Archive for the ‘Pacific Northwest’ Category

Wordless Wednesday: Evening on the Columbia River   1 comment

Friday Foto Talk: Black & White, Part II   4 comments

Oregon's upper Salmon River in the Cascade Mtns. is an amazing place to photograph in cold wintry weather.  70 mm., 1/6 sec. @ f/16; tripod; B&W conversion in Silver Effex.

Oregon’s rugged upper Salmon River valley, an amazing place to photograph in cold wintry weather. 70 mm., 1/6 sec. @ f/16, ISO 100; tripod; converted to B&W in Nik Silver Effex 2.

This continues the mini-series on black and white (B&W) photography.  Check out Part I for tips on what types of images lend themselves to B&W.  I really like trying monochrome processing with any shot, because you never know until you see the image.  A few things to keep in mind while shooting B&W:

  • See in B&W:  This can be tough to do, since we see all day everyday in color.  One thing to try is setting up your camera to display in black and white while shooting.  If you’re shooting in RAW (which you should be), the image is still recorded in color.  It just displays in B&W on the LCD.  Also try going out and shooting only B&W, as an exercise.  Shoot Jpegs and deliberately limit yourself to B&W.  I don’t recommend doing this regularly though; give yourself options by shooting RAW.
Sunset on the Olympic Coast, Washington.  50 mm., 1/80 sec. @ f/10, ISO 200; hand-held.

Sunset on the Olympic Coast, Washington. 50 mm., 1/80 sec. @ f/10, ISO 200; hand-held.

B&W conversion in Nik Silver Effex 2.

B&W conversion in Silver Effex 2.

  • Look for Texture:  As mentioned in the last post, textures are just made for B&W.  That’s because color often distracts us from the underlying texture of a scene.  Remove it and voila!  Interesting textural patterns are revealed.  Many people have too limited a view of texture.  They think of peeling paint, tree bark, or a patterned rock wall.  That is texture at one scale.  In reality texture comes in all sizes, from the very fine to much larger patterns.  Try to get used to looking for texture in all its forms.
Ancient sand dunes near Page, Arizona.

Ancient sand dunes near Page, Arizona. 32 mm., 1/60 sec. @ f/16, ISO 200; hand-held w/polarizer.

Converted & processed in  Silver Effex.

Bringing out the texture: converted & processed in Silver Effex.

  • Don’t Forget the Basics:  The same principles of composition that make color images work apply to B&Ws as well.  Limit the “junk” in your comps., and seek balanced scenes that are interesting and pleasing to the eye.
The foot bridge at Ramona Falls, Oregon.  50 mm., 4 sec. @ f/13, ISO 50; tripod; processed in Lightroom.

The foot bridge at Ramona Falls, Oregon. 50 mm., 4 sec. @ f/13, ISO 50; tripod; processed in Lightroom.

  • Go for Monochrome Scenes:  These are situations where the light and your subject are already monochrome, either nearly or completely so.  Often it’s when the light is quite low, since light begets color.  When things are already nearly monochrome, it’s quite easy to see and shoot monochrome images (funny how that works!).
Zooming in on Faery Falls in Oregon's Columbia Gorge, the image became nearly monochrome.  50 mm., 0.4 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50; tripod; Processed in Silver Effex.

Zooming in on Faery Falls in Oregon’s Columbia Gorge, the image became nearly monochrome. 50 mm., 0.4 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50; tripod; Processed in Silver Effex.

This version, a panorama of 6 shots combined, includes the surrounding green lushness.

This wider composition of Faery Falls is a panorama of 6 shots combined & includes the surrounding green lushness.

  • Get in the Mood:  Finally, try to feel the mood of a scene and shoot it accordingly.  Foggy and mysterious is the obvious one, but there are many other moods, including bright, contrasty and optimistic.  Try to mentally impose different post-processing looks, such as toned to sepia, high-key, low-key, and so on.  For example, with a monochrome scene that is already a bit dim, I’ll try to imagine what it might look like even darker and toned with a subtle sepia or cyan.

Okay that’s it for today.  Stay tuned for more on black and white.  Have a great weekend and get out there!

Beacon Rock on the Columbia River, a landmark that Lewis & Clark mentioned in their journals in 1803.  106 mm., 1/200 sec. @ f/10, ISO 200; hand-held; processed in Nik Color Effex then given antique sepia tone in Lightroom.

Beacon Rock on the Columbia River, a landmark that Lewis & Clark mentioned in their journals in 1803. 106 mm., 1/200 sec. @ f/10, ISO 200; hand-held; processed in Nik Color Effex, then given antique sepia tone in Lightroom.

