Yosemite: My Happy Home

1. The Valley | 2. Falls | 3. Half Dome & Beyond | 4. Gear & Tips

Half Dome

The Half Dome hike is the signature hike in Yosemite and a permit is required via a lottery system. There are multiple routes to get there, you can do a day hike starting at Happy Isles via Misty Trail or John Muir, which will take 12-14 hours, or split it up into two by camping at Little Yosemite Valley. Or you can hike down from Glacier Point via Panorama Trail. But either way, it’s a long day hike, so you have to be prepared by bringing water and food.

We started our hike at 4AM in the morning from the valley and didn’t get back until 7PM. It’s highly recommended to travel as light as possible. So I would not recommend bringing all your camera gear, just the ones you need. If you’re going to be taking pictures along the way, I’d recommend saving it for the way back. It’s a long journey ahead and you want to get there as early as possible to avoid the crowd.

Oh, you will have to climb up the rock on steel cables, so bring a pair of glove unless you don’t really care much for the skin on your palms. The climb will get so steep at some point that you’ll feel like Adam West’s Batman scaling up a building.

But really, the only reason you want to do this hike is for one shot….

(Fuji X-E1 | 55mm | f/4)

Once at the top, you get a sweeping view of the mountain ranges. Just be careful where you step. There’s not much traction on the rock and it can be slippery.

(Fuji X-E1 | 16mm | f/13)

Clouds can be a pretty backdrop to the picture, but be weary if they turn to dark storm / thunder clouds... you pretty much at the highest point in the area without a lot of covering.

Beyond the Valley: Tioga Road / Tenaya Lake

If you have an extra day to spend, the High Country portion of the park is also a beautiful area to explore. Take Tioga Road towards Tuolumne Meadow and follow it all the way out to the park’s East exit. You’ll pass some stunning landscape of open fields, streams, and granite boulders. The climate will also be slightly colder and wetter in this area. In fact on some parts it actually snowed… in May!

Pass Tuolumne Meadow you’ll come across Tenaya Lake, which on a calm sunny day will be a reflective pond. There’s a couple turnouts off the main road where you can easily come out to take in the sights.

(Fuji X-E1 | 10mm | f/22 | 40 sec | BW ND3 Filter)

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Outside Yosemite: Mono Lake

Coming out of the park on the East side, you’ll follow Tioga Road as it passes through the mountains. There’s a turnout before a raised bridge where you get a sweeping view of the mountain pass. There aren’t any guardrails on the last bit of the road as well so you’ll get a clear beautiful view of the hillside.

I’m not sure what John Muir would think looking at the view from here, but maybe you’ll realize how magnificent of an engineering it was to create this road and how it seems to serenely merge with its surroundings.

(Fuji X-E1 | 10mm | f/4 | ISO400)

As soon as you come out of the mountain pass, you’ll see a huge body of water that is Mono Lake. A popular recreational area in the summer because of its pristine water and view, it’s also famous for it’s “tufas.” A porous sculpture-like geological feature made out of the calcium carbonite mineral in the water that had dried out at the edges of the lake.

One of the best place to see this is at South Tufa Beach, just off highway 120. Easy to reach from the main road, a little bit of gravel road, and a decent size parking lot. From the parking lot it’s only a few hundred walking yards to see the tufa columns.

(Fuji X-E1 | Panorama Drive Mode | f/8 | 1/640sec | ISO400)

Bring your wide-angle lenses here to take pictures of this alien-like landscape. Add-on an ND filter and you can get a stunning shot of the submerged columns.

(Fuji X-E1 | f/18 | 27 sec | ISO200 | BW ND3 Filter)

Black and white shots also works well here to get that minimal surrealist feel.

(Fuji X-E1 | f/18 | 48 sec | ISO200 | BW ND3 Filter)

I’ve heard that this is also a great place to take star photos at night, will have to check it out one of these days...

Back on Highway 120 there’s also a set of abandoned houses / barns just off the highway. Set agains the backdrop of the sierras, it’s reminiscent of the famed Mormon Row at Grand Tetons National Park. The houses are fenced by barbed wire fences, but you can set your tripod outside of it to take pictures of it.

The fences can be close to 5’8-6’, so if you don’t have a tall tripod, you’ll have to shoot it from between the wires. It was a very stormy day when we visited, which gave a very dramatic atmosphere to the shot.

(Fuji X-E1 | f/13 | 1/250 sec | ISO200)

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