I’ve lived in Washington nearly my whole life, yet only heard about the Beezley Hills Preserve this year. Beezley Hills Preserve is a 4,800-acre natural area protected by the Nature Conservancy. On the hills north of Quincy, Washington, the preserve has views south over the Columbia Basin and west to the Cascade Mountains. However, the views aren’t the reason to visit – the plant life is. Beezley Hills is part of one of the largest intact tracts of shrub-steppe ecosystem in the state and one of the best wildflower spots in eastern Washington. Spring time, from late April to mid-May, is prime time to visit when most of the wildflowers are blooming. It’s during these few weeks in spring when this sagebrush desert shows its best colors.
Tanya, Nahla and I visited last Friday, April 25, and the wildflowers were not quite yet at their peak bloom. We did see arrowleaf balsamroot, Hooker’s balsamroot, phlox, sagebrush violet, trumpet bluebells, and common spring gold all in full bloom. My favorite, the hedgehog cacti, were just starting to bloom. Cactus are not that common in Washington, and Beezley has one of the largest concentrations of hedgehog cactus in the state. The lupines and bitteroots, for the most part, were not yet blooming, though we did see one white sulphur lupine just starting to flower (white sulphur lupines are the only white lupine in Washington). Beezley doesn’t get much visitation. We only saw two other people while on our hike, and they were just leaving as we arrived.
To reach Beezley Hills Preserve, make your way to Quincy (take either exit 149 or 151 off Interstate 90) and head east on Highway 28. Near the eastern edge of town, turn north on Columbia Way, which curves into Road P NW, also known as Monument Hill Road. (Note: directions I found in one guidebook and on the internet for Beezley Hills say to turn onto Road P NW off Highway 28. However, you can only turn south on Road P from Highway 28, not north.) Drive 7.1 miles and park next to the access road for a communications tower at the top of the hill. On the south side of the road, there is a gate into the Beezley Hills Preserve, marked with a small sign reading “Nature Preserve – Foot Traffic Only.” There is no sign announcing the preserve.
From the gate, the trail is along an old jeep track, which becomes fainter with distance. After a short distance, we had trouble following the trail. However, it doesn’t matter much, hikers are free to roam at will through the preserve, taking care to not step on the fragile plants. The entire preserve is fenced. Just stay inside the fenced area. You cannot get lost, the communications tower is always visible. A loop around the property makes about a 3-mile hike.
We were there on a mostly cloudy day, which helps with wildflower close-up photos. On a sunny day, you may wish to bring a reflector and/or diffuser to help cut contrast. Consider bringing a macro lens for close-up shots. Alternatively, try a wide-angle lens and get in close to the flowers to show them in their natural setting. Sweeping vista shots will likely be best near sunrise and sunset, though I did okay with the cloudy skies in mid-afternoon. While spring is the best time to visit for wildflowers, Greg Vaughn, in his book Photographing Washington, also suggests visiting in autumn.
After visiting Beezley Preserve, you might also consider a visit to nearby Moses Coulee for a totally different looking landscape. There are backroad routes into both the southern and northern portions of Moses Coulee from the Beezley Hills Preserve, but perhaps the easiest route, at least to the southern end of Moses Coulee, is to drive back to Quincy, head west on Highway 28 toward Wenatchee, and turn left onto Palisades Road where Moses Coulee where it intersects the Columbia River. The northern portion of the coulee, crossed by Highway 2, is not easily reached from Quincy on paved roads without a fairly lengthy drive.
If you read my last post, you know I have been frustrated by not having time to go out and shoot. I’m still pretty busy with other stuff, but did find a few hours last Thursday to sneak out with the camera. The evening sky was partially overcast with light clouds, which provided a nice diffuse, low-contrast light. The air as still. A perfect evening for macro flower shots. Luckily, I live less than two miles from one of the nicest dahlia and rose gardens in the Puget Sound region. I grabbed the gear and headed over to Point Defiance Park.
As I was entering the gate to the garden (the garden is surrounded by a 10-foot tall fence to keep the deer out), a gardener was coming out. She told me they had just dead-headed the whole garden and it was in prime condition. I couldn’t have picked a better time. The dahlia blooms did look like they were in their prime, as were most the roses. I set up the tripod, slapped on a 100-mm macro lens and some extension tubes and lost myself in the work. Perfect!
I wasn’t the only photographer there that night, there were three portrait photographers in the garden, two doing senior-high photos and one was shooting two young children (I don’t envy that poor photog). They were making money, and may or may not being enjoying their work. I was not making money, it is highly unlikely I will ever sell any of the images I made that night, instead I was enjoying my craft and saving my sanity.
Occasionally, there was the slightest breath of a breeze, slightly moving the blossoms. I turned up the ISO a couple stops to keep the shutter speed less than a second, and kept on shooting. I ended up shooting for about two hours until the light started fading and the exposure times became increasing long. It was the perfect antidote to my pent-up need to create.