Gorton Creek’s Cascades   9 comments

A small falls along Gorton Creek in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

A small falls along Gorton Creek in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

Gorton Creek tumbles down one of the formerly not well known little side-canyons in the Columbia River Gorge.  Now, like the Gorge itself, it is fairly popular with photographers.  This verdant place is even on many photo workshop itineraries.  That’s because it’s a short hike in, is very green, and has two lovely waterfalls that are not well visited generally.

Parking at the end of the campground just off the Wyeth exit, a 1/4-mile walk will take you to the first falls, which is so small it has no official name.  The second one, called Gorton Creek Falls, involves either scrambling up along the steep left side of the creek on a user-made path, or hopping rocks and logs along the creek proper, and probably getting your feet wet.  It’s only another 1/4 mile up the creek.

Gorton Creek Falls.

The second method is good if you want to get pictures along the creek, but it’s best to have shoes or sandals that can get wet.  The potential shots are more numerous when water is high, in late winter and early spring.  This year the water is fairly low, which means it’s easier to hop rocks up the creek but harder to get good creek shots (in my opinion).

In fact on this recent visit, for the first time, I didn’t do any creek pictures, only shooting the two waterfalls.  The bottom image is from a previous year, in high spring flow.  The more rain, the greener everything is.  So it’s wise to try and plan a trip to the Gorge during or at the end of a wet springtime.

A long exposure in gathering dusk of Gorton Creek's verdant little canyon.

A long exposure in gathering dusk of Gorton Creek’s verdant little canyon.

The Painted Hills   13 comments

The foothills of the Ochoco Mountains rise to the west of the grasslands near the Painted Hills, Oregon.

The foothills of the Ochoco Mountains rise to the west of the grasslands near the Painted Hills, Oregon.

It has been way too long since I’ve done a travel-oriented post.  It’s really my favorite kind!  So in place of photography advice this week, I’m going to recommend a photo destination:  The Painted Hills!  They are known by landscape photographers across the west, and even across the country and world.  Perhaps you have seen pictures of them.

Lying in a remote area of central Oregon near the small town of Mitchell, the Painted Hills are a series of colorful formations with photogenic textures.  This post will give some tips on visiting and photographing them, and also some background information on the area’s fascinating geology.  It is the first of two.

The Painted Hills are part of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.  National Monuments, if you don’t know, are sort of like National Parks lite; they’re protected federal land that is not as high profile as parks.  This national monument is made up of three main areas (units) separated by drives of 2-3 hours.  It is a very scenic area worth exploring outside of the Painted Hills themselves.

The three units – Painted Hills, Sheep Rock and Clarno Units – form a rough triangle that can be explored going either clockwise or counter-clockwise.  You’ll need a car, no 4×4 is necessary.  There is easily obtained camping and lodging scattered through the area.  It is definitely not touristy.

Morning light hits the Painted Hills in Oregon.

Morning light hits the Painted Hills in Oregon.

Home on the range in central Oregon near the Painted Hills.

Home on the range in central Oregon near the Painted Hills.

Directions

If you want to hit the Painted Hills first, drive east from Portland on Hwy. 26.  Follow it across Mount Hood and through an Indian reservation.  Then, just after passing through the town of Madras, turn left to stay on Hwy. 26.  It will take you through the cow-town of Prineville, up and over the beautiful Ochoco Mountains, and down into the huge basin where the Hills sit.

If you’re coming from Bend, first drive north to Redmond, then east to Prineville to pick up Hwy. 26.  The signed turnoff for the Painted Hills, Bridge Creek Road, is not far after you finish descending off the Ochocos.  The Hills are about 6 miles north of Hwy. 26 just off Bridge Creek Road.

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

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

Layers of fossil soils form colorful bands in Oregon's Painted Hills.

Fossil soils form colorful bands in Oregon’s Painted Hills.

What are the Painted Hills?

The Painted Hills are formed by exposures of sedimentary rock belonging to the Big Basin Member of the John Day Formation.  In the Oligocene epoch, some 34 million years ago, volcanoes to the west sent ash clouds over the area, and streams deposited more layers of ash-rich sediment in a subtropical river basin.  The sediment weathered to deep soil before being buried and turned into rock.  Because they are rich in volcanic ash (tuff), the rocks weathered to a clay-rich material.  Volcanic ash has a lot of silica and aluminum; just add water and you have clay.

