Yosemite National Park to Close Tioga and Glacier Point Roads

Yosemite’s Half Dome from Tioga Pass Road
If you have any plans to head over Yosemite’s Tioga Pass Road this year, you’d better get that in before 3 pm tomorrow!
 
Yosemite News Release – October 28, 2016 12:00 pm – For Immediate Release
Yosemite National Park to Close Tioga and Glacier Point Roads Incoming Storm Expected to Drop a Significant Amount of Snow in the Park’s Higher Elevations
With several major storms expected in the Yosemite Area this weekend, Yosemite National Park is closing Tioga Road at 3:00 pm and Glacier Point Road at 5:00 pm, on Saturday October 29, 2016 This Closure will be in place until further notice.
 
Tioga Road typically closes each fall and remains closed throughout the winter months. The road reopens when weather and road conditions permit in the spring. Yosemite National Park is open year-round with snow removal on all other roads within the park.
All roads within the park are subject to chain control or temporary closures due to hazardous driving conditions. All motorists are required to carry tire chains, even if their car is equipped with four-wheel drive, while driving in the park during the winter months.
For updated 24-hour road and weather conditions for Yosemite National Park, please call 209-372-0200

-NPS-
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Tioga Pass, summer 2016

I’m looking forward to my Yosemite Full Moon & Fall Colors workshop coming up November 12 – 16, and working on my schedule for next year, when you can join me to photograph the unique sights available away from the crowds of Yosemite Valley!

November 2012… join me here for a workshop November 2016!

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Bodie Researched for Alton Towers Theme Park

This was a fun video to shoot. U.K. theme park Alton Towers decided to research an authentic mining town for their Altonville Mine Tours attraction they’re opening this week. We spent one day up in Bodie capturing video, time-lapse footage, stills, interviews and sounds, and this was the result.

The day before the Alton Towers shoot in Bodie it was snowing on us

I’d like to thank the California Film Commission for the quick turnaround on our film permit, Bodie State Historic Park / +California State Parks for supporting the research and production, and +Lori Hibbett for producing sunrise and night time-lapse footage of Bodie’s iconic car on the shoot.  The main cameras used for the production were the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and EOS 6D by +Canon USA.  Lori uses the Nikon D800E and D750 by +Nikon USA.

For more information on accessing the historic buildings and town of Bodie, California, for photography or filming, contact Jeff Sullivan Photography, www,JeffSullivanPhotography.com.

Jeff also teaches night photography workshops in Bodie, and night and landscape photography workshops in Yosemite, Death Valley, and the Eastern Sierra.  His 2017 schedule will be released shortly.

This photo of Bodie by Jeff was featured on the cover of Locations International 2015, a directory of locations for film location scouts that was distributed at the Cannes Film Festival.

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Conditions for Our 2016 Eastern Sierra Spring Workshop Next Week

My early May blog post on spring Eastern Sierra conditions contained a collection of possible outcomes and opportunities for spring.  I’ve been out a few times since then, checking the emergence status of various wildflowers, the water level at Mono Lake tufa sites (and their muddiness, since they form over springs), unpaved road access conditions, snow levels and lake iceout conditions around Tioga Pass, pond water levels and reflection opportunities in Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows, bird and wildlife photography opportunities, and so on.

 

Wildflowers vary in intensity and timing from year to year, which is why I do these scouting trips before the workshop, and not while dragging customers around.  Even knowing where various species can be prolific, checking the current year’s status and timing involves many less than fully productive searches.  Wild iris seemed to be a bit behind in timing.  Mules ears have been starting to emerge over the past 2 weeks, and could peak in the next week or two.  The few days of clearer, warmer weather in the forecast early next week could help them along.  Paintbrush was doing well at low elevations but it is too early to tell how prolific it’ll be at mid to high altitudes.  Lupine were healthy in some areas and should still be available for another week or more a lower altitudes, and emerging at mid altitudes.  Wild peach has been strong, and yellow bitterbrush has bloomed as enthusiastically as many local residents can remember (one even mentioned that this native must be a new invasive species), but the peak is now past for both.  Isolated patches offered a variety of other species, sometimes dense, but you really have to search for them.  I’ll be back out over the next few days to see if some of the patches have increased in intensity, enough to warrant a visit during the upcoming workshop.

