Life as seen through my lens…
Category Archives: Travel
It’s sad that it’s taken me almost a month to find the time to write this, but late is better than not at all!
2019 promised to be a good year for photographing the Horsetail Fall “Firefall” effect in Yosemite. There had been a LOT of snow and rain that should have fed Horsetail Fall strongly. What we didn’t anticipate though was a cold snap in the 2nd half of February. The supposed optimal day for “Firefall” this year was February 22, but I had an opportunity to visit a few days beforehand on February 18 also. Thankfully the weather cooperated on both days, with mostly clear skies, especially (and all importantly) to the west where the sun would be setting. All the elements seemed to be aligning to give us a spectacular display, apart from one thing… The cold snap had turned what should have been a gushing seasonal waterfall into a frigid trickle.
The cold and snowy conditions in the park had resulted in 2-3 feet deep snow on the uncleared ground. The cleared roads and trails were icy and slick, and as such the park rangers were directing all who wanted to see and photograph the event to the area surrounding the El Capitan picnic area. They made walking back down Northside Drive to get to the viewing spot on the banks of the Merced River an offence accompanied by fines (not that it stopped some people), and for safety’s sake, they didn’t want people trudging through the 2-3ft-deep snow near the edge of the river back. So… most of us kept to the prescribed area near the El Capitan picnic area…
Some had already staked out their preferred viewing spot in the morning. By lunchtime (when I got there) there were already between 50 to 100 people distributed around the area, but the nature of the forest in that area made it feel like there were less. On both days I was there, a camaraderie developed between the people there – from different walks of life, with different reasons for being there, but all drawn by the perhaps over-hyped expectations set thanks to social media to see this magical display that nature puts on each year. Some had seen it on prior years. Some were staying in the park for multiple days and were watching for the spectacle each evening they were there. Others were there for the first time just to see the magic happen. Some were just curious as to what was drawing so many other people there… We all chatted, laughed, shared stories, shared food and drink, and waited in the cold and snow for the sun to set.
As the afternoon progressed, more and more people arrived and set up their gear. Lots of expensive and unusual pieces of equipment were set up on tripods, all pointing up at the side of El Capitan where we were expecting to see fantastic things happen. As we drew close to sunset there had to have been thousands of people around us in the forest. All were looking up at the cliff-face and seeing a distinct lack of water flowing from Horsetail Fall. But still we all waited and watched.
On the 18th, many of us were standing at the side of the road, and as the afternoon progressed the park rangers were having a tough time keeping things flowing along Southside Drive as more and more people arrived to see this spectacle of mother nature. Seeing what was happening around me I wondered how busy it was getting in other areas.
On the 22nd I found out how busy the other areas got, as I chose to watch from the forest floor rather than the side of the road. It was less chaotic, but just as busy.
As the afternoon progressed we could see the light on the cliff-face change as the sun moved closer to the horizon…
The light drew closer and closer to where Horsetail Fall falls, and we watched and hoped.
Just as the color of the light started to change, we saw some water flow over the top of the fall. Not much, but enough!
Behind us, the light from the setting sun made the snow and ice covered rockfaces glow orange…
Meanwhile, we continued to see a small stream of water light up.
… and then the light faded as the sun dipped below the horizon.
There were days where the Firefall experience was much more spectacular than the days I chose to be there. The Tuesday and Thursday of that week saw more flow, some spray, and a much more vivid experience. Prior years where I had been there my luck was a little different. I went in on 2 days in 2017, and got these shots…
… and from 2016 this is what happens when there’s good flow, but the cloud blocks the light from the sunset…
As with many things in nature, there’s no guarantees that what you will get on a given day will match the experience of those that camp out day after day, year after year, in the hope of getting that perfect shot. Unless you have the time to dedicate to copying those few hardcore photographers, you have to be happy with what you get, and be content in the knowledge that you have been able to see this demonstration of mother nature’s fickle beauty in the flesh when so many can only look at the photographs of others in wonder and awe.
Still – I hope one year to be able to get one of those truly spectacular shots that a few other lucky people have been able to get!
Wow. Has it really been nearly 5 years since I posted here? I need to fix that!
