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Travel

Waterfalls, Waterfalls

If you are a waterfall hunter, the fjord region of Norway is quite literally a smorgasbord for cascading delights. Where ever we drove, waterfalls were to be found. Waterfalls of every description (big and wide, skinny and tall, tall and wide, graceful, forceful, wistful) abound, cascading over the mountain sides. Waterfalls that, had they been in the United States would be the focus of a state or national park, were only causally mentioned on maps in Norway.

As I enjoy photographing waterfalls, so I was in waterfall heaven. And waterfalls, unlike many landscape subjects, often look best under gloomy skies, which is what we had for much of the trip. Normally, the best time of year for waterfall hunting in Norway would be in mid-summer, as the snowpack melts and fills the riverbeds, not mid-September when we went. Yet as luck would have it, the remains of two tropical storms went through Norway when we were there, causing heavy rain and cascading waters everywhere ( I guess all that rain was one of those if life gives you lemons, make lemonade type things).

The featured image above is of the famous Seven Sisters, also know as Die Sju Systre and Knivsflåfossen. Below are more of the many waterfalls I photographed during our two weeks in Norway. You can find directions and photo hints for most of these on Photohound – a internet photographic guide site I’m partnering with. If you are interested in these waterfalls and more, also check out the European waterfall website, which catalogs waterfalls throughout Norway and the rest of Europe.

By the way, Photohound is beta-testing its website right now and is looking for photographers to help out. Check their site out, it really is outstanding.

Steinsdalsfossen

Latefossen

The Suitor (accross from the Seven Sisters), also called Friaren or Skågeflafossen

Unnamed waterfall on the river Gaula

Hellesyltfossen

Rjoandefossen also known as Roandefossen

Kjosfossen

Tvindefossen

Vøringsfossen and Tyssvikjofossen


Sognefjellet

Norway has 18 national scenic highway routes; and Tanya and I drove several of these as we traveled around the western Norway. I previously posted images from one such route, Hardangervidda. On one of our longer travel days during our trip, I planned a route along three national scenic highways. The first of the day was Sognefjellet. The National Scenic Route Sognefjellet runs 108 kilometers, from Gaupne on Lustrafjorden (a branch of the Sognefjord, Norway’s longest and deepest fjord) up and over the mountains, past Galdhøpiggen (the tallest mountain in northern Europe), and down to the town of Lom.

This is truly a magnificent and scenic road. And we luckily were able to drive it on a mostly sunny morning. We drove from west to east, starting at sea level along the fjord and climbing through a series of hairpin curves up into the mountains above the treeline. The fjord was like a mirror and the mountains were covered with fresh snow – totally incredible. There were almost no cars on the road, which was a good thing considering how slick the road was in the shady sections while coming down off the pass (driving as slow as possible to keep on the road in our rental car with non-winter tires). Our journey over Sognefjellet ended in Lom, with its famous stave church. By the time we reached Lom, the fine sunny morning had given way to a cloudy mid-day.

After visiting the church, we took a different highway and drove back over the mountains to Geiranger, planning to take a detour along our second national scenic road of the day. However, the road was closed due to snow. So we drove straight to Geiranger, traveling on the third national scenic route. But by now, the fine sunny morning had turned to a snowy afternoon with near whiteout conditions, so there wasn’t much scenery to see. As it turned out, that road was closed due to snow not more than an hour after we drove it.

So my day  photographing along three scenic roads was disrupted by weather. But even so, that first road, Sognefjellet, made the day one I won’t easily forget.

Fjord Mirror

Lustrafjorden at the town of Skjolden

View as we climbed in the mountains above the treeline

Another shot from the same spot as the photo above

Mountain Lakes

High in the mountains near the top of the pass

At the Mefjellet rest area, at the top of the pass, 1,434 meters above sea level, has this unusual sculpture by Knut Wold

A mountain lake on the far side of the pass.

One view from the Vegaskjelet viewpoint partway down the pass

The Lom Stave Church

 


Austdalbreen

Tanya and I have left Norway and are now spending several days in London before heading home. However, I still want to put out a few more posts about Norway. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Austdalbreen, a tongue of the mighty Jostedalsbreen glacier. Jostedalbreen is the largest glacier in mainland Europe. There are several places to visit the glacier, but one of the best is at Austdalbreen.

Most the glacial hiking tour companies had closed for the season, but we found Icetroll was still open, so we booked a glacial hike on Austdalbreen. To reach Autdalbreen, you need to cross a glacial lake in front of the glacier, Icetroll offers trips crossing the lake by kayak and by Zodiac. We choose the zodiac approach. This worked very well as the weather was good in the morning, but deteriorated later in the day. In fact, the weather in morning and early to mid-afteroon was about perfect. The rainstorms from the day before brought fresh snow to the mountains and glacier, and partly sunny skies provided beautiful light on the glacier as we approached on the lake and later on our hike. However, by the end of our hike, about the time those touring by kayak arrived, the weather turned and it started snowing again.

