the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

Photography Guide

Plan a Photo Trip with Photohound

Tired of having nothing to do while being cooped up during the pandemic? Try exploring the world and planning your next photo trip with PhotoHound. PhotoHound is dedicated to responsibly sharing the best places in the world to shoot travel photography. It was set up by three photographers, Luka Esenko in Slovenia, Jules Renahan in London, and Mathew Browne in Wales. PhotoHound is an outgrowth of the former Snapp Guides, which was started by Luka and Jules. As some you might remember, I did a Puget Sound area guide for Snapp Guides and had one in the works for the Palouse as well. Before I could publish the Palouse guide, Snapp Guides started its conversion to PhotoHound, so I’ve been working with PhotoHound from its very beginning. My Puget Sound and Palouse guides are now available on PhotoHound.

Currently there are 52 guides available on PhotoHound from regions around the world such as the Peak District in England, Singapore, Venice, Patagonia, the Everest region of Nepal, Dubai, and Coastal Montenegro. Each guide is a curated list of photo spots, highlighting the best of each region. Photo spots are individual locations featuring what and how to shoot.

Besides the guides, there are many other photo spots on PhotoHound that are not in guides. In fact, PhotoHound offers over 4,200 photo-worthy spots around the world in 109 countries and territories with more than 14,000 sample images. More spots and images are being added daily.  Each spot gives exact locations and GPS coordinates, descriptions of what to shoot, sample images, suggestions for gear, current weather conditions, current sunrise and sunset times, and more.

While PhotoHound is currently only available for use on a PC or laptop, a smartphone app is slated to be available in a few months. The PhotoHound site is currently in beta testing, and all content is free to users. Eventually, the it will offer both free and paid premium memberships.

PhotoHound is looking for photographers to share their spots and images with the community. Everyone is invited to add new spots – add enough spots and you can become a PhotoHound Pro. Adding new spots easy. Once a spot is added, the PhotoHound team will review and verify the spot before it goes live. You can also add your images to spots that are currently on the site.

Staying at home because of the pandemic, I’ve been spending some time by going through my archives and adding new spots. In the past several weeks, I’ve added several spots in Monument Valley, such as the Totem Pole (the featured image above), as well as:

a couple spots for the Cirque of Towers in Wyoming;

several spots in Utah, such as the Great Gallery

the Arkadi Monastery in Crete;

the Cutty Sark in London;

and more. In total, to date, I’ve contributed 222 spots to PhotoHound. Most are from my Puget Sound and Palouse guides, but I’ve also added spots in Montreal, London, Norway, Spain, Iceland, and a Greece.

So if you are looking for something to do, check out PhotoHound and plan a trip, share your spots and photography, of just see some great images from around the world.


Dosewallips, a Photography Guide

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.

Trail in the Elkhorn Campground

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

Dosewallips River at the old washout, 1 mile from trailhead

Mossy river rocks a short distance upstream from the washout

Top of Dosewallips Falls

Boulder at the top of the falls

Scene in the Dosewallips Campground

The abandoned and damaged ranger station

Mark photographing the river

Rock in the river at the campground

Close up on the base of a cedar tree

Dosewallips River adjacent to the campground

Maple trees by the river


Puget Sound Guide Now Available!

I’m proud to announce my photo guide to the Puget Sound region is now available on SNAPP Guides! The guide covers 58 spots for great photography in the Puget Sound region from Bellingham to Olympia (exclusive of Seattle, which is covered in a separate guide) including 125 sample photographs. For each spot, I give advice on when to go and how to shoot the best images.

The guide is available for both Apple and Android devices. To download the guide, first go the Google Play Store or Apple’s App Store and install the free SNAPP Guide app. Once installed, you can download several free sample guides to see how it works. To download my Puget Sound guide, select Shop from the main SNAPP Guide menu and either scroll down or search for Puget Sound.

SNAPP Guides currently offers guides to 67 places around the world and more are being added (like the Palouse guide I am working on that should be available sometime next year). Each guide provides detailed information on photographic locations including what to shoot, when to go (both season and time of day), directions to get there (including GPS coordinates), a map of the location, a physical rating for the site, and what type of lenses and equipment you might use. The guides also interface directly with The Photographers Ephemeris to quickly give sunrise and sunset times at each location.

My Puget Sound guide costs $7.99. Other guides offered by SNAPP Guides vary from about $4 to $15. Below are several screen shots of the guide.

The guide opens with a main menu to browse spots, view the spots on a map, look at any spots you’ve previously marked as favorites, read about the guide, or learn a bit more about me as the author.

 

Selecting Spots from the main menu bring up the spots listed in order of distance from your present location.

 

Here’s another example.

 

Selecting Map from the main menu brings up a map with all the spots. You can zoom in to locate and select individual spots.

 

Selecting on a spot from either the list or map brings up the details for that location, including the day’s sunrise and sunset times and the current weather conditions.

 

Here’s another example. The top shows a sample photograph and tells about the spot. For most spots, you can swipe over to see more sample images. The Bloedel Reserve, for example, has four sample images.

 

By swiping downward, you can learn about what to shoot at the site and what type of equipment will come in handy.

 

Swiping down further gives suggestions on when to go and other details about the spot.

 

Continuing downward, you get a physical rating for the spot and directions on how to get there.

 

At the bottom, there is a map, GPS coordinates, a link to The Photographer Ephemeris, and links to other information.


Steptoeless – A Photographic Guide to Non-Steptoe Butte Palouse Viewpoints

Without a doubt, Steptoe Butte is the most popular photography destination in the Palouse. And deservedly do. Rising more that 1,000 feet above the surrounding landscape, there is no better place to capture an iconic shot of the rolling hills of the Palouse. If you only have time to go one place in the Palouse, this is it.

However, if you would rather not share the view with dozens (or more) of other photographers, or if you are just looking for someplace else to go, there are several other places I know of that can give you similar shots to those captured at Steptoe Butte.

Kamiak Butte

Most blog posts that recommend where to shoot in the Palouse, as well as Greg Vaughn’s excellent Photographing Washington, Kamiak Butte is mentioned as a good place to get similar views to Steptoe Butte. Though a bit lower in elevation than Steptoe Butte, its peak is more than 1,000 feet above the surrounding lands. There are several differences, however. Kamiak Butte is elongated, running northeast to southwest, so it doesn’t give the all directional views that Steptoe does. Also, most of its northern half is forested (Steptoe is treeless), so views to the north and northwest visible except in a few spots. Perhaps the largest difference is access. Kamiak Butte is a Whitman County park. The park access road is gated, and the gate locked from dusk to 7 a.m. If you want to drive up there for sunrise photos in the summer – forget it. Plus, unlike Steptoe, you need to hike to the viewpoints on Kamiak. The main loop trail up to the viewpoints is 3.5 miles, but you can get to the first viewpoints in about half a mile (with an elevation gain of about 320 feet).

Having to access the viewpoints by trail makes it difficult for sunset shots as well. Unless you are a trail runner, it might be difficult to shoot at sunset, hike back to your car, and get out the gate before it is locked for the night. (And yes, the sign specifically states you can get locked in.)

On the plus side, there will be fewer people there and the wildflower display at Kamiak is wonderful – in my experience, much better than at Steptoe. There is also no fee to visit Kamiak, while Steptoe Butte is a state park and requires a $10/day fee (or an annual state parks pass – the Discovery Pass).  Also, you can camp at Kamiak, while there is no camping at Steptoe.

I didn’t want to take my chances with the gate, so I my recent trips, I shot from Kamiak in the mid-afternoon and went elsewhere for sunset. The gate to Kamiak Butte County Park is in Kamiak Butte Park Road (image that!) at GPS coordinates 46.880353, -117.149009.

Marvin Wells Road

I found one source (Photograph America Newsletter #54) that suggested Marvin Wells Road as a good viewpoint. On this road, you can get to an elevation of about 2,975 feet, about 700 feet of the top of Kamiak Butte. The road approaches the butte from the west and skims along the bottom of the treeline (with the trees above the road on the butte). The view is not so vast as you get from the top, being only toward the west through north, nor will you be 1,000 feet above the surrounding landscape, but you do not need to worry about being locked out at sunrise or locked in after sunset.

Also, the elevation difference may not be as big a deal breaker as you might think. There is some debate about where is the best place to shoot on Steptoe, and many photographers prefer not going completely to the top, photographing instead from pullouts between some 400 to 600 feet lower than the summit. Marvin Wells Road puts you just underneath that same elevation range.

If you like your sunset between just you and your tripod, I can guarantee you, you won’t find any other photographers at the viewpoints along Marvin Wells Road (unless, of course, my blog post goes viral – ha ha!). Plus, there will be little to no traffic. The road leads to a single farm on the side of Kamiak Butte. I shot there several times during my recent visits and didn’t see any other photographers and only a single car passed me.

The best approach to the Marvin Wells viewpoints is from the west (the road does loop around to Fugate Road, just a mile east of the entrance to Kamiak Butte County Park; however, Marvin Wells Road off of Fugate is a very sketchy “summer” road [dirt roads open only in the summer] that I chose not to test with my SUV). Both South Palouse River Road (from the west) and Fugate Road (from the east) merge directly onto Marvin Wells Road below the butte. The viewpoint at GPS coordinates 46.862410, -117.182667 is to the west and northwest. By driving a little further on the road you can also see more to the northeast.

