Road Trip- End of Summer 2014: Yosemite

Yosemite Fires 2014After a couple weeks in beautiful Southern California (which was the subject of the previous post, L-M-G), and then a couple weeks at home, we headed south again. While that trip was focused on friends, family, and art, mostly in urban settings, this most recent road trip was focused more on nature, as well as friends and family. It took us down I-5, through Oregon to Grants Pass and west on Highway 199 to Crescent City on the coast of Northern California. We’ve driven this route many, many times, always amazed at the beauty of the raging Smith River as the highway follows along side this natural wonder. This time however, the water level was unusually low, barely a trickle, almost dried up. Didn’t see any sports fishers pulled off in the usual spots, nor kayakers. Around every bend, this once powerful body of water, brought to a standstill. In all the journeys along this highway, we’d never seen the river so low, the lack of water so evident. As the later afternoon sun was flashing through the trees, the light in the sky was beautiful, except its beauty was not only because of the approaching sunset, it was also being filtered through smoke from the fires in Southern Oregon and Northern California.

We chose this route because of the natural beauty of this river, and the drive south along the coast and into the redwoods via Highway 101 – it’s especially nice at this time of year, just after the Labor Day holiday, when traffic is lighter. As you turn inland from the coast and drive into the redwoods, you become aware of a different quality of light, the temperature drops and the road narrows. One is reminded of how little has changed since the Redwood Highway was first built as it meanders around these colossal giants. As one continues south, the recent improvements in the passes, new bridges, and wider divided sections of highway make access to this area easier than in the past, adding to a greater appreciation of this section of Northern California.


This road trip’s destination was the great National Park, Yosemite. Campsites were reserved in advance and once we settled in we went out to explore and get a sense of where we were located. As we came around a bend we found emergency workers and  helicopters using one of the meadows as a staging area as they plucked climbers and campers off of Half Dome because nearby fires threatened to move into that area. Yosemite 2014Clouds & Smoke

The sound of the choppers together with the smoke-filtered light in the sky were putting on an eerie show; smoke plumes were competing with clouds to make dramatic forms in the sky, especially as the near full moon was rising. A sense of calm returned as the choppers departed in the darkening sky as the moon was rising.


We met up with StanleyS at Tuolumne Meadows at 8,619 feet (2,627 m) and explored meadows, the  stunning domes and rock faces, and marveled at climbers through binoculars. We spent the next couple days in various locations in the valley, campgrounds, and trails. It is always fascinating to watch another artist at work, seeing how the world is filtered while gathering images that will be used in future projects. Together in Tuolumne Meadow, we watched the full moon rising as Stanley captured it and the shadows of clouds in the night sky. SSmoon

It was inspiring to see the greats, Half Dome, El Capitan, Leaning Tower, Sentinel Dome, Washington Spire, Bridalveil Fall, and the magnificent views from the points, Taft, Washburn, and Glacier. We had been very aware of the smoke and how each day there was more and more. From Washburn and Glacier Points one could see how widespread these fires were becoming. 

Yosemite Fires 2014

Yosemite Fires 2014

This summer of drought had left many of the waterfalls dry, and only a delicate mist of water falling over the edge in others. I wasn’t expecting to photograph much beyond an occasional snapshot in such a majestic location, especially one that has been well documented for decades with iconic images by masters of landscape, not to mention the open air busses rounding curves with tourists’ cameras held high clicking in unison. Seeing Yosemite’s imposing forms, with smoke billowing down the valley or filtering the morning light, made me realize that even this unique, extensively photographed landscape can be presented afresh. Atmosphere – whether clear, thickened with moisture, or laden with particulate and smoke – changes the way light works on surfaces and between you and a subject. These few images are among several I made during these few days, some with my camera and others with the sensor in my cell phone.BV6206


El CapitanEl Capitan

El Capitan

On our approach to Yosemite, we noted the blackened trees and landscape from the 2013 fires on the north side of Highway 120 – when we left to return to the Bay Area, these same landscapes felt more somber after our experiences around the awe-inspiring natural beauty punctuated by the intense firefighting activities. Days later, as we headed north on I-5, traffic remained light; the numerous fire crews were more noticeable, still at work, especially around Weed, where their base of operations appeared to be ongoing. Into Oregon, as on our southbound trip, the setting sun was filtered through the haze of smoke; as beautiful and dramatic as it is visually, we are reminded of the delicate state of the natural world we inhabit.Oregon6322

If you enjoy streaming, you might want to follow this link to the webcams in Yosemite, and if so inspired consider joining the Yosemite Conservancy.


Truly amazing photos and narrative… Thanks so much, I enjoyed the trip.

Quite an amazing two days with T&A. I myself was on a two week road trip, photographing mostly. To intersect with my two great friends was really such a bonus. Back in LA now, downloaded 2000 images, and am in the process of putting a few new pieces together.

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