Light and Weather

Trees and Fog

Trees and waves of fog, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Trees and waves of fog, Yosemite NP, California

On a Sunday morning nine days ago I headed up to Yosemite Valley as a small storm was clearing. This system was on the warm side, so it rained at the valley elevation (around 4,000 feet). But there was still some snow on the ground from previous storms, and rain on top of snow is a fog-generating machine, so I figured there would be lots of fog and mist.

And there was lots of mist when I arrived in the valley. I climbed up to one of my favorite off-the-beaten path viewpoints, thinking to capture a classic Yosemite clearing storm. But when I reached that spot it became apparent that the mist wasn’t wrapping around the cliffs as I’d expected. Instead, I saw a shallow layer of fog covering the length of the Valley floor, with the tops of tall ponderosa pines poking up through the fog layer. Which looked gorgeous.


Yosemite Snow

Misty sunset from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Misty sunset from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, California

Last Tuesday night a small snowstorm moved through Yosemite. It’s been a dry winter so far, and this was the first significant snow in Yosemite Valley in quite awhile. It also looked like the storm might clear around sunrise, which was good timing.

So Claudia and I rose early Wednesday morning and drove up to the Valley, where we found about four inches of new snow. It was great to see the trees decked out in white, and to feel the snow underfoot.


Autumn in the Redwoods

Redwood, maple, firs, and sunbeams, northern California, USA

Redwood, maple, firs, and sunbeams, northern California

We had a long, lingering autumn here on the west coast – especially in the Pacific Northwest. On our way up to Oregon in early November, Claudia and I stopped in some redwood groves to check on the fall color. And we found lots of it. It seemed like a good year for color throughout the Northwest, including the far northern corner of California where the biggest redwoods grow. Underneath the redwood canopy, vine maples and big-leaf maples – the same species found on the Olympic Peninsula, and throughout much of Oregon and Washington – can add splashes of color to the forest.

I had long wanted to photograph fall color in the redwoods, but it’s difficult to find the right conditions, especially since the best groves are a nine-hour drive from home. Some years the big-leaf maples just turn brown. And even if they do turn yellow the timing is highly variable. So we felt very lucky to find some good color this year.


Clearing Tropical Storm

Sunbeams, Half Dome, and Nevada Fall from Glacier Point, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Sunbeams, Half Dome, and Nevada Fall from Glacier Point, Yosemite NP, California

As the remnants of Tropical Storm Hilary moved through California, I looked for opportunities to photograph interesting weather. I thought we might get thunderstorms, which we did, especially as the first bands of moisture reached our area. But I wasn’t able to find a thunderstorm in the right position to photograph it. We did, however, get three-quarters of an inch of rain at our house from one thunderstorm.

Then, as this large weather system moved off to the north, I realized there might be a chance to photograph a clearing storm Monday morning (August 21st). It looked like the rain would end around sunrise in Yosemite; it was less clear whether the clouds would dissipate enough for the sun to break through that early.


Death Valley

Mud tiles in late-afternoon light, Death Valley NP, CA, USA

Mud tiles in late-afternoon light, Death Valley NP, California

I’m thinking about Death Valley, and other desert areas in California currently affected by the rain from Tropical Storm Hilary. These are places that receive very little precipitation, where the ground is mostly rock and dirt, and even a half-inch of rain can fill normally-dry washes and create flooding and debris flows. There are few bridges along the roads in the desert; they just run right through the washes, because it’s so rare for those washes to have any water in them. That means even minor flooding or debris flows can cause lots of damage.

This storm could bring several inches of rain to many desert areas today and tomorrow. Some places could get a year’s worth of precipitation, or several year’s worth, in just a couple of days, or even a few hours. It’s a scenario that could cause major rock and mudslides, wipe out roadways, and create catastrophic flash floods. I hope everyone in those areas has found a safe place to ride out the storm.


Mono Lake

Tufa formations and osprey at sunrise, Mono Lake, CA, USA

Tufa formations and osprey at sunrise, Mono Lake, California

I love the diversity of our area. We live in the foothills on the western side of the Sierra Nevada, a region that includes rolling grasslands, oak savannah, chaparral, oak woodlands, and steep-sided river canyons. Just to the west of that is California’s Central Valley, an agricultural hub that also contains marshes and wetlands, hosting vast flocks of waterfowl in winter.

To our east lies the higher terrain of the Sierra, including the wondrous Yosemite Valley, plus magnificent conifer forests, meadows, canyons, rivers, lakes, and peaks. And when Tioga Pass is open we can reach the eastern side of the mountains in about two-and-a-half hours, where the trees give way to high desert, with sagebrush, junipers, pinyon pines, pronghorn antelope, wild horses, stunning views of the Sierra – and the uniquely beautiful shores of Mono Lake.