Archive for the ‘lakes’ Category

The Cascades III – Mount Rainier, Part 3   19 comments

The oft-admired view of Mt Rainier from Reflection Lakes.

The oft-admired view of Mt Rainier from Reflection Lakes.

I visited Mount Rainier National Park in Washington this past August for a few days.  This is one of my favorite parks in the country.  When I was more of a backpacker I used to go up to Rainier and hike in the evening, getting an early start on the weekend.  I don’t mind hiking at night with a headlamp.  Sometimes you see some cool animals.  Well, maybe it’s not so cool to see a cougar at night alone!  I would spend the rest of the weekend off-trail, visiting pristine alpine meadows.  Alas, I wasn’t a serious photog. in those days.

There are many many waterfalls at Mount Rainier.  This one sits along a lightly traveled trail in the Paradise Valley.

There are many many waterfalls at Mount Rainier. This one sits along a lightly traveled trail in the Paradise Valley.

This last of the Mount Rainier series (but the Cascades series continues!) will pass on some travel tips.  Along with many visits over the years, I worked for one summer at Rainier a long time ago.  I actually lived at the park that summer and hiked nearly every day.  I was a pretty serious runner then and hit the trails on brutally steep routes.  My creaky knees remember every single mile.  But it was the best shape I’ve ever been in.  We also flew once per week around the mountain, counting elk.  It was a great summer.

So here are my favorite places to visit & photograph at Mount Rainier:

      • Paradise is by far the most popular place in the park.  It can be very crowded right around the visitor center.  But it’s a superb place to gain access quickly to subalpine flower-fields.  For the mobility-challenged, there are paved trails.  You can lose the crowds simply by hiking a couple miles out.  This is also the starting point for the hike to Camp Muir and the most popular route for climbing the mountain.
One of the many flowering subalpine plants at Paradise Park on Mount Rainier.

One of the many flowering subalpine plants at Paradise Park on Mount Rainier.

      • Staying on the south side of the mountain, Reflection Lakes is a great place to photograph the mountain at sunrise.  It is just to the left of the main road not far after the turnoff to Paradise.
The sun struggles to break through the fog at sunrise on Reflection Lakes, Mount Rainier National Park.

The sun struggles to break through the fog at sunrise on Reflection Lakes, Mount Rainier National Park.

      • If you want a great short hike, Snow Lake is just the ticket.  Drive a bit further east from Reflection Lakes and the trail-head is on the right.  It is only about 2 miles to Snow Lake; halfway up take a short spur to Bench Lake.  This gorgeous lake when calm has a perfect reflection of Rainier.   You can camp at Snow Lake.  By hiking in this direction you are entering the Tatoosh Range, a rugged line of peaks running along the south side of the park.
Snow Lake at Mount Rainier is peaceful in the early morning.

Snow Lake at Mount Rainier is peaceful in the early morning.

      • One of Rainier’s best Native American names is Ohanapecosh.  Keep going east past Reflection Lakes and down Steven’s Canyon to the southeast entrance.  Just before you get there, a trail on the left offers a great short walk along the lovely Ohanapecosh River.  An old-growth forest with huge trees grows along the stream banks.
One of the big trees the trail passes at the Ohanapecosh River.

One of the big trees the trail passes at the Ohanapecosh River.

      • Tipsoo Lake on the east side of the park is a popular place from which to photograph Rainier at sunrise.  Since I only have time for one or two over-popular photo spots on each of my trips, I have not photographed this one yet.  I’ll get around to it.  Google Tipsoo for beautiful images!
      • The White River Campground sits along an energetic stream at a great trail-head.  You can hike from here to Glacier Basin.  It’s a beautiful but fairly popular trail.  It is also the starting point for the climb up to Camp Schurman and the north ascent of the mountain.  In my opinion this is a better climb than Camp Muir, but I’m partial to glacier climbs.
One of summer's later blooming flowers is the beautiful blue gentian of boggy subalpine high country, here at Mount Rainier, Washington.

One of summer’s later blooming flowers is the beautiful blue gentian of boggy subalpine high country, here at Mount Rainier, Washington.

      • Sunrise is, like Paradise, a popular place to hike through subalpine meadows.  You have your choice of hikes, short to long, on a multitude of trails.  It’s not hard to leave the crowds behind here.  There is a visitor center plus walk-in campground.  This is the trail-head to gorgeous Mystic Lake on the north side of the mountain.  By the way, any time you want good back-country information at a national park, visit the back-country ranger’s desk, which is separate from the less useful visitor center’s info. desk. In many cases, Sunrise being one, the back-country office is in a separate, more rustic-looking building.
This furry critter is a hoary marmot and is a common sight (and sound) in the alpine meadows of Mount Rainier.

This furry critter is a hoary marmot and is a common sight (and sound) in the alpine meadows of Mount Rainier.

      • On the road up to Sunrise is the Palisades trail-head.  The road makes a big 180-degree switchback and there is a parking lot in the center of the curve. The trail heads out to Palisades and Hidden Lake (which make good day-hikes), continuing to wonderful Grand Park (overnight).  Although the trail is short on views of the mountain, it passes a number of beautiful lakes and meadows.  My favorite thing about it is the likelihood of wildlife sightings.  I’ve seen bear, elk, deer, and smaller critters on this trail.
Flowers crowd Clover Lake on the Palisades Trail at Mount Rainier National Park.

Flowers crowd Clover Lake on the Palisades Trail at Mount Rainier National Park.

