Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Yosemite

Yosemite National Park covers 1,200 square miles. In that vast area, the Sierra Nevada mountains have been carved by glaciers over millions of years, creating the most incredible landscapes. Tourists flock to Yosemite Valley, home of famous rock formations like Half Dome and El Capitano, as well as numerous waterfalls that are a little tame this time of year.

Whilst the Valley is the centre of the park; its most famous and photographed asset, it is but a tiny fraction of the whole. Part of the wonder of this place is the variety of its geography; the granite valleys, sequoia groves, pine forests, lakes, meadows, rockfalls and peaks are stunning contrasts to one another, and all in constant flux.

Almost all of the park is wilderness waiting to be explored on foot, but with time short, I have to drive along the handful of roads. The view points are pretty crowded, but you can get some nice shots if you wait long enough. Whilst the Valley was spectacular, it was very busy, and this is definitely a place where nature rewards solitude. I hunt out a few unlikely trails and get to wander on my own.

Except I'm not entirely alone. Fifty yards away to my left, among the trees, there is a bear. Contrary to my expectations, I don't shit myself, run, or pull out the swiss army knife (maybe if it had been a cougar). I actually just feel privileged. The bear and I stand and size each other up; thoughtful and silent. Photography as art is off the agenda now, this is photography as proof. I don't lug a zoom around with me, and after the dog debacle, now is not the time to practice my animal portraiture technique up close, so this rather crappy image will have to do:




Whilst sizing up the bear, I am being ravaged by mosquitoes from the nearby lake, and therein lies another aspect of Yosemite's wonder. The spectrum of beauty, colour and pure unadulterated nature stretches from the great to the infinitesimally small. Vibrant meadow flowers to giant sequoias; striped baby squirrels (far too quick to photograph) to bloody big bears. At night the sky is free from all light pollution and you can look up at the tiny distant suns coruscating above the huge trees. This place has it all under one clear, star studded roof.

Every time I pick up the camera I'm thinking about what Ansel Adams said, not that it helps. I'm also thinking how I would like to convey the relationship between man and nature, and the solitude that I have been seeking out. Some of them I felt were black and white when I took them. In others the tones are so striking I can't bring myself to take them away. None of the colours have been enhanced.





















Of all the places I have been this year, Yosemite is perhaps the most impressive. I know I'm beginning to sound like a fully paid up tree hugger these days, but in Yosemite more than anywhere else, you really do sense your place in the world, and yield to it. That the park exists, and that its wilderness is protected and preserved is thanks largely to a naturalist and author named John Muir. His words, more than my pictures, scratch beneath the surface of this extraordinary place:

As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.

And that's exactly what Yosemite felt like to me: the heart of the world. Do everything within your power to visit before you die.

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