absolutely beautiful! I need to go back soon!

    • Thanks very much!

  16. Beautiful photos. It is amazing that so many relates to California as “Los Angeles” or “Hollywood”. Some of the photos you took I first thought was from Montana, that shows how vast is the contrast of scenery in California State.

    • Thanks! And, you’re right; the California landscape is remarkably varied.

  17. […] ever taken in any prior year.  I started out in South Florida in February; I spent time in California in May; and during a two-week period overlapping September and October I was in Colorado.  All […]

  18. […] instance, I was on my own for the entirety of all three photo trips I took last year:  Florida, California and Colorado.  On this trip to Alaska–during which I was on the ground for 12 days–I […]

  19. […] when I returned to California in May of 2017–ostensibly to spend time photographing in Yosemite National Park and the […]

  20. […] forward two years. On a trip to California in May, 2017 that was mostly about Yosemite National Park and the Eastern Sierra, I shoehorned […]

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