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Sunday, May 5, 2024

Astrophotography at Valley View

We skipped going to Valley View for New Year's, and it's a good thing we did since that was only a few weeks after Katie broke her ankle. Instead, we made plans to go in early May when the weather would be a little better and we could go over a weekend when the Eta Aquariids meteor shower was peaking with little to no moon. Along with the meteor shower I planned to do some astrophotography. Of the two nights we were there, only one of them looked good from a cloud coverage standpoint, so at midnight on the night we arrived I woke up and hiked 2 miles to the bat cave. There were other places I could have done astrophotography, but that was the easiest place that I could get up high. After an hour hike, I made it to the caves a little after 1 am where I stayed for about 2 hours before I needed to leave to get warmed up. If it was a little warmer or if there was a little less wind I probably could have stayed until sunrise which would have produced some better photos of the foreground, however, the position of the Milky Way wasn't great the later the night went on.

During the day between soaking in the hot springs I went on a nature walk. I explored a new trail and saw some incredible wildlife, everything from squirrels, snakes, insects, and birds.

The evening was mostly cloudy but that didn't stop me from trying to do some more astrophotography. I found an old firetruck that I wanted to make my primary subject and tried to light up with an external light source to make the photos more interesting. The light ended up being too harsh, no matter how quickly I tried to light it up, and the stars in the background weren't that great with the cloud coverage. With rain forecasted all night after midnight, I called it an evening at 10 am and woke up at midnight to a completely overcast sky. I didn't bother setting another alarm to wake up in the morning before sunrise to try again. I woke up in the morning to perfectly clear blue skies and was disappointed I didn't set an alarm in the 3 am hour.

SwirlingMilky WayFriendly SquirrelWestern TanagerStretchingLower Top PondGarter SnakeValley View RidgelinePokeyTurn at the Skull CairnMeadow PondFire Truck

Friday, May 10, 2024

G5 Solar Storm

A giant solar storm allowed us to see the Aurora Borealis from Colorado. It was a spectacular event that gave a great showing. The last time a solar storm this powerful happened was in 2003, so I knew I needed to go out to capture it. I had been getting notifications from NOAA all day about how powerful the storm was, and I was hoping that it would hold out through the night for me to peek at such a unique phenomenon that rarely visits Colorado.

At 9:30, I drove an hour and a half to the Pawnee Grasslands to hike a little bit of the Pawnee Buttes trail. When I got to the trailhead around 11 pm I was not the only one who had that same idea. There were several dozen cars along the road car camping and spectating as well as a nearly full parking lot with an additional 20+ cars.

I figured if there were this many cars up here that the showing was good, but before I left the warmth of my car I took a shot from inside using my steering wheel as a tripod. That first photo showed me a beautiful green sky with the silhouette bathroom outlined in the foreground. With just one photo I went from being skeptical of if this long drive would be worth it to being ecstatic and needing to get out there to start taking photos with something a little better in the foreground.

I got out there right as the moon was setting. The moon was just a sliver in the sky about 12% full. With the moon on the horizon, it was a gorgeous addition to the framing. But by the time I got my camera set up, I only got about 5 photos before the moon was gone. All 5 of those photos had the moon overexposed and weren't good enough to share. But I wish I had paid attention to the moon when deciding when to head out for shooting.

The area was busy but not packed. The Pawnee Buttes trail has lots of open space where people could spread out. There were spectators in lawn chairs simply watching, camera-phone photographers with silly phone tripods, amateur photographers (like myself), and serious photographers. Surprisingly, I didn't have to go far to be alone. Where the bulk of the people were was an area with a terrible foreground. The foreground from the meadow by the trailhead was only a few bumps on the horizon from the bluffs in the distance but nothing special or interesting. I knew from previous experiences here (in the daytime) that it was a short half-mile hike to the canyon where the Bluffs were in the direction of the Aurora. I was shocked that no one was in the canyon with me photographing (at least that I know of), but I won't complain about having that area to myself.

