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(Super)Moon Over Yosemite

November 15, 2016
Written November 15+
Dear Diary, Friends, and Families,

Tonight we hope to see the biggest, brightest moon since we were toddlers.  Really.  Although there are larger-than-normal full moons every year, NASA says this moon will be about 15% brighter and 7% bigger than a normal full moon.  (The Algonquin Native American tribes called the November full moon the "Beaver Moon", so I might use that in this story.  Like I just did.)

A couple of weeks ago, we went up to the dark, clear skies of Yosemite to take star pictures from Glacier Point, only to be snowed out.  Today, we will try the same route and hope they keep the road open.  I will do my very best to take decent landscape pictures during the afternoon and a great shot or two of the Full Beaver Moon at about 6pm.  We will see, since photography is always a bit uncertain, especially of time-dependent events.  Can't call an instant replay.

d161114_02_autumtest.jpg Yesterday, I started out with backyard pictures, just to practice a little.  First, I shot autumn leaves in our neighbor's trees, since we also hope to get Fall colors this afternoon.  Autumn colors are always easy.

d161114_04_moontest.jpgd161114_06_moontest2.jpgAs the moon rose over the neighbor's house, I shot a few simple shots of the moon.  These are not great, particularly, because: A) The moon was already a ways up in the sky and hence did not seem as large as it does on the horizon, and B) There is nothing in the frame to give context, and C) We were down in a hazy city backyard.  Nonetheless, I got a bit more experience at manipulating the camera in the dark.  I have to push about ten different buttons and switches to set up a night shot like this, and much of that setting will be done in the clear, dark sky above Yosemite.

d161114_02_hotel.jpgd161114_03_washburn.jpgSo here was our Monday.  Seventy-five minutes from home, we checked into the Wawona Hotel (aka Big Trees Lodge), one of our favorite homes away from home.  The 100-year-old National Park resort seems unique in its blending of old yet clean and modern. We booked into the Washburn House, where all rooms have attached baths.  We are not quite ready for the cheaper, bath-outside-via-the-porch, rooms also found in this vintage place.

From our room, we went to the glass-enclosed dining room for some sketching (Marianne) and photo planning (me).  And, of course, enough food to last us through the big photo shoot.  We have friends who have found fault with the Wawona food, but who could not be happy, dining in such a vintage atmosphere.

d161114_12_burnzone.jpgd161114_10_roadvalley.jpgFrom lunch, we headed out toward Glacier Point, the location I'd selected for Supermoon viewing.  I had never been on this road, so it the road journey really was at least as good as the moon goal.  Glacier Point is about 28 miles and a bit over an hour from the Wawona Hotel.  Along the way, we first stopped to look out over a recent burn area, although I have to admit I forget the name of this particular fire (2014 or 2015 Rim Fire?)

As we drove higher, the scenery got even better, with occasional glimpses of snow and a few spots to stop alongside the road to get our first looks at the rolling hills of this part of the High Sierras.  We would end up taking a zillion pictures of these granite formations, from several viewpoints, but each one seemed new as we altered perspective and afternoon color.  A great drive.

d161114_20_sign.jpgNot far from our Glacier Point goal was Washburn Point, due south of Glacier, and offering a slightly different perspective of Half Dome and the other famous landmarks of the Clark Range.

This panorama was the first of a this-can't-get-any-better moments of the afternoon.

d161114_23_dockfied.jpgd161114_24_highsierra.jpgThe views of the back country, with the contorted blobs and sharp edges of hard granite continued to fascinate us.  I was already up to a hundred or more pictures, and we had not even gotten to our goal yet!

d161114_25_liberycap.jpgBelow us was Liberty Cap, a 7,076 foot (2157 meter) rock, with its neighbor, Nevada Falls.
Off to our left, was Half Dome, the 8,836 foot (2693 meter) rock that dominates Yosemite Valley and would be standing in front of us for the rest of the afternoon and evening. 

d161114_29_walker.jpgd161114_28_jumper.jpgAnd , just to keep up my wildlife photography skills, I practiced on the black ravens that seemed to follow us to every parking lot. I may be getting used to these guys, maybe even like them!  Nah.

Up the twisty road from Washburn Point, we finally hit the Glacier Point parking lot, just us and about 50 cars!

d161114_31_sign.jpgThis is indeed a very popular tourist stop and it does seem strange that I'd never been.  Oh well, now I'd arrived.

The first order of business was to find the right place to set up for my supermoon picture.  We had arrived two or three hours before picture time, so I manged to snag the wall corner where I had space and firm, flat footing.  Not minutes later, other tripod-laden folks were alongside me at the wall. 
Settled in, I could take in the view before me.  Wow!
From here, and with the help of a 600mm telephoto lens, details of Half Dome came alive.
d161114_48_below.jpgd161114_49_lodgebelow.jpgAnd far below us, Curry Village and the Ahwahnee seemed like pieces out of a toy train set.

