Summer in California means windows down, tunes up, and enjoying the scenery on the road, right? My recent trip to Yosemite proved quite the opposite. Windows up, tunes low, and trying to see one of our most iconic parks through the haze of wildfire. What started as a plan months before, turned into a trip filled with unanswered questions and scratched plans.
As the week came to end, I watched as all my hard work turned to a seat of the pants road trip. My main location closed due to wildfire - the main point of this trip. But I wouldn't be deterred. I was going to make something happen. Plus, it's Yosemite, and I was sure that despite some smoke, it was going to be another epic adventure. They always are when your plans fall apart. I boarded my flight, threw my camera gear in the overhead compartment, and slid into my seat for the two hour flight. No sleeping on this one.
After a few days shooting in San Francisco, I picked up my bags, grabbed my rental, and started the 4 hour drive to the park. As I came into the park around 4am (to avoid traffic), the valley was thick with smoke, low and suffocating. I worked my way to Tunnel View with the hopes of capturing an image of the valley of haze illuminated by the bright full moon.
As I sat on the stone wall looking out onto the valley, I was in awe. The smell, the light burn with every breath became more than I could handle. It was time for me to take a quick nap, and get ready for the day.
As the sun began to rise over half dome, I was already en-route to find info about Glacier Point. Is it open? Was it going to open during my trip? Would the one shot I hoped for even be possible? To my luck, that day, it had been declared open. YES!! It was as if I had won the lottery. The photography lottery as I saw it. I hopped in my car, and headed up.
As I drove up to Badger Pass, I could immediately tell that this was going to be a tough day. Was I going to get the shot I wanted? This smoke was quite a bit thicker than I imagined. Driving east it only got worse. With the sun still low, I had lights on, and hit a point where I had to slow to almost 15mph to ensure I could still see the road ahead of me. Very different experience than I've ever had.
As I approached Taft Point, the air cleared a bit, and I started to get excited. I spent the day making my way, slowly, to the cliffs, careful not to miss a thing. Once I could see the point, my excitement seemed to dwindle as I could barely see the other side of the valley. No El Capitan, no valley floor, just........ smoke. I had food, I had water. So I waited. And waited. And waited. I met Californians, Germans, Russians, kids, grandparents, a group from Taiwan, a couple from Japan and so many more, and still, I waited.
As the afternoon started to fade, so did the smoke. Now was my chance. I set up my camera, tripod and remote, and I bolted. I ran over bushed, jumped logs, and dodged branches till I made it to the edge. The edge I had dreamt about. Wow. This was way higher than I had expected, but I was determined to fight my fears, and place my boot on the edge. Remote in hand, it's go time.
With a light haze in the air, I was finally able to see the valley floor and the sheer face of El Capitan. Yes!! I got it. All of my fears, washed away at that moment, as I stood on that edge, then sat on the edge, wanting to take a breath and just enjoy feeling my fear of heights fade. I can't describe with any words what that felt like.
As I sat and looked at all the ants below, I realized just how small and insignificant we really are. I could see cars, but people, were much harder to decipher. I snapped a few last minute shots, and headed to Glacier Points.
As I approached Glacier point, I could feel my stomach knot up. People. So. Many. People. So I stopped, and parked at Washburn Point, and made my way down to a location I had snowshoed to the winter prior. I set up my cameras and watched as the billowing clouds mixed with the perfect amount of smoke to create a moody/creepy sky above Half Dome. Again, even with this weather, I couldn't have asked for a better trip.The
The next few days of my trip I hiked, I shot, I ate, I talked, and enjoyed my journey. I take these trips to learn. To learn about the world around me, to learn about myself, and to learn about others. Through travel, the world becomes a little smaller, a little more familiar, a little less scary, and a whole hell of a lot more exciting. Where will you go next?
Stay tuned for more adventures, more stories, and more about the world around us.