I was out shooting for about 2 hours including the hiking and didn't get home until nearly 3 am. The show was the best right before midnight when you could see the solar radiation rippling across the sky. That radiation line was a bright line spanning the entire horizon from East to West that would quickly shoot across the sky starting from the Northern horizon and ending straight up. These ripples lasted about 15 minutes before calming down. I've never seen anything like it.

Lone WindmillIncredible ShowingNorthern Lights PanoramaStar TrailsLips Bluff

Thursday, May 16, 2024

First Day in Yosemite

The drive from San Francisco (which happened the day prior) to where our Airbnb was in Groveland was a long drive. What should have been less than 3 hours turned into nearly 5 due to California traffic. We were hoping with our flight getting in at 2 pm that we would miss some of the rush hour traffic, but no we didn't... Our car gave us "helpful" statistics and let us know that our 150-mile journey was completed at an average speed slower than 30 miles per hour. But after a long day of travel, we made it to our destination at 9 pm.

We woke up with no real plans made yet for the day. With Katie's ankle injury, we didn't want to plan anything since we needed to decide the day's activities on a day-to-day basis based on how her ankle felt. Since it was the first day of the trip, we decided to do something that wouldn't push her but also wasn't one of the really easy hikes that we wanted to save for more of a rest day. The hike to Inspiration Point fit what we were looking for and that's where we headed first thing in the morning after taking our time waking up from such a hectic travel day.

After an hour drive to get to the trailhead, we started our hike at 9:30. Katie's ankle wasn't a problem, but Katie started coming down with a cold the day prior, and her lungs were the limiting factor on the hike. Katie made it about 2/3 of the way up before turning back while I finished the hike. The views at the top were a little better than what we had gotten before Katie turned back, but it wasn't really that meaningful for her to summit. The amount of haze in landscape photos makes most of the photos not that appealing anyway, so at the top of Inspiration Point I was inspired to find better lighting (spoiler: I didn't).

After meeting up at the trailhead, we went to the Bridalveil Falls viewpoint, which was the main waterfall we could see from the Inspiration Point hike. That was a short half-mile hike that included getting soaked from all the mist falling off the waterfall. It was a lot of fun that didn't yield many photos but still worth stopping and cooling off at.

The afternoon consisted of driving through Yosemite valley and stopping at the gift shop, welcome center, and at a pull off of a viewing spot for El Capitan.

In the late afternoon and evening we went grocery shopping, picked up an inhaler for Katie to hopefully have a better time hiking tomorrow, and planned out some other things for us to do for the next few days.

GilbertBirding While Katie RestsBridalveil FallsEl CapitanOverlookInspiration Point

Friday, May 17, 2024

Yosemite Day 2

We woke up and headed towards Glacier Point. Katie still wasn't feeling well from her cold, so we decided to try an easy hike to Taft Point. After an hour and a half drive into the park, we started our hike to find that we needed to cross a river about a quarter-mile into the hike which would not be very easy. Around that same time, Katie also felt like passing out, so we decided to go back to the car instead.

We drove up to Glacier Point where there were fantastic views of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley. We learned on the drive up there that Yosemite is the smoggiest National Park, which made sense based on the amount of haze in the air yesterday and today. That's quite unfortunate since I was hoping to get some clear shots, but maybe that isn't something that will happen on this trip.

After checking out Glacier Point, we headed to Yosemite Valley to do the Lower Yosemite Falls loop. This was a nice flat walk that we brought our lunch on and ate along the path after seeing the falls. It was a nice Picnic that kept with the spirit of the trip even though Katie wasn't feeling well.

In the afternoon we drove to Inner Sanctum Cellars and Tap Room where we had some wine and beer relaxing on the patio before heading back to our Airbnb where I cooked dinner and we relaxed for the remainder of the night.

