No Moonbows for You!

Original Post: August 17, 2015

Day 2 at Yosemite.  At least we were prepared for Tioga Pass Road today.  We woke early, figuring we’d start the day off right.  That meant fishing in the stream in the meadow directly across from the campground, of course.  Nate caught several cutthroat trout, hooting and hollering each time he reeled one in.  And while we (ahem, Nate) were fishing, I sat by the shore, photographing and generally appreciating the solitude.  Until these guys showed up.

Okay, so they were pretty welcome and I’d hardly say that they ruined my solitude. They checked us out for several minutes before deciding we were no threat and that the meadow looked like better eating on the opposite bank. They splashed in and waded across to the other side. (With one stopping to pee in the middle of the stream.  Really???  What a boy thing to do.)  I was really just in awe at how close they were to us, without a concern that we were near.  When two additional frisky deer showed up about twenty minutes later, the entire spunky herd took off together.  At a distance of 30 yards, it was a pretty spectacular sight.  And the Belding’s ground squirrels were pretty darn cute, too (even if they might be filthy little plague-carriers).  

This guy took several minutes before coming out of his burrow.  I’m sure he wanted to make sure I wasn’t a coyote ready to pounce on him.

Since Tioga Pass Road threatened to be long and exhausting again today, when we’d finished with our morning in the meadow, we headed to Tenaya Lake on the way to the falls.  I didn’t need to see Yosemite Falls until the evening anyway.

We just figured we’d make a day of the journey.  So, on we went to picnic at Tenaya Lake, when we realized that the place was not as deserted as it had seemed.

Nate tried throwing in a line, but caught nothing.  The lake is far too deep and there was nothing to be caught from the rocky shore.  Mid-afternoon at this point, we head onward to I had begun to think of as “The Main Attraction.”  But, we were tired and Tioga Pass Road is ridiculously long.  Does this road ever end?  And it was drizzling again.  Hmm, a pull off…  (Or “pull out” or “turn off” depending on what park and what state you’re in.)  Off we go, to take a fifteen minute nap. 

Back on the road, we finally reached the visitor center in the midst of a horrible traffic jam.  The rain had picked up steadily and nearly everyone wanted to get out of the very poorly laid out parking lot.  Let me restate that.  VERY. POORLY. LAID. OUT.  Add to that the ridiculous chaos of travelers from all over the world who probably don’t read the signs so well and it’s a mess.  Oh, but wait, that’s right, the signs weren’t there to read…  One thing we discovered (belatedly) about Yosemite was that the signage within the park was awful.  The only saving grace was that I had a park map from when we’d first entered the park.  Otherwise, I think it’s safe to say that we would have been turned around quite a number of times! 

We finally found a parking spot just as the sky really began to pour on us.  It was about 4 pm by this point and we figured we’d just wait out the storm. Storms can’t last forever, right?  Lots of wicked lightning and one hour later and we were still sitting in the car.  Then – a break!  Hooray!  We got out and figured it would be a good time to do a little shopping in the gift store, particularly since it was still too early to try to hike to the falls.  (By my calculations, the sky had to clear, the sun had to set, and the moon had to rise for the moonbows to show their faces…)

We finished shopping and made it back to the car in time to see this:


To say I was frustrated would have been a severe understatement.  It wasn’t as though we could wait out the storms forever, particularly if they just kept forming and lingering. How could we be HERE, in Yosemite, during the perfect time for moonbows and be foiled by the weather of all things? I swore I heard the soup nazi in my head, only instead of no soup for me, he was screaming, “No moonbows for you!”

Disappointed, we decided to throw in the towel rather than wait another several hours in the car.  You know what this meant, of course.  Back to Tioga Pass Road.  But, on the way out, we saw at least a few sights that made the trip to “The Main Attraction” worth it. Here and there the sky cleared for just an instant and the sun set the peaks on fire, the low-hanging clouds only making the scene more dramatic.

For all that Yosemite skunked us, I’m still surprised that I managed to pull off a few photos I hadn’t thought were all that great when I was out in the field, but at the computer discovered that they weren’t nearly as bad as I’d thought! 

Perhaps there’s some Ansel in me after all.

Yosemite (Pronounced Yo-Seh-Mighty in my book)

Original Post: August 16, 2015

Leaving Sequoia National Park, I was excited to head to Yosemite.  Yosemite.  That amazing park where Ansel Adams produced so many phenomenal photographs.  Images that influenced my love for photography, perhaps even images that fueled my insatiable love for nature. (Though I admit, early childhood hikes with family had already sparked that fire.)  When I “discovered” Ansel Adams, I was a freshman in high school and my Intro to Photography class with Mr. King taught black and white film photography.  We learned to develop our own 35 mm film, used the dark room to produce photo prints, and broke into the photo room like James Bond with our school ID cards – a skill all of the photo students at Freedom High possessed.  How else were we supposed to get our work done if we couldn’t find Mr. King to open the photo room for us? Given the digital age, I wonder if that class is still offered.

