Wildflower Update

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 and 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.

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16 Responses to “Wildflower Update”

  1. Sweet Michael! Really enjoy the dark background.

  2. Patricia Prather says:

    How can I buy a print of the poppies?

  3. Doug Wigers says:

    Today I had a decision to make: drive to San Francisco to photograph the GG Bridge that will be there every day this year (!) or drive to Merced River Canyon to capture the poppies before their run ends. I made the right choice and saw some AMAZING blooms today! Thanks for all your tips and guidance through your webiste, App, and FB!

  4. Robin Kent says:

    Hey, Michael, great posts on the poppies, although the envy is killing me because I am too far away to get there in time. Hopefully, the cherry blossoms here in DC will boost my morale when they decide to peak.

  5. Lenya says:

    A really great photograph, Michael. What is that dark background?
    Too bad that the poppy season is so short …

    • Michael Frye says:

      Thanks Lenya. The dark background is just shade. The poppy season looks like it will be particularly short this year, but sometimes it lasts longer. Great wildflower bloms typically don’t last long, at least not in this state. If you hear a report of great flowers somewhere one weekend they probably won’t be there the next weekend.

  6. Walt Leath says:

    Hi Michael,

    My son Michael is on spring break from college and we decided to go poppy hunting. Thanks to your tips we found the awesome spot at Hite’s cove. I think I got some great shots. Thanks for the tips.
    Your the best
    Walt Leath

  7. Walt Leath says:


    I just purchased Lightroom 5. WOW this looks like a challenge to learn. Will your Landscapes in Light room 5 help an amateur learn how to use the program or should I get some basic knowledge first before purchasing.

    Please advise
    Thank You
    Walt Leath

  8. Gery Souza says:

    Drove 140 from Yosemite Valley today and the poppies continue to look lovely after the rain. Thanks to your updates we were able to time our trip for the display.


    • Michael Frye says:

      Gery, I was up there yesterday morning, and though the poppies weren’t open yet, they looked like they were in good shape. In fact they’ve spread further in some spots since last weekend. Two more storms coming, so we’ll see after that.

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