Yosemite Falls
So, I'm back from my vacation and back at work...

- at least in theory -

... But it was definitely a fun time and much-needed.  Yosemite is actually closer than I thought: it was only 4 hours from my friend's house to the campground (which, granted, was outside the park's southern end, but still pretty close).  Considering the drive to San Francisco from there is about 6 hours, that surprised me.

Camping was actually pretty fun.  I think I'd like a campground that has running water next time, as that was pretty much the only thing that was an inconvenience (the stream was too far away and too shallow to use for any kind of bathing).  Even that wasn't a major issue, though; we were only there four nights, and there were showers at the lake nearby if we really needed them. I just did a sort-of sponge bath most mornings using the melt water from the ice chest: if nothing else, dipping into freezing water is a fast way to wake up.

Mariposa Grove
We hit Mariposa this first day, Sunday, under the impression that it would be slightly less chaotic than the valley itself.  It very well may have been, but there were enough people in the grove to still make it busy.  We took the tram to the top of the hill and hiked down, which ended up being brilliant - not only because it was easier down than up, but because most people didn't bother taking the trail.  So, we had a fair amount of people-less forest to wander through on our way down.

Most evenings we went to town after the park; really, this just involved a 3 mile diversion, since we had to travel the same route to get between the campground and the park anyway.  But it also provided an opportunity to use a flushing toilet and an actual sink.

Chilnualna Falls
On the way back to the campground on Sunday night, we went looking for open areas where we could get some star shots.  Matt hadn't really done that before and, since I had, we figured we'd play around a bit.  We ended up finding this open area, probably 100-150 feet across, just a few miles up the hill from the campground.  It had obviously been used for parties a few times, as there were both remnants of campfires as well as various bits of broken glass and such.  Luckily, no one was there on Sunday, though, so as soon as the sun was down, we took our tripods and headed out.

Night shooting is a little different: the goal is a balance between enough light from the stars to make them really stand out and not leaving the shutter open long enough to get "trails" (unless that's what you want).  There's actual math that goes into figuring out the maximum shutter time: every lens focal length has a "field of view" as an angle measurement, and the earth rotates at a constant speed.

The Milky Way behind trees
So, let's say your FoV is 60 degrees and your sensor is 4000 pixels along the direction of movement; that means each degree is about 67 pixels.  The earth does one rotation in a day and thus 180 degrees in 12 hours, meaning 15 degrees an hour or 1 degree every 4 minutes.  Which means we'll see a shift of  67 pixels in 4 minutes, or about 1 pixel every 4 seconds.  So, to get no trail at all, the longest we can leave the shutter open is 4 second (again, assuming a 60 degree FoV and 4000 pixels along the axis of movement).

The math isn't quite exact, but it's close enough that one can approximate things pretty well.  In reality, a single pixel of movement - or even two - won't be noticed, as most "noticeable" stars will take up a few pixels themselves.  Regardless, you can get some pretty nifty pictures if you do it right.

Matt also wanted to play with illuminating the surrounding trees via flash, so we had some (rather silly) attempts which succeeded mostly in frightening away the local critters.

Yosemite Valley, "tunnel" view
Monday and Tuesday we actually went to the valley floor; even on a weekday, it was still a bit of a madhouse.  Since we were up late on Sunday night, Monday morning we got out late and had to deal with most of the yahoos.  Tuesday, though, we got up extra-early and were at Bridalvail Falls by about 7 am.

We headed to Yosemite Falls after that and - by taking advantage of a dried creek bed - hiked up to an awesome vantage point near the base of the lower falls.  We spent probably a half-hour or more taking photos there - Matt was practicing "glassing" the waterfalls - before heading back to the car and up to Glacier Point.

Halfdome from Sentinal Dome
Glacier Point and Sentinel Dome have some pretty awesome views of the valley.  The hike up Sentinel Dome wasn't bad except for the last 500 feet, which are of course a scramble up the side of the dome itself.  The scene from the top is worth the effort, though, even in the heat.

We've both decided that we want to go back next year, around early May, when the waterfalls are more dramatic.  I'm thinking we might even try some of the longer hikes - out to Halfdome or even longer ones - and get wilderness permits for overnight camping.

The solar charger and battery worked pretty well; it takes pretty much a full day of sun to charge the battery using the panels, but it gives about four full charges on my phone, Matt's iPhone, or either of our tablets.  It also charged them pretty quickly.

I may post about the second part of my vacation, but that was just to Guerneville - which, while relaxing and fun, is something I've done many times before.

One of the after-effects of this vacation, though, is that I seem to have no attention span: I can't sit and do one thing for more than 30-40 minutes without feeling the need to get up and move around.  I'm also back to exercising, including walking a fair bit, which I'd stopped prior to the trip due to my rib injury.

Oh, and I've signed up for a gay outdoors hiking/camping/etc. group out here.  They've got a short hike tomorrow night that I'm going to join them on - just an easy one in Griffith Park - and I'm hoping that this'll be a new way to not only meet people and make friends but also get out more and do more camping and eventually backpacking kinds of things.

For now, though, that's it.  I'll leave you with a shot of my favorite hot tub in the world.

The hot tub at Highlands Resort