As my brother Joe and I were closing in on the trailhead at North Lake at the end of a Labor Day holiday backpacking trip over Lamarck Col into Kings Canyon National Park, we passed some quaking aspen showing yellow leaves announcing fall was on the way. With a near record snow pack and cold spring, conditions through the summer of 2006 were noticeably delayed a week or two from normal. Thus expectations among savvy fall leaf followers were the same would hold for the onset of fall color in the Sierra.
Fall foliage photography in the Sierra Nevada might be divided up crudely into three general periods each with its own group of species. First are arctic willow, yellow willows, gooseberries, and fireweed of the High Sierra that change during the first half of September. Second, from mid September through mid October are the large Eastern Sierra mid elevation aspen groves with slightly lower canyon bottom black cottonwood, creek dogwood, willows, gooseberries, and water birch. Third from mid October through early November are the western Sierra mid elevation slopes of black oak, and canyon bottom Pacific dogwood, black cottonwood, willows, white alder, bigleaf maple, Indian rhubarb, and thimbleberry. There are of course numerous other small plant perennials that change color mainly to yellows.
Urban diversions the next couple weeks kept me from returning to the Sierra high country to photograph arctic willow. If it were not for a tip from a friend, I would have continued to believe I was a bit late for any willow. Instead on Thursday September 21 I began a four-day road trip that would be one of four fall foliage road trips into the Sierra Nevada for 2006. My first effort of the trip was an afternoon crosscountry hike away from trails into the Cathedral Range in Yosemite National Park. However it was a cool breezy fall day and that inhibited working some ponds for reflections. Unlike other fall leaf targets as quaking aspen, black cottonwood, or dogwood, the quite short arctic willow itself is a fine target during breezy conditions since it quickly stops movement down at ground level at brief lulls. I found good willow conditions so exposed a few modest sheets away from ponds. On Friday the weather was also quite breezy so I explored some areas during several miles of rambling in the Hoover Wilderness. Likewise found some superb pond reflection subjects there though again was limited to exposing a few modest sheets away from water.
Arctic willow, salix arctica, is a widespread species across North American alpine areas that grows just inches tall in dense patches amongst turf. In the Sierra the species is found between about 8,500 and 12,000 feet atop well drained sand and rock soils where bedrock just a foot or three below allows their roots to source water at that boundary. Most of summer its green willow like leaves blend in with grasses. In August catkins indicate its presence among grass blades. Then as September begins, catkins expel cottony seeds into the wind while leaves turns a nice red or wine color that along with fireweed becomes the only source of red hued fall vegetation at those high elevations. Note the better-known aspen grows between 6,500 and about 10,500 feet with most trees well below 9,500 down in canyons away from views of Sierra high craggy peaks.
When the dawn brightened eastern skies on Saturday, I rose from my disperse camping locale and noted the constant wind had died down some overnight. I guessed the calmest period might be Sunday so reserved that day for what I had seen the day before and instead went back into the areas I'd visited in the Cathedral Range two days earlier. As I started up a use path, frost covered all the dried vegetation and grasses. The winds had not quite quelled which would limit what I would be able to do this day. By about 8am I reached the area of interest where I managed to expose a 4x5 sheet of film (slide show image number 06-GG3-2w) at a particularly beautiful little pond that had a nice patch of red arctic willow on the far side along with erratic boulders on bedrock. That is the first image on the accompanying slide show with a link at this page bottom. However the brief period of calm quickly ended so I spent most of the rest of the day climbing about peaks.
The still dawn on Sunday morning promised the conditions I'd hoped for although temperatures overnight had dropped into the low 20s. I bundled up then fast hiked a couple miles to my Friday destination where I found the chronically breezy area quite calm. Knowing where the better spots to shoot were at, I made the most of the couple hours of calm by rapidly cranking through ten exposures, 06-GG6-3w, 06-GG8-4w, 06-G9-1w at six different ponds or about as much as I could manage with the tedious view camera. Better images in just a couple hours than in all the previous trips there combined. Weather can be so important for obtaining exceptional images regardless of who is behind the camera.
