An early storm in December brought snow to the mountain areas around California. For many years, I wanted to go to Yosemite National Park in the winter to take snow photos, but it never seemed to happen. This year, I went for it. The weather forecast showed a couple of clear days in between storms and with two days of lead time, I planned the trip.
Yosemite is about a four-hour drive, with most of the travel in the Central California region. The last 80 miles would climb to an elevation of about 4,000 feet at the floor of the Yosemite Valley. One of the members of my local photo club shared lots of useful information about visiting Yosemite in the winter, so I felt ready for the trip. I had not visited Yosemite for 17 years, so I was motivated to go.
I left on Friday morning and arrived at the hotel around 1:00 p.m. The Yosemite View Lodge is in El Portal, CA, about 2 miles from the Yosemite Park entrance. After a quick check-in at the hotel, I drove into the park and entered a winter wonderland. The winter storm had cleared about 24 hours prior to my arrival, so plenty of fresh snow was still abound.
My first stop was Tunnel View, which provides a magnificent panoramic view of Yosemite Valley. It was also my first of many encounters with icy roads. When driving on ice, the general advice is to, “Slow Down!” I took that advice seriously and still noticed a considerable amount of sliding. (For the record, I was carrying chains, but did not install them.)
After leaving Tunnel View, I made my way back down to the valley floor and began navigating the various roads that meander around the area. I noticed the amount of road ice was significantly less at this slightly lower elevation. This made driving less nerve-wracking. However, walking on ice was still a hazard. The travel information from the photo club stressed the importance of wearing “ice gripping cables” on my hiking boots. I bought some just before leaving and they were a life-saver, in every sense of the word. I saw many people without these ice grips precariously trying to maintain their footing while careening across a frozen patch of ice on the ground. I wore mine full time, except when entering a building.
I spent the rest of Friday driving from spot to spot, taking photos of the beautiful and moody scenes around the park. I probably circumnavigated the main loop several times, each time finding a new perspective, or better lighting or just simply, another beautiful discovery. As dusk approached, a layer of ground fog moved in to provide yet another way to enjoy this place.
I ate dinner at the base food camp, a cafeteria-style restaurant in the park. After dinner, I planned to return to the hotel. Instead, I noticed a magical glow of light on the valley floor as a nearly full moon rose. Appreciating the numerous layers of warmth I was wearing, I enjoyed spending a little more time during this silent and dreamlike environment.
Fulfilled, I drove back to the hotel for a warm night’s rest.
On Saturday morning, I returned to the park for more photo adventures. It was obvious that more people were visiting the park that day. I was more confident driving on ice yet remained cautious. At one point, another vehicle was rounding a curve a little too fast and began to slide sideways into my lane. I was sure we would collide and braced myself for the impact. I steered slightly to the right until I could feel my car rubbing along the snowbank. For some inexplicable reason, the driver of the other car regained traction and narrowly drove past me without contact. The entire incident happened in less than 3 seconds and then was over. Over, except for my racing heartrate and my clear verbal displeasure with what had just happened.
A little while later, I passed a damaged truck that had apparently struck a tree and spun around.
These were two additional reminders to take my time and keep my speed down.
During this day, I ventured farther from the roads and walked out into the open spaces for better vantage points. The ice grips on my shoes worked great on the packed snow. I hiked toward the Merced River at one point to get a better view of the river and Half Dome. This location turned out to be a jewel, with no one else within sight or earshot. Quite a feat during a busy Saturday!
I leisurely hiked and made photos throughout the day. Several times, I realized I was taking photos from the same viewpoints I used on Friday. With later comparisons, the photos were still different enough to appreciate the differences in lighting, timing and color tones.
After Saturday dinner at the cafeteria, I returned to the hotel and spent the rest of the evening viewing and editing the photos I had taken. I realized I had captured the beauty I experienced and decided not to re-enter the park on Sunday. It was check-out day at the hotel anyway, so I packed and began the journey home.
Now, more storms are stacking up, so I expect Yosemite to receive much more snow over the next few weeks. I’m sure I’ll have another chance to visit again during a fair-weather window; I’m sure I’ll make the trip.
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