Archive for the ‘Yosemite Photo Conditions’ Category

A Good Year for Redbuds

Saturday, March 14th, 2015
Redbud, rocks, and the Merced River, Stanislaus NF, CA, USA

Redbud, rocks, and the Merced River (April 2002)

I had a chance to drive up the Merced River Canyon (west of Yosemite along Highway 140) yesterday to check on the flowers. It’s not turning into a good year for poppies in this area. There are scattered patches of poppies in shadier spots, but all the south-facing slopes look very dry. There are very few poppies near the beginning of the Hite’s Cove Trail, on Grandy’s Hill, or any of the other prime poppy locations.

But the redbuds are looking great. Overall, they’re close to their peak now, or maybe just before peak. The redbuds in the western half of the canyon are a little further along, and in prime condition, with most in full bloom, less than 5% leafing out, and maybe 10-20% not quite in full bloom yet. The redbuds in the eastern half of the canyon are not quite at peak yet. I saw one or two leafing out, but maybe 60% were in full bloom, while 40% were still on their way. But there are many vibrant, beautiful specimens throughout the canyon, and it looks like one of the better years for redbuds I’ve seen lately.


March Light

Thursday, March 5th, 2015
Late afternoon view of Yosemite Valley from near Old Inspiratoin Point, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Late afternoon view of Yosemite Valley from near Old Inspiratoin Point, Monday afternoon

It’s the time of year when both El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall get late-afternoon sunlight when seen from the west end of Yosemite Valley. In winter, El Cap get that late-day light, while Bridalveil stays in the shade. In summer it’s the opposite, with the cliffs to the right of Bridalveil Fall (like the Leaning Tower) receiving the last glow in the evening, while El Cap goes into shade earlier. But in early March (and around the end of September) the light balances well on both sides of the valley, making it a great time of year for photographs from Tunnel View and Gates of the Valley (aka Valley View).

Knowing this, I watched the weather closely on Monday. Some showers moved through, and it seemed like the last chance of seeing interesting clouds for awhile, so I decided to hike up above Tunnel View to a spot near Old Inspiration Point (I’ve described previous journeys up this trail here and here). I got there in time to catch one moment with beautiful cloud shadows. I especially like the shadow near the bottom of El Capitan (in the photo above).


Rocks and Clouds

Sunday, March 1st, 2015
Half Dome and clouds from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome and clouds from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

“Time, geologic time, looks out at us from the rocks as from no other objects in the landscape… Even if we do not know our geology, there is something in the face of a cliff and in the look of a granite boulder that gives us pause.” — John Burroughs

Photography has a great ability to showcase contrasting textures, which is perhaps why hard rocks and soft clouds fit together so well. In Yosemite the rocks are a given; they’re always there. It’s the clouds that are more elusive, especially during these dry years.


Signs of Spring

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

Redbud along the Merced River, Merced River Canyon, near Briceberg, CA, USA

Redbud along the Merced River, Merced River Canyon, March 2013

February has been exceptionally warm, so I probably shouldn’t be surprised to see signs of spring already. But redbuds? In February? Apparently so. Claudia drove up to Yosemite Valley on Saturday, and reported seeing redbuds and a few poppies blooming in the Merced River Canyon west of the park. It’s not unusual to see poppies in late February, but the redbuds are a month early. Claudia said that only a couple of them were in full bloom, but many more were starting.

Temperatures dropped significantly over the weekend, and I’m not sure how that will affect the redbuds, or the poppies. Under normal circumstances the redbuds would continue to progress, and reach peak in perhaps a week or so. But these aren’t normal circumstances, so all bets are off.


