Speeding Kills Bears: Yosemite on Fire

smokeWhen one normally pictures Yosemite Valley National Park they think of the majestic rock faces and the abundance of crisp natural beauty. The sheer impact of Yosemite’s artistry attracts tourists worldwide with an average of 4 million visitors a year, and on any given weekend the park’s 1,169 square miles of forest are flooded with nature-loving patrons.
Despite Yosemite’s natural attraction, there are a few characteristics of Yosemite that most visitors cannot bear, and this past Labor Day weekend we at Life Blasters had a chance to experience one of these “unbearable” occurrences: Forest fire.

yosemite-1025After picking up Joe from the airport and babysitting Bohan’s kid for a minute (who either has a major crush on Joe or hasn’t seen many brown-people before), the three of us adult Blasters embarked on the journey to one of Yosemite’s unclosed entrances. In true Life Blasters fashion, we arrived hours after the park rangers left the toll booths; living life without entrance fees. Hwy 120 was closed, so we came in on 140 through Merced and Mariposa, fairly increasing the duration to our travel.
Upon arriving at the park, our first initiative was to travel to the classic Tunnel View, where tourists can find one of the best views of the entire valley. However, smoke caused by the Rim Fire to the north obscured the view. It took a few tries to get a good shot of the valley because there are no street lights and the smoke blocked all of the natural starlight; the only way to see anything was with a headlamp or a 30-second or longer shutter. After discovering the significant density of ash in the valley, we trekked up the road towards Glacier Point until we found a trailhead to sleep in the Blastfinder.
yosemite-1033We awoke early the next morning to an eerie scene: empty vehicles covered in ash, a pale white sky, and no sign of any animal lifeforms. Most sunrises have vibrant colors and amazing light; the ash transformed that light into a bland fog. As more and more people learned where we were through Instagram and Facebook, we got nothing but warnings like “lol don’t you know theres a fire??” and “omg isn’t there a fire lol.” Thanks for the heads up, everyone. We got this.
yosemite-2022Further up the road to Glacier Point, we found a quaint pull-off to shoot the ash-veiled sun. It was still morning, so we took the chance to shoot the sun through the hazy forest (the fog creates a unique effect that is exaggerated in high depth-of-field photos).
DSC_1364The ash is harmful for animals and humans to breathe, but the dense foliage appeared to be unaffected. After shooting at the pulloff, we packed up and continued up the road to Glacier Point.
Bohan_BrandonOn the way to Glacier point lies Washburn point, a smaller outcrop that overlooks the forest. The view is probably breathtaking, but the ash was too heavy to see very far, so its hard to say. The boulders atop the hill resembled the desert planet of Tatooine, if only there was a second sun…
bohanUpon arrival at Glacier Point, Bohan quickly found a serene boulder near the parking lot to strengthen his relationship with the force. Gotta keep those midichlorians up!
DSC_1418… and then he whipped out his little mirrorless Canon to take pictures. I guess he’s not one with the force…
yosemite-1055From the parking lot to the actual point itself is about a mile hike. I’m sure the view is great from up there, but we could bearly see anything. If we could see the valley floor, Joe this random guy we don’t know probably wouldn’t have walked out to the edge of this infamous rock formation.
DSC_1425As a photographer, you have to go above and beyond to get the shot. In this case Joe is far above the valley floor and a little bit beyond the railing.
yosemite-2032Because this was my first trip to Yosemite since I was eight or nine, it would have been impawsible for me to visualize the view from Glacier Point without this placard.
coyoteGoing back to the valley we came across this little guy. He just stood there and stared at us for a while… he probably hasn’t seen many brown people either. This guy looked a little haggard, so we went on our way back down the hill and left him to go kill squirrels and deal with his coyote problems.
DSC_1471Our first stop in the valley was El Capitan Meadow, a wide-open grassland at the base of El Capitan. With the car parked and with camera gear in hand, we explored and photographed all that the meadow had to offer.
