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Darvin Atkeson

Winter Magic - Yosemite National Park, California

If you have chosen to enter Yosemite from the south entrance along Highway 41 you will first get a few fleeting glimpses around the bends of the Valley that will cause you to wonder if what you just saw was real. It seems too big, too distant. Surely your eyes are just playing tricks on you. The trees will quickly obscure your view and you will drive along directly into the face of the mountains via Yosemite's longest tunnel. Because it's such a long tunnel and you may begin to relax but grip the wheel tight as you approach the exit for the view you are about to see will wrench your eyes from the road in disbelief!

There is good reason for the flashing yellow light warning you to slow. Suddenly before you lies an impossibly massive scene of snow topped granite towers, soaring waterfalls and pristine forests. Possibly the most photographed icon of nature lies before you an impossible view simply called Inspiration Point though some refer to it as the tunnel view. A "U" shaped glacier valley lies a thousand feet below you. To the left of the image, the impressive, largest single piece of exposed granite called El Capitan is the most dominate object in Yosemite Valley. Early explorers, unable to believe their eyes, estimated the rock at only 900ft above the valley floor. They simply could not fathom it's real height. Modern measurements eventually put it well over three times that height at nearly 3000 feet above Yosemite Valley. To the right, a towering waterfall whipped by the blowing winds in the narrow canyon appropriately named Bridal Veil Falls. While not the tallest, it is definitely one of the more beautiful waterfalls in Yosemite. In the far distance, another seemingly impossible large chunk of granite cut in half by the glaciers appropriately named Half Dome rises above the valley. But it's not over yet, you have only begun the start of a dream like drive that will take you all the way up the valley past numerous waterfalls, the meandering Merced River and lead you to Yosemite Falls which will makes Bridal Veil Falls look like a tiny trickle of water. If you are a photographer, you could easily spend your day at the entrance as the scene will change by the minute, especially in winter, but push on, as there is much to see.

Winter and early spring in Yosemite are a quiet time and possibly the best for photography if you don't mind driving on cliff walls in the snow. The summer crowds have yet to arrive. The campgrounds are empty and except for a few cars driving though the valley the roads are clear. And though you may stick to the outhouse seats there are few drawbacks to visiting during this time of year provided you bring the proper gear for you and your car. If you can, plan your visits to coincide with the breaking of a winter storm. Yosemite staff are good at keeping the roads open and you have a good chance of getting the proper conditions for some stunning photography as the clouds break. I spent 5 years of my life living just outside the park. My only regret is that digital photography was only in its infancy at the time.


© Darvin Atkeson

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