Half Dome, North Dome, and Yosemite Valley at sunrise, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome, North Dome, and Yosemite Valley at sunrise, Yosemite

A couple of months ago California was dealing with severe drought; now we’re coping with flooding and landslides. Yosemite has received over 60 inches of rain since October 1st (the beginning of the water year in this state). The annual average is only 37 inches. At this rate we could double that annual average by the time the rainy season ends this spring.

So far Yosemite has escaped any major disasters, but the same can’t be said for San Jose, where two days ago Coyote Creek overflowed and flooded several neighborhoods. Hundreds of people had to be rescued by boat, many homes were inundated with water, and some 14,000 people were evacuated.

Roads around the state have taken a beating. Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge in Big Sur is closed because the ground supporting the bridge has slumped, causing the underside of the bridge to crack. It could take one to two years to replace the bridge. Similar scenarios have closed two of the three roads leading into Yosemite Valley. Erosion has undermined a section of Highway 41 just outside the park, so that road will be closed for repairs for at least a week. Inside the park a stretch of the Big Oak Flat Road (which connects Highway 120 with Yosemite Valley) has slumped, and it may be a week or more until that road reopens. So right now the only access to Yosemite Valley is via Highway 140. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this road will stay open, since it has also been closed by rockslides several times in recent weeks.

With all the rain and snow you might think there had been many opportunities to photograph clearing storms this winter, but that hasn’t been the case. Often one storm has followed another, with no break in between. And when a series of storms would finally end they seemed to always clear at night. Of course I love to photograph clearing storms at night, and posted several such images here earlier this winter (see here, here, and here). But few storms have cleared during the day, and I can’t recall a single one that cleared around sunrise or sunset this winter – until yesterday.

Tuesday night Claudia and I joined some friends in Fresno for a Bonnie Raitt concert. Bonnie was great, and we had a wonderful time, but didn’t get home and go to bed until about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday morning. But sleep be damned, I set my alarm for 4:00 a.m. because it looked like the latest storm might clear before sunrise. When I got up and checked the weather it looked like there was about a fifty-fifty chance it would clear by sunrise. But those were decent enough odds, so I got ready to go. Claudia went with me, since she had volunteered to help hang the Yosemite Renaissance exhibit.

By the time we got to Yosemite Valley the weather was looking more promising. We saw lots of mist, and broken clouds overhead. There wasn’t any snow in the west end of the valley, but before we left home I had checked the temperatures at the Visitor Center, and their thermometer had read 32 degrees during most of the night. That was cold enough for snow, so we drove to the east end of the valley (where the Visitor Center is located) and, sure enough, we found an inch or two of fresh snow coating the trees.

I climbed up to a spot overlooking the east end of the valley, and got there just in time to photograph the clouds starting to light up behind Half Dome (shown above). Later I photographed sunlight raking across the mist on the valley floor, and misty trees along the Merced River (below).

I got to take a nap later while Claudia was helping to hang the show. In the afternoon the clouds thickened and some showers rolled through, so the sunset didn’t look promising, but since I had to hang around and give Claudia a ride home I decided to head to a Horsetail Fall viewpoint and see what might happen. As it turned out, the sun broke through the clouds just before sunset and put on a spectacular show. I’ll post a photograph of that later, but I hope some of you were there last night to see it for yourself. If so I’d love to see some photos, so please feel free to post a link to your images from yesterday in the comments.

— Michael Frye

Morning light on Half Dome and North Dome, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Morning light on Half Dome and North Dome, Yosemite

Trees, mist, and the Merced River, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Trees, mist, and the Merced River, Yosemite

Related Posts: First Snow; A Wild Week in Yosemite; The Big 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.