Archive for the ‘Yosemite Photo Conditions’ Category

A Good Year for Dogwoods

Sunday, April 26th, 2015
Dogwoods and mist, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Dogwoods and mist, Yosemite Valley, yesterday afternoon

I assumed that the dogwoods in Yosemite would have peaked and started to whither while we were down in Death Valley. But upon our return we heard reports that the dogwoods were still good. Yesterday afternoon was wet and showery, which seemed like perfect conditions for photographing dogwoods, so Claudia and I drove up to Yosemite Valley, and found that yes, the dogwoods were still good – great, in fact.

Only one dogwood was clearly past peak, and that tree is always an early bloomer. The rest were rather mixed, with some fully leafed out, others with only small leaves, and even a couple with newly-emerging greenish blossoms. The cool and showery weather this past week apparently has helped preserve the flowers, and made this a long-lasting dogwood bloom. But what really struck me yesterday was how full they were. Many trees were just overflowing with blossoms, and we saw many strikingly-beautiful specimens.

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Snow?!

Thursday, April 9th, 2015
Clouds and mist from Tunnel View, sunrise, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Clouds and mist from Tunnel View, sunrise, 7:02 a.m. yesterday

Some strange white stuff fell in Yosemite Valley Tuesday night.

Skies started to clear late Tuesday evening, and it looked like there was a decent chance of seeing an interesting sunrise Wednesday morning, so I set my alarm for 4:15 a.m. (it hurts to even write that number), and made the drive up from Mariposa to the valley.

Before leaving home I checked the Yosemite road-and-weather phone line. It said that Highway 140 and Yosemite Valley were R2 – chains or four-wheel drive required. That usually means a substantial snowfall, so I brought my high-top snow boots in case I had to wade through six inches or more. But when I got to the valley I found only and inch or two of snow on the ground. I’m not complaining though, because that’s more than we’ve had all winter, and that’s the perfect amount to add a delicate coating to the tree branches.

But the trees would have to wait. There was mist on the valley floor, and clouds above, so the sunrise held some promise. I went to a spot near Tunnel View to wait, and shortly after sunrise the clouds started to light up. It turned into a beautiful sunrise, with, at times, three layers of fluff: high, broken clouds, ground-hugging fog, and mid-level mist wrapped around the cliffs.

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Early Dogwoods

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015
Dogwood along the Merced River, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Dogwood along the Merced River, Yosemite, yesterday afternoon

I’ve been helping my mom recover from eye surgery and move into assisted living, so life has been hectic, and I haven’t had much time for photography. But yesterday a rare and much-needed storm came through, and there were signs of clearing in the afternoon, so I took the time to go up to Yosemite Valley.

It didn’t clear after all. In fact it rained most of the time I was there, with the rain turning to snow in heavier showers. But rumors of dogwoods blooming turned out to be true. I found one particularly full dogwood along the Merced River, and was able to photograph it during a break between rain squalls (above).

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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