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Dungeon of Spit – a Photography Guide to Dungeness Spit

Dungeness and BakerWhen my children were young, they liked going the Dungeness Spit, though my son liked to call it the “Dungeon of Spit.” Dungeness Spit is the longest natural sand spit in the world. It juts out into the Straits of Juan de Fuca from the Olympic Peninsula near the town of Sequim, Washington. This location, in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains, makes it one of the sunniest places in western Washington (Sequim averages only 16 inches of rain per year while the town of Elwha, about 30 miles to the west, averages 56 inches).  The spit is home to the New Dungeness Lighthouse, the oldest lighthouse in Washington State north of the Columbia River.

The Olympics from Dungeness Spit

The Olympics from Dungeness Spit

A week ago, I lead a group of four Tacoma Mountaineer photographers on a photo hike of the Dungeness Spit. Though I have been there many times, I’ve never made it all the way out to the lighthouse (an 11-mile round-trip hike from the parking lot). So that was the goal of this trip. This is the rare hike in Washington where you can see your destination almost the entire length of the hike. The first half mile is through forest. But from there on, the hike is on the beach and the lighthouse if visible – though seemingly so very far away. But keep walking on the beach, and eventually you will get there.

The lighthouse is open to the public; volunteer lighthouse keepers lead tours up the tower and gladly answer questions about the lighthouse operation and history. The volunteers each spend a week at the lighthouse, living in the historic lightkeeper’s house and taking care of the place. Our guide lives in Los Angeles but has come up to Washington for the past six years just to spend a week at the lighthouse.

My friend, Greg Vaughn, who wrote the book on Washington, mentions Dungeness Spit in his book, but says it doesn’t offer much for nature photographers. I usually agree with Greg, but here I beg to differ (at least if you like lighthouses and mountains). On a sunny day, with the Olympics and Mount Baker out, the spit offers great views. Though it does help to have a fairly long lens to help pull in Mount Baker (and the lighthouse if you are not close). On this trip, mainly used my 28 – 300mm zoom.

Mount Baker and drift wood on the spit.

Mount Baker and drift wood on the spit.

Dungeness Spit is part of the Dungenss National Wildlife Refuge. There is a $3 entrance fee payable at the trailhead. The trailhead is accessed through the Dungeness Recreation Area, a park run by Clallam County. The refuge is open daily from sunrise to half an hour before sunset (though we didn’t make it back until a little after sunset and no one bothered us about it). Half the spit – the half facing Dungeness Bay – is closed to public access to allow the birds a safe haven. So all the hike is on the Strait of Juan de Fuca side, which has bigger waves and less drift wood. The final half mile of the spit, past the lighthouse, is also closed. For much of its length, the spit is only 100 to 200 feet wide (less at high tide, more at low tide). After the walk through the forest, the hike is all on the beach, which is mostly sandy at low tide. At high tide, much of hike is on cobbles and large gravel instead of sand. The spit is a popular hike, and it can be difficult to not get other hikers in your photographs when looking up or down the beach. However, by getting up off the beach into the drift wood, the drift wood can be used to hide people walking on the beach.

To prominently show the lighthouse in your images, you will have to walk at least several miles. However, my favorite view of the lighthouse is actually from a small viewing platform just above the beach where the trail exits the forest. Here the lighthouse is placed directly in front of Mount Baker, and with a long lens, you can get a good shot of it looking small and isolated, alone and practically in the sea in front of the mountain (see featured photo above).

Besides the views of the mountains and lighthouse, Dungeness Spit offers photographers abstract shots of driftwood, shells, rocks, waves, etc. Being a wildlife refuge, there is also lots of birds. Bald eagles are very common, as are many waterfowl (just remember to stay on your side of the beach). One hiker we met said they had seen coyotes on the spit, and I’ve often seen sea lions and seals just off shore.

At some locations on the spit, you can get Mount Baker and the lighthouse in the same frame.

At some locations on the spit, you can get Mount Baker and the lighthouse in the same frame.

Dungeness Spit is long and thin. With a wide-angle lens, the lighthouse and Mount Baker are barely visible.

Dungeness Spit is long and thin. With a wide-angle lens, the lighthouse and Mount Baker are barely visible.

View of the Dungeness Lighthouse from near the lighthouse grounds.

View of the Dungeness Lighthouse from near the lighthouse grounds.

The lighthouse reflecting in Dungeness Bay.

The lighthouse reflecting in Dungeness Bay, the Cascade Mountains in the background.

My photo buddies photographing inside the lighthouse tower.

My photo buddies photographing inside the lighthouse tower.

The spit is straight for most its length, but near the lighthouse it changes direction forming a nice curved shape.

The spit is straight for most its length, but near the lighthouse it changes direction forming a nice curve leading into the lighthouse.

