Poppies and canyon oak, Sierra foothills, Sierra NF, CA, USA

Poppies and canyon oak, Sierra foothills

I made this photograph yesterday in the Merced River Canyon, west of Yosemite. It’s hard to tell here, but I was actually looking straight down a steep hillside toward the oak, using the curving lines of the little gully to lead the viewer’s eye to the tree.

As you can tell from the photo, there are still lots of poppies in this area. Since my last visit, patches of orange have spread up the hillsides further, and while I don’t think this year’s display will approach the vibrance of 2009 or 2012, there are plenty of poppies, and plenty of poppy photographs to be made. The redbuds are also progressing nicely. They’ll probably reach their peak in about five to ten days, but there are many photogenic specimens now.

The poppies may not last long, however. A fairly substantial storm is forecast to reach us on Tuesday night and Wednesday, with half an inch to an inch of rain expected in Yosemite Valley, and up to ten inches of snow above 7,000 feet. Poppies like sun, so the rain is likely to make some of the already-blooming poppies pack it in for the season. There may be some areas where poppies are just starting to emerge that may not be affected, or may even benefit from the rain, but we might not see extensive blooms after this storm. The redbuds, on the other hand, probably won’t be affected by the rain, and should still be great photo subjects for another couple of weeks.

We need the rain desperately, of course, so the storm is good news, even if it might shorten the poppy season. Long-range forecasts predict another storm on Sunday or Monday. These systems won’t bring enough rain to get us out of the drought, but every bit helps. And of course storms can bring interesting clouds and mist to Yosemite Valley. This is a great time of year to photograph a storm clearing in the afternoon from Tunnel View or Gates of the Valley (Valley View), because low-angle, late-day light strikes Bridalveil Fall.

Climate and weather experts are saying there’s a good chance of a strong El Niño this year, so if California can somehow make it through this summer, we might get a wet winter in 2014-2015. Let’s hope so!

— Michael Frye

Related Post: Hite’s Cove Poppies

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Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to YosemiteYosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom 5: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.