For the past two weekends in a row I’ve witnessed some of the most spectacular light I have ever seen in my life. How did I come to be standing on the bank of the Owens River when the sky erupted last Saturday? First, there was Ryan Engstrom who suggested that we shoot in this location when we met up last year in Death Valley. But there was no snow to speak of last year in the Eastern Sierras and it added another several hours to my trip home, so I bailed. Secondly, I finally plopped down $30 for a one year subscription to Skyfire on my Photographers Ephemeris app, and it had the area around Bishop pegged at a 90 percent chance of a blazing sunrise for last Sunday. So at 7 PM last Saturday, I threw my gear in the car and I was off.
This was my third trip to the Eastern Sierras since Summer, and I have to admit that I’m becoming something of an addict. There’s just something about that early morning light hitting the snow on the Eastern Sierras that puts this mountain range in a league of it’s own.
Earlier in the year, I had made another trip up to shoot Fall colors and to hopefully find a suitable spot along the Owens River for a sunrise. After an afternoon of exploring, I didn’t quite have what I was looking for, but I did find a spot off of Benton Crossing Road that set me up pretty well for a nice sunrise:
As the sun came up, I could see it hitting the peaks of the Sierras in the distance:
As much as I liked this location, it wasn’t quite was I was looking for. I had seen other shots by Marc Adamus and Ted Gore where the river led directly into the snow covered Sierras. When I went home, I began to do more research to see if I could find this particular spot. I emailed a couple of other photographers, but didn’t hear back. Finally, just after Christmas, I found what looked like my spot down near Big Pine. All I had to do now was wait for snow in the Sierras and a decent sunrise.
After a couple of recent snow storms, I checked the webcams at Lone Pine and Bishop and could see that there was now plenty of snow covering the slopes of the Eastern Sierras. Two weekends ago, Skyfire was predicting a high probability of a decent sunrise, and on this occasion, I headed out at 2 AM with hopes of making up to my spot in time. When I arrived just after 6 PM, it was still dark and I had to spend about 1/2 an hour searching the dirt roads adjacent to the river for my spot, but the sky was already beginning to turn red in the East, and it was time to start shooting.
I shot from the closest spot I could find, but after a while, the glow in the East faded, and it looked like I would be out of luck.
Disappointed, I began to explore the river bank with hopes that I would at least find my spot. Now that it was light, I backtracked and eventually found my spot, which featured a nice S curve leading into the snow covered mountains in the distance. Even though the sunrise never took off as expected, a shaft of sunlight had broken through and had lit up the entire Southern end of the Sierras:
After shooting a bit more, I was off to Yosemite to try to beat another snowstorm that was due to arrive in the valley.
Which brings us to last Sunday. I knew where my spot was as I arrived, and this time, Skyfire had nailed the sunrise forecast. At first, there was only a slight pink glow in the distance, but within a few minutes, the entire sky was on fire:
I don’t know how long I had been shooting before I realized that my fingers could no longer press the buttons on my camera. I had torn off my gloves as they were slowing me down, and after a short while I just stood there transfixed…standing in dead silences while my breath sent plumes of steam across the river.
As I began to pack up, it began to dawn on me how many other locations along that incredible range of mountains were left to explore. Even on the way home, I kept slamming on the brakes and pulling over as the views were just stunning in all directions.
After shooting well into the morning last Sunday, I was off to Death Valley. My adventures there will hopefully be showing up in another blog post in the near future.