Yosemite Trip: Part 2 – The Rocks

(You can click on any of the photos to open a larger version.  Then press the backspace key or click on the back button to return to the blog page. And remember this is part 2, start the tale with part 1!)

This seems like the right place to start our collection of images since it is the rock formations that most people think of first when they hear you mention going to Yosemite.  Iconic rock outcrops such as Half Dome, El Capitan, Cathedral Rocks, The Three Brothers, The Sentinel; all have been familiar subjects for countless photographers including some legendary ones such as Ansel Adams and Edward Weston.

These stone giants define the perimeter of the glacially carved valley and now look down on it as if they were gigantic stone guards.  Some of them are viewable from nearly anywhere, others require you to be in just the right place to get the full impact.

Coming in from the south, or heading straight to what is now called “Tunnel View” (because it is from a parking lot adjacent to the long tunnel on the Wawona Rd from the south entrance to the park) this is the perfect introduction to the valley.  I have shot at this overlook nearly every time I’ve been here; it is impossible not to do so: it is such a breathtaking view.  My favorite shot was taken on one field trip several years ago when there was a storm in progress.  But it is hard to take a bad or boring photograph here: the view simply is too powerful.

This time I did a late afternoon shot with mostly clear skies ahead and a few spotty clouds behind me casting shadows on the valley.  I liked the way the light was streaking across the scene, picking and choosing what it would illuminate and what it would leave in shadow.

Having shot here so many times before and all had been digital, I decided I would return to my roots, at least a little, and look for “grayscale” (digital black and white) shots as if I had B&W film in my camera.  The view from Tunnel View that first trek into the park provided a good chance to start.  I also decided to break my normal “landscape” orientation and see if I could find a reasonable vertical composition… ANYTHING to do something I had not done before.

From Tunnel View you are looking mostly to the west with Bridal Veil Falls on the right and Half Dome in the distance.  El Capitan is the large rock face to the left.

What is amazing is that viewed from here, there is no real indication that hidden in the scene is a two-lane paved loop road, two villages with stores and eateries, motels, hotels, and a tent cabin camp all down there in the trees somewhere; it just looks like an amazingly pristine valley.

As you start down into the valley, El Capitan dominates the scenery with its giant slab sides so alluring to technical climbers.  Sometimes when I have been here at night you can see the lights of the climbers hanging from their ropes as they bivouac for the night since it is not a one-day climb.  I have shot it so often and in some dramatic light; this time though I stopped it was apparently conversing with some of the other photographers there and did not resonate with me so I kept on down into the valley.

Of course THE iconic rock formation is Half Dome.  No other formation is so recognizable or so clearly screams out “YOSEMITE!”  as does Half Dome; in fact it is used on Yosemite’s logo.  It can be seen from all over the Valley and even from some viewpoints out of the valley.  Here are two shots of it.  The shot on the right is taken from the Oak Flats Road (Highway 120) and the shot below is taken from Panorama Point, just to the right of Glacier Point.  As the sun was setting the temperature plummeted.  It seemed to make sense then to do this as a cold toned grayscale image.

From another vantage point in the Glacier Point Area, where the snow is still hanging around on the north side and in the shade, a lone tree stump measures itself against Half Dome.  Of course the tree is cheating since it starts at a much higher elevation but I didn’t see any reason to tell it… and the rock doesn’t really care.



In the morning, down in the valley, one of the almost dried reflecting pools, created early in the spring but gone by summer, provided a mirror to Sentinel Rocks.  These pools were smaller this time than I recall them being last year, but then I have also been here when they barely were formed at all.  Again it seemed time to try to see this in black and white for a change.

Later in the afternoon, as the sun tracks to the east this time of year it is still in the south and lights up The Three Brothers on the northern rim and seen here through the forest tree tops.  I had seen a photograph of this rock formation that i really liked so tried to find the area from which it was taken.  I stopped at several places where one could look over to the north side and see it but was never able to find the exact spot that lined them up as I recalled.  But after all of that driving and walking i felt compelled to try SOMETHING to see what I might get.  Finally I found an opening in the trees that was close to what I recalled and took the next shot.

I love observing students who have never been here before standing in awe of these majestic rock forms, unique to this very special valley.  Every hour brings a change in the lighting and with it all new shots.  It is sometimes frustrating since you want to be in multiple places at the same time or, worse, realize you THOUGHT you were in the right place at the right time and took your shots, moved on, but look back and realize NOW is the right time…

To see some of the shots of these rock formations I’ve taken over the years go to my web site (www.ndavidking.com) and follow the link to the gallery page and then the link to Yosemite.  In the next section I’ll show some shots of the water that is so important to the park since it both created it and is slowly modifying it.  Then in the final section will show some of the trees and flowers that provide a lot of the color and texture to this fabulous place.

About ndking

Commercial Photographer and Professor of Photography at San Diego City College
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