Woody Grade Road

The viewpoint at Woody Grade Road is directly east of Steptoe Butte on the eastern edge of the Palouse region (in Idaho). It has an elevation of just over 3,030 feet, but the nearby surrounding lands are only about 500 feet lower. Still, you can get some good shots here. This spot, to my knowledge, is not mentioned any in other guides to the Palouse. I found it by searching Google maps.

There are two views here; one is a wide-open view to the west and north, and the other is a more restricted view to the south. The two viewpoints are about 500 feet apart.

You can access the Woody Grade viewpoints either from the south or from the west. Woody Grade Road west of the viewpoints is a summer road, which was in good shape when I drove it last month. South of the viewpoints, it is a good gravel road – so that is the preferred approach, especially if it has rained recently. Besides, it you approach from the south, you will go by a nice old school house (on Yellow Dog Road) that will surely tempt your camera lens.

The road from the school to the turn off to Woody Grade Road is Schneider Road. It continues east past Woody Grade Road, and it looks like there may be another viewpoint along it a bit more than a mile past the Woody Grade turn – though I didn’t go check it out on my recent visit. The viewpoints on Woody Grade Road are at about GPS coordinates 47.018650, -117.010974, and without a doubt, you will not be sharing this view with other photographers. The old school on Yellow Dog Road is at 46.99672, -117.033538.

Skyline Drive Road

With a name like Skyline Drive, is it surprising this road has good views (including the featured image at the top of this post). I found this viewpoint several years ago by just driving around the Palouse scouting for good photographic subjects. At the time, it was the middle of the day, and I made a note to go back in better light – which I did on my recent trip. In doing an internet search, I found that I wasn’t the first to discover this spot – I found several blogs mentioning it. However, I venture to say it is not widely known. In the two times I’ve been to this section of road, I’ve only seen one other person. On my recent trip, just before sunset, a hunter came walking up the hill from one of the fields below. Seeing my camera, he remarked on the view and warned me about ticks (if you do wander around in the grasses of the Palouse, checking for ticks is very good advice).

The northern and western end of Skyline Drive Road starts just north of Farmington, Washington, a right-hand turn off the Tekoa Farmington Road if driving north. The road winds up a hillside and then traverses through Mary McCroskey State Park in Idaho. Skyline Drive Road is nearly 20 miles long, and I have only explored the northwestern end.  As the road continues from there into Idaho, it enters a forest. However, in examining it using Google Earth, it appears there may be several other spots where it leaves the forest and provides views of the Palouse. On a future trip, I hope to explore the full length of the road looking for additional viewpoints.

The northwestern end of the road near Farmington offers wonderful views of the Palouse to the south, west, and northwest, with Steptoe Butte forming a distant bump on the horizon. This portion of the road is at elevation 3,000 to 3,200 feet while the nearby surrounding lands are at about 2,600 feet.

The road itself is dirt and may be unpassable during or after wet weather. I found the road to be generally in good shape. The Idaho state parks website suggests the road may be “too rough” for a family car, but I don’t believe this northwestern section is. Though there are many spots along the road to take great photos, general GPS coordinates for this northwestern section of road are 47.125139, -117.042153.

Other Viewpoints

There are many other viewpoints with more limited views in the Palouse region. Typically these occur where a road crests one of the rolling hills that is somewhat higher than its surrounding neighbors. I’ve found several that are worth mentioning, and I will do so in when my guide to the Palouse comes out next year. For now, I’ll just show you two examples from one such spot, the crest of Clear Creek Road (46.897361, -117.185005).

Meanwhile, I’m on the hunt for more viewpoints in the Palouse. If you happen to have a favorite one, particularly if I’ve missed it, please leave a comment or drop me an email.


Photo Guide to the Bowl and Pitcher

While in Spokane for my Dad’s funeral, I had some free time, so I went out to Riverside State Park to do some photography. It was therapeutic spending some time in nature, walking around in the snow, and shooting the river. Riverside State Park is a large park with several different units. I spent most my time at the Bowl and Pitcher, which is perhaps the most scenic place in the park.

The Bowl and Pitcher are contains large basalt rock formations surrounding a turbulent Spokane River. Supposedly, several of the rock formations look like a bowl and a pitcher. However, I’ve been to the Bowl and Pitcher dozens of times in my life (having grown up in Spokane), and I’m still not sure which ones are the namesake rocks. None of them look like a bowl and pitcher to me. I looked on-line to find how the formations gained their name. The only reference I found was to a geology class project from Spokane Community College which claim there is a small “cave” under the rocks that the river churns through and around that looks like a bowl and that one of  the formations further downstream looks like a pitcher. With this explanation, I think I can “see” the pitcher, but I’m still stumped on the bowl.

Regardless, this is a great location to do some photography if you have some free time in Spokane. Perhaps the best view of the formations and river are from an elevated viewpoint on top of one of the formations on the east side of the river. You can access the viewpoint from a small parking area along the right side of the access road to the Bowl and Pitcher area just after you turn off the main road through the park. Alternatively, you can hike up to the viewpoint from the day-use parking area along the river (a Washington State Parks Discover Pass is required for either spot).

Other than this elevated viewpoint, you can get some good compositions by crossing the suspension foot bridge across the river at the day-use area and scrambling around the formations on the west side of the river. The featured photo above was shot on the west side of the river.

About a mile downstream from the Bowl and Pitcher is the Devil’s Toe Nail, a smaller rock formation in the river which is also worth stopping at. You can reach this area by hiking down the hillside on the east side of the river from a small parking area along the main road, or by hiking along a trail which follows the west bank of the river from the suspension bridge.

Photography  in winter at the Bowl and Pitcher can be difficult because of the extreme contrast between the snow and the nearly black basaltic rock formations. I didn’t try any HDR here, but it may be worth attempting. The dark rocks will present a similar challenge in the summer when lit with direct sunlight.

The flow in the Spokane River drastically changes throughout the year making radically different shots available in the winter and spring versus the summer and fall. The flow in the river when I was there this month for about 16,500 cubic feet per second (cfs). Peak flows in spring can exceed 40,000 cfs, while typical flows in August and September fall below 1,500 cfs.

This is the Devil’s Toe Nail, about a mile downstream from the Bowl and Pitcher.

Here is part of the view from the viewpoint. Could the rocks here hold the bowl?

View of the suspension bridge from the viewpoint

Another view from the west side of the river. The big formation in the center of the photo is capped by the viewpoint.

One more shot from the west side of the river.

Perhaps one of these is the pitcher?


Shooting Seattle with Airbnb

I’d like to announce I am now offering a photography shooting experience with Airbnb. Airbnb started offering “experiences” as well as home and room rentals last year, and Seattle was one of the first cities they chose to offer experiences in. In early spring, I read in a magazine about Airbnb offering experiences and thought I should apply to host a photography experience in Seattle. I thought about offering a walking photo tour of Seattle – starting a Pike Place Market, covering the waterfront and Pioneer Square, and ending in the International District.

After spending several weeks working on my application to host, I received an invitation to attend a new host seminar in Seattle. I met with the region representative from Airbnb along with about 10 other new hosts. We received instruction and help editing our experience descriptions. They also offered the services of a professional photographer to document my experience and use on my experience webpage (see link above).

Then it was a long wait. Finally, months after initially starting the process, my experience went live a week ago or so. By this time, of course, my summer had filled up and I don’t have many days I can offer it – right now, I’m only scheduled for three days in August. But I’ll be adding more days soon.

In anticipation of going live, I thought I should actually do a dry run since up to this time my timing of my offered experience was made up of a Google estimation of the time necessary to walk the route and my guess at time needed for photography. So on a recent Saturday, I headed up to Seattle to do a dry run with Tanya as my tour “guest.” It was good we did this, as I learned a few lessons I’ll put into action when I actually do my first tour next week. And we were lucky, we ended up in the International District right as Dragonfest was occurring. I was able to get right up in the action and capture the above shot of the dragon parade.

While I can’t offer Dragonfest every time on my photo experience, I do hope to show my guests some of my favorite shooting locations in the city. If you are traveling to Seattle, consider signing up for my experience, I’d love to show you the city.


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.

 


Scenic Seattle is Here!

9780764351167It is official, my book, Scenic Seattle, Touring and Photographing the Emerald City, is now available. I received my shipment of the books last Saturday. It was exciting to open that box of books and see my name as an author and my photographs finally in print in my own book. The book is available for sale at major booksellers and here on my blog.

The book covers everything Seattle that a travel photographer would want to shoot – viewpoints, beaches, museums, parks, and much more. It describes all the major attractions in the city, as well has dozens of smaller ones. I give photographic advice on how to best capture this photogenic city and offer over 100 example images.

I am offering readers of my blog the book for $15.99, a 20% discount off the list price. For more information or to order the book, please visit the Scenic Seattle page of my blog. Want more advice than in the book? I also lead individualized Seattle workshops. If interested, please contact me.

 


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

 

 

 


North Olympic Wilderness Coast – a Guide (Part 2)

Sunset at Chilean MemorialIn 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).

We found these whale bones that someone had arranged on a log. That big one near Izzy weighs at least 50 pounds.

We found these whale bones that someone had arranged on a log. That big one near Izzy weighs at least 50 pounds.

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.

Hiking near high tide, just north of the Norwegian Memorial.

Hiking near high tide, just north of the Norwegian Memorial.

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.

At the Hole in the Rock

At the Hole in the Rock

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.

Photography Considerations

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.

This headland area north of the Norwegian Memorial is only passable at low tide.

This headland area north of the Norwegian Memorial is only passable at low tide.

