A Family Trip to Yosemite with Forest Fires and Photography

A Family Trip to Yosemite with Forest Fires and Photography on Falcondale Life Blog. Smoke from Big Meadow Fire 2009. Our family trip to Yosemite coincided with the Big Meadow Fire of 2009. Smoke and a broken camera made photography difficult, and we had British reserve too which added to our photography woes. But the children enjoyed it! Read more on the blog.

It’s now 8 years since we visited the USA with our children to see my brother and his family. At the time our girls were 7 and 4 years old. We flew to San Francisco and took a trip for a few nights to Yosemite. We booked into a motel near El Portal. It was August and very hot.

It’s Snowing Ash!

A Family Trip to Yosemite with Forest Fires and Photography on Falcondale Life Blog. Smoke from Big Meadow Fire 2009

When we pulled up at the hotel it was immediately obvious that something was wrong. We stepped out of the car and our clothing began to be covered in large white flecks. There was a distinct smell of smoke on the breeze and ash was falling like snow at quite a rate all around. We couldn’t see a fire and went to check in.

The hotel staff said that a prescribed burn of the forest was underway In Big Meadow to the west. Within just two hours it had got out of control. Communication from the authorities was very good, and we were told that there was no danger. Although some areas in the north-west of the park had been closed, we could continue with our visit. So we did.

It wasn’t ideal. Over the next couple of days we explored the park in the car and on foot but in most areas above the valley floor, there was a smoke cloud. Yosemite is famous for its views and mighty vistas, but a lot of the time it was like looking through a foggy window. At the time this was the biggest disaster in the history of the park and the biggest uncontrolled forest fire recorded there.

You can see smoke in all these photos.

A Family Trip to Yosemite with Forest Fires and Photography on Falcondale Life Blog. Smoke from Big Meadow Fire 2009

My Camera Breaks Down

My camera was misbehaving. I was using a fairly average lens, the 17 to 85mm EOS on a crop frame Canon DSLR. It wouldn’t focus, the aperture wouldn’t stop down and there was big spot on the sensor. Even worse my darling husband wouldn’t really believe me either. The more I struggled to take pictures, the more my kids got impatient, the more we all became fraught. To give my husband his credit, he was keeping kids calm and couldn’t give me his full attention.

Yosemite is stunning and is the one place where you really do not want to have a camera failure or an obscuring smoke cloud. It was ruddy annoying. I gave up trying to take shots like Ansel Adams and just captured what I could of our family time.

A Family Trip to Yosemite with Forest Fires and Photography on Falcondale Life Blog. Giant Redwood fallen

Photography Tip

I do have one tip for taking photos in smoky conditions which is to use a polarizing filter. It cut out quite a lot of the haze and I think that is because ash is a more angular substance than water droplets. So it’s possible to turn the polarizer to obscure some of the sunlight which reflects on the particles.

Forest Fire

A Family Trip to Yosemite with Forest Fires and Photography on Falcondale Life Blog. Smoke from Big Meadow Fire 2009

A Family Trip to Yosemite with Forest Fires and Photography on Falcondale Life Blog. Smoke from Big Meadow Fire 2009 and helicopter fighting flames

On the way back to El Portal on the first day, we saw the forest fire on the hillside opposite us. It was an astonishing sight. It was the biggest ball of flame I have ever seen in my life. We couldn’t stop right there so my photo is taken from a much lower altitude and you can’t see the mass of orange. We told the hotel staff what we had seen and they were startled that the fire had got so close. They checked with the authorities that we were going to be ok and thankfully we were.

Making a Family Visit to Yosemite

A Family Trip to Yosemite with Forest Fires and Photography on Falcondale Life Blog. Walk through the woods

A Family Trip to Yosemite with Forest Fires and Photography on Falcondale Life Blog. Smoke from Big Meadow Fire 2009 and waterfall

Yosemite is a natural park with a strong environmental emphasis. It is popular with thousands of visitors so the authorities are very keen on promoting recycling and the preservation of the habitat. There are no adventure playgrounds or strings of diners and shops. There are cafes and toilets and little museums and displays. There’s also a road train which tours the valley floor.

Our girls really did enjoy it. There were rocks to climb and streams to paddle in. There were impressive waterfalls and we looked through binoculars at rock climbers a mile high on El Capitan. We saw impossibly large redwood trees. It was all very enthralling for the whole family. The girls grabbed our compact cameras and took hundreds of blurry shots. This just proved to us how impressed they were with the views, because they were attempting to record it. It’s true they didn’t have patience to wait for me to take MY photos, but hey …. I just had to snap stuff from a moving car. Not ideal either!

A Family Trip to Yosemite with Forest Fires and Photography on Falcondale Life Blog. Smoke from Big Meadow Fire 2009 and Half Dome

Half Dome beset by smoke

Getting That One Photo

The one photo that I really wanted was a picture for the mantelpiece of our whole family in front of one of Yosemite’s impressive views. At Glacier point with Half Dome behind us, we found the ideal spot. But I needed to collar someone to take our photo. Suddenly, someone overheard our English accents and exclaimed “oh my gosh you’re English! My wife loves those princes of yours”. He was off on one. I felt completely exhausted listening to him chatter happily about our Englishness and how we probably knew the Royal family personally. (I didn’t have to say much, I just nodded in agreement every now and again). After ten minutes he walked away and I let him go without asking for help with the photo. I felt quite drained.

