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Waterfalls of the Lewis River – a Photo Guide

Lower Lewis River Falls

Lower Lewis River FallsWhen you live in western Washington and are a nature photographer, you better have a a fallback subject to photograph in the rain. Luckily, we have such a subject – waterfalls. The Pacific Northwest is chock full of waterfalls. The most comprehensive list of local waterfalls is the Northwest Waterfall Survey. This site lists more than 2,000 waterfalls in Washington, about 1,250 in Oregon, and around 225 in Idaho.

When I decided to venture forth last Friday, I didn’t need the Northwest Waterfall Survey to pick a place to go. I had just the place in mind – the Lewis River in Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The Lewis River drains the south and east sides of Mount Saint Helens. I’d been in the area before, but had only photographed one waterfall previously. Yet, I know of several more. So, I headed out with Greg Vaughn’s book, Photographing Washingtonin hand to explore the upper Lewis River valley.

Curly Creek Falls

Curly Creek Falls

The day was near perfect for waterfall photography – cloudy, with light rain on and off, but not much wind. Cloudy days work well for waterfall photography because of the contrast inherent when viewing white water, particularly when surrounded by dark forest. The rain gives the foliage a nice saturated look. And because, if you like the silky water look (like I do), you need long exposure times, so lack of wind helps.

To reach the Lewis River area, turn east off I5 at Woodland, take Highway 503, and just keep going. The highway, also known as the Lewis River Road, eventually turns south, but Lewis River Road keeps going straight eastward, eventually turning into Forest Road 90.  The lower and middle portions of the river are dammed in three spots, forming large reservoirs. Near the end of the third lake, Road 90 turns right. Turn and stay on Road 90 (going straight will put you on Forest Road 25, which travels north away from the Lewis River).

About 5 miles from where Road 90 turns, turn left onto Forest Road 51 (shown as Road 9039 on Google Maps) to go to Curly Creek Falls.The trailhead to Curly Creek Falls is about  1 mile down the road, just uphill from the one-lane bridge over the river. An easy, 0.1-mile trail brings you to the viewpoint. The bottom of the falls is partly obscured by trees at the viewpoint, and a better view might be gained by bushwhacking down the steep hill. I had Nahla with me, so I stayed at the viewpoint.

Curly Creek Falls is one of the most unusual waterfalls in the Northwest – a waterfall with a natural arch over it. Actually, according to the Northwest Waterfall Survey, it has two arches spanning it. When I was there last week, however, the water was high and I could only see the top arch. The water level falls rapidly over the summer, exposing the second arch, and then eventually drying up the waterfall entirely. (According to the Northwest Waterfall Survey, the creek bed has intersected a lava tube, which shallows the entire flow prior to the falls. If that isn’t strange enough, this phenomenon reportedly did not happen prior to 2003.) If you continue down the trail another 0.25 miles past Curly Creek Falls, there is another, though less impressive, waterfall – Miller Creek Falls. The Northwest Waterfall Survey reports the view of Miller Falls is “quite obscured by several trees.” With bigger and better waterfalls waiting, I skipped it and headed back to the car.

Back out to Road 90, continue up valley for another approximately 3.8 miles to Big Creek Falls. This one is a bit tricky to find. There is no sign and the parking area (on the left side of the road) has been blocked off. If you drive over Big Creek, you’ve gone a bit too far. There is room to park on the shoulder near at the driveways to the blocked parking area. A short, now apparently unmaintained trail, leads east out of the former parking area.

Detail of Lower Lewis River Falls

Detail of Lower Lewis River Falls

The viewpoint described by Northwest Waterfall Survey and in Greg Vaughn’s book is no longer there (well it is partially there; the pad is there, but there are not guard rails and it’s a steep fall off the edge). You can see the falls from here, but the view is mostly obscured by trees. It looks like a nice set of falls, but I didn’t take my camera out of the bag. Further down this trail, about 1/2 a mile, there is another waterfall, Cave Falls. Reportedly, it’s a great waterfall, but only the bottom part is visible, and even that part is obscured by trees. Considering it was raining and I was with the dog, I skipped it and drove down the road.