More Birds, and a Horsetail Update

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015
Moon, Venus, and Ross's geese, San Joaquin Valley, CA, USA

Moon, Venus, and Ross’s geese, San Joaquin Valley, CA, USA

I’ve been working on a book deadline, so haven’t been able to get to Yosemite Valley and check on Horsetail Fall recently. But I did break away from the desk on Friday to go down to the Central Valley and photograph birds. At first the light was rather uninspiring, because the fog I was hoping for had lifted into a low overcast. But it turned out to be a great day. I photographed one of the biggest goose takeoffs I’ve ever seen, with perhaps 30,000 birds lifting off at once; one of the photographs below shows part of that group. Later, the sun broke through the stratus deck to create some beautiful sunbeams, and at dusk Venus and the crescent moon appeared (above).

As for Horsetail, the flow diminished quickly after the last rainstorm, and from reports I’ve heard there is basically no water in it – just a bit of dampness. There is another storm predicted for today and tomorrow. This is expected to be both colder and weaker than the last storm, with snow levels around 6,000 feet, but limited moisture. Horsetail might get some help from this system, but probably not much. Even if this storm turns out to be bigger than predicted, any precipitation in Horsetail’s drainage will fall as snow, so there won’t be a significant boost in flow until the sun comes out and melts some of that snow. It’s supposed to be sunny Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, so maybe by Wednesday or Thursday we could see a decent water flow in Horsetail.


After the Storm

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

Sunrise from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Sunrise from Tunnel View, Sunday morning

Yosemite Valley got about three inches of rain from the storms over the weekend. That’s not a drought-busting amount, but it helps, and I’m grateful for every drop.

The first wave of rain arrived Friday night, and lingered through Saturday. Early Sunday morning I looked at the satellite and radar images online, and saw thin, high clouds moving in ahead of the next system. Thinking that those clouds might light up at sunrise, I made the trip up to Tunnel View. Soon after I got there a bit of color appeared behind Half Dome, and then within minutes the whole sky caught on fire. It turned into the most colorful sunrise I’ve ever seen from that spot; you can see a photograph above.

The second wave of rain arrived Sunday evening. It started slowly, but around 9:30 p.m. a band of heavy rain passed through Mariposa County and headed toward Yosemite. I was actually out driving during this squall, and had to stop and pull off the road four separate times because it was raining so hard I could only see about 20 feet ahead.


Will the Approaching Storm Revive Horsetail Fall?

Friday, February 6th, 2015

Horsetail Fall at sunset, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

This photograph from 2009 shows what an average February flow in Horsetail Fall looks like

After a wet spell in December, the rain spigot got turned off. Yosemite Valley received seven one-hundredths of an inch of rain for the entire month of January. San Francisco set a record for January that can never be broken, with no measurable precipitation.

Not surprisingly, there isn’t much water in Horsetail Fall. In fact there’s no detectable flow at all – just a little dampness near the top. But forecasters are predicting a significant storm this weekend. They’re actually expecting two pulses, one tonight, and another on Sunday night. Total rainfall for the weekend could exceed four inches if the forecasts are right.

Horsetail should get a short-term boost from this storm. Whether that boost lasts longer depends on the exact snow level. Horsetail is fed by melting snow from a small drainage on top of El Capitan lying between 6,200 and 7,600 feet. The predictions for this storm put the snow level at 8,000 feet. If the actual snow levels are a little lower, and Horsetail’s tiny watershed gets some significant snow, then the runoff from that snow melting could last for a couple of weeks and provide at least some flow during the prime photography period later this month. If the snow levels are higher, and Horsetail’s drainage gets only rain, the water will run off quickly and won’t provide a lasting increase in the flow.


Cloud Sculptures

Sunday, December 14th, 2014

Cloud formations, approaching storm, Mariposa, CA, USA

Cloud formations, approaching storm, Mariposa, Thursday

It was windy last Thursday as the big storm was approaching. Walking from my office toward the house I noticed some unusual clouds to the southwest. I didn’t make it to the house; I grabbed my camera bag and tripod, climbed the small hill behind my office, and spent the next half hour photographing clouds.