On the trip across the lake, as we approached the glacier, the guide took us by several small icebergs, and stopped so that each of us could stand on an iceberg (there where four others in our group besides Tanya and I). Then we tied up to shore and hike a short distance to some gear boxes, where we roped up and put on crampons. From there, our guide took us up onto the glacier. We hiked on the glacier for about an hour and a half, stopping for photos and for some hot chocolate. The view was magnificent. As we left the glacier, we stopped at a spot where we could get down underneath the ice (see my Instagram post of glacial ice). Then it was a zodiac trip back across the lake in falling snow to return to the van and a trip down the mountain.

The featured image, above, is a 3-shot panorama I took while up on the glacier. Below are several other images from the trip.

Scene from where we parked our car to take the tour van up to the glacial lake

Small iceberg in the lake in front of the glacier

Another iceberg shot

The face of Austdalbreen at the lake

Scene I captured in the valley below the glacier after our hike.

 


Hardangervidda

Our trip has been challenged by wild weather, including the remnants of Tropical Storm Gabriella and Hurricane Dorian. The day we drove up to the Hardangervidda Plateau was no exception. We spent the night in Eidfjord (at sea level) and awoke to overcast skies. At least the constant rain from the night before was over. It rained on and off throughout the morning as we toured a couple local sights before heading up toward the Hardangervidda Plateau. When we reached Voringsfossen (about 700 meters above sea level), the weather started to break.

Voringfossen is an amazing set of waterfalls; reportedly the best known waterfall in Norway. The falls are about halfway up to the mountain plateau. Here water tumbles over 180 meters from several sides down into a narrow canyon. The view is amazing. The photo above does not do the scdne justice (even with capturing a bit of rainbow).

Leaving Voringfossen the road continues to up to the Hardangervidda (at an average elevation of 1,100 meters above sea level). This broad mountain plateau is above the tree line and is a land of high tundra hills and studded with lakes of all sizes. It is the highest plateau in Europe and home to a large wild reindeer herd (which we did not see). The drive across the plateau and back was spectacular, with the landscape changing with the changing weather conditions of overcast, light rain, snow storms, and sun breaks. I could have spent the whole day there with my camera, but the near freezing temperature and strong wind (plus a need to get to our hotel in Flam, several hours away) had us only staying on the plateau for a few hours. Here are few shots from Hardangervidda; enjoy!

Small lake on the Hardangervidda

Wild Skies

Another lake on the Hardangervidda

Typical scene on the Hardangervidda

Old stone bridge on the Hardangervidda


Bryggen in Bergen

Bryggen

BryggenTwo weeks ago, Tanya’s mother fell down in our house while trying to keep the cat from running an open door. She broke her kneecap. So, instead of going home, she is staying with us until she heals enough to walk. Well not quite. She is staying at our house, Tanya and I are in Norway (and my brother and sister-in-law are taking care of our Tanya’s mom at our house). A broken knee wouldn’t keep us from our planned trip!

After a brief stop in London, we flew into Bergen earlier this week. This is a wonderful little city! One of the highlights of the city is Bryggen, the old wharf district of the city. The city of Bergen, during the Middle Ages, was the capital of Norway and an major seaport. It was a member of the Hanseatic League – a trading league of mostly German city states that in the 14th century was northern Europe’s most powerful economic entity. And at the City’s center was Bryggen. What remains of Bryggen is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Bryggen was destroyed by fire at least seven time. A fire in 1702 destroyed all Bryggen’s medieval buildings, which were replaced by wooden warehouses. More recently, a significant fire in 1955 burned down one third of the district, while many other buildings were replaced by more “modern” brick-and-stone structures. Following the 1955 fire, there were calls to tear the rest of the area down, as it was run-down and in disrepair. However, an archaeological dig following the fire revealed Bryggen’s rich history and a foundation was formed to protect and restore the district. Today, one of the biggest challenges to preserving the historic area is that Bryggen is slowing sinking, as evidenced by the fact that many of the historic buildings are leaning.

Bryggen contains about 60 buildings dating back to the 1700’s. The most photographed views are of the gabled buildings along the water, but it is also interesting to explore the wooden alleyways between and behind the main buildings. At the northeastern corner of Bryggen is Mariakirken (St Mary’s Church), which dates back to the 12th century. At the northern end is Rosenkrantzarnet (Rosenkrantz Tower), which was covered by scaffolding at the time of my visit, Bergenhus Festning (Bergen Fortress), and the Hakonshallen, a reconstruction of a Gothic ceremonial hall built for King of Norway in the 13th century.

Photographing in Bryggen is fun. However, it is very popular with the tourists, so I suggest visiting during off peak times. In addition to photographing in and around Bryggen, be sure to shoot it from across the harbor. In addition to being a great viewpoint, the distance helps minimize the impact of tourists milling about in your composition.

