Yosemite: Fall 2014 Field Trip

We hadn’t run a Landscape Class at City in the Fall for a while so this was to be a test.  Students wanted to go to Yosemite since many had not been there.  (How can you be a photographer in California and not have been to Yosemite???)  Fall is not, in my opinion, the best time to be there.   Probably from now on we will stick to Spring but it is never bad for me if I can get out of town and into some cool, clear air in a beautiful place. Late Spring is wonderful with the waterfalls running full blast, the river coming alive, wild and free, but the truth is there is no time when Yosemite is UGLY.  Fall does have some interesting colors in the park though not as wild as on the eastern slope of the Sierras.  But that was the choice.  And besides my friend and colleague Lee Peterson had joined us so that is always a fun thing.

Another issue was lodging.  To be honest I thought we were between seasons and it would be quiet there and easy to find lodging… but that was a very bad assumption.  The park was PACKED to the gills with people.  And that meant that lodging was impossible for the whole class in the park for the three nights we would be there.  So I along with several of the other students stayed in Oakhurst.  Normally I would opt for El Portal but the road was closed due to a fire.  So Oakhurst it was… an hour’s drive into the valley. Hmmmm… not my idea of ideal.  I decided to drive the little rocket to at least have some fun on the twisty road.

Thanks to my friend Nikko, who was a student that now lives in Oakhurst, we were turned on to a delightful little motel off the highway called The Queen’s Inn.  The owner, Deanna, was incredibly accommodating and gracious; the rooms were delightful (or at least mine was) and they had a wine tasting every night (on Friday night a member of the Gallo family was there to introduce some selections) and on Saturday night a live band played some vintage hard driving classic rock ‘n roll.  In the photo below of the courtyard, to the right you can see the stockade style wall that separates the rooms from the garden where the music is performed.

The rooms atthe Queen's Inn. Oakhurst, CA.  A really delightful and quiet little motel I would highly recommend.

The rooms atthe Queen’s Inn. Oakhurst, CA. A really delightful and quiet little motel I would highly recommend. Canon S120

It was quiet when I arrived so I unloaded into the room, took the shot (my room is right in front of my car, second from the right).  Then I went into the park to meet the students for dinner as planned at 7pm,).

Only 3 showed up on time.  I was not pleased…

The next day, Friday, I had on my handout itinerary to meet at the Pavilion in Curry Village for breakfast.  I was up and out of the motel at 6 am and did notice I was the only one leaving at that hour.  Well, I thought, perhaps they drive faster than I do.  Perhaps the sun will come up in the west too, but it is not terribly likely…

However as I was approaching the tunnel down into the main Yosemite Meadow, the sun started to make the sky glow a glorious pink color.  You can see Half Dome in the distance.  I couldn’t help it, I was running a little late since I had gotten behind a very scared driver who would NOT use any of the turnouts, but I had to pull over and do the shot, even if it was with my little Point-and-Shoot Canon S120.

Pre-Dawn on the Wawona Road into the valley. Iconic Half Dome in the distance (over 8,000 ft at the top) looms in the middle of the shot   Canon S120

Pre-Dawn on the Wawona Road into the valley. Iconic Half Dome in the distance (over 8,000 ft at the top) looms in the middle of the shot Canon S120

Of course at breakfast there were only the stalwarts from the night before… Grrrrrr…  but we stayed with the plan and headed to Happy Isles.  For myself I had determined to not concentrate on the big rock forms, which on previous visits I had shot pretty thoroughly. But this time my loose plan was that I would concentrate primarily on the smaller and/or quieter subjects.  I also really wanted to stay focused on the light even if it meant I would come home with fewer shots.  The angle of the sun as it comes down the valley is interesting this time of year so should, I was thinking, yield some great possibilities.

It turned out that the trail from the parking lot to Happy Isles was perfect for that.  The sky was getting bright even though the sun was still behind the mountains to the east.  We were in a giant light tent.

In one place, the smoke of breakfast fires from the nearby campground filled the air and shafts of the sun, just peaking over the hill top in some places and finding holes in the forest canopy seemed to light the pathway in a nearly spiritual manner.  You can also see some of the fall color.

Streaks of sunlight dance through the breakfast campfire smoke on the trail to Happy Isle and the Fens.  Canon 5D MkII and Canon 17-40mm f4L

Streaks of sunlight dance through the breakfast campfire smoke on the trail to Happy Isle and the Fens. Canon 5D MkII and Canon 17-40mm f4L

Near by, the dappled light was mesmerizing.  What was interesting was that the sun was still not above the crest of the Sierras to the east but the sky was now getting brighter and brighter and the wrap=around light of the sky-sized light tent was modulated by the trees acting as giant studio “cookies” to create an ever changing pattern on the ground.   Here a pool of light makes a small tree stand out from the still dark forest behind it.

