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Yosemite National Park

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Before heading to San Francisco for spring break, my daughter and I discussed going to Yosemite. It would be a four hour drive to/from the park and it seemed like a lot. My daughter wouldn’t be able to drive the rental car so it would be all me. We originally decided not to go. However, her father kept badgering us and asking why in the world would we go all the way to California and not go.

So we decided, yes, we’d go. It was the best decision. We woke up pretty early and were out of the AirBnB by 5:50 am. We stopped along the way for gas and coffee. The scenery was beautiful during the entire trip. Once we started driving up the mountains I knew we were close. I was excited.

If you haven’t been to the park, heed the warnings. GO EARLY! We were there by 9:45 am within the grounds of the park. The problem was there was view after view of mountains, El Capitan, Half Dome, etc. We would stop for photos along the way. We crossed over a magnificent waterfall and I had to stop and try to get a good photo (fail). Finally, I said, “No more stopping!” because I knew we’d never get to hiking. (Note: I stopped two more times). I have to say that at the moment I saw the view of El Capitan, Half Dome and Yosemite Falls together, I teared up. There was something powerful and overwhelming about that view. I tried to explain how I was feeling to my daughter and she felt the same way.

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Finally, we got into the valley. We wanted to make our way to the visitor center to see about hiking to Mirror Lake and maybe elsewhere. By 10:30 am-ish the parking lots were 90% full. Thankfully, we had a small rental and squeezed in a small area. We walked over towards the visitor center and our first stop was in the Ansel Adams Gallery. As a photographer, I had to go inside. There is no doubt he is one of the greatest artists to have lived. I saw one of his photos and was overcome with emotion. The worker here was so knowledgeable that he actually saved us a trip to the formal visitors center. Bonus!

We walked through the gift shop, got some tshirts, and headed back to the car. We drove towards Mirror Lake and, again, found a place to park. I don’t know how others missed the spot but I am glad they did. We started our hike. Did you know that way back in the day they used to drain Mirror Lake and put up a dance floor/area? We all agreed that letting it go natural is the best option. Obviously, the hike was amazing. It is an easy, short walk to the “lake”.

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The worker at Ansel Adams let us know that it is filling with less and less water and slowly growing back to a meadow. I was really looking forward to getting some reflection photos and was a little worried I wouldn’t. Finally, we arrived and my fears were unfounded.

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We walked across the meadow area and got closer to the stream that flows through the area. I could have stayed there all day. The granite rocks exploding up around us made me feel small and tiny. I couldn’t stop looking at them. My daughter really wanted to go look at the rocks along the stream but that meant wading through the water to get there. We took off our shoes and took a deep breath. That water was cold. There were boys on the other side of the stream and they were determined to get across it. It wasn’t too deep and some just took off running. Another group walked across. Their yells and hollering were quite funny. One yelled, “I can’t feel my legs!!!” They all made it though. I took in the scene of my daughter bent over examining the rocks. She wants to major in geology so this was special for her.

Eventually, we turned and walked back. As we drove out of the park, we stopped next to El Capitan. I don’t know if you’ve seen Free Solo yet (I have not – stressful!) but seeing it up close makes it even more amazing that he climbed it and did so quickly. It really blew my mind and I think that I am ready to see the movie now.

As we drove out of the park, I was sad. I love my Shenandoahs. I love the Rockies. But somehow Yosemite implanted itself in my heart and all I can think about is returning and spending years there exploring every inch of the place. The drive back didn’t feel like forever. We were high on beauty. After reviewing my photos I feel like I couldn’t capture the emotion of Yosemite. I guess this is one reason Ansel was so successful. You FEEL his photos and I didn’t do that. But I hope you enjoy them regardless.

Click to see the rest of my photos.

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A Return to South River Falls

I really wanted to visit a waterfall this past weekend. I never can decide where to go but decided to do a return trip to South River. If you’ve been following me for a few months, you may remember I went this past winter in 0 degree weather. I think I prefer that trip and I’ll explain why below. The South River Falls trailhead is located in the South River Picnic Grounds at mile marker 62.7.  The circuit I hiked is approximately 6 miles long and covers 2,300 feet of elevation.  I started on the South River Falls Trail and went all the way to the base of the falls. You’ll get to a post that says, “Base of Falls”.  Continue down that path. On my way back up, I stay on the fire road. This will cross the Appalachian Trail where you’ll make a left.  This will take you back to the South River Falls Trail where you’ll turn right and just about be at the parking lot.

South River Falls is not my favorite waterfall in Shenandoah National Park. It’s kind of weird looking and split. I much prefer Doyles River Falls but I love the hike to South River. There are many pretty cascades. I know it sounds silly but when I made my way to the river I was surprised at how different everything looked. I know. Duh. But in March we had a massive wind storm and the downed trees added to how it had changed. I had to spend time crawling on rocks, balancing on wet rocks and wading through water to get some of my photos. And I loved every minute. The green does add beauty to the photos but I also loved how wide open everything was during winter. I was able to get to some other small falls because I didn’t have to worry about poison ivy or as many ticks or stinging nettles. I had more to photograph and I like that. Also, I think the falls look really cool when they are partly frozen (better than they look now but that’s a personal opinion).

One of the many cascades

Jump in!

Is there anything prettier?

