Yosemite Season’s Greetings

Yosemite Season’s Greetings from all of us at YExplore Yosemite Adventures. We are so thankful for the tremendous opportunity to share every inch of Yosemite National Park with all of our guests on guided Yosemite tours and also with our friends on social media. We wish you all a very happy holiday season.Yosemite Season's Greetings

Yosemite Season’s Greetings

It is amazing to share the Yosemite experience with people for the very first time in their life. We receive so many visitors from many nations on several continents. Yosemite is truly an international gathering place. I was able to witness a young couple hiking in snow for the very first time on a recent adventure through the Valley. Yosemite Season's Greetings

It is always a thrill to share this experience, and I watched them make their first snowballs with careful hands and eyes of delight. I cherish every moment of joy shared with all of you.

As we move toward the new year, I would like to express the gratitude we feel for having these opportunities. I would like to wish everyone a very happy holiday season and a wonderful new year. Here’s to a bright, happy, and healthy 2017 from all of us at YExplore.Yosemite Season's Greetings




Yosemite Prints Make Great Holiday Gifts

I’ve spent the past couple of weeks sorting through hundreds of fall photos and am very pleased with my images representing the fall colors displayed around Yosemite Valley. Several of my most noteworthy shots in the last three weeks were captured while leading groups on walks that highlighted Yosemite Falls. My updated portfolio includes several of these images. I am also sharing my Yosemite National Park image gallery as a suggestion for those who are looking for holiday gift ideas because Yosemite Prints Make Great Holiday Gifts.

Yosemite Prints Make Great Holiday Gifts

Yosemite Prints Make Great Holiday Gifts

One’s perspective can change dramatically while photographing in Yosemite. I view every adventure with excitement as an opportunity to tell a new story. I created this first scene while walking along the banks of the Merced River. We found this reflection and decided to stay to make a composition. I was able to hold my camera steady because getting low to the ground is important.

Yosemite Prints Make Great Holiday GiftsScattered October storms signaled an escape from the dry summer. Leaves changed quickly and many fell before they could produce any vibrant colors.

Yosemite Prints Make Great Holiday GiftsThere are several photographic challenges during the changing seasons. Lighting conditions swiftly transform each scene and luck sometimes outweighs other factors when trying to photograph landscapes. Being at the right place at the right time is essential. Having your camera at the ready for that moment is most important.

Yosemite Prints Make Great Holiday GiftsI captured this falling leaf as I set up a composition of Yosemite Falls. The wind gusted as I prepared my camera, and I noticed several leaves began to fall from the trees above us. I held my camera and waited for the right moment. Snap.

Yosemite Prints Make Great Holiday GiftsKnowing the lay of the land is also important. This is an image that followed a clearing storm. I spend a lot of time in this area waiting for guests to join me for Yosemite adventures. I knew exactly where I wanted to be when the sunlight shone through the last of the parting clouds. Consequently, this photo gave new meaning to the phrase golden hour.

Professional Yosemite Prints Make Great Holiday Gifts

I would also like to share the galleries of our professional photography instructors for more great gift ideas.

Robb Hirsch

Al Golub

James McGrew

Jay Sousa




Yosemite NPS Centennial Celebration

Yosemite NPS Centennial Celebration

August 25, 2016 marked the 100 year anniversary of the National Park Service. The Yosemite NPS Centennial Celebration was one for the ages. Arrangements were made for an historic event when Superintendent Don Neubacher and his staff developed a brilliant idea from a very creative Yosemite community member.  Les Marsden composed “Our Nation’s Nature” to be performed by the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra in a special concert at Glacier Point in honor of four significant park anniversaries. This once in a lifetime event culminated the last of those four special commemorations.

Special Celebration in Yosemite National Park with Historic Glacier Point Concert 

By John P. DeGrazio

Yosemite NPS Centennial CelebrationAs a Yosemite National Park Centennial Ambassador, it has been my honor to help promote the Yosemite NPS Centennial Celebration by sharing photos throughout the park this year. Les Marsden also happens to be a very close friend of mine. We both volunteer for an organization called the Yosemite Gateway Partners, and his idea was conceptualized at one of our meetings. Les and I are both honorary ambassadors so we went on a couple of adventures this month to share some photos of Yosemite during the celebration.

