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I'm gonna leave this city
Got to get away...
The Jeep didn't fill with the sound of Canned Heat's song Goin' Up The Country until I was on the way home, but it's okay since I was still in the Sierras, just coming out of Yosemite after another two-day nature photography binge.
Tioga Pass had opened, and it was still a week before the kick-off of the official summer crowd season on Memorial Day weekend. It was now or never, and I've been thinking for months about going all the way out to the Eastern Sierra, to Bishop, to look for the so-called Sky Rock petroglyph site before the summer heat sets in. I'll save you the frustration as a reader that I experienced on my trip by telling you right now that . . . I didn't find it! Details below.
After another wee-hour drive across the valley I arrived at Yosemite in time for sunrise. Somehow I'd never stopped at this viewpoint before. Always drove by with nothing more than a quick glance. Most of the few people who passed by at that hour did likewise. Except for a couple of quick-stoppers I had the place to myself. Just me and a canyon wren trilling below.
As I waited to see whether the sun would break through the clouds in a dramatic way I ran the timelapse you see at the top of this post. I let the thing run until I figured I had a much longer clip than what I actually got. All that automatic shutter-clicking can get on one's nerves. Too bad you can't run the timelapse from Live View.
I did remember the Big Meadow fire-aftermath images this time. I forgot to bring them on my trip a couple of weeks ago and had no hope of finding the same vantage point to shoot an update. I found the vantage points this time all right, but it was actually too early in the day. I waited quite a while for the shadows to work their way up the hillside, but I didn't want to wait around all day.
I could see this lupine meadow from the vantage point area, so I headed over there after grabbing my 2013 update shots (continuing the series of 2009 and 2011 shots).
I started to head down into Yosemite Valley but had my attention diverted before I got there by something in the forest that was bright red. I knew instantly what they were.
Snow plants. I'd seen a nice batch on my last visit but was unable to stop anywhere near them. This patch was much closer to a pull-out.
By the time I was done with the snow plants I was ready to head up to Tioga Pass. When I saw cars pulled over up near Crane Flat I pulled over and got my big lens out. There's only one reason so many cars are pulled over at that spot. In this case there were two reasons, a mother with her cub, but the cub stayed hidden at the edge of the forest. I only got a couple of frames before mama'd had enough of us gawking at her and led her cub deeper into the woods.
It was getting to be mid-day and the light wasn't so great, but I couldn't resist stopping to photograph this meadow full of shooting stars. Just as I'd stopped when I saw other cars stopped for the bear, almost as soon as I pulled over, two other cars pulled over. They all watched me step gingerly cross the seepy meadow to take a picture. Now I knew how that mama bear felt.
Out along Tioga Road I was surprised to see such a profusion of Mountain Pride Penstemon so early in the season. I stopped for some nice patches along the roadside, only to discover some better patches hidden on some boulders facing away from the road.
I don't always make a stop at Olmsted Point. Sometimes it's just too crowded, or the light's too harsh and the sky too plain. This time it was worth a stop. I still didn't think I'd make any photographs, but I ended up making three, starting with this view along the prostrate trunk of a juniper tree toward distant Half Dome.
This Jeffrey Pine always has lots of company, and I had to bide my time to photograph it without anyone in the frame.
Still no cables up at Half Dome.
While I was out here on the edge of Tenaya Lake, another photographer showed up -- a distinguished, fit-looking, white-bearded gentleman with a camera backpack much like my own, joined by his wife. They looked like famous people.
There was a bit of hail off and on throughout the afternoon. Here in the distance you can see a fresh layer of white on the top of Mount Gibbs.
I had actually planned to hike up to Gaylor Lakes from Tioga Pass, but I was after ice, and there seemed to be very little to be had. Tenaya Lake had been completely ice-free. There was quite a bit more ice and snow this time last year, when my attempt to reach Gaylor Lakes was stymied. This time I brought my snow shoes, but now I didn't need them. I decided to save Gaylor Lakes for another year.
I made the obligatory stop at the Nunatak Nature Trail to look for pikas but had no luck. These little underwater plants in the pond's outflow stream caught my attention, though, with their pretty little exhalations of air bubbles.
Next stop, Mono Lake.
Cute little two-toned waterleafs.
And wee monkey flowers.