As I was returning from the first trip, quite a number of photographers eager to shoot Bishop Creek areas, visited the Eastern Sierra on the weekend of September 23 and 24. Internet forums were alive with reports and predictions on increasing fall color in aspen groves. Although historically that week is the best bet for shooting higher Bishop Creek areas, reports that came in during the week confirmed it was a bit delayed. As the weekend of September 30 October 1 approached, the National Weather Service predicted a series of small fronts would be visiting the Sierra and that they would be cold enough for some snow on the peaks. The weekend itself was forecast to be breezy and unsettled with Monday and Tuesday firming up as workable days before colder, windier fronts arrived.
Thus I left Sunday October 1 on what would become an 8-day road trip. As I reached the eastside, a blanket of dark clouds covered the range from warm tropical air that moved up from the southwest. Too dark for reasonable diffuse lighting. It was quite balmy with moderate breezes and some showers over the crest. During the afternoon I surveyed or visited several groves south of Lee Vining during the 70 miles of US395 south on the way to Bishop. Up Bishop Creek I drove to all three road ends evaluating conditions. I was a bit disappointed to see little orange and red in the big aspen groves on the South Fork. The Sabrina Basin was also less interesting than I've seen in the past. The large grove at North Lake at elevation 9250 feet easily had the best color. However the large clone grove rising in the ravine across the lake was rather orange and green instead of red that I've seen in the past. In late afternoon I drove back down to sagebrush elevations in order to spend the night legally dispersed camping off a dirt road. Although I had my full winter camping gear, I would be sleeping in my vehicle each night to make things simple. Thus at the end of each day and then again early each morning, I went through a process of rearranging gear in my gear packed sedan. That Sunday night about a quarter inch of rain fell with temperatures gradually lowering.
Quaking aspen, populus tremuloides, is a widespread tree species throughout cooler areas of North America. In the Eastern Sierra aspen groves tend to be between 6500 and 10500 feet. Larger trees are usually found where water is seeping near the surface. Because other evergreen trees easily dominate these trees, aspen often colonize denuded avalanche slopes free from competitors. Aspen tend to spread via root sprouting of runners. Such trees are virtual genetic clones. Leaves of adjacent clones in fall tend to all change about the same time with similar color. Trunks are covered by an aesthetic smooth white bark with light yellow-green blotches. The soft smooth white bark is coated with white powder that readily transfers to one's clothing. Encircling trunks are spaced slightly raised ribs. Where old branches have departed black knots show. In places where people frequent one will of course see large trunks decorated with old initial carvings in the soft wood.
As dawn broke on Monday October 2, I was surprised to see a white dusting of snow atop Mount Humphreys and Tom. Skies were partly cloudy with more sun to the east. A cap of forming clouds stayed atop some high crest peaks. As I began arranging my gear below highway SR168, a white SUV zipped up the road. Later when I arrived at the southeast roadside parking spot beside North Lake, that same SUV was there. Immediately I suspected it was likely a photographer mining some early light? Sure enough there was a gal with her tripod that turned out to be someone I had not yet met in person but had conversed with over the internet. West of the lake up the North Fork of Bishop Creek Canyon towards Piute Pass, a blustery flow of clouds and snow squalls were sweeping down the canyon keeping the lake water a dark wavy blue. A rainbow was regularly forming up that canyon. She and I walked to the grassy southwest shores of the lake where the rainbow stood out a bit more. Declining to pull out my view camera given the numerous shadows across the landscape, I instead took the image at left with my tiny 7-megapixel Coolpix digital camera. In fact all images on this web page except the one at top were taken with that camera. Scans from my view camera 4x5 film work are in the accompanying slideshow with a link at this page bottom.
I set out for a location to frame a large aspen grove with snowy peaks in the background. The area is one of the very few places in the Sierra where one can compose both aspen groves and craggy crest peaks in the same frame. In the 4x5 transparency image at page top, 06-HH2-1w, I'm looking down on the top of a large yellow leaf expanse of a clone aspen grove with the valley below Lamarck Col at the skyline saddle near center frame and snow covered 13,417 foot Mount Lamarck the second peak to its right. Right where Joe and I had backpacked through just a month earlier. This large grove of similar mid height yellow hued fall leaf trees might be just one or a few individual trees. Along the way I noticed a lethargic alligator lizard sunning on a rock. The lizard hid under some grass so I grabbed the very ornery critter and put him atop my view camera dark cloth where he took a bite on the cloth that allowed me to take its picture. Oooh look at the mean grimace!