Yosemite Adventures

Yosemite NPS Centennial Celebration

Our first adventure was a late afternoon exploration of Sentinel Dome. The wind was whipping and very few people remained, but it did not stop us from admiring the beautiful landscape. We marveled at all the surrounding majesty. Les had not been up on a peak in a few years so he gleefully bounced from rock to rock in utter amazement.

Yosemite NPS Centennial CelebrationSharing Yosemite with visitors has been very rewarding for me, and I relish every opportunity, especially with friends.

Yosemite NPS Centennial Celebration

Yosemite NPS Centennial CelebrationOn the day of the concert, I was slightly fearful I may miss the opportunity to witness history. My day began at 5 am at the trailhead for Half Dome. Fourteen hours were allotted for the 16 mile hike which hopefully would end in time for an hour drive up to the concert at Glacier Point.

The Half Dome journey began innocently enough as we made our way to the cables under clear skies. Unfortunately, our luck turned. Clouds enveloped the dome and we were hit by a brief shower as the group crested the Sub Dome.

Yosemite NPS Centennial CelebrationThere was some thunder in the distance so we were in a holding pattern. The rain did not last more than ten minutes, and we were able to make a summit attempt when the wind shifted to push the clouds away from us. Blue skies reappeared and we happily squeezed through the window. This dramatic landscape greeted us on our very short stay at the top.

Luckily, the return trip to Yosemite Valley was uncomplicated. I arrived at Glacier Point as the concert began. The collective euphoria of the crowd was obvious. The orchestra performed passionately as the notes echoed off the granite walls. I sat in wonder when the night sky darkened the stage. My eyes were fixed on the stars as the music continued. The event was a transformative experience that every member of the audience will remember forever.Yosemite NPS Centennial Celebration

NPS 100

Yosemite NPS Centennial CelebrationAugust 25th arrived and Yosemite celebrated with a final ceremony in Yosemite Valley. Author Terry Tempest Williams graced the crowd of predominantly NPS staff and local partners of the park. Her eloquence was captivating, and she shared several poignant moments that allowed the audience several reflective moments. Ranger Gabriel was also a speaker this day, and his words were very inspirational.

Yosemite NPS Centennial CelebrationLes and I took one more opportunity to adventure when the ceremony ended. Fittingly, we found ourselves on the Mist Trail at Vernal Fall. Our month had ended the way it began. We were two visitors admiring this magnificent park on an historic day.


A Hiker’s Guide to Half Dome in Yosemite National Park

Low Impact Tips for Hiking Half Dome

By John P. DeGrazio

Yosemite Half Dome Cook's Meadow
A Hiker’s Guide to Half Dome by John P. DeGrazio

Half Dome is the most popular hike in Yosemite National Park and one of the most sought after adventures on the planet. The demand for this hike is so great that the National Park Service began implementing a permit lottery system in 2011 to reduce extreme overcrowding of the trail. A large portion of the Half Dome trail is in Yosemite Wilderness. Having successfully led over 100 summit attempts of this epic journey, I would like to share a Hiker’s Guide to Half Dome in Yosemite National Park with some basic minimum impact guidelines to enjoying the wilderness from our partners at the Leave no Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.

A Hiker’s Guide to Half Dome in Yosemite National Park

Hiking Half Dome requires a great deal of determination and stamina. If you are one of the lucky ones who have received a permit in the preseason lottery, you have probably begun your training. I highly recommend developing a routine of at least three days per week of cardio as well as some arm strengthening exercises if you have not already. To reach the summit of Half Dome, you will need to hike 16 miles roundtrip while gaining just about 5,000 feet of elevation. In case that wasn’t enough, you will be required to pull yourself up 600 feet of steel cables at the very end. That’s why the arm strengthening will be important. <Insider’s Tip> Do not rely solely on your arms while ascending the cables. Instead, drive off your legs. Sure, they will be tired at this point; but the taxing that your arms will receive will be far greater if you do not rely on your legs. There are more tips for a successful Half Dome summit on the YExplore Hike Half Dome page complete with a gear guide and safety video.