You will not think of rocks when you first see the Painted Hills.  They look like they’re made of soft fluffy sand or dirt.  But if you could take a shovel and dig down into this stuff, you’d soon hit solid rock.  It is merely rock that has been heavily weathered, not just under today’s climate but under the ancient wet climate it was originally deposited in.  Don’t go digging though, take my word for it!

The frequent wet-dry cycles of today’s semi-arid central Oregon cause these clay-rich “fossil soils” to crack in a fascinating pattern called alligator cracking.  It can easily take years for the clays to crack in this way, so if you walk on them you are ruining the scene for countless photographers and other visitors who come behind you.  Please heed the signs to stay off the bare earth.

The different minerals within the original rock – iron, magnesium, etc. – stain this clay with a variety of rich colors.  Iron mostly weathers to red & orange but in oxygen-poor environments can weather to green.  The dark bands are mostly horizons of organic-rich lignite that trace ancient oxygen-poor stream bottoms.  Manganese-rich clay can form this ash-black color too.  The most obvious colors, the red-orange horizons, mark the ancient soil horizons that were deeply weathered to laterite.  Iron oxide (rust) is responsible for the color.  It’s the kind of thing happening in deep soils of tropical regions in the world of today.

Painted Hills meets Funhouse!

Painted Hills meets Funhouse!

The countryside around Mitchell, Oregon.

The countryside around Mitchell, Oregon.

Visiting and Photographing the Painted Hills

As you head into the area on Bridge Creek Road, you’ll pass some teaser exposures of painted hills.  Turn left at the sign and drive a short distance to a parking area on the left.  You have arrived at the most popular viewpoint in the Painted Hills.  They are to your east, so in late afternoon the hills can yield great photos in wonderfully warm frontlight, with the dark bulk of Sutton Mountain behind.  The sun sets behind the Ochoco Mountains here, so arrive early for sunset.

From the viewpoint, look up and to the left.  A dark band tops nearby Carroll Rim.  This rock band is a “welded tuff”, the Picture Gorge Ignimbrite.  About 30 million years ago a scalding hot wave of dense ash flowed across the landscape, killing all in its path.  You can hike a short trail up to Carrol Rim for a higher vantage point.  From the viewpoint, walk further up the ridge from the parking lot to get good views down into the colored layers.  Use a long focal length lens to get abstract images of the colored patterns.  Please stay off the exposed (cracked) earth.

Drive a little further in from the overlook to a T-intersection.  Go left for two short nature hikes (Leaf Hill & Red Hill).  If you keep going on this gravel road, just after you exit the Monument, you’ll come to a small area on the right where you can free-camp.  Just be quiet and respectful; leave it cleaner than you found it.  Back at the T intersection, turn right to go to Painted Cove, another short nature trail.  This place is great for close-up views (and pictures) of alligator cracking.  You also have a view of the only water in the area, a reservoir that is full and ringed with pretty yellow flowers in springtime.

Back out towards the main entrance there is a picnic area with wonderful green grass.  If you head left out at the turn off Bridge Creek Road, you’ll traverse south on a gravel road for about 6 miles to the John Day River.  This is one of the river’s largest rapids, and you can camp here.  Along this road there are a few spots where you can just park and head off  on a hike into the hills.  Get a map and make sure you are not on private land.  There is plenty of public land here.  In May keep an eye peeled for the wonderful mariposa lily.

Gopher Snake

Meeting a local in the Painted Hills

Deer don't heed the signs not to walk on the Painted Hills.

Deer don’t heed the signs not to walk on the Painted Hills.

 Mitchell

If you keep going east on Hwy. 26 past the turnoff to the Painted Hills you will quickly come to Mitchell, where lodging and camping (in the city park) is available.  Mitchell is a tiny town, but has a restaurant and bar, along with a great bed and breakfast.  Even if you don’t stay, stop for breakfast or have a beer.  Meet the locals!

On the west side of Mitchell, just behind and below the state highway maintenance station, is an old homestead.  Once a dairy farm, this is a fantastic and little known place to photograph.  Be very respectful and low-profile; don’t climb on fences or try to drive down there.  Park near the highway and walk down.  The buildings and barns are in good condition.  In late afternoon or early morning light they offer very good image potential, very different from the landscape shots you just got of the Painted Hills.

So that’s the Painted Hills.  Great pictures abound.  If it has recently rained the colors are that much richer.  You will also find the remains of Oregon’s geologic and human histories.  It’s very quiet and peaceful, a great getaway.  Stay tuned for the next installment, which visits the other two units of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.  Thanks for reading!