All of the photos in this post are from May 2016

The weather has been unsettled, great for daytime photography as but less conducive for many types of night photography.  That’s pretty typical for May, which is one reason why I only ran a couple of Bodie night photography workshops then, but currently focus more on June and later.

Some locations are on the wet and muddy side, not unsurprising for spring, but certainly good to know before you show up for a sunrise or sunset and can’t access the compositions that you might have enjoyed in the past, in summer, fall, or simply a drier year.  In other cases, a site might be more dependent upon long term trends, and the long term drought continues to provide cracked earth foregrounds.  If you’re shooting in one basin and the weather and light looks like it might be better 25 miles north or south, you can save an hour of driving if you know that the site that you have in mind isn’t in great condition that week.  Conversely, you can make your day, week or month if you know that a site is in great shape, and you arrive to find great light to complement the site’s full potential.  A good workshop is made great when you can “connect the dots” to consistently arrive at a series of good sites, in great seasonal condition, offering optimal lighting, while reacting to the day’s weather conditions.  There are no guarantees in landscape photography, and that’s part of what makes it exciting, but scouting trips do resolve what would otherwise be unknowns in the mix, increasing the odds of everything coming together just right.

A quick iPhone snapshot is good enough to record conditions, break out the DSLR upon returning in better light

The somewhat early opening of Tioga Pass is not surprising given a fairly dry month of February and the winter’s overall normal to low snowpack (93% in the Mammoth lakes area, closer to 100% north of Tioga Pass).  It has re-closed at times as moisture causes afternoon and evening storms, but it’s open again now.  Lakes are in various stages of losing their ice.  Tenaya Lake was clear by the time the pass opened, Ellery may be completely clear now, Tioga was mostly frozen last week, so it may still hold some ice into next week.  The terrain is complicated up in that area, so having spent many sunrises and sunsets up in that area is important to knowing what is likely to be productive, vs. a bust.

Tuolumne Meadows currently offers a lot of seasonal ponds.  Determining ahead of time which of them provide decent compositions at current water levels helps keep the workshop moving efficiently.  Many workshop leaders spend a lot of time and money marketing, and do a great job filling their workshops.  Good for them.  I prefer to spend my time in the field, develop extensive site and condition knowledge, and over time earn the reputation for delivering great opportunities and results.

It’s important to me for my knowledge to include photographic technique and post-processing skill.  Anyone can apply a filter in post-processing software or use a certain technique to make a landscape look wacky, and there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with that, it it’s the style someone chooses, rather than is trapped into through less than optimal exposure technique or lack of alternate post-processing workflow options.  Getting through the end-to-end digital photographic process with realistic results is like walking a tightrope: bay far the easiest thing to do is to fall off.  There are subtle things you can do all along the way to optimize results.  You don’t need the latest camera or software, it’s more about fine tuning the various steps.

Backlit storm clouds at night

Ansel Adams produced timeless results by producing heavily manipulated but seamlessly realistic results, while popular trends included hand-tinting photographs to add color.  Most of us don’t know the names of his contemporaries today.  No doubt Ansel could have had great commercial success producing those colorized postcards, but any era’s hot trends can look cartoonish years later, out of the unique social context of the time.  We’re not immune from that today: I have over-saturated digital photos from the mid-2000s, tonemapped HDRs from the late 2000s, and I’ve dabbled with luminance masking, color light painting, and lately software filters.  I gravitate more realistic results, and for the experiments with various trends, I’m gradually re-processing many of the more over-the-top post processing results.  It’s useful to try a range of things to settle on your own preferred style, and to continue to try new things for variety and to see if you want to broaden your options for post-processing any given scene in the future.  So I want to maintain a broad enough collection of experiences to be prepared to help photographers who want to expand their own skills.

While the goal of my pre-workshop explorations are mainly to visit locations to assess conditions, it’ll be a fun challenge to line up the sites for great light and weather during the workshop next week.

iPhone 6S+ panorama

With the storms in the past weeks I haven’t been out for night photography as much as I would like, but we should have a great time in Bodie June 4/5, and I hope to be out a few times in the coming nights to assess a few new locations as well.

Starry Night over Bodie Church

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More Photos from Death Valley in April

Natural Bridge

You may have noticed that I’m obsessed with death. Death Valley National Park, that is! I grew up in New England, just about as far from the desert as you can get in America, so in my current quest to explore the largest national park in the Lower 48 States, I must be making up for lost time.