The clouds overhead were dark, but I could see clear skies to the southwest. The light from that clear patch created a beautiful golden glow on the underside of the clouds, as if it were sunset, even though it was just past noon. The wind probably helped create the sculptured patterns. There was no compelling foreground to put under the clouds, and besides, the most interesting patterns were rather small and distant, so I used my 70-200 zoom to pick out sections of clouds with interesting designs. The photograph below looks a bit HDR, but it was actually the opposite – I increased the contrast, rather than decreasing it.

The storm stalled over the Bay Area that afternoon, and didn’t reach Mariposa until midnight. So while areas near the coast dealt with flooding and power outages, we got a bit less rain and snow than expected. Yosemite Valley received just under two inches of rain, which was a good soaking, but not a deluge. As this precipitation map shows, while many areas around California have received above-average precipitation for the last six months, the Sierra Nevada is still below average. And that’s just the last six months, which doesn’t include the three preceding dry winters. So this storm helped, but we have a long way to go.


Another Storm on the Way

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Clearing storm from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Clearing storm from Tunnel View, January 2012

A powerful storm is forecast to reach California soon. It could be the strongest storm here since 2008, with lots of rain, high-elevation snow, and potentially damaging winds. Yosemite could get two to three inches of rain, with a couple feet of snow above 8,000 feet. Areas further north could get even more. Meteorologists are talking about potential flooding in some places, and mudslides in burned areas.

Is this the start of a wet winter? It’s too early to tell, but we’re certainly due for one. There are two more storms forecast for next week, and although they’re not expected to be as strong, it seems like we’re in a wet pattern right now – and when was the last time we could say that? Although no one wants to see serious flooding, we really, really need the rain.

Of course interesting weather can create interesting photo opportunities. Snow levels with this oncoming storm are expected to start at around 8,000 feet, lower quickly to 6,000 feet, and possibly get down to 4,500 feet at the tail end of the storm. That’s a little too high to reach Yosemite Valley (at 4,000 feet), but if the snow-level prediction is a little bit off the valley could get a dusting of snow just before skies clear.

But even without snow, any clearing storm can be photogenic. It looks the storm will clear either late Friday or early Saturday in Yosemite. The valley might look a little like the photograph above, with bare trees on the valley floor, but lots of new snow on the rim. And if we’re really lucky the storm will clear just before sunset, or just before sunrise, with low-angle sunlight and lots of mist.

Let’s hope we get many more opportunities to photograph clearing storms this winter in California – and, more importantly, get lots of rain and snow to fill up the creeks, rivers, and reservoirs.

— Michael Frye

Did you like this article? Click here to subscribe to this blog and get every new post delivered right to your inbox!

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, Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers, 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 has 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.

Moon Above Half Dome

Sunday, December 7th, 2014

Moon rising above Yosemite Valley, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Moon rising above Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View, Thursday evening

Last Thursday evening the moon was due to rise in an interesting spot. I checked PhotoPills and The Photographer’s Ephemeris, and it looked like you’d see the nearly-full moon rise right over Half Dome if you were standing at Tunnel View. But I wasn’t sure the moon would be visible, as there were a lot of clouds.

On Tuesday and Wednesday most of California had received a good soaking – the biggest storm the state has seen in two years. Yosemite Valley got about 1.4 inches of rain, and a foot or two of snow above 8,000 feet; a decent amount, and enough to get the waterfalls flowing again, but some areas to the north and south got much more precipitation. The drought is far from over, as we need many more storms like this just to reach average rainfall levels for the winter. But it was a good start.

The storm started to clear early Thursday morning, so I drove up to Tunnel View for sunrise. It was too cloudy at first, but then the sun broke through and hit El Cap, and some beautiful sunbeams appeared to the right of Cathedral Rocks (see the image below).

Since I had some business in the valley that afternoon, I hung around, napping in my car and working on my laptop. During my meeting later I kept checking the satellite images and webcams on my iPhone, but it looked like there were a lot of clouds. We took a break at 3:45 p.m., so I stepped outside, and the weather actually looked more promising. The clouds were broken, with shafts of light reaching the cliffs. Even if the moon didn’t appear, it could be an interesting sunset. Gotta go!