August 26, 2006

Hazy Day at Rainier

Another hot and hazy weekend. We need some rain! I wasn't sure if I was heading out anywhere this weekend since I have a lot of traveling coming up soon when Mom's visiting, so I neglected to recharge my batteries and didn't even really think about destinations. After a lazy Saturday morning, I decided to hit the road anyway and settled for my old standby -- Mount Rainier. It wasn't until I got half way there that I remembered the forest fire burning north of the park. I expected the haze to make photos virtually impossible, but drove on anyway.

When I reached the Copper Creek area, I checked the map and decided to spend the bright afternoon scouting for good sunset views of Rainier. It was a longshot, and I figured photos today weren't going to be worth it, but as much time as I spend at Rainier, I have a distinct lack of good photos.

Hazy Mount Rainier I decided to drive around FS-84 and its offshoots in Gifford Pinchot National Forest, southwest of the park, and see if the roads along the side of Osbourn Mountain had any views. I wasn't expecting much and was I wrong! I found what is probably the best viewpoint for Rainier sunset photos that I've seen. It doesn't look like much in the snapshot because the light is bad and the air is thick with haze, but the view itself is fantastic. Add some evening light and a fresh coat of snow and that could be a very nice photo. I'll have to check back this fall and see if I can catch one.

Hazy Mount Rainier at Reflection Lake By then the light was getting good, so I thought I'd try photos closer to the mountain to see if I could eliminate the haze. Ricksecker Point had potential, but it was still a little bit early, so I moved on to Reflection Lake. The light was good, but there was just too much haze for the mountain to really pop. It's a shame because the flowers on the edge of the lake were nice. I don't think they'll last much longer, so that may have been my last chance for the year. I ended up staying there quite a while. There were some deer poking in and out of the bushes, and I'd pretty much written off photos for the rest of the day, so I was in no hurry whatsoever.

Hazy Mount Rainier at Ricksecker Point After a small snack while enjoying the view, I headed back to Ricksecker Point to see if things were any different. The light was better, but there was still too much haze to get any golden glow from the setting sun. I snapped a few photos anyway, just in case, and kicked back for a while, pouring over my maps. It was very relaxing and I stayed over an hour since I had virtually the whole place to myself. It was nice not thinking about photos for once and just enjoying the view. Sometimes I forget how incredible it is to be able to be in such a place only an hour or two from home.

Falls on Paradise River On the way out the Stevens Canyon Road, I stopped at the Paradise River just to take a look. It's never inspired me much at this point in the river, including this time. But as is habit, I peered over the downstream side and saw a nice waterfall I had completely forgotten! Down the trail I went, tripod slung over my shoulder, and managed to grab only a handful of photos before my stale batteries gave out on me. I'll definitely be back for this photo again!

Another shot of the falls:

Falls on Paradise River

August 11, 2006

Creek Hunting, GPNF North

I took today off for a three day weekend in part because I needed a little R&R, and in part because today was the only day with even a remote chance of clouds, and I wanted to finish the creek hunting deprived of me two weekends ago.

After allowing sufficient time for the morning rush hour traffic to clear, I drove south into the thick gray clouds and hoped they would hold. The weather reports were for clearing skies in the afternoon, but it's usually a crapshoot, and today would be no exception. For the entire drive from my garage to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, the sky was a dark and foreboding gray -- exactly what I needed. And as soon as I hit Yellowjacket Creek, where I'd left off last weekend, the clouds gave way to bright blue sky.

Southern GPNF was a wash. Looking at the northern sky, however, the giant cloud bank still clung to the mountains. I'd basically driven out from under the grey roof as I reached Yellowjacket. So I turned around and drove back north, into the northern part of GPNF between Mt Rainier National Park and US-12.

I knew I had driven some of these roads before, but I couldn't remember which ones, so I picked what looked like a good loop along several different creeks that would put me back near Mt Rainier afterward, so I could drive up the east side for a easier route home.

I started off heading north on FS-47 out of Packwood and was rather disappointed at the creek crossings there. Several of the more promising spur roads were undrivable, and the ones I could navigate were uninspiring. I had planned to branch off on FS-5240 to connect to US-52 to make my loop, but I wanted to check a few more creek crossings later on US-47, and possibly drive up to Long Lake.

An Old Friend That was when I ran into an old friend -- an unnamed waterfall that is one of the most photogenic places I have ever seen, right there on the side of the road as if begging to be photographed. I know I had shot there before, but I didn't realize it was on this road, and my recollection was that conditions weren't great last time. Aside from some intermittent wind, this time conditions were great. I had flat gray skies and the vegetation was in full summer splendor. After clearing some troublesome debris from the lower cascades, I spent over an hour shooting different compositions and scrambling up the creek.

