We drove into Yosemite from a different route than I had ever taken, along a canyon road that followed alongside a riverbed.
I was driving as we got close to Yosemite valley but I couldn't help but be distracted by the river, which was flowing at an incredible pace. It was so fast that the undulations in the river were creating small swells on the surface that would break into white water, even in areas that you could tell were deep.
I couldn't take my eyes off the water because it looked so wild and had to stop a few times to take photos. As we followed the river further toward its source, the flow became stronger and more violent. Then we turned a corner to see the river raging out of its banks and over rocks, not coming onto the road itself, but lapping up along its edges. The amount of water passing in front of us, and the speed it was travelling was so impressive it was hard to take in.
Soon after that we passed through the lower gates to the park, checking in with the park rangers and passing through a small gap between some fallen rocks that marked the official gateway to the valley.
Having been to Yosemite a few times before, I was really surprised to see in place of the usual grassy fields on the valley floor, there was now a large, slow moving body of water. The valley was completely flooded.
As we continued to circle the valley road to get to our camp site, we passed under a thundering waterfall. We discovered the source of all the water was coming from the granite giants dotted around the park.
It really seemed like there was an unlimited amount of water pouring over this cliff. Every second, huge plumes of water would shoot over the edge into the air, free falling hundreds of feet to the valley floor and creating a wild river at its base.
The waterfalls ran non-stop, day and night and were hypnotising to look at. We heard stories about how dangerous they could be; how people, allured by the beauty, got a little too close, only to be swept over the edge. I could understand how that might happen. We're used to water staying within its confines, and this powerful water seemed to shift and change erratically.
This was what I believe made it so deadly beautiful.
Where to stay:
Half Dome Village - recently renamed from Camp Curry, this village of canvas tents, some with heating and some without, is the best place to experience Yosemite Valley from. Affordable, but often booked out far in advance. Make sure to get in early with your booking.
The spring water melts make the valley surge with activity between April and July. Photography is amazing at this point because of the reflective water on the valley floor and the majestic waterfalls.
The two best hikes for photography in the park are the the walk from the valley floor to upper Nevada Falls and from Glacier Point along the Panorama Trail. However, if these two are closed due to snow, don't worry because almost all trails have beautiful vistas of their own.