My photography remains a hobby but I have moved from a place where I’d shoot anything and everything around me to one where other aspects of my life have left me with less time to shoot and process and promote. I am relatively(?) active on Facebook, but Flickr (where I used to be really active) has become more of a means for me to share large bodies of work I create for certain groups through volunteer work (such as Girl Scouts). I’ve also chosen to close down my SmugMug account – the expense of keeping it live was not worth it. There are other ways for me to sell my photographs and I just didn’t have the time to keep it up-to-date. Plus, with SmugMug and Flickr being owned by the same company now, it made no sense paying two subscriptions to the same company when all I really want to do is share my pictures.
Anyway – going forwards I will try and update this site with some sort of frequency – it certainly won’t be every day. It is more likely to be weekly at best, but I will endeavor to keep it coming!
On the subject of photography and photographing things I love, this time of year a very special thing can happen at Yosemite National Park. Known affectionately as the “Firefall”, for a short time window in the second half of February the light of the setting sun shines at such an angle that it hits a seasonal waterfall that flows from the top of the cliff to the east of El Capitan and makes it look like a stream of lava or embers is flowing down the rock face.
For this to happen, you need water in the seasonal waterway that feeds Horsetail Fall, you need an unobstructed sky to the west so the light from the setting sun can actually reach the water, and you need for there to be no obstructions such that the water actually flows into the waterfall. With the recent weather we have been having here in California, there is plenty of water to feed the falls, but thanks to the extreme cold weather we have been seeing recently, the water has frozen and the falls are not falling!
To add to that, there has been significant snowfall in the Yosemite Valley itself, which has led to limited parking opportunities, and anyone wanting to see the “firefall” will have to park back at the Yosemite Valley Lodge (close to Yosemite Falls) and will have to hike a couple of miles in the snow to the best viewing spots; Mother Nature is doing her best to carry out some crowd control for this now overly popular event. This event draws many spectators every year, most of which are photographers. To get a good photograph of the event you need some serious gear including tripods and long lenses, and something to sit on, as to get a good view you need to get there fairly early in the day. Lugging all of that, across deep snow, for a couple of miles, and then back again in the dark, is likely to put off many visitors that would have made the trip in milder weather.
For those that do make the effort, if everything aligns, it is a truly magnificent sight that is hard to comprehend even if you understand all of the elements involved in making it a reality.
I will be watching conditions in the park closely over the next week. If they change I will likely find myself heading there this year to try and get a shot or two, but if conditions remain as they are as we get closer to March I’ll forgo it this year. Once you get past February 24 the angle of the light from the setting sun changes such that it doesn’t hit the waterfall any more and the “fire” is extinguished, until next year!
This time last week I’d just about got home from an impromptu visit to Yosemite to catch photos of a spray moonbow (rainbow in the spray of a waterfall caused by the light of the full moon). There are apparently only 4 waterfalls in the world where this can happen when the conditions are right, and we have one a bit over 3 hours drive away. The conditions were right last week, so pretty much on a whim I decided to take a chunk of time out of my week to go see this for myself.
Shooting the moonbow meant I was up late into the night (and into the following morning), and as the Yosemite Valley is a magical place by the light of the full moon, I proceeded to journey around the valley to get moonlight shots of my “happy place”.
Before I knew it, it was 4:30 in the morning and I was up on Glacier Point looking down on the valley, so I decided to stick around for the sunrise which was only a bit over an hour away.
Cold and tired I sat in my car and napped for an hour before dragging myself from my dreams to go and watch the sun rise.
I was not disappointed. The scene started to get lighter as the sun neared the horizon, and then as it emerged above the line of distant mountains just behind Half Dome the warming rays of the sun hit my face and warmed my body and soul.
For a person who is spiritual (not religious) it was a very moving experience. I’m sure if I were a religious person I’d be putting a religious spin on this, but regardless, it was a wonderful way to start the day with a fresh appreciation of the beauty that is there if you only take the time to pull yourselves away from your daily distractions for a while to appreciate it.
If you ever get a chance to witness a sunrise in a place of beauty such as Yosemite National Park, do yourself a favor… make the effort to get up early and experience it for yourself. I promise you won’t regret it… and you can always make up the lost hours of sleep later!
On a last minute whim, I took a 3.5 hour drive yesterday afternoon to go to Yosemite National Park to try and catch a picture of a moonbow. A moonbow is a rainbow formed in the spray of a waterfall from the light of the full or nearly full moon. According to the internet, there are only 4 waterfalls in the world that have the right conditions for this to happen, and after finding out about these very recently I wasn’t going to miss the chance of capturing one.
