In the high country of Yosemite, the high-altitude Tioga Pass is Yosemite’s gateway to the East, winding amongst some of the country’s most spectacular alpine scenery. If you drove or trekked quickly along the mountain pass, it might be easy to miss Olmsted Point, a spectacular vista just footsteps from the road. While scores of summer visitors train their cameras down, at the views of Half Dome, Tenaya Canyon, and the peaks of Clouds Rest, in 1959, Ansel stopped at this point to capture an entirely different view.
While thousands pass through Tioga Pass on trips to the park every year, few get the chance to experience the magic of last light at altitude, when the fading sun bathes the harsh landscape with a surprisingly gentle glow. This image shows the far-off Half Dome dramatically lit from the west as the sun sinks below the horizon. It’s a rarely-seen view of Half Dome, as the usually massive peak seems little more than a hill when viewed from the granite heights of the pass. Here, Ansel’s trademark sensitivity to the quality of light is on full display, as the brilliant colors of the alpine sunset seem to make Half Dome glow from within, illuminating the entire valley with an other-worldly beam.
As Ansel wrote in his book Yosemite, the experience of watching the sun rise and set over the valley is truly indescribable.
“If you were to give me the pleasure of showing you Yosemite Valley for the first time,” he writes, “I know just how I would want to do it.” Up before dawn to watch the sun rise from nearby Glacier Point, “you would lean against the railing, trying to see down into the shadows for the first sight of something whose descriptions you never quite believed… Soon the shadows in which we stand will be swept away as the sun bursts upon us with an atomic blaze over the helmet curve of Half Dome.” In this image, as the sunlight recedes, the “atomic blaze” becomes a firelight glow.
This image was one of thirty Ansel selected as the Yosemite Special Edition Prints before his death in 1984. Chosen to reflect the varied experiences of traveling within Yosemite, these prints were produced to inspire visitors to the park to share the joy of their trip with others. These special photographs are available only from the Ansel Adams Gallery, reprinted to Ansel’s exact specifications by Alan Ross, Ansel’s photographic assistant.
Explore the entire collection of Ansel Adams Yosemite Special Edition photographs. Or, visit our gallery in Yosemite to experience the series in person.