From that location above the grove, I exposed several sheets of film. Later in the morning I made my way back around the small shallow lake then drove down the dusty road to the road tunnel of aspen where I again met my internet acquaintance beside her SUV. By that time of late morning quite a number of other vehicles with fall leaf sightseers were driving about the dusty dirt road. I surveyed shots in that area but declined to expose any film as I thought it would be better a bit earlier on Tuesday morning. Next I drove back down the highway then up the South Fork where I visited a favorite out of the way grove of red aspen. However some dead trunks had crashed into diagonal orientations across other trees that considerably changed its former aesthetic look. Aspen are a short-lived tree and their groves readily change over a short period of years. In the breezy afternoon I continued up the road, parked in the shade, made lunch, took a nap, removed exposed film to storage, and reloaded fresh film into my film holders. Next I spent a couple hours rambling about below Parchers Resort where I took a single mediocre frame followed by driving about to other unproductive areas. The day was over for me by late afternoon as the sun dropped behind the towering crest. I drove back down to the sagebrush to leisurely make camp while satisfied at least some of the morning had gone well.
Tuesday morning October 3 dawn showed blue skies and calmer air so I was quick to organize my gear and make my way back up to North Lake. Sunday night's dusting of snow had melted back on all but the highest crest peaks. There I ran into yet another photographer I had not personally met but whom I knew from internet forums. The lake had only a slight intermittent breeze. That was promising because most mornings at North Lake are frustratingly breezy. I set up my view camera and took one reflection image, 06-HH4-1w, with shadowed stones in the foreground. After about a half hour of relatively nice calm, the usual up canyon breezes showed up so I gave up on that favorite subject of photographers and drove west to park at the road tunnel of aspen area.
The sun needed to rise above the steep canyon wall so I had a couple hours to explore the area more carefully for shots. At what would be my first frame, I set up my camera atop the tall Gitzo G1325 tripod then wandered about more freely with my Coolpix in hand. I tend to be very patient when working worthy shots and thus often will wait considerable periods instead of just taking a shot and moving on. At the small apertures for maximum depth of field I tend to shoot at, shutter speeds need to be set to rather slow speeds thus requiring still subjects to prevent image blur. An image captured on large 4x5 film contains so much fine detail that blurred out of focus movement is more noticeable thus to be avoided. Since the Provia 100F film is ASA 100, that speed is often between a slow 1/8 and 1/30 a second during the day. Accordingly for work on any subject requiring lack of movement like wildflowers, lake reflections, or fall leaves, I am quite patient waiting for breezes to adequately wane before depressing my shutter. I took a half dozen images in the area including three nice ones on the below slide show capturing the vibrant red leaves up against the sky, 06-HH4-4w, the grove with rusty Paleozoic geology of Piute Crags in background, 06-HH5-1w, and at noon a nice image with the road centered looking down the tunnel, 06-HH6-2w. Fortunately there were far fewer cars coming by on the road this Tuesday as were on Monday. That allowed me enough time to set up and take a picture in the middle of the road without having to abruptly scurry out of the way.
In the afternoon clouds built up and winds increased as the approaching forecast front moved in. I re-supplied in Bishop then drove north 60 miles to Mono Lake where I hiked about some looking for images with yellow blooms of rabbitbush and the aquamarine hues of the lake behind. However it was already too late in the afternoon making waters too dark due to the phenomenon of total internal refraction. I drove towards the Parker Bench taking the nasty dirt road up to where I would overnight at the huge Mount Wood aspen grove. That 4WD road is always a difficult effort in my old low wheelbase Subaru. In several places the same familiar big rocks stick up above the road making passage barely possible. I managed to reach the grove with renewed respect for the difficulty. I parked behind some especially tall aspen where I startled a herd of about a dozen does that apparently had the same idea. Strong winds noisily blew all during the night. I was glad to be inside my sedan where sounds were considerably muted. I did regret having driven up there to overnight as a snowstorm might leave me with the difficult task of driving back down the treacherous road without being able to easily see the rocks.