It seems that half of the photographers in California (and beyond) had the same idea, because as it turned dark, the best vantage points for seeing this event were packed with photographers and their gear.
When conditions are good, a bow can be seen in the spray from both Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, however yesterday the conditions for a moonbow in the spray from the Upper Yosemite Fall were clearly missing, as was the moonbow (there was a little splash of color in a small section of mist, but not a full moonbow by any stretch of the imagination, and nothing that could be seen with the naked eye).
The story at the base of Lower Yosemite Fall was totally different though. As I joined the 50 or so other photographers that had taken up position in the viewing area at the base of the fall, the moonbow was clearly visible as a silvery arc in the spray. There wasn’t quite enough light in it to have the human eye see color, but a long camera exposure can overcome this so you can see the moonbow in all its rainbow-colored glory!
This month’s full moon will likely be the last one this year that will lead to a decent moonbow in Yosemite Falls, as because of the low snowpack in the Sierras, it is expected that the volume of water will drop off enough before next month’s full moon that there won’t be enough spray to make this happen…
Yesterday was a fun day… my daughter (mother of these two adorable monkeys) had to work, and my wife was helping as a volunteer at a Girl Scout weekend camp, so I did my grandfatherly duties by looking after these two for the day. As the weather has been unusually warm and sunny (California – drought – all that fun climate change stuff), I decided to keep them happy and busy by taking them to the beach.
After an hour’s drive we arrived in Half Moon Bay where we parked up and spent a few hours on Poplar Beach. You have to pay for parking there, but it’s not that expensive, and the parking fee has the advantage of serving to keep the numbers of visitors down, so while we didn’t have the beach to ourselves there was a lot of room to run around and play.
Poplar Beach is long and sandy, and the sand is good for making sandcastles too, so both little monkeys set to the task of sand construction with their sand toys…
It wasn’t long before the lure of the waves became more interesting than the sand, and so after a few rounds of wave-tag, I had two rather wet little monkeys.
After a change and a short drive down the coast-hugging Highway 1, we stopped at Pescadero State Beach. This beach has a nice mix of rock-pools and sand, and has some nice sheltered rocky coves for when the wind is blowing. In the summer this beach can get very fog-bound and cold, but on this mid-winter day it was warm and sunny, so in their swim costumes the little monkeys took to the beach for round two of some beach fun.
Both having been unexpectedly soaked in the waves at Poplar Beach, neither of them was interested in the water, so instead they made more sand castles, and also explored (climbed over) some of the rocky terrain.
The day was getting long, and so after a couple of hours here we bundled back into the car for a little drive further down the coast to Pigeon Point Lighthouse where we stretched our legs and explored the area around the lighthouse. We even saw a couple of spouts from migrating whales out in the Pacific Ocean.
It was here we found the telephone box. One of the things about California’s Highway 1 is that a lot of it’s run has no cellphone coverage because of the surrounding terrain and the remoteness… so at various stops along the route you can find working phone boxes. Watching the two monkeys explore the booth made me think that their generation will likely be the last one that really knows what a ‘traditional’ phone looks like. These curiosities will likely disappear for good, resigned to history like the VCR, cassette tape, and other pieces of tech that we have left behind in our never ending drive to improve the devices we live with.
Anyway… after exploring the lighthouse we headed for home, but first a stop for some food, and for that we stopped at Cameron’s Inn Pub and Restaurant in Half Moon Bay. This California-ized British Pub is the perfect place to stop and enjoy a drink and some food, while immersing yourself in all of the best parts of a British Pub. It’s kid-friendly too, which with a 2 and 4 year old pair in tow was a blessing! After a lovely meal (they do some wonderful English food, which for an ex-pat like me is a real treat), we explored an old London double-decker bus before getting in our car for the hour long drive home.
Accompanied by music from Disney’s Frozen, played from the internet on my smartphone, through the speakers of my car, we sat in the expected queues leaving Half Moon Bay along route 92, and got home just as both little monkeys were ready for bed… after a quick bath to wash off the sea water and sand that had accumulated through the day, both were in bed and snoring within minutes – the sure sign of a fun day with Granddad.