Yosemite is one of the world’s most loved National Parks and no location in Yosemite is more famous than Tunnel View. Ansel Adam’s photo from this spot (Clearing Winter Storm) was one of the iconic shots of the 20th century. Not only is the view spectacular, you can easily drive right up to it on Wawona Road. So it really isn’t surprising that this is the most popular and photographed location in the park.
But it wasn’t always so. Until 1933 when the tunnel was opened, Tunnel View simply didn’t exist as we know it now. For the previous 7 decades, Wawona Road had entered the valley via a different route that included the most famous spot in the park: Artist’s Point. This was the location where in June of 1855 the first image of the Yosemite Valley was drawn by a professional artist. The artist was Thomas Ayres and when his picture was published in California Magazine it captivated and amazed the public, which helped spark the nation’s facination with Yosemite. Later a stagecoach road was built to the valley that ran right by this spot and in the early 20th century it was even paved for the new-fangled horseless carriages. When the tunnel was completed in the 1930s, Wawona Road was rerouted and the section that included Artist’s Point was abandoned. Now, after 80+ years of neglect, it is nearly forgotten, crumbling and overgrown.
Earlier this year my son and I decided to hike to Artist’s Point. We wanted to see if Ayres original location at Artist’s Point could compare with the awe inspiring scene at Tunnel View. A quick (but steep) 40 minute hike was all it took to reach Artist’s Point and take in the view:
Is it a better view? Some folk swear up and down that it is. Jump back and forth between the two photos above and make your own decision. Personally, I thought the view from Artist’s Point was only subtly different from what you will see from Tunnel View. But even though the view is similar, the experience is totally different. Unlike Tunnel View where loud motorcyles, cars and buses disgorge throngs of noisy tourists every few moments, you will likely be the only soul at Artist’s Point. The quiet and sense of peace is pervasive. You get a feeling of what it must have been like when Thomas Ayres sat on a rock nearby all those years ago and sketched a pristine and untouched paradise.
Photography is my way of trying to share with you what my son and I experienced at Artist’s Point. But a photograph shows only a moment of time and fails to capture the dramatic way the shadows move across the valley. I thought a time lapse might be the best way to show this, so I set up one of my cameras to take a shot of the valley every 15 seconds or so during the couple hours Ryan and I there.
I call the resulting video “A Minute of Magic at Artist’s Point.” It’s only a couple minutes long, but I think it truly conveys a sense of the tranquility and beauty this magnificent view inspires. Just click on the photo to the right and it will take you to my video posted on You Tube (it was just too large for my website).
I hope you enjoy!
PS: This video was shot during March which is a great time of the year to watch sunsets because both sides of the valley are illuminated at the end of the day. Plus, the sun shines thru a small opening in the mountains to the west creating the ‘spotlight’ effect on Bridalveil Falls you see in my photos.