      • Grand Park is an overnight backpack trip starting from the Palisades Trail-head.  It is shorter if you approach it from outside the park (google for directions). Grand is a huge meadow sitting high atop a mountain, and is a magnet for wildlife.  On one trip there, I approached the park at night.  The meadow was filled with elk!  I could hear them bugling a few miles away, and when I arrived there was a real party going on.  The male elk made it very clear to me that I was not invited.  I had to camp back in the forest; rutting elk bulls are not to be messed with.
Bull Elk

Bull Elk

      • Mowich Lake on the northwest side of the mountain is a wonderfully peaceful place to camp for a night or two.  Though you need to exit the park and drive awhile to reach it from the rest of the park, and the final approach is a gravel road, it’s worth it.  Mowich is the largest lake in the park and trail-head for a number of great trails.  You can stay over in a small tents-only campground.  The trail to Spray Park is awesome, climbing through great meadows with stunning views of the mountain.  Eunice Lake, about 2.5 miles from Mowich, is one of my favorite places to photograph the mountain from, especially at sunset.
Mowich Lake at Mount Rainier allows no motors and is accessible on an RV-unfriendly road, making it a very peaceful spot.

Mowich Lake at Mount Rainier allows no motors and is accessible on an RV-unfriendly road, making it a very peaceful spot.

      • Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground on the west side of the mountain is a great hiking destination.  You can reach it on a rough trail from the West Side Road, or on the Wonderland Trail.  There are flower-filled meadows along with tarns which yield great photos of the mountain.  The hike up to Pyramid Peak from here is steep but not too difficult a scramble.  On the other side of the peak is a great pristine alpine meadow.
One of the tarns (small lakes) in the meadows of Indian Henry's Hunting Ground at Mount Rainier National Park.

One of the tarns (small lakes) in the meadows of Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground at Mount Rainier National Park.

      • Lastly, if you’re a backpacker, consider doing the Wonderland Trail.  It is 93 miles of outstanding scenery, a trail that winds its leisurely way around Rainier.  You will face plenty of hills, so plan to not make record time.  You won’t want to hurry, believe me.  It’s an experience you will always remember.
If you're afraid of heights you will probably not enjoy this suspension bridge along the Wonderland Trail at Mount Rainier National Park.

If you’re afraid of heights you will probably not enjoy this suspension bridge along the Wonderland Trail at Mount Rainier National Park.

Plenty of other destinations tempt you at Rainier.  It’s up to you to find them (I won’t give away all my secrets!).  I would consider devoting the good part of a week at the park if you have the time.  Plan at least a few days for a good introduction.  Visit the park’s website for lodging and camping information.  This park gets busy on summer weekends, but it covers a huge area so don’t let that stop you. September is a fantastic month to visit, as the crowds have lessened greatly, the weather is generally perfect, and the wildlife is much more active.  Flowers peak in August.

Cloud Block

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Hiker's Heaven: Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

Hiker’s Heaven: Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

Carefree at Coldwater Lake   18 comments

A nature trail at Mount St. Helens' Coldwater Lake uses an elevated boardwalk to give visitors a great view.  There is also a hiking trail along one lake shore.

A nature trail at Mount St. Helens’ Coldwater Lake uses an elevated boardwalk to give visitors a great view. There is also a hiking trail along one lake shore.

Summer is going by as quick as it can, and carefree moments are precious now.  Last weekend on the way back from the Olympic Peninsula I made one of my patented “left turns” (why is always a left?) and on a whim headed up to Mount St. Helens.  The weather promised some nice light and I wanted to get some good shots of the mountain.  The following morning was beautifully misty, sunset was gorgeous, and the flowers were surprisingly still blooming fresh.  But the moment I will take from the trip was one that happened without a camera around my neck.

Coldwater Lake at Mount St. Helens, Washington.

Coldwater Lake at Mount St. Helens, Washington.

After hiking up near the crater mouth, I headed back down to Coldwater Lake.  This is a beautiful big lake that was formed during the famous eruption in 1980.  The massive landslide that triggered the eruption (that in turn destroyed much of the forest in these parts) also dammed Coldwater Creek.  And just like that nature’s fury left a jewel in its wake.  When I arrived after the hot, dry hike, I immediately thought SWIM!  I was in such a hurry that I left the camera behind and jogged partway up the sunny shore, looking for a likely spot.  I found a perfect spot where a large tree, weathered silver and smooth, lay partway out into the lake, forming a sort of natural dock.  These massive old-growth trees lay all about the area, testament to the eruption’s power.

The outlet of Coldwater Lake winds its beautiful way through the now-vegetated landslide debris from the 1980 eruption.

Some of the many logs scattered along the shores of Coldwater Lake, remnants of the once dense forest of tall evergreens that grew here before the 1980 eruption.

I couldn’t believe how perfect the water was when I dove in.  It was by no means warm, but it wasn’t too cold either.  Refreshing!  After the swim I just lay on the big log staring up into the sky.  All I could hear was a nearby kingfisher and without trying the clouds started making recognizable shapes.  How many summer days during childhood did I do this?  And why have I not done much of it since?  The sun dried me and I dozed in and out.  All my cares melted away.

The outlet of Coldwater Lake winds its beautiful way through the now-vegetated landslide debris from the 1980 eruption.

The outlet of Coldwater Lake winds its beautiful way through the now-vegetated landslide debris from the 1980 eruption.

After the swim I was ready to shoot some pictures.  I think the summery hour or so I had just spent made the picture-taking that much better.  I was refreshed and calm, the perfect way to be when doing anything, especially something creative.  It’s a reminder that those carefree summer moments (whether they are in summer or not) have a very useful purpose.  Without them we cannot do our best work.  To everyone out there, before summer ends: put your devices away, have nothing in your pockets, and just go be a kid again for awhile.  Have no real purpose.  Let the summer breezes and sounds clear your mind.  Be carefree for once.  You will thank yourself later, believe me.

For sunset I went to a nearby viewpoint that shows the huge area of landslide debris from the 1980 eruption that filled the North Fork Toutle River Valley.  This created Coldwater Lake, which is just out of view to the left.

For sunset I went to a nearby viewpoint that shows the huge area of landslide debris from the 1980 eruption that filled the North Fork Toutle River Valley. This created Coldwater Lake, which is just out of view to the left.

Page and Lake Powell   1 comment

Dawn breaks over Lake Powell in Utah.


