Yosemite, California

Yosemite became the first wildland in the nation protected for all-time 150 years ago when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant Act, protecting the Valley and Mariposa grove. Later, in 1890, it became a national park. Over the last 150 years the park has played host to a number of dignitaries and celebrities – as well as about 4 million regular visitors a year.

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“Yosemite Park is a place of rest, a refuge from the roar and dust and weary, nervous, wasting work of the lowlands, in which one gains the advantages of both solitude and society. Nowhere will you find more company of a soothing peace-be-still kind. Your animal fellow beings, so seldom regarded in civilization, and every rock-brow and mountain, stream, and lake, and every plant soon come to be regarded as brothers; even one learns to like the storms and clouds and tireless winds. This one noble park is big enough and rich enough for a whole life of study and aesthetic enjoyment. It is good for everybody, no matter how benumbed with care, encrusted with a mail of business habits like a tree with bark. None can escape its charms. Its natural beauty cleans and warms like a fire, and you will be willing to stay forever in one place like a tree.“

– John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938) page 350. Find more of his quotes, from The Sierra Club.

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“There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of the giant sequoias and redwoods…and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children’s children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred. It was like lying in a great solemn cathedral, far vaster and more beautiful than any built by the hand of man.”

– President Theodore Roosevelt, 1905

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Over eons, rivers and glaciers somehow carved 3,000 feet into solid granite to create Yosemite Valley. The nuances of the Valley form spectacular rock formations, for which Yosemite Valley is famous.

“It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter.”

-John Muir

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“A lot of people think that when you have grand scenery, such as you have in Yosemite, that photography must be easy.”

Galen Rowell

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“I went to Yosemite as an homage to Ansel Adams. I could never be Ansel Adams, but to know that’s there for us – there’s so much for us in this country.”

– Annie Leibovitz

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Prominent as you enter Yosemite Valley, it’s hard not to notice the beauty of Bridalveil Fall.  The native people of Yosemite Valley, the Ahwahneechee Indians, called the fall “Pohono” meaning “spirit of the puffing wind.”  Early Yosemite pioneers named it Bridalveil Fall because of the flow’s resemblance to a bride’s veil swaying in the wind.

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The Gates of Yosemite scene where this fall stands opposite the mouth of Yosemite Valley to El Capitan is often what comes to mind when I think about Yosemite National Park. Ever since the landscape photographer Ansel Adams captured and immortalized the “Gates of Yosemite,” it was probably instrumental in making Bridalveil Fall one of the most photographed waterfalls in the park.

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El Capitan is a favorite for experienced rock climbers. Rising more than 3,000 feet above the Valley floor, it is the largest monolith of granite in the world. El Capitan is opposite Bridalveil Fall.

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Along with Half Dome, Yosemite Falls is the iconic symbol of the grandeur and beauty of Yosemite National Park. I think the falls are practically synonymous with the incomparable Yosemite Valley.Yosemite Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in North America, with a total drop of 2,425 feet.

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“When I think of the overwhelming majesty of Yosemite National Park, I cannot help but agree with Carl Sharsmith, a longtime Yosemite ranger.  When a park visitor asked what Carl would do if he only had one day in Yosemite, Carl replied, “I’d go sit by the Merced River and cry!”  And he was right:  There may never be enough time to see all the grandeur of the Yosemite, in all its wonder.  But however much time you have to spend, Yosemite National Park is worth the trip.  It does not matter what season.  Every experience—taking a sunrise walk with a ranger, strolling through the rain on a chilly fall afternoon, picnicking along the Merced in the summer, being surprised by the mist coming off Bridalveil Fall, noticing deer or coyote across a field, or marvelling at wildflowers as they come to life after a spring shower—adds to the tapestry that is Yosemite.  Each experience is its own unique treasure.”

-From the Blog: “Learn More Everyday”

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Half Dome is perhaps the most recognized symbol of Yosemite. Rising nearly 5,000 feet above the Valley floor, it is one of the most sought-after landmarks in Yosemite.

