Yosemite Trip: Part 4 – Flowers and Trees

(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 Four of this trip so scroll down to read the other entries from this incredible place.)

It is easy to forget that there is more to Yosemite and its surroundings than the giant rocks and giant waterfalls; it is also home to trees and forests… lots of them. Here on the left is a shot of El Capitan seen through the trees in the valley. This was shot with a 15mm full frame fisheye.

However, some of the trees in the park, like some of the rocks and waterfalls, are giants too; Giant Sequoias to be exact.  There are three groves of these huge trees in the park.  Sequoias are the largest trees (by volume) in the world although their cousins, the coastal redwoods are the tallest.  it is interesting that California has groves of the biggest, tallest, and oldest trees (the bristlecone pines).

This time of year the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is open, though the tram is not running to take you on the steep 6-mile trek through the whole grove.  On previous trips I’ve spent more time here but on this one we limited ourselves to the area around the visitor’s center.

Below is an 8mm fish-eye lens shot of a giant that was well over 15 feet in diameter.

Many of these trees have a thick fur of moss from the moisture (rain and snow) laden winds, usually blowing from the north or northwest.  In some areas the prevalent north wind allows one to estimate a northerly direction with fair accuracy because of the greater accumulation of moss on that side.  But here, especially on the top of the park such as near Glacier point, the wind directions change constantly as it whips up from the valley and spills over the top, so you might find the moss on virtually any side of a tree.  Here is a close up shot of this green stuff.

From a distance it looks soft, like green fur, but on closer inspection from a 180mm macro lens (right), it is more like strands of elkhorn coral or something hard and brittle.

Sequoias are sometimes thought of by visitors as a type of pine tree but are actually from the Cedar family.  Instead of pine or spruce-like needles, they have a very soft, lacey “leaf” (left) that is more like a cross between a true leaf and true needle.

In Spring the area, especially along the river, is also ablaze in color from myriad types of tree and bush buds and a large colleciton of wild flowers.  The current highway 140 runs along the south wall of the canyon, but the old, original road was on the north wall to better get the sun in the winter to melt the snow and help keep it clear.  Now that cars are banished from that old path, lush stands of trees have taken over the hillsides and the old. overgrown road bed so that you can barely see it through the foliage.

As you drive west out of the park through El Portal on Hiway 140, the canyon walls are fascinating.  In some places the spring moisture has created areas of bright moss as well as bringing the suble rusts and steel colors out in the rocks themselves to contrast with the lighter granite.

This photo to the right is on the south wall of the canyon and this time of year is in shade all of the time except when the angle is just right toward the end of the day.  The shot, made in the early morning, shows the sun hitting the trees on top of the wall but not descending into the canyon.  It will not do so for a few months when the track of the sun finally puts it overhead.

Vibrant purples and blues mix with reds and yellows to create, in some areas, a natural Persian carpet.  Below is a collection of shots along the river and road.  First, near where we stayed in El Portal, the roadway is lined with these brillian purple trees.  Here is a montage of one of the trees with close up of the buds.

Farther down the road we pulled over where a stand of flowers of all types grew in a small area of grass.  The flower that got us to stop was a large clump of Lupine.  These grow all along the river including in the park but there had been no place to pull over on the river ledge road where we could get a good shot of them.

However right there near the lupine in the shot above was a grassy area full of a variety of wild flowers hiding discreetly in the tall spring grasses.  Here against the background of that grass are some of the gems hiding behind the stalks.

Except for the paintbrush, most of these flowers were the size of a dime or smaller. The shots of the flowers and flowering trees were all taken with a 180mm macro lens.  That allowed me to get close to the sometimes tiny buds.  But a continual breeze made shooting that close a bit of a challenge.  The little white flowers in the top insert are about the size of the fingernail on my little finger.

Driving out of the park on the way home, there is a wonderful old red barn where Triangle Road meets Hiway 140.  I have photographed that barn several times and even used it for demos for digital techniques in classes and handouts.  I might have driven on by this time but I wanted to let the students see it so pulled over.  Once parked and watching them go for their cameras and descend like a horde of locusts on the place, there is no way I could just stand there watching other people shoot, so I hauled out the camera and the 15mm full frame fish eye to see what new approach I might try.

Next to the falling down corral is a wonderful old tree that, by standing under it and with the benefit of this extremely wide view, seemed to frame the barn and the corral.  What a pity that this vibrant spring green grass is no longer feeding the stock that once were kept here.  I think this image, presented pretty “straight” here, needs some further playing… but I wanted to get this last part posted while the trip was still vivid in my memory.

So that was the trip.  Just another few days in paradise.  It is a truly tough job but someone has to do it…  The truth is that I am blessed that it is, at least in this case, me.  To be able to go shooting in some of the visually exciting places and even, at times, be able to share them with students and help them to capture their own visions for their work is a very rewarding expoerience.

So let me leave you with a last shot.  This was taken coming back from Glacier Point as the sun was setting.  I came around a corner and saw the sun already touching the far off horizon over the coastal range of mountains.  I darn near caused a wreck as I baled off the road to a wide shoulder and raced to catch it before the sun was gone.  I grabbed the camera body and 17-40mm lens and was calculating a long exposure on the run while trying to mount the lens in the dark.  Even with the aperture wide open at f4, where some of the worst chromatic aberration would appear, it was a multi-second exposure at ISO 125 which is where the camera was set.

There was no time for a tripod so I tried to lock on to a road signpost and hope for the best.  I boosted the ISO to 400 and fired a quick shot at 2 seconds but it was still underexposed and I needed to add a few more seconds to make sure I was able to capture some of the details in the valley shadows.  Based on the histogram, I guessed at the need for about another 2 stops.  I could not read the LED panel so counted clicks on the shutter dial and fired again.. The second shot seemed OK on the histogram, but by the time I re-set for an “insurance” bracket shot… the sun was gone below the horizon.  Here you can barely see it through the tree branches about in the center of the image.

So while students fussed with the shot of the remaining glow on the horizon, I packed away the camera gear and then just stood and absorbed the quiet and peace of this magical place.  The wind now coming from higher elevations was filled with the chill of the snow and ice it had passed on the way down.  I shivered a little at its bite through my shirt and let the moment fill me.  It allowed my memory to reconstruct cool nights around a campfire in the Rockies cradling a cup of coffee or hot chocolate… and that made me smile at the recollection of good times and good friends.

Pretty quickly everyone was done since the light levels dropped fast after the sun had set, and we were back on the road to the lodge and to a late dinner.  We ate that night at the restaurant attached to Cedar Lodge.  Some tour group that was also staying there had hired a local band to play western music.  They were stunningly, galactically, indescribably awful, but will be long remembered though I have mercifully forgotten what they called themselves.

I wanted to just include shots taken on this trip in these posts since it is about this particular field trip.  But that is frustrating since I have so many.   So if you go to my web site (www.ndavidking.com) and then link to the gallery page and then the Yosemite collection, you can see shots from other trips there too.  I’ve been here quite a few times and hope to come back again.

It is truly a magical place.

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About ndking

Commercial Photographer and Professor of Photography at San Diego City College
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