April in the Skagit Valley is one on the photographic highlights of Washington State. April is when the tulip and daffodil fields west of Mount Vernon are in bloom (actually, the daffodils typically start blooming in March). These fields, and the month-long Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, attract big crowds – and, therefore, I’ve avoided them for years (actually I did photograph some of the early daffodil fields a few years back, visiting at non-busy time). However, I did venture up to the fields last Friday – and wow, was I missing out by not going earlier. Actually, I picked a good day. It was rainy in Seattle and Tacoma, but not too bad up in Mount Vernon, and the weather may have kept the crowds down (being a weekday also helped). There still were plenty of people, just not the mobs the flowers attract like bees on sunny weekends.
Here’s a quick report:
- best time to go – go now! The tulips are at their peak. The early tulips have already been headed (the growers de-head the tulips to prevent disease and promote bulb growth, and the longer you wait, the more flowers will be de-headed), the mid-season tulips are in full bloom, and the late-season ones are just starting. Most the daffodil fields are long-past their prime, though a few still have decent flowers.
- best display garden – Roozengaarde. There are two major tulip growers in the valley, Roozengaarde (a division of Washington Bulb) and Tulip Town. Both have display gardens. Roozengaarde’s is larger and better developed. There is an entry fee of $5 – well worth it. This fee also gets you into their tulip field across the road. Roozengaarde’s other tulip fields, elsewhere in valley, are free to visit.
- best tulip field – Tulip Town. Behind the display garden at Tulip Town is relatively small tulip field, but one packed with lots of colors and varieties. Most the other tulip fields in the valley are very large, and though they may have several varieties of tulips, it’s difficult to get more than a couple of varieties into a single image. No such problem at Tulip Town. Another big advantage at Tulip Town is two red barns next to the field that make good backgrounds. Like Roozengaarde, there is a $5 entry fee.
- weather – it rains a lot in the area in April, you just have to work with it. Sunny days (like today) are great, but not very predictable unless you have a flexible schedule. You can make great photos on cloudy days, or even in the rain (as long it is not a downpour).
- footwear – the fields are muddy – extremely muddy if it has rained lately. Wear boots. I wore hiking boots; many people had rubber bo0ts.
- pets – of course, Tanya and I had Carson with us. Dogs are not allowed in the display garden at Roozengaarde or in Tulip Town, but are allowed in most the fields. Carson had a great time laying in mud puddles.
- parking – the entrance fee to Roozengaarde also pays for parking at their fields – assuming the parking lots are open (they close if it is too muddy). There is also a parking lot at Tulip Town. Otherwise, you will need to park on the road. Be warned: if any part of your car is across the marking the edge of the road, you will get ticketed. The local cops were out in force when we were there.
Wind is often the bane of nature photographers. We are often photographing in fairly low light conditions at sunrise or sunset, and often want a wide depth of field, so end up using small f-stops. Most of us know that using high ISOs leads to objectionable digital noise. These conditions all combine to require a slow shutter speed. So what do you do if there is a breeze moving your foreground around. Not a problem with rocks as a foreground, but what about wildflowers?
The above photo of the Tatoosh Range was taken at Paradise on the Golden Gate trail last month shortly before sunset. To get both the flowers and the mountains in acceptable focus, I took one shot with the aperture at set f/16 and the ISO at 100. This resulted in a shutter speed of 4 seconds (I also used a split neutral density filter). There was a breeze and it was impossible to get a frame without some movement in the flowers.
I then shot another image with the aperture at f/11 and the ISO set to 1250. This allowed the shutter speed to be 1/8 seconds. This was enough to stop most of the flower movement; but as you might imagine, the noise was unacceptable.
To get the above image, I processed both photos in Lightroom and imported them into Photoshop. I used the low ISO image as the background layer, then added the high ISO image in a new layer and added a layer mask filled with black (making none of the high ISO image visible). Then, using a soft brush, I painted white on the mask wherever the flowers were soft due to movement from the breeze. The end result is the image above. Below are close two closeups that show the before and after effects of painting the high ISO image onto the low ISO one.
This technique to stop the wind doesn’t always work, but when it does, it can save a shot.
Earlier this week, Tanya,, Carson and I went camping for three days at La Wis Wis near White Pass. I took the opportunity to drive up to Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park for one sunset and one sunrise. Though it looked like they were slightly past their prime, the wildflowers were incredible at Paradise. If you want to see them this year, you best get up there fast.
For my sunset shots, I hiked from the visitor center eastward on the Skyline Trail then partly up the Golden Gate Trail. The flowers were great on the Golden Gate Trail, but the view of Rainier is partially obstructed by a ridge. Luckily for me, the view of the Tatoosh Range to the south put on a good alpenglow show.
The next morning, after arriving at Paradise at 5:45 a.m. (no trouble finding parking at that time!), I headed north on the Skyline Trail to Glacier Vista, then back to the visitor center via the Deadhorse Creek and Waterfall Trails. Again, great flowers, but also more unobstructed views of Rainier (the featured photo above is of Rainier from the Deadhorse Creek Trail). Unfortunately, there wasn’t much color in the sunrise. However, low-lying clouds below Paradise made for some good shots.
Anyway, I just wanted to post a few photos from the trip to show you why they call it Paradise!