Oaks, lupine, and poppies in the Merced River Canyon near El Portal, CA, USA
Claudia and I drove up the Merced River Canyon west of Yosemite Sunday afternoon on a scouting mission, looking for wildflowers that were rumored to be blooming. And we did find some flowers – despite our dry winter. The redbuds are coming out all along the canyon; most are just budding, but we found some in full bloom, and the rest should get there within the next week or so.
Redbuds have deep roots, so they’re not affected by drought as much as some other flowers. But the poppies in this area are annuals, and dependent on winter rains, so I was surprised to see quite a few poppies blooming up and down the canyon. The display doesn’t approach last year’s, or the even more spectacular bloom in 2009, but any flowers at all seem like a miracle after our dry winter. And who knows – maybe the show will get better.
Right now the most eye-catching hillside of poppies is about a mile east of Savage’s Trading Post on the opposite side of the river. You can reach the base of this hill by driving to the end of Incline Road and continuing on foot for about a mile down the old railroad bed. But getting up among the poppies requires climbing a very steep hillside. (There are directions to Incline Road in my Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, which most of you probably have, but if not the road is easy to find. Just cross the bridge at Foresta Road, about four miles east of Savage’s, then turn left along the river on Incline Road.)
Sunlight slanting across Crane Flat Meadow, Yosemite NP, CA, USA
A Trip to Crane Flat
Yosemite got some much-needed precipitation last week – over an inch total. I kept checking the radar and satellite images online, looking for an opportunity to photograph a clearing storm. Friday morning seemed promising, so I drove up to Yosemite Valley early, but found no snow. It looked like the snow level had been around 5,000 feet, higher than forecast. Worse, from a photographic perspective, the skies were clear and there was no mist.
Shortly after sunrise I noticed light striking a ridge near the tunnels on Highway 120, and on a whim decided to drive up to Crane Flat. I thought Crane Flat would at least have some fresh snow, since it’s at 6,000 feet.
Indeed there was fresh snow – over a foot of it. I parked at the Tuolumne Grove trailhead and walked along the plowed road. The sun had just reached parts of the main meadow, and I found some interesting small subjects to photograph, like tree-shadows on the snow.
Some shafts of sunlight slanting across the snow caught my attention, and then some mist began rising near the edge of the meadow, behind the shafts of light. I immediately recognized the potential to make an image that went beyond an abstract study of shadows – a photograph that had a mood.
It’s finally here! My wife Claudia did a wonderful job of editing Yosemite Meditations for Women, finding inspiring quotes from writers like Lorraine Anderson, Susan Zwinger, J.K. Rowling, Diane Ackerman, Pam Houston and many others, and pairing the quotes with my photographs. I’ve included some sample pages below.
If you order directly from us through the “Add to Cart” button below, Claudia and I will both sign the book(s). Or you can order directly from the publisher, the non-profit Yosemite Conservancy, or from Amazon.
We hope you like the book, and really appreciate your support!
— Michael Frye
Yosemite Meditations for Women
Hardcover with jacket; approx. 6×5 inches; 96 pages
Winter sunrise from Tunnel View. With the right conditions Tunnel View can be great in the morning as well as the afternoon
January and February are the wettest months of the year in Yosemite. The average precipitation for January is 6.5 inches, while for February it’s 6.7 inches, which makes 13.2 inches for the two months combined.
But this year Yosemite received only a tenth of that: 1.33 inches total for January and February. The Sacramento Bee says it’s the driest January and February on record for the northern Sierra Nevada.
Since storms have been so rare lately, any forecast that calls for precipitation is big news, and we’ve got just such a forecast this week. Meteorologists are predicting a medium-sized storm to reach Yosemite tonight and tomorrow, with lingering showers on Thursday and Friday. The timing is hard to predict from the current forecast, but it’s likely that we’ll see clearing storm conditions either late Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. With the showery weather there may be several clearing-storm events during that time.
Horsetail Fall at 5:34 p.m. yesterday
It’s been quite dry in Yosemite since December, but there’s still some snow on top of El Capitan, and I thought that the warming weather over the last few days would melt some of that snow and increase the water flow in Horsetail Fall. But the flow is still disappointingly meager. I had a chance to photograph Horsetail last night, and I would say the water level is about the same as last year. The accompanying photograph was made from the Southside Drive area at about 5:30 p.m. yesterday. What water there is gets nicely highlighted when the light is just right, especially near the bottom of the fall, but… I wish the flow was better.
With low water like this I think the Southside Drive spot (Location 10 in my Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite book and iPhone app) works a little better than Rowell’s View near the El Capitan picnic area along Northside Drive (Location 1). From Southside Drive you’re a little further away, and you can see a bit more of the bottom of Horsetail Fall, which is the part that shows up best with conditions like this.
It’s supposed to be warm again today, so that might help increase the flow, but then temperatures are expected to trend downward tomorrow and Monday. On Tuesday forecasters are predicting the arrival of a snowstorm, which is expected to leave even colder air in its wake. The bad news is that the colder temperatures will slow down the flow in Horsetail Fall. The good news is that… a snowstorm is coming! And that, of course, brings the possibility of photographing snowy trees and cliffs, and maybe a clearing storm.