The cable route on Half Dome is expected to be open by May 16 this year. However, there is a possibility of delays since we have received a fair amount of snow at that elevation while storms continue to hit the Sierra Nevada throughout spring. Check the National Park Service website for updated Half Dome information. If you already have your permits, you are good to go. If you were unsuccessful, you may also acquire them through a secondary 48 hour lottery once the season begins.

Hikers Guide to Half Dome in collaboration with Leave no Trace

Leave No Trace is an organization that teaches outdoor ethics for minimal impact uses of our natural lands. It is an important concept to understand. Everyone wants to enjoy nature, but we all can use some education on how to enjoy these beautiful parks and wild lands more responsibly. I have established a much stronger connection to Yosemite since I have been practicing these Leave no Trace ethics and truly enjoy sharing them with visitors from around the world. This summer I will be speaking at several venues on a topic I titled “Fostering Yosemite Stewardship in the Digital Age”, I will be making an appearance at the Sierra Ecosummit on June 11 in Groveland, CA and will speak at REI stores in the Bay Area in September.

Leave No Trace has seven simple common sense ethics to follow. Each is listed below followed by suggested applications to your Half Dome hike.

Know Before you go This is the first rule of any outdoor activity. It’s such a wide ranging topic, but I will share some highlights. First, do your homework. Research the hike, nutrition guidelines, and fitness routines. Make sure you let a friend or family member know your plans and also be certain to check in with a ranger when you arrive in Yosemite. Finally, be sure to pack the right gear. Most importantly, hydrate before the hike and stay hydrated all day, Summer months are hot and dry in the Sierra. Dehydration is one of the last things you want to deal with on this hike.

Choose the right path Yosemite Trail crews spend a lot of time constructing and repairing trails. Please show respect to them and other hikers by staying on trails. Please do not shortcut trails. It causes erosion and also kills the wildflowers and other plant life that struggles to grow in the higher elevation of the Half Dome trail.

Trash your trash Please make sure to pack out any items you pack in. This includes any biodegradable items such as orange peels and apple cores. Although they will eventually decompose, it will take much longer in higher elevations. Also, by leaving this fruit behind, you are introducing a non-natural food source to the wildlife. Other items to consider disposing properly are fruit stickers, corners of wrappers, tissues, and band-aids. I recommend carrying a small bag to trash every item as you consume your calories for the day. Finally, one of the biggest trash problems on Half Dome is the pile of gloves left behind for other hikers. This unwanted trash pile grows almost as high as Sub Dome by the end of summer, and many of them wind up in the stomachs of marmots and squirrels. At last year’s Yosemite Facelift, we removed several full bags of gloves from the cables that weighed hundreds of pounds. Please take them back down the mountain with you.

Leave what you find If you see a beautiful flower, you will want to take a photo of it instead of wearing it in your hair for all to see as you ascend the cables. It’s also a bad idea to take rocks from Half Dome. It’s important for everyone to have the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of this place. The more we remove, the less there is for others to experience. Finally, please do not build rock piles known as cairns on the trails or Half Dome itself. Many people think they are helping by placing them, but even the slightest miscalculation in placement can lead someone down a wrong trail or even off a cliff. I’ve knocked over several misplaced cairns on Sub Dome that pop up all the time and lead hikers dangerously closer to the edge of the rock than they need to be. This has become an issue on the summit as people believe they are “beautifying” nature. Leaving your mark is overrated. Let nature do the work, just enjoy it.

Respect wildlife This is also an easy one to follow. If you stow your trash in a bag in your pack, you are letting wild animals find their own food which is the way nature intended it to be. Please don’t feed squirrels and marmots. Also make sure to zip up your unattended packs and don’t leave them below the cables. I have seen countless backpacks ruined and food stashes lost because they were raided by enterprising squirrels and marmots.

Be careful with fire Please never light a fire on the summit of Half Dome. It is illegal and unsafe.

Be kind to others Unfortunately, this is becoming the most controversial topic of discussion while hiking in nature. When we are in wilderness, we need to realize that what may sound reasonable to you is not reasonable to others. If you like to receive motivation from your music, that does not mean everyone around you would like to as well. Please use your headphones while hiking. Many around you would like to hear the sounds of nature. Bluetooth speakers are not advisable on any hike. There are so many hikers on this trail with diverse taste in music, and what sounds good to you likely will not sound good to others who are trying to share this wilderness experience.

