Yosemite: Stoneman Meadow

For most of the second day, the park was cold. According to the thermometer reading in my car (not perfect, I know), it never got above the low 40s F in the park that morning–especially in the shade.

Stoneman Meadow is tucked toward the back of the Valley Floor, near Curry Village and the Happy Isle Parking Lot. I know that “back” is relative: since I almost always come from the El Portal entrance, that is my directional orientation.

Even in the late morning and early afternoon, Stoneman Meadow is draped in shadow and chilly in the late fall or early winter. Because of the height and proximity of the rock walls of the valley, it was like an early glimpse of winter; even though it was just frost, it looked like the scenery had been dry-brushed white, as if with snow.

I always think “Yosemite would be beautiful when it snows . . . “, but I also always think “I’m not sure I have the gear or food rations or preparations necessary to get caught in a winter snowstorm . . . ”

From what I have seen on the weather forecasts, I just narrowly missed finding out if both those statements are true this year.

Anyways, here are some early glimpses of winter in Stoneman Meadow.

I hope you enjoy!

Yosemite: El Capitan Climbers

On my second day in Yosemite, I stopped in the Meadows below El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls to take some photos and to stretch my legs a bit.

While there, I noticed people with cameras and binoculars pointed at the face of El Capitan–there were climbers. Talking with one of the photographers, he said that the climbers had been up there for a few days (he noticed them the evening before from Tunnel View), slowly working there way up the cliff face.

He had the benefit of a 600mm zoom lens, while my strongest zoom is a 300mm. So, I have tried to crop the pictures and provide perspective so you can see how high up they are, but also where they are.

This first photo is just for size, and was taken from the Valley Floor below.

El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, CA

These next set of photos are a series of close-ups to show you where the hikers are. They are on the top right side, and there appears to be two pairs of climbers (or a group of four).

El Capitan Close-up, Yosemite National Park, CA

And, here are the extreme close-ups to show where the climbers are:

Yosemite: Merced River Morning

On the second day of my trip, I had no idea where to go in Yosemite. I had spent the first day visiting and photographing several new sights (see my most recent posts), and I wasn’t sure what I was up for.

Did I want to try a good length (3-5 miles round trip) day hike?

Did I want to revisit several places I had been before?

Did I want to see something new?

While I did check the guide books and maps the previous evening, I didn’t have a clear idea of what my focus, both in sightseeing and photography, was going to be.

As I drove down the road from Mariposa to the El Portal entrance to Yosemite, I could see the morning light highlighting the autumn leaves on the trees and dancing on the river water. It reminded me of another mountain road and river that is very familiar to me: the Lower Kern on the way to Lake Isabella.

There were no convenient turn-outs, not near any of the sunlit sections of the river. That was when I decided the day’s course: I would play it by ear, and stop at many of the turn-outs that I usually ignore and see whatever I see.

The photos below were taken inside the park, right next to the Merced River, but in the twisting section before you reach the meadows below El Capitan.

I hope you enjoy!

Yosemite: Glacier Point and Tunnel View

After stopping at Washburn Point, I headed down the switchbacks to the end of the road–Glacier Point.

Stepping out of the car, it lived up to its name, as the shaded areas were quite chilly, even in the early afternoon, and it only got slightly warmer in the sunlight.

Yet, the drive up to the Point was worth it; there was another impressive view of Half Dome, this time showing more of its flat face that is famous for the rock climbing. While I was up there, people with high powered binoculars could see hikers on the top of the Dome, on the other side of the Valley from us.

As I have said before, being on the top of the mountain conveys a whole different sense of the size of Yosemite, and impresses upon you how tiny and fragile you really are as a human being (although, in fairness, the whole park reminds me of this).

On the way back down the road, I stopped at Tunnel View. Arguably the most famous view in all of Yosemite (it is a Mac background image for OS X Yosemite), this was my first time stopping there to take pictures.

While there, I hiked along the trail that starts in the parking lot and ascends to Artist’s Point (and beyond). I think. While the directions I found online are specific-ish (if you cross the Creek, you’ve gone too far), there are no trail markers or sign posts to mark whether you are at the point or only nearby.

Either way, it provides a perspective different from Tunnel View, and is worth attempting.

I hope you enjoy!

Yosemite: Astrophotography

There is a part of me that is always hesitant to stay in Yosemite after dark, especially on a trail somewhere.

It goes against everything I was taught, while growing up, about hiking: it’s easier to get lost, the temperature may drop unexpectedly, it’s easier to get hurt, etc. To my parents, especially my dad, trail safety was of paramount importance. Even if they hadn’t emphasized it, I would hate to get stuck behind a slow car on a mountain road when I am already cold and exhausted.

I know there are amazing views to behold and photograph in Yosemite after dark; I have yet to take advantage of them.

However, in the area around Mariposa, where I tend to lodge when I go to Yosemite, the sky is still beautiful and full of stars at night. During my last trip to Yosemite, a few yeas ago, I was kicking myself when I looked up and saw the sky–only to realize that I had forgotten my tripod at home.

This year, I did not forget.

I have never really attempted astrophotography (star photography) before. I’ve taken pictures of town-scapes and skylines in well-lit cities, but not the stars.

In both photos below, you can see the stars pretty clearly and see the colored bands of the night sky, though it may be faint.

I know there are ways I could improve, both in technique and gear. For example, I know both photos are pretty noisy. Also, in the process of writing this, I just learned about the process of stacking in astrophotography (using multiple images to form a composite of sorts, similar to an HDR), and now I wish I had multiple usable pictures.

One enduring question I have, which I am unable to answer, is why they are different colors, when they were taken only a few minutes apart. That is something I will have to research: if you have an idea on why, please leave a comment!