Instead of a storm, dawn on Wednesday October 4, showed only partly cloudy skies and no new snow on the peaks. So the forecast storm had others plans? Later I learned it only delayed its arrival. It was still quite windy that would make any effort to work the Mount Wood grove fruitless. I quickly drove back down the obstacle course of rocks then north on US395. Well I needed to get some shots of a favorite though obscure set of big aspen trunks north of Mono Lake. Since that area was rather down in a dense forest, I knew it offered more hope of enough calm to potentially get a shot in. My friend Doug and I had located the shot of five backlit aspen trunks several years ago when I was shooting medium format 6x7 that provided a fine image I market on my website. However subsequent trips with my view camera have not yielded a better image. I was glad to see the leaves on those trees looked better than even on our first visit. Ideally I needed some clouds above my position to add some diffuse light but all I had was sunny blue skies filtering through the quite yellow canopy of leaves. Nice yet not ideal. I exposed three sheets of film including 06-HH7-1w and in the same grove 06-HH7-2w.
The winds were blowing lots of leaves off aspen thus I knew the higher Bishop Creek groves were taking a beating. So my visit Monday and Tuesday had been at the optimal time this fall of 2006. Later in the morning I explored other areas of Lundy Canyon then drove back south on US395 and west on the June Lake road to a Rush Creek area above Grant Lake. There I took a couple of familiar images of red hued creek dogwood and black cottonwood along the creek before finding a place to disperse camp near June Lake. Despite exposing several sheets there over four seasons, I have not yet made a strong image though I know it has the potential. Such initial failures are often the course of photography even for those with strong skills. Breezes finally waned some during the night but the damage had obviously been done for any photographers just now arriving along the Eastern Sierra.
On the chilly morning of Thursday October 5 I drove further south on US395 then west on the McGee Creek road to the trailhead at 7,800 feet. Large shadows in the canyon allowed my enjoying an hour for reading a book I'd been working on during off hours of the trip. At 8:30am I grabbed my gear and headed up the familiar trail a mile to a position where I could view aspen conditions further up the canyon. That showed mediocre color so I went back taking the creek-side trail and venturing a bit into the dense areas of black cottonwood. I couldn't help but think about two large mountain lions my friend Doug and I had surprised just a dozen feet from us in that area during a trip in early July. Skies remained partly cloudy though it was still quite breezy. It was about 10am now and I next drove back north a bit to the Convict Lake road and out to that trailhead where morning cars of fishermen already filled the end lot parking positions. Out around the south shore of the lake on the well used trail, I vectored off at a disguised spot climbing up to a brushy opening where I could shoot the tops of the sizeable aspen grove behind the lake with Sevehah Cliff behind. After that I hiked about 3 hours of unproductive though fascinating ramblings behind the lake where I came upon two-week-old deer kills and mountain lion scat full of deer hairs. Just another unproductive day among most for this photographer, but as usual wiser for efforts. With photography one needs to be patient and persevere with stubborn resolve. I decided to return to Bishop Creek where an internet photography group would be meeting at the Four Jeffries Inyo National Forest campground. Before doing so I visited Bishop again to re-supply and phoned up my friend Doug back in the SF Bay Area who would be driving out Friday evening, then meeting me at an arranged camp location. That evening I joined a couple others where we spent several hours conversing beside a nice campfire.
Friday morning October 6 everyone rose early in the shady campground. Before long four of us split up into two groups with myself and another person heading up to North Lake. I was surprised to find breezes wane enough to take yet another couple reflection images at the lake. However the trees both behind the lake and at the road tunnel of aspen had lost much of their aesthetic with blown off leaves and dulling leaf colors. Peak conditions can be so brief and abruptly change after a single storm. A large photography workshop group out of the famous Galen Rowel Mountain Light Gallery was holding a morning field session there. Chilly temperatures were only in the mid 20s causing ice to form around lake edges. I rock hopped across the creek then wandered around the northeast shore. Quite amusing watching what they were all independently doing. One poor guy was shivering just dressed in shorts and without gloves or headgear. I looked like the Pirelli Tire Man. When some fleeting calm occurred I exposed yet another couple lake reflection images though knew they would not be any better than ones I've taken during past seasons.