It was hard to leave that place, but at some point you just have to say you're done. How many photos can you take of one thing anyway? For me, quite a few. I decided to make the drive up to Long Lake since I was nearby, but there were people camping there so I didn't stop. Instead I drove up to the end of the road into a very peaceful area full of trees covered in beard moss. I tried to snap a few photos, but they didn't come out. Ironically, I needed sunlight for that.

I backtracked from there and travelled up FS-5240 as I had planned, but there was nothing really of interest there. I connected to FS-52, aka Slate Creek Road, more of a highway than a Forest Service road, and headed back south. I had remembered some photogenic runoff streams along the side of the road from when I was there before, but they were all dry this time.

Butter Creek Since it was still earlier than I had planned, I took a detour up FS-5270 that follows Butter Creek. I remembered I had traveled it before, an even had some markings on my map of closed spur roads, but I didn't remember anything about it. I stopped at the first crossing of Butter Creek and immediately remembered it. After clearing a little devil's club, I walked down to the water and played around with shooting the river rocks on the bottom of the creek. This creek has a wonderful mixture of colorful rocks on its still bottom and my photos didn't do them justice.

After that I worked my way farther down the road and crossed several more creeks I distinctly remembered photographing before, in fact I think one of them had produced some nice photos. I decided to turn around there since light was fading. I'll have to check my photos to see if those before turned out. It would be well worth another trip there if not.

I have to say, it's nice to finally get some good photos in again. These are keepers, I think. And aside from the farther reaches of southern GPNF, which are tough to reach at today's gas prices, I've about covered everything there is to see on the roadside, at least that my vehicle can handle. Now that fall is near, I need to start hitting the trail again!

More photos of my old friend:

CloserAnd Closer

August 05, 2006

Mt Baker West

Since I wasn't able to make it to Baker due to cloud cover two weeks ago, I decided to give it a full day today since the sun was out. I was concerned about the haze in the air, but wasn't going to let it stop me. At the very least it would be a good research trip.

I'd planned to head up all the way up to Artist Point at the end of SR-572, but I wanted to take a quick stop by Glacier Creek Road first. I had remembered a decent sunset view of Baker from the viewpoint at the top, but it had been a while and I couldn't quite remember what it really looked like. So I thought I'd take a quick detour to document it before heading on.

The trip up Glacier Creek Road (aka FS-39) was uneventful, and the trailhead for Heliotrope ridge was completely packed. I wonder what the view of Baker is like from that trail. I'll have to research that. I drove past the trailhead to the viewpoint and wasn't too impressed. Yes, you can see the west face of Baker, but there are too many trees in the way, most blocking Baker too much for any decent composition. I gave up a headed back down and soon realized the best views are from the road up, not from the viewpoint itself. Maybe that's why it has been decommissioned. The light was way too bright, being mid-afternoon, so I marked this as a potential place for sunset.

This got me wondering what the views were like from the other roads in the area, the spurs branching off Glacier Creek Road. Studying the map, I noticed one that went up near the top of Lookout Mountain. Ooh, that sounded promising. So off I went!

The views from the entire length of FS-36 and FS-3610 up Lookout Mountain are phenomenal. The only drawback is the old clearcut on the near slope. It would make nice foreground otherwise. The light was still way too bright for photos, so I grabbed some snapshots just in case, and explored the rest of the nearby roads.

Meadow Wildflowers The area has been heavily logged, thus the open views of Baker, but there is one area just before the end of FS-3610 that was missed for some reason. It's an alpine meadow with a fantastic view of the mountain, and to my surprise it was also filled with patches of wildflowers, many of them in the shade of the trees. I fought the mosquitoes and flies to try to compose a few shots, but nothing jumped out at me. I'm just no very good at flower photography. For some reason I don't see the photos like I do for rivers and mountains. But I tried nonetheless until I'd had my fill of bugs.

I spent quite a while exploring the rest of the spur roads -- 3620, 3630 -- mainly to kill time until the light was better. There wasn't much to see there, but Artist Point was right out by this time. Once the sun began to set, I took photos from several different locations along the road, and went back to the meadow for some additional shots as well.

Mt Baker Sunset The best view of the mountain had been from just below the old viewpoint, so I hopped back in the car and headed there in time for sunset. I spent the next hour or so, kicked back in my portable chair with the camera set up, snapping photos every few minutes as the sun set on Baker. The haze took some of the color out of the sunset light for most of the time, but suddenly the golden light burst through low on the mountain and slowly worked its way up until the entire peak was aglow. It was a marvelous experience, and produced some colorful photos.

More Baker photos:

Mt Baker From Meadow
Mt Baker at Dusk