Yosemite’s Half Dome | Beebower Productions

Discovering Giants

After two successful weeks of exploring California’s Central Coast, Dad continued on his epic, really, really long photo quest through California.  Mom and Dad crammed a lot of sightseeing into this half of their trip.  As a result, they only stayed a few days at each stop.  

The “Mouse House” (the folks’ Casita) left Monterey and rolled east toward Sequoia National Park.  My Mom had a few moments of vertigo as they wound their way up and down the precarious mountain roads.  She may have even asked “Are we there yet?” because she really wanted to be on a nice flat piece of road at the bottom of the valley.

They finally arrived at Sequoia. There Dad found giants, actually a whole grove of goliaths.  The giant sequoia tree (Sequoiadendron gigantean) grows in one place on earth, the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California between 5,000’ to 8,000’.  While that’s a mighty limited range, clearly the trees have found a happy home.  

These goliaths are one of the fastest growing plants on earth producing 40 cubic feet of wood a year.  But they aren’t the tallest trees in the world.  That honor goes to coast redwoods; however, the sequoias are massive forest denizens.  

The Discovery Tree at Calaveras Big Trees State Park was 24 feet at its base when it was cut down in 1853.  Locals used the stump as a dance floor and gathering place.  Later on part of the stump housed a bowling alley and bar.  Now that’s a big stump.

Naturally Dad wanted to capture at least one image of these massive trees.  However, the weather wasn’t looking too good the night before his arrival at Sequoia.  Not only did it snow, it rained too.  Never one to give up easily, Dad forged ahead in photographing the trees.  

The Sentinel | Beebower Productions

He didn’t have to work too hard at finding The Sentinel.  It was right outside the Giant Forest Museum.  Bonus–the light was perfect for one brief moment when the clouds parted.  The problem was fitting the monster into the camera frame.  Even with a 16mm lens, Dad couldn’t do it.  

The Sentinel stands at 257.6’ tall. That’s about 22 floors in a skyscraper.  The tree’s diameter is  25.1’.  This tree is one big sucker, but it’s considered average for a sequoia. Dad, however, loved the look of the majestic goliath, so he seized the moment and began photographing.  His solution to the height problem was to photograph the tree in pieces and then assemble it in Photoshop once he returned home. 

But Dad still wanted to photograph the granddaddy of all the giant sequoias.  That title goes to The General Sherman at 275’ tall and also located in Sequoia National Park. It’s hard to imagine the immenseness of these trees without actually walking amongst them.  Dad did.  

He hiked down a snowy, icy path in spitting rain to visit The General.  But he was disappointed.  It didn’t look nearly as regal as The Sentinel, especially when he looked at his images on the computer. Thus Dad’s top pick of his photos from Sequoia remains The Sentinel.  Sometimes less is more.

Photo Lesson

Timing is everything.  A lot of stuff in the park didn’t open until May due to snow and bad weather.  Knowing about the seasons in a park helps photographers plan a successful shoot.

Dad felt mid-summer would be good for photos because everything would be open. However, it’s also very crowded.   Photographers often gamble with crowds, weather and Murphy’s Law to get a great picture.  To get started planning your trip visit www.nps.gov/seki/index.htm.  

Sequoia might have been crowded, but not as crazy as his next stop on the road trip.

Yosemite National Park

When I think of visiting a national park, I envision wide-open spaces, rugged scenery and a photographic challenge.  That’s the way it was in my childhood.  We traipsed about countless Western national parks with nary a person in sight.  In fact, I remember begging my mother to take me to a city for a vacation, any city.

So you can imagine my shock while trying to visit many state and national parks on the West coast.  They’re crowded.  Really, really crowded.  Yosemite is no exception.  Over 4,000,000 people visit the park annually.

Dad arrived at Yosemite on Mother’s Day weekend.  He’s certain all 4,000,000 people were there trying to take photos.  They ranged from professionals to amateurs to the truly clueless all vying for a snapshot and a parking space.

Dad opted to use the shuttle bus system to get around since he was driving a large van with the Casita attached.  Parking would have been a nightmare.  The shuttle system was great except you had to know exactly where you wanted to go and which route to take.

Luckily Dad approached all of this as a scouting mission, so it was no big deal if they caught the wrong bus and a happy day if he got a great photo.  This attitude served him well.

One of the happy shots Dad took was a bright, sunny Half Dome, a well-known granite formation at the eastern end of Yosemite Valley.  Half Dome looms large over the park literally and figuratively at 8,836’ tall.  

Thousands of excellent photographers have captured the many moods of the rock, so the challenge is coming up with something new.  While Dad’s image didn’t re-write photographic history, he was pleased he got something amongst all of the pushing and shoving by other tourists wanting photos.  Now that he’s been to the park, he’ll be able to build a plan for capturing a more creative image on future trips.

