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    • The most recent California drought is in our past! A series of storms have hit the west coast recently, and the clouds are finally breaking. After lots of much-needed rain and snow, the drought is more or less over, and California is wet and lush again.

      2011-2014 were by far the driest years in California's recorded history, and it took until now for our reservoirs, lakes, and ecology to catch up.

      In that last decade, I witnessed and photographed many anomalies, like winter wildfires and snowless, but frozen lakes that people were ice skating on in Yosemite. I buried the experiences into my memory, but, “I can see clearly now the r̶a̶i̶n̶ drought is gone”.

      I bring you four photo essays from the drought that feature the beautiful, odd and depressing phenomenons that came with the drought. Please feel free to share your experiences from the drought as well.

      📷: A winter wildfire of 2014 in Sequoia National Park.

    • Yosemite National Park high country in winter, January 2012

      The Tioga Pass portion Highway 120 crosses the Sierra west to east, with a summit of 9943’. It’s the highest mountain pass in California. On average the road is closed for over 6 months every year, usually from the middle of November to late May because it receives massive amounts of snow and experiences frequent avalanches.

      In 2011, Tioga Pass was closed until June 18th because it received so much snow from that winter. On June 17th, 2011, the day before it opened, this is how tall the snowbanks were:

      The next winter yielded almost no snow. For New Years 2012, I had the fortune to witness a snowless Tioga Pass. For the first time ever, Tioga Pass was open in mid January due to the near-zero precipitation of the winter to that point.

      Accessing Yosemite's high country in January is not possible by car, but in 2012 it was. We got to see Tenya Lake snowless and frozen. It is extremely rare to see any frozen lake without snow on top in the Sierra.

      Ice skaters were enjoying its smooth surface. These folks were playing hockey:

      Tuolumne Meadows, empty of snow:

      My buddy Joseph photographing it right:

      Tioga Lake:

      Ellery Lake:

      We ventured into the east side:

      A winter Mono lake sunset:

    • Sequoia National Park winter wildfire, October 2014

      Another truly spectacular event I had the fortune to witness was a winter wildfire slowly rolling through Sequoia National Park. I headed up to the Sierra at the end of October 2014 to camp at Mineral King. We had no idea there was going to be a fire. We had no idea that there even could be fires that late in the season. Late October is winter in the Sierra.

      We drove up to camp late at night on the only road up the canyon Mineral King is situated in. There were no signs of a fire until we rounded a corner at 3 am. As I was looking out at the mountainside through some trees in the foreground, I first thought: “There sure are a lot of people camping up here. I can see everyone’s campfires. Odd, it's really late too.”

      Once we came to a clearing, we jumped out of the car and realized the mountainside was burning. It looked like a bunch of little campfires up and down the mountain. It was a pitch black night. The Milky Way was fully visible above. The fire was dim, and we could barely make out an outline of the canyon. Most surprising was how loud the fire was. Embers were popping. Trees were falling and branches were breaking.

      It wasn’t windy, the fire didn’t move, and Cal Fire signs asked not to report because they obviously knew about it. I grabbed my tripod and camera gear and begun shooting. I stayed there until sunrise taking long exposures.

      People often ask how I got this shot. My settings: Sony A7, Voightlander 21mm f/1.8 M mount lens. ISO 1000. 30 second exposure. f/2

      I estimate I shot the photo within 100ft of GPS coordinates 36.452986 N, -118.617939 W. That is at 7,200ft above sea level. Temps were well below freezing, but warm gusts of wind blew at us.

      Smoke from the fire the next day:

    • The Rim Fire Aftermath, January 2015

      The Rim Fire was contained after a long 9-week fight, but the wood on the interior of the fire perimeter kept smoldering for an entire year due to lack of precipitation. I made a trip to the area after it was officially out more than a year later.

      Natural forest fires clean out underbrush but leave the trees alive. Unlike the fire I witnessed in Sequoia the year before, this Rim Fire killed every tree. It looked like an atomic bomb was set off.

      Sadly, the only sound thing that could be done was clear cutting the dead forest:

      Loggers were removing the dead trees to prevent an even hotter fire from rolling through because the landscape was entirely dry fuel after the burn:

    • Record low spring snowpack in the Sierra, May 2015:

      The National Park Service measured the Sierra snowpack in Yosemite at 7% of average on April 1, 2015, the lowest measurement on record.

      I made it out to the Eastern Sierra with friends for the weekend of Memorial Day 2015. What we found was depressing. At 9000’, we expected to have multiple feet of snowpack on the sides of the road. But, none:

      South Lake, west of Bishop, CA, at 9,745' was almost completely empty:

      This is the time of year Sierra lakes are full from the snowpack runoff. There was no runoff water that year. We drove home over Sonora pass, at 9,623', this is what it looked like:

      Here’s a stark contrast. On June 18th, 2011, at the top of Sonora pass, it looked like this:

    • I was mountain biking two days ago and this was a site for sore eyes: a full reservoir with water rushing out. I hadn’t seen that in 4 years.

    • Great stuff Kevin....Climate change is REAL. Amazing images.

      We are used to droughts here in Vegas...maybe more so than other desert, if at the end of the year we have a total cumulation of 4", we rejoice.

      Last night I picked up some from friends from New York; she texted me a photo of about 4 inches of snow from her office window in Manhattan about an hour before she boarded the plane. I told her there was forecasted snow for Vegas and "wouldn't it be funny if you can take a similar photo from your hotel room in Vegas"? Sure 'nuf!

      I picked them up this morning at 9am to head out to the Valley of Fire...the fog, snow and overcast was thick and maybe at 1500'. It was going to be an hour drive there so I said let's go for it. BOOM....we scored big time. But, similar to your excitement in your thread, with much of the recent rain we have had, and now this pretty significant snow....the desert ecosystem will thrive. Three cheers for renewed WATER TABLES!

    • Wow. I've never heard of snow at Valley of Fire. That's really amazing and cause for excitement! Been there a few times, but never with that scenery. Thanks for sharing.