A Family Trip to Yosemite with Forest Fires and Photography on Falcondale Life Blog. Smoke from Big Meadow Fire 2009

I have no idea who the clown on the rock is!

Discovering My British Reserve

I would have to approach someone to take our family photo and it became clear that a timid “er excuse me, would you mind terribly” was not going to cut it. For the first time ever, I understood that I had British Reserve. It was a moment of true self-discovery to realise this.

Summoning every scrap of exuberance I could, I approached a nearby couple. “Hi, isn’t that a great view? I say, would you mind just taking a photo of us?” I said many other things too which I don’t remember and kept up the chatter in a very non-British style. They were a bit slow to agree but that turned out to be because they had just walked 3 miles uphill. We got the photo, smoke cloud, Half Dome and all. It never went on the mantelpiece; I was too disappointed with the smoke. And I still cringe when I think about that unnatural conversation!

A Family Trip to Yosemite with Forest Fires and Photography on Falcondale Life Blog. Smoke from Big Meadow Fire 2009 and Half Dome with a family portrait

 

You can see a shot of the Big Meadow fire looking how I remember it in this newspaper report.

Read about our cultural experiences in France in the Travel category of this blog.

More photography tips can be found in the Photography category too.

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Untold Morsels

17 Comments

  1. 3rd April 2017 / 12:54 am

    That’s a bummer that your Yosemite experience wasn’t the best, because it truest is one of the most amazing places. But your photos still look nice even with the smoke.
    #farawayfiles

  2. 2nd April 2017 / 10:03 am

    The first time I went to Yosemite it was February and dense fog shrouded the valley. At one point it cleared momentarily to reveal El Capitan but not long enough to get the camera out! Still at least I had an excuse to visit again! #farawayfiles

  3. 31st March 2017 / 7:07 pm

    You made the best of the situation! It must have been quite scary with the fires going on. I love the photo of the massive tree felled. #Wkendtravelinspiration

  4. 31st March 2017 / 10:57 am

    I love your description of having to break out of your British reserve to ask someone to take a photo. I can really sympathise – it’s so difficult, particularly in some countries where they all talk such a lot and to complete strangers (!!). Having said that, I was a little bit disappointed on my first visit to the States – the Americans I met were much more interested that my friend was Irish – they all claimed to be descended from the Irish! Such a shame you visited Yosemite when the light wasn’t perfect. It’s somewhere I’d just love to go. Such great memories though. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

  5. 31st March 2017 / 10:53 am

    Beautiful pictures, I would love to explore here. I’m not to sure I could go close to the edge 🙂

  6. Katy Clarke
    31st March 2017 / 9:28 am

    Your photos are wonderful and different from any I have seen of Yosemite. I was there as a teenager on a family trip from Australia and remember the incredible beauty of the park. We have burning off in Australia too and it is so important for the management of the environment and to reduce fire risk though I can appreciate it wasnt what you were expecting. Now living in London I am adopting some of your famed British reserve.. ha! not really. I am direct and loud. oops! Thanks for joining #farawayfiles

    • 31st March 2017 / 9:51 am

      Thanks! The burn got out of control and became a disaster, the biggest in the parks history. But it was still stunning. I was so surprised to find I had such reserve haha!

  7. 31st March 2017 / 1:33 am

    I can imagine the pool of disappointment you must have found yourself in when you realized the conditions – but for what it’s worth your photos came out quite beautiful. Dramatic, though I know that’s not what you were going for! I hope to take my girls to Yosemite some day. We’re big fans of national parks. #farawayfiles

  8. 30th March 2017 / 10:13 pm

    This looks like such an amazing place to visit. I’d love to go one day

  9. 30th March 2017 / 9:31 pm

    What an amazing place – and what a shame your trip was so haze and smoke-filled, I know I start to get very twitchy when the photos aren’t going my way. But the ones you took really capture what it was like then. #farawayfiles

  10. 30th March 2017 / 9:23 pm

    The second photo looks like Pride Rock from the Lion King 🙂 I have never been to USA and don’t think I ever will due to my phobia of flying so thank you for sharing your beautiful pictures so I can see the sights and imagine.

  11. 30th March 2017 / 4:26 pm

    That’s a shame that you weren’t able to get the full beauty of Yosemite due to the controlled fires. I remember going there quite a few years’ back and it was stunning x

    • 30th March 2017 / 4:51 pm

      They were out of control! So it wasn’t very relaxing at times. But the children liked it.

  12. 30th March 2017 / 2:37 pm

    I’m sorry that Yosemite didn’t go as planned. I live in the States and still haven’t visited Yosemite! Even though forest fires are bad (except for planned ones), you got to see something that most people will never get to see so that’s kinda cool? It makes your experience different and unique! 🙂 #farawayfiles

  13. I’m so sorry that your Yosemite experience was clouded over with looming forest fire. The family pic is still stunning and good on you for busting out of your comfort zone. I, on the other hand, find that often I am being told by my family to reign it in a notch or two! Happy to have you linked up with #FarawayFiles and look forward to more contributions from your perspective in the future! Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

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