After a few days reprieve from the driving winds we experienced in Death Valley and the Alabama Hills, we headed back out I-80W to explore the Big Sur coastline, and Yosemite National Park. Our first stop was just outside of San Francisco, where we camped at Bicentennial Campground in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. At sunset we crossed the bridge and made our way to Marshall Beach. Sunset was not going to be visible due to incoming storms still out at sea, so I focused on the bay instead and created a moody long exposure image.
The light faded fast, and the tide was coming in as well, so I packed up after this shot and headed back to the campground. When morning came, we made a short drive to a viewpoint overlooking the bridge so I could capture San Francisco, Alcatraz, and the bay in the background. Sunrise was much kinder than the previous night’s sunset, and I managed to capture a warm glow across the bay that would prove to be the last time we saw the sun for the remainder of the trip.
When the sun became too harsh for my photographic liking, we packed up and made our way to Muir Woods. Muir Woods is an incredibly peaceful place and is located in an unassuming valley. In fact I didn’t believe I was there until I stepped out of my vehicle. The place is incredibly quiet and intimate. I could have spent a few days here, however we had other plans and this was just a side trip. After about 4 miles of hiking I found an image that I had hoped to take. I searched for a nicely spaced set of Coastal Redwoods that had foliage entering the frame from a few select angles to naturally vignette the behemoths.
Happy with the image, and knowing we had a four hour drive down the coast to Big Sur, we reluctantly left the peaceful solitude of Muir Woods, and headed down the legendary Highway 1. Unfortunately for us, rain, rain, and more rain was on the way, and as we arrived at our campsite we realized it was going to be a tough couple days. We headed to Mcway Falls, a popular destination along Highway 1 where a forty foot waterfall falls onto a sandy beach in a small alcove among towering cliffs. To my delight we arrived and there were not many photographers in the area (probably due to the inclement weather forecasted). I was able to set up a composition with some wildflowers in the foreground. The area seemed heavily trafficked and I was careful not to add to the damage that had been done to the area. Julia Pfeiffer State Park was closed due to storm damage that happened in 2017, and a bit from this year as well, and the only area where these falls are viewable from is the car park off Highway 1. The weather was turning on us and I framed my composition to exclude the horizon because it was as bleak as could be, and instead made the focus the vibrant wildflowers that pointed out to sea.
As I packed up the camera and made my way back to the car, the first evidence of what the night had in store made its appearance. After a nutrient packed dinner of “Beans n’ Weenies” (look it up), we went to bed early, determined to get up and try to get another photograph of the area. Mother Nature had other plans however, and after being buffeted with torrential rains the entire night, we arose to our tent site actively being turned into a lake. With 4+ inches of standing water and a small stream flowing into it, it was safe to say we were done here. Miraculously, the interior of our tent stayed dry and we were able to pack up our sleeping bags and pads in relative comfort. The tent on the other hand had to be balled up and thrown into a trash bag to be dried out somewhere else. We looked at the forecast for the next few days and realized that the storm of storms had descended on Big Sur and was going to make its way towards our next destination over the following few days. We made the decision to jump ship, and headed for Yosemite National Park in hopes of beating the storm. We found a cheap AirBnB just outside the park since our tent was incapacitated, and made that our base of operations for the next two days. Yosemite was drier than Big Sur, but not by much. A winter storm had devastated much of the valley floor, and our original campground was closed due to fallen trees. Nevertheless, as we came through the tunnel the following morning, I can honestly say that my jaw dropped. Filled with fog, and with dense clouds above, the sense of mystery over Yosemite Valley was indescribable. I set up the camera at the well known Tunnel View parking area, and waited for the magical moment. Thankfully it came, and I managed a series of images over the next hour as the sun steadily rose. The first image I took in tribute to the great Ansel Adams who helped make this valley famous. El Capitan is shrouded in cloud on the lefthand side, while Half Dome is just barely visible almost dead center. Bridalveil Falls is in the right third of the image while the Merced River can be seen snaking around the valley floor. This is a popular location to photograph, but the spitting rain and cold temps kept most of the photographers away.
After I took the traditional image of Yosemite, I was drawn to the different shapes of the landscape. I got out my 70-200 lens and focused in on El Cap, which was beginning to peak from the clouds. The warm yellow- orange morning light mixed with the blueish- purple rain sodden clouds would have made color theory gurus go insane as the two colors blended effortlessly together.
I quickly shifted my focus to the forest on the valley floor as the fog began to overcome the area, set a composition, and fired the shutter again.
Moments later, the fog settled in so thick you could stir it with a spoon. I decided to make my way to the valley floor to see what it had to offer. I tried hard to forget the images I had seen of Yosemite, and focus on what was happening in the moment. Because of the thick fog and time of year, many of the traditional shots and locations were inaccessible. In a way this made me happy because I was able to focus on photographing things my way without social media, and other photographers influencing my work. I captured a few images through the fog that I am happy with. We hiked a total of 9.5 miles and didn’t see the sun once before we made our way back to our AirBnB.
The following day we arose to conditions similar to that of the previous morning. Fog covered the valley floor and El Cap was stubbornly cloaked in cloud. I set up my camera anyway and donned my rain gear. I stood on a bank of snow for an hour before the sun illuminated some clouds that were hanging over the valley. I took my final image of Yosemite.
We ended our trip a day early because the storm that hit us in Big Sur had finally made its way to the mountains; promising feet of snow in certain areas. Ill equipped for such an expedition, we packed up shop and headed home before the mountain passes became impassible. I hope to return to Yosemite someday and photograph it in a different setting, but my first experience was truly unforgettable.