Unicorn

Bryggen, Bergen, Norway

Mariakirken

Mariakirken

Bryggen Night

Bryggen at night shot from across the harbor

Leaning

One of the leaning warehouses

Reindeer

Close up on golden reindeer on the warehouse above

Gravestone

Gravestone in Mariakirken church yard


Smoke Correction – Reducing Smoke Induced Haze

Though clear now, the skies of Washington State, and indeed most of the Pacific Northwest, have been very smokey almost the entire month of August. The smoke is from wildfires, both in the United States and Canada. I fear, with climate changes, this may be our new “normal” for August, as smokey skies have been prevalent in August the past several years.

As long as the smoke is not too thick, smokey skies can have some advantages to landscape and travel photography. Though I tend not to, some people like the sunsets provided by smokey conditions. I do, however, appreciate that smokey conditions can soften light and can extend golden hour conditions by changing the color of sunlight. On the other hand, they can also dim sunlight so that the light during the actual golden hours is weak.

In my opinion, the disadvantages outweigh any advantages gained. I am fond on blue skies and wide vistas. Smoke can suck the blue out of the sky and obscure views with haze. I also like to use telephoto lenses to pull in distance subjects. Obviously, this does not work so well if there is a lot of smoke.

On my trip to the Palouse last month, the skies were quite smokey. Not smokey enough to totally ruin the trip, but I certainly did not have ideal conditions. The Palouse is known for its blue skies with great clouds. On my last trip, the sky, though clear, was more of a dusky gray. It was also cloud free on except for one day. So much for the wide sky shots I often favor, such as this one I posted on instagram. I found myself following several techniques to minimize the effects of the smoke.

1. Limiting distance in my compositions – instead of including distant hills and vistas in my compositions, I selected relatively close subjects, or chose compositions where the distant background was less important. For example, on my August visit to the Palouse, I did shoot one evening from Steptoe Butte. However, with the smokey haze, I chose one of the lower viewpoint instead of going to the top, and I mostly shot compositions with subjects relatively close to the butte rather than subjects thousands of meters away.

Instead of photographing distant hills from Steptoe Butte, most my images were of nearby hills such as these. This image also has the sky eliminated and uses the Dehaze correction described below.

In this example, I chose to photograph this barn near to the road (and also eliminate any sky).

2. Eliminating or limiting the amount of sky in my compositions – with the sky not the blue color one expects, in many cases, I tried to either totally eliminate the sky from my composition or at least limit the amount of sky in the shot.

In this scene from Latah County in Idaho, I purposely minimized the amount of sky in the composition. It also uses the Dehaze and selective color corrections described below.

Here, concentrated on details of these old trucks in Sprague, Washington, eliminating any sky from the composition.

3. Processing using the Dehaze slider in Lightroom – I often use the dehaze slider in lightroom, and not just to remove haze; I like the microconstrast it adds to images. However, smokey conditions are what the dehaze slider was made for. While processing images from the August Palouse trip in Lightroom, I found myself adding more dehaze than I normally would.

Another sample of an image where I used the dehaze slider more than normal. This image also uses the sky color correction described below.

4. Adding blue back into the sky in Lightroom – I typically do not do selective color corrections in Lightroom. Typically I’ll set the color balance for the entire photo and let well enough alone (saving selective color adjustments for Photoshop if I want to do them at all). But with new masking tools for the gradient and brush tools, I found it relatively easy to add some blue back into the sky in Lightroom. Typically, I’d make a fairly tight gradient (or perhaps the brush too) and apply it to the area of the photo containing the sky. Then, using the range mask tool in color mode, I select a wide portion of the sky. This usually masks most of the non-sky areas, but to be sure, I’ll check the Show Selected Mask Overlay checkbox (which uses a red tone to indicate where the gradient is effective). Depending on the image, I may or may not need to do some cleanup of the mask with the eraser brush). To correct the sky, I’ll move the temperature slider toward blue, typically move the exposure slider down about 1/2 to 1/2 a stop, and move the clarity slider down as well. Depending on the image, I may also increase the dehaze slightly. Sounds complicated, but it is fairly easy with a bit of practice. This technique does a nice job on restoring sky color (see the examples below).

This is the Genesee Valley Lutheran Church in Idaho. Here I’ve used the technique described to reduce the smokey haze from the sky. The same image without the correction is shown below

Without the selective sky color correction.

 


Two Summer Seasons of the Palouse

My recent posts of the Palouse featured images captured in June when the landscape is green. However, mid to late summer in the Palouse looks totally different. June is green; August is golden. Most photographers prefer the green season – on a Tuesday night back in June, my photographer buddy Don and I shared the top of Steptoe Butte with at least 50 other photographers. Last week I returned to Steptoe Butte, and I had the only tripod in sight. Is one season better than the other? In my opinion, at least photographically, they are both great. You can visit the same locations and get two totally different images.