Other ways to be kind to others on the trail is to practice good etiquette like letting the uphill hiker have the right of way and to avoid attempting to pass someone in a narrow or dangerous section of the trail. Practice patience and spend an extra minute to take in the scenery. Finally, my last advice is another <Insider’s Tip> Please use the cables wisely. There are two cables spaced out about four feet apart. It is designed to allow people to ascend and descend at the same time. Unfortunately, these cables become very congested at times, even with the new permit system. Safe passage requires patience from everyone involved. We always recommend getting accustomed to using only one of the cables while ascending. Using the right cable allows the descending hikers an opportunity to safely return to Sub Dome without delay. I have seen many people try to pull themselves up both cables at the same time and can assuredly state this method is not as efficient as using the right cable only. You will not burn out your forearms as quickly and you will attain self sufficiency which means you will not have to rely on waiting for the left cable to become free from others who will be descending. Additionally, it causes extended delays for everyone on the cables. This is no fun when you are stuck in the middle section of the climb which is the steepest. Think about this on a crowded summer day when the cables are full. It should typically take about 15 to 20 minutes to go up or down when everyone is using their own cable. Unfortunately, we have been stuck on the cables for over 45 minutes simply because some hikers do not wish to consider the other hikers. This, of course, is not unreasonable at 8,800 feet above sea level. However, it is something to consider before you begin your hike.

YExplore has produced a safety video on Sub Dome and the Cables that you can watch here:

Half Dome Permits Available From YExplore:

As you may know, YExplore offers guided Half Dome hikes. Below are dates we currently have available and would be happy to help you achieve your goal.

Half Dome day hike permits available: 2017 dates will be announced in mid April.

Half Dome 2 Day/1 Night Backpack Trip permits available: 2017 dates will be announced starting in December.

4 Day/3 Night Backpack Trip with Half Dome Permit: 2017 dates will be announced starting in December.

Thank you and have a safe hike everyone. Always remember to enjoy your Can O Peaches on the summit.

Cholock, why do you rush?

A Youthful Poem By John P. DeGrazio 

Witnessing the thunderous crashing of waterfalls in every corner of Yosemite Valley is a rite of spring that excites countless travelers from around the globe. Observing the growth and decline of Cholock (the Native American name for Yosemite Falls) each year always leaves visitors yearning for more when this ephemeral waterfall goes dry in summer. I wrote this poem in 2010 but have recently edited it to reflect my feelings as my oldest daughter turns eleven this week. I was withholding its publication until I found an appropriate photo to accompany it. Yesterday, I had the opportunity hike the Upper Yosemite Fall trail and waited for the clouds to cooperate. I thanked them.


Cholock Yosemite Falls Half Dome
Yosemite Falls with Half Dome Peaking through the Clouds by John P. DeGrazio

Cholock, why do you rush?

When I was an older young man,
I would shout at waterfalls and their impetuous mist.
Now I am a younger old man,
So I quietly lament time lost in your exuberant wake.
Cholock, why do you rush?

You appear when the first water breaks from the October sky.
Your arrival is wildly anticipated and joyously celebrated.
The earth shakes as you make your splash in this world.
Autumn is your spring.
Cholock, why do you rush?

You begin to swell with the melting winter snow,
And you run before you learn to walk.
Endless tears flow from your thunderous cries.
You are loudest before you find your voice.
Cholock, why do you rush?

You impatiently surge through life’s many turns.
With  boundless energy and unlimited growth,
You flow everywhere and nowhere at all.
Your prime arrives without direction.
Cholock, why do you rush?

As spring turns to summer, your strength begins to fade.
Without warning, your energy abandons you,
And you are hushed while you retreat into an empty silence.
Cholock, why did you rush?