The next set of falls down the road are easily the most accessible, arguable the most scenic, and probably the easiest to photograph. Lower Lewis River Falls, is the first of four large falls on the Lewis River. Northwest Waterfall Survey ranks Lower Lewis Falls as the 20th best waterfall in the Pacific Northwest. A little over 5 miles from Big Creek brings you to the Lower Lewis Recreation Area. Park at the day-use area (or camp here if you want to do more than a day trip), and the viewpoints of the falls are just a short walk away. There is a viewpoint directly at the top of the falls and several more downstream. For the view of the falls shown above, go to the furthest downstream developed viewpoint. It is also possible to get right down in the riverbed above the falls via a set of stairs, but with the high water I found, the bottom of the stairs was closed. At low flows later in the summer, it is possible to get some interesting shots from above the falls. The falls face west, and according to Greg Vaughn, are shaded in the morning, which makes that a good time for photography (if not there on a cloudy day like I was). With the western exposure, they also may get good light late in the day.

Forest scene near Middle Lewis River Falls

Forest scene near Middle Lewis River Falls

The next set of falls on the Lewis River is Middle Lewis River Falls. It can be reached by hiking 1.7 miles upstream from Lower Lewis Falls (the trail continues on to Upper Lewis River Falls and Taitnapum Falls) on the Lewis River Trail or by driving a mile down the road to the Middle Falls trailhead. From the trailhead, take the trail off the southern side of the parking lot which leads to the Lewis River Trail and turn upstream. The falls are about 1/2 mile from the trailhead. These falls are not as scenic as the Lower Falls, but are worth a quick visit if in the area. Unfortunately, the view from the trail is not the best – you cannot get an entire view of the falls in your frame. Reportedly, the view is better from the rocks in front of the falls, which are easy to reach from the trail. However, when I was there, these rocks were under flowing water, so I settled for the inferior view. Middle Lewis River Falls comes in at 46th on the Northwest Waterfalls Survey top 100 list.

 

When visiting the Middle Falls, it is also worth a stop to see Copper Creek Falls. Unfortunately, when I was there last Friday, I only had Greg Vaughn’s book with me, which describes a 1/2 mile loop trail to the falls. I didn’t see that trail, so didn’t visit the falls. Northwest Waterfall Survey states that the falls are accessed by a trail from the Middle Falls Trailhead parking lot. This trail leaves the left side of the parking lot and parallels the road and travels several hundred feet to a bridge over the falls.  (This goes to show you should do your research before your trips! Had I done so properly, I could have seen these pretty little falls.) I did see Lower Copper Creek Falls, which are very close to Middle Falls. However, to get a good view of these falls, you need to be down at river level, which wasn’t possible when I was there due to high water.

If not hiking from Lower or Middle Falls, the next two falls on the Lewis River are reached by hiking about 1/2 and 3/4 miles from the Quartz Creek Trailhead respectively. That is the way I went. Quartz Creek Trailhead is about 1.7 miles from the Middle Falls Trailhead, just before the road crosses Quartz Creek. Hiking down the trail to the Lewis River, brings you in first to Taitnapum Falls. There is only one viewpoint for these falls, and that view is partially obstructed by trees. Due to steep canyon walls, scrambling for a better view looked extremely hazardous to me. A tall tripod will help take a few of the trees out of your frame.

Taitnapum Falls

Taitnapum Falls

A short distance further down the trail, you will come to Upper Lewis River Falls. The official viewpoint is down a short spur trail from the Lewis River Trail. This puts you directly above the top of the falls, making it difficult (if not impossible) to capture the entire falls in a single frame. Northwest Waterfalls Survey states the best view is from river level, which is accessed by bushwhacking down along the north side of Alec Creek (which the trail crosses a bit further downstream from the viewpoint). With the high water, I doubted I could get a good view even from there, and it was getting late in the day, so I hiked back to the car to visit one last waterfall for the day. Upper Falls is the tallest falls of the four on the Lewis River at 58 feet. It is similar in form to Lower Lewis Falls, and in fact, comes in on the top 100 list at number 24, only four spots lower than Lower Falls.