There are non-photographic differences. The weather is hotter in August than June. The average high temperature in June is 84 degrees F in Colfax and 72 degrees in Pullman. In August, those average highs jump to 91 and 83 degrees. Plus, the air quality is typically better in June. In recent years, late summer has brought many wildfires to the Pacific Northwest, which cause smoky conditions in the Palouse. This August was no exception, and the distant views were limited. On the other hand, a photographer wandering around in the tall grass in June is likely to find ticks looking for a meal; while in August, the ticks are mostly gone (though they can return in the fall). Plus it is much easier to find a motel room in August than in June (unless you come on the weekend of a WSU football game (which can sometimes start in late August).

Though the some of the comparison images below were shot from slightly different vantage points and/or different times of day, you can see the difference between the green and golden seasons. Green or golden, which is better? You be the judge.

Barn on Shawnee Road in August

Barn on Shawnee Road in June

Old house on Whitman Road in August

Old house on Whitman Road in June

Lone tree along Tennessee Flat Road in August

Lone tree along Tennessee Flat Road in June – BTW, Steptoe Butte is in the background in both shots

Barn along Hoffman Road in August

Barn along Hoffman Road in June

View from Skyline Drive in June

View from Skyline Drive in June

Old building in Wilcox in August

Old building in Wilcox in June,


Quick Shot – More Palouse

Last Sunday I returned from another trip to the Palouse. My photographer buddy Don Thompson accompanied me for four days, while Tanya kept me company for two more days. I have to admit I’m a bit tired of getting up for 4:55 am sunrises and staying up to 10:00 pm to catch the blue hour after sunset, but it was worth it to capture a few great shots. Above is a quick shot of one of my favorites from the trip. Don and I shot at this spot early in the trip, but I went back when there was better light (sorry Don) and am pleased I did. I’ll post a few more from the trip soon. Want to know where to take this shot? I’ll tell you in my upcoming Snapp Guides guide to the Palouse due out in 2019 (okay, if you want to know before then, just let me know).


Three Monasteries and a Convent

Religion is a big thing in Greece. Every town has at least one Greek Orthodox Church, and usually several. There are random churches out in the countryside not near any towns. Besides churches, there are also many monasteries, as well as a few convents. While on Crete, we visited two monasteries, and when in the Delphi area, we visited another monastery (which by itself had three churches) and a convent.

It seems each church and monastery has its own particular rules. Very often, photography is not permitted inside the churches. This is such a common rule that I was surprised when photography was allowed. And even when it is allowed, it is consider rude to photograph the main altar. At many of the cultural sites in Greece, tripod use is prohibited without special permission/fees. I assumed this was true of the many churches we visited, and did all my photography in the churches and monasteries hand-held and without a flash. The churches are typically very dark, requiring the use of high ISOs. On the other hand, outside the buildings, it was sunny most of the time we were there, and I don’t know how many times my camera complained (okay, it just had a flashing warning in the viewfinder) about not having a fast enough shutter speed available when I forgot to change the ISO off of 6400.

Here are a few of my thoughts and shots from our visits to three monasteries and a convent.

Moní Arkadhíou

Moní Arkadhíou, or the Arkadi Monastery, is located in central Crete southeast of Rethymnon. The monastery was apparently founded in the 5th century, but the present church was built 1587. This monastery is most famous for an incident in the Creten revolt of Ottoman rule in 1866. Over 900 Greeks, mostly women and children, sought refuge in the monastery. With the monastery under attack by the Ottomans and the Creten fighters defeated, the abbot gathered the remaining people in the powder room in the monastery, and when the Ottomans arrived at the door, he set the barrels of powder on fire, choosing sacrifice rather than surrender. Today, you can visit the remains of the power room ans well view some of the skulls of the sacrificed victims in an ossuary in a former windmill outside the monastery walls.

The monastery is inside a walled compound, with the Venetian church centered in the large courtyard. Several gardens are located behind the church. The interior of the church is beautiful, but photography is prohibited. There is a small museum with nice icons. Several interior rooms are open with old artifacts.

Moní Prevelí

Moní Prevelí sits on the southern coast of Crete overlooking the Libyan Sea. It was also played a historic role in Creten history, when during World War II, the monks hid trapped Allied soldiers from the Nazis, helping them escape by submarine. Most of the monastery is off limits to visitors, at least when we visited. There is a small museum with some very impressive icons and  a small church (again, no photography allowed inside). Other than that, access was limited to a portion of the courtyard. The view over the sea is fantastic. Frankly, with the limited access at the monastery, I wasn’t sure the drive out there was worth it. However, nearby the monastery is a short but steep trail to the beautiful Prevelí Beach, also known as Palm Beach. Combining a visit to the monastery with the beach made a good day trip.

Okay, this view isn’t actually at the monastery, but is from the trail down to the nearby Palm Beach.