I kept telling myself to keep moving. It was partly cloudy and I was worried the sun would be too bright by the time I got to the falls. I just couldn’t help myself when I passed certain small falls and cascades. And unfortunately, a few of my shots ended up with dappled sun. And when I got to the falls the sun was hitting the top of the falls. A photographic disaster. (Laughing) I shot it in a few exposures and I guess the final image came out okay. Sometimes I rush and don’t really think about my compositions.

South River Falls

I prefer this side of the falls

Eventually the sun was out to stay so I had to hike back. But, before I forget, I almost ran into a bear on the trail. I was all alone on the trail. And I mean really alone. I didn’t see anyone for 3 hours. I came around a corner and there was a bear. It was as surprised as me. I backed away slowly as I greeted the bear. I expected to hear it run off but it didn’t. I called out a few more times. Eventually, I saw it walk through the woods at a lazy pace. I was thrilled! Bears don’t scare me. I do wish I had gotten a photo but I thought I should follow protocol. I haven’t ever seen a bear while hiking so this was exciting.

Hiking back I forced my pace. With an upcoming Spartan Race this weekend, I wanted to test my fitness and not stop. I did have to stop once or twice but the 2,300 foot climb back up wasn’t so hard. Loved it!

I still recommend South River Falls. If you want to be in the water, it’s a great option! And the hike is just about 6 miles. Any time spent in Shenandoah National Park is time well spent.

A Walk Among the Lotuses

If you live near/in Washington DC or are planning a visit, I highly recommend taking some time to visit Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. The summer months are perfect because the ponds and ponds full of lotus flowers are blooming. I saw on Instagram that there was a rare Empress Lotus blooming at the park so I dragged my son with me on the 4th of July. We arrive early – approximately 7:30 am and so did every other photographer in DC.  I thought I had a unique idea. (insert laugh here).  The way the park is designed, there is almost always room for many photographers.  I did have an experience where a woman just kept inching closer and closer to me. I finally stopped taking photos and waited. Eventually, she stepped right in front of me almost falling into the water.  Trust me when I say that this behavior isn’t necessary. There are beautiful lotus flowers everywhere. Thousands.

 

 

The humidity was high. I’m sure it was 100%. My son left me to go find shade and I commenced to feeling bad that I brought him. However, I know he enjoyed it. He couldn’t hide it. He just hates the humidity – it gives him a headache.  I searched for the Empress Lotus but, alas, did not locate it. I mistakenly thought it was a different one (and thought I was right as I overheard another man talking about it).

There is a nice boardwalk that offers a small amount of shade but I didn’t take it this time. I eventually settled in on trying to capture dragonflies and butterflies before giving up on wiping the sweat from my eyes.  The gardens are a must-visit for anyone. Go and experience the beauty.

 

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Queen Victoria Lily Pads Grow up to 6 feet in diameter (later in summer)

Is It Spring Yet?

I hate cold weather. I don’t mind end of October when it is like in the 50s & 60s. I mind when it dips down to low 40s and below. I grew up in Michigan so I always get asked, “Don’t you like the cold?”  Nope.  I am writing this with a coat and large, bulky sweater covering my lap because my office is so incredibly cold.

I have a tradition of going hiking on Veteran’s Day. It is a day I have off of work but my kids still have school. I enjoy having the day to myself. This year, I almost didn’t go. I woke up and it was cold. Too cold.  I got up and decided I would at least drive to Shenandoah to see if the colors had improved. I also wanted to stop at Buck Hallow Trail to photograph the stream that runs through that trail since it had rained a lot earlier in the week.

While I was photographing the stream it wasn’t too bad. I had on my hat, coat and gloves and was fine. If I had been hiking I would have been nice and warm.  I figured, “Why not go and find a hike?”  I drove along Skyline Drive wondering which trail to visit. I kept referring to my map and wasn’t deciding on anything.  I started on one trail and the wind just about blew me off the mountain. I turned right around and went back to my car.  Eventually I happened upon Little Stony Man. I got out and looked at the sign.  It was a short hike to the view point so I decided that would be my hike. As I walked up the side of the mountain I warmed up nicely. The wind was minimal in that location. It only took me a few minutes to reach the Little Stony Man lookout area.  And that’s when the wind hit me. It was far stronger than the other trail because you’re basically standing on the side of a mountain with no coverage. This is also the first time I’ve been on a rock formation in Shenandoah and didn’t want to look over. I presume this is why people go to climb. e

View from Little Stony Man

Skyline Drive from Little Stony Man

 

 

I took a few photos and headed back to my car.  I blasted the heater and drove home.  As I was driving I decided to stop at Ellanor C Lawrence Park. Someday I will explore more of this park as I generally hang around the creek and pond.  The wind was still blowing but because of coverage it wasn’t too bad. I wandered around looking for something to photograph. I found a cool trail that I will probably explore at a different time. I was just too cold so I headed back towards my car.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a Blue Heron. They are probably my favorite bird. I have quite a few good photos of them.  I went in all directions to photograph this bird. I got pretty close and have some beautiful shots of just its head.

Eventually I decided I would leave the bird alone and made my way back to my car.  Because I hadn’t done a big hike I had time left in my day to relax.  I do enjoy hiking in the winter. I like that posion ivy dies and I have more confidence to go off trail. I like finding birds without the leaves on the trees.  But I really want spring to return because I am already tired of being cold.