Horsetail Fall Firefall 2016

Yosemite Horsetail Fall Waterfall Magic 

Horsetail Fall Firefall by John P. DeGrazio

I’ve never been known to be avant-garde. My fashion sense on the trails leaves a little to be desired, but that’s a topic for a different day. When it comes to photography, it seems I also have a lot of catching up to do, especially if you talk to my good friend and mentor, Walter Flint. I just purchased a Gitzo Mountaineering Carbon Fiber Tripod as an upgrade to my previous and much heavier starter tripod. That pleased Walter who is hard to impress. The Gitzo is very light and it fits very well on my Mindshift Gear Horizon backpack. I mention these two products because a tripod is essential for capturing a photo of Horsetail Fall, and my backpack was imperative for bringing my gear to the location from where I was shooting. The Horizon is very well designed and easily fit my camera, both lenses, and the aforementioned tripod.

I recently had a conversation with another friend, Steven Bumgardner, who many in the Twitterverse refer to as Yosemite Steve. Steve and I were sharing the story of our Twitter bromance in Yosemite Valley last week with a couple of his friends. We laughed about meeting each other on the Upper Yosemite Fall trail while I was leading a couple to the top. We both made eye contact and immediately knew who the other one was. There are so many stories like that, but I will get back to the point. I mentioned that I finally got a photo of Horsetail Fall that I am going to release. His response was “Horsetail Fall is so last week”. We all laughed while I explained that in an effort to stay up with the times, I had the YExplore website redesigned and could not make any Can O Peaches blog posts for three weeks. Anyway, here we are with the soft launch of a new cutting edge design and my first post which will share my story of this capture of the “firefall effect” on Horsetail Fall.

Many in Yosemite know this has been a wonderful year for rain and snow which means the waterfalls have come alive after 4 very dismal years of drought. You can hear thunderous waterfalls booming in every corner of Yosemite Valley right now, and it is such a welcome phenomenon. Speaking of which, Horsetail Fall “firefall” is one that occurs typically for two weeks in February during a period of optimal light at sunset. A convergence of several elements need to converge in order capture an image of the magical firefall effect.

I was in the Valley on February 20th for a tour so I decided to sit through tons of traffic to try to shoot the falls. This was from a new location that did not yield a positive result. Beggars can’t be choosers that close to sunset. I knew I wanted to try again, especially since I saw so many real (spectacular) and improvised (not so spectacular) images on my Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feeds. I decided to go back on the 24th.

Horsetail Fall

When I arrived in the Valley on the 24th, I had some spare time so I naturally decided to hike. I have always wanted to photograph the Horsetail Fall from a spot that will remain nameless and actually heard some internet chatter that it was yielding positive results this year. Once I arrived at the spot, I wondered if I could move a little west to get a better angle. I soon found myself scrambling up some rocks and farther away from the trail. “How do I get down from here” and “You better not lose the trail at sunset” were my two most prevalent thoughts. I found a perfect perch atop a stable rock and set up my tripod. Then I waited. The beauty of this story is I waited alone. There wasn’t a soul around me so I was able to relish listening to the crash of Yosemite Falls from across the Valley and watch the magic happen.

iPhone image of sun setting on Horsetail Fall by John P. DeGrazio

I started taking some test images on my camera and even took out my iPhone for a couple of snaps as the light changed. Then the show really began. The light became an intense orange, and although I didn’t have the most optimal angle to shoot, I believed I was in the perfect place at the perfect time. The glowing mist danced as molten lava poured down the eastern flank of El Capitan. It was a breathtakingly transcendent moment. As the light left El Capitan, the lava flows were more impressive. I stood astonished and frozen for minutes with a smile as wide as Yosemite Valley until this magical occurrence expired. Time stood still, and I was entranced for what seemed like an eternity.

Coming to, I realized I needed to focus on route finding back to my main trail. My senses were heightened, and I easily navigated my way back to the path. I ran back to my Jeep, but it honestly felt like I was floating as I remained in a euphoric state. At that moment, I did not care if I made a good image. Although it is a great feeling to capture the event with a photograph, I was more impressed with the experience. In years to come, I will be able to look at this photo and use it as a trigger point to the emotional release I felt as I experienced total solitude in Yosemite Valley. I just pinched myself  as the words I just typed began to resonate.