This will be a shortish post (for me!).  I wanted to post a few pictures from the shores of Lake Powell, near Page, Arizona.  But first I want to let you know (since I haven’t in awhile) that these photos are copyrighted material.  If you click on one you’ll be taken to the website for MJF Images, where they will be appearing in finished form very soon.  These versions are really too small for you to put them to good use.  When you get to the website, browse the images and, if you like, you may purchase with a single click: downloads, prints, framed, canvas, whatever you wish.  Please contact me if you have any questions or just want to order one of the images from a recent blog.  I’ll get it out to you right away.  Thanks for your cooperation and interest.

Lake Powell and the graveled part of Lone Rock Beach reflect a colorful dawn sky.

This is the first time I’ve ever been to this summer playground in the desert.  People flock here to ply the waters of Lake Powell, the reservoir behind the damn dam that has drowned Glen Canyon for decades now.  And to think they named it after the man who journeyed through Glen Canyon when it was at its raw best, and who loved the canyons for their naked beauty.  Renting a house boat is very popular, as is drinking and soaking up the sun.  But it is November  now, with chilly mornings and wonderful days.  Only a few tourists around, but it is not at all near deserted.  And this is especially true this weekend, the first in November, when the annual hot air balloon festival takes place.  Dozens of hot air balloons launch at dawn, and the town is all abuzz.

The area around Page, Arizona and Glen Canyon Dam is peppered with small sandstone buttes, which are fossil sand dunes.

It clouded up late yesterday afternoon, but the sunset was only okay considering.  I camped at the shores of Lake Powell at Lone Rock Beach to take advantage of what I thought might be a nice sunrise because of the cloudiness.  I could have instead shot balloons at dawn, but there is so much photography of hot air balloons.  I know what you’re thinking…there is no shortage of colorful sunrise pictures consisting of water and sky.  But give me a break.  The days have cloudless and rather boring (for photography) for the past couple weeks.  So I did not want to waste the opportunity.

A lone hot air balloon floats beyond the golf course in Page, Arizona during its annual balloon festival.

This is a great time to visit the area, being cool and uncrowded.  The middle of October might be even better, for fall colors.  But there are precious few aspens or cottonwoods in the area.  The balloon festival is certainly not a bad time to visit.  You might want to make reservations if you plan on staying in a hotel.  There are other events going on over the weekend.  It is a small town, and when things go on in towns this size, you know it.  People are in a great mood.

Lone Rock in Lake Powell, Utah stands high in late fall’s low water.

The big question I have for myself is whether to go on to the north rim of Grand Canyon today, or hang around and tour Antelope Canyon.  If you don’t know, Antelope Canyon is that slot canyon you see so much of in photographs.  The red sculpted walls that arch over forming a roof, and often with a shaft of sunlight streaming in from above.  Well, I am certainly in to that sort of photograph.  But this is one of the most over-photographed subjects in the Southwest, so I am more than hesitant.  I may try instead to get similar shots in a different slot canyon to the north, in the Escalante River region.  But then again, if you see Antelope Canyon shots in my next post, you’ll know I caved and did the tour.  It is on Navajo land and costs $25-40 to take the tour.

Well, enjoy the photos and take care everyone.  Happy fall (it’s still fall, right?) and don’t forget to set your clocks back one hour tomorrow night.

A lonely Lone Rock beach on Lake Powell in Utah greets an early November dawn.


The balloon festival at Page as viewed from the Glen Canyon Dam.


Lake Powell along the Utah/Arizona border glories in sunrise.

Nicaragua III: Rio San Juan   Leave a comment

The Rio San Juan at the outlet of Lago Nicaragua. The town of San Carlos is at right.

It felt rather surreal pulling into the small port of San Carlos at the south end of the lake.  I had a few hours before I caught a small boat down the San Juan, so I explored the town a bit.  A lot of trade comes through here, and bananas are no small part of that trade.  I headed to the riverside town of El Castillo.  It’s dominated by a very interesting fort on the hill above town.  It was built by the Spaniards to protect the entrance to Lago Nicaragua (and the rich town of Granada) from marauding pirates.

Unloading bananas from the overnight ferry that travels the length of Lago Nicaragua.

El Castillo is the jumping off point for trips downriver and into the pristine rain forest on the Nicaraguan side (the Costa Rica side of the river has been cleared for ranching and agriculture, sadly).  But the town is a great spot to hang for a day or two.  I found a little family-run place along the river, where I again worked a deal to photograph their rooms and beautiful exterior in exchange for lodging.  You can hear the rapids on the river as you fall asleep, always a good way to beat insomnia.

The Rio San Juan (central America’s longesr river ) winds toward the Atlantic as viewed from the walls of El Castillo

I walked around town rounding up a few backpackers to share the cost of a boat and guide into the rain forest downstream.  Next morning we were on our way.  We hiked a beautiful stretch of jungle, and I saw my first poison dart frogs (see image).  On the way back upriver we stopped at a place called Refugio Bartola.  I decided on a whim to stay, despite having only the clothes on my back, a water bottle and bug repellent ( I had left my luggage with the family in Castillo).  Bartola sits on the river and is backed by wild jungle.  I had a little adventure here…

The so-called blue-jeans frog inhabits the pristine rain forest along the Rio San Juan in Nicaragua.

Although it was getting to be late afternoon, I took off on a hike into the forest, by myself.  I often do this in unfamiliar places, not sure why.  I like the challenge of using only my sense of direction to find my way back.  And I often am rewarded with great sightings.  I was really hoping for a jaguar, but my consolation prize was a spider monkey, my favorite!  I blame this sighting for keeping me going away from the Refugio for too long.  As I worked my way back, I took a wrong turn and ended up against darkness.  I was still running on the rough root-strewn trail when darkness caught me.

A spider monkey sits in the jungle of southern Nicaragua.

