yosemite

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A dew-covered world

Monday, September 9th, 2013

This last weekend, my family and I visited the eastern Sierra for an event I was attending.  We had a few extra hours on Saturday afternoon and decided to drive up to Tuolumne Meadows.  On our way up Tioga Pass, I wondered if we would see any evidence of the Rim Fire.  Highway 120, which connects Yosemite’s high country to the Valley is currently closed, so it was very quiet in Tuolumne Meadows, and as I expected, a very large smoke plume was evident across the western and northern skies.   As evening arrived, the wind shifted and heavy smoke moved into Lee Vining Canyon, filling the Mono Basin.

Negit Island Mono Lake

Negit Island and smoke from the Rim Fire

Although it’s now 80% contained, the Rim fire has been burning since mid-August, and has charred over a quarter of a million acres, making it one of the most destructive fires in California’s history.  Fire is becoming more and more a way of life in the West, but in the face of a blaze this size, outdoor enthusiasts, photographers, hikers, and simply the general public have stood in awe and horror as fire crews scrambled to get the upper hand in hot and dry conditions.

Unlike most people, when I think of Yosemite, I don’t think of the Valley.  I think of Tuolumne Meadows and the granite domes, Mts. Dana and Gibbs and the Cathedral Range (one of my favorite mountain chains anywhere).  This is the Yosemite I know.  Standing there on Saturday, looking at the smoke, something didn’t feel right.   I know I’m not alone in this feeling.

In the face of such destruction, whether it’s a forest fire or something more personal and human, we experience a visceral suffering.  Pico Iyer had a wonderful op-ed piece in this Sunday’s New York Times, “The Value of Suffering,” in which he concludes that with love and trust, maybe we can be strong enough to witness suffering, and freely admit that we will never get the upper hand over it.

To put it another way, consider the interesting Japanese word nen.  Nen is the smallest unit of time any human being can experience, and in any nen one can return to something, anything…whether it’s a breath, partner, path, or choice.  This decision to return is the foundation of Zen practice.

In any nen–whether watching the Rim Fire from a distant Tuolumne Meadows or thinking about a loved one, we have the choice to return.  I don’t want to distract from the mess that the Rim Fire has caused and allude to any single benefit, but we are an angry enough world as it is; it’s time to return to a more compassionate path and be thankful for the dew that covers the meadow each morning.

Mono Lake sunset

Black Point Fissures and smoke from the Rim Fire

Children, backpacking, and photography

Friday, September 9th, 2011

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about our son, what we can learn from children, and most importantly, that he was “training” for his first big boy backpacking trip.  This past weekend, we visited the Cathedral Lakes in Yosemite National Park, and although a trip like this with a small child had the potential to turn out really badly, it ended up being very enjoyable.  The success of the trip was due to quite a bit of luck, planning, collaboration between my wife and I, and as I wrote last time, a new way of seeing.

Reflection of Cathedral Peak in Yosemite National Park, California

Cathedral Peak, September 2011

Ever since Owen was a small baby (even before he was born), he’s been in a walking family.  When my wife was pregnant, she walked about 8 miles a day, and since then we’ve walked with him.  For almost 2 1/2 years, he rode in a baby carrier (even on his first backpacking trip).  So, leading up to the day he finally hiked by himself, he understood what hiking was about.

Still, children are anything but fast on the trail, so a reward system for small accomplishments was key.  My wife carried a sticker book and let him choose stickers as rewards often.  Although the pace probably felt rushed to him, to an adult, it can feel slow–glacially slow.  For all but the most patient individual, it becomes easy to let frustration with the pace creep in.  To help avoid that, my wife and I took turns hiking ahead, just to feel like we were making a little faster progress.  That said, the most important lesson learned here is to enjoy the journey for its own sake.  The day’s endpoint is not the goal–not by a long shot.

You might remember my post from a year or so ago–Range of Light–in which I described Owen’s first backpacking trip.  As a parent, you can’t take this sort of trip lightly.  In a sense, this is “make it or break it” time–during these formative years, you have the opportunity for your child to forge a connection with the wilderness.  To say that wilderness is our heritage may be cliché, but it is the greatest gift we can leave future generations.  Perhaps even more important than fighting for it, we must teach our children to be stewards for the land.

