Archive for the ‘Wildflowers’ Category

Wildflower Hunting

Sunday, March 27th, 2016
Poppies, lupines, and oak, Figueroa Mountain, Los Padres NF, CA, USA

Poppies, lupines, and oak, Figueroa Mountain

Claudia and I took a few days this past week to look for wildflowers. It doesn’t seem like a great year for flowers, at least compared to some past years, but we did find some nice patches.

Our first stop was Carrizo Plain National Monument. We had heard some promising reports from this area, and we found extensive patches of yellow hillside daisies along the south and east sides of Soda Lake. We also heard that there are large swaths of purple phacelia in the southern part of the monument, but we didn’t make it down that far. However the Temblor Range, on the eastern edge of the Monument, seemed very dry. There were patches of daisies in the Temblors, but none of the multi-colored hillsides you’ll see in the best years. If you’ve never been to the Carrizo Plain in the spring it’s definitely worth going, as you’ll find some large swaths of beautiful flowers on the valley floor, and a bit of searching will reveal mixes of different species that work well for more intimate scenes. But if you’ve been to the Carrizo in a great year you’ll probably be a little disappointed with the display this spring.


Happy Spring!

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015
Paintbrush and lupine near Tioga Pass, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Paintbrush and lupine near Tioga Pass, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Although spring officially began two days ago, here in California we’ve had springlike conditions since February, while in the northeast spring is just a rumor. But flowers will bloom everywhere, eventually, and it’s a great season for photography.

Though I usually prefer to photograph flowers as part of a landscape, sometimes I enjoy doing closeups as well. This image was made in the Yosemite high country a few years ago, with part of a paintbrush in focus, and out-of-focus lupines in the foreground. This technique of using out-of-focus flowers to create a wash of color, and an impressionistic look, is fun to try, but tricky. It requires a densely-packed group of flowers, and a lot of experimentation. Here are some tips:


Surprising Wildflowers

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Oaks, lupine, and poppies in the Merced River Canyon near El Portal, CA, USA

Oaks, lupine, and poppies in the Merced River Canyon near El Portal, CA, USA

Claudia and I drove up the Merced River Canyon west of Yosemite Sunday afternoon on a scouting mission, looking for wildflowers that were rumored to be blooming. And we did find some flowers – despite our dry winter. The redbuds are coming out all along the canyon; most are just budding, but we found some in full bloom, and the rest should get there within the next week or so.

Redbuds have deep roots, so they’re not affected by drought as much as some other flowers. But the poppies in this area are annuals, and dependent on winter rains, so I was surprised to see quite a few poppies blooming up and down the canyon. The display doesn’t approach last year’s, or the even more spectacular bloom in 2009, but any flowers at all seem like a miracle after our dry winter. And who knows – maybe the show will get better.

Right now the most eye-catching hillside of poppies is about a mile east of Savage’s Trading Post on the opposite side of the river. You can reach the base of this hill by driving to the end of Incline Road and continuing on foot for about a mile down the old railroad bed. But getting up among the poppies requires climbing a very steep hillside. (There are directions to Incline Road in my Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, which most of you probably have, but if not the road is easy to find. Just cross the bridge at Foresta Road, about four miles east of Savage’s, then turn left along the river on Incline Road.)


Late Bloomers in the Yosemite High Country

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011
Corn lily circle

Corn lily circle

A heavy winter, wet spring, and late snowmelt have all conspired to delay the wildflower bloom in the Yosemite high country, but it’s now in full swing. It’s a fantastic year for corn lilies—those plants with the sculpted, photogenic leaves and tall stalks of white blossoms. The Crane Flat Meadows are full of them, more than I’ve ever seen before, but these flowers are abundant in all the meadows between 6000 and 8000 feet right now. I made the accompanying photos in McGurk Meadow, where I found a nice mix of corn lilies and paintbrush.

These displays just the beginning. With all the residual moisture from melting snow, it promises to be a good—though late—wildflower year. Some spots may not peak until the end of August or even the beginning of September.


Misty Dogwoods

Friday, June 3rd, 2011
A) Dogwood, Pine and Cedar

A) Dogwood, Pine and Cedar

On Wednesday morning Claudia and I woke early and headed up to Yosemite Valley. The sky was overcast, although the sun threatened to break through at times. After recording footage for a video I’m working on (more about that later), we decided to  drive up the Wawona Road to look at dogwoods. As we ascended, we drove into the clouds, and into a patch of fog clinging to an area of burned trees.

As I photographed this area, the fog thickened, and I thought a group of dogwoods lower down might have become enveloped in the mist. Sure enough, they had, which made me happy. What could be better than dogwoods in mist? I spent a couple of hours composing photographs.


Dogwoods Have Finally Bloomed

Monday, May 9th, 2011
Emerging dogwood along the Merced River (from 2005)

Emerging dogwood along the Merced River (from 2005)

I drove up to Yosemite Valley on Saturday for my reception at The Ansel Adams Gallery, and saw many dogwoods in full bloom—finally! I’d say about half of the blossoms in the valley had turned white, while half were still in that greenish-yellow stage. They’re changing quickly, and I expect that most of them are in full bloom today.

Meanwhile, the attendance at the reception was great—thanks to all of you who came! It was fun to actually shake hands with people who I’d previously only met in the comments of this blog, or on Facebook or Twitter. And it was nice to connect with old friends and acquaintances.

Now I’m on my way to Utah for the Moab Photography Symposium later this week. I’m reminded of that line at the end of the Coen brother’s movie Raising Arizona, something about finding a place “where all the children are happy, and all the parents are strong, and wise. Maybe Utah.”  Of course—Utah. Here I come.