In the tropics dark comes quickly, and in the jungle it descends to true blackness.  With no flashlight, I tried to proceed.  But it immediately became obvious that it was impossible to stay on the trail.  I was stuck!  I sat down for awhile in the blackness, but then stinging ants found me and I hopped wildly about, shaking them out of my shorts.  I had to keep pacing to keep the insects off me as the jungle started to come alive.  I had nothing but a near-empty water bottle.  Luckily it wasn’t destined to get cold overnight, so I would probably survive.  But would I still have my sanity in the morning?  I was doubtful.

After a couple hours of this being alone with my thoughts (“I am NEVER hiking without a flashlight again!”), I saw a brief flash of light in the trees.  I was thinking fireflies, but then I heard them: guys speaking Spanish!  I shouted at the top of my lungs: Ayudeme!  I was rescued!  The guide who works at Bartola had had happened to hear from one of the women who works in the kitchen that she had seen me hiking off alone.  He rounded up the two military guys from the nearby post and, armed, they began the search.  They were amazed that I was so distant.  I asked why the guns were necessary, but knew the answer before it came: jaguar.  There apparently was a large male that called this patch of jungle home.  As we walked back to the Refugio, I wondered about my confidence that I could survive the night.

A couple days later I was traveling, again by river, across the border into Costa Rica.  This country is safer I thought, more traveled and more civilized.  Isn’t it?


Nicaragua I: Highlands and Colonial Architecture   Leave a comment

Continuing southward through Central America, I entered a country I had high expectations for: Nicaragua.  I crossed in from Honduras and soon took a sharp left to the northern highlands, aka coffee heaven.  Day’s end saw me in Matagalpa, which looks and reads like a city in guidebook maps and descriptions, but is really just a large town.  The white-washed church in the town center is quite photogenic (image below).  The town is a busy one, being market central for an enormous swath of the country, and it has a nice mix of culture and modest tourist amenities.   But one needs to keep going north to get into the heart of the highlands.

The colonial church at Matagalpa, Nicaragua

By the way, clicking any of these images takes you to my website, where download rights or prints may be purchased.  The versions on this blog are too small for most anything, but if you are interested in any of them, and you can’t find them on my website, just contact me.  The images are copyrighted.  Thanks so much for your cooperation, and interest!

The beautiful highlands of northern Nicaragua, on the huge coffee finca of Selva Negra.

I headed to Selva Negra, an old coffee estate not too far north of Matagalpa.  The journey up there put me in mind of some of my rides in Asia – taking in the air on top of the bus instead of in the crammed interior.  Selva Negra was originally started by Germans and is still at least part owned by their descendants.  You occasionally see the (lucky) old farts walking around the place.  The countryside here reminded them of the Black Forest at home, thus the name Selva Negra.

The lake at Selva Negra, with its bordering cloud forest, greets guests on their way to an excellent cup of fresh coffee.

They have a sort of rustic resort up there on the shores of a beautiful man-made lake surrounded by cloud forest (image above).  There are rooms, cabins and a dormitory, along with a nice indoor/outdoor restaurant.  The food comes straight from the farm and is delicious.  The coffee, of course, is stellar.  There is a beautiful old stone church.  Nights are cool and days very comfortable up here.

The cloud forest blooms: Selva Negra, Nicaragua

The farm is huge and includes open ranch-type land along with acres of coffee.  There is also a school and an employee village set in idyllic surroundings.  Hiking trails take off into the beautiful cloud forest and horses are also available.  I took part in both of these activities over the three days I was there.  I stayed in one of the dorms only steps from the lake and, as I expected, had it to myself.

It was the type of climate and terrain I dream of living in, riding horses every day and eating fresh organic veggies, eggs and beef direct from the source.  One of the best parts about it was strolling down through the shady lanes leading to the employee village and goofing around with the kids making their way home from school.  What a paradise!

The streets of Leon, Nicaragua, are lined with colorful old colonial buildings.

I went on to Leon, and was yanked back to the often grim reality of traveling in the Isthmus.  The bus rides, though cheap, often have you wishing that death would come quickly.  In Leon, a proper city, there are loads of young people.  It is Nicaragua’s college town, with several universities.  The beautiful young girls walking the streets can drive a man to distraction!  Yet there are other beautiful sights as well.  The cathedrals and other Spanish colonial architecture had me slipping to my travel and street photographer persona.  Later I would visit Granada, Nica’s main town for colonial architecture (images below).  The architecture there smacks you in the face, and it’s impeccably restored.  I prefer to hunt around the narrow streets for treasures, and where it doesn’t feel so much like some sort of set that’s maintained for tourists.  In Granada, that takes getting away from the main square and its tourists; Leon is more of a working (or studying) kind of town.

The church La Recoleccion in Leon Nicaragua catches the late afternoon sun as a passerby casts his shadow on the old walls

The Munincipal Theater in Leon, Nicaragua employs very interesting colonial architecture.

The backstreets of Granada, Nicaragua.

I spent a few days on the gorgeous Lago Apoyo, which is, like most lakes in this area, a volcanic caldera now filled with clear blue water.  The lake is bordered by beautiful forest, and is near to the active volcano Masaya.  This part of the Americas is one of the most active segments of the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire (a line of volcanoes and earthquake faults encircling the Pacific Ocean).  The forest comes right down to the lake, and despite there being only a dirt track accessing the shore, there are several nice places to stay.  I spent $75 for two nights with meals, which is not all that cheap for Nica.  But for a room on that beautiful lake, swimming and relaxing in hammocks?  I’ll take it.

A golden-mantled howler (Alouatta palliata palliata) inhabits the trees near Lake Nicaragua.

Tearing myself away from the perfect swimming, I hiked up through the forest and got remarkably close to a troop of howler monkeys (see image).  You hear them all the time in Central America, but rarely get close enough for a good picture.  Along with a great Swedish couple I met, I visited Volcan Masaya on a taxi tour.  This volcano breathes, and it was a powerful experience being so close to its steaming crater.  There is also a very cool cave to explore, with friendly bats!  The last image is of living Masaya, the sun setting behind it.  Next up: Omotepe, Lake Nicaragua, and the jungles of the Rio San Juan.

