Yosemite Valley: Winter under Blue Skies


The beginning of Day 6 provided the perfect balance to my visit to Yosemite.  After seeing overcast skies during my arrival, a fresh snowfall the first night, then fog, sleet, and snow as I skiied at Badger Pass on Day 5, I was ready for some blue skies. As I prepared to leave Yosemite Valley, the sun was bright, the clouds were gone, and I was filled with regret that I hadn’t booked an extra day in the park.  My sadness grew even greater, when I drove up to the front desk at the Lodge at the Falls to check out, and saw dozens of people waiting to catch a bus up to Badger Pass.  I had skiied in miserable, cold weather, but they were going to play in the sunshine.

At least I had the drive out of the valley to satisfy my camera’s craving for brilliant light.  And I took my time.

I returned to the area around Sentinel Bridge, which arguably has the best views in the park.  Early on the previous day I had walked around here, trodding through the fresh powder that glazed every twig on every tree with a white glimmer.  On this day, the day-old snow had melted somewhat, leaving the ground somewhat less picturesque…

… but the view of Yosemite Falls was exceptional.

From Sentinel Bridge, one of the best places from which to photograph Half Dome, it was still too early in the day to get a great picture.  The sky was too bright, while the Merced River was too shadowy.

On the other hand, El Capitan was striking.  I took this picture at a picnic area, a mile or two down the road.

From Northside Drive, looking across the valley, you also get a great look at the Cathedral Spires and Cathedral Rocks.  The Rocks are the larger formations, while the Spires are the two pointy formations on the left.

I left my car at the side of the road (you can kinda see it there — I tried to hide it behind the tree) and walked out into the meadow for a better look at El Capitan.

If I had stayed one more night, there’s a very good chance I would have captured a photo of a rare event.  During the winter and spring, Horsetail Fall flows off the east side of El Capitan, but only during the final two weeks of February does the light hit it perfectly, just before sunset.  When it does, the waterfall looks like it’s on fire.  During my two sunsets at Yosemite, it was overcast, and there was no visible sunset, but with the clear skies on Day 6, I feel certain that I would have seen this natural phenomenon, had I stayed another night.

A day earlier, the road through Yosemite Valley was covered with slush, and everything near it was blanketed with snow.  On this day, the warmer weather and bright sun were causing the road to steam, adding a little extra appeal to the drive through the trees.

I nearly missed this great spot for viewing the valley — and it’s a good thing I didn’t, because with Yosemite’s one-way roads, returning to a missed parking area can mean a half-hour loop.  To be safe, turn into every parking area before deciding whether to continue on, or make a stop.

This particular spot is known as Valley View.  It’s near Pohono Bridge, your last chance to cross over to the south side of the Merced River (and to Wawona Road) before exiting the valley on Highway 140.  While you can see just about everything from here…

… El Capitan is once again the star of the show, along with the river itself.

Take Pohono Bridge, then turn on Wawona Road for the trip towards Yosemite’s southern exit.

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