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Yosemite Falls, Mule Deer

The Story Behind: Yosemite Falls, Mule Deer

Yosemite Valley is renown for the magic of the moment-- many local phenomena occur at certain times of the year, and no other. The glow of Horsetail Falls every February and the rising of the full moon behind Half Dome every December are classic examples.  Another event is the forming of a rainbow in Upper Yosemite Falls-- when viewed from the Village and locations east-- in the early spring. The event is viewable just after sunrise and is totally dependent on an adequate flow of water over the falls that generates the mist cloud necessary see the refracted light that manifests as a rainbow.

I arose very early this particular morning and made my way to a spot on the Merced River just east of Yosemite Village in order to place the river in my foreground and still maintain the right angle to see the rainbow in the background. On the short hike over, I delighted in the fresh smells and pleasant sounds of the Valley devoid of the hustle and bustle of local humanity. The aromatic pine trees and chirping of the red winged blackbirds filled my senses. I saw a small group of Mule Deer grazing in the Ahwahnee Meadow-- they barely looked at me. I continued 100 yards up the river, crossed the Housekeeping Bridge, and made my way back downstream to my intended location. As I set up my tripod and framed my shot, I realized that I needed to wait a few minutes to capture the image because the rainbow was still very high in the falls-- up near the top-- and therefore very small. I knew that, as the sun rose behind me, the rainbow would drop down into the lower, fatter portion  of the falls where there would be more mist.

As I stood waiting, I noticed that the deer that I had seen earlier in the meadow approximately 200 yards to my right, were now making their way downstream along the river on the opposite bank. I watched them make their way and I considered whether I might be able to reframe my shot to somehow include them in the image. And at that moment, it happened-- something that I had never seen before in my 7 years in the park: they suddenly made a left turn and began crossing the river right in front of me. They walked right across my pre-composed scene, I didn't have to move the camera one millimeter. I didn't even have to refocus; it was as if they knew right where to go. I immediately started shooting frames on my medium format Pentax 6x7 and the image you see here is the best of 5 frames. I went out to shoot a rainbow and came back with something much better-- something that could never be reproduced. A good day, indeed.

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