Masaya volcano in Nicaragua remains active and is accessible by hiking trail.

North Cascades   7 comments

I’m in the Methow Valley, in Northern Washington, in bad need of a shower, having just tumbled out of the mountains of the North Cascades.  And rugged mountains they surely are!  This will be a relatively short post, as far as writing goes (I can hear the cheers already).  I’ve gone & broken my left hand, so everything is slower, especially typing.  It’s a long story how I broke it.  The short version is that I am sometimes a stupid man, and it costs me.

Blue Lake in the North Cascades of Washington is calm as the sun begins to set.

I approached from the south, camping along Baker Lake, then followed Hwy. 20 east to Ross Lake, taking a hike to Blue Lake for a sunset view of Early Winters Spires.  It is only 2 or 3 miles up to the lake.  You will likely run into rock climbers here.  The Spires are a prime challenge for rock jocks.  After this, I drove down into the tiny burg of Mazama, and then back up (way up!) to Slate Peak.

I was under the stars here, at 7400 feet elevation, and shot some night photos in the company of an astrophotographer.  He was shooting at a considerably narrower angle than I was!  He showed me my first ever view of the Heart Nebula, a beautiful object I’ve never seen before.  And I thought I was a pretty savvy stargazer.

The Big Dipper is nearly lost amongst the stars above Slate Peak Lookout in Northern Washington.

The view from Slate Peak is amazing, making the rough, steep “road” up there worth it.  If you are the type to balk at narrow dirt tracks carved out of a mountainside, with no guardrail between you and a sheer drop, get somebody else to drive it, take a pill, and keep your eyes firmly closed.  But what a view!  The jagged peaks of the North Cascades lie to the west, and the wild Pasayten country rises to the east.

The wind was blowing up there overnight, so it was downright cold!  In order to stargaze, I had to put on more clothes than I’ve had on since last March.  But next morning dawned clear & the day warmed rapidly.  This is the start of the Pacific Crest Trail’s last push northward to the Canadian border, & I hiked up a few miles, scrambling up a minor peak.  It was a good challenge though, having only one hand to rely on for the knife-edge ridge.

The sun’s last rays hit the popular climbing crags of Early Winters Spires in Washington’s North Cascades.

The larches are changing color now, making me want to keep pushing north & east to the Canadian Rockies.  But I don’t have my passport on me, alas.  Oh for those good old pre-9/11 days, when crossing into Canada was not very different than crossing a state line.  Oh well, I really should go home & get a real cast put on this hand.  But for now I’m off to enjoy the little town of Winthrop, & the gorgeous valleys here.  This country is covered in snow for most of the year, but now it’s basking in beautiful September sunshine.   Hope you enjoy the photos.

Mount Rainier III (the end)   3 comments

Mount Rainier in Washington state.

My last destination at Mount Rainier National Park was Mowich Lake, on the mountain’s northwest side.  Here you’ll find my idea of the perfect photo opportunity in this park, a little slice of alpine heaven called Eunice Lake.  I had never been here before, strangely enough.  You’ll need to travel around the mountain, through the town of Enumclaw, and up a washboard gravel road to Mowich Lake.  Paying your entry fee ($15 per car for 7 days) is on an honor system here.  At Mowich you can sleep at a simple walk-in campsite.  Plenty of people come here, since it is on the Seattle side of the mountain, but 95% of them hike up to Spray Park, leaving Eunice Lake in the opposite direction relatively people-free.

It’s understandable why people flock to Spray Park.  It’s a beautiful area with flower meadows that is not a great distance from the trailhead (3-4 miles).  Spray Falls along this route (and pictured below) is well worth seeing too.  It is big, and has an interesting shape as it skims down a cliff face.  So it’s worth hiking up to Spray Park and beyond if you have energy.  You can even make a large loop out to Mystic Lake, returning via the Wonderland Trail to Mowich Lk.

Spray Falls at Mount Rainier National Park.

I did the Spray Park hike, but when I returned to Mowich I headed up to Eunice Lake, only 2+ miles away, for sunset.  The extra hiking piled onto a week of hiking was worth it.  What a gorgeous place!  An alpine lake of great clarity, Eunice is surrounded by open forest of small spruce and subalpine fir on three sides, with a steep talus slope and cliff below Tolmie Peak on the other side.  What makes it special is its position in relation to Rainier.  If you scramble around the lake to the other side (from the trail), you can look right back onto Rainier’s spectacular NW face.  It’s framed by the lake and its trees, and rises dramatically.  The sun is setting largely behind you, and so alpenglow at sunset is guaranteed.  That is, if the clouds do not drape the mountain too heavily like they did when I hiked up there.

For a few seconds, only the very summit cleared, enough to give me an idea of the kind of picture this spot could yield.  After sunset the mountain came happily out in the clear (of course).  But the light was gone by then.  Hiking back, pictureless in the dark (but with my headlamp this time), I resolved to return here.  I’ll try for when the air is clear yet there are a some clouds around, and (this is really stretching it) no wind.  If all these things line up, I’ll have a “to-die-for” image of of a beautiful ice-capped mountain reflected in a pristine alpine lake.  I know it could very well be much better than anything I saw in the visitor center, shot by pro photographers.  And I will get it.  I’m the right kind of persistent for the job.

So that’s my trip to Rainier.  The Cascade Mountains have other places with gorgeous wildflower meadows (Bird Creek Meadows at Mt Adams, for e.g.), but Rainier has by far the Cascades’ most extensive and diverse such scenery.  Combine that with great hiking, a world-class alpine climb, and fine wildlife sightings, and you have one of our country’s best national parks.  To close, here’s my favorite picture of the trip.  Thanks for reading!

The west face of Rainier is reflected in a pond at Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground.

