The beauty of night and day in California's Yosemite National Park.
The beauty of night and day in California's Yosemite National Park. (Photo: © Stephen Wilkes/National Geographic)

In this gorgeous series of national park vistas, photographer Stephen Wilkes combines the most beautiful times of a day into one cohesive masterpiece.

To create images like the one above of Yosemite National Park, Wilkes sets up his camera in a fixed location and shoots thousands of images starting before sunrise. Once he has the shots he needs, he spends time narrowing down, editing and compositing the images.

As National Geographic's Patricia Edmonds explains, "Wilkes takes weeks to select what he considers 'the 50 best moments' from a shoot. He decides on the image’s time vector — where in the frame the day-night cycle will begin, and which way time will proceed: top to bottom, left to right. Then he digitally blends the photos to layer parts of some on parts of others, turning separate 'magical moments' into a seamless composite image."

January 2016 cover of National Geographic magazine

The series is featured in the January 2016 issue of National Geographic magazine, which is embarking on a year-long exploration of the power of parks. The Yosemite image, which also appears on the magazine's cover (at right), is accompanied by a poignant musing on the origins of the beloved national park:

"In March 1868, a 29-year-old John Muir stopped a passerby in San Francisco to ask for directions out of town. 'Where do you wish to go?' the startled man inquired. 'Anywhere that is wild,' said Muir. His journey took him to the Yosemite Valley in California’s Sierra Nevada, which became the spiritual home of Muir’s conservation movement and, under his guidance, the country’s third national park. 'John the Baptist,' he wrote, 'was not more eager to get all his fellow sinners into the Jordan than I to baptize all of mine in the beauty of God’s mountains.' Today around 4 million people a year follow their own thirst for the wild to Yosemite."

If you're a fan of our nation's protected lands, don't miss the magazine's cover story, "How National Parks Tell Our Story — And Show Who We Are." In the meantime, continue below to see just a small selection of Wilkes' stunning day-to-night photography, with captions provided by Nat Geo.

Yellowstone National Park

The beauty of night and day in Yellowstone National Park.
(Photo: © Stephen Wilkes/National Geographic)
"'Today I am in the Yellowstone Park, and I wish I were dead.' So Rudyard Kipling began his 1889 account of a tour in America’s oldest national park. His disdain was aroused most by the 'howling crowd' of tourists with whom he shared the visit. Attractions such as Old Faithful still draw more than 3 million (mostly well behaved) visitors yearly to Yellowstone; the vast majority of them never go beyond a hundred yards from a paved road. If Kipling himself had ventured deeper into the 3,472-square-mile park to witness the splendor of its river valleys and mountain meadows, his rant might well have given way to rapture."

Grand Canyon National Park

The beauty of day and night at Grand Canyon National Park.
(Photo: © Stephen Wilkes/National Geographic)
"The Grand Canyon is the touchstone American park; whatever happens here could have repercussions throughout the park system. It has withstood threats from ranching, mining, and logging interests and a federal dam project. Today’s challenges include a proposed town development on the South Rim and a tramway that would bring 10,000 visitors a day to the canyon floor."

National Mall and Memorial Parks

The beauty of night and day at West Potomac Park, part of the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington, D.C.
(Photo: © Stephen Wilkes/National Geographic)
"On an April day cherry blossoms festoon West Potomac Park, part of the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington, D.C. While the grand parks of the West may elicit more gasps of awe, urban parks draw far more visitors. The National Mall hosts 24 million a year, almost twice the number of Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon combined."