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Photographing Pothole Dome, Tuolumne Meadows

Local Artist, Musician, or Craftsperson

"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life." John Muir "Our National Parks"

In the 1890s John Muir started promoting making Yosemite a National Park. He proposed Yosemite's beautiful places beyond the Valley could be reached by building hiking trails, and utilizing the Tioga Road to venture into the high country, including Tuolumne Meadows.

Located 38 and a half miles east of Crane Flat on Tioga Road, Highway120, is a large granite feature, Pothole Dome, and the beginning of Tuolumne Meadows. Pothole Dome is 230 feet high above the Meadows, and 8,788 feet high above sea level. It is a large granite "Roche Moutonnee" created by a glacier flowing over a resistant outcrop of granite. As the glacier moves up the rock, added pressure causes a portion of the ice to melt, then as it moves down the other side, pressure is released and water refreezes in the cracks of the outcrop. The frozen water in the cracks expands, wedging off pieces of the outcrop. This plucking results in the smooth upstream side of the dome and the sheer or steeper downstream side.

The potholes were also created during glacial erosion. Melting ice spun rocks around in the same spot by circular eddy water action. The constant abrasion wears away the spot, creating a hole. Once started, the circular abrasion is self-reinforcing as the hole enlarges, and more rocks enter the hole to grind away. The potholes are in varying sizes on the Dome's surface, varying feet across.

View of Pothole Dome from Tuolumne Meadows – Ray Anderson

Photographing Pothole Dome from the Tuolumne Meadows level provides its scale, and the elevated views from its top of the surrounding Yosemite High Country are photogenic and provide a different perspective. To access the Dome from Tioga Road, park at the turnout on the south hand side at the beginning of Tuolumne Meadows. From here is the vast panorama of the Meadows to the east and the crest of the Sierra Nevada in the distance. To the west the taller Fairview Dome is visible.

To hike up Pothole Dome, walk along Tioga Road's shoulder a short distance, and do not short-cut across the fragile Meadow's plant life. There is no marked trail up the Dome, but it is an easy ascent on the granite slabs to the top, by picking your path.

The photographic possibilities from this elevated viewpoint are especially scenic during sunset as varying light crosses the Meadow. Starting in June the snow melt pothole ponds are good photo subjects for reflections of the surrounding peaks.

Next to Pothole Dome is a two and a half mile round trip hiking loop trail on the north side of Tioga Road. The trail meets the Tuolumne River which starts flowing downward, creating photogenic cascades. Using a tripod and longer camera shutter speeds will create creamy water movement images. A bonus farther along the River about a quarter of a mile, is a view of Unicorn Peak as a distant backdrop.

A common photography concept, which I disagree with, is to include a large amount of sky in the image. I prefer frequently cropping out the sky and minimize its place in the image. Tuolumne Meadows is a good place to practice minimal sky, and focus on the River, plant life, and peaks.

Name of Person

Ray Anderson -

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