Mount Rainier II   Leave a comment

Mount Rainier looks over its extensive subalpine meadows in eveningtime.

Continuing my just-concluded trip to Rainier National Park in Washington, I’ll describe a few of my favorite hiking destinations in the park, including a new one I found that I’ll be sure to return to.  I must, because it presents one of the best photographic opportunities of this iconic Pacific Northwest peak I know of.  But this isn’t really a secret (a trail goes to it) and I don’t really believe in secret spots anyway.  I do have an actual secret spot in the park, one well away from any trail, a paradise where the wildlife looks shocked to see a human being.  But I can’t bring myself to write about it.  Maybe that’s because there was a time when I believed in secret spots.  Uh oh, I believe I feel a tangent coming on…

There was a special (“secret”) fishing hole we knew as young teens.  I had just gotten my driver’s license, and at 16 found myself with a fast silver Pontiac.  We were exploring the rural parts north of my hometown, Baltimore, Maryland.  Sadly, most of it is housing tracts now.  There is a reservoir called Loch Raven, and we had always caught a few crappie, bluegill and maybe a smallmouth at the standard spots near the road, or out in canoes.  It was my uncle, me and a good friend.  My uncle was the same age as me – my mom and grandmom were in the same hospital at the same time – and we were like brothers.  I miss him greatly; he passed away too young a couple years ago.

One morning, on the advice of a relative of my our friend, the three of us arrived before dawn, parked in a questionable place, then hiked in by flashlight.  We were going off verbal directions, and soon were not sure where we were.  But we followed a creek downhill, and soon arrived at a misty cove.  Dawn was just breaking.  I can still see in my mind that mysterious water through the trees, just as the fog was lifting.  It was one of those views of water that shouts out “Great Fishing Here!”.  It was beautiful, peaceful and exciting at the same time.

We picked a spot along the shore of the lonely cove, realizing how lucky we were to find it.  It could only be reached by boat or overland via bushwhacking; no trail.  We proceeded to have the best fishing morning any of us had experienced, and it still ranks in the upper two or three of my life.  We caught about two dozen bass each, both large and smallmouth.  It was a bite & a fight on every cast.  Releasing all but a few, we proceeded to make a fire and cook them up.  Now I’ve had riverside fish that probably had a better taste than these (Alaska on the King Salmon River springs to mind), but nothing can come close to the taste I remember.  Delicious!

Needless to say, this fishing spot remained a closely guarded secret among a very small circle of friends.  That is, until one day we arrived and found a boat already there, with several loud fishermen cracking beers.  The place was never the same, and I believe I only visited once more, catching only one sad looking bluegill.  It was one of my first realizations that change in life, and in this world, is part of its very fabric.  And you tend to notice the changes that aren’t welcome.

Hiking above Paradise at Mount Rainier, the Tatoosh Range in the background.

Now if you’re still reading, Mount Rainier has some pretty special spots, reachable by hiking of course.  Few are secret, but many can be enjoyed all alone if you plan well.  Some involve hiking off-trail, but most are accessed by simply following relatively unpopular trails.  The park can be crowded on weekends, and it’s worth having a good topo map and a sense of adventure if you visit at these times.  I was there during the week before Labor Day, so I headed over to Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground, a series of meadows on the mountain’s SW side.

This area can be reached via several different trails, but the shortest (and oddly the least hiked) route is to park at the gate across the West Side Road and hike up Tacoma Creek trail.  This trail is not maintained, so it gets a bit rough in spots, but there are absolutely no serious obstacles.  It is a direct route up to the Wonderland Trail (which circles the mountain), where you take a right and hike a couple miles up to the meadows.  All told it is a bit over 4 miles tops, one way.

I had a busy time there, shooting pictures of wildflowers and the mountain reflected in numerous ponds, all the while fighting a losing battle with legions of mosquitoes.  The lupine and paintbrush were near perfect, and even the early-blooming aster, bistort and beargrass was still in fine form.  From this angle, the mountain shows off a very rocky face, with little evidence of the glaciers that dominate most other viewpoints.  I stayed until sundown and then hiked back by headlamp, camping where I had parked.

It’s technically illegal to just park and camp anywhere in a national park, but I do it often.  The high-profile parks like Yellowstone, which actually have night-patrolling cop-rangers make this strategy difficult.  But thankfully Rainier gets nowhere near the funds to field many of these police masquerading as rangers.  They actually rely heavily these days on volunteers, so don’t believe everything you hear from those in uniform; they often hand out misinformation.  But I like them because the first thing out of their mouths is not a rule or regulation.

A mountain goat pauses in a field of lupine in Rainier National Park’s Tatoosh Range.

Next, I hiked up to one of my favorite polar bear swimming spots in the park, Snow Lake.  While the weather was a bit too cool to jump in this time, I made the mistake of looking beyond the lake, at a peak called Unicorn.  Unicorn lies in the Tatoosh Range, a line of jagged peaks that run along the south side of the park.  A long time ago I climbed this peak solo, and I remembered it was not an easy task.  From the lake, it starts out up a steep rocky chute, and then just gets steeper, finally ending with a 5.6 or 7 scramble up the summit pinnacle.

I wandered up that way this time, feeling that familiar magnetic pull of a high peak.  On the way up, a mountain goat appeared (left).  I wanted to see how with all the years I had accumulated it compared in difficulty.  In other words, did I still have it?  Well, I wound up getting up to the summit pinnacle, where one single move, the crux, stymied me.  I was less than 50 feet from the summit.  I felt I could do it easily enough, but then coming back down would be a bit dicey, and if I fell there…

Nobody else was anywhere nearby of course, and nobody knew I was there.  Night was coming on fast, and the weather was beginning to turn ugly.  In fact, on my way down, (in no way ashamed I might add), I became confused when the weather quickly socked in and visibility went to zero.  I couldn’t find the correct route, descending the wrong way on two occasions, only to catch myself and race huffing and puffing back up the mountain to try again.