The Painted Hills in central Oregon take on subtle hues as dusk arrives.

The Painted Hills in central Oregon take on subtle hues as dusk arrives.

The End   50 comments

A rainbow reflected in a small lake along the Columbia River.  It was classic Oregon springtime weather that last day.

A rainbow reflected in a small lake along the Columbia River. It was classic Oregon springtime weather that last day.

I’ve been trying to avoid this post for the last few days.  This weekend I was shooting at the top of a waterfall, a virtually unknown one called Summit Creek Falls in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.  It’s rare you can get in a relatively safe position to shoot decent pictures at the lip of a falls.  Most of them end up being disappointing because when you look down you lose the sense of depth in pictures.

Anyway, while I was there I momentarily broke one of my rules and didn’t have my neckstrap on.  Only one other time did I do that in the past couple years, and that’s when the 5DII went in.  Murphy’s Law is a vicious thing.  Murph took over at that point and my tripod, Canon 5D III and an L lens went over.  Amazingly it got caught about 10 feet down off the lip of the 100-foot falls, on a submerged log or rock.

Triple Falls, Oneonta Creek, Oregon

Triple Falls, Oneonta Creek, Oregon

After almost dying in a foolish attempt to climb down and get it (maybe a bit of subconscious suicidal thought going on there!), I stopped and caught my breath and thought about the certain consequence of going any further.  I retreated back up, took off my bootlaces, rigged a slip knot and loop, tied off to a long stout stick I found, and went fishing.  I was able to grab hold of a tripod leg.

It’s funny to think about, but if I still had my fancy Gitzo tripod (which has twist leg locks), I would have never recovered it.  With my old trusty Manfrotto that has bulkier lever locks, I was able to grasp it with the loop.  After a frantic wrestling match, fighting the implacable, uncaringly powerful spring snowmelt, I got it.

Oneonta Creek, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

Oneonta Creek, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

An Oregon forest strains the clouds.

An Oregon forest strains the clouds.

Fog moves in towards evening in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

Fog moves in towards evening in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

The gear had been pounded with tons of water for almost an hour.  But my tripod and head (not like the camera but not inexpensive either) are fine.  I just got off the phone with Canon and they can’t accept it for repair.  They say if it’s repairable it would be almost the cost of a new camera.  So it’s gone.  My bad: no insurance!

My backup camera, a 5D II that  had itself been repaired from a brief dip at the top of yet another waterfall, I sold a couple months ago to help pay off the bill from the 5D III more quickly.  So I’m down to an older point and shoot, which means I’m down to snapshop/street photography only.  I am in the worst financial shape of my adult life right now so can’t afford even a used cheaper DSLR.  I will likely sell off the rest of my gear and give up the dream of going fully pro, at least for now.

Looking down from a footbridge that spans the top of Oneonta Gorge.

Looking down from a footbridge that spans the top of Oneonta Gorge.

I debated discontinuing this blog, but my interests are so varied, and I believe I have much to say.  So I’ll keep at it and probably post Friday Foto Talks too, though perhaps not every Friday.  One negative about this plan:  I’ve been blogging for quite awhile now and I have included many images in my posts, believing that I will always be shooting new images; now that’s not the case, and so some of the example images will be reposts from my archive.

So that’s it.  A sad week for me, and something big in my life has now gone.  A big transition back to just observing light and nature instead of always wanting to capture its beauty.  But it’s how I started out and how I came to be a decent photographer in the first place.  Please don’t feel bad for me.  It was a great run!

By the way, these images are from the last day shooting with my camera.  CF memory cards are amazing!

The very last image.  Just ahead is the lip of Summit Creek Falls.  Note my tripod leg; this is an unprocessed image.

The very last image. Just ahead is the lip of Summit Creek Falls. Note my tripod leg.  Unprocessed & uncropped.

 

 

Single-image Sunday: Camping on the Playa   7 comments

No trees for miles around, but it was still a very fine place to camp for the night on the Alvord Desert in southeastern Oregon.  After a drive of about five or six miles across the impossibly flat & smooth playa (dry lake bed), I had my pick of spots.  The only other campers within miles were the wind riders, who were back on the other side of the playa.

Of course, how do you pick a spot when everything looks the same?  Actually, I did choose a spot near some water from recent rain pooling among the desert shrubs at the edge of the playa.  In the morning, I saw birds, who were drawn to the water.  I half-expected a visit from coyotes as well.  I heard them that night, but they never showed up.  The stars were intense that night.  In keeping with the theme of last Friday’s Foto Talk, this is a wide angle shot (19 mm.) that I hope shows the insignificance of my presence there.

