Running From One Storm to Another


Snowy, Foggy Yosemite

On a bright and clear late Monday afternoon in December, I glanced at the weather forecast. Oh my goodness, the “storm of the decade” is on its way, scheduled to hit the Bay Area (that San Francisco Bay Area for those of you on the east coast) and Sonoma beginning early Thursday morning and lasting into Friday. Lots of wind and rain forecasted! I immediately switched over on my iPad to Yosemite National Park in my weather app. The storm was forecasted to hit Yosemite on Friday morning. Bells went off in my head. A quick check of my calendar for the week confirmed, yes, I did have several appointments and commitments. But none that I couldn’t change or wiggle out of. It was doable: We could leave Wednesday morning arriving in Yosemite mid afternoon. We would stay inside the Park so when the storm hit, I wouldn’t have to worry about road closures and not being able to get into the Park. We would be in position to catch not only the storm’s onset, but most importantly, be there during the storm’s clearing. With the storm clearing Friday, we could head home Saturday morning.

Next was to check with the boss man, Bob, to see if he was game for my little adventurous idea. With the preverbal “hat in hand” I sought him out. Told him my scheme fully expecting a list of why it was a bad plan – you know, with all that snow and all. To my surprise, he smiled and simply said, “Let’s do it!” All day Tuesday, I cancelled and rescheduled appointments, found someone to take my shift ringing the bell for FISH, made reservations, filled the car, packed all my camera gear, all my warmest winter shooting clothes, and brought inside vulnerable potted plants from the patio.


Yosemite Falls Lost in the Fog


Wednesday as we left Sonoma, I had a funny, unsettling feeling in my gut.   I was running away from one storm and into another, leaving our home and yard to fend for themselves with one of the largest storms this season on its way. I enjoy watching storms from our living room with the fire blazing and the wind and rain beating down on the outside. While I wasn’t concerned about flooring, you never know. Plus, we just didn’t really know what we were letting ourselves in for. But then again, how bad could the storm be?

By the time we turned off Interstate 5 onto highway 140, my thoughts had long left Sonoma and were all about Yosemite. What would we find? The clouds all around us looked ominous and angry. As we drove though Mariposa and got closer to Yosemite though, the clouds dissolved revealing a pale white sky. We had outrun the storm and gotten ahead of it.  By the time we passed the entry gate, even the sun had peeked through. There was no snow on the ground, although there were some on top of El Capitan, Half Dome and other monoliths surrounding the Valley floor.   The Merced River was running briskly and even Bridalveil Fall and Yosemite Falls were flowing ever so gently.   My excitement grew as I knew the storm would be here – maybe tomorrow or by Friday morning at the latest.

Thursday proved to be a difficult day for me.   The sun did not show its face, the entire Valley was surrounded by the dreaded dull white cloud/fog monster keeping the visibility less than a 100 feet. A white curtain of dense fog had obliterated the magnificent vista of the entire valley below from Tunnel View. You couldn’t see El Cap or Bridalveil Fall, must less Half Dome.

By this time, I had heard that the storm, which was playing havoc in the Bay Area and now heading toward Yosemite, was a warm storm with snow elevation expected to be 8,000 feet. What? Yosemite Valley is at 4,200 feet! That meant rain, not snow. Okay. Maybe there wouldn’t be any snow on the valley floor; maybe I had made the trip for nothing!   Then I smiled. So what? Yosemite is beautiful and photogenic in any kind of weather, any time of year. I would be a poor photographer if I couldn’t find scenes that called to me with or without snow. I still had hopes of shooting a clearing storm from Tunnel View.

Swinging Bridge: Senrenity at its Best

Friday morning I woke up and immediately opened the door to check the weather. WOW! It was actually snowing – not raining, but snowing. To be upfront with everyone, it was a very light snow shower, but snow nonetheless. Hurry up, Bob, get dress, let’s go! I pushed Bob out the door a good 45 minutes before the scheduled sunrise. I’m not sure, but I think he still had his pj bottoms on under his jeans and a toothbrush in his mouth when the room door shut behind us. We stopped briefly at Valley View to check it out and then headed up to Tunnel View. I was surprised to find neither a photographer nor a single car in the parking lot.   Where were these folks? Don’t they know what they’re missing? I shortly discovered why no one was here. The very wet snow and the fog prohibited one from seeing more than 40 feet in front of them. The snow melted as soon as it hit the ground. We stayed about 30 minutes hoping things would change and the some light would peak through and the clouds would begin to break. Didn’t happen. Therefore, we headed down to the Valley floor where I knew there would be many scenes to play with incorporating the little snow before it melted. No, it certainly wasn’t the storm or the shots that I had envisioned, but, nevertheless, the Valley was beautiful, very few people and even less cars. I spent the day going from one location to the next. By evening I dragged myself back to the room tired, cold and happy.

Lost With Myself, Along the Merced River

Saturday morning we woke up to light rain with the snow all but gone from the trees and ground. We headed back to Tunnel View in hopes the clouds would open up with the sunrise. Again, the dense fog made it impossible to see anything except the cliffs right above us. With only a couple of hours before we had to start packing up and checking out, I had a decision to make. Stay at Tunnel View and hope for a break in the clouds or head to the Valley floor where I knew the fog would be beautiful.   I hated to leave Tunnel View, as you just don’t know what will happen next. Actually, I did know what was coming (the clearing storm), but when was the big question. I only had a limited time and opted to head back to the Valley floor. The images here were all taken on the floor. And, yes, later that morning the storm clouds did start breaking up and sun peaked through occasionally.

I missed the shots I had primarily traveled to get.   It didn’t matter! The beauty and serenity of Yosemite made every minute worth it and the images I did come home with, pleased me. There will be other storms and, therefore, other clearing storms in Yosemite. And I’ll be watching the weather forecast and ready to head out within a few hours notice.

Thank you for reading my blog. I hope you have enjoyed it. To see more of my images, click here   You can check out my Facebook page, here.   If you enjoyed this blog, please share it with your social media sites.

This last image below was taken at our first stop after leaving Tunnel View the last morning.  Should I have stayed up at Tunnel View?  I’ll never know what images I could have taken had I stayed.  I do know, I wouldn’t have captured the image you see below.

The Three Brothers on a Foggy Morning

If you would like to experience and photograph the glory of the California Gold Rush from within the heart of the Gold Country, join Harvey Abernathey of Night & Day Photos and myself for a wonderful photographic tour . . . . designed to capture the feeling and flavor of life in the 1850’s during the height of the Gold Rush.  For more information, click here!