Exploring California 2017 Part 2: Yosemite National Park

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With one incredible stop on our trip down, we set off for the next stop, Yosemite National park. This place has been on my short list of locations to visit for years. I've become enamored with the idea of visiting all of the National Parks in the country. The more I travel within the U.S. the more I realize just how incredibly beautiful and diverse this land really is. 

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Ansel Adams was a pioneer in the landscape genre. He utilized a unique blend of framing and monochromatic post processing that propelled him to become one of the preeminent photographers of his day. He's most famous for the work he created throughout many years of visiting Yosemite Park. 

The planning for this trip took into consideration certain "must visit" locations from the both of us. Holly wanted to make sure e got ample time in SoCal (just because its awesome) and I wanted to get some real time exploring Yosemite. 

Since I've cultivated a love for landscapes over the years, I've educated myself on the legends of the genre and the images that have made them famous. No discussion on landscape photography can really begin with anyone else but Ansel Adams. 

I was well aware of the many iconic view of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls. I wanted those pictures, but I also wanted to look behind the icons. I wanted my visit to inspire and enlighten me in some way.


Meeting Larry and Marilyn

We drove down from Lake Tahoe on a collection of winding and unnerving mountain roads. Heavy snow fall in 2016 blocked off a large areas of Yosemite valley and forced visitors from the north to take a very long and convoluted route through the middle of the state to get to the park. After a few hours of traveling through sporadic little towns, we hit a long stretch of uninhabited back country. As we drove deeper and deeper into the state, California began to look less like Hollywood's romanticized west and more like the deep south of my childhood. We reserved an airbnb for this stop because tourist season was revving up and hotel prices were already out of control. 

As we approached the location of our airbnb, I started to have flashbacks of summers spent with my maternal family in the small town of Jesup,GA. Tall pines and dirt roads were the backdrop of mobile homes with elaborately decorated front lawns. Each one more eccentric than the last. It was both vaguely familiar and slightly unsettling. Im always weary of traveling deep into the country. I spent a good amount of my early years in towns inhabiting the back woods of Georgia. I know first hand that for as much good as there is in small towns, that type of isolation can often breed some pretty regressive social outlooks.

If I wasn't already on edge, we lost cell coverage about 45 minutes away from our destination, so on the off chance something were to happen, we were completely on our own. 

We pulled up to the entrance of our place which sat on about an acre of land flanked by rows of tall trees. There was a steep dirt hill that led  onto a short handmade bridge that spanned a small manmade  duck pond. We pulled up to a large converted mobile home with a large front deck that was decorated with every kitschy tourist ornament you can think of (including a full sized vintage Harley parked right on the deck). I suppose this was an effort to disarm city folk like myself that may have been weary of the off-putting location. 

We walked in the house to find a demur and kindly middle aged Filipino women, named Marilyn, hard at work washing dishes for guest who were already staying in one of the 4 available rooms. She greeted us with a smile and pointed us to her husband Larry's office who ran the business side of the operation. We walked into his office right off of the deck are and were surprise to see a tall, but spry, Octogenarian decked out in the full good-ole-boy gear of a white t-shirt, denim overalls, and generic muddied workbooks. He stood at a gaunt 6'2 even accounting for the slight lean in his posture brought on by a recognizably troublesome hip. 

I took my assessment of Larry, but didn't want to assume the worst until he spoke. As soon as we met eyes his demeanor lit up and he put on an air of unabashed peace and welcoming that in innate to every good host . Any doubts I had about staying there were quickly put to rest. He took us on a tour of the grounds and to our surprise the house was immaculately clean and accommodating. They had every amenity of a standard hotel and prided themselves on that fact. The only thing that we didn't have was wifi, but that actually played into the charm of the location. Being able to truly get off the grid, if only for a short while, can be extremely cathartic and beneficial to your mental health. 

Before we could get into our room we were greeted by a little boy scooting around the hallway in his play car. Marilyn dashed in front of us and apologized profusely for her son. We didn't mind, but we instantly found ourselves glancing at each other with the same puzzled expression: Who is the father? We settled in to the room, discussed and quickly dismissed the likelihood that Larry, who looked every bit of 80+ years old, may fathered a child. We both agreed it had to be from a previous relationship.

We were wrong.

While eating a pair of generic microwave dinners in the kitchen, we were greeted by Larry who just finished his work for the day. He sat with us while we ate. We exchanged pleasantries and the usual small talk. After a slight lull in the conversation he came right out and said it: "You know thats my kid? I'm 84 years old,  I've got two 60 year old daughters and two 40 something year old daughters. I never dreamed of having another but then this little surprise came to us a couple of years ago."