Hope you all are enjoying your weekends.  Happy shooting!

 

Camped under the stars on the large playa that makes up most of Oregon's Alvord Desert.

Camped under the stars on the large playa that makes up most of Oregon’s Alvord Desert.

Visiting the Olympic Peninsula   33 comments

A rewarding sunrise from Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic Mountains highlights the peaks of the North Cascades in Washington.

A rewarding sunrise from Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic Mountains highlights the peaks of the North Cascades in Washington.

Back to my bread & butter, a travel-tip post on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state, home to one of America’s best national parks.  I spent a week there in August.  I know I know, what took me so long to write about it?  I’ve been posting pictures for other posts, but it’s finally time to give my take on this beautiful place.  I’ve been there several times, but never as extensively as this one.  It is in my opinion the most diverse national park in the country.  Where else can you hike among flowers in alpine meadows, see glaciers, walk through a misty rain forest, or along a beach studded with sea stacks and brimming with tide pools?  Throw in skipping stones on a beautiful lake and a good soak in a hot spring and you have a pretty special place.

The crescent moon rises over the rugged Olympic Coast at Cape Alava.

The crescent moon rises over the rugged Olympic Coast at Cape Alava.

Places to Visit on the Peninsula

The best time to visit the Olympic Peninsula is anytime during the warmer months, mid-May to September.  April, even March can be nice, also less crowded.  You can have rainy weather at any time, but it is much less common July to mid-September.  Here are the spots I think are worth visiting.  I’ll start with the two most popular places.

      • Hurricane Ridge.  This area accessible via a twisting climbing road from Port Angeles is probably the most spectacular place in the park, and the Peninsula as well.  The views are astounding.  You can see into Canada, over to the Pacific Ocean, and out into the Cascade and Olympic Mountains.  The flowers peak in late July to early August.  There is a small visitor center and a few short trails.  If you drive the gravel road (doable in a 2WD) east to the end of the ridge, you will have more views.  And if you hike a mile or two out one of the trails here you can see Puget Sound and the North Cascades: awesome!
Mount Olympus and companions bask under a beautiful dawn sky as viewed from atop Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, Washington.

Mount Olympus and companions bask under a beautiful dawn sky as viewed from atop Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, Washington.

      • Hoh Rainforest.  Although this area on the west side of the Peninsula can get crowded, the trails have people dispersed in a hurry.  A few short nature trails give a good feel for the forest, and there is a very long trail that heads up the Hoh River, eventually reaching alpine meadows and views of the Blue Glacier. There is also a good visitor center.  Note that you’ll pay an entrance fee (currently $15) to access either Hurricane Ridge or the Hoh, but not for most of the other locations listed below.
Dusk gathers in the foggy forest of the Olympic National Park, Washington.

Dusk gathers in the foggy forest of the Olympic National Park, Washington.

      • La Push Beaches.  The coast near La Push is spectacular.  Several short trails head to beaches, which are popular for backpacking.  But you can also simply drive to Rialto Beach or First Beach.  It’s beautiful.  Do yourself a favor and take a couple walks along the beach.  Time it for low tide for some superb tide-pooling.  Pick up a tide table or jot down times from the internet.  Catch a sunset if at all humanly possible!
The beautiful Olympic Coast at First Beach near La Push, Washington.

The beautiful Olympic Coast at First Beach near La Push, Washington.

      • Ozette.  Actually if you have time do both Ozette and Cape Flattery.  The drive out there from Port Angeles is so beautiful.  Once at Ozette, which used to be a thriving if isolated community but now is not much more than a trailhead, you can hike out a few miles to Cape Alava.  This is the furthest west you can go in the continental United States.  It’s spectacular.  You can hike south along the beach then turn left and make a loop back.  It is about 9 miles for the loop.  The lake is a big one, very worth paddling on if you have a canoe or kayak.  I camped right on the lake and had some very nice starry skies (see image).

If you go to Cape Flattery and have time for a hike, you can head south along the coast on Hobuck Road.  It will give you a feel for how the Makah Native American tribe lives, and you’ll end up at the trailhead for Shi Shi Beach (pronounced shy shy).  Also, at Neah Bay, there is a very worthwhile museum focused on the native culture of the Makah and other coastal tribes.  Cape Flattery is spectacular, the northwestern-most point of the U.S. (excluding Alaska of course). On the drive out there, make sure and check out the beautiful beach at Salt Creek County Park.