A pool of morning light makes a small tree glow against the still dark forest. Canon 5D MkII and Canon 17-40mm f4L

A pool of morning light makes a small tree glow against the still dark forest. Canon 5D MkII and Canon 17-40mm f4L

The ground was littered with the cast off leaves telling you with certainty Fall was here and winter not far behind.  Here are some students shooting along the trail.

Students shooting along the trail to Happy Isles. Canon S120

Students shooting along the trail to Happy Isles. Canon S120

Before reaching Happy Isles the trail goes through a Fen (Old English for “bog” or “Mire.”  A fen is one type of wetland characterized by a pH neutral or slightly alkaline ground or subsurface water leading to lots of clay and peat.)  While the rest of the park is suffering a drought like all of southern California, the subsurface water is still running through the fen if at a reduced rate.  The result is a green oasis.

In the moments before the sun completely cleared the mountains to the east the sky was still slightly pink and the soft light made the foliage almost glow.

Dawn light on the Fens near Happy Isles.  Canon 5D MkII and Canon 17-40mm f4L

Dawn light on the Fens near Happy Isles. Canon 5D MkII and Canon 17-40mm f4L

In another quarter hour the sun was clearly visible in the morning sky and now, with the traces of pink wiped out, the colors shifted a little though the green was still rich.

Finally the sun crested the Sierras and a huge slab of granite on the cliffs below Glacier Point acted like a reflector for the Fen wetlands. Canon 5D MkII and Canon 17-40mm f4L

Finally the sun crested the Sierras and a huge slab of granite on the cliffs below Glacier Point acted like a reflector for the Fen wetlands. Canon 5D MkII and Canon 17-40mm f4L

We went on to Happy Isles but the water in the Merced was so low all I could think about was the wild cascades of nearly solid white water that normally encircled the natural islands.  So I took an obligatory shot or two but nothing worth showing.

After lunch and a trip to the Adams Gallery, we took a turn around the valley.  The waterfalls were turned off (we almost had a tourist convinced the Rangers did that to conserve water) so the cascading punctuation marks normally adding visual interest to the rocks simply was not there.  Bridal Veil is usually the crown jewel of the park’s waterfalls with its spray filling the area, but now there was only a trickle of water coming over the edge.  Usually even in late Autumn this waterfall is still running when all the others are dry.  In fact at first it looked like nothing was coming over this one too but a sudden gust of wind at the spill-over point tossed a spray of water into the sunlight and then we could see this slight trickle where normally an incredible volume plummets down the 620 feet to the rocks below.

Mighty waterfalls were either silent or had the merest trickle of water that you had to look very close to be able to see. Canon S120

Mighty waterfalls were either silent or had the merest trickle of water that you had to look very close to be able to see.  Here, only when the light properly caught sparkles from the spray on top could tell that even Bidal Veikl Falls had water coming over the top for its 620 foot plunge into the valley.  Canon S120

The brown and gold colors of the meadowlands created a velvet-looking surface.  Only the mundane clouds kept it from becoming a view from a Bierstadt painting. Hmmmm…  Maybe I need to work on that…  Anyway here is what it was like.

Fall colors on the grasses turns the floor of Yosemite Valley to a golden velvet. Canon 5D MkII and Canon 17-40mm f4L

Fall colors on the grasses turns the floor of Yosemite Valley to a golden velvet. Canon 5D MkII and Canon 17-40mm f4L

Around the edges of the meadow was a profusion of plants with feathery seed pods almost like dandelions.  Here is a macro shot of one of them, made suddenly difficult because of a stuff breeze that came up just as I was trying to get off a shot.

The dainty seed pods from the plants along the meadow's edge.  Canon 5D MkII w/ Tamron 180mm Macro

The dainty seed pods from the plants along the meadow’s edge. Canon 5D MkII w/ Tamron 180mm Macro

We then went up to Glacier Point.  For some reason I was not in much of a shooting mood so only grabbed the little point and shoot.  But when I got out to the point overlook itself I had to take a shot.  There is a famous rock ledge first photographed in the 1800s showing William Henry Jackson with tripod and huge view camera.  Copied many times by other photographers the problem is that is so dangerous a few people were killed in the nearly 1,000 feet of free fall to the valley floor.  Of course, this being California the famillies rushed to sue the park for allowing their loved ones to act irrresponsibly so now there are barriers and signs all over the place, some bolted into the rocks, telling people who can read to stay out of the area.