To this end, a trip like this isn’t about you, its about your kids…the future.  As a result, the photographer in you may find you get as much time to scout locations, and set up as you’d like.  Although my wife is incredibly accommodating, with a 3-year-old in camp, there are chores to be done, and they take longer than normal.  I found myself rushing out of camp as the light changed, shooting for 30 minutes, and coming back to check on the family.

The more I contemplate the motivations behind my own photography, I become more and more convinced that understanding my own sense of place is crucial.  As a result, emphasis shifts to the experience rather than the image harvest–I have never understood the idea of taking 1,000 frames in a weekend and taking 6 months to process them.  Spending time with my family in the backcountry–letting my son establish his own sense of place–and making a few quality, heartfelt images along the way seems to be the way to go.

A small child enjoys the yosemite national park backcountry

Contentment, September 2011

Photo of the Month–November

Monday, November 1st, 2010

I’ve been invoking many of my favorite authors’ perspectives lately: Abbey, Pirsig, and now Frost.

Nature’s first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold,

Her early leaf’s a flower; But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf. So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay.

–Robert Frost

In choosing my November image of the month, a repeating thought I had was, “Wow, autumn seems to have just arrived…its already bending under the weight of winter in some places!”  In California, what seemed for many photographers to be a weekly rat race to the Sierra for fall color photography has come to an end; soon winter will take its extended, frigid hold on the mountains.  While it may seem like a long season ahead, it gives us time to breathe deep and take in the scenery a bit.

Fog moves into El Capitan Meadow on a January afternoon, Yosemite National Park, California

Winter sets in, January 2010

November’s image of the month comes from the final day of 2009; I enjoyed a very quiet and solitary few hours walking around El Capitan Meadow searching for images.  As sunset neared, fog started rising from the Merced River, filling the Valley floor.  This image is iconic, but really brings back memories of that afternoon.  Standing alone at the base of this magnificent monolith was the perfect way to end the year, and–I think–an ideal way to begin November.

Stillness

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

After leaving the Sierra high country, we hiked near the base of Half Dome (yes, we did climb it!), through Little Yosemite Valley, and eventually into Yosemite Valley itself.  While it was nice to have some of the luxuries of civilization (e.g. showers, flush toilets and beer), coming off the trail into that much chaos is a little overwhelming.   We spent the next day in the Valley picnicking, sight seeing and relaxing.  That night, we drove up to Glacier Point for one last look at the Yosemite high country, and to escape the crowds a bit.

On the way up to Glacier Point are some fantastic meadows that have gorgeous wildflowers, peaking in about mid-July.  Those meadows also have huge numbers of mosquitoes, so I didn’t spend long.

We spent most of our time enjoying the view from Glacier Point, reminiscing about the adventure we’d just had, and looking forward to the next one.  Not a bad end to a backpacking trip by any stretch of the imagination.

Half Dome, yosemite national park, california

Half Dome, July 2010

The Cathedral Range

Monday, August 16th, 2010

After reading Lyell Canyon, we hiked into Tuolumne Meadows–and civilization.  I have to admit that I feel like a bit of a prat “complaining” about re-entry into civilization after “only” 5 days in the backcountry, but I felt so relaxed and at ease from our adventures thus far, it was difficult to cope with suddenly being surrounded by cars, pets, and people…everywhere.  But, the cheeseburger I bought at the Meadow Grill was very welcome!

We had somewhat heavy rain all afternoon, and a fantastic sunset that night.  Unfortunately, I rode to Lee Vining with my wife and son to have dinner and help her get ready to join us on the trail the next morning.  She was more than a little excited for her first backpacking trip, and I couldn’t blame her.  How many people get to have their first backpacking experience among the most beautiful and awe-inspiring scenery in the world?

The following morning, with my friend and wife as company, we headed out towards Yosemite Valley, crossing over the Cathedral Range towards Sunrise High Sierra Camp (HSC).  The HSCs are fantastic camps with all the comforts at home.  We did our own cooking, but did enjoy not having to filter our water.  I also have to confess that I enjoyed the Minarets and the Ritter Range so much that I though the best scenery was behind us, but the views of the Echo Peaks, Mathes Crest, and Cathedral Range were among the finest of the entire trip.

