Throwback Thursday No. 11


Images from the Film Archives 2007

Sentinel Dome — Yosemite National Park, CA  © jj raia

Sentinel Dome — Yosemite National Park, CA © jj raia

On my very first cross-country trip in 1977, one of the major destinations along the way was to Yosemite National Park in California. Traveling through Colorado, to Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas and Death Valley, we headed north along the eastern Sierra to Lee Vining. Then west again, over the Tioga Road through the Sierra high country toward the valley itself, the drive really gave me my first experience of the majestic views among the peaks within the range, and I looked forward to a planned hike atop Sentinel Dome to see the iconic and twisted jefrey pine that so many famous photographers had previously visited. At the time, although I had a camera, it was only along to record the trip, and I have nothing to show for the hike to see this fabled tree. It was the adventure then, and not the photography. But I did marvel at the strength and beauty of that lone tree that so many came to see, and the 360-degree view of the granite domes and peaks of the Sierras. One specific, vivid memory I have from that first visit, was the sound of the wind passing through it’s needles.

It would be several years until I made the hike there again, only to be saddened and disappointed that the tree had finally lost its battle with the solid rock environment on the dome; still standing but without any needles to adorn the gnarled limbs. It wasn’t until 2007 that I returned for a third time to make the climb with the specific intention to actually photograph it with the medium format camera I was using at the time.

This last visit had the complete and utter disappointment of discovering that only the carcass of the tree remained, having fallen over during the intervening years, with most of the limbs having disappeared. I spent a couple hours there while other hikers came and went, until the very late afternoon when they had all headed back along the 2.1-mile trail to their car. I was alone as the sun reddened and shone a wonderful orange light onto the tree and surrounding High Sierra. As I hiked back down in the darkness, I was encouraged because a younger tree, with the early signs of becoming twisted like its predecessor, seen in the near distance from the trunk in the photo, was growing at another location atop the dome that may someday replace the recently departed icon, and become an icon in its own right in the decades to come. We can only hope that it does and inspires another generation of photographers to seek the solace and serenity of that special place.

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