Rising nearly 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley and 8,800 feet above sea level, Half Dome is a Yosemite icon and a great challenge to many hikers. Despite an 1865 report declaring that it was “perfectly inaccessible, being probably the only one of the prominent points about the Yosemite which never has been, and never will be, trodden by human foot,” George Anderson reached the summit in 1875, in the process laying the predecessor to today’s cable route.

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“Yosemite Valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.”

-Ansel Adams – Photographer

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“The mountains are calling and I must go.”

~ John Muir

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“The making of gardens and parks goes on with civilization all over the world, and they increase both in size and number as their value is recognized. Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike. This natural beauty-hunger is made manifest in the little windowsill gardens of the poor, though perhaps only a geranium slip in a broken cup, as well as in the carefully tended rose and lily gardens of the rich, the thousands of spacious city parks and botanical gardens, and in our magnificent National Parks—the Yellowstone, Yosemite, Sequoia, etc.—Nature’s sublime wonderlands, the admiration and joy of the world. Nevertheless, like anything else worth while, from the very beginning, however well guarded, they have always been subject to attack by despoiling gain-seekers and mischief-makers of every degree from Satan to Senators, eagerly trying to make everything immediately and selfishly commercial, with schemes disguised in smug-smiling philanthropy, industriously, sham-piously crying, ‘Conservation, conservation,’ that man and beast may be fed and the dear Nation made great. Ever since the establishment of the Yosemite National Park, strife has been going on around its borders and I suppose this will go on as part of the universal battle between right and wrong, however much of its boundaries may be shorn, or its wild beauty destroyed.”

― John Muir, The Yosemite

 

Dharma Bum Philosophy

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I am essentially a talentless average Joe. I have no special skills. I have tried my hand at different sports, music, and various other endeavours as outlets for a pent up urge of some semblance of creative expression that I feel exists within me. I have found it in photography, travel, hiking, skiing, yoga, motorcycle riding, and ultimately, a simultaneous blend of all of these pursuits through extended road trips, treks, and wanderings. Learning about Zen while consuming red wine also helps to put life in perspective.

I have spent the better part of my life following a predetermined linear path as it had been mapped out for me by society. Preschool. Elementary school. High school. University. Marriage. Job. Children. Mortgage. Endless work. Endless consumption. Endless responsibility. Endless obligation. The Rat Race.

As Oscar Wilde stated so simply: “I don’t want to earn a living. I want to live.”

For me, travel and photography provide a departure from the stressful repetitiveness of everyday existence. We travel not simply to escape life, but so that life does not escape us. Photography provides the means both by which to attempt to capture the essence of the beauty that we encounter in nature, and to express our vision and interpretation of that beauty to others.

“A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels is being photographed in the deepest sense and is, thereby, a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.”

– Ansel Adams – Photographer

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Live to Ride. Ride to Live.

 

 

Is Work “Unnatural”?

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Man Calls Work “Unnatural” – Goes on Permanent “Vacation”

From the blog: Return To Now  www.returntonow.net

“I’m not ashamed that I don’t like to work,” a 35-year-old cyclist adventurer told Business Insider two years ago. “It’s just very unnatural.”

Not too unlike Alexander Supertramp, “Ultra Romance” has rejected the capitalist industrialist system he was born into and gone Into the Wild.
He “works” (or plays) as a fishing guide on his dad’s charter boat back home in Connecticut about six months a year and travels the world by bicycle for the rest, living on about $10 a day.

“Benedict” (another name he calls himself for “tax reasons”) is not sure how much money he makes (he refuses to count it), but says he can live comfortably on about $10,000 a year. He keeps most of his cash buried in plastic bags and keeps a bank account only so he can buy and sell bicycle parts on eBay.

“I went to college and got the degree and was trying to … do the hustle right out of college,” Benedict told Business Insider. “Then it was like, I gotta get a house, I’m 24, I got all these student loans … Before you know it, things work out and you meet the right girl and you settle down and buy the house and have the mortgage payment and the cars.”

“But ultimately that was not going to be me.”

 

“I don’t like to work. I like to ride my bike and I like to camp … I’m not going to spend the best years of my life doing something completely meaningless.”

Instead Ultra Romance decided to model his life – in part – after hunter-gatherers, who he says took an average of 9 hours a week to procure everything they needed to live. “The rest was all leisure time,” he said. “This is what’s natural to us.”