Small buck on the beach south of Yellow Banks

Small buck on the beach south of Yellow Banks

This bird was hanging around the tide pools a the south end of Kayostia Beach. If anyone knows what kind of bird it is, please let me know.

This bird was hanging around the tide pools a the south end of Kayostia Beach. If anyone knows what kind of bird it is, please let me know.

Sea stack and tide pools at the southern end of Kayostia Beach

Sea stack and tide pools at the southern end of Kayostia Beach

The headland at the southern end of Kayostia Beach

The headland at the southern end of Kayostia Beach

Sunset at Kayostia Beach

Sunset at Kayostia Beach

Another shot of the sunset at Kayostia Beach

Another shot of the sunset at Kayostia Beach

Though sunrises are more hit and miss than sunsets (due to the coast facing west), there is sometimes good morning light just after the sun rises above the trees.

Though sunrises are more hit and miss than sunsets (due to the coast facing west), there is sometimes good morning light just after the sun rises above the trees.

Cedar Creek Beach

Cedar Creek Beach

Easy hiking on the Cedar Creek Beach

Easy hiking on the Cedar Creek Beach – if only all if it was this easy!

Just another sea stack, this one south of Cedar Creek

Just another sea stack, this one south of Cedar Creek

Needing something to do while waiting out high tide, I took this shot with a 10-stop neutral density filter.

Needing something to do while waiting out high tide, I took this shot with a 10-stop neutral density filter. Exposure data: f/22, 155 seconds.

Sunset near the Chilean Memorial. The featured image at the top of the post is also from the same sunset.

Sunset near the Chilean Memorial. The featured image at the top of the post is also from the same sunset.

Sea stacks near the Chilean Memorial. You can certainly see why this area is hazardous for ships.

Sea stacks near the Chilean Memorial. You can certainly see why this area is hazardous for ships.

Anemones in a tide pool near the Chilean Memorial

Anemones in a tide pool near the Chilean Memorial

More sea stacks, these north of Hole in the Rock

More sea stacks, these north of Hole in the Rock


North Olympic Wilderness Coast – a Guide (Part 1)

Sand Point Sunset

Sand Point SunsetAs I mentioned a recent post, last month I went backpacking in Olympic National Park along the coast with my brother Rob and his grandson, Izzy. Olympic National Park protects approximately 73 miles of Pacific Ocean coastline. The southern third of the beach is along US Highway 101. This beach extends from Ruby Beach in the north to Kalaloch in the south and is definitely worth a visit. But if you want a true wilderness beach experience, you need to visit the beaches north of Ruby Beach. The wilderness section of beach in the park is generally broken into two parts – known as the north and south Olympic wilderness coasts. The dividing line between the north and south sections is the Quillayute River and the town of La Push (which is at river’s mouth along the southern shore). Our trip was along the north coast, a total distance of about 32.5 miles.

Trailheads: there are three trailheads which access the northern Olympic coast. In the south is Rialto Beach, which is accessed by a road from the town of Forks (the town the Twilight series is based on). Near the middle of the northern coastal section, there is a trailhead at Lake Ozette (which has a campground and ranger station). Two trials to the beach leave Lake Ozette – one travels westward 3.1 miles to Cape Alava, and the other traverses 2.8 miles southwest to Sand Point. The distance between Cape Alava and Sand Point on the beach is about 3.1 miles, making a nice 9 mile loop hike out to and along the beach. The third trailhead, at the northern end of the coastal route, is on the Makah Indian Reservation and leads to Shi Shi Beach via a 2.2-mile long trail. The trail enters Olympic National Park shortly before reaching Shi Shi Beach.

We started our hike at the Shi Shi Beach trailhead and ended at Rialto Beach, traveling the entire 32.5 miles. Obviously other options are available for shorter trips – Shi Shi to Lake Ozette (via the Cape Alava trail) is 15.1 miles and Rialto to Lake Ozette (via the Sand Point trail) is 18 miles.

Rob and Izzy on the trail

Here is the typical “trail” south of Shi Shi Beach and north of Seafield Creek.

We decided to hike in a southerly direction for the simple reason that Tanya was picking us at the end, and by ending at Rialto, she could wait on the beach rather than in a muddy trailhead parking lot several miles from the beach. The trip can be traveled in either direction. However, the southern portion of the trip is easier than the northern part, so if you want to get the hardest part out of the way first, traveling south is the way to go. From a photographic point of view, it doesn’t make much difference, though if forced to pick, I’d say traveling north is better so the sun is at your back more often.

The “Trail”: for most of the hike, there is no trail. Instead, you walk along the beach. Sounds easy, right? Well, if the beach is a nice, fine sand beach, and you are hiking at anytime other than the highest tide, it is easy. But not all the beaches are nice, fine sand beaches. Some are made of coarse sand or gravel. These are still fairly easy to hike on, as long as you realize that for every step forward, you may slide backwards half a step. And some beaches are made of cobbles and small boulders, again not too bad to hike on if you are careful and the rocks are covered with seaweed, which they often are. I think of these small boulder beaches as the ankle twisting beaches.

But not all the “trail” is on beaches. Much of it is through large boulders along the shoreline. These boulder areas are typically at or near headlands. Headlands, of course, stick out into the ocean. There are at least 19 headlands along the route. Many of the headlands can be walked around at low tide, two are impassable on the water side and must be traversed over their tops. For many, you have the choice of walking around, or going over. We usually went around them if we had a choice, but going around was not necessarily easy. Between the boulders, large tide pools, slick seaweed, and incoming tide, going around headlands is often a slow and tiring process. We could easily travel 3 miles per hour along the nice sandy beaches, but going around some of the headlands, we were lucky to make 1 mile in an hour.

On an Overland Trail

Rob and Izzy coming down one of the trails over a headland – ropes required!

For the two headlands impassable at any tide, and the many others that can be crossed by going over their tops, there are “trails.” I put trails in quotes because they are not what I consider a normal trail. They are straight up and down, often with few hand and foot holds. They would be impassable, especially when wearing a heavy backpack, except for the aid of strategically placed ropes which allow hikers to pull themselves up and down. We knew there were ropes. What we didn’t know is that the ropes are typically rough braided and weathered synthetics. They are very rough on the hands. I suggest bring a pair of leather gloves. (Rob was lucky, he found a pair of leather gloves on the second day of our trip.) Most of these trails are 0.1 to 0.2 miles in length; however, south of Shi Shi Beach, there are two rails of 0.4 and 0.7 miles.

Camping: the Park Service maintains a number of wilderness campgrounds along the coast. All require use of a bear canister to to store food (bear canisters can be borrowed free of charge from the Olympic National Park Wilderness Information Center, or the WIC, in Port Angeles). Not that there are a lot of bears on the coast (there may be a few), but racoons expert in separating hikers from their food are plentiful. All campgrounds are located near a source of fresh water, which is surprising scarce on the coast (particularly this summer with the drought the Pacific Northwest is having). Most have a backcountry toilet available. Permits are required at all campsites, and reservations are required at the campgrounds within a day’s hike of Lake Ozette (from north to south, Seafield Creek, North Ozette River, South Ozette River, Cape Alava, Wedding Rocks, Sand Point, South Sand Point, and Yellow Banks). Outside the reservation camps, backpackers can camp outside the official campgrounds.

Gulls and Creek

One clue to finding fresh water is look for the sea gulls, who tend to gather where creeks come across the beach.

Permits: as mentioned above, permits are required to camp overnight on the wilderness coast in Olympic National Park. Permits are available from the WIC. If camping in the reservation area, you may wish to request your permit at least several weeks prior to your trip. Permits cost $5 per person per night. The Makah Indian Reservation also requires recreational permits for use of trails and beachs on the reservation. So technically, if using the Shi Shi trailhead, you probably need a permit. However, the permits are to be displayed in your car while parking at the trailhead. However, overnight parking is not allowed at the Shi Shi trailhead. Instead, you need to park in a pay lot about half a mile from the trailhead (charge of $10 per night). We only had our car at the trailhead long enough to drop off our gear. Makah permits are available at several locations in the town of Neah Bay (which you drive through to get to the Shi Shi trailhead).

Tides: though 10-mile days may not be a problem on many backpacking trips, going 10 miles or more a day on the coast is difficult. We spent five nights traveling our 32 miles. Doing it in four days would have been possible; three days would be difficult. The reason – those headlands I spoke of earlier. You need to schedule your hike based on tides. The last thing you want to do is get halfway around a headland and get stuck by the tide – depending your location, that could be life threatening. You absolutely need to carry a tide chart with you. I also recommend the custom coast maps available from Discover Your Northwest. These maps (0ne for the north coast, and one for the south) show the tide levels at which headlands can be rounded.  Depending on how many headlands you may need to round in a day and the tides that day, you may only be able to hike in the morning or evening. Further, you may be stuck by the tide for four or five hours – as we were twice during our trip.

Beach Art

There is a lot of trash on the beaches, including numerous buoys. Often these are collected at the campsites, such as here at south Shi Shi Beach.

The Route, Shi Shi to South Sand Point: as mentioned above, we started at Shi Shi Beach. This beach if very popular, and on summer weekends, it can be crowded. We started on a Monday, and it was not a problem. Shi Shi is a very beautiful beach and is easy to hike on. The trail to Shi Shi is muddy, even in the drought we are currently experiencing. There are many great places to camp on Shi Shi, with three official campgrounds – one on the northern end where the trail comes out, one in the center where a creeks exits the hills to the beach, and one at the southern end at a small creek. We camped at the southern end. This was great location, very close to the Point of Arches, making for great photography. There are also lots of nice tide pools at the Point of Arches.