Waterfalls and Dogwoods

Monday, April 18th, 2011
Forest dogwood, 2009 (part of my current exhibit at The Ansel Adams Gallery)

Forest dogwood, 2009 (part of my current exhibit at The Ansel Adams Gallery)

Just a quick note about conditions in Yosemite before I start my Spring Yosemite Digital Camera workshop tomorrow…

Spring is a bit behind schedule this year. A few trees have new leaves, and a few more have buds, but Yosemite Valley hasn’t really started greening up yet. And there’s no sign of dogwoods. Looks like the dogwood bloom will be at least a week or two late; it will probably start the first or second week of May.

Down in the Merced River Canyon, west of the park, you can still find some nice redbud, but they’re fading quickly. By this weekend most will have leafed out. There aren’t many other flowers to be seen either.

But here in Yosemite Valley the waterfalls are roaring. I watched spray being blown all the way from the bottom to the top of Upper Yosemite Fall, something I can’t recall ever seeing before. It must have been the wind, or perhaps some strange configuration of the ice cone at its base. But in any case the recent warm weather has increased the rate of snowmelt, and a lot of water is coming down.

The weather is supposed to turn cooler this week, so the flow will temporarily diminish a bit, but any warm spells between now and mid-June will create heavy runoff. I expect this to be a great year for waterfalls.

Redbud Popping

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

Redbud and Rocks along the Merced River. Soft light emphasized the colors.Redbud and Rocks along the Merced River. Soft light emphasized the colors.

Flower Reports

They’re late this year, but the redbud are finally blooming in the Merced River Canyon, along Highway 140 west of Yosemite. I’d say they’re just short of peak; some have not yet bloomed, but none have leaves. Photographically, this is the most interesting time, as once they start to leaf out they’re not as photogenic.

The big snowstorm two weeks ago damaged some of the redbud near El Portal, but further west they’re in great shape. Look for them everywhere near the river along the main highway, as well as the Merced River Recreation Area at Briceburg.

So far few poppies have appeared near the Merced River. They might be late, or it just may turn out to be a poor year for them—time will tell. But the best poppy blooms I’ve seen here have always occurred in March.


Wildflower Season is Coming!

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011
Wildflowers in the Temblor Range, Spring 2010
Wildflowers in the Temblor Range, Spring 2010


It’s been a strange winter in California. November and December were exceptionally wet, January and early February were almost completely dry, then we finally got some rain again in late February and the beginning of March. Now the weather has turned warm and dry once more, bringing thoughts of spring, and wildflowers.

Most of the best wildflower areas in Southern California received above average rainfall, as you can see from this NOAA map. But that six-week dry spell at the beginning of the year may have thrown many of the plants off their rhythm, so it’s difficult to predict what kind of wildflower season it might be. It seems likely that somewhere, sometime, we’ll see some great blooms—but where, and when?

The best I can tell you at this point is to look and listen for the wildflower reports as they come in. While Carol Leigh has discontinued her California Wildflower Hotsheet, she still administers the CalPhoto group on Yahoo, which is always a good resource for wildflower reports. Kahlee Brighton has also started listing flower sightings at the Wildflower Conservancy.

DesertUSA is another valuable site, with wildflower reports for Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas as well as California. Also check out the Theodore Payne Foundation’s Wildflower Hotline. Sandy Steinman has a comprehensive list of links to wildflower reports on his blog.

These links just scratch the surface of what’s available, so if you know of other good sources please feel free to post them in the comments. And of course I’ll keep you up to date on what’s happening around the Yosemite area on this blog. So far, not much!

August Flowers

Thursday, August 5th, 2010
Lupine and cow parsnip near the Glacier Point Road last SundayLupine and cow parsnip near the Glacier Point Road last Sunday

As expected, the wildflowers are nearing their peak in the higher elevations of Yosemite. They’re not really late; this is typical timing after a heavy winter. A fleeting, beautiful period of time has begun.

Summit Meadow, right along the Glacier Point Road, is a damp, boggy place. As the meadow slowly dries out over the summer, the shooting stars that dominated the early-season landscape give way to corn lilies, sneezeweed and lupine. There should be a nice mix of flowers there by this weekend. There are also many other small meadows and clearings near this road with flowers—you just have to look. It might also be worth a short hike to McGurk or Westfall meadows. A couple of years ago Claudia and I arranged a car shuttle and hiked from Taft Point to the McGurk Meadow trailhead, and found lots of great flowers along the way.

Speaking of Claudia, there’s a photo of her below near Crane Flat, standing next to the tallest corn lily I’ve ever seen. Ten feet tall? It’s a good year for corn lilies. In some summers a cold snap kills them before they bloom, but while we had a late spring, the temperatures have been moderate since early June, and corn lily blossoms are abundant right now. Some are already spent at Crane Flat, at only 6000 feet in elevation, but at 7000 feet and higher they should still be going strong for another week or so.

Other flowers, however, are still blooming at Crane Flat. Last Thursday the sneezeweed, coneflowers, and lupine were abundant, and other blossoms like yampah and goldenrod were about to bloom in big numbers.

I haven’t been to Tuolumne Meadows recently, but Claudia has, and says the wildflower display is typical of recent years—scattered blooms, but no thick carpets of flowers. However she found more color in other places, like along the trail to Mono Pass. It’s likely that other spots near Tioga Pass have good displays as well.

Please be careful when photographing wildflowers, and try not to trample them in your efforts to find the perfect composition. We want them to bloom next year too!

Claudia next to the tallest corn lily I've ever seenClaudia next to the tallest corn lily I’ve ever seen