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Every workshop has its inside jokes, some comment or reference that gets everyone laughing and somehow seems to find its way into every location or mealtime conversation. So today I offer this beautiful reflection of Yosemite’s Squirrel Rock. Often mistakenly referred to as “El Capitan,” this frequently photographed granite monolith…. Okay, okay, I know, I know, this really is El Capitan, but for the duration of my just completed Yosemite Winter workshop our group affectionately referred to this Yosemite icon as “Squirrel Rock.”
Huh? It seems that my friend Don Smith, who was assisting me in this workshop (I’ll return the favor by assisting Don’s Northern Arizona workshop next month), was photographing at Tunnel View the day before the workshop when a man approached and introduced himself as a fellow pro photographer, then proceeded to position himself as a Yosemite-expert extraordinaire. As if to make his point, he went on to tell Don and all who would listen that the rocks above Bridalveil Fall that we all know as Cathedral Rocks are in fact the “Three Graces.”
In all fairness, the Tunnel View perspective of Cathedral Rocks was once upon a time called the Three Graces (I haven’t heard this reference in years); if he’d have stopped at that all would have been fine and his audience might have learned something. Our amusement was fuel by his adamant insistence, delivered with professorial authority (picture Cliff Clavin), that this ancient Three Graces label (and ignoring National Park and USGS topo maps to the contrary) means the rock formation above Bridalveil Fall cant’ be Cathedral Rocks. That his proclamation was uttered almost literally in the shadow of a National Parks Service sign labeling said icon Cathedral Rocks seemed no deterrent.
Fast forward to workshop Day-1: Don shared his story with the group at Tunnel View, finishing with a grand wave in the direction of El Capitan and telling us all in Clavinesque fashion that its true name is Squirrel Rock. It wasn’t long before Yosemite Falls became Kangaroo Falls, and with these new monikers grew Native American legends of their origins and…, well let’s just say that a workshop’s worth of laughter ensued.
If all this sounds a little silly, please understand that the workshop’s prime objective was Horsetail Fall, a February phenomenon with far more photographers than room to photograph. To ensure a front row seat at the best spot, for two nights in a row we queued up at my favorite vantage point beside the Merced River two hours before sunset. That’s a lot of waiting (and story swapping, and joking, and embellishing, and just plain frivolity).
Our time passed quickly, and while (if the goal is the classic Horsetail blood red sunset stripe) neither night will go down in the annals of Horsetail Fall photo moments, we were nevertheless rewarded with some magnificent photography. On Monday billowing cumulus clouds decorated Squirrel Ro…, uhhh, El Capitan and reflected in the Merced River. Tuesday night we almost hit a home run, but as we rounded third, thin clouds unseen on the western horizon dulled the setting sun and we had to settle for a stand-up triple. Very nice nevertheless.
Both evenings were a blast, well worth the waiting, both for the photography and the good time. Because I already have my tight Horsetail Fall shot from this spot, and the highlight of the first evening was the clouds and reflection, I opted for the wide composition you see above. This location has far more compositional options than the popular El Capitan picnic area spot (which has more room). In fact, even though Horsetail didn’t perform to perfection, both evenings we had things to photograph for the duration of our wait. At one point the tree on the shore at the right of the frame lit up like it had been hit by a spotlight, and Sentinel Rock, directly behind and above us, spent much of the afternoon bathed in warm light.
It seems every workshop has something memorable to set it apart from all the others. In this case it was night after night of warm light and crisp reflections, plus a large dose of laughter. Long live Squirrel Rock.