Illouette Creek Big Leaf Maple

Illouette Creek Bigleaf Maple

full print size of 29.6x23.6 inches @304.8ppi, above displayed at 1/178
Copyright © David Senesac 2006   view detailed crop

geranium Yosemite National Park, Mariposa County
early afternoon Thursday November 2, 2006, slide 06-JJ-16
Wisner 4x5 Expedition, 150mm Nikkor, Gitzo G1325 Mk2
Tango Drum scanned Fuji Provia 100F 4x5 film to 200mb RGB file
Adobe Photoshop 6.0 processed for accurate image fidelity
Lightjet5000 printed on Fuji Crystal Archive paper
signature bottom left

After a night of off and on light rain atop my tent at Camp 4 in Yosmeite Valley, as the sun rose I made a damp escape with gear back into my car. I drove to the John Muir trailhead with a plan to explore the south side of the Merced canyon above. My reason for choosing this area was such trees as 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. Across the river, I was happy to find the equestrian trail to be strikingly different with considerable leaf color all along the route just as I expected.

All morning cycles of light to moderate rain came and went while clouds thickened and thinned. 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 so 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 its seasonal low in early November, I was able to hop across on boulders here and there. At one point I could see intense yellow color of a well lit maple through branches of the dense trees in this area so made my way to this location.

I am always excited to see magnificent specimens of any tree species and so it was with this maple that also just happened to be right next to the creek where I might include some of the water in a frame.

Nicely, its dark gracefully arching branches were not hidden beneath its canopy but rather open beside the stream where its large fallen leaves decorated granite boulders. However in order to maximize the maple, I would need to use my normal lens instead of my wide angle lens. That complicated matters of framing the stream because I'd need to back away some from the near foreground in order to obtain adequate depth of field. Though boulders about the creek were especially slippery, I slowly crept onto a precarious position atop one where I could peer down then went about stabilizing a tripod position and framing the scene. After inserting a film holder, I observed the nature of light on the maple while the diffuse sunlight varied with passing thicknesses of clouds. Not surprisingly, I noted the leaves looked best when the clouds were thin providing best transluscent glow versus even lighting of less overall scene contrast.

Bigleaf maple, acer macrophyllum, is the only large maple species in western North America. Its up to 12 inch long palmately lobed leaves are the largest of any maple species. Mature trees are typically 30 to 70 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet in diameter. One often finds these maples along streams and shadowy talus slopes of the western Sierra Nevada at 2000 to 5600 foot altitudes. Larger specimens can be found in other Pacific mountains closer to the coast. In the mid fall of later October through early November, maples along with dogwoods and black oaks are the last Sierra tree species to undergo autumn leaf color changes. Despite the fact a great many photographers pursue quaking aspen for fall color in the Eastern Sierra a few weeks earlier, relatively few are still about when the final fall curtain closes. At frame center one can also see the salmon colored leaves of a Pacific dogwood, cornus nutalli. And the small Christmas tree sized fir adorned with fallen leaves below is a baby Douglas fir, pseudotsuga menziesii.

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   David Senesac

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