Moní Hosíos Loukas

Of all the places Tanya and I visited in Greece on this trip, the Monastery of Hosios Loukas was perhaps my favorite. The monastery was founded by the hermit of Helicon – the Venerable Saint Luke the Stiriote (not to be confused the Evangelist of the Gospel of Saint Luke) – in the 10th century. The site contains two co-joined churches within the monastery walls (and a newer church outside the walls). The relics (physical remains) of Saint Luke are in a small chamber between the two churches. The relics are said to produce healing miracles.

The monastery is a well deserved UNESCO World Heritage Site. Simply, the interior of the larger church, the Katholikon, is amazing. The mosaics, frescoes and other decorations are impossible to describe, and my photographs do not truly capture the ancient beauty of the place. Tanya and I just stood in wonder beneath the magnificent mosaic on the domed ceiling  (the featured image above). There are more frescoes in the burial crypt beneath the Katholikon.

The monastery grounds are widely open to visitors and include a small museum and several exhibits. Surprisingly, photography is allowed in the churches.

Moní Profítí Ilía

A short distance west of Delphi is the convent of Moni Profiti Ilia. It is relatively “new” compared to the other monasteries we visited, being built in the 19th century. It is famously where Essaeas, the bishop of Salona, raised the flag to officially start the Greek revolution March 24, 1821.

We drove up the convent, which sits high on a mountainside overlooking the Sea of Corinth, and found the door to the walled compound closed. There was a small sign, but being in Greek, we could not read it. No one was around, so I took a few photos, and we prepared to leave. About that time, two men drove up and parked near the door. They went to the door and apparently rang a buzzer/intercom and opened the door and went in.

Tanya and I went back and buzzed the intercom. A young nun answered in English and told us to come inside. However, we couldn’t open the door (we couldn’t figure out the latch). We buzzed again and she came and let us in. Once inside, she made Tanya put on a dress over her pants (we knew that one shouldn’t wear shorts, but didn’t know about the dress dress code for women).

There wasn’t that much to see here. You can walk around the courtyard, which has lovely gardens. And they do have a beautiful church – no photos inside and you should not cross your legs when sitting (both feet on the floor please) – in which the young nun kept watch over us. An elderly nun (no English) into their dining hall for homemade candy and a cold glass of water. One of the two men who entered before us interpreted as the nun was very curious about Americans visiting. It turns out there are only about a dozen nuns there, while the place looked like it could house one hundred.


Chania

On our recent trip, Tanya and I spent several days in Chania (also spelled Hania) and loved it. The Venetian quarter is a maze of small streets and alleys with remnants of Venetian and Turkish architecture. The old quarter is centered around the beautiful and historic Venetian Harbor with its iconic lighthouse (see this recent Quick Shot post and my Instagram feed). We spent hours walking around the old streets seeping in the history of the place, as well spending time sipping drinks (and drinking in the scenery) at a harbor-front café. The Venetian quarter was busy with tourists, and I imagine it get mobbed in summer, but it was well worth visiting. However, when I went to the harbor early one morning for sunrise, there was almost no one around.

We didn’t stay in the old quarter. Instead, we stayed at an Airbnb with a nice sea view in the Tabakaria District, about a half hour walk from the Venetian Harbor. This waterfront district was home to about 80 19th-century leather tanneries (only a few survive today). Most of the old tannery factory buildings are still there, providing me a great photo opportunity literally right outside my door. To make it even better, the best restaurant we ate at in Crete (Thalassino Ageri) was just a 2-minute walk from our room. We ate at a table on the beach, a couple of meters from the waves, enjoying great seafood and a magnificent view – one direction toward the old tanneries, the other to the Sea of Crete and the far shoreline of northwestern Crete.

For travel photograph, for great food, for drinking in history, I highly recommend visiting Chania.

This is part of the shoreline in the Tabakaria District

View of the Venetian Quarter across the water, captured on our morning walk to the old town.

View down one of the small streets in the Venetian Quarter.

Small fishing boat in the Venetian Harbor

Part of the Venetian Harbor on a calm morning.

I liked this scene of a man having a morning smoke in his “Yacht Services” boat.

Old factories in the Tababkaria District at sunset

Sunset over the Sea of Crete and northwestern Crete from the Tabakaria District

 

 


A Bridge not too Far

Several years ago I saw a photograph of this bridge in the Palouse, but there was no location information with it. When I saw the image, I knew I wanted to photograph it as well. However, after several attempts to find it using internet searches, I could not find its location.