My last stop was Twin Falls. To reach this waterfall, travel about 9.5 miles further up the road, turn right on a side road to the Twin Falls Campground (at the time of my visit last week, the campground sign was missing, but the road is obvious if you are watching your mileage). Twin Falls is a double falls (the top one is only partially visible) on Twin Falls Creek that almost falls directly into the Lewis River. The campground is on the shore of the Lewis River directly across from the falls, and good photos can be captured from the shore at the campground.  Northwest Waterfalls Survey report contrast can be a problem when photographing the falls, so a cloudy day like I had last week is the perfect time to photograph them.

Depending on how adventurous you are, there are more waterfalls in the area to visit. Northwest Waterfalls Survey lists many, some with easy access, others with impossible access. East of Twin Falls, Big Spring Creek Falls is very pretty and right next to the road. Or if visiting Big Creek Falls, there is a 3/4 mile trail to the viewpoint of the 250-foot tall Hemlock Creek Falls. You could easily spend several days in the area exploring nothing but waterfalls (but take time to look at the forest and flowers as well!).

Portion of Upper Lewis River Falls

Portion of Upper Lewis River Falls

Twin Falls

Twin Falls

Forest Foxglove

Field of foxgloves along the road to the Lewis River

 


Planning, planning

Fiery Furnace and the La SalsThis September, Tanya and I are planning to take a trip to Utah and Arizona. The American Southwest is one of my favorite places in the world. It combines the best of my two passions: photography and geology. And though I’ve been to the Southwest perhaps twenty times or more, on this upcoming trip, we are planning on going to some places I’ve never been before, including Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly, and the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

We will probably also go to Antelope Canyon as well, since I’ve never been there and it is one of the top photographic destinations in the world. I’m just a bit wary about how crowded and commercial it has become (see this blog by photographer Stephen Penland). If any of you have gone to Antelope Canyon, please let me know what you think.

I enjoy planning for trips such as this, reading guidebooks, looking at maps, making internet searches, and thinking of photographic possibilities. This year, the planning started perhaps a bit early because I wanted to get a permit to the Wave. You need a permit to hike into the Wave, and there are only permits for 20 people per day. There is a lottery for 10 daily slots on the internet four months ahead of your visit. Thus Tanya and I put in our lottery applications last month, and we were not chosen. The other 10 daily spots are given out by in-person lottery the day before your visit at the ranger station in Kanab, Utah. Right now I’m not planning on trying for two of these permits as we will be traveling to the Paria area (in which the Wave is located) from the other direction (from Page and not from Kanab). So, the Wave may have to wait for some other trip. But with so many other great photographic locations waiting in the area, I’m not too upset.

Our first stop of the trip will be Arches National Park outside Moab, Utah. I have been there perhaps four or five times before, but the last time was nine years ago. It’s certainly time for a visit again. The photo above was from that trip to Arches in 2005. I hope to get some great light like this again, in  fact, I’m planning on it!

 

 


5 years ago – Canyonlands

Stillwater

This image, taken while rafting on the Green River in Canyonlands National Park, shows why Stillwater Canyon is aptly named

I still haven’t had much chance to get out for some new photo adventures, so here’s one from five years ago this month (or close enough, the actual trip started in September but ended in October). I took these images on a raft trip through Stillwater and Cataract Canyons on the Green and Colorado Rivers in Canyonlands National Park .  Tanya and I joined the trip about 1/3 of the way in, at Mineral Bottom; the trip actually started at Green River State Park and traveled through Labyrinth Canyon prior to reaching Mineral Bottom. My brother Rob joined us on the trip (though he came down earlier and made the entire trip). My good friend Rob Tubbs organized trip and served as trip leader.

As is typical with river trips, the trip starts (or ends) with a shuttle. In this case, we started with a shuttle. We drove most our gear and extra beer down to Mineral Bottom, then drove Hite (the take out site) on Lake Powell. From there, we few back in a small plane, dropping into the canyon to land on a weedy dirt runway at Mineral Bottom. Then it was time to load up, and off we went.

The Green River through Labyrinth and Stillwater Canyons (120 miles) is all flat water, making it one of the classic canoe/sea kayak trips in the United States. We were in rafts, not canoes or kayaks. The advantage of floating it on a raft is that, unless you are rowing, you can kick back and enjoy the view without the effort. Plus you can carry a lot of gear, food, and beer. Much scenery was appreciated; much beer was drank.