I took the other person from the internet group who also had a view camera on a mile long hike to a secret pond up on the canyon walls where I exposed a couple more sheets. Quite a nice adventure with some fine images though they won't be processed as aspen in the landscape had lost enough leaves that I know a better shot awaits me probably next year in 2007. By late morning we returned to the parking area then said goodbyes. I drove out to visit some areas in the Longley Meadow area I had failed to work in on the road trip. It was noon now and some towering cumulous clouds began forming above the big peaks including Mount Humphreys. Despite the rather harsh midday light, I am still wondering if I should have searched a bit more for a decent foreground of the yellow hued blooms of rabbitbush given the great clouds.
I drove north on US395 as the sky above the crest was full of dark clouds with some sizeable thunderstorms. At Lee Vining I spent a couple bucks renting computer time for 15 minutes at the Mono Lake Committee visitor center. So the storm was just now arriving...hmmm! I drove further north and set up for an hour on a sweeping landscape with storm clouds but the clouds just did not cooperate enough though I exposed a sheet, 06-HH10-3w with snow obscuring the peaks more than I'd dial in. The thunderstorms unleashed a few loud bolts and considerable higher areas became snow covered. Late in the afternoon I drove to our meeting spot at the Twisted Red Aspen Grove though wondered about the wisdom of camping there at its somewhat high elevation if the snow became more serious. I was elated to see the absolutely stunning conditions of aspen color in the grove. Saturday was looking more promising now! The thunderstorms cleared a bit showing white hills in the distance to the east. As dusk waned at 6:45pm I'd already cooked some spaghetti and meatballs and retired to the peaceful confines of my sedan. The Subaru's rear seats fold down allowing me to lay out with my head behind the passenger seat. I have a worn out synthetic bag atop a foam pad and above that my -5F degree down mummy winter bag that I tend to use blanket style unless temps really get down to wee digits. For some reason I was so tired that I was asleep before bothering to read any more in the astrobiology book I'd been reading. At about 11:30pm I woke up and decided to read some. It was quite a blustery chilly evening though only snow flurries had occurred. About 12:30am the headlights of my friend Doug's Subaru station wagon creeping down the 4WD road were a welcome sight. He had quite the tale of being the very last vehicle across icy Sonora Pass before Caltrans blocked the road. Some vehicles with trailers had got in trouble blocking that quite steep road thus delaying him awhile.
On Saturday morning October 7 we were surprised to see mostly clear skies to the east, clouds above crest peaks, and hardly a breeze stirring the frosty landscape. It was however icy all over with a covering of snow on landscapes higher up. We wandered into the Twisted Red Aspen Grove where I exposed just one sheet. Skies changed during early morning to a mostly sunny blue that made light within the grove too harsh. However by mid morning clouds were again returning. I didn't want to waste any film there until more clouds as forecast formed providing better diffuse lighting conditions. Instead we drove over to the area of 5 backlit aspen trunks I'd shot on Wednesday morning and as expected found lots of missing leaves as well as brown spotted leaf rot on lower branches of aspens where frigid cold air sumped along the creek at night. Oh well timing is everything with aspen.
Back at our grove, clouds had built up and were actually becoming too darkly thick. Ideally thin overcast works better as a diffuse light condition. We explored around and around back and forth crunching noisily through the groundcover of deadfall, drying leaves, and sagebrush, sizing up every possible frame to shoot. A bit after noon clouds began to thin some producing outstanding diffuse light. The whole grove glowed in wonderful light. Small birds came alive chirping among the branches and chipmunks scurried about happily for forest treats. Within about a two-hour period I reeled off several of my surveyed frames in quick order, 06-HH12-3w, 06-HH13-4w and 06-HH14-1w. At one point a doe with two cute fawns quietly passed through this out of the way grove. Later in the afternoon clouds cooperated less, however we both continued taking some images at times when the sun found thin holes between the solid blanket of clouds. We considered driving south to Mono Lake where a full moon would be rising just before sunset. However there were simply too many clouds to the east above the lake to make that effort worth our time. Besides this day would be remembered as one of the finest I've spent anywhere photographing fall foliage so felt like we didn't need to go anywhere as we were already sitting on the pot of gold. In the evening we enjoyed our now quite cold camp spot especially since friend Doug found a little bottle of wine he'd forgotten about. After that the chilly night quickly drove us into our respective cars and warm sleeping bags.