As you may or may not know, in my day job, I’m a groundwater geologist. I’m the president of a consulting firm called Robinson Noble. We work with a lot of different civil engineers who work with water systems. One such engineering firm we work with is based on Port Orchard, Washington – which for those of you not familiar with Washington State, is about 20 miles northwest of Tacoma. A year or so ago, one of the engineers with that firm, Todd, moved to the Palouse region and now telecommutes and serves his company in eastern Washington. A while back, I was talking with Todd about this bridge. I’m not sure how the topic came up, but he knows I do photography and was suggesting he knew some good locations in the Palouse. Anyway, I mentioned I was looking for this bridge, and Todd told me he owned it! He said I was welcome to drop by anytime to photograph it.

I finally had the chance last week. I accompanied Tanya to Walla Walla so she could interview for a vice president’s job at Walla Walla Community College (she was one of three finalists, but unfortunately didn’t get the position). While she was off interviewing, I drove up to the Palouse to meet with Todd. He gave me directions to his house (something like, turn at the second mailbox, drive through the farmer’s field, go over the bridge, and uphill past the barn), and indeed, the bridge in the directions was the bridge I was looking for.

I had a nice time visiting with Todd and his family, and they told me the story of the bridge. They bought their 200-acres of land along the Palouse River northwest of Colfax about a year ago. The land includes an old railroad grade which crosses the river. When the railroad was abandoned, a former owner of the property turned the bridge into part of his driveway. Todd also described an old train tunnel on his property, further down the grade.

Apparently the bridge is well known to at least a few photographers, as Todd and his wife told me of photography workshops that stop and take pictures of the bridge. There is a viewpoint on the county road across the river from their house, which is where I took the above photo.

But Todd said individual photographers, and sometimes even workshops, have come onto their land without permission to photograph at the bridge.  The Palouse is very popular with photographers, especially in late spring. Todd said he has talked with several of his neighbors and others from Colfax, and they report the number of photographers in the area seems to grow each year. Several of his neighbors are getting fed up with photographers blocking roadways and trespassing on private land. It’s these type of photographers that give all of us a bad name (but I digress).

Todd has given me standing permission to come by and photograph his bridge (and tunnel) anytime I want. He and his wife suggested other potential viewpoints and the best times of day. Next time I’m in the Palouse, it think I’ll take them up on their offer.


November

November is often a dreary month in the Pacific Northwest, and I find it hard to get excited about outdoor photography. The fall colors are mostly gone and it rains (a lot) west of the Cascade Mountains. The hope of winter photography is often yet not realized – if there is much snow in the mountains, it is often heavy, wet, and melting under dull gray skies. Okay, things aren’t quite that bad, but November is not my favorite time of year for photography.

That’s why I was pleasantly surprised last week when I tagged along with Tanya to her work conference in Vancouver, Washington and found some good November photography. While Tanya was being educated, I decided to drive down into the Willamette Valley of Oregon to visit a few wineries and take some pictures. It was sunny on and off throughout the day mixed with light rain. Not perfect conditions, but better than the steady downpours we’ve been having lately.

The Willamette Valley south of Portland is chock full of wineries and vineyards, and it can be hard to figure out where to go for photography. So once again I relied on an excellent photography guidebook by Greg Vaughn, this one about Oregon. In his section on the Willamette Valley, he lists several wineries that are particularly photogenic, so I picked out a few of those and plotted a route through the area.

Unfortunately, most of the grape vines had already lost their leaves, but I was able to find enough to take a few colorful late fall photographs. Mid-November is a bit late for color here, and based on what I saw, I’d think late October would be much better. But between the photography and the wine tasting, it was one of my better days photographing in November.

Colorful orchard in the Willamette Valley

Wine grapes at a Willamette Valley vineyard

Colorful scene along a back road in the Willamette Valley

The stairs and colorful maple leaves at the Torii Mor Winery


October Colors

It seems that every autumn, I comment on the lack of fall color in the Pacific Northwest and the need to know where to look for it (for example, see this post from last year, or this one from 2014). Last month I spent a long weekend in northeastern Washington looking for autumn colors, and I came away very impressed with how beautiful fall is there. Northeastern Washington does not get a lot of attention from nature photographers in the state. With Mount Rainier, the Olympics, the Pacific coast, the Columbia Gorge, and the Palouse, who has time for northeastern Washington? Well, if you want some great autumn scenery, make time. And as a bonus, you won’t have to fight for a spot for your tripod; in the 2 1/2 days I spent photographing there, I didn’t see anyone else with a camera.

Crystal Falls

I booked a room for a Friday night in Colville, Washington. Despite an early start from home, the drive (in the rain the whole way, except for at the top of Snoqualmie Pass, where it was snowing) took most the day. Though I only made a few stops on the way for photos, I got to the Colville region with less than an hour’s daylight left, which didn’t leave much time for scouting photo locations. So I headed to the one spot I knew I could get a good shot – Crystal Falls. This pretty little waterfall is 14 miles east of Colville on the Little Pend Oreille River. Though there wasn’t a lot of color at the waterfall, it made a pleasant stop before heading to town for the night.

