Posted by: kerryl29 | November 1, 2021

The Story Behind the Image: Sequoias and Dogwoods

In the spring of 2017 I spent six days in Yosemite National Park. One apparent truism of Yosemite is that, if you time things correctly, you can catch the dogwood bloom in the valley or you can catch the dogwood bloom at the higher elevations but you absolutely cannot experience peak in both locations at the same time. By the time the dogwoods in places like the Mariposa or Tuolumne sequoia groves reach peak bloom, the trees in the valley have played out.

On the first evening of my time in the park, the very first place I stopped upon entry was the Pohono Bridge over the Merced River where I viewed what appeared to be peak dogwood bloom.

Dogwood from Pohono Bridge, Yosemite National Park, California

I photographed these dogwood blossoms on several occasions during my time in the park, and found equally wondrous opportunities at other spots in Yosemite Valley as well.

Merced River Dogwoods, Yosemite National Park, California
Dogwood Blossoms, Tenaya Creek, Yosemite National Park, California
Dogwoods, Mirror Lake Trail, Yosemite National Park, California
Dogwood, Yosemite National Park, California
Bridalveil Falls from Bridalveil View, Yosemite National Park, California

Given how phenomenal the dogwood bloom was in the Valley, I knew that I’d get nothing at the higher elevations, but I still wanted to check out the groves because I love being in these giant tree cathedrals.

Entry to the Mariposa Grove was impossible when I was at Yosemite; the park service was doing a full-blown reorienting of the trail network in that part of the park that year, so the grove was off limits. But the Tuolumne Grove was accessible. Even though there had been a record snowfall in the Sierras the previous winter, which kept the road to Tioga Pass closed until the beginning of July, the road to the high country was gated immediately after the entry to the parking area for the Tuolumne Grove. I’d be able to spend time amid the sequoias, despite the lack of dogwood bloom.

I drove up to the high country on my first full day in the park–a cool, cloudy, drizzly day. A light rain was falling–and it never stopped–when I reached the Tuolumne Grove parking area. It was about 40 degrees (F). Given the conditions, I left my camera equipment behind; this would be a mere scouting session. I figured I could scope things out, find some spots I liked and come back when the weather was a bit more forgiving.

I hiked the mile or so to the grove…and imagine my shock when I discovered that the dogwoods were not only blooming, they were at peak! I was puzzled. How could this be? The Tuolumne Grove is roughly 6200 feet above sea level. The Yosemite Valley floor is 4000 feet above sea level. How on earth could these two areas of dogwoods be not only blooming at the same time but peaking at the same time?

Whatever the reason, the proof of this inexplicable event was right in front of my face. I all but ran back to the car to get my gear.

I then spent most of the rest of the day in the grove; I wasn’t sure if or when I’d get another chance to photograph this location under even light conditions. And, despite the light rain, there was no wind. I couldn’t pass up this opportunity.

I produced many photographs in the grove that day, but one thing I wanted to do was incorporate the sequoia trunks with the dogwood blossoms. I produced several such images, but one of my favorite attempts involved jamming myself very close to a foreground sequoia trunk with the dogwood blossoms in the background. I composed these elements in several ways, and at first conformed to the rule of thirds, with the background blossoms taking up about 2/3 of the frame, in a kind of peeking-around-the-trunk shot. Ultimately, however, I decided to toss the rulebook aside and went for what my instincts told me to do: divide the frame more or less evenly between a mossy sequoia trunk and a splash of background blossoms; a kind of yin-yang that filled the frame in a unique expression of Yosemite High Country spring.

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


  1. I appreciate the great images and the story behind the image. I also greatly appreciate your advice. I look forward to using it to take my photography to another level. Looking forward to future blog entries.

    • Thanks very much!

  2. The large and small of it all-wonderful!

    • Thanks, Jane!

  3. Kerry, this is so beautiful. Your images always make my heart sing and this was no exception. And of course, I learn so much from your descriptions of your creative process. I’ve had a rather dire several months and it is so good to return and immerse myself in the beauty you create and share – thank you.

    • Thanks, Lynn.

      I was truly saddened to read about Angel; I’m keeping my fingers crossed that. as awful as that was, there isn’t more underlying the word “dire” in your description.

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