The Rangefinder

Jay Sousa: Photographers can find great fall colors in places other than Yosemite

October 18, 2013 

Jay Sousa

Despite what opinions you may have regarding our leaders in Washington and the partial shutdown of our government, I think that as photographers we can agree on one thing – our elected officials are not photographers.

Otherwise they would not have closed our national parks, including Yosemite, at the best time of year for photography. What a shame that all of that beautiful fall color was going unphotographed.

Although Yosemite is open again, it’s important to remember there are some great alternatives just a short drive from the San Joaquin Valley that offer fall colors that almost rival those found in the park.

The past weekend my wife, Diane, and I took our RV up to the Merced River Canyon on Highway 140 just outside of the park.

The Merced River Canyon is often overlooked as a fall color photography destination as most people are whizzing through it on their way into Yosemite. But the canyon offers some very nice color from the Briceburg area to the park entrance.

The best color can be found along Highway 140 just before you get to El Portal. Last weekend, the color very good but not quite at peak, but by now and into the next couple of weeks it should be at max color.

For a unique look at the Merced River, turn left off of Highway 140 at the Foresta Bridge, which is about three miles past the Cedar Lodge complex and the Indian Flat Campground. Once over the bridge, turn left on Incline Road.

This was part of the old Yosemite Valley Railroad rail bed and follows along the north side of the river on a one-lane, paved road for about three miles.

At the end of the paved section, you can park and go around a locked gate and walk the rail bed, which at that point is a dirt path. Along this serene stretch of river, there are many points to easily access the river.

This time of year, the river is very low and has some beautiful, still pools that you can photograph the reflections of the fall color and surrounding canyon walls.

The best time to make this type of photograph is early on a calm morning before any wind might pick up, if it is breezy the water will be too rippled to make a reflection.

The low water level also has left some beautiful, polished rocks exposed in the riverbed. These can make for some unique and dramatic images.

If Tioga Pass is still open, you’ll find this canyon is loaded with beautiful aspen trees that come alive with yellow, gold and red. Don’t wait too long as this is high altitude country and the color peaks much sooner than at the lower elevations of the Merced River Canyon.

Jay Sousa, a former Sun-Star photographer, has his own photography business in Merced, conducts private classes and teaches photography at Merced College.

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