All this while dusk was descending.  At one point, the clouds cleared for a few seconds, and I happened to be in just the right position to briefly glimpse the way down.  It was hand over hand, facing the mountain, with the rocks slick from a light drizzle.  I tried not to hurry too much, but knew I was nowhere near prepared to spend the night out in weather like that.  Hypothermia was on my mind as I slid and stumbled down the steep talus slopes.

Just at full dark I finally found the trail near Snow Lake, and relaxed a bit – but maybe too much.  I crossed a log bridge slick with the rain and in the darkness slid right off, gashing my shin and twisting my wrist in the fall down to the creek.  I thought I would be crawling and feeling my way back along the 2+ mile trail, but the moonlight seeped through the cloud cover enough to allow me to walk, carefully, back to the van.  My first bit of luck all evening.  Once back and changed out of my damp clothes, I shivered for an hour or so while hugging my little dog, trying to warm up.  I feed him, so I figure he ought to provide some kind of service for that!   A close call once again.  Never again will I forget my headlamp.  Wait a minute, shouldn’t I be promising to never put myself in that position in the first place?  Oh well, the headlamp is  easier to remember.

Mowich Lake at Mount Rainier is lighted by a summer’s blue moon.

I went to Sunrise after that, on the northeast side of the mountain.  This area is like Paradise, with some short hikes, nice flower meadows, and a lot of people.  If you come to this area, and especially if it is September, make sure and hike out the Palisades Trail, which leaves from Sunrise Point, a few miles before you get to road’s end at the visitor center.  On the park map you’ll see two areas, Green Park and Bear Park.  Head to one or both of those areas and you are sure to see elk, rutting and bugling in autumn.  Bear also frequent this area.  It’s one of the park’s premiere wildlife areas, and you’ll see few other people.

The picture below was taken from this trail, at Clover Lake.  A picture in the last post, above the clouds in the moonlight, was taken from Sunrise Point, where I camped for two nights.  This is Washington’s highest paved road, built by those angels of the 1940s, the Civilian Conservation Corps.  We need something similar in this day and age I think.  It’s funny because the week before, I was on Oregon’s highest paved road.  Must be high summer.

Lupine, lousewort and indian paintbrush bloom around Clover Lake at Mount Rainier National Park.

I have to apologize.  I said I’d share a great photo spot at Rainier, and I will.  But it’ll have to wait ’till tomorrow’s post.  This has gone too long already.  How’s that for suspense, eh?  Thanks for reading!

Crater Lake at Night   5 comments

I wanted to revisit my visit to Crater Lake National Park recently.  I spent quite a bit of time up at night, testing out my new camera mount.  It tracks the apparent movement of the stars.  I am still getting the hang of it, but the first results are promising.  I am certain I will figure out ways to use it so as to get even better starscapes, and can foresee using it for moon, eclipse and other types of shots.  It is called a Vixen Polarie.

I actually entered the park at night, after getting caught up photographing a really cool waterfall I’ve never been to near Diamond Lake.  It’s called Toketee Falls, and it spills in such a beautiful way over a columnar basalt flow.  But I digress.  I entered the park from the north entrance, which is closed most of the year because of snow.  This evening was warm though as I motored my bike up the highway and right past the entrance gate.  I did pay later, not because I thought I had to, but because I wanted to.  National Parks are virtually starved of funds by Congress, and they need every penny they can get.

Our home galaxy, the Milky Way, arcs over Crater Lake in southern Oregon.

Upon reaching the lake I stopped right away, at a large overlook near Llao Rock.  I worked my way out onto a promontory over the lake, getting a nice tree in the foreground which happened to be angled in the same manner as the Milky Way cut across the sky (image above).  This is a composite of two shots.  The tracking mount follows the stars as they appear to move across the sky.  Of course it is the Earth that is doing the moving, rotating so fast  (700+ miles/hr. at mid-latitudes) that you’d think it would make us all dizzy.  This means that any foreground you include on long exposures will be blurred, while the stars remain sharp.  So you have to take another shot with the tracking mount turned off, just so you can later combine the starry sky part with the foreground part.  I did this in Photoshop Elements later.

A view of Crater Lake in late dusk.

I camped nearby, right on the rim with a gorgeous view of the lake.  A couple nights later, I was back at it.  I found a blue-hour shot at Phantom Ship overlook (above), and then after munching on dinner as the stars came out traveled around the lake to nearby my secret campsite.  I found a lone whitebark pine snag overlooking the lake.  It was perched on a cliff.  In the darkness, moving around the dead tree to get the perfect composition, I looked where I was walking just in time to gape into the maw of black infinity.  Two more steps and I would have been gone just like that, nobody to hear me scream.  So I contented myself with a straight-on view, and even tried light-painting for the first time (image below).

Light painting, for those who haven’t been devouring their photo articles lately, is the practice of shining a flashlight (torch for the Brits) on a subject during a long exposure at night.  Obviously the subject has to be pretty close, and you can use a red light (or any color if you go get colored wraps at a party store).  I used the red setting on my headlamp here.  Note that if you’re very close to your subject, your camera’s red LED light, if it has one, and/or the light on your timer remote, can serve to paint in a subtle way, even if you don’t want to.  Solution?  Electrical tape.

A lone whitebark pine snag basks under the stars at Crater Lake, Oregon.

All in all a good first outing with the tracking mount.  I am naturally a night owl, so this night photography suits me.  I really prefer starscapes to the trails of stars that some like to shoot (that’s why I got the tracking mount), and Crater Lake has the potential to provide really spectacular pictures.  The air was not as clear as I wanted for this trip, there being fires not too far from the park.  And too, the Milky Way is positioned at its highest point in the sky at around midnight at this time of year.  So I hope to return to Crater Lake sometime in autumn when the nights are crisp, the air crackling clear, and the Milky Way low enough to include all of it plus the lake in one sweeping shot.  I can’t wait!

