I finally had a chance to go out and do some photography recently. Together with my good friend and talented photographer, Mark Cole, I spent a Saturday hiking and shooting along the Dosewallips River in Olympic National Forest and Olympic National Park. The weather was nearly perfect for photography in a forest – bright overcast without too many sun breaks.
The trail along the Dosewallips River is actually an old road. The road was built to the Dosewallips Campground and Ranger Station in Olympic National Park, but a washout 5.5 miles from the campground permanently closed the road to vehicles. More recently a new washout closed another mile of road, so now the hike to the campground is about 6.5 miles one way. For most of the route along the road, the trail is wide, smooth, and gentle, making it ideal for looking round for images while walking.
The first mile to the older washout is almost completely flat and straight, running by large evergreens and moss-covered maple trees. You can hear the river nearby, but it is not visible. The first view of the river is at the washout. Here hikers can scamper along the river edge to get back to the road if the water is low enough (as it was last weekend) or you can take the short up and down trail around the washout. Through the next section of trail, the river is nearer, and shots of the incredibly blue (and white) water can be captured in places through the trees.
At about 2.6 miles from the trailhead, another old road heads cuts off toward the river. A short distance down this road is a concrete bridge across the river, where you can capture a view of the river up the valley. I remember driving into this bridge and photographing there a number of years ago before the washouts when the road was still open to cars. It had to be prior to 2005, because I was still using a film camera at the time.
After photographing from the bridge, we walked back to the main trail/road. A short distance further brought us to the old US Forest Service Elkhorn Campground. We walked in and around the old campground loop, shooting various forest scenes. The forest is more open in the old campgrounds (both Elkhorn and the Dosewallips campgrounds), providing better opportunities for forest photography than elsewhere where the forest is more dense. The campground makes a good place for lunch, as there are abundant picnic tables about.
Past the Elkhorn campground the road winds its way uphill and away from the river. Eventually, the road enters an area burned by the 2009 Constance Fire. Here there are views of the forested ridges beyond the Dosewallips canyon among blacken trees. At about 4.9 miles from the trailhead, the road crosses into Olympic National Park, marked by an open orange gate. From the Elkhorn campground to the park boundary, being away from the river, we found few subject to photograph save wildflowers.
A short distance past the park entrance, a bridge crosses the roaring and tumbling Constance Creek. Unfortunately, downed logs from the fire have chocked the creek making it less appealing photographically. Just past the creek is the very steep side trail to climbs up to Constance Lake. We left that for another day and continued up the road.
Soon we re-entered unburnt forest and could hear the roar of Dosewallips Falls. I was looking forward to seeing Dosewallips Falls. Before our hike, I checked it out on the Northwest Waterfall Survey, but there was very little information and no photographs, which is unusual for large waterfall near a road (or in this case, former road). The falls didn’t disappoint. The river drops over a steep cascade of car (and bigger) sized boulders, with a total drop of more than 100 feet. There was one viewpoint through the trees as you approach the falls (where you can capture about 2/3s of the drop), before the trail/road climbs the canyon wall along the side of the falls, leading to great views of the cascade at the top.
After wandering away from the river again, the trail/road finally reaches the Dosewallips Campground at about 6.5 miles from the trailhead. The campground is a broad, flat, grassy area under spreading moss-covered maple trees and occasional cedar and other evergreens. The riverbank is adjacent to the campground, and the rushing waters of the Dosewallips take on a wonderful cerulean tint under the overhanging trees. When photographing the river, be sure to use a polarizer to remove glare and make the blue colored water pop.
The ranger station is in a state of disrepair, with the roof and wooden deck damaged by a falling tree. A sign on the door states that “everything of value has been stolen already” and warns people not to break in because the building is mice infested and intruders risk getting hantavirus. In addition to the ranger station, I found some of the old, moss-covered and broken picnic tables in the campground made interesting photogrpahic subjects.
I easily could have spent all day photographing in the campground, but after about an hour, we decided to head on back as it was already late afternoon. The trip deserved more time, and perhaps I’ll go back someday to backpack in to the old campgrounds for a weekend.
