My favourite approach is from highway 120 as it descends from 6000 feet to the valley floor at 4000 feet the scene to the left comes into view. You are compelled to pull into the vista point and behold the incredible granite forms across the Merced river valley.
There are better times of year to visit and take better photos, but I have never managed to be here in autumn, winter, or early spring. To enter the area in these times usually means using snow chains and risking being stuck in the Sierras when I should be at work in the valley.
This trip was a family vacation where I could share the wonders of Yosemite with my children, now old enough the appreciate it (and carry my tripod:-) ). I was not expecting spectacular sun rises or sunsets at this time of year. The real surprise was the lack of water in the falls, which usually dry up a month or two later in the year. So this trip was more a scouting trip and exploration of a larger area beyond Yosemite so I could figure out when and where to be on possible future trips.
The one morning I managed to get out of bed at 4:45am to take a dawn shoot was a bit disappointing. I had not really planned a location and ended up down the wrong end of the valley for the dawn light. I managed to bag one image I like below.
The longest hike we managed was from the top of Glacier Point at 7000 feet to the valley floor along the 8 mile route (which included a 2 mile assent above Nevada falls). This hike was a great way to see panoramic views of the entire park, but hard on the legs!! All the images from that hike are in harsh light and will probably end up as a black and white set sometime later.
We visited the famous Tunnel View where my family amused themselves looking at a host of photographic nurds looking just like daddy, somehow validating my odd habits and hobby. Since the classic view lacked drama I searched the scene for some alternate images and was happy with the light on the cliffs to my right as I faced the valley.
Every visit to Yosemite is a humbling experience. It reinvigorates my love for nature and landscape and trying to capture beautiful images. I hope I will have the opportunity in the future to admire this wonderful place in more dramatic conditions.