Thursday, February 28, 2008

Horsetail Falls Backlit at Sunset

Horsetail Fall in Yosemite Valley is backlit by the setting sun for roughly two weeks each year. As the sun falls behind the vertical face of El Capitan, it selectively lights this waterfall with its orange sunset glow.

This was an amazing spectacle to witness. Lasting only from 30 to 15 minutes before the sun goes down, the lighting gradually grows in intensity and color for the last 5 minutes or so. On the nights I watched, it was like seeing a narrow strip of lava flowing down the face of El Capitan.

The weather and the water flows often don't cooperate, I was shut out by back to back blizzards last year, so I was fortunate to see this on two consecutive evenings in 2008.

There are two good shooting locations:

1) Along the bank of the Merced River near the turnout just East of the Cathedral Beach picnic area (which is closed for Winter). This location is described on page 24 of my 320-page guidebook "Photographing California Vol. 2 - South".

2) In the vicinity of the Cathedral picnic area on Northside Road in the valley, 1/2 mile East of the El Capitan bridge. That North road is closed for maintenance, so it's a 1 mile walk each way from where the El Captan bridge road hits Southside Road. This location is also described in "Photographing California Vol. 2 - South".

#1 is a 75 foot walk on top of the snow from where you park, while #2 is a 2 mile round trip on closed roads (including a couple of hundred yards over snow at the closed picnic area), with the return half after dark. Make sure you're at one of them 45 minutes before sunset, because the best show is roughly from 30 to 15 minutes before sundown, but that could change as the sun moves each day. To get a good selection of where to place your tripod for the "easy" spot #1, consider arriving 1.5 hours ahead of sunset.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Spring Wildflowers in California

Here are some field trip ideas, with links to sites where you can check for updates on wildflower timing and intensity this year:

Joshua Tree National Park:
"Wildflower season usually begins with the large, cream-colored blooms of the Joshua trees in late February, followed by colorful annuals at the lower elevations around the south boundary of the park. Sometime in March, the bloom will follow rising temperatures into the higher elevations of the park. Cacti usually wait until April or May to produce their bright, waxy flowers."

Mojave Desert National Preserve:
"In general, spring flowering begins as temperatures rise -- first at lower elevations in February and later at higher elevations in March and April. On mountain tops above 5,000 feet blooms are as late as June. Some believe that spectacular desert blooms occur on an average about once every twenty years and others say that an ideal year comes once every three or four decades."

Added attraction:
"At about 600 feet in height, Kelso Dunes in Mojave National Preserve are the third tallest in North America. "

Daffodill Hill, Amador County:
"Each spring, from mid-March through mid-April, Daffodil Hill explodes with thousands of blooms, attracting visitors from around the world. It is estimated that today, Daffodil Hill is carpeted with over 300,000 bulbs. Daffodil Hill is in a beautiful alpine setting at an elevation of over 3,000 feet. With pine trees, an old barn, wagon wheels, and rusting mining equipment and farming tools, it appeals to anyone with a love of nature. Flowers are everywhere, with pea-fowl, chickens, pigeons and lambs making themselves at home."

Anza Borrego Desert State Park, San Diego County:
"Park botanists estimate the peak of the bloom this year will be the first two weeks of March"

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve:
This State Reserve, nestled in the Antelope Buttes 15 miles west of Lancaster, California, is located on California's most consistent poppy-bearing land. Other wildflowers: owl's clover, lupine, goldfield, cream cups, and coreopsis, to name a few, share the desert grassland to produce a mosaic of color and fragrance each spring. As unpredictable as nature - the intensity and duration of the wildflower bloom varies yearly.

Death Valley National Park:
"The peak bloom is variable depending on temperatures and rainfall, but can be expected around mid to late March."

A good general site to check is:
Desert USA's Desert Wildflower Watch