Sunday October 8 was the last day of my road trip. At dawn a few clouds above had potential to catch some sunrise light so I began stirring in my car getting gear ready. Outside was easily the coldest of the trip. A heavy icy frost covered everything. Bundled up in all my heavy clothing, I walked several hundred yards off to a sunrise spot I surveyed that didn't really work. A bit later I did capture the setting moon over the aspen grove but that too was mediocre. We went back in the grove a couple hours to finish up some leftovers, 06-HH15-1w and 06-HH15-4w, then headed north on US395 to Conway Summit where we stopped to take an icon shot across aspen groves towards Dunderberg Peak. For the first time in several visits decent clouds were moving over that peak that resulted in the last image, 06-HH16-2w, from the road trip on the slide show below. Of 70 frames I exposed over the week, 5 were tossed, with almost all the remaining reasonably exposed. Setting exposure for narrow latitude transparency film is such a mix of skill, experience, and luck. Still I almost never bracket just like many other large format pros. A very productive week it was though only three of the eight days provided most of the better images. Doug and I split up at that point as I continued north to Bridgeport. Further north, visiting a stream area with red and orange aspen, I looked for leaf close ups three hours using my little Coolpix digital camera. That produced material for this short aspen leaf close up slide show. In late afternoon I crossed over snow dusted Sonora Pass and over four hours drove the long highways home.
The third fall road trip I would make this year of 2006 would be to the west side of the southern Sierra in order to photograph dogwood together hopefully sometimes with giant sequoia. Unfortunately weather forecasts were for continued sunny stale air days with possibly some tropical borne clouds Monday or Tuesday. Without a deck of clouds over the forest providing even diffuse lighting, it would be impossible to successful capture the usually shady conditions below in the sequoia groves. In fact in many cases even overhead clouds won't help if the overstory is too shady and in that situation the only thing that works is when a thin cloud deck is right at forest level. Yeah mist all about illuminated just above by sunshine is the real deal that can make leaves glow like nothing else. After receiving an email pic of peaking conditions from a local of Tulare County, I figured a trip was a worthwhile gamble. So friend Doug with just the weekend off, and I drove down independently on Friday night October 20. On Saturday we drove about a sequoia grove in the Tule River drainage I had become familiar with in 2005. However the leaves were less impressive maybe due to a rather dry summer along with the fact the big precipitation over most of the Sierra during 2006 did not include the far southern end of the range. Both Pacific dogwood and the understory of such plants as thimbleberry appeared to have peaked maybe a week before and had a much drier look versus in 2005 when several bouts of monsoonal thunderstorm flow kept the area wetter and greener. Given the harsh sunny light above, I managed to expose just two sheets all day while Doug just lugged his gear about for the exercise. (:
Sunday mid morning October 22 we drove north towards Sequoia National Park hoping for better conditions at Giant Forest. Along the steep winding grade above the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River lots of black oak and a few nice bigleaf maple were turning yellows. When we reached where highway SR190 winds up through Sequoia Creek, we found the immense dogwood understory below firs and giant sequoia to be absolutely peaking with good color and were relieved to see none of the dry leaf conditions of further south. Arriving at the main grove of Giant Forest, we immediately hiked up the Hazelwood Nature Trail where well-spaced giant sequoia and dogwood adorn a shady small stream canyon. There we were fortunate to find sunshine illuminating through a gap in the tall trees onto the one exceptional group of larger dogwood. I exposed two backlit frames, 06-II1-4w, on that fine subject and we investigated a number of other potential compositions that would work only if we had diffuse light from clouds. Late in the afternoon Doug hit the road back to the SF Bay Area while I checked out possible sunset shots near Moro Rock before driving north out of the park into Sequoia National Forest to disperse camp.
California dogwood aka Pacific dogwood, cornus natallii, grow on moist western Sierra slopes at 2500 to 6500 foot elevations as a dense understory below taller conifers. One often finds jungles of trees along seeps and small streams. These small often-bushy trees are usually 10 to 30 feet in height. Conspicuously veined leaves are 3 to 5 inches narrow oval shaped with a pointed tip. In the fall leaves turn to beautiful shades of pink, yellow, orange, peach, and red. Additionally the small diameter end branches of new growth are a beautiful deep red to pink. Magnificent giant sequoia, sequoia gigantea, are the world's largest single trees living in the Sierra Nevada in isolated groves at mainly 4500 to 7500 feet. Specimens are among the oldest trees at over 3000 years with heights of 250 feet and immense girths of over 20 feet in diameter. Below the giants in the image at right are dogwood and dense thimbleberry, rubus parviflorus, the leaves of which turn a wonderful yellow on the forest floor adding yet another aesthetic component to these landscapes. They also provide a tasty red berry.