Windy Day on Mesquite Flat DunesFortunately, currently living in the nearby Eastern Sierra region, I’m only 3-4 hours from a couple of park entrances, so I can indulge in my desert yearnings frequently. I usually visit once or twice in the Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day time period, then again in February and March as the wildflowers start to bloom. But as spring continues and Death Valley starts to really warm up, I like looking for storms and bouts of cooler weather, in case I can slip one or two more visits in before it gets too hot.

In April 2016 I could see a storm front approaching in the weather forecast. Daytime high temperatures would drop into the 80s.  I’m currently working on a detailed photographer’s travel guide to the park to be offered in the +SNAPP Guides app, so I threw my camera and camping gear into the car, and headed to the park with a list of the sites I wanted to explore or revisit next.

I hiked to a natural bridge, and enjoyed great views with sunlight streaming through clouds. I explored stone-walled buildings at an old mining town site, and found wildflowers thriving at higher elevations than on past visits this year.

I met a Subaru coming out the wrong way from Titus Canyon, apparently deciding that “high clearance” meant higher then they had. The worst part of the road is about halfway through the 24-mile loop, so drivers that wait that long have a lot of wrong-way driving to do. Sometimes they’re in a hurry to get out, so they come flying around blind turns!

On the edge of a canyon, two jets saw me with my camera, so they took two passes each direction up the canyon, turning and shooting up sharply right in front of me, so I was able to get some great shots. They were very fast, very close, and very loud!

In Salt Creek, the water was slightly higher than normal, so the pupfish were exploring down to the parking lot, feeding in the flooded margins before low water forced them back into their normal cramped habitat space. Normally they’re a little skittish, but their quest for food prevailed, so when I held my iPhone out over the water, one came over and posed for a portrait.

On one evening, I caught a sandstorm over Mesquite Flat Dunes, back-lit with golden sunlight by the setting sun.

On the way home, sunset light was lighting up rain showers at Mono Lake. It was an eventful and productive trip. I can’t wait to return!  In the meantime, I’ve uploaded the latest batch of photos to the Death Valley 2016 photo album on my +Death Valley Workshops page on Google+.

If you might like to join me in Death Valley sometime, my spring 2016 workshops are done for the season, but I can add a session in mid-December if there’s sufficient interest: Death Valley Photography Workshops.

Jellyfish Cloud
Sunset rain showers over Mono Lake

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California Wildflower Sites: Antelope Valley

The Mojave Desert in April

Goldfields and California poppies mix with Joshua trees in Antelope Valley

One of my favorite photography road trips ever was a tour of California wildflower sites in the spring, including Antelope Valley and the California State Poppy Reserve, Carrizo Plain National Monument, Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area in the +Los Padres National Forest, and the area covered by the annual Ridgecrest Wildflower Festival in the Eastern Sierra. I posted on my blog at the time some of my favorite photos from the Antelope Valley, but I have a little more time now to take a second pass and show you more of what I saw.

I’m considering taking that route again this year, so reviewing past trips and refreshing my memory on what to stop in on and check can be productive. I’ve also looked up the wildflower report at the California State Poppy Reserve, which posted this update on Saturday, April 2:

“The season appears to have ended early, as last month’s rains came too late to sustain the bloom that had barely started. The fields are mostly grasses now; only a handful of poppies are blooming alongside the trails. The beavertail cactus in front of the visitor center is blooming, which usually happens after the season has ended- a sign that an early summer is on the way.”

An early start to summer should not be entirely unexpected, given the record El Nino heat in the Pacific Ocean driving our weather pattern in recent months. It’s a shame though that it didn’t bring enough rain at the right time to deliver a bumper crop of wildflowers in the Antelope Valley. The Antelope Valley is large though, and there may be dispersed pockets where enough rain fell, perhaps with a northern exposure to minimize drying during the gap in winter storms in February. Much of the area is in the Mojave Desert ecosystem, where Joshua trees serve as gerat subjects, with or without wildflowers.

In any case, many other areas of Southern California desert are blooming with normal to above normal intensity, so if I decide to take the trip, the conditions in the Antelope Valley won’t make or break the outcome.

