Firs and dogwoods, autumn, Yosemite. Dogwoods have proliferated in this area burned by the Rim Fire in 2013. 116mm, 15 seconds at f/16, ISO 100.
One afternoon about ten days ago Claudia and I headed up Highway 120, west of Yosemite Valley, to check on the fall color. We found some colorful dogwoods between the Valley and Crane Flat, but west of Crane Flat most of the dogwoods were brown, scorched by the Ferguson Fire last summer. Or, to be more accurate, they had been scorched by firing operations (back burns) performed by firefighters along the road.
We decided to hike down to the Tuolumne Grove of giant sequoias. While the Ferguson Fire didn’t reach the Tuolumne Grove, the Rim Fire did in 2013. The media latched onto this story, with headlines about the fire threatening these ancient trees.
Paintbrush and peak, sunrise, Inyo NF, California. Since the closest flowers were only a foot from the camera, I used focus-stacking to get everything in focus, blending five frames with Helicon Focus. (Exposures were 1.5 seconds at f/16, ISO 100, focal length was 23mm.)
Last winter was a strange one in the Yosemite area, with most of the precipitation coming in March, followed by a big, warm rainstorm in early April that created flooding in Yosemite Valley. That rainstorm melted much of the snowpack below 9,000 feet, so spring came early in those low- and mid-elevation areas. We found some nice flower displays at those elevations, but nothing exceptional.
Above 9,000 feet, however, the snowpack remained intact, even after the early-April flood. And that lingering snow led to an exceptional bloom in the highest elevations. Back in July, before the fires, Claudia and I photographed the flowers as much as we could, and we also led our Range of Light workshop group to a couple of our favorite flower spots.
Shooting stars, summer wildflowers, Yosemite. Handheld (a rarity for me) at 1/200th sec., f/4, ISO 400. I’m almost always using medium to small apertures to get everything in focus, but once in awhile it’s fun to use a wide aperture to throw the foreground and background out of focus.
I just finished teaching a workshop, so I’m catching up on posting images from earlier this summer. As I mentioned in a recent post, Claudia and I made several trips in June to the higher elevations of Yosemite to look for wildflowers. We found many shooting stars, which are one of the early bloomers in the high country. They’re beautiful flowers, but they always grow in marshy areas, full of mosquitos. So over the years my brain has made an association between shooting stars and their accompanying insect pests, and just seeing these flowers triggers a psychological reaction that literally makes me itch.
But aside from that initial visceral reaction to the sight of shooting stars, mosquitos don’t generally faze me much. I’ve actually developed a partial immunity to the mosquitos in Yosemite, so bites don’t create welts or make me itch anymore. Mosquitos are still annoying, but a little insect repellent keeps them at bay and lets me concentrate on photographing flowers.
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!”
Dogwood, Yosemite (yesterday afternoon)
Claudia and I went up to Yosemite Valley yesterday to check on the dogwoods. We had heard they were a bit late this year, but were starting to come out. And indeed they seem to be coming out quickly, and are close to their photographic peak now. Some are still greenish, a few looked a bit bedraggled already, and many seem to be leafing out quickly, but overall they were quite pretty. Some trees weren’t as full as I’ve seen them in the past, but others had more blossoms than usual.
Dogwoods bloom for two to three weeks, but I think they’re most photogenic when the blossoms are fresh (like now), and before the leaves get too big (which tends to hide the flowers a bit).
Winter morning, El Capitan and the Merced River, Yosemite NP, CA, USA
The big storm finally ended last night. Yosemite Valley received about four-and-a-half inches of liquid precipitation since Thursday. It started as snow, then changed to rain for awhile, and then changed back to snow, with about a foot of snow accumulating on the valley floor. Precipitation for this water year is still well below average, but this storm was a big help.
The forecast called for snow showers to continue all day Saturday and linger into the evening. But you never know, so I set my alarm for 4:00 a.m. on Saturday morning in case the storm started to break earlier than expected. After getting rudely awakened by the alarm I checked the radar and satellite images, which showed clear skies approaching from the west. But it didn’t look like they would reach Yosemite Valley until at least a couple of hours after sunrise. And besides, showers often linger in the mountains, and all the forecast predictions showed showers continuing in Yosemite all day. I went back to bed.