Hike details: round trip length, 13 miles; elevation gain, 1,200 feet; parking at end of road requires a Northwest Forest Pass
Every year I supply photographs for the promotional calendar at my day job (Robinson Noble). I try to come up with photos that match the month. November is a tough month. What kind of scene says “November”? Not only that, over the years, November is a slow photography month for me. It is usually cold and wet, not my favorite conditions for going out on a photo shoot. But, my stock of November shots (at least those worthy of being on a calendar) is getting very low. So several weeks ago, I decided I need to do a photo weekend. I decided to go to the Olympic coast, and so I reserved a 3-bedroom cottage on the beach at Pacific Beach (I needed 3 bedrooms because Tanya’s mom is staying with us for a few weeks and Tanya wanted to also invite her brother and his wife – they also brought their dog, and we brought Nahla).
I was all set for cold, rainy weather – there aren’t rain forests on the western side of the Olympic Peninsula for no reason. Yet, as our luck would have it, it was beautifully sunny all weekend. That doesn’t happen in November along the Washington coast very often. Of course, being a nature photographer, I have to complain about the weather – it’s never perfect, right? The sun made photography in the rain forest difficult because of high contrast, and the lack of clouds didn’t help the sunsets. But I think I did okay anyway, you be the judge. Are any of these photos suitable for a November slot on a calendar?
I’ve lived in Washington a long time and driven by Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park seemingly countless times (okay, perhaps several dozen), but I’ve never taken the short trail to Marymere Falls. Last week I cured this default. I left Tacoma before sunrise (and boy is that early this time of year), hoping to catch the rising sun on the Olympics from the shores of Hood Canal, but the sky was overcast and the sun rose without apparent effect. But overcast skies are great for waterfall photography, so I drove on and reached the Marymere Falls trailhead, reaching the parking lot a little after 7 a.m.
I was the first one there, which is always a plus when photographing popular spots. And this hike is popular, and deservingly so. It travels through moss-covered old growth forest along a pretty creek to a beautiful waterfall. It is short, only 1.5 miles roundtrip, and is flat until the end, where it climbs several hundred feet to the falls.
Though it is an out-and-back trail, end of the trail near the falls has a small loop. As the trail nears the falls, it crosses over Barnes Creek (on a relatively new steel bridge) and then quickly over Falls Creek (on a classic one-person-wide wooden log bridge. From there, the trail climbs uphill and forms a small loop, leading to two viewpoints of the falls, one directly at the base, and one higher up nearly level with the top of the falls. I found the views at the lower level, and part way up from there, to be better for photography than at the upper viewpoint.
I mostly had the falls to myself, only interrupted by two sets of people who came quickly through, and I spent about 20 to 30 minutes photographing (leaving shortly before about a dozen people arrived). I spent another 20 to 30 minutes photographing in the forest on the way out. All in all, it was worth the stop, and I wondered why it took me so long to give it a try.
When 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.
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.
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.
In my last post, I started describing the hike along the North Olympic Wilderness Coast, covering from Shi Shi Beach to Sand Point. Today I finish, covering from Sand Point to Rialto Beach.
As I mentioned, the hiking near Sand Point is perhaps the easiest of the entire 32 miles. This is particularly true south of Sand Point, where the beach is broad and sandy. Though hiking in the dry sand can be tiring, it is possible to walk on wet sand at all but the highest tides (which in summer occur at night on this part of the coast).
South of Sand Point proper, the beach extends for about 2 miles. Then, after going around an easy headland (passable at 5-foot tide or lower – no overland trail), you come to another nice beach at Yellow Banks – so named for several cliffs made of yellow rock inland off the beach. The campsite at Yellow Banks is the furthest south campsite where reservations are required.
South of Yellow Banks is a long stretch of about 4.5 miles with only one headland (passable on a 6-foot tide – no overland trail), but also without a nice walking beach (at least at the tide level we saw it at; we hiked this section on a rising tide). Here the beach is mostly cobbly, instead of sandy. At high tide, the area could be difficult to hike due to the lack of beach (the tide appears to come quite close to the treeline) and due to downed trees that stick out into the water at high tide.
When hiking this stretch of the coast, we came upon a Boy Scout troop heading north. We stopped to talk a minute to get news of the headland we needed to round before coming to our next camp at the Norwegian Memorial. One of the men with the troop was carrying a rib bone from a whale, which, he said, he intended to carry the rest of their hike. (We wondered about the wisdom of that, first because it probably weighed 20 pounds, and second we doubted the park rangers would let him keep it.) They said bone was from a collection of whale bones in the next small cove. A short distance later, we found the bones, many of which someone had placed together on a large drift log.