Along the walls of Yosemite Valley, we could see Nevada, Vernal, Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls.  This was for sure the first time I'd ever looked down at them!

After an hour-and-a-half standing on our rocky perch, the sky started to turn sunset pink.  It almost seemed like this was forcing us to retake all the pictures we'd already done earlier in the day.  Nothing makes a photographer more skilled than sunrise or sunset. (I particularly enjoyed using my long lens on the far-away formations that form the eastern edge of the Sierras.


Finally, the pink turned dark and everyone on Glacier Point focussed on the eastern horizon, just south of Half Dome.  I suppose the folks above me saw it first and I was not completely ready when the crowd started buzzing.  I was surprised at how fast the tiny sliver of light turned into a full globe.

d161114_80_darkvillage.jpgIn the end, I can't say the actual moon pictures were anything to write home about, but the experience was wonderful, from the excuse to stay over at the Wawona Hotel, through the drive up Glacier Point Road and its overlooks, to the hours spent looking out from Glacier Point.  One last glance down to the Curry Village model railroad set, and we were heading back for a celebratory glass.

Tuesday was a bonus day.  We had doubled our one-night stay, just because we could and because they were having a sale on second-night stays.  We really like this old hotel and one more day was just too good to pass up.  And, what did we do to fill our extra day?
The first order of business for me was all my picture and diary work.  The Wawona has only one room with wifi, but that's enough for my early morning activity.  From there, it's off to the reception lobby, with a cozy fireplace.  Eventually, we stroll over to the dining room for breakfast.  Then for me, it's back to pictures and diary.  To others, all this computer work may seem like real work, but for me it's fun.

d161115_04_golfclub.jpgd161115_06_sign.jpgWithout my daily gym exercise, I needed to get outside and at least do a little walk.  I had no plan, just walking across the road from the hotel to see what trails might be easy to get to. There, I ran into the start of "The Meadow Loop", a 3.5 mile course, that promised and hour-and-a-half of easy strolling, just the amount of time I had before my lunch date with Marianne.
In the end, my walk was easy enough, but I did have to keep up a forced pace to stay on schedule.  Maybe this extra day IS like work.  The problem with making good time was that I found myself snapping pictures of everything I saw, with the excuse that I would have to show Marianne all that I had seen.  For example, my first wildlife shot, a scampering gray squirrel right past the entrance sign.  That turned out to be the ONLY wildlife, despite the warnings about bears and such.  Just as well.

How to present my pictures?  Way too many, I know, but I have a hard time saying any are much worse (or better) than the others.  I'll just put down a few themes from my walk:
Here's the path.  It looks a bit boring, but was pleasant from start to finish.  Believe me.
The meadow had originally served as pasture land, complete with split rail fences.  I loved the look of the old wood, so I took (and present here) way too many.  Sorry.
Autumn colors were just about over, so when I would see a bright flash, I had to stop and snap.
There were plenty of evergreens about as well, so I NEEDED some pictures to remember those too.
Even the granite rocks looked good to me this day.
After circling the meadow, I passed a sign noting that this land had been settled for almost 10,000 years and I could see why the original people had named it "Pallahchun", meaning "A Good Place to Stop".
So, at this point I was back at the golf course (oldest in the Sierras) and our own good-place-to-stop.

So, despite all that, I did make it back for lunchtime and another pleasant meal in the sunny dining room.  This is a nice life!

With the late lunch, we knew dinner would be little more than a glass of something.  This seemed completely in line with our "extra" Yosemite day.  I suppose we should have gone out again to look at the big moon, but somehow sitting around the lobby fireplace seemed a better deal.

When we finally made it to the reception area, all the fireside seating was full, so we moved into "the piano bar",  just a doorway away.  The bar is a simple room, high-ceilinged and old-time elegant, like the rest of the reception area. There is worn seating for maybe a dozen folks. 

d161115b_02_lookin.jpgAnd in the corner, where he has played for 33 years, was Tom Bopp, almost as museum-authentic as the Wawona itself.  His 1906 Knabe Parlor Grand Piano started Yosemite life at the 1930s Camp Curry Dance Hall and was moved up to Wawona in 1983, when Tom started as the first (and only) full-time hotel pianist.  It's a great story, so check out his website for more details on him, the piano, and the Wawona generally.

d161115b_04_tom.jpgTonight, apparently like most nights, he played requests, everything from piano bar standards to Yosemite specialties and Gallic tunes.  Depression and Titanic music seemed to be the theme of the day.  "Ironic", chimed in Tom. We listened for an hour or two, enjoying the atmosphere, the music, and Tom Bopp's corny prattle.
We walked away at the break, back to Washburn House. The moon was still super, but hiding behind clouds and trees.  This place is magical and we hope to return again and again.
Wednesday started early for me, like usual, but the walk over to the wifi room was pleasant, with the moon still hiding above the classic old buildings.

We definitely will be back, so stay tuned. 

And stay tuned for Thanksgiving next week.

John and Marianne


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