T he third part of the America trip was definitely the part I was looking forward to the most. We were heading to Yosemite National Park in North California. I had been once before as a teenager, and it was pretty awesome. Being a classic grumpy teenager back then, I don’t think I appreciated it quite as much as I did this time.
The first day we were there, we started by heading into the park for around midday. We left it a bit later than we had previously, as we knew we would be staying pretty late to do some star trail photography so didn’t want to be too knackered by the end of the day. When we arrived, we parked up the cars and broke out the picnic. Nothing like a chicken sarnie to fuel you on a big hike. The route we had chosen to do was pretty long, 5 or 6 miles I think, although I cant quite remember. We were hiking up to one of the waterfalls ‘Vernal Falls’ so there would be a lot of uphill action going on. Yay!
It was a pretty tough hike up there. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky so the sun was beating down on us like a maniac. Mercifully, every now and then the path winded in amongst the trees, so there was a bit of shade to cool down in, but as we got closer and closer to the top there were less and less trees, and pretty soon none at all. Carrying a bag filled with camera equipment and bottles of frozen water on my back the whole way up was a hoot as well.
When we made it to the top, the waterfall wasn’t exactly what we had expected. Due to the ridiculously hot summer the park had this year there was a pretty severe drought, so the waterfall was more of a trickle than a full on cascade of water. You could see the marks on the rock face where the water usually flows, and the severity of the drought became even more apparent. I’d say it looked about 25% of the size it should have been, maybe even less. Whole sections of the park had been closed off because of the risk of forest fires and apparently thousands of trees had died. It wasn’t all from this year, the last couple of years had been dry too and it was obvious to see. The trees should have all been green, and luscious but they weren’t, the majority were brown and yellow. It looked like it should have been late autumn given the colours around, but it was barely the end of summer. Still, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. The variety of colours kind of made my photos a little more interesting.
We had a bit of rest at the top of the trail before hiking back down. It was much easier going back down gravity does most of the work which is just fab. It had cooled down quite a bit as well which was lovely. When we got to the bottom we went and had a bite to eat in Yosemite Village, before driving up to Glacier Point to photograph the stars (see next post).
The next few days were spent exploring the local area and parts of the National Park. We spent most of the time on hiking trails rather than driving around, it was a much better way to do it. This was just the sort of thing I had been looking forward to doing. Being out in the middle of nowhere, replacing the tall skyscrapers of the busy city with the tall trees of the forest. There were some hikes we went on where we didn’t see another person for hours and hours. It was so different to what I’m used to back in London, so quiet, so peaceful, it was nice to just wind down and enjoy what nature had to offer for a while.
One of the most spectacular hikes we went on was up to a viewpoint looking onto Half dome. It really was an incredible sight the amazing curved rock rising up from the valley floor diving high over the tops of the trees into the blue sky.
Whilst we were up at the viewpoint, I was taking photos of the remains of an old tree. It made for quite an interesting subject. Lying on its side on the bare grey rock with an outstanding background featuring Yosemite Valley. As I was stood there photographing it, another tourist came over to speak to me. He explained that the tree i was photographing was actually the subject of a very famous photograph by Ansel Adams, as was called the Jeffrey Pine. It became one of the most iconic places for photographers visiting Yosemite, so much so that Park Rangers actually used to carry buckets and buckets of water to the tree to feed it during times of drought. Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, the tree eventually died but its remains still lie on the rock.
Further on into the hike we reached Taft Point, another of the areas most famous views. Here you can walk right up to the edge of the cliff and look down over the whole valley. I have to say, I didn’t spend too long standing at the edge, my legs completely turned to jelly and I couldn’t hold the camera steady.
Once I had retreated back from the edge a couple of meters or so, I managed to compose myself and get back to taking some photos. As well as the amazing views that were on offer, there was also so much wildlife around that I wanted to try and capture. Squirrels, chipmunks, birds of prey, no bears I’m afraid, I was on the lookout the whole time. Firstly to try and photograph them, and secondly just to make sure that one didn’t sneak up on me and oh I don’t know, eat me maybe!
The last evening in Bass lake, I wanted to try and get some more photographs of the stars, this time using the lake as the foreground to the shot. My dad and I went down to an outcrop in the lake as the sun began to set and I got everything set up and ready.
It was still quite light and the sun hadn’t fully set yet, so for a while I just took photos of the sunset whilst my dad did a spot of fishing. I was sat on a picnic bench in a BBQ area on the shore of the lake using two tall trees to frame my shots. The sunset here was absolutely beautiful. The colour of the sky was like nothing I had seen before. So full of vivid colours, orange on the horizon, then rising into the sky yellow, blue, purple, it was just magical.
Eventually I thought it was dark enough to start trying to get come pictures of the stars, but when I started to do a few test shots, it became apparent that there was too much light pollution coming from the town. I tried changing the settings of the shot to accommodate for this, but it still wasn’t working out like I hoped. Not to worry, I decided to go for a different kind of shot and pointed my camera up towards the trees instead.
There was a number of trees in the area and I found a small cluster of them with a gap in their leaves and branches where the sky was visible. I thought this would be a good place to get some shots, using the trees as the foreground, with the stars peeking through.
The shots I was getting started to look pretty good, there was plenty of detail in the stars, but the trees were a bit underexposed, and I wanted to get s bit more detail and colour from them. I tried something I had never done before, and that was to use the torch I had to ‘paint’ light onto the trees. Once I pressed the button on the camera, and the shutter opened, I quickly used the torch to shine light on the areas of the trees that I wanted to highlight and bring out in the photos. Once this was done, I switched off the torch and closed the camera shutter.
I was quite please with how the photos turned out. They weren’t perfect by any means, but I had learnt something new and it had worked…kind of. Anyway, it wasn’t long before we decided to call it a night and head back for some dinner, and wine of course. As I was packing up all of my equipment, I was doing my last check to make sure I had everything so I looked under the bench I had been sitting on all night. Right under where I had been was a messy tangle of web and sat right in the middle of this web was a Black Widow Spider. Well, anyone who knows me will know how terrified I am of spiders, especially those that can bite and kill you! I ran away from that bench faster than I have ever run before!
I could have stayed at Bass Lake for another week, but unfortunately before I knew it, it was time to head back to Los Angeles and head home. We didn’t go into the park as much as I would have liked as we were staying a good hour and a half away so it was a bit of a trek. Next time I come, I already have a list of things I want to get done, and I will certainly try and stay as close to the park as possible, in the main village perhaps!
It was such an amazing place to spend the last week of the holiday and I can’t wait to come back one day and explore a bit more of it.
Until next time…