The Day I Didn’t Go to Yosemite, By Sky Emerson

February 20, 2021  •  2 Comments

An image of fall colors in Hope Valley, CAHope Valley, CA

The colors of Hope Valley, Photographed on October 17th, 2020 By Sky Emerson.


Being a photographer in California, and on the west coast in general, the allure of Yosemite National Park is always present. Living in North Lake Tahoe/Truckee, the drive to The Valley is only about 4.5 hours. Quite doable.  Having never been there in the fall, and with the 2020 autumn season firing off in Tahoe, I decided to make an impromptu trip. 

Like most summer and fall months on the west coast, fires and smoke are always a possibility.  The smoke and fires had been horrific, but in Tahoe we had just enjoyed nearly 10 days of clear weather with mostly blue skies. As I started planning my trip, I failed to consider how different things could be a mere 150 miles south (as the crow flies).

Getting into the park during the pandemic was of course going to be difficult. Passes were 80% sold out, with the park selling the remaining 20% online each morning 48 hours in advance. I failed on my first attempt to get a pass, but after getting up at 6am the following day and being quick on the keyboard with some cued-up info to copy and paste, I scored a day pass for October 17th. Stoked! I was going to Yosemite!

On the evening of the 16th, I was mid packing, planning on a 3am departure.  The TV in the other room, having the program end, went on to the local news from the Sacramento Valley. The anchor’s voice carried down the hall and froze me in my tracks. “The fire in the Fresno area has flared up and broken containment, causing fire personnel to regroup and move to safety.” Fire in Fresno. Not good. Not good at all.  I quickly pulled up the webcams from the park. UGH. Smoke so thick you couldn’t see anything. No Half Dome. No El Capitan. Nothing but thick dark smoke. Trip canceled.

Foolish I thought. Why hadn’t I checked the cams sooner? What a bummer. Plus wasted money on top of it.  After a couple of hours of kicking myself, I decided I would make the most of the situation.  Fall colors here in Tahoe were peaking and I would go out and shoot all day; Yosemite, I’d try to forget about.

Just before sunrise on the 17th, I drove the short distance up to Martis Canyon that holds the 267 highway and the entrance to Northstar Ski Resort. This area had really been looking good and held a number of image possibilities that I had already been contemplating. In the soft morning light, the colors were really popping!  I was quite happy with a few of the images that I captured.

*Photo Tip: When shooting fall colors, try to avoid direct harsh sunlight on the colorful foliage. The direct light overpowers the color, giving a washed-out look. While a polarizer can help, the results will often be less pleasant than in the early or late hours of the day.

The Old Shepherds hut on Hwy 267"Martis Cabin"Limited Edition Image by Sky Emerson, Location: Martis Creek, Truckee CA

The old Shepherds Hut along Hwy 267 near Northstar Ski Resort.


A photo of beautiful aspen trees near Northstar CaliforniaOpen Edition Image by Sky Emerson, Location: Northstar (Truckee) CA The aspen trees near Northstar really pop in the fall.


A photo of fall colors in Truckee CAOpen Edition Image by Sky Emerson, Location: Truckee CA A mix of pines and aspens.


As I drove over to the Lake and got my first glimpse from Brockway Summit, I realized that the smoke had not only returned to the Yosemite Valley, but it also crept back into the Tahoe Basin. Not thick, but hazy enough to kill the usual exquisite hues of Big Blue. Hmm. Well I guess I wouldn’t be shooting much on Tahoe. My backup plan was Hope Valley. This amazing area, only 20 minutes from South Lake Tahoe, is known to hold some of the best fall colors in the Northern Sierras.  While I had driven through there more than once, I had never lined up the autumn display correctly. Today would be the day! 

As I descended into the valley, I could see I was in for a good time! The colors were incredibly vibrant everywhere I looked.

Here are some of the keepers from Hope Valley on October 17th, 2020.

A panoramic image of brilliant Fall Colors in Lake TahoeChromatic Grandeur Pano Open Edition Image by Sky Emerson, Location: Hope Valley, South Lake Tahoe CA

This panoramic image was my favorite from the day. It makes a fantastic print on both metal and canvas.


A panoramic image of orange aspens in TahoeUnrefinedOpen Edition Image by Sky Emerson, Location: Hope Valley CA, South Lake Tahoe Wild trees stand out, draped in beautiful orange leaves.


Gorgeous fall colors in Hope Valley CaliforniaOpen Edition Image by Sky Emerson, Location: Hope Valley, CA The days last light on fall colors in Lake TahoeOpen Edition Image by Sky Emerson Location: Hope Valley, CA Sunlight fades quickly in Hope Valley. These two images I captured before the sun went completely behind the mountains.


A print of aspen trunks with yellow leavesOpen Edition Image by Sky Emerson, Location: Hope Valley, South Lake Tahoe CA I love the vertical trunks mixed in with the colorful leaves.


In conclusion, while Yosemite didn’t work out, I had an amazing, soul filling day shooting and hiking among the vibrant colors. In one regard, I learned an import lesson on researching current conditions. In another, I gave myself a pat on the back for a solid recovery and a productive day. Keep keeping on my friends and opt outside whenever possible!



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