South of Shi Shi, getting around the Point of Arches requires a tide of 4.5 feet or lower, though there is also an overland trail. The next several miles, by a series of headlands, are the most difficult of the entire hike. There are several long overland trails in this area, but there are also several place that require low tides to get around (depending on the headland, tides of 4 to 6 feet or lower are required). We were stranded for four hours in this area. Though difficult, the scenery is spectacular.

South of this series of headlands, there is a long section of beach without headlands, though most of is not sandy. This section, which goes by the Seafield Creek camp and stretches to the North Ozette River camp, is easy enough to hike at low to medium tides. However, it could be difficult at high tide, when the water can reach up the beach into the driftwood (which is typically large to very large logs – not easy to walk through). We camped at North Ozette, which has a nice site above the driftwood and several more in the trees. (Unfortunately, when we were there, we did not get one of the nicer sites as another party was taking up four campsites. They did give up one for us, but were using perhaps the best spot as their kitchen area.)

The two campgrounds at the Ozette River are separated, wait for it, by the Ozette River. There is no bridge across the river. You will get wet crossing the river. How wet depends on the tide. At low tides, it may be ankle-deep. At high tide, forget it. We crossed at a tide of about 1 foot, taking off our boots and socks, and the water was a bit more than ankle-deep. It is probably passable at tides up to about 3 or 4 feet without a problem.

If you camp at the Ozette River, you will need to go as far upstream as possible to collect fresh water. At high tide, salt water backs up into the river, making the water at and near the mouth of the river very saline.

South of the river, there are a couple small headlands needing 4 and 5 foot tides or lower to pass (no overland trails available) followed by rocky beaches to Cape Alava. Cape Alava is the site of a pre-historic Indian village. In this area, where the trail from Lake Ozette comes in, you will start seeing a lot more people as you encounter day hikers.

About one mile south of Cape Alava is Wedding Rocks. This is worth a definite stop as there are petroglyphs present on many of the rocks. The best petroglyphs (orca whales and people’s faces) are at the southern end, near the start of another rocky beach (and near the southern end of the overland trail around the Wedding Rocks).

Past Wedding Rocks the beach is rocky, but not too difficult for a mile or so, then becomes sandy near Sand Point (where the other trail from Lake Ozette comes in). The campground at Sound Point is quite large. We instead camped at South Sand Point, a further 0.6 miles down the beach. The hiking near Sand Point is probably the easiest on the whole route, being along a broad sandy beach.

In my next post, I’ll go over the rest of the route. All the photos shown here are from this northern half.

North Shi Shi

The coast is often fogged in. When we first reached Shi Shi, this is the scene that greeted us. Luckily, it was the worst weather of the entire trip.

South Shi Shi

By the time we set up camp at south Shi Shi, the weather was improving.

Near Point of Arches

This is near the Point of Arches, the first evening of our hike

Calm Coast

By using a neutral density filter, you can eliminate the waves. This at the Point of Arches (30 second exposure).

Point of Arches

Near sunset at Point of Arches and south Shi Shi Beach

Point of Arches Sunset

Being on the west coast, the sunsets are great. This one at Shi Shi with part of the Point of Arches.

South of Shi Shi

Scene crossing the headlands south of Shi Shi Beach

Tidepool near Ozette River

There are lots of tidepools to photograph. Unfortunately, the normally plentiful starfish were largely absent due to a starfish virus killing them off this year.

Stuck by the Tide

When stuck by the tide for 4 hours, what do you do? Build a fort out of driftwood, as Rob and Izzy did!

Ozette River Sunset

Sunset at the Ozette River

Wedding Rocks Petroglyphs

Petroglyphs at Wedding Rocks

Driftwood

Near Sand Point, the beach is broad and sandy; not quite so scenic as with all the headlands to the north. But it is good for close ups of driftwood.

Beach Sand Patterns

And also patterns in the sand.


Last Chance (sort of)

Clouds above SeattleSome of you may know that a couple of years ago I published an ebook about photographing Seattle. The ebook, Scenic Seattle, the Best Spots – Best Shots Guide to Photographing the Emerald City, is available for ordering here on my blog. Well, this week is you last chance to get a copy, because next week I’m pulling it from sales both here and at all online retailers. So get a copy while you can!

Why Joe, you might ask, are you stopping sales of your book? I’m glad you asked. It’s because I recently signed a contract with Schiffer Publishing to do a revised, updated print edition of the book. My manuscript is due at the publisher at the end of this week. And with that, I am contracted to end sales of the ebook so as not to interfere with the marketing of the new book.

If you miss this last chance to get Scenic Seattle, you need only wait until next spring, when the print edition is due to come out. You may want to wait. The new edition will have more places, more information, and more photos. Better yet, get a copy of both!

To whet your appetite for the new edition, here are a few images that will be in the print edition but not the original ebook version. Want to see more? You will have to wait until spring 2016 (or buy the ebook this week!).

Pioneer Square Pergola

Coffee Silo

Wheel and Ferry

 

 


Palouse Falls – a Photo Guide

Night at Palouse FallsThe Palouse region of Washington State is famous for its verdant spring hills and red barns. Steptoe Butte is a must-visit destination for many travel and nature photographers. I have shot in the Palouse several times, and blogged about it several years ago (see here and here). But one of the highlights of the region I missed until earlier this week – Palouse Falls.

Palouse Falls perhaps gets a bit less traffic than Steptoe Butte and the rest of the Palouse because it is a bit out-of-the-way, more of an outlier to the Palouse region than being in it. It is an hour and 45 minute drive from the falls to Steptoe Butte, and just a bit less to the town of Colfax, where many photographers stay during their trips to the region. If you are staying in Colfax, do you really want to get up at 3:30 a.m. to drive to Palouse Falls for sunrise when you could sleep an hour later and still get sunrise shots at Steptoe Butte?

But Palouse Falls is worth a visit. Perhaps the best way to visit, at least for prime photography times, is to camp there. Palouse Falls State Park has 11 tent camping spots (no trailer hookups; trailers and RVs are sometimes allowed to park overnight in the parking lot during non-peak periods) that are within 100 meters of prime viewpoints for photography.

The Palouse River falls about 185 feet over the edge of a canyon of basalt. Unlike the verdant hills of the Palouse further east of the falls, the falls are in desert. But there is plenty of green in the canyon below the falls, making a wonderful contrast with the black basalt and brown hills (or in spring, brown and green hills). The canyon below the falls is scenic on its own accord and would be worth a visit even without the falls. The canyon curves to the south just downstream from the falls. The campground is perched on the western canyon rim, and it is easy to walk to viewpoints that either look eastward directly toward the falls, or southward down the canyon. These southerly looking viewpoints are north of the parking lot and provide the best view – encompassing the falls and the downstream canyon. Be warned though, they are right on the edge of vertical drop of at least 250 feet straight down to the canyon floor, beyond the fence on the canyon rim near the campground and parking lot, and are not for those who are faint of heart or afraid of heights. To get the falls and downstream canyon both in single composition will require a wide-angle lens of about 18 mm or less on a camera with a full-frame sensor. My 17-40mm zoom worked well, but if you want more sky in the frame, you may want an even wider angle (or stitch together more than one shot).

The falls face west-southwest and receive direct sunlight in late morning through most of the afternoon during the spring (reportedly in summer they may be in partial shadow into the early afternoon). In the evening, the shadow of the canyon wall climbs up the falls, and before sunset, they are completely in shade. Similarly, the falls are completed shaded at sunrise. And, once the sun is up, it shines through and lights up the mist created by the falling water, making early morning shots of the falls more difficult.

However, if the clouds to the south light up during either sunset or sunrise, excellent photo opportunities await. You may want to use a split-neutral density filter to help control the contrast between the sky and the dark canyon below. Similarly, you may consider using HDR.

The falls are also a great location for Milky Way nightscape shots like I’ve discuss recently, and in fact that was the prime reason for my recent visit. In spring, the best viewpoint is again north of the parking lot, on the canyon rim (just be extra careful in the dark, it’s a long fall down). The falls will be completely dark, so light painting is recommended. When I was there, for the image above, I worked with a photo partner. One of us tripped the shutters on the cameras while the other used a spotlight to light paint the falls and canyon from the fenced viewpoint area near the parking lot.

It is possible to hike to the top of or bottom of the falls, though the trails are not maintained by the park. These unofficial trails are steep, so if you do take them, be extra careful. The one in from the south steeply drops off the canyon rim and circles midway along the canyon wall to the the top of the falls. At one point, almost directly below the main viewpoint by the parking lot, it is possible to get down to the river in the bottom of the canyon by dropping down a steep scree slope. The trail from the north, drops into the upper canyon from the railroad tracks that run west of the park. This is reportedly the easier way in, though you must hop a fence along the tracks to reach the trail and the descent is still steep. You should also be careful along the tracks because it is an active rail line. If you do take the northern route into the canyon, you will pass by a nice stretch of white water above the falls. There is certainly no need to take these trails into the canyon to get good photographs, the views from the top are spectacular (and indeed, during my recent trip, we did not hike into the canyon). Reportedly the trail continues several miles up canyon to Upper Palouse Falls, a fall of less than 20 feet, and during the spring, when the flow in the river is greatest and the area has plenty of blooming wildflowers, this may be a good day hike option.

Marmots are active around the main falls viewpoints, and with a bit of patience, you can get rather close to take portraits of these groundhog relatives. The park is also home to many types of birds. When there recently, I saw several varieties I had not seen before.

