Eastern Sierra Dirt Roads

This year’s trip into the Eastern Sierra was a little different. I planned well, had many ideas, and in the end had to scrap most of them and improvise. Winter and summer seems to provide just the right conditions for all the gold and yellow I could imagine. The reality is that it was, in what I would call using my extensive knowledge of the English language, weird.

The areas that I expected to be past prime were right on schedule. Sagehen Summit was mostly brown by the time I got over Hwy 120. What surprised me was how much of a mix of past prime and utterly green it was in the valley from Ellery Lake to Lee Vining. Usually when I’m rolling through here it’s popping with yellows, although it’s in the early afternoon and poor quality light for me. Debbie and I usually promise that we’ll stop here on the way home. This time it was obviously unusable.

Yellow, Orange, and Brown .
Photograph available on my sales site: https://studiocomradz.smugmug.com/SeanMcLean/i-3jfhdGQ/A

This year I took my Subaru Forester with the plan that we could get into more remote locations. There are a few dirt roads near Conway Summit and this was the day to explore.

Power Lines, Dirt Road, and Grove Of Trees
https://studiocomradz.smugmug.com/SeanMcLean/i-F8txgbQ/A

Typically I avoid elements like power lines. They’re not natural and they’re kind of an eyesore. This time I included them as part of the landscape helping lead the viewer into the scene. I didn’t want to get much closer to this grove because the dirt road had a section of deep mud that somebody obviously got stuck in the day before. Judging by the tire tracks he had much more clearance than I did and got stuck anyway. No thanks. I chose to photograph this scene with my Sigma 150-500 to both isolate my subject and bring it closer.

The Garden Of Eden

Fall Colors at the Garden Of Eden

There’s a fairly well known spot in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park referred to as the Garden Of Eden. Rather than my usual workout at the gym I went for a weighted trail run. Granted the “weight” was my camera pack and tripod.

Colorful Diversion Dam

A dam is in place to keep the river diverted in a more controllable manner. Folks have been using this as a canvas for years and the current “selection” is pretty colorful. My goal here was more than going for a run; I was also scouting the area for an upcoming private photography lesson.

Garden Of Eden, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Fall colors, graffiti, and reflections along the San Lorenzo River

Why yes, I do the occasional private workshop.

Contact me about a workshop some time! The workshops are fun, inexpensive, and run 2-3 hours. We get out and explore locations like the Garden Of Eden not only because are they beautiful, they are also very good object lessons. Shutter speed, depth of field, wide angles, and on top of that you had to hike a little so you had to earn it.

A hiker along the trail by the Garden Of Eden helps demonstrate shutter speed. OK that’s actually me.

Yosemite Spring Hike, Chilnualna Falls

This is one of those stories that feels like it deserves a much longer post. For the past few years my cousin Debbie and I have ventured into Yosemite looking for wildflowers in the spring. This year was a little different. We had a little extra time, we were excited about exploring parts of Yosemite that we’ve never really spent much time in, and we were both in really good physical condition.

I found a good deal on a stay at the Wawona Hotel (now known as the “Big Trees Lodge”) so we could hike up to¬†Chilnualna Falls. We did our research, and had some pretty good ideas. We both also felt up to the challenge of carrying our favorite gear.

Wawona Hotel (Big Trees Lodge)
Starting at Wawona Hotel was a great idea. Charming and historic. We met some wonderful people here.

Wawona Hotel hallway (Big Trees Lodge)
Wawona Hotel Detail: Honestly, if you get the opportunity then stay here. The place is amazing.

The stretch goal

We had a stretch goal depending on how long it took us to get to the main fall. Above the waterfall are the streams that flow into the falls themselves. I wanted to visit here mostly because it seemed like it would be remote and uncrowded. That was an understatement. We encountered very few people the whole trip and none at all after passing the main waterfall. We had this place to ourselves and it was glorious.

Debbie crossing a seasonal creek
Debbie crossing one of the seasonal creeks that made the trail interesting.

Actually getting to our stretch goal destination was something of a comedy of errors. Note, that’s absolutely normal for us. The trail was washed out and we had to do a little bushwhacking. That meant getting creative crossing yet another stream then essentially losing the trail once we got to the other side. Thankfully some hikers before us stacked up some stone ducks pointing the way.

That water is freezing cold. I had my heart set on wading out there. I think I remember letting out a shriek. It was worth it. I think Debbie has a picture of me doing this which I’ll share some other time.

The primary goal

The primary goal was of course Chilnualna Falls. We backtracked our way here with a minimum of mishaps. I envisioned a long exposure of the water rushing over the middle cascade and flowing to the lower cascade behind me. I had a very wide angle in mind. 17mm on a full frame Canon is really wide and distortion was expected. I liked it and ran with it.

The primary goal: Chilnualna Falls.
This photograph is available on my sales site:
https://www.coastalimagesbysean.com/Landscapes/Yosemite/i-FDmzjMM/A

I switched lenses to my Canon 70-200. For some reason I chose to bring my obnoxiously heavy 70-200 f/2.8. In retrospect my 70-200 f/4 would have been a better choice for any of a dozen reasons, but hey this is what I brought and fitness-knucklehead me, I was up for carrying it.

Portrait orientation shot of the middle cascade with the telephoto.

Time to go.

We stayed for a while and enjoyed the place until it was obviously time to go. We needed to hussle back downhill before we ran out of daylight entirely. Along the way I couldn’t help but stop and photograph the beautiful scenes unfolding in front of me.

The sun dips low between trees along the Chilnualna Falls trail, Wawona, Yosemite

My tripod was strapped to my pack and I just didn’t have time to dawdle much. The remaining shots where hand held at higher ISO. These were moments that I just wanted to capture. It was something of an attempt to take this home with me and remember the experience.

The sun sets on Wawona Dome with trees in the foreground.

While passing these last scenes I could here the voice of Gary Crabbe reminding me these words of wisdom:

If it looks good, shoot it. If it looks better shoot it again

Tree snag and distant hills bathed in warm sunlight.