Close up on kelp roots attached to a beach rock.

Close up on kelp roots attached to a beach rock.

 


Ingalls

Ingalls LakeThis is the post I was preparing when my friend Gary died. I had hoped to post this while it was still possible to hike to Ingalls Lake, but it is quite possible it is snowed-in for the season by now. I took the hike on October 10th, hoping to find good fall colors.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, to find good autumn colors in Washington State, you need to know where to look and have good timing. My goal for the hike to Ingalls Lake was to see some of those fall colors – specifically the subalpine larch trees. Larch trees are conifers, but unlike other conifers, they are not evergreens. The needles on larch trees turn a beautiful yellow then fall off in autumn. What makes them extra special is their setting. In Washington State, they are only found high in the mountains, which can create some incredible autumn scenery.

Snow, larch trees, and Mount Stewart from Ingalls Pass

Snow, larch trees, and Mount Stewart from Ingalls Pass

Even without the nearby larch trees, Ingalls Lake is spectacular. An alpine lake set in a rocky bowl at the base of Ingalls Peak with a view of the spectacular Mount Stuart that just won’t quit. The conditions were nearly perfect for my hike. It was partly sunny after a rainy weekend – at least it was rainy in the lowlands. At Ingalls Lake there was fresh snow, which just enhanced the scenery.

This nine-mile roundtrip hike immediately starts uphill from the parking lot as the trail switchbacks up to Ingalls Pass where it enters the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. The lower part of this portion of the trail is through forest, but the later part is not and has great views of the Esmeralda Peaks and Fortune Pass to the southwest. Once Ingalls Pass is reached, the view expands dramatically to include Ingalls Peaks and all the Stewart Range, anchored by Mount Stewart directly across the valley.

Ingalls Lake is not visible from the pass and is separated from it by the lovely Headlight Basin. The southern side of Headlight Basin has impressive groves of larch trees. The basin also includes many small streams, meadows, bare rock slopes, and boulder fields.

Just past the pass, the trail splits. The more direct route to the lake cuts downhill then uphill again through Headlight Basin. The main trail circles around the west side of the basin, not gaining or losing much elevation. The trails meet up again about 1/4 mile from the lake. From there, the trail scrambles uphill to the lake.

Since I was searching for fall colors, in particular the larch trees, the lake was a secondary objective. But what a secondary objective! I think you’ll agree from the images I’ve included here that the lake is spectacular. And neither was I disappointed by the larch trees.

I had hoped to stay in the basin until sunset, but as the afternoon wore on, more and more clouds were moving in and I thought the sunset might be a bust. So instead, I headed back downhill, stopping in the forested section of the trail to take more images of autumn color in the forest underbrush (the trees here are evergreens). As it turned out, the sun did break out again at sunset. Being back down low, I didn’t get much in the way of sunset shots, but I can’t complain, overall it was one of my best photo hikes in years. Perhaps, based on the images above and below, you will agree.

Esmeralda Peaks as viewed from the trail up to Ingalls Pass

Esmeralda Peaks as viewed from the trail up to Ingalls Pass

Larch trees on the trail west of Ingalls Pass

Larch trees on the trail west of Ingalls Pass

Rock slope and larch in Headlight Basin

Rock slope and larch in Headlight Basin

The larch grove near Ingalls Pass, Iron Peak in the background

The larch grove near Ingalls Pass, Iron Peak in the background

Closeup of larch needles

Closeup of larch needles

Ingalls Lake and Mount Stewart

Ingalls Lake and Mount Stewart

Another view of Ingalls Lake and Mount Stewart

Another view of Ingalls Lake and Mount Stewart

Some of the color in the forest underbrush on the hike back.

Some of the color in the forest underbrush on the hike back.

A bit of fall color along the North Fork Teanaway River near the trailhead.

A bit of fall color along the North Fork Teanaway River near the trailhead.

 


Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

Tent RocksKasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is a small  national monument in New Mexico. Located roughly halfway between Albuquerque and Santa Fé, and about 25 miles west of Interstate 25. Though more popular since it gained monument status in 2001, it is still relatively unknown, so much so that there are not even exit signs for it on the interstate. Yet, Tent Rocks, is definitely worth a visit.

A capped tent as viewed from the Cave Loop Trail

A capped tent as viewed from the Cave Loop Trail

The park is home to a large number of cone-shaped “tent” rocks and hoodoos made in white- to tan-colored volcanic ash and tuff deposits (left from a series of pyroclastic flows, or nuée ardente, off the Jemez volcano to the north – as a geologist, I just had to get some geology in).  Many of the tents have boulder “caps.” The tents range from in height from a few feet to nearly 100 feet. The park is a day-use only facility run by the Bureau of Land Management rather than the National Park Service. The park opens at 8 am in the winter and 7 am in the summer and closes at 5 pm and 7 pm respectively, with the entrance gate closing an hour before the park. There is a $5 entrance fee (or use your National Parks pass).

