Winter arrived late in Yosemite this year, but now it seems reluctant to leave. Of course that’s fine with me, as I love photographing storms, and we certainly need the moisture.
A short but intense weather system dropped about an inch of precipitation on Yosemite Valley Saturday afternoon and evening. The storm began with rain, but quickly changed to snow. I was in the valley on Saturday for the Yosemite Conservancy Spring Forum, and driving out at about 5:30 in the afternoon I encountered blizzard conditions, with thick snow blowing sideways. I stopped at El Capitan Meadow and set up my camera and tripod underneath the back hatch of my car to try and capture the falling snow (see the photograph below). I managed to keep the camera dry, but my pants were soon coated with an inch of snow.
It looked like we might see clearing on Sunday morning, so Claudia and I drove up early and joined about ten other people at Tunnel View. We started talking and socializing, but all that stopped when some breaks appeared in the clouds, and then rays of sun struck El Capitan (above).
Then it started snowing again, and then it cleared a little, and another squall arrived, and cleared. I kept trying to leave. Once I had even packed up my camera and put it in the car, but the clouds started breaking up again, so I took the camera and tripod out again. And I’m glad I did, as we kept seeing wonderful light and mist during those breaks (you can see two of the photographs made during these breaks below). Eventually, around 10 o’clock, the showers ended and it cleared for good.
As we drove home we had a chance to check on the poppies and redbud in the Merced River Canyon, along Highway 140 west of the park. About half of the redbud are in full bloom, with the other half budding. Nearly all of them should be blooming in a week or so.
Despite the dry winter—or maybe because of it—it’s a good year for poppies. We saw large swaths of them covering the hillsides on the north side of the river between Briceburg and the rock slide detour. Reaching these areas requires at least two miles of hiking (one way), but they can be photographed from across the river with long lenses. There are some more accessible poppies along the south side of the river at “Grandy’s Hill,” about a mile west of the detour, and at the beginning of the Hite’s Cove trail.
Will we get more spring storms? There’s a chance of showers in the forecast for Wednesday, but nothing major in sight. March ended with 68 percent of average precipitation for Yosemite Valley since last July. These late storms have helped, and brought fairly normal spring conditions to Yosemite, but we could certainly use some more rain and snow. Does anyone know a rain dance?
Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author and photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite Meditations, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters, plus the eBook Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom. He 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