Monday at dawn I awoke parked on a lonely 4WD road to clear skies. However as I drove south on SR190 up beside Little Baldy views to the south showed a wide belt of thin scattered clouds moving north as was potentially forecast on Friday. Excited I continued south on the highway with several possible scenarios of action playing through my mind. By time I reached Giant Forest, the first band of clouds had moved overhead. I chose to first work The Four Horsemen in the Sequoia Creek canyon right along state route 190. There four tall sequoia line up side by side with the highway splitting to route around one tree. Looking up the narrowed road, the split highway median is covered with ferns and thimbleberry with the background a dim forest of tall firs and a glowing understory of mostly dogwood. After exposing three sheets on the four sequoias, 06-II3-1w, I took three more elsewhere along a mile long section of the road.
Later in the morning, clouds waned leaving just a few floating by. I knew going back to the Hazelwood area would not be productive so instead ventured to another area along a stream where I found some good material with dogwood to shoot front lit with sunshine. One interesting phenomenon I encountered was swarming ladybug beetles. The swarmings are to mate and prepare to overwinter in the lower canyon bottoms. The well-known red shell with black dot beetles concentrated on all manner of objects from vegetation to logs to rocks. In fact they were continually landing on me and crawling about. My nylon film holder case is a bright red and did they ever love that. Gee I just left that outside my camera daypack a minute and when I looked down immediately saw how they associated the red with clumps of their own kind. Made me chuckle wondering how amusing it would be watching someone in the area wearing a red t-shirt. With sun dominating I only exposed a couple more frames the rest of the day before returning to my viewpoint near famous Moro Rock for end of day work.
A second broad band of thin clouds was moving northward towards the park again that made for some potential exceptional skies at dusk. Unfortunately air to the west in the southern San Joaquin Valley was quite murky with haze and smog. One of the dirtiest basins of chronically stale inversion air in the country. I climbed up to the overlook I'd explored Sunday afternoon. In the near distance to the southeast, people the size of ants stuck out above Moro Rock at 6725 feet above the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River canyon over 4000 feet below. Due south far below the cliff I was perched atop, the highway switchbacked up the steep canyon wall and further down slivers of the river about the town of Three Rivers reflected skylight in the shadowy canyon. Westward a near band of yellow fall leaves of black oak provided a telephoto foreground to receding ridges and canyons of yellow backlit Raleigh scattering. Light on Moro Rock was dimmed by the haze as I exposed a sheet regardless, that ended up rather nice. However a bit later during dusk, clouds well above the hazy dust and smog of the valley turned fine shades of orange and red. After the fine day, I drove back north to my lonely 4WD road to spend the night.
On Tuesday morning October 24, only a few high clouds were visible in the hazy sunny skies. I spent the morning exploring three new areas but hardly exposed any film due to the harsh light. Time well spent, as I now know a few more places to go during future visits. I hike, backpack, and explore a great deal, expending considerable efforts, which provides many superb photography subjects to return to when I know conditions will work. In the late afternoon I explored more in Giant Forest where dogwood are rather scarce though did not expect to find anything. But I was surprised to find a quite red leaved tree and some yellow leaved quaking aspen well positioned to include a couple big trees, 06-II6-4w. Note aspen are rather uncommon at sequoia elevations and this one and the dogwood were both in fine color. Before sunset I drove north into Kings Canyon National Park to a well-known highway viewpoint of the northern end of the Redwood Mountain ridge covered with a fine band of giant sequoia. Arriving with just minutes to spare, I quickly set up my view camera for three exposures of silhouetted sequoias against a few high clouds in the dusk skies that included a sliver crescent moon, 06-II7-2w. Too weary for the long drive home, I overnighted in the national forest again then drove home early Wednesday morning.