To best see and photograph the tent rocks, you need to park the car and take a short hike. There are only a few trails in the park, with the two main trails starting at the picnic area. These are the Cave Loop Trail, which is 1.2 miles long, and the Slot Canyon Trail, a mile long (one way), that branches off the Cave Loop Trail half a mile from the parking lot. The featured shot above was taken from the loop trail between the parking lot and the start of the canyon trail. The Slot Canyon Trail is more strenuous of the two, but also more scenic.  You can easily combine the two trails, like Tanya and I did, to create a longer walk. If you have time for just one, take the Slot Canyon Trail.

Shortly after leaving the loop trail, the Slot Canyon Trail enters a steep canyon cut through the volcanic ash deposit. Though typically 20 feet wide or so, 500 feet or so from the entrance to the canyon, it forms a tight slot reminiscent of some of the slot canyons in Utah and Arizona (except not in sandstone).  Shortly before the tight slot portion, on the west wall of the canyon, a bit off the trail, there are several petroglyphs carved into the rock, including an impressive one of a snake.This is not the only evidence of former inhabitant in the area. The cave, on the Cave Loop Trail, is a small alcove in the ash deposits with a roof black with soot deposits of ancient campfires.

Past the slot section, the canyon opens up bit and there is a great view of the tents looking back down canyon. The trail continues up the canyon which eventually curves westward and upward through some tall tents. Eventually the trail climbs steeply up out of the canyon with good views back toward the upper part of the canyon just traversed, toward the mouth of the canyon, as well out to the plains of the Rio Grande Valley and the far off mountains.

Because of the light-colored rock, mid-day light is not very good for photography. Early morning or late afternoon work well, but beware of the park’s hours. Because of the park’s hours, spring and fall are probably the best seasons to visit. We visited on an April afternoon, with nice afternoon light, leaving shortly before the park closed. A wide-angle lens is needed in the slot canyon, while in places, a telephoto lens will be helpful to isolate tents in your compositions.

This is near the narrowest portion of the slot canyon

This is the slot canyon, which gets a bit narrower beyond this point.

Scene along the Slot Canyon Trail where the canyon is a bit wider

Scene along the Slot Canyon Trail where the canyon is a bit wider

View down canyon shortly past the narrows

View down canyon shortly past the narrows

Hoodoo along the Slot Canyon Trail near where the trail climbs up out of the canyon

Hoodoo along the Slot Canyon Trail near where the trail climbs up out of the canyon

Cluster of tall tents at the head of the canyon

Cluster of tall tents at the head of the canyon

Dark sky above the tents in the canyon

Dark sky above the tents in the canyon


Georgia O’Keeffe Country

Chimney Rock at SunsetWhile in Santa Fe, Tanya and I visited the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. We had missed it on our previous trip there, so we wanted to be sure to see it this time. We enjoyed learning about Georgia O’Keeffe and seeing some of her paintings, though quite frankly, both of us we disappointed that more of her work was not on display. That said, it is worth a visit if you are in the area and enjoy the work of this truly American iconic artist.

Non-flash photography is allowed in the museum, though some pieces are marked for no photography signs. Additionally, no tripods are allowed.

Georgia O'Keeffe's painting "Horse Skull with White Rose" photographed in Georgia O'Keeffe museum in Santa Fe

Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting “Horse Skull with White Rose” photographed in Georgia O’Keeffe museum in Santa Fe

One of the issues of photographing paintings and other artwork is getting the color correct. Most museums, not just the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, have title cards next the artwork that is neutral grey. To get the true color of the piece, also take an image of the title card. Then in Lightroom, use the color balance eyedropper tool to get the correct color balance. Copy the color balance to the image with the artwork, and instantly the colors in the artwork are correct. For more on this technique, see my earlier post on the subject.

Exploring the work of Georgia O’Keeffe in a museum is one thing, but seeing the places she painted with your own camera lens is another. So a day or two after seeing the museum, Tanya and I traveled north of Santa Fe to the region around Abiquiu, where Georgia O’Keeffe lived, to see in person some of the places she painted. We didn’t drive into Abiquiu proper (not there is much town there) because we walked around it several years ago. But if you do visit, the church there is very photogenic. Tours of Georgia O’Keeffe’s house are also available through the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