We were both speechless. I had so many questions, but mostly I was just impressed. I had never heard of anything close to the ag difference between him and his wife, much less him and his son. At 84 years old Larry had a 40 year old wife, 2 year old son, thriving business and permanent smile on his face. This guy was a winner. After we ate and had our ends blown we went to sleep. The plan was to get an early start on the day to beat the crowds and we didn't want to spare any time. 


The Park

We got there bright and early. I didn't want to waste anytime, so we mad a B-line straight for the first attraction we could find. luckily for us it was one of the most iconic spots in the park, El Capitan.

 obligatory IG inspired shot.

obligatory IG inspired shot.

We only had so much time in the park so it was a bit of a mad dash through all the locations we could hit. Since most of the park was inaccessible, the trip was essentially confined to driving nd stopping along a single road that had one way in and one way out. 

The first big attraction we hit was Yosemite Falls. It was a great experience, if not a little contrived. I was expecting a little bit more of a rugged hike type of experience to reach the falls, but it was located pretty conveniently, right off of the main road. 

 It really was an incredible sight. 

It really was an incredible sight. 

The crazy snowfall from 2016 rehydrated the falls in the park. While we we visiting, I was told this this time last year the falls were diminished to a tepid stream that was inconsistent at best. We may not have come at the best time to see the majority of the park, but the wonders of the areas we were able to explore were on full display. 

After getting drenched by the falls, we decided to move on. Next stop was glacier pass. Up until this point we hadn't seen the snow capped mountains the park is known for. It was about 80 that day, and we assumed the majority of the snow had melted. We were wrong. About 30 minutes on a long and impossibly winding road, we hit a part of the park that looked like it could've been in a completely different part of the country. As we ascended the mountains and the altitude rose, the landscape changed dramatically. 

After what seemed like an endless route of tall pines and ever greens, we turned a corner and reached glacier point. The views were breath taking.

 This was was taken on a sheer cliff I had no business being on. But it was so worth it. 

This was was taken on a sheer cliff I had no business being on. But it was so worth it. 

Glacier point was a mad house of tourists and photographers. It was probably the most interesting hiking and photo area in the entire park so getting away from the crowds was a little difficult. there were the obligatory pictures staring off into the valley with the fabled half-dome that I had to get.

 P/C the misses 

P/C the misses 

even though the immediate outlook off of the parking area was the best view of the valley I couldn't take the crowds. So I snapped a picture of Half Dome for posterity and we set off to do a little hiking along the ridge. 

 Not the best lighting, but still an amazing view.

Not the best lighting, but still an amazing view.

We broke off from crowd and began looking for trails to take and different vantage points to shoot from. Even though I tried to maintain my focus and not stop every few feet to take a picture, I just couldn't help myself.

We hike about a half mile into the valley. We got down a fair distance pretty quickly. That was when we realized we traveled down a pretty steep decline. Once we realized how tough it would be to make our way back up we decided to stop there and call it a day. Normally we could hike for hours on end, but we both knew, throughout the duration of this trip, time and energy were precious commodities. 

The sun began to set, so we started to make our way out. It was a long, slow trog back to the car, but the light went from 'meh' to stunning inside of about an hour. For some reason as the sun went down a lot of the falls began to cast som incredibly vibrant rainbows. 

We left the park but still wanted to explore some of the valley. My intention was to get some yoga photos while we were in Yosemite, but all of the driving and hiking really exhausted us. So we sought out a more secluded area just outside of the park to take a quick couple of snaps. Luckily of us we happened upon a vast expanse of rolling hills and wild flowers.

We pulled off the road and found one the the most beautiful landscapes I've ever shot on. My only regret is that I didn't take the opportunity to use my strobe. I got so caught up in the beauty of the flowers that I didn't stop to think about setting up my gear. I just wanted to shoot. In the end we got some of my personal favorite yoga shots I've ever taken.  

We braved the crazy bugs and faceless critters lurking in the bushes as long as we could. Eventually the exhaustion from the day kicked in and we called it for the day. It was about an hour drive back to our airbnb and we had plans to head to san Francisco bright and early the next day.  

I was sad that I didn't have the opportunity or time to explore everything the park had to offer, but it gave me a reason to find my way back in the not-to-distant future. But I caught some really beautiful snapshots on the way out. the horizon was fairly unobstructed and the clouds cleared out of the sky as the day went on. Perfect conditions for some beautiful golden hours pictures. 

All in all it was an incredible day of fun and exploration in one of the gems of the nation. We were fast asleep and woke up bright and early to make our way to our next stop, San Francisco.

Stay tuned for the next installment!

 

Spencer Bentley