Overall, Palouse Falls is a great place for photography. It is worth a quick stop on your way to or from the Palouse; or better yet, spend the night there to experience the falls at sunrise and sunset. You won’t be disappointed.

Palouse Falls Sunset

Sunset view from the canyon rim north of the parking lot

Palouse Marmot

Marmots are plentiful around the viewpoints.

 

Typical view of the falls from the rim north of the parking lot.

Typical view of the falls from the rim north of the parking lot.

Palouse River Canyon

Sunrise on the downstream canyon, shot from near the main viewpoint by the parking lot.

Other photo opportunities include macro shots of this wild wheat (at least that is what I think it is).

Other photo opportunities include macro shots of this wild wheat (at least that is what I think it is).

Upper Canyon

The canyon and river above the falls. The northern trail into the canyon is in the upper lefthand corner of the image. This is an HDR image.


Photographic Side Road – Yakima Canyon

Yakima River Canyon

The canyon just downstream from Umtanum.

Often when traveling, particularly via Interstate highway, I look for scenic byways that parallel my path. Places with scenery, where a few good photos can be taken, without going far out of my way. Washington State Route 821 through the Yakima River Canyon is such a route. If you are traveling on Interstate 82 between Ellensburg and Yakima, Washington (basically on the main route from Seattle to eastern Oregon, southern Idaho and Utah), it is worth taking the few extra minutes to travel this road. The road add about 15 minutes drive time, but less than 5 miles to the route. Of course, if you are tempted to get out and take a few photographs, go on a hike, or view wildlife, it may add much more than a quarter-hour to your trip.

If traveling south from Ellensburg toward Yakima, to reach this scenic byway, you can take the Exit 109 (signed Canyon Road, Ellensburg) and turn left onto Canyon Road at the bottom of the off ramp, or take Exit 3 on Interstate 82 (signed 821 South, Thrall Road) and turn right on Thrall Road at the end of the off ramp, then left onto Canyon Road. Once on Canyon Road, within several miles, you will be driving a 25-mile long,  twisting two-lane highway that follows along the eastern shore of the Yakima River.

The river forms an oasis in the otherwise dry foothills on the east side of the Cascade Mountains. In the summer, lush pockets of green contrast with the dryland hills and cliffs above the river. In the spring, when the hills can be green, the contrast is between trees denser foliage along the river and the mostly grass and  scrub brush on the hills. In fall, the riverside foliage, including a mix of cottonwoods, aspens and evergreen conifers, presents a contrasting yellows, reds and oranges. In winter, there is often snow along the river and in the hills. Whenever you visit, on this side of the Cascades, the weather is often sunny and the sky blue (no promises though!).

There are four recreation areas run by the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM). These offer places to stop with camping spots, picnic tables, and vault toilets. They also have boat launches, which present an additional way to enjoy the canyon – by boat, canoe or kayak. The river is calm throughout the canyon, but if you do boat the river, be sure to use the take out at the Roza Recreation Area to avoid the Roza Dam that is shortly downriver (above Roza, only non-motorized boats are allowed) . The first recreation area heading south on the road, Umtanum, is particularly worth a stop. Here a suspension bridge spans the river, leading to a fine hike up Umtanum Creek. The hike leads through Untanum Canyon, away from the river, and into the pristine wildlands of the Wenas  Wildlife Area .  The recreation areas have a $5/vehicle daily use fee (or use an Interagency, ie National Parks, pass).

Away from the recreation areas, there are plenty of pull overs along the road to practice photography or look for wildlife. Mule deer, elk, and bighorn sheep, as well as eagles, hawks, falcons and other birds frequent the area. Also be aware, that in spring and summer, rattlesnakes are also common.

Most of the photos illustrating this post were from my recent trip through the canyon earlier this month. The last several are from earlier trips.

Yakima River near Big Pines

Near the Big Pines Recreation Area

Yakima River1

Several miles downstream of Umtanum.

Yakima River2

Contrasting cottonwoods and bare hills.

Yakima River3

The river is lowest in the fall and winter. In summer, flows are the highest due to upstream dams in the Cascades letting water out to be used for irrigation downstream in the Yakima Valley.

Yakima River Cottonwoods

Another typical scene along the Yakima River.

Highway 821

Sunset on the hills above Highway 821.

What a Birthmark!

On one trip through the canyon, we easily spotted this unusually marked mule deer and its companions.

Selah Sunset

Sunset at the southern end of the canyon, near the small town of Selah.

 


Seven Lakes Basin/High Divide – a Photo Guide

Wye LakesThe 7 Lakes Basin/High Divide hike is one of the premier backpacking trips in the Olympics if not in Washington State. The scenery is superb and varied. It includes one of the best waterfalls in the state, old growth forest, multiple lakes in both sub-alpine and alpine settings (don’t let the name 7 Lakes Basin confuse you, there are many more than 7 lakes), and views north to Vancouver Island, west to the Pacific, and a fantastic view south to the Hoh River and Mount Olympus.

Wildlife is also abundant. Sightings of deer, elk, mountain goats, and black bears are very common (however, on my recent trip, of the four species, we only saw deer; although based on other hikers’ and backcountry rangers’ comments, we were in the minority). In particular, the mountain goats are so common in frequenting trail and campsite areas, that (at least when I was there) rangers direct hikers to throw rock at them to get them to move off the trail (apparently, the goats are starting to believe they are the dominate species and think humans should move off the trail for them rather than the other way around; the rangers are trying to teach them the opposite).

Sol Duc Falls

Sol Duc Falls

While the loop is just over 18 miles in length, several of the campsite are not directly on the loop, so the actual length for most people is 19 miles or more. Most people complete the loop in 3 days. We decided to take it slow, and spent 4 nights in the basin. There are four “large” backcountry campgrounds with 6 to 16 campsites: Deer Lake, Lunch Lake, Heart Lake and Sol Duc Park. There are at least 14 other campgrounds with just a single site. Camping is only allowed at the designated sites, and a permit is required. 50% of the campsites can be reserved in advance, and the most popular fill up fast (particularly Heart Lake).  This trail is very popular. If you are seeking solitude while camping, avoid the major campground and reserve some of the single sites. For example, we spent one night at Round Lake which was quite private even though it is close to Lunch Lake.

From a photography prospective, unless you want forest shots, the best views are high up in the basin – so you may want to concentrate camping at Heart Lake, Lunch Lake, and Round Lake. For sunrise or sunset views of Olympic Range (and Mount Olympus in particular) without a long hike from your campsite, options are limited. Mount Olympus is only seen from the portion of the trail which actually traverses the High Divide ridge. Other than the Heart Lake Junction campsite (which I didn’t specifically visit, but from the main trail, it appeared to be a dry camp) and a campsite in Cat Basin (which is off the main trail by at least a mile), the High Divide part of the trail is about a 1/2 mile hike and several hundred feet elevation gain from Heart Lake and several miles from Lunch Lake. Without camping at Heart Lake, Heart Lake Junction, or Cat Basin, it is likely you may only see Mount Olympus in mid-day. Inspiring yes, but not the best light as Olympus is directly south of High Divide.

Another consideration about where to camp is what direction you do the loop in. Most people do the hike counterclockwise, spending the first night at Deer Lake (about 3 1/2 miles from the trailhead) or Lunch Lake (about 8 miles). The advantage of going this way is that the elevation gain is a bit more spread out. However it is also possible to go clockwise, which has little elevation gain for the first 6 miles or so (in the Sol Duc River valley), then climbs steeply over 2,000 feet in about 2 miles through Sol Duc Park to Heart Lake. I’ll discuss the photo worthy highlights from a counterclockwise perspective, since that is the direction we did the trip.

The trailhead (elevation about 1,870 feet) is just down the road from Sol Duc Hot Springs resort and campground. Sol Duc Falls (elevation 1,927 feet) is 0.8 easy miles from the trailhead. These falls are one of the most photogenic waterfalls in the Olympics and perhaps even Washington State. The falls consist of three side-by-side drops of approximately 35 feet where the Sol Duc River drops sideways into a narrow gorge. There are several viewpoints from which to photograph the falls, the two main ones being a footbridge a short distance north of the falls and a viewing area directly south of the falls. Set in a beautiful old-growth forest, the scene from both viewpoints is spectacular. However, being in the forest, contrast can be a big problem photographically. Sunlight shining on the falls creates extreme contrast differences. Photographing the falls on a cloudy day or early or late in the day when the falls are in shadows are preferred times.

Morning in 7 Lakes Basin

Creek near Round Lake

These preferred times may also help with the second problem photographing the falls. They are extremely popular, and it is hard (at least in summer) to find the falls without people climbing on the rocks above the falls. Luckily, if you take the loop hike, you go by the falls twice, giving you two opportunities to find good light and few people. On our hike, on our first visit, there were perhaps 50 people there, including several women in bright clothes performing some sort of yoga(?) exercise on the rocks at the top of the falls. Further, it was mid-afternoon, and with part of the falls sunlit, the contrast was bad. Our stop at the end of the hike was in late morning. And though there were still a lot of people present, they were mostly out of the frame when shooting the falls. And although sunlight was still an issue, it was more controllable with post-processing.

From Sol Duc Falls, the trail rapidly gains elevation as it makes it way along Canyon Creek to Deer Lake, 3.4 miles from the trailhead (elevation 3,527 feet). This portion of the trail is in forest, but there is a nice view of the creek where the trail crosses on a well constructed bridge. The first view of Deer Lake is where the trail crosses the outlet stream, a good place to photograph the lake (depending on light conditions of course). The lake is set in a sub-alpine forest with occasional meadows, making for some nice views (see this image from my previous post), though certainly unspectacular compared to the higher lakes further up in the basin. The lake is aptly named, we had a buck wander  through our campsite in the evening and saw several does in the morning.