Yosemite’s Horsetail Falls | Beebower Productions

Another Yosemite icon is Horsetail Falls.  Photographers inundate the park in mid-to late-February because the sunset reflects on the water making the falls seemingly glow like molten lava.

Again, Dad found himself at the falls in the spring not winter, so he captured the massive rush of water that cascades 1000’ feet down into the valley instead of the winter glowing falls.  As it turns out, the best time for a flush waterfall is the spring because the snow melts flood the river creating a spectacular cascade.

Ansel Adams knew that.  Adams, an extremely talented photographer, scoured Yosemite for years and captured amazing black and white images.  No trip to the park would be complete without a stop at his gallery in the heart of Yosemite Valley. You can purchase Adams’ work at the gallery or view exhibitions of other talented artists, attend workshops and go on guided expeditions.  As Dad says, you can always learn more about photography by studying your fellow artists.

Photo Lesson

Set yourself up for success.  Consider the first trip you take to a new location a scouting mission.  That way you learn about potential photos you could take and come away happily surprised if you do get a good shot.  Approaching a trip this way takes the pressure off of you so you actually enjoy the adventure.  Your traveling companions will thank you.  Visit www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm to learn about the ins and outs of touring Yosemite.

A Freebie

While traveling up Interstate 5 in Siskiyou County, CA toward the next stop on the road trip, a photo fell into Dad’s lap.  It’s rare, but every once in a great while it happens.  Dad recognized Mt. Shasta, a 14,179’ tall volcano, from some of his previous commercial shoots.  Pristine snow coated the mountain and a snappy blue sky popped out behind it.  

Dad whipped into the scenic pull out, opened the door and shot.   Talk about everything coming together!    He was so close to the mountain he had to use the Canon 70-200mm lens instead of his Canon 400mm lens.  What a deal.

Mt. Shasta | Beebower Productions

Photo Lesson

Always be prepared.  You never know when a photo will drop into your lap.  Don’t miss it or you’ll be kicking yourself for weeks!  

To learn more about Mt. Shasta visit www.fs.usda.gov/detailfull/stnf/home/?cid=STELPRDB5360169&width=full

Redwood National and State Parks

Our intrepid travelers next veered west to visit Redwood National and State parks along the coast of Northern California.  As the name suggests, the parks form a corridor to protect the tall coast redwood trees that populate the land.  Highway 101 cruises right through the area giving visitors a true sense of their own smallness.

Coast redwood trees (Sequoia sempervirens)are cousins to the giant sequoias.  Redwoods, however, can reach 300’ tall and can live 2,000 years.  Like the sequoias, they have a small native range from southern Oregon to parts of the Central Coast of California.  Because they are so rare people love to photograph these giants.

The shear size of the trees and the immense denseness of the forest can make photographs a challenge, though.  The trees’ foliage creates split light on a sunny day.  While we can see the contrasts in light with our eyes, the camera can’t.  Photos taken in such choppy light end up with very dark areas and overly bright spots.

So it’s best to photograph these giants on overcast or foggy day.  If that’s not possible you should focus in on a small detail like the patterns in the bark or twisted branches.  Another option would be backing out to take an overall forest photo.

Ferns | Beebower Productions

Dad focused on these detail shots, including what grew under the trees.  Ferns abound in this lush environment. Other photographic treats include California rhododendrons, Roosevelt elk, harbor seals, whales or coastline landscapes.  Learn everything you ever wanted to know about the park at www.nps.gov/redw/index.htm.

For Dad, though the best discovery at Redwoods was the Historic Hiouchi Café 10 miles east of Crescent City, CA.  Dad loves breakfast.  At the Hiouchi they know how to serve breakfast.  

He ate the biggest, thickest pancakes he’s ever seen.  They resembled wagon wheels.  It was a breakfast that could cause a lumberjack to swoon.  The waitress was super friendly and the food arrived quickly.   If you’re in the area definitely stop at the Historic Hiouchi Café located at 2095 Highway 99, Crescent City.

Photo Lesson

Sometimes food is more important than a photo.  To keep photographing, you need a full belly. Follow the locals. They usually know about the yummy hole-in-the-wall dining possibilities.

Join us next week as we wrap up Dad’s West coast photographic quest.  He heads north to Oregon and Washington state to capture images of iconic lighthouses, mysterious islands, massive waterfalls and a not-so-great wildlife refuge.

Get Great Beebower Photos & More!

Receive our Photo of the Month Newsletter with tips, techniques, and more fun stories!
Plus be the first to know about events and special promotions!

You have Successfully Subscribed!