Monday, November 3, 2014

Seeing Half Dome from California's Great Valley

It isn't easy to see...
There aren't many places where one can do it, and there aren't many days when the air is clean enough to allow it, but the iconic cliffs of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome and El Capitan, are visible from the Great Valley of California (sometimes called the Central Valley, and the southern half the San Joaquin Valley). I've posted on this before a few times.

Normally the best spot to see Half Dome is from Keyes Road and Oakdale-Waterford Highway near Denair and Turlock. I recently found another spot that works, a little former town called Hopeton on the Merced River east of Turlock. We passed by there on the way to Yosemite Valley yesterday. We stopped about a half mile west of Hopeton on Turlock Avenue.
A zoom lens helps...
It's actually pretty stunning how big the cliffs of Yosemite are: El Capitan has a 3,000 foot sheer drop, while Half Dome rises 4,000 feet above the floor of the valley. To put this in perspective, these cliffs represent a quarter and a third of the total height of the Sierra Nevada at this latitude. It seems like they would be more visible than they are, but they are surrounded for the most part by mountains of the same size. There are just a few spots where the canyon of the Merced River is oriented just right to allow a gunsight view of the rock towers.
Lines drawn in the air help too...
To figure out exactly what part of the Great Valley would require climbing the dome, a task I have not yet achieved. I would love to see some high quality images of the view from the summit towards the Great Valley!

Keep in mind that Half Dome doesn't look obvious from these sights. You have to be looking for it on a clear day, and binoculars or a zoom lens will help. The first picture above gives some idea of the challenge. The view in the picture below is at a 60x zoom.
But mostly I prefer going up there and seeing it up close...
I have been accused, mostly in jest, of Photoshopping these images. Frankly, I don't have that skill. But of course you can just go and take a look themselves.


Lyle said...

Another alternative: If you have access to a digital elevation model of the sierra in the region. Trace rays from half dome and see where they stop. Another way, useing topo maps: Assume you can see the top 1000 feet of half dome: Turlock to half dome is about 75 miles as the crow flies, and for simplification assume the line of sight from half dome to Turlock (at 117 feet) slopes 7500 feet in 75 miles. Generate a contour chart showing elevation of the line of sight to an appropriate scale, and lay it against the topo map. Look and see where the line of sight is not blocked, and you have the visibility points. Your pictures hint that this line runs more or less down Yosemite Valley.

Dan said...

You can actually see Half Dome as far west as the Lick Observatory at Mt Hamilton near San Jose:

Anonymous said...

I first spotted Half Dome 38 years ago on the top floor of the Science building thanks to Geography professor Ida Bowers.
She also shared that one could catch glimpses of Half Dome and Yosemite all around the Valley…and so in all these years
I have seen Half Dome on Claus Rd/Sylvan, Oakdale rd/Floyd (Modesto),
River rds, McBride (Oakdale) along with various other spots in Oakdale and
Quite a few other spots as I am always on the
Lookout. Quickens my heart every time.