Our first stop was Plaza Blanca, or, as Georgia O’Keeffe called it, the White Place. Plaza Blanca is a spectacular set of white limestone cliffs, small canyons, and hoodoos just north of Abiquiu. To reach the White Place, driving west out of Abiquiu on US Highway 84, shortly after passing over the Rio Chama, turn right on County Road 155. After a mile or two, this good dirt road becomes paved. Shortly after the road becomes paved, turn left on a dirt road through the gate for the Dar al Islam . When the road splits, stay right and come to a small parking lot. The White Place is a short walk down the hill.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to explore Plaza Blanca in detail as it was already late afternoon and I wanted to the Ghost Ranch before sunset. The Ghost Ranch is about 10 miles north of Abiquiu on US 84, and while driving there, we stopped to take some pictures of the badlands and red rock cliffs along the highway a mile or so before the turn off for the Ghost Ranch. There is also another spot worth noting between Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch. The highway between Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch climbs up out of the Rio Chama valley west of town. At one point, there is a pullout with a good views of the Rio Chama both looking back to Abiquiu in one direction and toward the mountains in the other. We stopped here on our way back from Ghost Ranch during the blue hour.

Today the Ghost Ranch is an education and retreat center owned by the Presbyterian Church. But you need not be a church member or go on a retreat to visit or even stay there; all visitors are welcome. When arriving at the Ghost Ranch, visitors check in at the Welcome Center. There is a $5/person fee for day visitors. You can also join in at meals in the dining hall (for a small additional fee) or even stay overnight if not full (reservations are available).  For visitors not partaking in a retreat or organized educational event, the day pass offers access to hiking trails, the ranch’s museums (an anthropology museum and a paleontology museum), restrooms, trading post, and the rest of the campus grounds.

I had very little knowledge of the Ghost Ranch, other than it was a good place for photography, prior to our arrival. The Welcome Center was closed when we drove up, but a woman was just leaving the building as we got out of the car. It turns out she was the Executive Director of the ranch. She suggested a couple hikes, invited us to dinner at the dining hall, opened the Welcome Center to let us use the restrooms, and told us a bit of history about the ranch. Apparently, the ranch was originally owned by a pair of cattle rustlers and thieves, who kept their pilfered livestock in a box canyon on the ranch. To keep people out, they told stories of evil spirits that haunted the area. This led to the original name Ranch of the Witches which was eventually changed to the Ghost Ranch. Arthur Pack, an east-coast conservationist, purchased the ranch in the 1930s. He sold a small piece of it to Georgia O’Keeffe, who kept a studio there and painted many of the Ghost Ranch landscapes. Pack donated the ranch to the Presbyterian Church in the 1950s to be used as a retreat center.

The ranch is set at the base of a series of red-rock cliffs and small canyons and badlands, quite reminiscent of much of southern Utah. Its most famous geologic feature is Chimney Rock, an orange and red sandstone spire jutting out from a cliff face (shown in the featured images above, as well as one image below). Tanya and I did about half of the Chimney Rock hike, far enough to get a good photograph (the one below). Based on the angle of the setting sun, which was backlighting the formation, we didn’t complete the hike so I could get a better shot entrance road to the ranch. The image above was shot just before sunset along the entrance road, next to an old log cabin (which Tanya explored while I took pictures).

In all, we spent less than half a day exploring the Georgia O’Keeffe country around Abiquiu. From this short outing, I know I want to go back for more.

Some of the white limestone formations at Plaza Blanca

Some of the white limestone formations at Plaza Blanca

Section of canyon wall at Plaza Blanca

Section of canyon wall at Plaza Blanca

Red rock formation along US Highway 84 near Ghost Ranch

Red rock formation along US Highway 84 near Ghost Ranch

Door and adobe wall at Ghost Ranch

Door and adobe wall at Ghost Ranch

Cattle skull on the Ghost House at Ghost Ranch

Cattle skull on the Ghost House at Ghost Ranch

Chimney Rock from near the Chimney Rock Trail at Ghost Ranch

Chimney Rock from near the Chimney Rock Trail at Ghost Ranch

View from the Chimney Rock Trail toward Cerro Pedernal, which was perhaps Georgia O'Keeffe's favorite landscape subject

View from the Chimney Rock Trail toward Cerro Pedernal, which was perhaps Georgia O’Keeffe’s favorite landscape subject

 

 

 


Quick Shots: Mount Rainier National Park

Emerging RainierWinter is rapidly ending here in western Washington. Spring flowers are already blooming in my yard. But it isn’t quite over yet. Here’s a few shots from a snowshoeing outing I made earlier this month in Mount Rainier National Park.

Sun lighting part of the slopes near Paradise

Sun lighting part of the slopes near Paradise

Part of the Tatoosh Range, south of Paradise

Part of the Tatoosh Range, south of Paradise

View of the Nisqually River from the bridge over the river in the park

View of the Nisqually River from the bridge over the river in the park

Down by the Nisqually River

Down by the Nisqually River

Blue winter sky above the Nisqually River

Blue winter sky above the Nisqually River

Grove of trees in the Nisqually Valley

Grove of trees on the floor of the Nisqually Valley