That evening, I hiked up on top of a dome near Sunrise HSC to photograph these fantastic geological features.

Cathredral range at sunset

Cathedral Peak, the Echo Peaks, and Mathes Crest, July 2010

Echo Peaks, Yosemite National Park, California

The Echo Peaks, July 2010

Stream in Yosemite National Park, California

Stream in Long Meadow, July 2010

It really was a fantastic evening, and was just a taste of what was to come.

Lyell Canyon

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

After leaving Thousand Island Lake, we continued north on the John Muir Trail, over Island Pass, and toward Donahue Pass.  The summit of Donahue Pass marked not only the entrance to a new watershed, but also the border between the Ansel Adams Wilderness (Inyo National Forest) and Yosemite National Park.

As expected, climbing 1300′ from Rush Creek to the summit of Donahue was not super enjoyable, and neither were the clouds of mosquitoes–probably the worst we’d encountered on our trip so far.  At one point, I set my pack down to have a snack, drink, and to rest my shoulders, and I counted about 40 mosquitoes on the shoulder straps!  However, bigger things were afoot today, as we watched the cumulus clouds condensing above us, and the thunderheads starting to build!  How exciting…perhaps my “curse” of photographing a cloudless Sierra would finally be broken.

By the time we arrived at the summit of Donahue Pass, the clouds were thick and thunder was rumbling all around us.  This is when my inner photographer began battling with my common sense.  The landscape on the Yosemite side of Donahue pass is among the most beautiful I’ve seen–fields of rich red Indian Paintbrush, gorgeous hanging valleys, a truly stunning alpine environment.  However, something inside tells me that its unwise to be above timberline when there is active lightning.  We chose to err on the side of survival and didn’t linger long for photos.

Despite my regrets about that, we did arrive in the bottom of Lyell Canyon with enough daylight to allow me to explore pretty extensively with my camera.  All of the side streams in the area (collectively known as the “Lyell Forks” of the Tuolumne River) and ever-present wildflowers, I had a fantastic time.  Plus, much to my pleasure, the mosquitoes were not bad–compared to the previous few days, I felt like they were nonexistent.  Yay!

Lyell Canyon and Donahue Pass, Yosemite National Park

Lyell Canyon and Donahue Pass, July 2010

Lupine photo, Yosemite National Park

Lupine, July 2010

After dinner, I took another walk, heading back south, toward Donahue Pass.  My knees prevented me from hiking too far, but I did find some fantastic corn lilies (Clintonia borealis), which make fantastic abstract photos during the summer when they’re at their peak.

corn lilies and log, yosemite national park, california

Corn Lilies, July 2010

Finally, while walking back, I saw a fantastic sunset materializing through the trees.  While I didn’t have time to run back out to the open meadow, I did find an open area where I could use the river as a foreground element.  I can’t really complain at the way this image came out, making a fantastic ending to the day.

lyell forks of the tuolumne river, yosemite national park, california

Lyell Forks of the Tuolumne River, July 2010

As I laid in the tent that night, I looked forward to meeting my wife and son the next day in Tuolumne Meadows, and drifted off to sleep with visions of flush toilets, cold beer, and the Whoa Nellie Deli dancing through my head, not necessarily in that order.

To see all of my Yosemite images, click here.

Off to the Sierra

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Today, we’re off to the Sierra Nevada for an 8-day backpacking/photography trip that will take us to the base of the Minarets, and along the John Muir trail to Yosemite Valley.  I’ll be posting journal entries as well as (hopefully) many new photos when we return at the end of July.  Be sure to check back for updates on the trip.

Its been 100+ at my home here in inland southern California for almost a week now; it will be nice to escape the heat in the high country.  I’m almost certain, however, that the mosquitoes will be numerous and large enough to pull me down the trail, if I can figure out a way to harness them.