Moonrise Over Ahwahnee: Yosemite Photo 2015.11.24

The Sunset and Moonrise from Tunnel View 
By John P. DeGrazio 
Moonrise Over Ahwahnee by John P. DeGrazio

After finishing my hike yesterday, I decided to drive up to Tunnel View for sunset. I had plenty of time to capture what I had hoped would be a special moment. Tripods had lined the wall and space was limited, but I managed to squeeze mine in to the right end of the queue next to a friendly photographer. The light was changing while clouds drifted between Half Dome and Clouds Rest. I began to set my composition before I realized the moon was rising just above Sentinel Dome so I widened my field of view to include Bridalveil Fall. The clouds were moving rapidly and the largest ones were pushed away just as the moon moved into an ideal position. It wasn’t the most dramatic sunset. Satisfied, I asked myself a question. Does it really need to be? Such is life in Yosemite.

Happy Independence Day 2015

The Pursuit of Happiness in Yosemite 

By John P. DeGrazio 

Sunset from Glacier Point with Half Dome, Clouds Rest, the Cathedral Range, & Mt. Watkins by John P. DeGrazio

239 years ago, the founders of this nation held certain truths to be self evident “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I read the Declaration of Independence this morning, as is my custom. This time I read it to my ten year old daughter. Although the language prevents her from fully understanding the magnitude of the document, she is beginning to learn the meaning of this holiday.

10 years ago today, I was in Minnesota pursuing my own happiness on a cross country journey to California from New York with my family. We arrived in this new land with only a dream. Without knowing another soul, we settled in Sonora and laid the foundation for YExplore. Many sacrifices were made over the following 10 years, but they pale in comparison to the sacrifices shared by those who made that declaration, fought for, and eventually earned their independence. My independence has been achieved away from the “old world” and I am forever grateful to those who fought for and continue to make the ultimate sacrifices for this nation.

There are so many ways to celebrate the Fourth and every other day we are free. I am not a big fan of fireworks but enjoy traveling to various national parks to watch the sky “light up”. I would have to say my favorite place to do that is in Yosemite National Park. Here is an image from a display last July at Glacier Point. Happy Independence Day.

Living a Dream: Yosemite Photos 2015.05.23

Half Dome Through the Curtain   
By John P. DeGrazio 
Half Dome Appears Through a Cloud Curtain by John P. DeGrazio

I was leading a Yosemite Adventure Hike at Glacier Point almost exactly a year ago when the weather began to turn. The rain came down in sheets as the crowd sought refuge in the only shelter for miles. It was a brief deluge, but many lingered inside the warm gift shop even after the rain ceased. We patiently camped with our cameras at a location with a good vantage point and watched the clouds move by. Impromptu showers splashed us intermittently, but we held our ground. The clouds began to serve as curtains, briefly opening and closing to show glimpses of prominent landmarks of the Yosemite High Country. We were witnessing our own private magic show as we stood in astonishment. One moment it was the Clark Range and then Mt. Hoffman. Finally, it was time for the main attraction to appear. Like in a dream, Half Dome was unveiled for nearly thirty seconds, and then disappeared not to be seen again. Fortunately, I was able to capture a few fleeting images. This was my best and also my very first attempt at a black and white image. We moved on to hike up Sentinel Dome with high spirits after witnessing such a dramatic event.

See more images by John P. DeGrazio here.

Half Dome Rainbow: Yosemite Photos 2015.05.22

Glacier Point on a Rainy Day 
By John P. DeGrazio 
A Beam of Light Shines on Half Dome in between Storms Day by John P. DeGrazio

We’re experiencing some welcome wet weather in the Sierra this May. Every little bit will help our California drought. The precipitation has affected our Yosemite hiking adventures in a positive way by creating more dramatic skies for interesting photographs. Here is one I was able to take from Glacier Point at the end of our Panorama Trail hike. The light kept teasing us as we made our return trip from Nevada Fall. Just as I was leaving the parking lot, I looked over to see a beam of light shining on Half Dome. Once I safely walked to the edge of the hillside, I was able to capture this image with a faint rainbow at the base of the rock.

We wish everyone a healthy and safe Memorial Day weekend. Please remember the tremendous sacrifices made by so many service men and women who protect our rights and freedoms.