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Of Horsetails And Epic Snowstorms | by WJMcIntosh
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Of Horsetails And Epic Snowstorms

First of all, there have been some changes in the Horsetail viewing policy again in the Yosemite Valley this year, so if you would like more info, please see my 2019 Horsetail update at:


Secondly...Where to begin? Two weeks ago I dropped everything and raced up to Yosemite to try to make sure I was in the park before they closed both entrances and eventually the valley floor itself due to a massive snowstorm on Feb 4-5. Then, a mere three days later I turned around and headed back up again as more snow was predicted for the weekend. And yet again last Friday as even more snow was in the forecast. It's been NUTS up in the Sierras this year and my goal was to try and be in the middle of it as much as possible before my new semester begins next Monday.


I came home with more than a few shots which I paid for by sleeping in my car with temps in the 20's for multiple nights, living off of $1.00 chicken nuggets at the Burger King in Mariposa and by dealing with the insanity that unfolds when the CHP decides to close down the Grapevine on my way home....twice! There were hundreds of drivers with me last Sunday and all of us will need therapy after being forced on to the 14 toward Lancaster only to hit a traffic jam of biblical proportions due to snow and accidents. When I got home at 3 AM, I was twitching in a weird way, and I'm still twitching as I type this. What a feaking nightmare!


Of the three trips I made to the valley in the snow during the past two weeks, my last trip was the most rewarding. It wasn't, as some of you might expect, because of the Firefall effect on Horsetail Fall. Having shot Horsetail during sunset several times over the past few years, this year, I thought I would try something different, and I purposely ditched the Horsetail madness and made a beeline instead for the Merced River. Having shot during February for the past 8 years or so, I remembered that the same light that pours into the valley to light up Horsetail also illuminates quite a bit of El Capitan further West, and I thought if I were to get down there just as the storm was breaking up last Sunday, I might be able to get some dramatic light reflected in the river. So after trying some different comps that afternoon, most of which had me up to my waist trying to shlog around without snowshoes, I ended up on the bank of the Merced around 4 PM and shot for nearly 2 hours straight. The light was indeed truly spectacular.


The thing about Horsetail that most people don't realize is that it is incredibly tiny. Most of the vertical shots that you may have seen were taken by lenses that were 300mm or longer. Ironically, Horsetail Fall is actually in this shot, although not lit up as the light is hitting the area below it. On the cliff face coming away from El Cap, Horsetail is that dark little dent near the end of the frame on the right. I chose this particular shot to start with since it illustrates a point. On any given night during the last two weeks in February, there may be 600 lenses pointed at Horsetail. What most of those photographers may fail to realize is that even though the tiny Horsetail Fall might not be lit up, there are several other opportunities that they might be missing on that particular night. Most of those photographers are up there for ONE shot. Sometimes it pays to look around and see what your options are before committing to that one shot. In this case, you can always count on some dramatic light around El Cap at sunset during the month of February and if you can tear yourself away from Horsetail, there are plenty of opportunities to be found.


More photos and blog articles to follow as I sift through thousands of shots from those two weeks. I'm starting a new semester so I'll be limited for the next week or so, but I hope to get more photos up from my three trips by next week.




Thank you so much for your views and comments! If you have specific questions or need to get in touch with me, please be sure to send me a message via flickr mail, or feel free to contact me via one of the following:


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Taken on February 17, 2019