The next day, I decided to explore the region between Colville and the Pend Oreille River, an area recommended by my photographer friend, Greg Vaughn, in his book Photographing Washington. I headed back east on Highway 20, continuing past Crystal Falls, to a series of small lakes along the upper reaches of the Little Pend Oreille River (the featured photo above is at one of these small lakes, Frater Lake). The previous day’s rain was gone, leaving a wonderful blue sky with scattered clouds and a dusting of snow on the ground in places. The forest around the lakes are thick with western larch, which made the forest a patchwork of bright yellow and dark green. Larch, one of the few deciduous conifers, turn bright yellow in fall and are fairly rare elsewhere in the state, but plentiful here. They are best photographed with back or side lighting.

A boat traveling the Pend Oreille River

Continuing past the lakes, the highway goes by Tiger Meadow, which has several aspen groves along its edges. I spent several hours there roaming the meadow, photographing the aspens and larch, and enjoying the crisp air and solitude (the image in my previous post is from Tiger Meadow). From there, I drove along the Pend Oreille River for a while where I found some colorful cottonwoods. Then I headed back to Colville via South Fork Mill Creek Road, with some beautiful aspen groves along it as well as larch on the hillsides.

I needed to get to the town of Republic where I planned on spending the night. This took me over Sherman Pass in the late afternoon. The larch are thick along Sherman Pass, and the late afternoon sun lit up the forests.

The following morning, I spent a short while photographing cottonwoods along the highway south of Republic (again recommended by Greg Vaughn), but the went off on my own without advice from Greg’s book. I headed west, then north, looking for the ghost town of Bodie, Washington. Along the way, I found more aspens and larch begging to be photographed. At Bodie, the aspens had already nearly lost all their leaves, but it was still fun to photograph the old buildings. From there, I decided to explore another ghost town, Molson, which is up near the Canadian border. The route took plenty of back roads, past some secluded scenery. Unlike Bodie, which is just falling apart with age, the Molson ghost town is actually an outdoors museum, with buildings and equipment moved to the current site and maintained by a historical society. There was plenty to explore there, and I could have easily spent more time doing so. However, I had promised my son, who lives in Yakima, I’d visit him and his girlfriend for dinner, so I put away the camera and headed south.

I’m happy with the shots I brought home with me, and the area is on my list as a place to visit again in the future when October colors come again to Washington.

Red barn near the Pend Oreille River with larch trees dotting the mountain side above

Aspens along South Fork Mill Creek Road

Larch on the mountains near Sherman Pass

Larch along Highway 20 near Sherman Pass

Cottonwood in the San Poil Valley south of Republic

Grove of bare aspens west of Republic

Log cabin in the ghost town, Bodie, Washington

Reflections in a beaver pond on Chesaw Road, Okanogan County

Old house along Chesaw Road, Okanogan County

Old tractor and wind mill at the Old Molson Ghost Town


Quick Shots – Yellowstone

Here are a couple quick shots from my trip home from the Wind River Range driving through Yellowstone National Park. We had hoped to see a lot of wildlife, but only saw a couple of bison from a long distance and a trio of magnificent bull elk while leaving the park at 9:30 pm in the dark – so no wildlife pictures. Luckily, the park has great landscapes too! The Grand Prismatic Spring above and Yellowstone Falls below. I posted one more shot from Yellowstone at my Instagram account, so check that one out too.


Cirque of Towers Part 2: In and Out of the Cirque

170824_Wyoming_6101-PanoThe Cirque of Towers in the Wind River Range of Wyoming is truly an amazing place. The photos that accompany this post really do not do it justice. It clearly rivals the scenery in many a National Park or Monument, and while there, I heard more than one person question why it isn’t in one. My guess is that it may have more to do with local and western politics than anything else (for example, there was a large, vocal opposition to Grand Teton National Park), but that is just speculation. Or it may be that Wyoming is the only state in which the President cannot use the Antiquities Act to create a national monument. Whatever the reason, the Cirque is worthy. That said, it may be just as well it isn’t in National Park – if that were the case, it would be mobbed. While Lonesome Lake, located in the middle of the Cirque, isn’t really lonesome, it isn’t crowded either.

In my previous post, I described the first half of a backpacking trip my brother, Rob, and I made to Cirque of Towers , where we camped at Shadow Lake behind (west of) the Cirque. The official trail ends at Shadow Lake, but an unmaintained trail climbs up above Shadow Lake, skirts several other lakes, and climbs Texas Pass into the Cirque.

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Billy’s Lake, on the trail to Texas Pass

The unmaintained trail is a bit hard to follow at some points. As Rob and I hiked up the hill east of Shadow Lake, we wandered off the trail once or twice, but the forest is not thick here and it was easy to keep going. At the top of the hill, the land flattens out in a mostly treeless mountain valley. Here the trail is again easy to follow, skirting along or above the shores  Billy’s Lake, Barren Lake, and Texas Lake. As we were told earlier, there are great spots to camp near Billy’s Lake, though we both thought the view was better at Shadow Lake (this is not to say the view is bad at Billy’s Lake, it is great, just not as great as at Shadow). The upper two lakes, Barren and Texas, looked to have fewer spots to pitch a tent. Interestingly, Barren Lake did not apparently get its name from lack of fish. As the trail climbed some 50 feet above the shore, we could still see large trout in the cruising along the shoreline.

