Part of being a good nature photographer is studying the weather. After our long, long, horribly long dry spell, it was great to finally see a weather report that said anything other than “unseasonably warm and dry for the foreseeable future”. Gad, I was sick of seeing that. I was also going nuts looking out at blue skies and brown grass. Where were the clouds? Where was the water?
Finally, we’re getting some much needed rain. And while it may end up being less than we need, it’s certainly more than we had. The hills are turning green, the streams are starting to flow, and most importantly, the storm clouds have returned to Yosemite. And that makes now the perfect time for Yosemite photography.
Why is March the nicest month to photograph Yosemite?
In most years, February is just as beautiful. But February is also when Horsetail falls makes its nearly mythical appearance as well as the thousands of photographers who come searching for it. It’s gotten so bad; they have to close off large sections of the roads in the park just for parking. Never mind that this is the third year in a row that Horsetail Falls has been disappointing. The hope of a great shot keeps us all going.
April is another great month to visit the park, but by then most of the winter storms are long gone and you’re apt to have empty blue skies in your landscape photography. However, I will admit that April can be a great time to catch an elusive Moonbow over Yosemite Falls.
But March is special. Less people. More clouds. Not usually quite as cold as December and January. But as nice as all of that is, those aren’t the best reasons. The number one reason why March is the best month to visit Yosemite is the Light!
In early March, the late afternoon light at Tunnel View covers the entire Valley. It’s one of only two times, October being the other, that the light is so inclusive, and you’re much more apt to have clouds and a running Bridal Veil Falls in March. In the summer, the light is on the South side of the Valley, and Bridal Vail Falls, if it’s flowing, is the star of the show. In the winter, El Capitan steals the limelight, as well as the sunlight to capture all of your attention. But March doesn’t play favorites. The whole Valley is yours for the picture taking.
Rochelle and I learned this little fact from Michael Frye’s Yosemite Guide, and if you don’t already have it, be sure to add it to your shopping list.
So, as you might have figured out by now, Rochelle and I spent the last weekend in Yosemite and here is what we found.
The park roads aren’t covered by the CalTrans road reports. So, while you can check the roads all the way up to the park entrances, you’ll need to call 209-0372-0200 and press #, and then # again to find out the road situation in the park. And I’ll tell you right now, the people in charge of this information are a cautious bunch. My advice; if it’s winter, bring a set of tire chains. Or, you can do what I did and buy a Subaru and put on snow tires every winter. But then, I really hate putting on tire chains.
Another benefit of travelling to Yosemite in March is the empty roads. You stand much less chance of driving at 20 miles an hour behind a frightened tourist who has never driven on a mountain road before in their life.
The first place we visited was the famous Tunnel View. We were slow travelers on Saturday, so we didn’t get to Tunnel View until mid-day and, even though that’s about the worst time of the day for photography, the view of the clouds forming around Half Dome, and the aptly named Clouds Rest, was stunning. But, we knew the light would be better later in the day, so we headed off for lunch, and that meant a trip to Degnan’s Deli in Yosemite Village and a couple of their delicious Chicken Waldorf Sandwiches on nice, fresh croissants. Yummy.
While we were in the Village, we checked out the Ansel Adams Gallery, where a fellow Sonoran, Evan Russell, who works in the Gallery, showed us his Platinum/Palladium prints. It’s quite an involved process, but Rochelle could hardly contain her excitement over the depth and “uniqueness” of these black and white prints. I guess I’ll be searching the Internet for all of the exotic supplies pretty soon because I bet she’s going to want to try it herself.
The next stop was the History Museum, where the annual Yosemite Renaissance Art Show was being held. It’s a must see, with some of the nicest painting, photography and 3d images of the Sierras you’ll ever see.
Finally, it was time to get back up to Tunnel View. And once there, we found it even more dramatic than when we left. The clouds were still playing hide-and-seek with Half Dome, but they were also casting gigantic shadows over El Capitan, Sentinel Rock and Bridal Veil Falls. Its times like these when you wish you had three or four cameras so you could capture every little bit of photographic goodness, all at the same time.
Rochelle and I took turns with our wide angle lenses and our new telephoto lenses, getting both wide, see-it-all comps, as well as some smaller, more intimate landscapes. That’s if you can call a photograph of a gazillion-ton monolith “intimate” of course.
But you can’t take pictures every second for two or three hours straight. Well, you could but once you got home you’d have to go online and buy another hard drive or two. So, we started talking with a couple of the other photographers who were visiting the Valley. The woman next to Rochelle turned out to be a landscape photographer who had recently visited the Himalayans. The man next to me was visiting Yosemite for the first time, and planned on spending the next week on a whirlwind photography trip around California. He was full of questions. And another photographer was visiting from the Bay Area, and he had a million things to share about his photographic adventures. The time passed far too quickly, and soon it was nearly dark.
This is important. Even though it might be “nearly” dark, that doesn’t mean it’s completely dark and nothing else will be worth waiting for. Nope. Because just when you’re getting ready to pack up and leave, you might be treated to a special lightshow, reserved only for the very patient. On Saturday, our lightshow was a gigantic band of red light, which crossed the entire valley. Wonderful.
When we’re not travelling in our little Roadtrek RV, we have usually stayed at the Yosemite Lodge. This time, we decided to try out the Yosemite View Lodge, right outside the park on Hwy 140 in El Portal. I’m so glad we did. Not only was it less expensive than the Yosemite Lodge, it offered a clean and modern room, a decent place to eat and much more convenient parking. This will be our lodge of choice from now on. It was well worth the extra 15 minutes of driving to get to our favorite park destinations.
If you’re a photographer, you know that there is a reasonable time to get up in the morning, and then there is the photographer’s time to get up in the morning. And that’s why we were out the door by 5:30, racing up to Tunnel View to capture the morning light. You won’t see the whole Valley light up in the morning, but if you’re lucky and the clouds have stuck around, you will see some wonderful color in the sky. And seeing that Rochelle is the color-lover around this house, you won’t be surprised that these shots of Yosemite Valley in the morning are all hers.
Once the sunrise show was over, we headed off with a couple of our new friends (yes, our new buddies from the evening before came back in the morning for more – just like us) to find some mist. Unfortunately, the Valley decided that Sunday morning was a good time to play “Catch Me If You Can” and ran us all around the Park. We’d see the mist a little ways away, but by the time we got there, it had disappeared, only to show up someplace else.
We finally had to admit we were beaten, say goodbye to our new friends and head home. But before we did, we decided to visit a special little place along the Merced that offers an outstanding view of the Three Brothers.
While I was trying to capture three big rocks,
Rochelle went looking for little scenes, and she found them in this group of fallen leaves, and these little sticks, jutting out of the Merced. Hmmm, I wonder if she should call this shot “The River Sticks”.
The light show from Tunnel View won’t last for long. Take my advice and get over there soon. And if you can, try to get there when a storm is clearing out of the Valley. That would be an experience you’ll never forget.