Monday, February 11, 2019

It Was That Kind of Day: Half Dome from the Central Valley



Update: I've added an extra image at the end that shows the satellite imagery in the view from Keyes Road. 

It doesn't happen often. I usually pass the right intersection once or maybe twice a week, but the most important factor is the air quality. It's almost always poor. Dust and smoke in the summer, fog and clouds in winter. There is a spot on the floor of the Great Valley (some call it merely the Central Valley) where one can see Half Dome and the other peaks around Yosemite Valley in the Sierra Nevada.
Today was one of those days. I was going to take my customary walk on the Tuolumne River, but I could see that the air was extraordinarily clear, so I headed south to the intersection of Keyes Road and S. Hickman Road. I wasn't disappointed. I could be wrong, but I think these are the clearest views I've ever caught with a camera.
The visibility of Half Dome from the valley floor has been kind of a contentious subject. There are plenty of people who think that it isn't possible, and there are some peaks that are mistaken for Half Dome off to the north. I was actually accused of photoshopping the pictures once, which if you know me is laughable (I don't do that kind of thing very well). The trick to seeing it is to know where to look (NNE from the Keyes/Hickman Road intersection), and to realize that while Half Dome is so prominent from the floor of Yosemite Valley, it is not even 9,000 feet above sea level. The peaks behind and around Half Dome are 12,000 to 13,000 feet high. Half Dome is most definitely not on the skyline. It's in the middle foreground.
The other thing to realize is that my pictures are highly zoomed images. The image below approximates what the scene looks like from just north of the intersection. Can you pick out Half Dome in the picture below? And if you know your Sierra Nevada geography, can you name the other peaks that are visible? See how you did below!

Here, courtesy of CalTopo.com is a guide to the peaks in the picture above.

POSTSCRIPT: Thank you for all the comments. Since there is still some controversy about whether this is Half Dome, it turns out that CalTopo also offers an image overlay on the viewfinder, so I have added it below. For those who feel the mountains in back are not "tall" enough, one needs to consider the curvature of the Earth over the 40-50 mile distance of the highest peaks in the view.


14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Do you mean Hickman Rd, by Oakdale-Waterford highway? Trying to figure out the spot from Google Map.

Garry Hayes said...

Yes indeed. I've lived there so long I don't look at road signs, and forgot that Oakdale-Waterford Highway changes to Hickman Road going south. Thanks for pointing this out; I've corrected the text above.

Tracy said...

I've heard there's another spot on Warnerville road. Though I haven't found it yet.

Tammy Firch said...

I have seen it by Geer road, just north of Turlock.

Unknown said...

I find this astonishing as if not real. From Ohio and visited Yosemite 4 times and climbed/hiked half dome twice. Simply hard to believe. So no mountains higher than Half
Dome when looking west to east? Cloud rest to the upper left (behind)?

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but that is not Half Dome. I have repeatedly heard this myth about being able to see Half Dome from the Central Valley and it just isn't true. I don't know what that is, but it's not the famous peak. Due west of Half Dome is Glacier Point in Yosemite. GP is 7,200 feet, HD is 8,800 feet. GP alone would block out the view of all but the last 1,600 feet of the dome, and much of that would be invisible to us due to the distance and angles. And that is if GP is the only obstacle.

The images you posted seem to show your "Half Dome" as being just behind the lower foothills of the Sierra. But the real Half Dome is much further east than your photo. If you go to Yosemite, you'll notice that even inside Yosemite it can be difficult to find a clear vantage point to view Half Dome. Please do not perpetuate this myth.

--Scott Olin, Modesto CA

rmt said...

I’m having a Facebook discussion about this and I agree with you that it isn’t half dome. You can barely see half dome from inspiration point in Yosemite, yet you can see it fully from the Central Valley? And glacier point is an issue with seeing half dome from the valley. The good professor neglected to show it on his labels of landmarks.

Garry Hayes said...

Oh, I can assure you that this is Half Dome in the pictures. For one, Glacier Point is SW of Half Dome, not west. And if you look at pictures from the top of Half Dome (look at http://www.planetholloway.com/graphics/photos/edge%20of%20half%20dome%20yosemite.jpg for an example), you can see that the Merced River canyon points SWW towards Denair and Turlock. The Central Valley is visible from Half Dome, and thus Half Dome is visible from parts of the Central Valley. The angle is confirmed further by CalTopo measurements. The fact that it is difficult to see Half Dome from the valley floor is immaterial: looking at views from the top of Half Dome show that the ridge below Glacier Point blocks the view from the valley floor. But it doesn't block the view of the valley.

rmt said...