My hiking partner put together a GPS file of our route.  We’ll be starting at Devil’s Postpile, in the lower right, and ending at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley.  You can click on the image to see a larger version.  Enjoy, have a great month, and see you when I return!

map of backpacking trip

Photo of the Month–May

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

Spring is in full swing in southern California; on our walk tonight, I enjoyed the Brittlebush in full bloom, and noticed several migrant and summer-resident bird species who have arrived in large numbers: black-chinned sparrows, wrentits, indigo buntings, tanagers, etc.  With all of these changes happening, its almost impossible for me not to have “senioritis” of sorts.  By this point in the school year, seniors in high school and college have already mentally checked out, looking forward to their upcoming freedom, thus suffering from senioritis.  In the same way, I’m looking forward to long hikes in the mountains, lazy summer evenings at Mono Lake, and early mornings in the sagebrush of the eastern Sierra.

One of those summer evenings is the inspiration behind May’s photo of the month.  Last summer, on an early August trip to Yosemite and Mono Lake, we enjoyed a fantastic dinner at The Mobil Mart (Whoa Nellie Deli) in Lee Vining, then headed up to Yosemite to follow the sunset out of the park.  I started at Olmsted Point, worked my way east to Tuolumne Meadows, and finally photographed the last light of the day on Mt. Gibbs, the second highest peak in the park (12773′), with the Tuolumne River as a foreground.

This is a 3-image HDR shot I processed in Photomatix.  The river and forest were already in the shade, with the beautiful pink glow left on the peak.  I wanted to preserve as much detail as possible, so I chose to process this as a high dynamic range image.

Mt. Gibbs and Tuolumne River

Mt. Gibbs and Tuolumne River, August 2009

Here’s to your senioritis.  What are you looking forward to this summer?  What great summer memories do you have?

Tuolumne Meadows in summer

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

If you ask my wife, patience is not one of my virtues.  I usually want instant solutions to problems, and you do not even want to be around me at Christmas (little kids have nothing on me!).  However, in photography, I tend to have significantly more patience.  I’m happy to wait several hours for a shot, and lately I find myself sitting on images for days, weeks or even months before processing them.  This potentially has a lot of benefits: it helps us assess their artistic value without the excitement of having fresh images hang over our head, and it also forces us to be patient and thorough in post-processing.

The image I processed tonight benefitted from my waiting, I think.  I took this panorama of Tuolumne Meadows, in Yosemite National Park, last August, but I haven’t processed it until tonight.  Once I got home, I wasn’t really excited about the way it looked.  But, tonight, that golden light on one of my favorite meadows made me wistful for the high country, as well as letting me look forward to summer.  This is a 10-frame panorama of the meadows; I processed each RAW file 3 times, at -2/3, 0, and +1/3 EV then combined them in Photoshop using the blending technique recently described by Younes Bounhar.

I’m pleased with the result; clicking on the image will link you to a larger image file so you can more fully appreciate the detail here!   I love panoramas because they really bring you into the scene.  Enjoy!

Tuolumne Meadows panorama, Yosemite National Park, California

Tuolumne Meadows panorama, Yosemite National Park, California, August 2009

Click here to see all of my Yosemite National Park images.

A busy 2010

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

Its been a very busy 2010; so far I’ve taken photos in 3 states, as many national parks (Bryce Canyon, Yosemite, and Zion), and have added 2 new pages of landscapes (here and here) to my website.  I’m finally home in southern California, and we’re in the midst of what the TV weatherman is calling an “epic” series of storms.  This gives me time to catch up on image editing, as well as sharing images here on my blog.

About a week and a half ago, I had two posts on the “icons” (here and here), and I shared several of my images from Yosemite National Park.  The week after returning from Yosemite, we headed to northern Arizona in hopes of photographing parts of the Vermillion Cliffs wilderness.  Wet weather made the dirt roads impassable (bummer), but we spent a couple of days in Zion National Park before heading to our next destination instead.  Zion isn’t as photogenic in winter as in summer or fall, but there are few (if any) crowds, which is virtually an unknown if you’ve visited in the summer!

I found winter a great time to explore the more intimate scenery of Zion.  While in the canyon one morning, I was struck by the colorful reflections the sandstone walls were casting on the Virgin River.  By playing with different exposures, I got an intimate, abstract image I’m very happy with.

Sandstone reflects in the Virgin River, Zion National Park, Utah

Virgin River Reflections, Zion National Park, January 2010

In my next post, I’ll share some images of the wildlife that can be found in Zion in the winter…