Glacier PointFrom the ValleyUp CloseJoining Our LunchSelfie in the Park

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Sunrise to Sunset

Since Katie was still feeling sick, she wanted to seep in to rest, so I took the morning to do some stuff without her. I Woke up at 3:50 to catch the sunrise at the Tunnel View. It was underwhelming since I was shooting toward the East where the sun was rising. I got there about 20 minutes too late to catch any stars in the first couple of photos, but that's OK because the stars wouldn't have been that bright anyway that late in the morning.

Then I went to hike Columbine Rock and planned to make it a little further to Oh My Gosh point. Columbine Rock was a little boring since there were good views of the valley before Columbia Rock, but I'm glad I went on to Oh My Gosh Point which had spectacular views of upper Yosemite Falls. I made the decision based on how I was feeling and what time it was to torture myself and continue on to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls. The views were worth the pain. It was nice to have done what felt like a more normal hike comparing it to where I was before Katie's accident but I would have much rather hiked it with her instead.

For some reason, my GPS was having difficulty on this hike. The trail on the map is a little screwed up and the stats are probably a little off from what it was. I think the elevation gain is about right but the mileage is inflated by about 1 mile.

After I got back to the Airbnb around 1, we went to the Gianelli Winery. This winery grows its own grapes on site, and we got to drive through the vineyard to get to the tasting room where we drank wine overlooking their property. This is what we were expecting for a California winery and they delivered with great views and good wine.

Since Katie hadn't done anything in nature (other than drinking wine), we went back to the Airbnb for a quick dinner which consisted of hotdogs and potatoes (which was a pretty terrible meal), then headed into the park to catch the sunset. We went to the same place where I did my sunrise shots to take photos of the sunset. We got there a little too late but the view and lighting was much better than in the morning. It was fun to have started and ended my day in the exact same location taking the exact same shot.

SunriseDeer In the Parking LotWild LupineCrossing the BridgeWild ButterflyYosemite FallsCliff FaceRaging RiverOver the FallsNext to a TreeSunsetSelfie and a SnackWine in CaliforniaSurvey Marker at Columbia Rock

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Biking Around Yosemite

We went to Yosemite to rent some bikes to bike around Yosemite Valley. We ended up biking 12 miles over the course of a couple of hours including stopping to eat lunch at the Swinging Bridge picnic area.

In the afternoon, we went to the local brewery which had good beers but the music selection was so horrific we needed to leave. We went back to the Airbnb for dinner where I grilled some peppers and meat for tacos.

Half DomeKatie on a BikeCooling Off

Monday, May 20, 2024

Double Hike Day

Katie was feeling a little better today so after letting her sleep in, we went into the park to do Sentinel Dome. It was late in the morning when we left, so the traffic was horrific, and the parking lot was full. Luckily we got a chance to park at a pulloff where there was a forest road that we could take to shortcut the trail. So after a shorter hike than we anticipated, we made it to the top of Sentinel Dome where the views were spectacular. The lighting was great with some patchy clouds and the visibility was the best that it's been the entire trip. It was a little windy and cold at the top but we found a nice place to sit and eat a late lunch while enjoying the view of Half Dome.

Since we did a shorter hike than intended, I talked Katie into doing a second hike. Yosemite National Park has 3 different Sequoia Groves, so we picked the one that was the shortest hike, just 3 miles round trip. The Sequoias were massive and really cool. They felt so out of place with their girth but weren't that much taller than any of the other trees around them. We got to see some dead and knocked-over Sequoias as well as a dead sequoia that had a passage cut out of it for us to walk through. It was really cool.

Overall, we did 4.5 miles of hiking and a little less than a thousand feet of elevation gain. It was a great day and we hope that Katie's ankle didn't get too stiff from doing that much hiking.

