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My First Visit to Yosemite

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  For most of my adult life I have dreamed about visiting Yosemite National Park.  My obsession with Yosemite coincidentally began around the same time my fascination with Ansel Adams began.  Most photographers interested in landscape photography, at some point in their growth journey, will research and learn about Ansel Adams.  I consider Ansel Adams the master of all masters when it comes to landscape photography.  I will admit that over the years there have been many other landscape photographers who have captured my eye (for example Edward Weston and Alfred Stieglitz), but in my mind neither of them have risen to the mythical status of Ansel Adams.  Alfred Stieglitz did more to bring photography to the fine art world, but when it came to pure photographic image creation and expression, Ansel was the master.

  Many years ago in the early 1990's, I would spend my lunch breaks visiting a used bookstore near my office.  I immediately would head to the photography section, grab an Ansel Adams book and sit in the chair pouring through the book taking in each incredible image.  The store would typically have classical music playing which only added to my relaxation and transformation to those mythical locations (Ironically, I would later find out that Ansel Adams was also a trained classical pianist and nearly pursued classical piano rather than photography).  There was just something about the richness of those black & white images created by Ansel that did not seem of this world.  I would return to this bookstore and repeat my routine on a weekly basis for what seemed like several years.  After memorizing every image in the hardbound coffee table book titled Ansel Adams: Classic Images I finally broke down and purchased the book.  I've since acquired pretty much every Ansel Adams book I could get my hands on and even have multiple copies of some.  My favorite Ansel Adams book would have to be Ansel Adams An Autobiography.

  One can't have a fascination with Ansel Adams without also developing a fascination for Yosemite National Park.  Ansel spent most of his life in Yosemite and for more than sixty years either resided there for the entire summer or visited the park during other seasons.  In his autobiography Ansel would recount his first visit to Yosemite as a child with his parents, meeting his future wife Virginia Best at Best Gallery (now the Ansel Adams Gallery) in Yosemite Valley, and describing in great detail his many trips and workshops over the years to Yosemite.  Reading those recollections from Ansel only served to build my fascination with not only Ansel but also with the locations he loved to photograph, primarily Yosemite National Park.  I knew some day I had to get to Yosemite but for one reason or another, my wife, Shari and I could never find the right time to visit.  Between other scheduled family vacations, other family obligations with our two sons with sports and scouting, or for whatever other reason we just didn't get to Yosemite. 

  That changed in the fall of 2012.  We have close friends who retired and moved from Maryland to Arizona and for many years they had wanted us to come and visit them.  We decided to visit in October of 2012 and would combine that trip with a few nights in Utah to visit Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon and would also make the drive into California to Yosemite National Park.  I will admit that at one point we almost decided it would be too much to visit Yosemite on the same trip and there was even a little part of me that thought I might be disappointed in Yosemite since I had built it up to such a mythical standing in my own mind.  Part of me thought maybe I should just leave it as Ansel had built it up in my mind in all its Black & White glory.  Thank goodness my wife told me I needed to have my head examined which helped change my mind about not going.

  It was a twelve hour drive from Zion National Park to Yosemite but that only served to build the anticipation.  While driving into California we decided at the last minute to stop and visit Sequoia National Park to see the Giant Redwoods.  I really enjoyed Sequoia National Park but the delayed anticipation for Yosemite was killing me.  While in Sequoia National Park it was raining pretty heavily and they were also doing some road construction so it took a lot longer than expected to get in and out of the Park.  Our initial plan was to drive the remaining distance, check into our hotel then drive into Yosemite the first evening.  Since it took longer than expected to drive from Sequoia to Yosemite we decided to go directly to Yosemite before checking into the hotel.

  By the time we got to Tunnel View it was pouring rain so hard and the fog was so thick I could barely see El Capitan let alone Half Dome.  On top of that it was beginning to get dark.  I quickly grabbed my tripod, mounted my Canon 5D Mark III with a 24-105 L lens attached and stood under the umbrella grabbing some inclement weather shots.  As if matters couldn't get any worse temperatures were beginning to drop and we heard that they were calling for significant snow that night and the next morning and the park would likely be closed.  We were instructed to check the next few days to see if the park was open.  I thought to myself "are you kidding me!  After all these years and all the anticipation they may not let me into Yosemite".  

  The next morning we called and thankfully the park was open, although due to the heavy snow some of the roads in the upper sections of the park were temporarily closed.  Driving into the park was absolutely beautiful with all the fresh fallen snow from the night before.  Arriving for the second time to Tunnel View was quite different from the previous evening.  Having a clear view of that landscape was something I could not at that time put into words and I still can't find the words to describe the feelings that came over me.  All those years of anticipation and buildup were right in front of me and it was just like I hoped it would be, (I cannot believe I actually thought I may be disappointed). We spent the next several days hiking the meadows, driving the back roads, watching the sunset against El Capitan, and exploring all that we could explore.  It didn't even bother me that a very large male deer with a very large rack head butted our rental BMW driving into the park one morning (I think he may have seen his reflection in the silver vehicle).

  The final fulfillment of my dream came when we visited the Ansel Adams Gallery.  This is the same gallery that Ansel Adams's wife Virginia Best (Adams) family owned when they first met.  The gallery is still in the Adams family to this day.  That afternoon we visited the Ansel Adams Gallery and viewed all the original Ansel Adams prints, some printed by John Sexton and some printed by Ansel himself.  We also ate in the eatery near the gallery, then walked around Yosemite Valley.  What an incredible day and a dream come true.

  For most of the trip we were not allowed to drive up to Glacier Point because the road was closed due to the snow.  On the afternoon of our final day we discovered they had opened the road to Glacier Point so we quickly made the drive to that portion of the park.  What incredible views of Yosemite Valley you have from Glacier Point.  For me this was clearly the trip of a lifetime.  

  Although we have not been back to Yosemite, I definitely want to go back someday so I can continue to explore that famous park that Ansel loved so dearly.  Ansel spent 60 plus years in Yosemite and he still felt like there was more to see.  I can only imagine what all I still have to see after spending only 4 days.  Even though I shot over a thousand images during our brief visit, in order to create an extensive body of work you need to visit many times, different times of the day, and in different seasons.  It sounds like we need to plan another trip.


Below are a few images from our trip to Yosemite:     

(For more of my images of Yosemite please visit the Yosemite National Park Gallery on this site.)   


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My two favorite Ansel Adams books.


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