A week later, on Tuesday afternoon Halloween October 31, I was back on the road again driving this time to Yosemite Valley. Although I was obviously late for most of the fall color that had peaked maybe ten days earlier, I knew I would still be able to work in some areas. My decision to gamble on this period was due to a weather forecast for mostly cloudy skies. Those clouds were necessary for shooting dim understory areas I was targeting in diffuse light. Arriving in the valley I noted the southside loop drive was now under the same sort of construction the northside loop drive had been earlier in the year so driving about the valley was again a mess of annoying detours with some areas I might have visited now a long hike. At walk-in Camp 4 I paid my $5, set up my tent, then retired early, while a couple of nearby jack-o-lanterns lit with candles were the only sign this was a festive night. My birthday had just occurred and one of my brothers had cooked a 12 pound turkey for me then provided vacuum sealed packages of the tasty mearabbitbush given the great clouds I would be enjoying on whole wheat bread all during the trip.
Wednesday dawn clouds had moved in as forecast. I tossed my camping gear in the Subaru and started a day of driving about from location to location often around in circles at the west end of the valley. I was able to expose a few nice sheets in areas along the Merced River that were deeply covered by fallen leaves. Most black cottonwood, white alder, and Pacific dogwood had already lost leaves, while black oak had already changed from orange yellows to browns, and only bigleaf maple were really now at peak. However the maples with their large bright yellow leaves are an excellent subject, especially for fallen leaf subjects on the ground or floating atop small quiet stream pools 06-JJ1-4w, 06-JJ3-2w. Enough clouds for good diffuse lighting cooperated only a few hours mid morning as the afternoon showed more blue skies than clouds. Later in the evening I would spend most of the evening back at Camp 4 enjoying cooking and wine of others then dodging embers from a warm campfire.
During the night light rain began off and on making for a damp escape with gear back into the car early Thursday morning. I had worked the well past peak west end of the valley I was more familiar with about as much as was worthwhile so spent some time during the previous evening analyzing my topographic maps for other potential areas. Unfortunately because many of the deciduous trees that show color are shorter than the taller pines, they form an understory that tends to be difficult to see from a distance. Thus I headed up on the south side of the Merced River above Happy Isles. My reason for choosing that area was such trees as the maples and dogwood prefer shadowed canyon areas especially at the base of talus where streams and seeps pass through. Although the north side of the river where the John Muir Trail travels up to the bridge below Vernal Fall is one of the most popular trails in the park, very few hikers explore the equestrian trail on the south side. That John Muir Trail section has only a few dogwood where the trail starts near Happy Isles as it is otherwise exposed to the sun and dry, dominated by the drab evergreen, canyon live oak. I was happy to find the equestrian trail to be strikingly different with considerable leaf color all along the route just as I expected.
By time I reached the Illouette Creek confluence, mid-morning had arrived and the sun was now high enough in the sky to provide reasonable diffuse light through the dense canopy. However the light rain had picked up which would limit the number of sheets I would expose till early afternoon when the clouds would thin. I carry a large 3-mil thick polyethelene plastic bag that was frequently moving on and off my camera atop the tripod. Travel in the area was quite treacherous as all the talus was covered with lichen that is extra slippery when wet. And any boulders or rocks in the stream channel that were water polished were extra slippery when wet. Additionally the forest floor was shin deep in fallen leaves of all sorts that had covered many holes between the small boulders. So I was frequently slipping about on slick rocks and hollow leaf piles. Illouette Creek is the largest tributary stream of the Merced River that by November I was able to hop across on boulders here and there. I exposed a dozen sheets on the seven-hour ramble including one superb image of a maple beside the stream, 06-JJ4-4w.
Friday would be my last day in the valley. I headed back to areas above Happy Isles to capture a few images I'd seen that were better shot early in the morning, 06-JJ5-4w. And in the process explored another hidden area that turned out to be rather productive. By late in the afternoon I was on the road driving home once again. A few days later my developed 33 4x5 film sheets showed I'd been rather accurate on the difficult low light exposures and had several rather nice images. ...David Senesac
The slide show includes only 4x5 images from my four September 21 thru 24, October 1 thru 8, October 21 thru 24, and November 1 thru 3 fall foliage road trips. Transparencies herein were crudely scanned on my flatbed scanner then quickly processed for small web-sized display. These images and those from my summer work are not likely to appear on my homepage image index till next spring. However I could drum scan, process, and offer prints of any images a customer is interested in during the interim. To view the slideshow containing 26 images, select this field Fall Foliage 2006 Road Trips slide show.