Unlike the first portion of the float, the final leg of the journey, 45 miles on the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon, has loads of whitewater, most of it coming in a single day. One of our rafts flipped in Cataract (luckily, not the one Tanya and I were on – my brother wasn’t so lucky), providing even more excitement for the BRD (big rapids day).

I highly recommend this trip for anyone thinking of an American Southwest float trip. The trip can easily be customized to your own personal level of expertise, time and cost. You can do the whole thing with an outfitter, or on a private trip. The float through Labyrinth can be done completely on your own, taking out at Mineral Bottom. The float through Stillwater (without continuing through Cataract) requires a pickup by jet boat at the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers (for a ride back up the Colorado to Moab). Several outfitters can provide this service at reasonable prices.

I’m considering going again someday by kayak, taking a little more time to photograph. Concerning this trip five years ago, I was happy with the photos I came away with, though none were out of this world. I think the black and white conversions I made from the trip worked the best. As always, your opinions are welcome.

The Shuttle

Tanya and our pilot while flying the shuttle between take-out and put-in

On the River

Scene on the Green River early in the trip

Rafting the Green

My friend, Rob Tubbs, rowing on the Green River

Mud

Hiking some of the side canyons requires getting your feet dirty

Grainery

Anasazi grainery ruin in Stillwater Canyon

Sunrise on the Green

Sunrise on the Green River (HDR image)

In the Maze

Taken on a hike above the canyon into the Maze section of Canyonlands

Cataract

Hitting the rapids in Cataract Canyon

Lake Powell

Scene from the take-out location on Lake Powell (disclaimer – this was actually taken a the beginning of the trip not the end)


St. Augustine

Washington Oaks

Gazebo at Washington Oaks Garden State Park

While Tanya was at her conference, I decided to drive up to St. Augustine for a day at the recommendation of my friend Mike Krautkramer. St. Augustine is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the United States, founded in 1565. Both Tanya and I love visiting historical places, so it sounded like a great place to visit, and it was.

When selecting on a route up from Orlando, I decided to stop at Washington Oaks Garden State Park and Fort Matanzas National Monument on the way up. I drove through a huge thunderstorm on the way up, and my visit to Washington Oaks was under the constant threat of rain from the storm passing just to the south. But I stayed largely dry and the storm made for a dark, dramatic sky. The garden was nice, but I imagine it has more blooming earlier in the year. I was most impressed by the large oaks draped with Spanish moss – so foreign and tropical looking compared to our trees up here in the Pacific Northwest. The state park also has a nice Atlantic beach with one of the largest outcrops of coquina rock on the east coast. While the outcroppings are very small compared to most bedrock outcrops on the west coast, the rocks themselves were quite interesting to my geologist half. My photographic half also enjoyed making some images of them. I also took the opportunity to stick my west coast feet in the Atlantic Ocean – though with the threat of lighting, I though swimming was not a good idea.

Fort Mantazas

Cannon at Fort Matanzas National Monument

From Washington Oaks, it was northward several miles to Fort Matanzas. I knew little about it, other than it was a national monument. As it turned out, the fort is on an island, accessible only from a small passenger ferry from the visitor center. I arrived at the park right at 1:30 p.m. and immediately noted that the next ferry to the fort was leaving at 1:30 and the one after that at 2:30. If I missed the boat, I wasn’t sure I had time to wait around for the next one. I parked, and rushed to the visitor center to get a  pass for the ferry. I asked if I was too late, and the ranger gave me a 1:30 pass and said to hurry. I rushed out and as I approached the dock, there was a crowd waiting to board. The ranger there was asking if anyone else had a 1:30 pass, and still some distance away, I raised my pass and waved. He separated the crowd to let me through and onto the ferry. I’m not sure why none of the people waiting didn’t have the 1:30 passes, but I was grateful. They did let a few people with later passes on after I boarded, then off we sailed across the Matanzas River to the fort.

The first thing you notice about the “fort” is that it is small. In fact, on the ride over, the ranger said that many people ask where the rest of the fort is. He said it isn’t truly a fort, but just a fortified outpost. The entire fort is only 50 feet on each side and only 30 feet tall. It was built by the Spanish to protect the back way into St. Augustine. Apparently it was an effective defense. The guns were fired once against the English in 1742, and no one challenged the guns again. Eventually the British took over the fort via a treaty, then later it went back to Spain, and eventually to the United States in 1819. By that time, not having been kept up, the fort was in bad shape, and the United States never used it militarily. Today, the fort has been preserved and has become a haven for wildlife as well as historic site. While there, I was lucky to see dolphins, a manatee, and even a large alligator (apparently very rare in the salt water).