We rounded a broad, rocky area north of the Norwegian Memorial close to high tide without too much difficulty and rambled out onto Kayostia Beach, a long sandy beach in front which is home to the Norwegian Memorial. The memorial is dedicated to the crew of the Norwegian vessel Prince Arthur, which struck a reef, broke apart, and partially sank just offshore on January 2, 1903. Only 2 of its 20 person crew survived. The memorial is reportedly on a bluff overlooking the northern end of Kayostia Beach, but wanting to get our camp set up, did not go look for it.
The backcounty campground at Kayostia Beach is about south of the memorial by about half a mile. There are many nice, large sites set just off the beach in the trees. At the southern end of the beach, there is a particularly attractive sea stack and some nice tidepools.
Around the small headland at the end of Kayostia Beach (passable at a 5.5-foot tide, but there is also an overland trail) is an even more beautiful beach. At the northern end of this beach is the Cedar Creek campsite (which we did not visit). The beach lasts for a mile, ending at headland that can be passed on a 4-foot tide (or by overland trail). Past this headland is another nice sandy beach just less than a mile long, which ends a small headland that can only be crossed by going over the top on a short trail (with ropes of course).
South of this headland, the beach becomes rocky again. About midway down this rocky beach, there is a small waterfall in cleft in the rock face a the top of the beach. We spent five hours waiting the the tide near this waterfall because at the south end of this rocky beach is a headland that is passable only at low tide (5.5 feet or lower). Further, a short mile south of the headland is Cape Johnson, which also must be traversed at low tide (4 feet or lower – neither have overland trails). We made the trip around these two headlands on an outgoing tide, with the water level just below the highest recommended levels. The traverse, particularly around Cape Johnson was not easy; but perhaps it is easier with a lower tide. We did see a large number of seals hauled out on the rocks just offshore from the cape.
South of Cape Johnson is a beautiful cove which is home to the Chilean Memorial – which is the resting place of the crew of Chilean ship, W.J. Pirrie. The W.J. Pirrie was torn apart just offshore here in November 1920, killing all but two of the crew of 20.
The beach in the cove is mostly gravel and cobbles, with only a small stretch of sand. That sandy spot forms a small campground. When we arrived on an early Friday evening, the campground was crowded with four of five other groups. One moved over to allow us a spot to camp. Of all the campsite we visited on the trip, this was smallest and most crowded (a result, most likely, of being only 3.7 miles north of Rialto Beach).
South of Chilean Memorial to Hole in the Rock, the coast is formed by two more small coves and plenty of sea stacks offshore. Hole in the Rock is at the last headland before Rialto Beach. The “hole” is a small arch in the bottom of the headland, and at low tide you can walk through it. At high tide, you will need to take the short trail over the top. We took the low route, and the tide was just a little too high to make it without getting wet feet. There is a backcountry campground at Hole in the Rock, but we did not see it.
South of Hole in the Rock, it is an easy beach walk to the parking lot at Rialto Beach. The stretch of coast between the northern end of Rialto Beach and the Chilean Memorial was, in my opinion, some of the most scenic of the entire trip.
This hike is high on scenery, and it is very worthwhile to take your camera. I carried my Canon 6D, two lenses (a 28-300mm zoom and a 17-40mm zoom), a tripod, and several filters (a polarizer, a split neutral density filter, and a 10-stop neutral density filter), as well as extra batteries and other small accessories. I used most, if not all, the equipment I brought (partially because if I was carrying it, I thought I should use it). Of course, weight is a consideration as well!
For lens selection, you probably want everything in your bag. There are many sweeping scenic shots for wide-angle lenses. Short telephoto lenses are useful for isolating sea stacks off shore. And longer lenses are a must if you want good wildlife shots (we saw raccoons, deer, a coyote, dozens of bald eagles, great blue herons, seals, and a few sea otters).
A polarizing filter helps a lot with glare, wet surfaces, and minimizing the common sea mist. It is essential for minimizing reflections when shooting tidepools. I found having the 10-stop neutral density filter fun, being able to take long exposures to totally remove wave action. A split neutral density filter was handy at sunset. The tripod was definitely worth taking for those long exposures, sunset shots, and tidepool shots.
Being the west coast, sunsets were good photographic subjects. At most places, with short walks from the campsites, there were almost always sea stacks or islands that could be used in sunset compositions. I didn’t bother much with sunrise, which was typically blocked by the bluffs rising eastward off the beach.