 

“Paperwork and bills don’t work for me,” he said in the interview. “They were a big stressor in my life.”

So he eliminated them. He pieced together a bike and hit the road.

It took Benedict about six years to figure out the right work/play balance to support his ideal lifestyle. He’s not into budgeting, but says as long as there’s money in his bag he knows he “must be doing something right.”

“I don’t think too far into the future,” he says. “I think day by day.”

Benedict likes to “maximize relaxation” when he’s on the road (or trail). “I have no real goal. I just ride. It’s riding, setting up a hammock, taking a siesta, and chilling out.”

 

He prefers sleeping outside, sleeping indoors for only about two weeks per year.

 

As a mostly vegetarian nutrition major, Benedict has no problem feeding himself. He loves foraging for berries and “nutrient-dense weeds” and gets whatever he can’t find – including loads of yogurt and dark chocolate – at Whole Foods.

 

“If I’m near the coast I can get seaweed and crabs,” he said.

Without a mortgage, car payment or other bills, Benedict has been able to bike-tour beautiful landscapes all over the world, from Norway to New Zealand. Sometimes he rides alone, sometimes he rides with friends – old and new.

 

What inspired the name Ultra Romance remains a mystery. It could be the woman he almost settled down with before he broke free from civilization, the woman he currently wanders with, or his adventurous life in general (including all the women in between).

 

What is not a mystery is how much fun he is having.

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Dharma Bum Diaries

On The Undeniable Beauty of Sunsets

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I’ve always loved taking photographs of sunsets. For this, I am constantly criticized and chastised. Those that do not understand photography have always complimented me on what I have felt was my worst work by saying “Oh..it looks ‘just like a postcard'”. I’d smile and nod, but inside, I’d be cringing. They like my shit, yet my “masterpieces” go unnoticed. Except for the sunsets. On these, we could agree. So, what does this say about sunset photographs? That the photographically untrained ignorant uncultured masses like them, so they must be crap? It’s disturbing to me, because I’m addicted to sunsets and taking sunset photographs. I love a good sunset photo (though not as much as I love experiencing a real sunset), and I think I have somewhat discriminating taste when it comes to photography. That the general attitude by artistic photographers toward sunset photos and those that take them is so dismissive and disdainful, just bums me out, man.

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“A large drop of sun lingered on the horizon and then dripped over and was gone, and the sky was brilliant over the spot where it had gone, and a torn cloud, like a bloody rag, hung over the spot of its going. And dusk crept over the sky from the eastern horizon, and darkness crept over the land from the east.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

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As photography blogger and instructor David Peterson has expressed: “It seems like every photography forum you join has this inherent bias against sunset photos”. It’s always the same charge too. Sunsets are overdone. They’re “cliché.”

So what is that supposed to mean? Now we can’t enjoy photographing this particular subject because a few people are tired of it? It doesn’t make any sense to me. After all, there’s a reason so many people take pictures of sunsets and sunrises. They’re one of the most colorful and beautiful things you can photograph. Can you honestly tell me what else has such elegant orange and purple hues? What else is as subtle and warm as the sun fading into the distance? Nothing. Literally nothing on this Earth compares, and yet there are those of us who want to condemn people for finding something beautiful and having fun capturing it and presenting it to others.

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Sunsets are everywhere. Nightly they appear, vast and humbling, orange, pink and purple. Like snowflakes, it is said that every single one is different. Natural, ephemeral and beautiful, they constitute exactly the kind of subject that causes people to reach for a camera: the fleeting spectacle that photography seems made to capture; the momentary vision that deserves immortalizing.

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Susan Sontag, in her famous book, On Photography, complained: ‘Photographs create the beautiful and – over generations of picture-taking – use it up. Certain glories of nature… have been all but abandoned to the indefatigable attentions of amateur camera buffs. The image-surfeited are likely to find sunsets corny; they now look, alas, too much like photographs.’

Sontag here, in part, blames photographic mass-production for the loss of wonder, but she also positions sunset photographs as the products of the aesthetically naive.

