July 29, 2006

FS-70 & Mt Rainier NP

The forecast was mostly to partly cloudy, which is about as iffy as you can get for photography. I had been anticipating a cloudy weekend -- rare in summer -- so was looking forward potential wildflower and river photography. The "partly" part of the forecast was rather unwelcome. I really wanted to go to the area around Mount Adams, thanks to inspiration from a friend's photos he'd sent recently, but the forecast was rather sunny down there. I did have my heart set on flowers afterall. I played with the idea of heading to the east side of the Olympics, but I ultamtely decided on the old standby -- Mount Rainier.

Instead of heading straight there, I decided to spend the earlier part of the day exploring some Forest Service roads around FS-70 I had never traveled, northeast of the park. There might be some photogenic creeks in the area. I wasn't very hopeful however, because of the recent dry weather and the amount of logging in that area. While I was pouring over the map, looking at roads and rivers, I noticed Kelly Butte was right in the area. I had no idea! I headed there first thing.

Kelly Butte This was the weekend that some members of NWHikers and the Forest Fire Lookout Association were having a volunteer work party to carry shingles to the Kelly Butte lookout for a new roof. I knew about the work party, but I had no idea where Kelly Butte actually was, so when I saw it on the map I had to at least stop by and see the area. I was fortunate enough to not only see the lookout from the road, but to meet some of the members of the work party that I'd talked to on NWHikers. It's a beautiful area, and the weather was perfect. I stayed and talked until late afternoon, and by the time we headed out, clouds had rolled in completely.

Twentyeight Mile Creek With the new weather, I decided to make a dash for Mount Rainier, but I took a different route to get there, FS-72, since it paralleled Twentyeight Mile Creek and looped around to SR-410. I stopped at the creek crossing to take some photos, which turned out to be the only real photos of the day.

Once done there, I headed to the park and enjoyed the cool and overcast weather. Do I belong in Washington, or what? I drove up to Sunrise in hopes of getting some flower photos, and they are certainly in bloom there, moreso than anywhere else in the park that I saw, but the light was gone. The mountain was completely fogged in, drifts flowing over the road, and it was cold.

Even with the temperature and lack of views there were quite a few people there, but I wanted to stretch my legs, so I walked up to the visitor center. It had just closed, since it was just after 6pm, so I walked around to the viewing area to get away from the shouting kids and crying babies, even though there was no view of the mountain to be had. What I did find was quite a surprise.

The flowers were in full bloom, as with the rest of the area, and the breeze was cold. The clouds were dark and low, and fog blew right to left through the trees in front of me, obscuring even the lowest mountain slopes. I was standing in a secluded area between the visitor center and the Ranger residence, isolated fromthe crowds, and from the latter came a loud haunting music -- very Enya-esque, with some American Indian influence. I usually don't like music with my nature, but this was an absolutely perfect compliment. It was completelysurreal. I had the whole place to myself, nature and music, for a minute or so before anyone showed up, and I savored every moment. I wish I knew what that music was.

Mount Rainier I spent the rest of the evening along Stevens Canyon Road. I was surprised to see breaks in the clouds at Backbone Ridge, Mt Rainier poking its head through the clouds. I took a few snapshots but the light still wasn't right. I went on to Reflection Lakes and Paradise Valley to scout the wildflowers (both past peak) and came back to Backbone Ridge in hopes of catching a chance sunset through the cloudbreaks, but the light was already gone when I arrived. If there were photos there, I missed them. I spent the last half hour before dusk testing a few new walking stick candidates, then called it a day.

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