Pink light on El Capitan at sunset, Yosemite, last Tuesday evening. 50mm, 1/8 sec. at f/11, ISO 100.
We’ve reached the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, and this year it actually feels like winter here in the Sierra Nevada. In some recent years the weather has been warm and dry in December – and that’s the way this month began. But last week two separate storms brought over five inches of precipitation to Yosemite Valley.
The first storm was the biggest. It rained hard in the Valley on Monday, but by Tuesday morning rain had changed to snow, eventually piling up about eight inches of white stuff. Our workshop group had to wait out some of that rain on Monday, but then we photographed almost all day Tuesday, with some brief breaks to dry out and warm up.
Dogwood above the Merced River, Yosemite. To find this composition I used my iPhone to “sketch” different possibilities. The composition I liked best required holding the phone high over my head, but luckily my tripod went high enough to put my Sony camera up there. 50mm, 1/3 sec. at f/16, ISO 100, focus stacked.
Despite the dry winter – or maybe because of it – it’s been a good year for dogwoods. These things always vary, of course, because that’s the way nature works. The relationships between plants and their environment is incredibly complex. Weather is a big factor, including moisture, temperature, and sunlight. But every plant is affected by soil, by microorganisms in the soil, by animals (especially insects) that want to feed on it, by animals that feed on the animals that want to feed on it, by animals that might pollinate its flowers, and by neighboring plants it competes with, or, sometimes, cooperates with. And the way each plant responds to all those factors is influenced by its own genetics.
Which is to say that not every dogwood lives under the same conditions, and even if they did, they wouldn’t all respond to those conditions in the same way. So when I say that it’s been a good year for dogwoods, it would be more accurate to say that it’s been a good year for many dogwoods, though not all. Some have produced average or below-average blooms. But this year many dogwoods have produced above-average blooms. Some are incredibly full, to the point where it’s hard to imagine where another blossom would fit.
Three Brothers, Sentinel Rock, and the Merced River at sunrise, Yosemite. On Saturday morning the sun broke through the clouds just after sunrise to light the Three Brothers. 19mm, 1/20 sec. at f/11, ISO 100.
Aside from one big storm in late January, it’s been another dry winter here in central California. So any forecast for precipitation – even a small amount – piques my interest.
On Monday Yosemite Valley got two-tenths of an inch of rain, then another two-tenths early Saturday morning. That’s pretty meager, and often such small storms don’t add enough moisture to the atmosphere to generate any mist. But surprisingly, both of these small systems created lots of mist in the valley.
Snow-covered pines, Mariposa County, California. I found some snow-plastered trees in the fog as the storm was clearing.
Last week’s big storm played out mostly as predicted, dropping large amounts of rain and snow throughout much of California. The Yosemite area was right in the bullseye of the atmospheric river, but all of the Sierra Nevada got a healthy dose of rain and snow. Yosemite Valley’s rain gauge measured 6.67 inches. Other nearby areas received amounts ranging from four to eight inches, with one weather station just south of Yosemite recording slightly over ten inches.
Coastal mountains areas from Santa Cruz down to Santa Barbara reported impressive rainfall totals, with ten inches of rain in many gauges, and one spot along the Big Sur Coast, Chalk Peak, recording over 15 inches of rain in three days. A mudslide near Salinas damaged a number of buildings, and a section of Highway 1 south of Big Sur got washed out, but I think we were lucky to escape this big storm without more widespread damage.
Sunset, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite. 35mm, 1/4 sec. at f/16, ISO 200.
It seems like a normal summer in the Yosemite high country. It’s less crowded than usual, since the park has limited the number of people allowed in. But the plants and animals are going about their business as they typically do. Creeks and rivers continue to flow. Clouds sometimes float by. It’s all serenely beautiful.
The park reopened on June 11th, with lodging, camping, or day-use reservations required for entry. After being away for three months, Claudia and I wanted to visit the park on that first day, and were able to secure a day-use reservation.
ice fingers, Yosemite. 200mm, 1/4 second at f/16, ISO 100, focus-stacked and blended with Helicon Focus.
I always try to drive over Tioga Pass right after it opens in hopes of finding still-snowy peaks, and melting ice on some of the high-country lakes. This year’s big snowpack delayed the full opening of Tioga Road until July 1st, so I thought there would still be lots of snow up there. But when we drove over the pass on July 2nd we found less snow and ice than I expected. The peaks had some snow, but not as much as in 2017, and the lakes near the road were ice-free.
Later, while scouting for our high-country workshop, I did find some ice on higher lakes, away from the road. And our workshop group got to photograph a small patch of ice on one lake before it all melted. I think if we had arrived at that lake one day later the ice would have been gone.