Beautiful. Wondrous. Majestic. Breathtaking. Many words have been used to describe Yosemite National Park and none seem fully able to describe the feeling when you first take in the vista at Tunnel View. Or standing on Sentinel Beach, the open valley almost hugging you, while El Capitan, Sentinel Rock and Half Dome tower above. It's one of a handful of places on Earth that is, without question, awesome.
I spent two days in the valley in November of 2014. It was not a photo trip. It was a father/daughter getaway. She'd just turned 9 and for the better part of a year had consistently asked to visit Yosemite. It was time. We loaded up road trip goodies, piled in the car on a Friday afternoon, and made the ~9 hour drive from San Diego. And yes, we brought cameras. I with my trusty Nikon and she with her point and shoot.
On our first day the valley was moody. Fog and mist draped across the tree tops, often shrouding the granite cliffs from view entirely. Many of the trees still had their fall colors. Others had shed their leaves for the winter. It was wet, raining almost constantly, shifting between a light drizzle and heavier bursts. Rain ponchos kept us mostly dry.
The day was gray, but our spirits were bright. Our hikes remained short, keeping close to the main village, ducking indoors a few times to recharge and warm up. The main hike for the day was to the Lower Yosemite Falls. Despite the rains, the falls are calmer this time of year. In the spring is when they rage, the winter snows melt, feeding the waterways. We were also treated to some animal encounters. A young buck grazing in the meadow. A doe and her fawns crossing the trail. A lone coyote wandering through the village outskirts.
Finishing up for the day, we looped through the valley by car, stopping at various points along the way to snatch a few photos. I'd jump out and take photos. Sometimes my daughter would join me, sometimes she was content to stay in the car. I thoroughly enjoyed the mists and how they played about the trees. Photographically, it was a fruitful day. Physically, I was less than comfortable, soggy, and cold.
Exiting the park along Northside Drive, the mist lifted some and the rain stopped. As luck would have it, we were just across from Bridalveil Falls. We pulled over, admired the falls, and grabbed a few photos. Minutes later, the fog engulfed the falls again and the skies opened up - a heavy rain. A testament to how quickly the vistas of the valley change with the weather. We scrambled into the car and called it a day.
The valley gave us fairer weather on our second day. It was biting cold, about -1°C / 30°F. The skies were overcast, thankfully devoid of rain. We'd make the best of the clearer weather and get several hikes in. We started early, hiking to the overlook of Bridalveil Falls. It's a nice spot, easy to reach. However I think it'd be more engaging in spring. In the winter, the falls gently spill over the edge of the granite and slink down the rocks. I can imagine in spring a more forceful rage. Keep that spot on the list to revisit.
Then we took in Tunnel View. It's awe inspiring. The entire valley unfolds before your eyes. Early in the morning, a low mist clung to the trees on the valley floor, the granite walls rising above into clearer skies. We braved the cold winds nipping at our faces and spent time looking over the valley. This is another place I want to revisit in the spring, around late March or early April at sunset, as the remains of the day bathe the valley in an orange light.
Sunlight began creeping slowly into the valley, warming the temperatures some. My daughter and I were each able to shed one of the three layers we were wearing. It was time for the more serious hike to the footbridge of the Vernal Falls. It's at one end of the 220 mile John Muir Trail - a hike I'll never do. I like hiking, but not that much. The trail to the footbridge is only 1 mile, but with a steep grade. My daughter was a trooper, kept a good pace, we were rewarded with a view of the falls and another encounter with a buck foraging along the banks of the river.
It was on this hike she really started getting into taking pictures along the trail. I taught here a thing or two about how to hold the camera, elbows to the body to stabilize the camera, and talked just a little about composition. Enough to plant a few seeds to grow, yet leaving photography as a joyous thing. Not another discipline to learn with rules, do's and don'ts, rights and wrongs.
After a well deserved rest, we made a go at a hike to Mirror Lake. Fatigue got the better of us and we stopped at the lower lake, which is dry in winter. Actually, most of mirror lake is dry in the winter, and others that made the full hike in told us just as much. We knew that going in and we chose to do the hike because it's a mild grade and a good place to see wildlife. And on the return hike, just shy of the trailhead, we had what would be our closest encounter with a buck. My daughter was so excited! A buck just 10 feet away. The fatigue left her body, she whipped out her camera, and slowly, quietly followed the buck taking her pictures. I left my camera at my side and watched her instead. She came away with a closeup she is very proud of. I will treasure that moment for a long time.
Afternoon was upon us. The valley gets shady quickly as the sun sinks behind the mountains. I wanted to grab a few more photos before leaving, and we opted to visit the beaches - Cathedral and Sentinel. The well marked picnic areas for both places were surprisingly empty. We actually had the entirety of Sentinel Beach to ourselves... well, us, and one coyote. The Merced River was very still, making for beautiful reflections in the water. My daughter wanted to throw stones into the river to make ripples. I turned it into a photographic game. I'd first take shots of the calm, crystal clear reflections. Then I'd let her throw a few stones in the river and fire off a few more shots. We then compared the two shots to see how the reflections changed. And then she threw more stones to see how wavy she could make the reflections.
Our time in the valley, all to brief, had come to an end. And the long journey back to San Diego had begun.
Amid the early morning starts, soggy sleeves, and long drives, my daughter and I had a great trip to Yosemite. And more importantly, a wonderful bonding experience. I like to think she'll remember this trip for many years, and hopefully look back on it fondly in a decade, or two, or three. I think there will be more road trips with my daughter in the future. And I certainly think I'll return to Yosemite... hopefully very soon.
/ December 2014 /