Tide pool ornaments on the Olympic Coast.

Tide pool ornaments on the Olympic Coast.

The day's last rays of sunlight strike a sea stack off the northern Olympic Coast in Washington.

The day’s last rays of sunlight strike a sea stack off the northern Olympic Coast in Washington.

 

      • Lake Quinault.  Like many places on the Olympic Peninsula, this beautiful lake lies on American Indian tribal land.  It is bordered, however, by Olympic National Park.  There is a very nice lodge on the southern shore, plus a beautiful nature trail that winds through enormous trees.  The rainforest here is at least as lovely as that in the Hoh Valley.  Drive east past the lake for trailheads that strike off into wilderness.  There are rustic campsites up here, and BIG trees.
Lake Quinalt on Washington's Olympic Peninsula is a beautiful place for a sunset stroll.

Lake Quinalt on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula is a beautiful place for a sunset stroll.

A pretty little waterfall nestles in a verdant alcove near Lake Quinault.

A pretty little waterfall nestles in a verdant alcove near Lake Quinault.

 

      • Lake Crescent.  This glacially-carved lake is the most beautiful lake in Washington, if you ask me.  Steep mountains rise from a curving lakeshore.  Many people just drive right by it on the way from Hurricane Ridge to Hoh Valley.  Don’t be one of these people!  A small beach at the west end of the beach is a good place for a picnic.  Roads head along the far northern shore from either end, and a hiking trail ascends to Pyramid Mountain for even better views of the lake.
Lake Crescent on the northern Olympic Peninsula in Washington is calm under misty skies.

Lake Crescent on the northern Olympic Peninsula in Washington is calm under misty skies.

      • Sol Duc.  This valley covered in beautiful forest is additionally blessed with a (developed) hot springs.  Though I prefer undeveloped hot springs, this one is nicely done.  A short hike takes you to Sol Duc Falls, a beautiful (but popular) cascade.  Reach this valley by turning south just west of Lake Crescent.
Sol Duc Falls in Olympic National Park.

Sol Duc Falls in Olympic National Park.

      • Overnight Hikes:  The two classic trips are up the Hoh River and along the coast.  For the former, start at Hoh Visitor Center and head up to the Blue Glacier. You can turn north at the ranger station to enter a lovely lake basin.  Then if you do a shuttle you can exit through the Sol Duc Valley.  For the coast, talk with rangers at the park’s wilderness desk for local information.  You need to factor in slower hiking times plus tides.  There are several possibilities including the hike from Ozette to Rialto Beach, along with Third Beach to Ruby Beach.  Many other backpack trips are possible in the park, including some that ascend quickly into great mountains and lakes from the east, Hood Canal side.
Life thrives along the rugged northern Olympic Coast in Washington.

Life thrives along the rugged northern Olympic Coast in Washington.

A huge leaf after overnight rainfall in the Hoh rain forest.

A huge leaf after overnight rainfall in the Hoh rain forest.

 

The rugged coast along the northern Olympic Peninsula in Washington was a particularly serious threat to early shipping, and especially during bad weather.

The rugged coast along the northern Olympic Peninsula in Washington was a particularly serious threat to early shipping, and especially during bad weather.

      • Dungeness Spit.  I would be remiss in not mentioning Dungeness Spit near Sequim.  A hike along the Spit is a different experience, reaching far out into the sound.  And it is flat as a pancake!  Sequim is a small town east of Port Angeles.  It benefits from a climatic phenomenon called the rain shadow effect.  It means the rainfall in Sequim is about 16 inches, while over in the nearby rain forests of the western Olympic Peninsula it exceeds 150 inches.  The Olympic Mountains effectively block storms coming in off the Pacific Ocean.  The air rises and cools as it hits the mountains.  Cool air cannot hold as much water in its vapor form as warm air can, so it rains and snows over the high country.  As the weather passes over the peaks and air descends toward Sequim on the Puget Sound, it warms and dries, holding the remaining moisture back – until it hits the Cascades further east.
Low clouds cover the entrance to Puget Sound, with the lights of boats.  Viewed from atop Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, Washington.

Low clouds cover the entrance to Puget Sound, with the lights of boats. Viewed from atop Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, Washington.

 

Onward from the Olympics

You can make your visit even more special by visiting Victoria in Canada.  Just take the ferry from Port Angeles and make sure you have your passport with you.  There are countless lodging options, but perhaps the nicest are the many beds and breakfasts.  You can also stay in one of the hotels lining the truly beautiful harbor.  Whale-watching tours are available, but you should also keep watch from the ferry.  Orcas are not uncommon.