In a short 2-hour drive, I would soon be in the very park that had inspired my love of landscape photography.

Oh, but I should have known by now that no anticipated drive time was ever truly accurate.  2 hours to Yosemite, yes, but another 3 beyond that to the campground we had booked. Outside of the park. To the east.

Let me present this image to you to make our dilemma even clearer:

But, that wasn’t all of the fun!  No!  Tioga Pass Road (i.e. The Road from Hell) is the ONLY road through the park.  And it was under construction.  One lane closed on a two lane road.  You don’t have to be a genius to figure what fun that brings.  It means…you guessed it, we sat and waited for 20 minutes while the traffic coming the other way followed a pilot vehicle (a very slow-moving pilot vehicle) through the construction zone, before the pilot vehicle would turn around and lead traffic in the opposite direction.  But we didn’t get to experience this fun just ONCE.  We went through two large sections of road like this, adding about an extra hour to the trip.

Our only bonus, we got to see a bear butt.  No, not a bare butt (although he wasn’t wearing clothes), but a bear butt.  The black bear had just crossed the road as we arrived and we got to gawk as a he continued on into the woods, having really only been able to see his rear thanks to the line of cars that had stopped before us to watch him cross.

By the time we passed Tuolumne Meadows Campground, we were beat and in no mood to drive another hour to our campground.  So, we decided to ignore the “Full” sign by the roadside and check to see if they had any availability.  We were in luck (Or were we?  More on that later.) and they had a single site available.  Relieved, particularly since it had started to rain, we headed to our site.

Oh, but the camp site.

We arrived to a large puddle of water covered in a delightful chartreuse-colored slime.  I’m still not sure to this day whether it was pollen (from pines?) or just a slime residue from the trunks, but the stuff was everywhere.  The puddle leading to our campsite was just the most offensive build-up of it.

We set up the tent in the steady rain, hurrying to get it done before the real downpour began and to our amusement (yes, that’s a little sarcasm), the rain stopped the instant the tent was set up.  Lovely.

Part of the reason we had chosen to stop at Tuolumne Meadows instead of continuing on to our previously booked campground had to do with the fact that I wanted to capture photos of moonbows, a phenomenon that only happens at a certain time of night, at a certain time of the month, with very specific conditions needed.  In order to capture moonbows (yes, that’s a new link), I needed to be able to be at Yosemite falls at night during this very specific time.  By fate or by simple good fortune, we were at Yosemite during a full moon.  Condition number one was met.  And we could be at the falls when the moon was no higher than 42 degrees in the sky.  Condition number two – check.  And, of course, the sky needed to be clear.

(Hear the chirping crickets on that one?)

Oh, right, the rain.  Well, the forecast still looked optimistic, so I just hoped that it was true and I could look forward to the sky clearing.

The drive back to the falls was at least an hour and a half from Tuolumne Meadows.  Add in the extra hour to the campground we should have been staying in and you’ve got a 2 1/2 hour drive in the middle of the night on a winding road in pitch black that we would have been taking.  Not my idea of a good time, though let it be duly noted that I was up for whatever it took to get the moonbows on film.  Er, make that on my SD card.  Whatever.

We were prepared to drive it.

We were not, however, prepared for the unpredictable weather.  It stormed the entire night, a storm that produced lots of lightning and thunder and pouring, pouring rain.  Hooray, more chartreuse slime to look forward to!  (And all over our tent nonetheless!)

Yes, it was safe to say that night number one for Yosemite was a bust.  But I still had high hopes that perhaps night two would fare better.  Thank goodness I’d thought ahead to plan TWO nights at Yosemite.  (Can you hear me snickering in that statement?)

On a side note, does Tuolumne Meadows Campground sound familiar to you?  If you keep up to date on the news, you should be well-aware that it was closed down this very week due to the discovery of two dead squirrels who had been infected with…the plague.  That’s right.  The plague.  The one that killed 25 million people in the 14th century. This one.   

Well, we’ve been plague-free for over a month now, so I think we’re probably in the clear.  They say that fleas are the only way to become infected (and the primary route of transmission between animals and people), but I’m still left pondering that creepy, yellow slime.  Perhaps the fleas are a coverup…