But here, in an example of stupidity on steroids was a group of people out there who climbed out to the very edge, one person actually was jumping rope there, others were being only slightly less silly, so I did take the next shot of them lest people did not believe me anyone would be so dumb as to do this.

Stupidity on Parade.  Canon S120

Stupidity on Parade. Canon S120

The next day I planned to go up on the top around Lake Tenaya the first thing.  But I gave in to one of the students who wanted a lift to Glacier Point where he could pick up a trail and hike back down to the valley.  That little side trip cost me and the rest of the group about an hour and a half.  I met them at the appointed spot and we went up the Tioga Pass road stopping first at Siesta Lake.

I was curious, with everything else so dry, if there would be any water here.  I’ve always liked this quiet little lake and sure enough it was still there though quite low.  This shot shows grasses at my feet that would normally be underwater with just the tips showing if at all.

Siesta Lake grasses that are normally underwater.  Canon S120

Siesta Lake grasses that are normally underwater. Canon S120

In keeping with a focus in small quiet things here are two close ups from around the lake’s edge.  The first is the red Autumn leaves of a small bush that grew all around the perimeter…

Fall colors along the edges of Siesta Lake.  Canon S120

Fall colors along the edges of Siesta Lake. Canon S120

And then some brilliant yellow leaves from a small plant growing out from around a rock pile at water’s edge.

Life finds a way.  Here in its Fall colors a small bush frowns from the rocks along the edges of Siesta Lake.  Canon S120

Life finds a way. Here in its Fall colors a small bush frowns from the rocks along the edges of Siesta Lake. Canon S120

We were running late because of my side trip to Glacier Point,  so we did not make it to Lake Tenaya, but we did make it to Olmstead Point where you can see the backside of Half Dome and granite slabs carved by glaciers and strewn with boulders dropped there when the glaciers retreated.

From Olmstead Point you can see the back of Half Dome and also the huge slaps of granite carved by glaciers and the boulders dropped on them as the glaciers retreated.  Canon S120

From Olmstead Point you can see the back of Half Dome and also the huge slaps of granite carved by glaciers and the boulders dropped on them as the glaciers retreated. Canon S120

That night, my friend Lee Peterson did a Painting With Light demo back at the little stone hut near Glacier Point.  I was sure I saw my friend Ken Rockwell there but did not get a chance to say “Hi.”  He had a big Canon Lens on his camera and I was going to comment on it since he normally poo-poos such equipment.  I was also going to thank him for his reviews that convinced me to buy the little Canon S120 as my point and shoot.  This trip finally gave me a chance to wring it out and it performed admirably.

I had been alerted by email of an important dinner meeting with Adobe people Sunday evening so I took off early and pointed the rocket south.  I think from now on I will put Yosemite on my “Spring” list only.  However I STILL want to visit in the winter with snow on the ground!

Meantime, until the next adventure or post, let me leave you with a shot of one of the locals munching away in the valley.  These deer are not tame but are so used to people that if you sit very quietly and make no sudden moves they sometimes will get very close.

Young buck munching away on a few still semi-tender shoots among the rocks.  Canon S120

Young buck munching away on a few still semi-tender shoots among the rocks. Canon S120

 

 

 

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About ndking

Commercial Photographer and Professor of Photography at San Diego City College
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4 Responses to Yosemite: Fall 2014 Field Trip

  1. Rachel says:

    Great trip – thanks so much for the opportunity! I want to go back this late Spring (and the snow would be cool too!)! …and slightly (slightly) jealous of the nightly wine tasting that you all omitted about your lodging…. Thanks again!

  2. Jeffrey Forrest, Ph.D. says:

    Tan Your Hide David (old Indian name):

    I really enjoy these images and dialog! You have me coming full circle. Kind’a thinking maybe I should think about imaging as an art. Wish I could take your classes!

    J.

    JEFFREY FORREST, Ph.D.

    Chair & Professor, Aviation & Aerospace Science Department

    Metropolitan State University of Denver http://www.msudenver.edu/

    1250 7th Street | Box 30, P.O. 173362 |Denver, CO 80217-3362 |(ph) 303.556.4380, (fax) 303.556.6331

    Campus Map http://www.ahec.edu/about-auraria-campus/maps/

    Office Map & Directions http://www.msudenver.edu/aviation/aboutus/mapdirections/

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