Fog and mist moves in on the beautiful Elwha Valley on the Olympic Peninsula near Lake Crescent.

Fog and mist moves in on the beautiful Elwha Valley on the Olympic Peninsula near Lake Crescent.

From there you can take a ferry over to the San Juan Islands, getting a taste of the slower life there before continuing by ferry back to the Washington mainland north of Seattle.  Some years back my girlfriend and I took her Westphalia camper from Portland up through the Olympic Peninsula, over to Victoria for a bit of culture, then to San Juan and Orcas Islands for more beauty and nature, then home via I-5.  It was a magical trip, perfect for a two week vacation in summertime.

I hope you get to visit this special place some day.  Or return for more in depth exploration if you’ve been there before.  If you are interested in any of these images just click on them.  They are all copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission, sorry about that.  If you have any questions, please contact me. Thanks for reading and have a great week!

A large sea stack and beautiful gold reflection from the sea highlight sunset at Cape Alava on Washington's Pacific Coast.

Beautiful gold reflections on the sea highlight sunset at Cape Alava on Washington’s rugged Pacific Coast.

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

Please note all of these images are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission.  They are low-resolution versions anyway.  To learn about pricing options for the high-res. versions, simply click on the images you’re interested in.  If you have any questions at all, please contact me.  Thanks for your interest, and thanks for sticking with me on this rather lengthy post!

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

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

The Cascades III: Mount Rainier, Part 1   8 comments

Mount Rainier is reflected in a small tarn in the subalpine meadows called Indian Henry's Hunting Ground.

Mount Rainier is reflected in a small tarn in the subalpine meadows called Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground.

It’s no use stalling anymore.  Let’s continue my series on the Cascade Mountains of the Pacific Northwest.  Check out Part I, an introduction to the Range’s geography & geology.  So which mountain should be next?  Well, there are many interesting options.  There are the little-known “climber’s” peaks of Mount Jefferson and North Sister, Glacier Peak and Mount Stuart.  There are the popular recreation meccas of Mounts Baker, Bachelor and Hood.  But there is just one mountain I can’t put on hold any longer: the Big Kahuna, the sleeping giant, the Mother of Waters, training ground for Everest, Seattle’s sky-ornament, Tahoma, Mount Rainier.

The images you see here are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission, sorry about that.  If you want to see purchase information, just click on the images you’re interested in.  If you have any questions, please contact me.  Thanks for your interest!

Mount Rainier and the largest glacier in the lower 48 United States, the Emmons, are bathed in early morning sunshine.

Mount Rainier and the largest glacier in the lower 48 United States, the Emmons, are bathed in early morning sunshine.

Mt. Rainier, at 14,411 feet (4392 meters), is one of America’s most spectacular mountains.  It sticks up hugely and dramatically a little more than 50 miles southeast of Seattle, Washington.  Rainier’s prominence is enhanced by a total of 26 glaciers with over 35 square miles of ice.  In North America, only Alaska and the Canadian Rockies have more dramatic, glaciated mountains.  By the way, don’t get confused about Part III and Part 1.  It’s just that with this particular mountain, there’s too much to fit into one post.  Stay tuned for one or two more posts on Rainier, but we’ll still be on the Cascades Part III until we jump to another mountain.

Mount Rainier's Paradise Park

Mount Rainier’s Paradise Park

The hairy pasqueflower blooms in contrast with indian paintbrush.

The hairy pasqueflower blooms in contrast with indian paintbrush.

Mount Rainier was named by Captain Vancouver of England for a friend of his, Rear Admiral Rainier.  It’s original name, from a local American Indian tribe the Puyallup is Tahoma (or Tacoma).

A Dangerous Volcano

Rainier is considered one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes, and there are a few important reasons for this. Like Vesuvius in Italy, Rainier is situated quite close to population centers.  That is the most important factor that makes it dangerous.  The second most important reason is not, as you’d expect, the volcano’s activity level.  Rainier sleeps for long periods.  Instead, what makes it potentially deadly is the fact that it is steep and weak.  In other words, the same thing that makes it dramatic, sticking up so steeply as it does, also makes it dangerous.

Spray Falls on Rainier's northwest side is a spectacular cascade.

Spray Falls on Rainier’s northwest side is a spectacular cascade.  The mountain receives abundant precipitation, much of it in the form of snow.