Meantime I want to go up to Mt Rainier to try some more night photography, this time with glaciers and that humongous mountain to set off the starry sky.  Plus the flowers in the alpine meadows are peaking right now.  That will likely be the subject of my next post, in a few days when I return.  Until then, keep exploring!

Crater Lake   2 comments

As our state’s only National Park, we in Oregon really cherish this paradise in the southern corner of the state.  Crater Lake is North America’s deepest and one of the world’s clearest lakes.  It is famous for its deep blue color, its clarity, and its geologic background.  When John Hilman became the first white explorer to see it in 1853, he was astounded, calling it a very deep, blue lake.   For me, it seemed past time to re-explore Crater Lake during the summer-time, when it is most accessible.  My last visit a year and a half ago was during the depths of winter, when cross-country skis and snowshoes are the only mode of transport.  I spent three days there last week.

Crater Lake in southern Oregon was described by the first white person to see it as a “deep blue lake”.

Crater Lake is about 6 miles across and almost 2000 feet (600 meters) deep.  What makes it such an awesome and unique lake is that it lies within the throat of a big collapsed volcano, a caldera, which suffered its climactic eruption about 7000 years ago.  It is not technically a volcanic crater, which is the word geologists apply to the hole in the top of a volcano created when the volcano explodes and ejects material out over the countryside.  Geologists figure that the original volcano, which is called Mount Mazama, was over 12,000 feet (3600 meters) high and quite massive.

The Phantom Ship, a small island in Crater Lake, Oregon, is so called because in certain light conditions it seems to disappear.

Calderas are generally larger than craters, and are created when the volcano erupts magma from beneath its summit, leaving a void underneath which leads to a massive and catastrophic collapse of the summit area.  Caldera eruptions can be large, and they can be enormous!  They are almost never modest in size.  They are this planet’s biggest volcanic eruptions.  And speaking of volcanoes and National Parks, Yellowstone (the world’s oldest park) is occupied by what is probably the world’s largest active caldera.  It could erupt any year now (or it could take 10,000 more years!), and with devastating consequences.

In Crater Lake’s case, rain and snowmelt (mostly snow) filled the caldera over the period of a few hundred years, and now evaporation is balanced with precipitation so that the water level never fluctuates by much (it’s varied only about 16 feet (10 meters) over the last 100 years.  There are no streams leading into or out of the lake.  The rim of the caldera, where most visitors congregate, is at an elevation of over 7000 feet (2000 meters), and at this latitude, and next to the moist North Pacific, that means major snowfall – 40 or more feet (13 meters) every winter.

One of America’s most scenic roads follows the treeline rim around, with numerous pull-offs.  So like most American National Parks, one can certainly experience “overlook fatigue”.  But probably not as much as some (Blue Ridge Parkway & Bryce Canyon spring to mind).

It is at least 1000 feet (300 meters) down to the lake from the rim, and it is so steep that only in one spot is it possible to hike down to it.  Here is your cure for overlook fatigue.  Hike down to Cleetwood Cove, and take a scenic boat cruise out to the largest island in the lake, a volcanic cinder cone known as Wizard Island.  Here you can swim in the cold lake and hike to the summit of the cone, spending hours on the island.  There are also numerous hikes from spots along the rim, including The Watchman and Mount Scott.

I came here to reconnect with one of my favorite National Parks, and to try for some great shots of the stars over the lake (later post).   The park is unlike the popular National Parks such as Yellowstone, Yosemite and Great Smokies.  There are few policemen posing as rangers here, so you can pretty much do your own thing and not be hassled.  For example, I rode my motorcycle there, arriving at night after one night spent near McKenzie Pass, a stunning spot in its own right.

Once inside the park, I parked at a picnic area and walked up to a level spot on the rim to pitch my tent.  I had to find a site screened from the road below, but otherwise had no worries about rangers prowling the roads at night, hoping to catch scofflaws like me camping illegally.  I had a stunning view out over the lake, as the Milky Way soared above.  Then at dawn, I woke to take pictures of  sunrise over the vast expanse of blue water below.  Coffee was conveniently taken at the picnic area where I parked the bike.

I left my tent there for the next two nights, sleeping as late as I wanted with only hawks for company.  I was on the quiet north rim, well away the park’s only real concentration of people (at Rim Village on the south side of the lake).  There is one large campground a few miles below Rim Village, called Mazama.  This is where RVers go, and where most official campsites in the park are.  There is also a small, tent-only campground at Lost Creek, in the southeastern corner of the park.  But since there are only 16 sites, it always fills early in the day.  It is worth trying for this camp first, and if that fails, going to Mazama (which can also fill, even during the week).

Wildflowers at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, include pink monkeyflower.

I did one major hike and a few smaller ones.  I hiked to the top of Mount Scott, the highest peak in the park.  At almost 9000 feet, it was the only remaining major Cascades peak in Oregon that I had not yet climbed.  Some of my climbs have been technical, some (like Scott here) just hikes.  But I have been longing to return to Crater Lake in summer for no other reason than to finish my quest.  Now it is time to finish the rest of the Cascades, a few in Washington and one in Canada.  Wildflowers and some friendly fellow-hikers were my reward.  The view was rather hazy because of fires in the region.

On my last full day at Crater Lake the smoke cleared in late afternoon and I was able to get some nice shots of a small island called Phantom Ship in late-day light (image above).  Then I ate a picnic dinner, lay back and watched the stars come out one by one.  I finally jumped on my bike and rounded the lake to a point where the Milky Way was perfectly placed.  There I spent a couple hours shooting long exposures, stars over the lake with a starkly beautiful whitebark pine snag for foreground.

Hiking up to my campsite on the rim at about 1 a.m. I fell immediately into a deep sleep.  Utter peace for this moment in my life, atop a giant volcano that had its day of great thunder long ago, and now lies also in deep slumber, beneath the deep & cold, clear-blue waters of Crater Lake!














Sunset over Crater Lake from the highest point on the rim, Cloud Cap.

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