Well looking at your picture from the Central Valley, Half Dome is very prominent. Yet, even in your picture from the top of Half Dome, you can see Glacier Point and El Capitan as being just as prominent, yet in between Half Dome and the Central Valley. Half Dome at it's highest point is 8800 feet. And in your Central Valley picture, you can see the majority of Half Dome, meaning that you can see Half Dome elevations of 5000-6000 feet. However, El Capitan is about 7600 feet in elevation and Glacier Point is 7200 feet in elevation. So, if this was truly Half Dome, you wouldn't see the whole of the rock, just the top 1/4 or 1/5th of Half Dome, for both El Cap and Glacier would block the lower and middle part of the Half Dome rock. For one to see all of Half Dome, both Glacier and El Cap would have to be at about 5000-5500 feet elevation. And they are both above 7000 feet. So, you have to explain where Glacier and El Capitan are in your picture to convince me (not that I'm that important) that it is true.
I'm going to drive out there this weekend and hope for clear skies and then drive closer to see what that rock is.

Anonymous said...

I have an issue with the statement, "The peaks behind and around HalfDome are..." My point is that the tallest valley peak and nearest neighbor to HalfDome is Clouds Rest. Clouds Rest is approximately 3.5 miles away from the Dome. In photos taken from Glacier Point, Clouds Rest does not appear to rise above the height of HalfDome. As for peaks behind the Dome...MatthesCrest, Cockscomb, Vogelsang...all are an additional 10miles away and don't appear to tower above HalfDome in any photo I've seen or while I've stood upon it. Please, give names to the peaks seen behind this photo of HalfDome and then we can debate its legitimacy.

Sincerely, BAW

Garry Hayes said...

Please note that I've added the CalTopo view with satellite imagery added in, with most of the prominent peaks labeled.

rmt said...

Thanks for the CalTopo view. But again, it is missing 7200 ft Glacier Point and shows 7800 ft El Capitan as too low. I am a GIS guy and I mapped out the view line from Hickman and Keyes Rd to Half Dome. Both El Capitan and Glacier Point are right in that view line, as is the Tunnel Viewpoint, where the usual shot of Yosemite Valley and Half Dome show up (where Half Dome is mostly hidden).
In your picture and the CalTopo view, most of, 8800 foot elevation, Half Dome is shown. It is about 4000 ft elevation at the base of Half Dome, making Half Dome about 5000 ft high. So, when most of Half Dome is shown in CalTopo's view, it is safe to say that elevations of 5000-6000 ft are visible in your and CalTopo's Half Dome view. There is no way that can happen when El Cap and Glacier Point are over 7000 ft in elevation and are in between Half Dome and the Central Valley shot in the direct view line. For CalTopo's diagram to work, El Cap has to be about 5000 ft in elevation, but it is 7600 ft. And why Glacier Point is not shown is puzzling. So, it doesn't make sense given the elevation data. For this to be legitimate, the top 1/4 or 1/5 of Half Dome should be visible, if that, not the majority of the rock. That's why I'm not buying it, regardless of CalTopo's illustration.

Garry Hayes said...

You're missing something here. Half Dome does rise 5,000 feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley, but the face of Half Dome, the vertical wall, is 2,000 feet or less. That is the part that is visible in the photos. The "Diving Board" is visible at the right base of the dome, and it is at an elevation of about 7,400 feet, so these pictures show the top 1,500 feet of the face of Half Dome. Sentinel Dome is clearly visible on the right side of Half Dome, and if you check the topographic map, Glacier Point would not be visible at all because it is behind Sentinel from the angle of the Keyes Road view.

The fact is that these photos are taken looking directly at the location of Yosemite Valley from a position on the floor of the Central Valley in the one place where the orientation is correct for seeing it. The features in the pictures I took line up with those generated by the CalTopo map database. The large rock in the center of the picture is clearly a vertical cliff with same shape as Half Dome, including the "Nose" and the "Diving Board". The top of the dome is slightly indented, just like Half Dome. The tip of El Capitan and Sentinel Dome are clearly visible in their correct relation to Half Dome. And there are no other peaks or domes in the area that come close to having this appearance.


Anonymous said...

This might be able to assist. From lick observatory twice the distance as Turlock but 4200 foot elevation. https://twitter.com/LickObservatory/status/1097646752163741696