Spring in the Pacific Northwest – Part I   8 comments

Portland, Oregon's Tom McCall Waterfront Park in springtime features blooming cherry trees.

Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park features blooming cherry trees in springtime.

Springtime in the Pacific Northwest can last a full 4 months!  That’s right, 1/4 of the year for a season that doesn’t even exist in some places, and in others (the far north for example) it is a couple weeks of melting snow and ice – it’s called breakup not spring in Alaska.  This is the first of a two-part summary of recommended times to visit and photograph the different destinations in this corner of the country.

The two years previous to this one we’ve had very long, cool springs, starting in fits sometime in mid- to late-February and lasting through the July 4th holiday weekend.  Clouds, storms, cool weather, sun, hail, snow in the mountains: you know, spring!  And well over 4 months of it!  But this year it didn’t really start until March and it appears to be over now.  We had some very warm weather (for May), then one more spate of cool, wet weather, then May went out and left us with gorgeous dry summer-like weather.  It looks like it wants to stay too.

The beautiful Falls Creek in Washington's Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Beautiful Falls Creek in Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

For photography around these parts, you want to time it so that starting in mid-spring you are out as much as humanly possible.  That’s because a bunch of things happen one after the other.  So here is a brief summary of where to go and when during glorious spring in the Pacific NW.

EAST OF THE MOUNTAINS

East of the Cascade Mountains early flowers bloom beginning in March.  The weather and light is often interesting in early spring too.  But by mid-April, the flowers really start to peak in the drier eastern parts of Oregon and Washington.  This includes the eastern Columbia River Gorge, a dramatic landscape.  Perhaps you’ve heard of or seen images from a place called Rowena Crest (I call it Rowena Plateau, ’cause that’s what it really is).  Fields of yellow arrow-leaf balsamroot abound!

The sunflower-like balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) blooms in profusion along the dry rocky terrain of the eastern Columbia River Gorge in Washington.

Sunflower-like arrowleaf balsamroot blooms in profusion along the dry rocky terrain of the eastern Columbia River Gorge in Washington.

A grass widow blooms in the eastern Columbia River Gorge.

A grass widow blooms in the eastern Columbia River Gorge.

Also check out the Washington side of the eastern Gorge for great flower displays and sweeping landscapes – places like Catherine Creek and the Columbia Hills.  The flower bloom gradually moves west and up (in elevation) through May, with purple lupine and red/orange indian paintbrush joining the party.  One of my favorite flowers of the east is the beautiful purple grass widow.  It is very early (March) in eastern Oregon but a little later in the Gorge.  Another favorite of the dry parts, the showy mariposa lily, blooms rather late, throughout May.

Oregon's Painted Hills are made up of repeating layers of colorful and ancient volcanic ash.

Oregon’s Painted Hills are made up of repeating layers of ancient and colorful volcanic ash.

A small fry gambles in the spring pasture near the town of Fossil, central Oregon.

A small fry gambols in the spring pasture near the town of Fossil, central Oregon.

The Palouse of Washington state is a beautiful rural area of quiet farms.

The Palouse of Washington state is a beautiful rural area of quiet farms.

It’s worth trying to hit the dry, eastern parts of the Pacific Northwest (our steppe) sometime in April or May.  This includes the popular landscape photo destinations of the Palouse in Washington and the Painted Hills in Oregon.  Photographers should try to time a visit with some weather if possible, since clear skies are the rule out there.

I visited the Palouse this year in late May.  That was a bit late but really only for the flower-bloom in a few areas (like Kamiak Butte).  I had an injury and could not go when I originally wanted to, but it happened to work out perfectly.  The weather & light conditions at the end of May were superb.  For the Palouse, really anytime in spring through early summer is a good time to visit; any later and those famous rolling green fields lose their sheen.

Driving the rural roads of the Palouse in eastern Washington.

Driving the rural roads of the Palouse in eastern Washington.

The Palouse in eastern Washington is a region of wide-open spaces.

The Palouse in eastern Washington is a region of wide-open spaces.

Self-portraiture in the Painted Hills, central Oregon.

Self-portraiture in the Painted Hills, central Oregon.

THE VERDANT FORESTS

Anytime in mid- to late-spring (April or May), during or just after rains, visits to your favorite waterfalls and cascading creeks are very worthwhile.  This is because the warmer weather and intermittent sunshine, along with abundant moisture, really amps up the already green forests and fields of the Pacific Northwest.  The almost electric green of mosses and ferns, the thundering fullness of the countless waterfalls, all of this results in photographers snapping many many images of a kind of green paradise.

The rugged Salmon River Canyon of western Oregon is mantled in clouds and dusted with a late-season snowfall.

The rugged Salmon River Canyon of western Oregon is mantled in clouds and dusted with a late-season snowfall.

Oregon's highest waterfall is in springtime flood:  Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge.

Oregon’s highest waterfall is in springtime flood: Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge.

The Columbia River Gorge is the most common destination (and features the most in pictures you’ll see), but really any forested area laced with creeks and rivers will do.  The Salmon River Valley near Mount Hood, the Lewis River Valley near Mount St. Helens, the North Santiam and Little North Santiam east of Salem, they’re all good!  In mid-spring (April into early May), look out for our signature forest flower, the beautiful trillium.

Dogwood Blooms along the trail in western Washington's Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Dogwood Blooms along the trail in western Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Ferns and a waterfall thrive in a dim grotto deep in the Columbia River Gorge of Oregon.

Ferns and a waterfall thrive in a dim grotto deep within the Columbia River Gorge of Oregon.

Stay tuned for the second part on this subject.  If you’re interested in any of these images, simply click on them to access purchase options for the high-resolution versions.  Then click “add this image to cart”.  It won’t be added to your cart right away though; you need to make choices first.  Thanks for your interest, and please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or comments.

A small creek in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge rolls through a mossy forest.

A small creek in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge rolls through a mossy forest.

In the Painted Hills, a family of geese makes its way across a rare stretch of water in the otherwise dry eastern Oregon.

In the Painted Hills, a family of geese makes its way across a stretch of water, a rarity in otherwise dry eastern Oregon.

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8 responses to “Spring in the Pacific Northwest – Part I

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  1. Pingback: Spring in the Pacific Northwest – Part II | MJF Images

  2. Great photos! Your blog is exactly what we like: a chance to discover beautiful places through well-taken shots without the unnecessary camera talk.
    If you use Facebook, it would be great to see your photos in our weekly Travel Photography Competition 🙂

  3. Another fantastic set!

  4. Thanks so much ladies!

  5. Breathtaking shots!

  6. Always such stunning photos.

    BE ENCOURAGED! BE BLESSED!

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