After about 45 minutes at the fort, the boat sailed back, and I drove north on Highway A1A to St. Augustine, arriving over the bridge of the lions. After a leisurely late lunch at an Irish pub on the waterfront, I visited Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. Unlike Fort Mantanzas, the Castillo de San Marcos is a true stone fortress. It is the oldest masonry fort in the United States; construction on the fort started in 1672. Its mission was to protect the City of St Augustine, which it did for many years. It was used by the military for 251 continuous years, until it became a national monument in 1924. Like Fort Mantanzas, it was built by the Spanish and also used by the British and the United States. However, not all its history is noble; when used by the US military, it largely served as prison for Native Americans. The site is full of old cannons, views of the water, and staff dressed in colonial-era clothing – all stuff any travel photographer love.

After touring the Castillo, I wandered around the old section of the city, stopping to photograph the lions at the bridge, a tall ship at the docks, the local cathedral, and several other old buildings. I easily could have spent several days in St. Augustine, there was much to see and photograph, but time was short and I had to get back to Orlando to have a late dinner with Tanya. Whenever I get back to Florida, a repeat visit to St. Augustine will certainly be on my list.

Coquina beach rocks

Coquina beach rocks at Washington Oaks Garden State Park

Castillo de San Marcos

Cannons and wall at Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Solider with musket

Solider at Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Character Study

This guy was stamping the kids guidebooks at Castillo de San Marcos

St Augstine Lion

One of the lions at the Bridge of Lions


Paria!

Night on the Paria

Moonlit scene in the Paria Canyon below the narrows

I’ve been back several days now from my backpacking trip down the Paria River canyon (Paria is pronounced like Maria). We hiked out of the canyon on Thursday. I had hoped to post about the trip earlier, but after driving 900 miles on Friday, going to by sister’s surprise 50th birthday party on Saturday, Easter on Sunday, and with Monday being opening day for the Seattle Mariners (I’m a baseball nut and went to watch the game at Safeco Field on the big screen even though the game was in Oakland), I haven’t had a chance until now.

When people ask about where I went, I say the Paria River – which usually brings a confused look as they have never heard of it. They ask where it is, and I say mostly in the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument – which continues the confused look because they have never heard of it. So then I say, the 38-mile hike ends at where rafting trips through the Grand Canyon start (at Lee’s Ferry, Arizona) and most people then have a general idea.

The Paria River hike is one of the classic hikes in the American Southwest, and I have wanted to do it for over 30 years. Let me tell you, the hike did not disappoint. Much of the hike is through narrows, where the canyon walls are only 5 to 30 meters wide. The hike is considered as a rival to the much more famous Virgin River Narrows hike in Zion National Park.

The first day we got a late start (after having to drive the shuttle, placing a car at Lee’s Ferry to drive back at the end of the hike) only hiked about 3.5 miles, camping before the narrows begins. The narrows begin at about mile 4 and were spectacular. At mile 7, still in the narrows, we turned and went up Buckskin Gulch (a tributary to the Paria). We dropped our packs at one of the only campsites in Buckskin, about 1/4 mile from the confluence with the Paria, and day hiked several miles up Buckskin. That night, we camped where we had left the packs. The following day, we hiked 10 miles down the Paria, leaving the narrows. Though not in the narrows, this section of the canyon was still not wide and still very beautiful. Much of the hiking these three days was in the river itself. The following three days, more and more of the hiking was out of the river, as the canyon widened up. Besides the day hike up Buckskin, we also made the day hike to Wrather Arch – reportedly the largest natural arch in the world outside the state of Utah.

Here’s a few images from the trip. I’ll try to do a more complete blog post on the hike, with more photos, as time allows.

Hiking the Paria

Hiking in the Paria Canyon narrows

Entering Buckskin Gulch

Hiking in Buckskin Gulch near the confluence with the Paria

Buckskin Gulch

Scene from inside Buckskin Gulch

Wrather Arch

My brother Rob sitting below Wrather Arch


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