Keeping up with my series of posts about photography destinations not too far from the greater Sacramento area, I want to introduce my followers to the South Yuba River State Park. No, Ansel Adams didn’t make a career there, and Instagram is not full of photos from that place. It is also not an adequate “black and white” destination, although you can take black and white photos anywhere. But it is a charming park, and I consider it a hidden gem for photography, particularly in the spring and in the fall. Parking is limited, and the light is harsh, so get there early to get a space and good light!
Location and Parking
The entrance to the South Yuba River State Park, park headquarters and visitors center are on Pleasants Valley Road, off Highway 20, North of Nevada City. The address is Bridgeport, 17660 Pleasant Valley Rd. The park can be accessed from Highway 20 west of Grass Valley, or from Highway 49 north of Nevada City. From Sacramento, it is a 70-mile drive, mostly on highway 70N. As of now, parking is 5.00 U$ and can be paid with a credit-card. Always check the park’s official website before going. The region is prone to wildfires and things can change quickly.
There are basically three distinct themes to photograph at the South Yuba River State Park: the historic center, the river, and the vegetation.
The historic center near the park’s headquarters has the longest single span covered bridge in the world, an old barn, and a vintage Shell station. These structures are more appealing to photograph in the Fall, when the ornamental trees surrounding them, and the willows by the river, change colors. The park also has a collection of old wagons inside the barn, if you are into this kind of photography. The structures and items in the historic center date back to California’s Gold Rush and later, to the silver that was discovered in the Comstock Lode in Nevada. The Virginia Turnpike, which passed through Bridgeport (where the park is today), became an important link between Marysville, California, to Virginia City, Nevada.
The South Yuba River is rocky, and you can walk on its shores for miles on end, looking for a good composition. Long exposure of the water flowing on the rocks is always an alternative. I must confess that I did not spend too much time trying to achieve an award-winning photo by the river, but I hope that one of my readers will try.
Wildflower photographers are those who will really enjoy the South Yuba River State Park. There is a native plants garden near the visitor’s center. In the spring, wildflowers abound, and the slopes on both sides of the river, where the sun hits more consistently, become covered in lupines and poppies. Although I have not taken landscape photos including the flowers there, because a partly cloudy day never happened on my visits, a quick google search revealed many examples. Below, some photos of wildflowers taken by me:
Architecture, landscape and wildflower photography all benefit from a partly cloudy day and more diffused light. This is also true for the South Yuba River State Park. A diffuser will come in handy for wildflower photography on a sunny day. Many flowers are on slopes, intermingled with grass. A flash might help to achieve separation by darkening the background.
A word of caution
There exists something known as a rattle snake. Rattle snakes are common along the riverbeds in California, they often lay on the rocks trying to warm up. When walking on rocks by the river, be aware of snakes. They can and will bite you if you step on them. Although the existence of snakes is no good reason to avoid the outdoors, it is a good reason to pay particularly close attention when hopping on rocky riverbeds.
The park is about 20 minutes from Nevada City, a Victorian town which, in and on itself, is worth a photography trip, particularly in the fall. But that is the subject of a future post. Nevada City has awesome beer, awesome food, and interesting stores to visit.
Resources: This official site has additional and updated information about the South Yuba River State Park.
Some information about the history of Bridgeport can be found here.
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