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Sunset photographs are widely considered to symbolize the most predictable, culturally devalued and banal of image-making practices. Critics dismiss them as ‘chocolate box’ or ‘picture postcard’; they are seen as clichés. The beauty of a sunset can be transformed, in a photograph, into something cloying. Their very ubiquity is what seems to repel; photography has tainted what it sought to cherish through overuse. It miniaturizes natural grandeur and renders it kitsch. 

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Sunset photographs have somehow come to represent a low cultural status: they are characterized as sentimental visual confectionary indicative of limited aesthetic vision and an undeveloped practice.

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“The less cultured you are, the more you require from nature before you can be roused for reciprocity. Uncultured people require blazing sunsets, awe-inspiring mountains, astonishing waterfalls, masses of gorgeous flowers, portentious signs in the heavens, exceptional weather on earth, before their sensibility is stirred to a response. Cultured people are thrilled through and through by the shadow of a few waving grass-blades upon a little flat stone.”

-John Cooper Powys – Meaning of Culture 1930

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As sociologist Pierre Bourdieu has so persuasively argued, categories of taste are grounded in ingrained and stratified social and cultural experience and may be utilized to reinforce distinctions between different social groups. For Bourdieu, this is nowhere more clearly visible than in practices such as photography, which, because they are “accessible to everyone” and also “not fully consecrated” like other more legitimated cultural forms, lack a fixed and explicit coding system for judgement. This consequent flexibility of interpretation, he believes, means that the subjective meanings that different groups attribute to photography betrays their social dispositions.

In Bourdieu’s research in the 1960s, in which he examined taste as means of social distinction, he initiated discussions about aesthetic value with a range of people from different educational and occupational backgrounds, in relation to particular cultural objects including, tellingly, a photograph of a sunset. For, despite sunset photographs’ apparent mass-produced sameness, not all photographs of sunsets are equally received; they divide opinion.

Bourdieu found that the higher the level of education, the greater is the proportion who, when asked whether a series of objects would make beautiful photographs, refuse the ordinary objects of popular admiration, i.e., a first communion, a sunset or a landscape,  as ‘vulgar’ or ‘ugly’, or reject them as ‘trivial’.

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Yet, his conclusion is not simply that sunsets appeal most to the uneducated. Bourdieu extends the stratification and explains that the proportion who declare that a sunset can make a beautiful photo is greatest at the lowest educational level, declines at intermediate levels, and grows strongly again among those who have completed several years of higher education and who tend to consider that anything is suitable for beautiful photography.

Neatly encapsulating photographic hierarchies, then, sunsets are the kind of subject that can be variously adored, despised or tolerated depending on aesthetic outlook and social background.

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In photography’s earliest decades, photographs were expected to be idealized images. This is still the aim of most amateur photographers, for whom a beautiful photograph is a photograph of something beautiful, like a woman, a sunset. In commodified camera culture, everyone takes photos of similar things; in sunset photographs, then, it seems, every single one is the same.

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Sunset photographs may all look the same, but the meaning changes with each one. As Richard Dyer has argued about stereotypes: they “are a very simple, striking, easily-grasped form of representation but are none the less capable of condensing a great deal of complex information and a host of connotations”. Even stereotypes and clichés carry complexities and nuances. Just like sunsets, then, every sunset photograph is different.

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I say photograph what you want, and never allow the critical opinions of others to interfere with the way of enjoying your passion. Life is too short to listen to art critics who can’t appreciate simple beauty. There is no such thing as too many sunset photographs.

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“The setting sun burned the sky pink and orange in the same bright hues as surfers’ bathing suits. It was beautiful deception, Bosch thought, as he drove north on the Hollywood Freeway to home. Sunsets did that here. Made you forget it was the smog that made their colors so brilliant, that behind every pretty picture there could be an ugly story.”
―Michael Connely, The Black Echosandiego-night-2-005-copy-2

Much of the credit for the expressions of thought with respect to the idea of “sunsets as cliché”, is attributable to Dr. Annebella Pollen, Lecturer in Art History and Design (University of Brighton), from her essay:
When Is a Cliché Not a Cliché? Reconsidering Mass-Produced Sunsets