But, for now, I am going to celebrate some unexpected successes in something new.

I hope you enjoy!

Yosemite: Washburn Point

Aside from the trip that I took this summer into Eastern Yosemite, all of my trips into the park have been in the early winter.

The Eastern Sierra Nevada is, as I have said elsewhere, a place that my being finds rest–that is intensified in the winter, with its shorter days, its cold mornings when your breath mists in the air, its longer nights when a wood fire is a comfort, and its frost.

So, due to the timing of most of my trips into Yosemite, this is the first time that I have been there when the Glacier Point Road was still open. Like all twisting mountain roads, the drive can be a long one, especially if you get stuck behind someone.

However, right before you get to Glacier Point itself, you suddenly see the vista from Washburn Point. I was amazed at the sheer magnitude of the Valley below me and at the daunting size of Half Dome. I thought, “People climb that?!”

I’ve been below Half Dome and taken pictures of it from Mirror Lake and from the Valley Floor. I thought its size was impressive then while looking up at it, but when you see it from Washburn Point . . . it is a whole different perspective that reinforces how enormous it really is.

I saw many, many people (all strangers) climbing past guard rails and walls to get pictures on rocks and outcroppings, both at Washburn Point and Glacier Point, as if they were unaware of the number of accidents-of all types–that can, and do, occur in the park.

For me, it’s not worth the risk.

But, they served occasionally, like in the photo below, as useful indicators of the size and scope of the landscape.

I hope you enjoy the pictures!

Eastern Yosemite: Tuolomne Meadows, Pt. III

Here are some more pictures of the river that flows through the meadows, and I tried portraying the sense of calm and peace that I had that day.

There were children inner-tubing in the river, while families sat on the rocky bank, there were fishermen, and there were crowds of people with cell phones. They all readily ignored the “Restoration in Progress–Please stay on the trail” signs; there were so many reminders of the people who see Nature as something to be consumed not conserved, to be discarded when done and not defended.

People who assume it will always be there.

Again, it draws me back to the purpose John Muir wanted to preserve the Meadows: to protect it from the destructive grazing of sheep.

I grew up leaving no trace. You pack it in, and you pack it out. That day in Yosemite, I even had plastic bags, a trowel, and a roll of toilet paper in my pack, unsure of where any restrooms may be or where the need may strike.

So, the consumption of Nature is an idea that is foreign to me, something that I will never completely understand.

And yet . . . and yet; even they couldn’t break Yosemite’s hold on me or chase away the perpetual feeling of awe that enveloped me.

Logically, I know that there were people hiking trails, school groups visiting, families running and playing, and so much more. But, to me, it was Nature, the wide open sky, and a rejuvenation my Soul.

No distractions.

I hope you enjoy.

Eastern Yosemite: Tuolomne Meadows, Pt. II

This trip, after hiking to the Gaylor Lakes Crest earlier in the morning, we decided to explore the meadow areas themselves and not do anything too strenuous or that too steep of an incline.

One of the hikes that I want to do next time that I am in Yosemite is to hike to the top of Lembert Dome. It has such a commanding view of the whole meadows that I imagine it would be breathtaking, not to mention taking pictures.

If I am crazy or determined enough, I imagine it would be beautiful to get there before dawn, and get pictures of the meadows below as the sunlight stretches across, beginning the day. Or, vice-versa for the sunset.

Either way, one of the things I love about the high mountains is that the more I explore, the more I know I need to see, and the more I have reasons to return.

While at the Parsons Memorial Lodge, one thing I learned this trip was that John Muir was in Tuolomne Meadows with friends, not the Valley Floor, when they came up with the idea of getting Yosemite protected as national land, in order to protect it from overgrazing and destruction by livestock.

I hadn’t realized the Meadows was at the center of where so much of the history of the park, and the Sierra Club, and the conservation movement began. I had always assumed it had been lumped in with the Valley Floor.

Yet, reading about the first members of the Sierra Club, the long-term effects that Nature had on their psyches and souls, and the way they longed to return to the Meadows and the high mountains, I understand why it was in the Tuolomne Meadows that it began and why the Meadows contains so much history.

It is a pull to the wild places that I all-too-often feel myself.

I hope you enjoy the pictures.

P.S.: The triptych-esque nature of the first two top photos was completely accidental, but I like it.

Eastern Yosemite: Tuolomne Meadows

After hiking up to the Gaylor Lakes Crest and photographing the magnificent views from so high, we headed farther into Yosemite.

And then stopped almost immediately after we got back into the car. Right past the trailhead parking for Gaylor Lakes is a scenic turn-off for Dana Meadows. It had a lovely view of Mt. Dana and the lakes below, as well as the grassy meadows.

This is where we learned that Eastern Yosemite is, in fact, an alpine zone, thanks to one of the fascinating National Park Service informational displays.

After admiring the view, we headed deeper into the park, and we decided to try and find parking near Tuolomne Meadows. After a few minutes of navigating tightly packed roads, we found parking at the Toulomne Stables Parking, and head off to Soda Springs as a first stop in our destination.

I know I have said it before, but I cannot say it enough: the open vistas, the high mountains, and the sheer beauty of the area left me frequently stopping to take it all in, breathing in Nature. It has had a lasting impact on me.

I hope you enjoy the pictures. There will be more to come, as I find time around work to edit them.

Monochrome: Bodie State Historic Park, Pt. IV

I believe that these are the last of my pictures of Bodie, having now combed through them all and chosen the ones to post.

They all come from earlier in the day, before the afternoon thunderstorm arrived.

I hope you enjoy.