So while I have my photos handy, here are a few more photos from the Antelope Valley area on that prior trip, and I’ll sprinkle a few across my various social media accounts as well.

The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve often starts its wildflower reports in mid-March to keep visitors updated on the conditions as they peak at some point through April. The area celebrates the annual bloom at the California Poppy Festival.  This year the 25th California Poppy Festival will be held April 16-17, 2016.

For more information, I cover the Antelope Valley California State Poppy Reserve and other sites to visit on an April California wildflower tour on page 184 of my new 320-page guidebook, Photographing California Vol. 2 – South (shown to the right).

Road to Nowhere

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Figueroa Mountain Wildflowers Are Blooming Now

Los Padres National Forest, Los Olivos

Along Figueroa Mountain Road (April 6, 2011)

If you missed the Death Valley “super bloom”, don’t worry, many other areas in the state bloom next. Along California’s Central Coast, Figueroa Mountain can be a great place to see wildflowers in April. Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area is located north of Santa Barbara, above the Santa Ynez Valley and the town of Los Olivos. Helen Tarbet of the Los Padres National Forest sent out her first Figueroa Mountain wildflower update of 2016 to email subscribers on March 22, which she has graciously given me permission to include below. If you want to receive her future updates, contact her at the email address at the end of her report. I’m including photos from my past visits to illustrate some of the wildflowers you might see.

Los Padres National Forest
Figueroa Mountain Wildflower Update – First Update of the 2016 Season
March 22, 2016

Greetings and happy spring! Welcome to the 2016 wildflower season! Unlike the past few drought stricken years, the wildflowers started blooming later, which is normal for them on a year where they have received sufficient rain. Once they started blooming, they are certainly going strong. Let’s start our update, shall we?

UntitledStarting at the first cattle guard, buttercups, milk maids, blue dicks, fiesta flowers, fiddlenecks, Johnny jump-ups and popcorn flowers are actively in bloom. Chinese houses and hummingbird sage are just now getting started. As one makes the turn along the second bend, on the left, a few small pink owl’s clovers can be seen among the tall grass. Along the rock formation on the right, look for blue dicks and about twenty yards further, still on the right, one will find some shooting stars, starting to go to seed, along with, Johnny jump-ups, fiddlenecks and lomatium. Another 25 yards down the road will bring you to a slope on the left where some miniature lupine, sky lupine and buttercups are beginning to bloom. As one continues under the tree canopy, one will find sky lupine, Johnny jump-ups, fillaree, buttercups, lomatium, popcorn flowers, fiesta flowers and blue dicks showing off their lovely hues of yellows and purples.

Grass MountainAs you continue up the hill, California poppies are blooming throughout the mountain. In fact, look to your left and see the stunning orange patch work on Grass Mountain. Grass Mountain has not put on such a show in quite a few years. Right before you get to the rusty gate, look on the ground to the right and find tiny cream cups in bloom, along with some fillaree.

Other wildflowers to look for as you continue your uphill climb include, buttercups, goldfields, coreopsis, shooting stars, ceanothus, California poppies, Mexican elderberry, blue dicks, fillaree, royal lupine, lomatium, fiddlenecks, beautiful pink prickly phlox on the serpentine rock formation on the right and lovely orange wall flowers just beyond that. Also, you will see strikingly beautiful Catalina mariposa lilies in the open grassy fields and wild canyon peas in some shaded areas.

Chocolate LilyAt Vista Point (large gravel turnout about 11.4 miles from the bottom), exquisite chocolate lilies are in bloom, be careful not to step on them, as they are not that tall this year and the grass tends to cover them. Also look for shooting stars, goldfields and fillaree. In the serpentine area across the road, you’ll see California poppies, buttercups, blue dicks, goldfields, coreopsis, popcorn flowers, lomatium, globe gillias and golden yarrow.

In the field to the right, before Tunnell Ranch Road, look for shooting stars, bush lupine, sky lupine, buttercups, lomatium, blue dicks, and lovely wallflowers.

More PoppiesAbout a quarter mile beyond, on the infamous poppy hillside, magnificent California poppies are showing off. It doesn’t look as though they are peaking yet, as there is still quite a bit of new growth and a multitude of buds that have yet to open. While the fabulous, deep orange is breathtaking, the entire hillside is not covered as in years past. It is still gorgeous and very worth visiting, be prepared to see a number of bare areas. The bush lupine, on the other hand, are absolutely incredible this year. Their sweet, lovely aroma fills the air as these beauties are found in great abundance throughout this entire area. Phacaelia is also in bloom here. Sky lupine are blooming as well, however, there are few in comparison to other years.

