It was a wet weekend in Yosemite. From Thursday night to Sunday night Yosemite Valley received almost three inches of rain, and higher elevations probably got more.
Skies cleared Sunday night, so Claudia and I drove up to the valley early Monday morning, hoping to see fog, mist, and fall color. But what we found most striking was the water levels. It looked like spring, but with autumn color. The Merced River was ripping along, and the flat rock just above the old dam (the 120/140 junction) was completely submerged. The waterfalls were roaring. We didn’t find much mist, but there was a little fog in El Cap and Leidig meadows, and the sun created evaporation mist as it hit various spots on the valley floor.
We did find lots of autumn color, and the high river provided a rare opportunity to juxtapose colorful leaves against the water. I spent most of the morning looking for those juxtapositions, as in the photograph above and the first image below.
Although we had only planned to spend the morning in the park, it was such a beautiful day we couldn’t leave, so we got some lunch, took naps in the car, and continued photographing in the afternoon. We decided to drive up Highway 120 to check on the higher-elevation dogwoods, but when we got to the old dam we found that Highway 140 had been closed by a rock slide. That meant a much longer drive home, but since we had planned to go up Highway 120 anyway we decided to just continue out that way and go through Coulterville to Mariposa.
The dogwoods along 120 were still beautiful, and we stopped at one spot between the valley and Crane Flat (the second photograph below). Past Crane Flat we ran into fog — low clouds, really, as the cloud deck had lowered. There wasn’t much color around Crane Flat, but I kept my fingers crossed, hoping that the fog would continue further west, where I knew there were more dogwoods. And I got my wish. It was getting late by then, but I spent the last hour of daylight looking for compositions of dogwoods in the fog (as in the last photograph below).
Overall the color in Yosemite Valley looked great. Some big-leaf maples had lost their leaves, but most were vibrant yellow and near their peak. The cottonwoods produce the most variable and inconsistent autumn display of the deciduous trees in the valley, but it seems to be a good year for them, and a majority of them were yellow. The valley dogwoods were at least half green, so they won’t peak for another week or so, but some were quite colorful. The one valley deciduous tree species that seems to be having a poor year is the black oaks. About half of them have turned brown, while the other half have their usual golden-yellow autumn leaves and are near peak. It’s been a good year for the higher-elevation dogwoods, with many of them displaying vivid reds along highways 120 and 41. But they’re starting to lose their leaves, so they won’t last long.
We had a great day, and look forward to going back now that Highway 140 has reopened. It’s nice to know that autumn isn’t over, and we should still be able to find colorful leaves in the valley for another week or two.
— Michael Frye
Related Posts: Autumn on the East Side; North Lake Sunset
Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite 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: 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.
The “shoot though a screen of vegetation against a flowing river” technique is a good one (if memory serves, you’ve got some beauties using the technique: redbud and dogwood). The yellow against blue in this one really works well.
How do you decide the right shutter speed for the water?
Thanks Eric. To answer your questions: experimentation. I tried 1/2, 1/4, and 1/8 seconds for this. 1/2 was too slow – not enough texture. 1/8 was too fast – too much texture. 1/4 seemed to be about right.
Thanks so much for the beautiful images and for the color report in different places!
I was in the Valley a couple weeks ago and hadn’t expected color but there was plenty, so that was exciting – my first time seeing fall color in the Valley! I might be able to get back in a week – have been wondering if there would be anything left – good to know there may still be something.
Thank you again for keeping us connected to Yosemite, among other places
You’re welcome Joolz, and thanks. The valley color is a lot closer to peak now than it was two weeks ago – you would only have been seeing the beginning of the fall color back then, mostly maples.
Thanks for sharing. I am so jealous that you live close enough to follow your passion and curiosity for yet another lovely day in Yosemite. Your colors and composition make me feel like I am there – -peeking through the gold and crimson foliage.
Thanks, Michael, for another great post. Beautiful images! Your images always makes me smile and so glad that I live in wonderful California. Thanks too for sharing your passion with us.
Thank you Gail!
Gesh mike, that’s quite the batch of photos… Suddenly I feel like I’m just not trying hard enough 🙂
I like them all but those first two, wow, your ability to eliminate distractions form the frame is down right mad scientific… And very very inspiring. Thanks for sharing.
Ps, I’ll take my camera out of the trash in the morn 😉
Thanks Mizz. I think the ability to eliminate distractions is more art than science. Like everything, it takes practice.
Thanks for sharing these beautiful pictures and Yosemite fall color information. With so much water in late October this year, I am curious whether horsetail fall has any water flow similar to mid/late February and you or someone else has taken pictures of it.