For those who have graduated from confusing it with Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park seems to quietly--but forcefully--beckon those who have never been there. Located in northern California, Yosemite has long been on my list of must-see places. No small part of this longing has to do with my interest in photography (dormant for a while, but recently renewed). One simply cannot think of landscape photography without thinking of Yosemite. Some of it has to do with escaping the man-made and connecting with the God-made. If I’m being honest, though, I think some part of me needed to go to Yosemite to be overwhelmed--to be brought down a few notches, and to be reminded that the granite will be around long after I’m not.
Our spring break trip to Yosemite was my 13-year-old daughter’s idea. Back in January, she came in and asked me if I had any books on Yosemite. I have two books by Ansel Adams, one more educational, one more pictorial. I gave her the more educational of the two, and thought nothing else about it. The next day, she announced that she wanted to go to Yosemite for spring break. I offered no objection, and was secretly elated. I spent the next few weeks learning about Yosemite. Not necessarily the history of its existence, but more about the various locations in the park, where to go, where to stay, how to get there, how to photograph it. I knew that we would arrive in daylight, that our hotel would be two miles from the south entrance of the park. (Be advised--it's still about 35 miles to Tunnel View from the entrance.) The road we would take to the park would carry us directly to Tunnel View, the scene most people think of when they think of Yosemite Valley. As luck (and airline schedules) would have it, I ended up at Tunnel View just before sunset on our first day. I was ready to pop out of the tunnel and see this grand sight I’ve only seen in videos or photographs. What I didn’t realize is that you first come around a bend in the road before you get to the tunnel, where you see a more compressed view of Yosemite Valley. Unless you pull over, it’s a view that is gone shortly after it appears, leaving you with your mouth agape and your heart racing. She is a tease, isn't she?
As you glide down the road and into the tunnel, your heartbeat increases with anticipation. You know what’s coming next. You’ve seen a glimpse of it just now, but nothing can really prepare you for what you see when you emerge from the tunnel. Suddenly, one of the greatest landscapes in all the world is revealed to you. More accomplished persons have uttered or penned eloquent descriptions of Yosemite Valley and the first impressions it generates. It’s going to take some quiet time working through the photographs to cobble together the words that might describe my impression of Yosemite Valley. For now, though, consider the words of others. First, Carl Pope, a former executive director of the Sierra Club: “It’s a place that you step into and you don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s a place that can surprise you. It’s a place where you’re small, but where being small is not a bad thing--where being small is actually a wonderful thing.” Next, these words by William A. Turnage of the Ansel Adams Trust: “I don’t think there’s any place that hits you in the solar plexus the way the first time you come into Yosemite Valley. It’s simply overwhelming. . . . It’s awesome.”
Over the next few days, we learned our way around the park and it’s amenities. In many ways, the place truly is overwhelming, almost too much to take in, even given an entire week. It’s probably similar to being given a $50,000 shopping spree in New York City or Chicago, but you have only
Since I've mentioned Tunnel View, that's where I'll start. This was taken the morning of our third day. It had rained a good part of the afternoon before, and into the evening, before turning to a light dusting of snow. The weather forecast showed the storm to be clearing out just around sunrise. I had read that you really need some good clouds for a dramatic Tunnel View shot, so I got up early and headed to Tunnel View. About 25 or so other people had the same idea, so we were all lined up with our cameras and our tripods and remote shutter releases. It was a brisk 27 degrees, but once the sun cleared Cathedral Rocks (the formation just past Bridalveil Falls), it warmed up considerably. I have countless shots of this scene still to work through, but this is one I really like. ISO 100, Sigma 10-20 at 20mm, f/16 at 1/10 second.