Past Deer Lake, the trail resumes its climb toward High Divide, coming out of the forest into a mixed forest and meadow area at the Potholes (4.9 miles, 4,115 feet elevation). The Potholes consist of several ponds and small lakes and a small (one or two sites) campground. This may be worthy of a quick stop or at least a few shots taken from the trail. At the time of our visit (and likely through much of August), wildflowers were abundant from this point on the loop all the way to Sol Duc Park.

Beyond the Potholes, the trail grade moderates somewhat as it eventually reaches the divide that separates the Sol Duc drainage from the Bogachiel drainage (6.1 miles, 4,750 feet). Eventually the trail settles on the Bogachiel side, traversing a very steep hillside along fairly level path below the top of the ridge. The trail eventually reaches a side trail junction that drops down into the 7 Lakes Basin, and specifically to Lunch and Round Lakes (7.05 miles, 4,862 feet).

The 7 Lakes Basin is named for seven lakes within the basin: Round, Lunch, Sol Duc, Clear, Long, No Name, and Morgenroth Lakes. However, the basin name is a misnomer. There are many other lakes in the basin including Lake Number Eight and the Wye Lakes (see below).

Most hikers, us included, hike down to Lunch Lake, dropping about 500 feet in less than half a mile. The views of Lunch and Round Lake are spectacular along this side trail. We spent one night at Round Lake and a second night at Lunch Lake. There are many photo opportunities in the area immediately around the two lakes. You can also venture further out in the basin. From the east end of Lunch Lake, there are trails to Clear Lake and into the Wye Lakes area.

We day hiked into the Wye Lakes area and were pleasantly surprised by the many small lakes we found. These lakes are not shown on some maps (including the Green Trails map we were using). The Wye Lakes are located in a treeless bowl below Bogachiel Peak (see the post-opening photo above). We counted at least 10 lakes in the area, though some would more rightly be classified as ponds.  From the southern end of the Wye Lakes area, it looked like you could fairly easily bushwhack down to No Name and Morgenroth Lakes.

One of the Wye Lakes

One of the Wye Lakes

During our two nights in 7 Lakes Basin, we saw plenty of deer, including several fawns, but no other wildlife other than frogs (lots of frogs), salamanders and fish. The volunteer ranger at Lunch Lake said the mountain goats loved to  hang out in and near the Lunch Lake campground, but they were absent when we were there. (She later told us that while we were camping at Lunch Lake, the goats had traveled to Heart Lake and were staying at the campground there. However, the next day when we hiked to Heart Lake, the goats had left).

To continue from the Lunch Lake area, you have a choice: you can hike back up to the main trail or take a short cut through the Wye Lakes area. Back on the main trail, the way continues traversing the side of Bogachiel Peak, working around the west and south sides of the peak, nearly reaching the summit at 8.12 miles (5,377 feet elevation, the high point on the trail) from the trailhead. Along this part of the trail, shortly before reaching the high point, there is a side trail down to Hoh Lake, a steep 800 feet below the ridge southwest of Bogachiel. From the high point on the trail, it is an easy walk, but airy on the north side, up to the top of Bogachiel Peak. From the high point, the main trail continues atop the High Divide Ridge line eastward with fantastic views of Mount Olympus, the Baily Range, and the Hoh River valley to the south and the 7 Lakes Basin to the north. If you take the short cut through the Wye Lakes area, you reach High Divide at about the 8.8 mile point at just under 5,000 feet elevation. (This short cut saves, by my calculations, about 400 feet elevation gain and about 0.75 miles). We took this route, dropping our packs and hiking back up the main trail to the top of Bogachiel Peak.

Mount Olympus from High Divide

Mount Olympus from High Divide

The trail continues along the top of High Divide until finally turning northeast to drop to Heart Lake at 9.95 miles from the trailhead (5,042 feet). The two miles of trail from the Hoh Lake junction to the Heart Lake junction are incredible for their view of Mount Olympus. Unfortunately, as mentioned previously, you will likely be hiking this portion in mid-day, and with Olympus due south, the light for photography is not prime. From shortly before the Heart Lake junction all th the way back to the trailhead, it is all downhill.

Heart Lake (10.3 miles, 4,744 feet) is a small, pretty lake and is definitely worth a stop for photos if not camping there. Below Heart Lake, the trail descends rapidly, gradually entering the forest and leaving the alpine lands behind. This part of the trail is known for being frequented by elk (though we did not see any). The trail reaches Sol Duc Park at 11.1 miles (4,135 feet), a nice sub alpine forested campground. The trail continues dropping, never far from but with only occasional views of the Sol Duc River. The forest eventually morphs from sub alpine to low land old growth with seemingly impossibly tall fir and hemlock trees. We spent our last night at the Appleton Junction campsite (13.35 miles, 3,082 feet, next to the Appleton Pass trail intersection with the High Divide trail). This camp is near by the very scenic Rocky Creek (there is another campsite right on the creek), full of mossy logs and rock amid rushing white water. The final five miles of trail are gradually downhill through old growth forest, eventually once again reaching Sol Duc Falls at about 17.3 miles and the trailhead at 18.1 miles.

Rocky Creek

Rocky Creek

All in all, this is a great photography trip and is one of the highlights of Olympic National Park. (Note: I borrowed mileage and elevation data from the High Divide trail description on the Pro Trails website.)

Beargrass near Lunch Lake

Beargrass near Lunch Lake

Lunch Lake Evening

Lunch Lake Evening

Another of the Wye Lakes

Another of the Wye Lakes

Heart Lake

Heart Lake

Lunch Lake

Lunch Lake and Bogachiel Peak

 

Old Growth Forest

Old growth forest near the Sol Duc River

 


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

 


Beezley Hills – A Photo Guide

Beezly HillsI’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.

Hedgehog Cacti

Hedgehog Cacti

Pholx and Violet

Pholx and Sagebrush Violet

Hedgehog and Phlox

Hedgehog cactus and phlox

Moses Coulee

Moses Coulee near the small town of Palisades

 


Steamboat Rock

Steamboat RockLast week Tanya, Nahla and I decided to ditch the on-again, off-again rain of western Washington and drive to someplace dry. We chose to visit Steamboat Rock State Park in eastern Washington. In particular, we wanted to take the hike up Northrup Canyon, and I wanted to get some shots of Steamboat Rock and Banks Lake. We also made a stop at Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park to take in the view of Dry Falls.

Steamboat Rock is a massive basalt monolithic butte that stands 800-feet tall in the middle of Banks Lake. Banks Lake is a 27-mile long artificial lake created as part of the Columbia River Basin Project created in the Grand Coulee, a 60-mile long, mostly dry (except for Banks Lake) desert canyon carved in the Ice Ages by the Columbia River and massive glacial floods. Near the southern end of Banks Lake stands Dry Falls. Though now dry (big surprise there), Dry Falls is the site of the greatest known waterfall ever to exist on Earth.

Dry Falls

Dry Falls

The whole area is geologically fascinating (especially for a geologist like myself). One of the better, short histories of Steamboat Rock and Grand Coulee can be found on the HistoryLink website. Even without caring about the area’s geologic history, it is a fun place to photograph – especially because it is so different from elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest and indeed the world as a whole. (The area is part of the Channeled Scablands; the nearest equivalent landscape is on Mars).

Yet, being in a desert, and with the rocks being black, it can be a tough place to photograph, especially in the middle of the day. Contrast is extreme. It is typically windy, which can make it dusty as well. Morning is perhaps the best time of day to photograph, before the sun is too high in the sky. Additionally, the wind is usually calm in the morning. Late afternoon and evening also makes for good photographs.

Season wise, in the summer, it is very hot, and in the winter, quite cold. The best time of year to photograph the Steamboat Rock area is spring, especially during the fairly short wildflower blooming season. Some portions of the area can also be colorful in the fall when the cottonwoods and aspens turn color – however, there aren’t too many trees unless you know where to look.

One of those places is Northrup Canyon. Northrup Canyon is within Steamboat Rock State Park and is a fine, short spring hike. Unfortunately, when Tanya, Nahla and I took the hike last week, we were a bit early for the wildflowers and the aspens in the canyon where just starting to leaf out. So we missed some of the color that will be present later this month (mid-April through early May are probably the best times). However, I find the canyon walls fascinating, and the hike leads to an old homestead, so I had plenty to photograph.

Northrup Canyon

Aspens, Northrup Canyon

There is also a hike to the top of Steamboat Rock, which we left for another day. Not surprisingly, I’ve heard the views of are excellent on the top of the rock. Reportedly, it also has a good wildflower display in the spring. Rather than hiking to the top of Steamboat rock, I concentrated on taking some sunset photos and early morning photos of the Rock from pullouts along the highway. Because of the direction the rock is situated, the portion of the rock facing the highway is in shadow late in the day, making the best time to shot the rock in early morning unless you have a good sunset directly over it (when I was there, the sun set directly over the rock; later in the summer, it will set further north).

We could have easily spent another day or two exploring the area, but we had to drive on to Spokane to see my Dad. If you visit, there is a very nice campground at the state park and motels in the nearby towns of Electric City, Grand Coulee, and Coulee Dam. These towns are less than 10 miles from the park. Dry Falls is another 25 miles past Steamboat Rock. And, in case you couldn’t guess from the names of the nearby towns, Grand Coulee Dam – a true engineering wonder of the world – is also in the area (between the towns of Grand Coulee and Coulee Dam). Good views of the dam can be found at the visitor center and at nearby Crown Point Park.

