Upper Yosemite, rainbow, and reflection in the Merced River, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Rainbow and Upper Yosemite Fall from Swinging Bridge, Yosemite, Friday afternoon

On Thursday night a large rainstorm hit California. The National Weather Service predicted minor flooding in Yosemite Valley during the night, so the park service pre-emptively closed all the roads in Yosemite Valley at 4:00 p.m. on Thursday.

That was disappointing, since I wanted to drive up to the valley the next morning to see the high water. As it turned out, the Merced River didn’t reach flood stage, everything was fine, and they reopened the roads at 9:00 a.m. on Friday. By that time it was too late to drive up and catch the morning light, so I decided to head to the park in the afternoon.

When I arrived in the valley the river and waterfalls were roaring. It looked like spring, except for the bare trees and the low winter sun. From Swinging Bridge I saw a rainbow on Upper Yosemite Fall. I’d never seen a rainbow from this spot in my 30-plus years in the area, but a combination of exceptionally high water and December lighting angles had created this unusual sight.

Yosemite Valley received over four inches of rain from this storm – a good soaking, though not an exceptional amount. Snow levels were around 8,000 feet, so only the highest elevations got snow. The water levels usually drop pretty quickly after a rainstorm like this, especially with the cold temperatures we’ve had since Friday, but the waterfalls should have above-average winter flow for awhile. We probably won’t see rainbows from Swinging Bridge again, but you can find a rainbow on Upper Yosemite Fall from Cook’s Meadow any sunny morning in winter, as long as there’s enough water.

On Friday I hung around the valley after sunset, waiting for the moonrise. That turned out to be spectacular, and I’ll post a photo soon.

— Michael Frye

Related Posts: Misty Night; First Snow

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.