California got doused by another series of storms last week. From Sunday (February 5th) through Friday (February 10th) Yosemite Valley received over ten inches of rain, pushing water levels near flood stage again.
My brother Peter came down to visit us from Washington state, and early on Thursday morning we drove up to Yosemite Valley, hoping for the sun to break through. We never saw the sun, but we found innumerable small waterfalls, including many I don’t remember seeing before in over 30 years here. And the big waterfalls were ripping. The overcast light was actually the perfect complement to many of these scenes, and I didn’t know when I’d get another opportunity to photograph the waterfalls like this, so we ended up staying in the valley for most of the day photographing the surging cascades.
Friday afternoon Peter and I drove up to the valley again, as satellite images showed a chance of clearing. The intervening 24 hours had brought another three inches of rain, and all the creeks around Mariposa had jumped their banks and turned into brown torrents. As we drove down the Briceburg grade we stopped at Bear Creek, which was roaring and throwing off plumes of spray. Here’s an iPhone video:
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Skies didn’t clear that afternoon, but we photographed some nice misty scenes from Tunnel View. On our way home we reached Cedar Lodge in El Portal and found a Caltrans truck blocking the road. The driver told us that the road ahead was closed due to a rockslide. This meant it would take us at least two-and-a-half hours to get home via Highway 41, and another two hours to get back to Yosemite Valley in the morning. Or we could spend the night in the park. Luckily a friend let us stay at her house in Yosemite Valley (thanks Laurie!), which saved us a ton of driving.
The sun finally appeared in the morning, and we photographed a rainbow on Upper Yosemite Fall. You can see rainbows in the morning on the upper fall every winter, but rarely with this much water. Later we found oaks steaming in the sun in both Cook’s and El Capitan meadows. The rockslide on Highway 140 got cleared late Saturday morning, so we were able to take the short route home. We never did get an opportunity to photograph a clearing storm, but it was wonderful to see all that water.
There’s more rain on the way. Forecasters are predicting three or four more storms, starting tomorrow and continuing through Tuesday. Although these storms aren’t expected to dump as much rain as the last series, water levels are bound to go up again. This should create more opportunities to photograph exceptionally-full waterfalls and cascades, so if your Horsetail Fall plans get washed out there should be many other interesting subjects to focus on. But please be careful! You don’t want to get too close to these turbulent creeks and rivers, as a slip could be disastrous to you, your camera, or both.
— Michael Frye
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.