Homestead, Northrup Canyon

Homestead, Northrup Canyon

Homestead, Northrup Canyon2

Another view of the old homestead, Northrup Canyon

Banks Lake

Banks Lake, south of Steamboat Rock

Steamboat Rock Sunset

Steamboat Rock Sunset

Banks Lake Sunrise

Sunrise at Banks Lake


Cape Disappointment State Park – A Photo Guide

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse as seen from Waikiki Beach shortly after sunset

Last Friday, Tanya, Nahla, and I drove down to Cape Disappointment State Park for the day. We couldn’t have asked for a better early Spring day. Other than a brief rain shower on the way down, the day was sunny and warm (for early March anyway). We were extremely lucky weather-wise, Friday was the only day without significant rain in the week. Rainfall totals at Astoria, Oregon, the closest weather station to Cape Disappointment, over the past week were 0.33 inches on Monday March 3rd, 0.15 inches Tuesday, 1.43 inches Wednesday, 0.33 inches Thursday, 0.03 inches Friday, 1.38 inches Saturday, and 0.86 inches Sunday.

North Head Lighthouse

North Head Lighthouse

Cape Disappointment State Park, which is also part of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Park, is one of Washington’s larger state parks covering 1,882 acres. It offers 2 miles of ocean beach, two lighthouses,  and old-growth forest. The park is located at the very southwestern tip of the state, at the mouth of the Columbia River. The park encompasses two rocky headlands, North Head and Cape Disappointment, both with their own lighthouses. Between the two is a broad, sandy ocean beach. An ocean coast with both headlands and sandy beaches is unique in this part of the state. The coastline to the north is mostly either low sandy beaches or shallow estuaries, without headlands, for the next 70 miles. I have nothing against broad sandy beaches, but for photography, headlands are generally much more photogenic.

The key photographic highlights of the park are the two lighthouses. Cape Disappointment Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse on the United States west coast, guarding the mouth of the Columbia River. The lighthouse is reached via a 1/2 mile trail from the parking lot for the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at the southern end of the park. (The interpretive center, by the way, is one of the better Lewis and Clark museums in the Northwest, if not the whole country.) The trail approaches the lighthouse from the east, and the lighthouse is not visible from the trail until near the end of the trail. Further, the approach is from below the lighthouse. These factors make the lighthouse backlit for most of the day from the approach, and the ocean is not visible beyond the lighthouse until reaching its base. Space is extremely limited on the northern and western sides of the lighthouse and non-existent on the southern side. Additionally, there is a more modern, small boxy building just to the west of lighthouse. All these restrictions make it difficult to photograph the lighthouse near its base. However, the walk out to it is worth it for the view – the wide, sweeping expanse of the Columbia River entering the Pacific Ocean, with the Oregon coastal mountain range to the south. The mouth of the Columbia contains some of the most hazardous waters on the west coast, and the Coast Guard keeps a close watch on ships and fishing and pleasure boats entering and leaving the river.

In fact, the small building is manned by the Coast Guard. When we were there, the seaman in the station invited us inside to look through his binoculars (I don’t know what size lenses these things had, but if I had to guess, there were at least 600 mm; ie. they were huge) and tell us about his job. We talked about the waves, how big they get, and what it’s like bust through them on a small boat while doing surf training or going on a rescue. If the Coast Guard is surf training when you’re there, with a long lens, you should be able to get some great shots of  boats busting through and over breaking waves from the lighthouse.

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse 2

Mid-afternoon light on Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, again from Waikiki Beach

The best shots of the Cape Disappointment lighthouse itself, however, are not from near the base, but from beach level. The view from just to the west of Waikiki Beach ( a small beach, complete with big waves and surfers, just not the same climate as its more famous cousin) is particularly good. Because this is north of the lighthouse, the best light will be late in the afternoon and near sunset. You can try to capture waves crashing against the rocks beneath the lighthouse or frame the lighthouse with driftwood. Another possible, and more elevated, shot is from the interpretive center, again with the best light in late afternoon or near sunset.

The North Head lighthouse, located near the northern end of the park, has a bit more room around the base, making photographs possible from more angles close to the base. The lighthouse is accessed from a 1/4 mile trail from the historic lightkeeper’s and assistant lightkeeper’s houses and nearby parking lot.  The North Head lighthouse sits a bit lower than the much of the land near it, so it is much easier to get a shot of the lighthouse with the ocean in the background than is possible at Cape Disappointment (okay, it’s probably impossible to get that type of shot at Cape Disappointment unless you have a plane or a drone). For example, you can easily walk up the hill behind the lighthouse and capture it with the setting sun over the Pacific.

Other good shots of the North Head Lighthouse can be taken from the beach south of the lighthouse and from an extension of the headland north of the lighthouse. To access this northern area, take the paved trail from the lighthouse parking lot to Bell’s View. Near the wooden view platform, wander off the trail to the west and pick up the informal trail which ends at a small cement pillbox (left over from WWII). But be careful, you’ll be near the edge of a cliff, and it’s a long way down to pounding surf below. While there, it’s also worth taking a peak at Bell’s View, which is northward to the seemingly endless beach and surf on the Long Beach Peninsula.

Other opportunities for photography include the beach between the two headlands, views of Deadman’s Cove along the trail to the Cape Disappointment lighthouse (beach access is not allowed), old growth forest (probably best on the North Head trail), historic artillery bunkers (the park was home to Fort Canby, active from 1852 through the end of World War II), and potentially wildlife. And if you like small fishing towns, visit the harbor at Ilwaco, which is located just outside the park.

North Head Lighthouse 2

North Head Lighthouse viewed from the north.

On the Beach

Tanya and Nahla playing on the beach.

Ilwaco

Fishing boats in the harbor at Ilwaco


A Hidden Autumn Jewel

Color in Black CanyonWashington, being the Evergreen State, doesn’t have a lot to show when it comes to fall colors. Roughly speaking, evergreen trees cover more than half the state; sagebrush covers the rest. Further, many of the deciduous trees that do grow in the state don’t have particularly colorful leaves in the fall (such as alders). However, there are some good spots for autumn color if you know where to look. Most are high in the mountains, such as Heather Meadows up by Mount Baker (which I blogged about last year). Unfortunately for color seekers this year, it snowed in the high country a couple of weeks ago. While some spots are still accessible (often with snowshoes), others are probably snowed in until next spring. With sunny weather forecast for this week, we may get a second chance, but I wouldn’t bet on it. To make matters worse, the US government shutdown has closed the national parks, making access to fall color even worse.

With the high country covered in snow, the options are few for good fall color. However, I did find a hidden autumn jewel last Friday – a small desert canyon full of beautiful aspen trees starting to turn yellow. Black Canyon, located in eastern Washington, is about midway between Ellensburg and Naches (west of Yakima). At first glance, this seems like an odd area to find fall color. The hills between Ellensburg and Yakima are mostly treeless. Even in the Yakima River canyon, which runs through the area, there aren’t that many trees. But if you drive some of the back roads through the region, you will find hidden groves of trees in valleys and canyons and along some of the water courses. Even more surprising is that some of these trees are aspens – not exactly the tree I think of when I think of the Evergreen State.

Black Canyon is one grove, hidden in the mostly barren eastern foothills of the Cascade Mountains. It is hidden in several aspects. First, it is not a well known spot. I had never heard of it before about two weeks ago (and I know about a great many places in Washington). Second, from the start of the trail into the canyon, it doesn’t look like much. The mouth of the canyon (actually more of a valley than a canyon), where the trail starts,  is rather plan and dry. But as you hike up the valley, the underbrush in the canyon bottom gets thicker and more colorful, until about a half mile from the start, you start seeing aspens. While the aspens are confined to the center of the valley, near a tiny stream, the grove gets thicker and taller as you continue up the valley. At about one mile from the trail head, there is an old wooden cabin nestled in the aspen grove. The trail continues another couple of miles, and the aspens eventually give way to pine trees as the trail climbs to the top of the ridge (reportedly with views of Mount Rainier). More about the hike can be found here.

Black Canyon Wall

Looking up one of the valley walls near the mouth of the canyon.

When Tanya, Carson and I made the hike last week, the color was truly amazing, particularly in stark contrast to dry, sagebrush covered valley walls above. Besides the aspens, much of the underbrush was also various shades of yellow, orange and red. This is the perfect time of year to go.

What is nice about Black Canyon, besides its obvious beauty, it is on accessible public land. A Washington State Discovery Pass is required to park at the trail head (or anywhere along the road to the trail head). The trail head (46°51’1.07″N, 120°42’5.05″W) is at the end of 1.2 miles of very rough unpaved road. We were glad to in 4-wheel drive; I doubt our passenger car could have made it. Other hikers (we saw two other couples) parked at the start of the road, and had an couple miles (roundtrip) to hike.  If you go, also be aware that the area is shared by hunters this time of year (though we did not see or hear any).

Black Canyon is definitely a jewel worth visiting. When we were there, the aspens were not yet at their peak, so you may still have time to visit for the color. Do you know any other hidden jewels of autumn color? If so, please feel free to share yours by leaving a comment.

Tanya and Carson

Tanya and Carson enjoying a break along the trail below the aspen grove.

Black Canyon Aspens 1

Near the lower end of the aspen grove in Black Canyon.

