Granite, Water and Light: The Waterfalls of Yosemite Valley
Osborne, Mike (author)
Heyday Books, 2009
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Reviewed by Bryan Swan
Yosemite Valley is truly one of the great Waterfall Meccas throughout the world. Many of the best waterfalls in North America adorn the glacially sculpted walls of the canyon and the annual tourist migration reflects the inspiring stature of the features of the valley. With this book author Michael Osborn, a former ranger and photographer, has done an exemplary job at describing and documenting the water features which are responsible for so much of the attention given to Yosemite.
The first edition of this book was published in 1988 by the Yosemite Association and while it was a very good book in its own right, it was lacking in certain respects. With this re-issue, many of those shortcomings have been addressed. This edition is almost twice as thick, and the additional pages consist almost entirely of additional pictures, though more drawn out dialog and more detailed information on some waterfalls not addressed in the previous edition are also included. Of the most interesting information to note is that Osborne seems to have tracked the height figures most often associated with Yosemite's waterfalls back to Lafayette Bunnell, who in 1851 was a member of the first party of non-Indians to visit the valley. It seems the information recorded by Bunnell may have stuck for over 150 years without being called into question or verified (which opens all sorts of questions that shouldn't be addressed here).
Osborne's photography is a large part of what makes this book such a great product. While certainly not intended to be a showcase of his work, the photographs featured in this book epitomize my personal philosophy in photographing waterfalls. Yosemite features many powerful waterfalls and the photographs illustrate this power to a "T", rather than trying to marginalize it in favor of the scenery over all, and really anyone who wishes to learn by example of how to photograph large waterfalls should pick this book up solely for this reason. Also of note is the presence of the only photos I have ever seen of Widows Tears and Horsetail Falls (both highly ephemeral waterfalls) with enough water that they are impactfully visible against their respective backdrops.
Now before this becomes a love-fest for this particular book, there are a few shortcomings I will point out. Missing from reference here, like the previous edition, are several of the smaller waterfalls - in height, not volume - found on the fringes of the valley. The author mentions there being four major waterfalls along Tenaya Creek but only gives service to the largest, Pyweak Cascade, while leaving out features such as the more accessible Three Chute Falls. Also missing are the two sliding falls on the Merced River within Little Yosemite Valley (Bunnell Cascade and Merced River Falls) or Chain Cascade nearby.
That said, the coupling of lots of high quality and many unique pictures with tons of information and history of the valley's waterfalls makes this a book that should be very high up on any collector or waterfall enthusiast's wish list.