I staked out this tufa-topped osprey nest for longer than I care to admit, hoping one of its parents would fly in with a fish caught at nearby June Lake. The longer I waited, the more I had to keep waiting. With so much time already invested, I couldn't quit empty-handed. I'd been sitting, then lying down, in the shade of a tufa tower to hide in the landscape's "negative space" and be less obvious than if I'd been in the bright sun. Eventually I was too cold to stay still, and I got up to stand in the sun. More and more time went by, and still nothing. All of a sudden, the baby who'd been sitting in the nest all this time finally got as impatient as I was feeling myself and launched into the air! "I'm fledged!" It wheeled around the nest a few times before settling back in for a landing. Nicely done. Your parents -- if they ever return -- will be proud.
I wanted to get a different angle on the gravel bar, but this was the best I could do without my shadow getting in the frame.
A plain shot of an unusual place.
A couple of lenticular clouds made a brief appearance before dissipating like steam over a cup of coffee. (Could a master barista make lenticular clouds appear over a cup of coffee?)
Although I still do lots of focus-stacking with my new D800, I have yet to do any exposure blending, and I very rarely use my graduated neutral density filters. The dynamic range is incredible. What I'd hoped to better show in this image, though, is the little rainbow-colored sundog over on the left.
Another plain old snapshot, but I simply could not walk past this scene without making a photograph.
I probably have other images very much like this one already, but again, how can one resist?
Here was the big Mono Lake surprise-of-the-day for me. I'd seen some goose scat earlier in the day, but I shrugged it off. "Naw. Couldn't be." But then I saw them: Canada geese -- with little goslings -- foraging along the shore between South Tufa and Navy Beach. It's amazing to realize they were able to hide their nest and their chicks from all the predators that must nose around the area.
Did I mention there were geese at Mono Lake?!
Although I had cat-napped a couple of times during the day, when I finally curled up for the night in the back of the Jeep over at Navy Beach, I went out like a light. Nature (photography) called around 1 a.m. or so, just as the moon was getting ready to set behind the Sierra crest.
About a half-hour after the moon disappeared, it was finally dark enough to make some pictures. The direct beam from my flashlight was too harsh, so I shined it through tiny cracks between my fingers. I guess the red cast is due to the physics of light passing through slits, but that's probably not right. Maybe the attenuated light just has a lower wavelength. Okay, I'll stop guessing now. Because the sand tufas are just a few feet high, I had to photograph them from up close. I couldn't just set the lens at infinity and get both the tufa and the stars in focus, so I exposed one frame each for the tufa and the stars, then combined the two.
After I'd shot the sand tufa I drove over to the South Tufa and mosied down the path, marveling. At the lights. No, they weren't UFOs. They were two other photographers. Back in the early 80s I'd be the only one out there on any given day. Now I can't get the place to myself even at three o'clock in the morning! I finished up at Mono Lake around 4 a.m. One photographer was still down there. Two more drove up to the parking lot just as I got back to the Jeep. The sky was already too bright for night photography, yet sunrise was still quite a long way off. That's the way it goes sometimes. Hurry up and wait.
Since I was already up, I made something to eat, then began the drive down to Bishop. I thought I was fine, but when I started having little hallucinations -- like seeing deer along the side of I-395 that weren't actually there -- I realized I needed another cat nap. I pulled over at a vista point, grabbed the pillow from the back, laid my head down on the center console and promptly fell asleep.
Although I had printed out a couple of pictures of the Sky Rock petroglyphs to aid in my search, I'd forgotten to bring them! What is it with forgetting to bring my photo references?! All I knew about how to find the petroglyphs is that they were located on a tableland near Bishop. I figured I could simply find the trail and follow the tracks, and that's exactly what I did. I followed a few sets of tracks, in fact, but none led me to the magical petroglyph site.
I hiked the steep climb up the chalky bluffs around 7 a.m. and didn't go back down until I ran out of water a little after 10 a.m. I scoured the rocky outcrop and even found a "fake" Sky Rock. The big smooth rock in the lower left above must have been irresistible to some modern prankster. I could see several lightly pecked glyphs on it, but they set off my bullpucky detector.
Here's a closer view of the two most obvious fake glyphs from the rock.
As I trailed one set of tracks after another and scoured the landscape from as high up as I could climb, I felt as if I were within just a few steps of the legendary Sky Rock. And yet, I could not find it. Part of me hopes I wasn't even in the right general area! I mean, I could have hiked up the bluffs at the wrong place. There's a lot of space up there on the table land.
In any case, it was a beautiful landscape to explore. I took extra care with each step among the jumbled rocks, knowing that to become incapacitated out there would turn me into raven food in short order. (There was even a nest nearby.) I couldn't leave empty-handed, so I photographed some natural rock art such as tafoni holes and an obsidian nail. I would love to know the geological story of how that obsidian -- essentially a piece of glass -- ended up between a rock and a hard place without being crushed into tiny shards.
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