Although not the first national park in the United States (to which Yellowstone has the honor), Yosemite National Park was the first area set aside by the United States federal government for preservation and protection, an action raised in the 38th US Congress and signed off by Abraham Lincoln. This was the beginning of the Yosemite Grant, which set aside the area, and which was protected by the state of California, the US Army Calvary (where rangers get their distinctive hats), and then the United States government. John Muir himself years later convinced Theodore Roosevelt to place the area under federal jurisdiction in a famous 3-day campout in Yosemite in 1903. Roosevelt signed the bill in 1906, and the land was transferred to the newly established National Park Service in 1916. Several roads approach the Yosemite Valley from the south and west (The 120 from Stockton, The 140 from Merced, and the 41 from Fresno). The 120 travels through the Park to the east, but is often closed in the winter for snow. This is still a roadside photographic dream in the winter as there are fewer vehicles with a lot of great stops for nearby, fantastic photography. Four-wheel drive and chains for your tires are often required when the snow is threatening. For now, the summer months continue to be open to vehicles, but this may soon change as it has in other national parks like Zion National Park. Many shots in Yosemite are close to the road or a short hike away.
EL CAPITAN, YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CALIFORNIA
There many, many views of El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, and the Merced River from the seven square miles of the Yosemite Valley. This particular view is on the one-way road back out of the valley in a very obvious turnout. It's in a nice bend where many photographers have hiked up and down the Merced looking for a better view, a better angle. Remember that during the sunset times (which are usually better than the sunrises in Yosemite), you will need a tripod. You can probably notice that the water is very smooth in this image, a result of a long exposure time (5 seconds). To expose for this long and keep the image sharp, a sturdy tripod is a must. I used a circular polarizer on the lens, which deepened the colors both in the sky and on El Capitan, and then I added several stops of graduated neutral density filters to hold back the light in the sky. I handhold these filters in front of the lens while I make the exposure.
Hint: Never leave Yosemite and your precious location where you are set up, especially if there is a storm in the picture which may look to break. The clouds can dissipate in minutes, and you may be very disappointed if you leave early. I generally have a few things to do while I'm waiting for the light, such as take notes on where I'd like to be the next day, jot down ideas for upcoming trips/blog posts/submissions, or make a few phone calls (the reception in the valley is excellent).
Where to Stay/Eat: There are several different options for lodging in the Yosemite Valley, including the Yosemite Lodge. Camping is always a good choice in Yosemite, but you will probably need a campsite reservation in the summer. In the winter, you can likely get one on the spot with the camp attendant who is usually in a small shack in one of the campgrounds. Just ask around. Remember that staying in the small towns outside of the park will still require quite a bit of driving, so if you do stay outside of the park, save enough time to make the drive.