yosemite-1061Usually this meadow is flourishing with wildlife, but the thicker ash from the fires settles in the valley, blocking even more of the sun than the ash around Glacier Point. Although the fire did not pass through the Valley, much of the vegetation suffered.
yosemite-1065I wanted to find a burned-out part of the forest but we couldn’t get too close since the fire was still burning. This was the next best thing.
yosemite-2037Joe was at one with the spirits of Yosemite. That guy likes his photos like he likes his women: black and white and undeveloped.
SquirrelJoe also had a deep spiritual connection with the squirrels of Yosemite. Bohan’s spirit animal is the shutter beast, apparently Joe’s is the squirrel. And in case you were wondering, mine is the dolphin. (You’re not supposed to tell people what your spirit animal is! -Bohan)
DSC_1478Everywhere we looked, even the most boring scenes were made aweosme by all the smoke. The smoke made it really dark too. We never wore our sunglasses the whole time we were there.
yosemite-1076The Merced River runs through Yosemite Valley; this small riverbank rests at the edge of El Capitan Meadow. Its interesting that how the ash  transforms this beautiful river into an ominous mire.
riverThis specific area reminded me of the scene in Peter Jackson’s take on ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ when Arwen uses the river to escape The Nine.
yosemite-1078This is really the sun. Mid-day. This scene could easily be made in MS Paint. It could also be the Bizarro World flag of Japan or Bangladesh.
treePretty neat huh?
yosemite-2043After the meadow, we stopped at Valley View on the way back around to Curry Village (the one-way roads get pretty annoying). The Merced River had a nice little population of crawdads here, so we went hunting! Joe was the only one to catch anything. Him and Bohan stayed dry but I decided to jump across the rocks and fell in a little bit. Sorry, there aren’t any photos.
yosemite-2047Upon arrival at Curry Village, we broke out the good stuff. That’s right, canned soup. The brunch+dinner combo of champions everywhere. We forgot to bring a pot so we had to cook the cans. That was a great idea until we had to somehow grab the cans off the fire.
yosemite-2054Joe even got to practice his squirrel-speak with this chubby fellow in the parking lot as he fed him nuts and bearries.
yosemite-1090The view back up at Glacier Point from the parking lot is pretty damn good. The fun thing about being surrounded by mile-tall rocks is that you can see sunset in the early afternoon.
sunsetWow. Breathtaking. Two sunsets are almost exclusively found on binary solar systems like that of Tatooine… Too many Star Wars references? Andy Luk would disagree…
yosemite-2072While we were busy taking photos and playing with nature for an hour or so, the Blastfinder sat and accumulated ash. That’s a lot of ash. After we finished lunch, the sun continued its trajectory towards its second sunset and we set out on the mile hike to the quaint shores of Mirror Lake.
yosemite-1118Mirror Lake was dry. The original plan was to capture some long-exposure shots of the rock formations’ reflections in the lake. But because there was no water, instead we played baseball with logs and rocks, threw rocks at stuff, popped champagne, and generally ruined all the tourist’s shots of the dry lake. What other chance would we have to stand in the middle of a world-famous lake without any water in it?
yosemite-1124Apparently along the ‘shoreline’ of Mirror Lake it is now customary to leave a small pile of rocks in the same fashion that hikers leave cairns to mark an ambiguous trail in the wilderness. It is embarrassing getting lost on a trail, but if you do, these guys will like you find your way just like the Kodama from Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘Princess Mononoke’.
DSC_1556Not to be outdone, Joe made two cairns, balancing on one rock, on top of a log, in the middle of the dried-up lakebed.
yosemite-1133It was here that we witnessed the second sunset that Yosemite had to offer. We also finished off the bubbly and reflected on our trip. But it was only Saturday. This Labor Day Weekend was only one-third over; the rest of the weekend was too awesome to blast. Too much life without fear that it cannot be written. So we challenge you too live life without fear. Get out and make Star Wars-y squirrelly memories of your own!
-Kado… Brandon, not Ryan 😉
instagram: @lifeblasters, @bkado36, @joe_ayala, @andrew_bohan

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