Half Dome and clouds at sunset from Glacier Point, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome and clouds at sunset from Glacier Point, Yosemite (7:44 p.m.)

The Glacier Point Road opened early this year – on Saturday, April 28th. Then it closed again two days later due to a chance of snow. When Claudia and I drove up to Yosemite Valley on Tuesday to check on the dogwoods the Glacier Point Road was still closed.

On Wednesday afternoon I finished writing a post about the dogwoods, and then decided to look at the Yosemite webcams. The forecast called for a chance of showers and thunderstorms over the high country, and sure enough, the webcams showed some cloud buildup. I called the Yosemite road and weather number (209-372-0200), and lo and behold, the Glacier Point Road was open! At this point it was already 4:30 in the afternoon, but the sun wouldn’t set until 7:50, so there might still be enough time to get up to Glacier Point. I told Claudia the Glacier Point Road was open, and she didn’t hesitate: “Let’s go!”

We packed clothing, snacks, and camera gear, and were out of the house by five o’clock. Despite getting stuck behind one of the slowest drivers on earth, we made it to Glacier Point by 6:45.

At first a bank of clouds hid Half Dome. The radar also showed some thunderstorms to the northwest (the direction the sun would set), so I wasn’t too optimistic about seeing a good sunset. But we only had to wait an hour find out, and in the meantime we could enjoy the view.

After about 15 minutes a tiny piece of Half Dome appeared through a rift in the clouds. Then a little bit more emerged. Soon almost all of Half Dome became visible except the middle, which was wrapped in a band of mist. Sunlight hit some spots below the dome, then, gradually, moved upward. The color deepened, and the light kept getting better and better.

I don’t have many good photographs from Glacier Point. It’s only accessible for five to six months of the year, and that’s only in summer and fall, which is the driest time of year in California. And photographically, Glacier Point is a spot that really needs clouds. My summer visits to Glacier Point usually coincide with the occasional spells of monsoonal moisture that create afternoon thunderstorms. But timing those visits is tricky; often those afternoon clouds dissipate as quickly as they form, so you need a heavy buildup to begin with, which means the sunset might be completely blocked by clouds.

In other words, I’ve been skunked at Glacier Point many times. So it was nice to be there, finally, for an exceptional sunset. Sometimes those last-minute impulses are the best ones.

— Michael Frye

Half Dome and clouds from Glacier Point, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome and clouds from Glacier Point, Yosemite (7:30 p.m.)

Sunset panorama from Glacier Point, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Sunset panorama from Glacier Point, Yosemite (7:45 p.m.)

Related Posts: Yosemite Dogwoods; Cloud Patterns; Fire and Half Dome

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. Visit Michael’s blog for more photography tips and tutorials.