Tall and Short Aspens

Some of the taller aspens in the grove.

Cabin in the Aspens

An old cabin is hidden in the aspen grove.

Black Canyon Aspens 2

The aspen grove near the cabin looking down canyon.

Black Canyon Aspens 3

More of the grove near the cabin.

White and Yellow

Much of the undergrowth is colorful as well.


The Scoop on Poop and other Paria Facts

Wide Spot in Buckskin

Wide Spot in Buckskin Gulch.

Here are some more details about the Paria Canyon hike along with some more photos.

There are four trailheads: three starting trailheads (assuming hiking downstream), all in Utah:  Wire Pass, Buckskin Gulch, and Whitehouse campground; and one ending trailhead, at Lee’s Ferry, AZ. My hiking buddies (Rob Tubbs, an friend from grad school; his wife, Deanna; and daughter, Abby; and my brother Rob) and I choose to start at the Whitehouse trailhead because there were better camping options on this route (there are no places to camp in Wire Pass and very few in Buckskin Gulch). The Whitehouse trailhead is on the Paria River, two miles south of the Paria Contact Station on US Highway 89, roughly mid-way between Page, AZ and Kanab, UT. The Buckskin Gulch and Wire Pass trailheads are south of US 89 on House Rock Road. Roads to all the trailheads, at the time of this writing, were passable by passenger car.

White House Trailhead

The start of the hike at the White House Trailhead.

Buckskin Gulch is a tributary to the Paria River, and hits the Paria 7 miles from the Whitehouse trailhead. Wire Pass is a tributary to Buckskin Gulch, and is relatively short. Hiking Wire Pass cuts off a portion of Buckskin Gulch.In addition to the hike to Lee’s Ferry, it is also a popular hike to start at Wire Pass or Buckskin, hike to the Paria, then upstream to the Whitehouse trailhead.

Permits: a permit is needed to hike from any of the trailheads, and there is a limit of 20 overnight permits per day. Needless to say, we didn’t see a lot of people on the 6 days we were in the canyon. Permits are also needed for day use, but there is no limit on the number of permits issues. Dogs are allowed, but also need a permit. Permit information can be obtained here.

Shuttle: Unless you want to backtrack back up the canyon, this is a one-way hike. There’s no quick way to drive from the starting trailhead to the end. Unfortunately, the quickest paved route is not currently an option because the highway between Page, AZ and Lee’s Ferry is out for the foreseeable future due to a landslide which took out a portion of the road on February 20th. Now the quickest route involves driving the length of the unpaved House Rock Road. In our case, I followed Rob Tubbs’ Ford F350 truck in my little Hyundai Elantra.  Now, while I’m a proponent of the drive-fast-over-washboards-on-dirt-roads method, I’m a piker compared to Rob Tubbs, whom I swear is a teacher at the Drive-As-Fast-As-You-Can-on-Desert-Roads School. There was no way to keep up with him, but we did eventually make the drive. In total, the shuttle took 3.75 hours, with about half the mileage over dirt roads. (Google Maps suggests the round trip over the same roads should take approximately 5.5 hours). It is also possible to leave your cars at one end and hire a shuttle company to do the driving.

Best season: This is definitely not a place to go hiking when it’s raining. The flash flood danger is serious. Plus, as the Paria River drains a large area north of the hike, a thunderstorm miles away can cause a flood in the canyon. August is typically the rainest month of the year here, with May having the least rain; though floods have been recorded in every month of the year. The peak visitation is during April and May – but with the permit system, the canyon is never crowded.

Hiking in the Paria

Typical hiking in the narrows

Trail conditions: there is no official trail. Much of the trip is in water. On our hike, I estimate 20% of the trip was walking in the river – mostly in the narrows section. The water was typically ankle-deep, but occasionally knee-deep. Of course, water depths depend on the weather – flash floods occur every year and can be dangerous. It’s best to plan the hike during the dry season (spring). In the lower portion of the canyon, where the canyon opens up, there is an unmaintained overland trail (with many river crossings) which is much easier than walking along the river – which contains many large boulders in this portion of the canyon; these create deeper pools.

A large portion of the hike, when not actually in the water, is on muddy river bank. Quicksand is fairly common, both on the muddy riverbank and in the water itself. It’s not dangerous, but you can sink quickly up to your knees (this happened to me once), and it is difficult to get out of without help. You can avoid quicksand by testing suspect locations with a light foot before putting all your weight on it. Also, when crossing the river, favor rocky spots rather than slow water spots.

Buckskin Gulch is known for having large pools of standing water that sometimes must be waded or swum, as well as one point where boulders block the route. In previous years, these boulders present a problem where some climbing might be necessary. Currently, we found the boulder section, several miles upstream from the confluence with the Paria, was easily passable without scrambling. Report from other hikers who had done the complete length of Buckskin reported no large pools of water either. Of course, this could change with the next rainstorm.

Guidebook: there is a guidebook with maps of all three canyons (Paria, Buckskin, and Wire Pass) available at the Paria Contact Station for $9. This is well worth the money, particularly as it shows the locations of springs. My one complaint about the maps is that they lack north arrows, which can sometimes make it difficult to orient the maps properly (every map is oriented differently, with the river/canyon running lengthwise on the page).

Shoes and clothing: I wore hiking boots with gore tex socks over wool socks. Don’t bother with the gore tex socks – they just filled with water. Most people hike in sandals or  tennis/running shoes. I chose hiking boots for the ankle support – but the boots never completely dried out the whole trip. Your feet will get cold. You might consider neoprene socks to help keep them warm.

Even in warm weather, it can be cool in the narrows section of the canyon where there is plenty of shade. This is even more true in Buckskin Gulch where it is rather dark. Take warmer clothes than you would think are necessary based on the weather.

Lonely Dell Ranch

At the Lonely Dell Ranch very close to the end of the trail at Lee’s Ferry.

Water: the river water is very silty and will quickly clog a water filter. Luckily there are a number of springs in the canyon where fresh water can be obtain. We drank from these springs without using filtration (do take some care how you fill your bottles if not using a filter). The springs are well marked on the guide maps, but still may be hard to find. We had a particularly hard time finding one called Shower Spring. The boy scout leader we met told us his scout group planned to camp there, yet when we arrived, we saw them hiking off down the canyon. But then, we couldn’t see the spring. We just about gave up looking for it, but as we were running low on water, I gave one last look. I crossed the river and found a hidden trail through tall, thick pampas-type grass, and behold, a big spring with lots of water! The last spring, aptly named Last Reliable Spring, was easier to find, but has a low flow rate so it took time to fill our bottles. The final 12 miles of the hike do not have any reliable water sources. If you plan well, you can minimize the water you have to carry by planning your daily mileage around the spring or by camping near by the springs. Do remember to carry enough water – you’ll need it, even in April or May.

Campsites: there are campsites marked on the map, but many other campsites are available – just be sure to camp high enough above the river in case the water comes up overnight. Within the narrows section of the canyon, campsites are much harder to find. And in the full 18 miles of Buckskin Gulch, there are only a couple, including the one we stayed at our second night, shortly up canyon from Buckskin’s confluence with the Paria.

The Scoop on Poop: When you check in at the Paria Contact Station, you will be given human-waste disposal bags. These consist of one or two silver bags with some dry chemicals in them. These bags open up to rear-end size. And a yellow mesh bag to carry the used silver bags. The ranger writes your permit number on the silver bags, so if perchance you leave one in the canyon, they will make you come and get it (okay, they’d probably give you a fine; she said they started putting numbers on the bags after some hikers started leaving the used bags in the canyon thinking the rangers came through and picked them up). Luckily, you are only required to use these bags within the narrows section of the canyon. Elsewhere, you can dig “cat holes” away from the river and campsites. In our case, we were only in the narrows for about a day and a half. It’s amazing how your body can react when forced with the possibility of using one of these bags. Four of the five of us were able to “hold it” and carried out empty bags. Concerning toilet paper, that comes out with you, even if using cat holes.

Historical sites: portions of the canyon were historically used by Ancient Pueblo people (Anasizi). There are no ruins, at least that we saw, but there are several petroglyph sites (only one of which is marked on the guide map). If you go, the best petroglyph site we saw is between mile 24 and 25. There are several more recent sites as well. These include the remains of an irrigation pump from an ill-fated attempt to pump water out of the canyon in the 1949 at mile 17.5 and a historical ranch property right at the end of the trail in Lee’s Ferry.

Critters: We saw few animals on our hike other than birds, bats, lizards and mice (luckily only at our final campsite), but I did find a scorpion behind my backpack the night we camped in Buckskin Gulch. You should also be aware that rattlesnakes are occasionally seen. Reportedly there are also beavers (we did see some logs they had worked on), coyotes, jack rabbits, cottontail rabbits, ground squirrels, deer and bighorn sheep.

Overall, this is one hike I can highly recommend. The scenery is outstanding. The country is remote, but easily accessible. I waited about 30 years to take this hike – in hind sight, I should have gone a long time ago. It’s one fantastic hike.

Hiking in the Narrows

Typical hiking scene in the Paria Narrows

Paria Narrows

More from the narrows

Yet more narrows

Yet another scene from the Paria Narrows

Slide Rock Arch

Slide Rock Arch, a notable feature in the narrows section of the canyon

Rock Angel

Rock Angel – natural rock art on the canyon wall

Petroglyphs

Petroglyphs – man-made rock art

Coming out of the Narrows

Hiking near the end of the narrows

Last Reliable Springs

Filling water bottles at the Last Reliable Springs

In the Lower Canyon