Half DomeSentinel Dome SelfieYosemite FallsHiking in the SnowThe First SequoiaBig BaseBad LightingDeadKatieThrough the TunnelTallTuolumne GroveWoodpecker

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Wildflowers At Hetch Hetchy

Katie knew that she would be sore in the morning so she insisted that I go on a hike without her in the morning and that we would do a short hike in the afternoon. With her recommendation, I decided to do Nevada Falls, one of the waterfalls on the Southeast end of Yosemite Village. I woke up at 6, parked at 7, and after a 3/4 mile walk, I made it to the trailhead (parking here sucks...). There aren't that many people who start hikes here early, so there were only a handful of people on the trail with me. This trail comes close to Vernal Falls, so close that the mist coming off the falls soaks you completely. That was pretty fun although since I started early it was still a little cold and being wet wasn't all that nice. But I knew that was coming so I was prepared at least with a water-resistant jacket and a waterproof bag for my camera. The section where you get soaked by Vernal Falls is a steep stair section that's hard to do fast, but you go fast anyway to try and get out of the water. But despite that, Vernal Falls was absolutely gorgeous with mossy rocks beside it and rainbows from the mist. It reminded me a lot of the waterfalls in Iceland both in the scenery around it and the size of the waterfalls themselves.

Nevada Falls wasn't too much further and it was gorgeous at the top. There weren't great views of Nevada Falls itself, but since you were up high you could see a lot of the surrounding area, including seeing Sentinal Dome which we hiked the day prior. On the way back, I decided I wanted to make it a short loop and started hiking back down the way I didn't come up. About a quarter-mile into the descent, I came across a trail closed sign and had to turn around. Apparently earlier that morning there was a rock slide large enough to close the trail which was a bummer because that trail would have taken me right through Clark Point, which felt kinda like a right of passage for me. But oh well.

When I made it back to Vernal Falls around 10:30 am, there were tons of people there. It was packed full of people which made it hard to descend on the steep staircase that was barely wide enough to pass people on. The amount of people was a bummer, but most of them didn't continue on to Nevada Falls so at least I have that mostly for myself.

Including the detour on the trail that ended up being closed and the walk from the parking lot to the trailhead, the hike was just under 9 miles and 2,500 feet in elevation gain. That is a tough hike by all accounts but it was a fun one. I made it back to the Airbnb at 1 pm where Katie and I grilled some hot dogs and veggies before heading out for our afternoon activity.

In the afternoon, we went to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir which was in a different area of the park. The scenery wasn't all that special, however, there were two things to note on the hike. First, the hike went through a tunnel which was awesome. We don't hike through many tunnels. Second, the area was packed full of wildflowers. We found some wildflowers we hadn't seen in the main Yosinety Village area of the park and spent quite a bit of time photographing them.

The hike we were following at Hetch Hetchy was the hike to the waterfall, but we didn't make it all the way because we didn't want to push Katie's ankle too hard. I think we did just enough for her to strengthen it a little more without setting her back, but time will tell.

In an effort to get good photos of the Harlequin Lupine, we stopped on the side of the road on the way out of Hetch Hetchy where we found a few really nice patches of them. This wildflower was the star of the hike because of its bright multi-coloredness. Those Lupines are native only to Yosemite, so it was special to find a wildflower that we wouldn't see elsewhere.

We then drove into Yosimety propper for some sunset photos. Sunset (and sunrise for that matter) don't seem to be that great here. Maybe a different time of year (when the sun is rising/setting in different spots) would be better, but you don't get the good golden lighting on the mountain faces that you would expect. I think some of this is because of the smog, but some of it is also just the geography of where the interesting things sit (which go into shadow or you can't get a good view of just that).

Flowing WaterNarrowRainbow at Vernal FallsFalling WaterOn the LedgeBack to Vernal FallsHetch HetchyThrough the TunnelElegant Cluster LillyFields of FlowersPurple OwlWhite MeadowfoamPaintbrushBack Through the TunnelHetch Hetchy Survey MarkerHarlequin LupineSeed PodsAnother SunsetCascade GladeTop of Vernal FallsOne Last Selfie at Nevada FallsTop of Nevada Falls

May 2024

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