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A Quick Photo Visit to Yosemite
October 30-31, 2016Dear Diary, Friends, and Families,
Written November 2+
For Halloween, the standard practice on Cambridge Avenue is to gather together and pool the candy and goodies for the costumed hoards, while neighbors sip wine and eat pot luck. A good event, but this year it conflicted with a new moon and my interest in trying to get star pictures.
We needed a dark sky, so we headed north to Yosemite, a bit over an hour away and one of the best places in the country for pictures, day or night.
We only had time for a quick one-day trip, but I had five goals along the Valley:
- Fall Colors
- Glacier Point Views (I have never been there)
- Snow in Yosemite, somewhere (We have been having rain and snow at higher elevations)
- Sunset colors at Tunnel View, the classic Yosemite vista
- Stars in the new moon darkness
That was the plan, and the initial weather forecast had seemed perfect. Sunday would have rains and snows to clear the air and paint the mountain peaks white. Monday, our travel day and star night, was to have been clear. However, as we passed through Oakhurst, we could see heavy clouds still hovering over the mountains, nice to look at from a distance, but not good for star pictures. Then, the ranger at the park entrance confirmed that the weekend snow and cold had closed the 30-mile road up to Glacier Point. Two goals slipping away.
Oh well, our first real goal was checking into the Big Trees Hotel (REALLY called The Wawona Hotel, except for the silly trademark fight between concessionaires). This turn-of-the-century resort is a favorite and feels very turn-of-the-century, the last one. And it works no matter the weather, especially if we start with a meal.
After lunch, we headed out to find some Fall color. Admittedly, the muddy sky wasn't the best lighting for this type of thing, but we can control neither light nor season. Later on our visit, we would hear that the REAL color in the National Park is on the eastern slope of the Sierras. Next year!
By now, it was time to head in toward "Tunnel View", the parking lot alongside the road into the Yosemite Valley floor that hosts hundreds or thousands of pictures taken every day. Even before the famous tunnel, there is a "minor" viewpoint that hints to what's ahead. I decided to stop here, to add a perspective different from our "standard". Half Dome, El Capitan, and The Three Sisters were all visible from this stop.
That was nice, but the big time view comes off the eastern end of the tunnel. Every time we have been here, we have joined dozens or hundreds of people ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the vista. We ooh and ahh too. Some people hang around to watch the changes as the light moves from one rock face to another. We did that today, hoping for evening light. In the end, the clouds blocked any ruddy hint of "sunset", but it was still mesmerizing to watch the shadows move across the granite rocks.
After our photo shoot, and after a forty-five minute drive back to the Wawona Hotel, we were ready for a drink and something to eat. The original plan had been to spend this early evening time up at Glacier Point, taking star pictures, but that road was still closed and the skies were still clouded over. Oh well, we can adapt, despite menu offerings like these. ("Poison Ivy Salad"?)
Halloween at the Hotel had no children begging for goodies, but the staff was costumed and we had a chance to judge a pumpkin carving contest. Our favorite, and the second-place finisher, was a little Hotel Wawona "trailer". First place went to an excellent carving of a scary old witch. All the entries reflected imagination and plenty of available staff time in the off-season.
After our beer, wine, and cheese, I walked around the hotel grounds, trying the low light capability of the lens I had rented for star photos. Nice lens. Nice walk-around.
By now, feeling the effects of altitude and alcohol, we were ready to crash. At the last minute, I went out on the balcony, looked up, and saw stars. I was not really prepared to put star shooting back on the agenda, but it was at least worth another walk and an attempt.
On a road across from the hotel, I set up the tripod and did my best. My challenge the last time I'd tried stars was focus. The rented lens and the instructions the guys at the camera store had given me, solved that problem. I could get reasonable pinpoints of light for stars.
However, the Milky Way galaxy center was not visible (too late in the year and too late at night) so I was clueless about what to point the camera at. Up, I guess. And there were still some strands of fog and cloud drifting through. And, we were not far from towering trees. After several 15-, 20-, and 30-second exposures, we called it quits, except for a few minutes of just looking up, enjoying the place and time. This alone made the late evening walk worthwhile.
The next morning, like usual, I settled into the Victorian dining room and started with early coffee, picture evaluation, and diary creation. I enjoy the routine. Recollecting the prior day's scenes and events makes them sink farther into my memory. Quietly editing in a setting such as this is extra special. (Many people who pass me assume I am a workaholic, not properly enjoying a National Park vacation. To each their own.)
In addition to all the generally-ok pictures you see above, I managed to find one star picture that at least tells the evening's story: trees, clouds, and an infinitely-deep field of stars. The thumbnail to the right is completely useless. The larger image it links to is bigger, and does show what I am talking about - I hope. Here is a link to the original resolution, in case you want to look for your favorite star. (Can you find the airplane trail?)
I had one more photo duty and that was to get a few pictures of architectural details for Marianne. I guess they might show up in her future paintings. I looked at these details and imagined the enormous work it takes to preserve this gingerbread for a hundred years. Thank you, U.S. National Park Service.
One last bit of color and some wildlife, and then we were on our way home. We need to try this again. Care to join us?
John and Marianne
ps: Stay tuned for my visit later this week to the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Real wildlife!
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