The glaciers, with their incredible erosive power, have done a very good job of steepening the volcano.  But how is it weakened?  As the mountain sleeps between eruptions, it sits above the magma chamber below and literally stews in its own juices. Rainier is in a wet climate, and the mountain’s bulk draws even more precipitation its way.  Because of this, Rainier’s rocks are wet.  Add heat and acidic gases from below and you have a corrosive mix.  As a result the rocks are altered to clays, greatly weakening Rainier’s steep cone over time.  In other words, much of the peak is literally rotten.  Add these two things together, the volcano’s steepness and its inherent weakness, and you have a very real and constant hazard on your hands.

Fields of lupine bloom in the subalpine meadows of Mount Rainier, Washington.

Fields of lupine bloom in the subalpine meadows of Mount Rainier, Washington.

The biggest volcanic hazard at Rainier is not from lava flows but from mudflows (aka lahars).  If the mountain erupts lava or hot ash, large amounts of ice could melt quickly, causing a catastrophic flow of mud, rocks, trees, bridges, cars, etc. that cascades down river valleys, wiping out everything in its path.  But here’s the thing: an eruption is not really necessary to bring destruction to the surrounding populated valleys.

Now imagine a small earthquake, perhaps during an unusually warm summer when much of the ice high on the mountain is melting (can you say global warming?).  This could easily trigger a large and very destructive mudflow.  Geologists know this has happened in the past.  In fact, a good portion of the city of Tacoma (plus some of Seattle) is built on deposits from an enormous Rainier mudflow that buried the area some 5000 years ago.

Bears are not that uncommon at Mount Rainier.

Bears are not that uncommon at Mount Rainier.

The Rainier region now has a warning system made up of sirens that are triggered when mudflows higher on the mountain begin.  Citizens of towns like Orting and Enumclaw are taught to heed these sirens by escaping to high ground.  Mudflows are powerful enough to sweep away large bridges and buildings like a spoiled toddler kicks over his leggos.  But all their dirty work is limited to river bottoms, so getting up out of the valley will save your life.

The last of the day's light falls on Mount Rainier in Washington.

The last of the day’s light falls on Mount Rainier in Washington.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Focus   19 comments

A frog enjoys the shallows of Snow Lake at Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

A frog enjoys the shallows of Snow Lake at Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

I was inspired to do a rare Monday post by the Weekly Photo Challenge on WordPress.  Also, this week’s topic, focus, gives me a good excuse to post some of the close-up shots I captured during my recent trip to Rainier and Olympic National Parks in Washington state.  I had a great time up there photographing both the landscapes and small details of a beautiful corner of the country.

The mountain in the lake: Reflection Lakes at Mount Rainier National Park.

The mountain in the lake: Reflection Lakes at Mount Rainier National Park.

This challenge is deceptively simple.  Focus gives even experienced photographers fits on occasion.  I often take only a camera and lens on photo walks, no tripod.  My goal is to sharpen my creativity.  With no tripod and a lens choice of one, you need to improvise to get decent images.

Pasqueflower is a hairy beast!

Pasqueflower is a hairy beast!

For instance at Mount Rainier’s Paradise Park, which is the park’s most popular area, I didn’t want to be burdened.  I wanted to simply stroll through the wildflower meadows with only my camera and macro lens.  Doing macro with no tripod is definitely a challenge, and this time was no different.  But when I saw other photographers with heavy backpacks full of camera gear, tripods in tow, I felt very happy with my choice.

Tracking this interesting beetle was a challenge hand-held with macro lens.

Tracking this interesting beetle was a challenge hand-held with macro lens.

In the Olympics I hiked up to a popular waterfall, Sol Duc Falls.  While shooting this triple cascade, I noticed the wild huckleberries, along with some other kinds.  For some reason I was the only one who was partaking of these scrumptious trail-side treats.  I didn’t understand that, but I made sure to photograph the berries before plucking and popping them into my mouth.

A fresh huckleberry in Olympic National Park just before it became a snack.

A fresh huckleberry in Olympic National Park just before it became a snack.

Rain overnight and cloudy skies means perfect conditions for macro photography.

Rain overnight and cloudy skies means perfect conditions for macro photography.

I hope you enjoy the pictures.  Please note they are copyrighted and not available for free download, sorry.  Go ahead and click on the photos to be taken to my main gallery page, where purchase options are listed.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks for your interest.

Lupine in the morning dew, Mt. Rainier National Park.

Lupine in the morning dew, Mt. Rainier National Park.

The rainforest in Olympic National Park, Washington receives what it thrives on: water!

The rainforest in Olympic National Park, Washington receives what it thrives on: water!

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