Lupine and PoppiesAs we continue on Figueroa Mountain Road, between Figueroa campground and the Davy Brown trailhead, look on the right and find California poppies, bush lupine, fiddlenecks, sky lupine, globe gillias, phacaelia, and popcorn. Beyond the Davy Brown trailhead, look for lovely displays of shooting stars, ceanothus, lomatium, fillaree, California poppies and buttercups. Just a little ways further, where you see a big dirt turnout on the left, look in the adjacent field and discover a multitude of beautiful chocolate lilies.

Just as you pass the gate going up to Ranger Peak, look to your right and see whimsical baby blue eyes peeking through the lush green grass. From Ranger Peak to Cachuma Saddle, bush poppies and bush lupine are splendidly abundant. Other flowers to look for within this stretch include, California poppies, phacaelia, red Indian paintbrush, sticky leaf monkey flowers, purple nightshade, ceanothus, fiddleneck, golden yarrow, clematis, globe gillias, wild canyon peas, wild cucumber and Mexican elderberry. Approximately halfway through this stretch, on the far right, notice a very impressive hillside carpeted in beautiful California poppies.

Woodpeckers in SpringSunset Valley is really starting to put on a show! Bush poppies and prickly phlox are certainly beginning to make their presence known throughout this area. Other beauties to look for include, the smaller yellow/orange variety of California poppies, popcorn flowers, Nuttles Larkspur, scarlet buglers, wild canyon peas, milk thistle, chia, Mexican elderberry, purple nightshade, morning glories, blue dicks, miners lettuce, golden yarrow, globe gillias, phacaelias, blue dicks Chinese houses, clematis, wild canyon peas and fillaree. If you look high on the hillsides, along Sunset Valley, heading towards, Davy Brown and Nira, look at the gorgeous patches of yellow, courtesy of the small yellow variety of California poppies.

Happy Canyon is also beautiful. As one turns onto Happy Canyon, look for yellow California poppies, purple nightshade, wild canyon peas, golden yarrow, clematis, wild cucumber, bush poppies, royal lupine, blue dicks, vetch, morning glories, bush lupine, fiesta flowers, prickly phlox, blue dicks, fiddleneck, bush poppies, coreopsis and charming Catalina mariposa lilies. Continuing down the hill, prickly phlox, lomatium, mustard, cactus flowers, morning glories, Mexican elderberry, Johnny jump-ups, popcorn flowers and fillaree can also be seen along with some royal lupine, bush lupine and bush poppies.

That’s all for this update. Look for our next wildflower update in two weeks. Until then, happy viewing! For more information, please contact Helen Tarbet by e-mail at htarbet@fs.fed.us.

Directions

Here’s my description of Figueroa Mountain Road Recreation Area on page 218 of my “Photographing California – South” guidebook, illustrated with a few extra photos:

Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area, Los Padres National Forest

Home to an annual wildflower bloom each spring, Figueroa Mountain provides a variety of species at various elevations, diversifying your opportunities and extending the wildflower season. The U.S. Forest Service often provides updates on the timing and progress of the wildflowers as they emerge in the February through April time frame, so if you have the opportunity, check their Web site for current conditions.

Photo advice: A selection of lenses will help you capture a variety of perspectives on the flowers. California poppies are one of the most common species of wildflower here, and they don’t open until they have warmed
up in the sun, so it’s not necessary to rush up here for sunrise.

Untitled

Getting there: From US-101 take CA-154 East, San Marcos Pass
Road, 3.0 miles, turn left on Figueroa Mountain Road.

This is a narrow mountain road and your drive on it may take you 15 miles or more and increase in elevation 3000 feet. It is not recommended for large vehicles or trailers.

Time required: You’ll probably need 2 – 3 hours or more to
navigate the road and have some time for photography.
Nearby location: Also in the spring, the oak-laden hills and pastures in the first mile or two of Figueroa Mountain Road may offer wildflowers such as wild mustard.
Santa Ynez Valley, California Central Coast

Lower Figueroa Mountain Road, Los Olivos

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