In early August, a Wish Manager from Wish of a Lifetime asked me if I would photograph a wish fulfillment for Alice S. in Yosemite. I received a short bio on Alice and between the bio and the mission and vision of Wish of a Lifetime, I knew this would be a fun and rewarding adventure. I quickly said “Yes!”
Wish of a Lifetime grants life-enriching, experiential wishes to senior citizens. Their Mission Statement and Vision are:
Our mission is to shift the way society views and values our oldest generations by fulfilling seniors’ dreams and sharing their stories to inspire those of all ages.
We envision a world in which society embraces aging and the inherent wisdom that accompanies it, where seniors are celebrated for their accomplishments and sacrifices, and where intergenerational connections are part of our daily lives.
If you have some time, take a look at Wish of a Lifetime’s website. I promise it will warm your heart and inspire you. Wish of a Lifetime grants four types of wishes: reconnecting with family and friends, fulfilling a lifelong dream, renewing and celebrating passions, and commemorating service. If you know someone who would benefit from a Wish of a Lifetime wish, nominate them. And if you can, donate to Wish of a Lifetime.
I faced two big challenges for a portrait session in Yosemite National Park on Labor Day weekend; traffic and fires.
Challenge 1: Traffic
The session was scheduled for Labor Day Weekend. Have you ever been to Yosemite on a holiday weekend? Have you ever been to Yosemite on a holiday weekend when there is road construction in the park? Oy. Double plus ungood. On the front page of their website, Yosemite places alerts in effect right at the top. This did not alleviate my fears:
While we welcome you to Yosemite, you should expect traffic congestion, especially in Yosemite Valley. Be prepared for multiple delays, you may experience delays of an hour or more at entrance stations and up to two- to three-hours, especially in afternoons and on weekends.
In order to arrive at the scheduled meeting point on time, I knew proper prior planning and creativity on my part was necessary. I analyzed my options; drive myself, take YARTS (public transportation to Yosemite), helicopter charter, parachute in and finally, teleportation. Okay, that last one is totally wishful thinking. I wondered if I could learn to skydive in time and realized that was a no-go. Helicopter charters are cost prohibitive, so YARTS and driving myself were the remaining options.
Option 1 YARTS
I seriously considered YARTS. In Mariposa, I could get on the same bus that Alice S. was scheduled to ride from her hotel near the entrance, then we could ride into the park together. That way, if the bus got stuck in traffic, we’d be late together. But in reviewing the return schedules, I’d have to hang out in the park for 3 or more hours until I could get a return bus to Mariposa. Normally, that wouldn’t be a bad thing, but crowds and Challenge 2 are the reasons I didn’t really want to hang out in the park. So YARTS worked, but was not the best option and it turned out for the best.
Option 2 Drive
The drive myself option was probably best, but that meant a very early arrival to avoid the traffic and find a place to park. The ultimately approved option was that Ron and I would both drive into Yosemite early, park, hang out, have breakfast in Yosemite, and then meet up with Alice S.
Challenge 2: Fires and Smoke
I fretted over this challenge for more than a week. There were fires in and near Yosemite; the Empire Fire, the South Fork Fire and the Railroad Fire. The Empire Fire caused a change in Alice’s itinerary. All of the fires left Yosemite Valley smoky and the Railroad Fire caused the closure of Hwy 41 to the South Yosemite Entrance which would further hamper traffic on our route.
Smoke from the fires blew northwest. The area in which I live was so smoky we couldn’t see much past 200 yards. In the NASA photo, you can see that our house is right in line with the smokiest band.
The Yosemite NP alerts page said:
Caution – Expect smoky conditions in Yosemite
Expect poor air quality and limited visibility due to fires in Yosemite.
The whole point of going to Yosemite was to see Yosemite. I worried for Alice.
The Big Day Arrives
I was nervous. Still worried about traffic and smoke, we set off for Yosemite at 6:30 am. Our scheduled meeting time was 11:00 am. Ron was skeptical of my desire to leave that early, but I convinced him that breakfast in Yosemite was worth getting up early for.
Our drive to the Arch Rock Entrance was uneventful but very smoky. My worries intensified. The Merced River Valley was thick with smoke. If this continued, I would be able to photograph Alice, but including Yosemite landmarks would be tough. There were more cars on the road than expected at that hour, but no traffic. We arrived at the Arch Rock Entrance at 7:30 am-ish, and there were about 8 cars in front of us. We have a lifetime pass, so a ranger directed us to the right lane and through the entrance with little waiting.
As we continued up the canyon and into Yosemite Valley, suddenly, the smoke cleared! Yay! I was extremely happy.
Once in the valley, we encountered more cars. Some of them were a bit crazy; one sped around us as we slowed for a car with emergency flashers on, only to discover that Mr. Emergency Flashers had stopped in the lane to take photographs out his car window. Erg.
We drove through the Swinging Bridge parking lot and briefly considered just parking there, but decided against it. The warnings of 2- to 3- hour delays kept bouncing around in my gray matter. We drove over to Yosemite Falls with no traffic.
Waiting for Alice
We parked on Northside Drive, in the Cook’s Meadow area. Easy peasy! We sat in the car for a bit, breathing in fresh air. At about 8:30 am we gathered up all of our gear and headed over to the Yosemite Valley Lodge.
We had a leisurely breakfast in the Food Court, then did some reconnaissance work. We knew there was a great spot along the Merced River and the Swinging Bridge trail that would be great for photos, but we needed to make sure it was accessible for Alice. Our other option was Cook’s Meadow.
At 10:45, I went inside the Yosemite Valley Lodge near the tour desk, to wait. I didn’t know what Alice or her daughter, Karen, looked like, but I figured they would see a woman with a camera looking for them, and we’d figure it out. And we did! Alice noticed my camera and slowed, so I asked, “Are you Alice?”. With a very big smile, she answered yes!
After our introductions, Karen told me that she and Alice took an earlier YARTS bus into Yosemite and arrived about 30 minutes early. If I had taken their scheduled bus, I would have been quite late! We discussed location options and Alice and Karen chose the spot along the Merced River. It was a short hike on a flat and paved path to arrive at our location. I photographed Karen, with Ron’s help, for about an hour.
This wasn’t like other photo sessions. It felt more like we went to Yosemite to visit with friends. Alice and Karen are very warm and friendly and we instantly started chatting and sharing Yosemite experiences.
It turns out that Alice and her family camped in many of the same places I camped with my family. We didn’t just talk about Yosemite, we talked about tent camping that gradually led to RV camping. We talked about the bears and horse back riding in White Wolf Campground, we talked about camping at Richardson’s Grove and Patrick’s Point State Parks, and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. And guess what? Alice and her family hiked Moro Rock at night too!
I had a wonderful time meeting Alice and Karen and photographing them. Our time was up too soon and I would have enjoyed spending the whole day with them. And when it was time to part ways, we got big hugs. There are lots of reasons to love being a photographer, but meeting wonderful people and the hugs top the list!
P.S. We left Yosemite around 12:30 pm and there was quite a bit of traffic right at Yosemite Falls. After that there was no traffic in either direction until we got to the Arch Rock Entrance! From there, traffic getting into the park was backed-up over 6 miles!