The valley ends abruptly in a rocky wall of mountains with one steep looking pass. So far, the elevation gain isn’t bad. Shadow Lake is at 10,287 feet, and the trail before climbing Texas Pass is about 10,800 feet (and most of that elevation gain came between Shadow and Billy’s Lakes) covering about 1.75 miles. But from near the shore of Texas Lake up to the top of Texas Pass, at an elevation of about 11,450, is a grueling climb of nearly 700 feet in about just 1/4 of  a mile. (For those of you familiar with the Enchantments in Washington State, it reminded me a lot of Aasgard Pass above Colchuck Lake – though not as long – Aasgard gaining  2,000 feet of elevation in about 3/4 of a mile.) During the climb I found myself taking plenty of camera breaks to shoot the lakes below (seriously, just because the scenery is so good).

Rob stands below Texas Pass

Though the trail is not maintained, there still is an official Forest Service, weather-worn sign at the top of the pass marking the boundary on the continental divide between the Teton Wilderness in Bridger-Teton National Forest from the Popo Agie Wilderness in the Shoshone National Forest. The view from the pass into the Cirque is dominated by Pingora Peak, a graceful granite tower on the east side of the continental divide named, according to Backpacker.com, for the Shoshone word for “high, rocky, inaccessible peak.”

The trail south of Texas Pass leads down past the base of Pingora Peak to Lonesome Lake (on the featured image at the top, Pingora Peak is the prominent one on the left). Though mostly meadows, the trail is once again easy to lose. Just keep heading downhill, an elevation drop of about 1,300 feet in one mile. The trail is east of the small creek that comes out of the small cirque below the pass, cutting through the trees above Lonesome Lake, emerging at the northwest corner of the lake. From there, it skirts the shoreline and meets up with an official trail again right at the outlet stream at the east end of the lake. (Or I should say river, the lake is the headwaters for the North Popo Agie River.)

There is no camping within a quarter-mile of the lake. We found abundant campsites on the southeast side of the lake. The view of the Cirque of Towers, as it surrounds the lake, is spectacular. Unfortunately, the afternoon we arrived, the sky had grown overcast, and it looked like it might rain that night. I took a few photos, but just mainly enjoyed the view and took a nap on a flat boulder “island” along the lake shore.

View from Texas Pass down to Barren and Texas Lakes

In the morning, we rose early for sunrise, just in case the clouds had parted in the night. And they had. As the first alpenglow hit the peaks, the lake was a mirror. As the sun rose, lighting more of the mountains, a slight breeze came up, but the view was no less amazing.

Later that morning, we packed up and climbed the trail to Jackass Pass – not nearly as bad as Texas Pass, only gaining 550 feet over a mile – the scenery spectacular all the way. We spent a long time at the pass, climbing the small hill west of it, soaking in the view of the nearby War Bonnet Peak to the west, the rest of the Cirque and Lonesome Lake to the north, and Arrowhead Lake (shaped exactly like an arrowhead) to the southwest.

From Jackass Pass, the trail traverses along the mountainside above Arrowhead Lake then drops about 1,000 feet down to Big Sandy Lake, about 2.4 miles from the top of Jackass. While the elevation between Big Sandy Lake and Jackass Pass isn’t too extreme, both Rob and I were glad we were coming down instead of going up. What’s not included in the 1,000 elevation gain is all the little ups and downs. We both thought coming into the Cirque from the north via Texas Pass was the easier option if doing the loop trip (if doing an in-and-out, coming in via Big Sandy and Jackass Pass is probably easier, but you would miss Shadow Lake that way).

Our original plan was to camp at Big Sandy Lake and hike out the next day. Even though the scenery at Big Sandy Lake is great, after the previous day in the Cirque, it didn’t quite match up, and still being relatively early in the day, we decided to hump it all the way out that afternoon and spend our extra day driving through Yellowstone National Park on the way home. The trail from Big Sandy out to the trailhead is about 5.6 miles and relatively flat, losing only about 600 feet. We set a good pace and made it back to the car before dinner time.

All in all, it was a great backpacking trip. I highly recommend doing the loop. Don’t be afraid of the portion of the trail that is unmaintained and unofficial. For the most part, it is easy to follow, and where it is not, the way to go is fairly obvious. This national-park worthy hike will leave you wanting go back – I can’t wait to go back.

Looking toward the south end of the Cirque of Towers from Texas Pass

Lonesome Lake, Pigora Peak, and the Cirque of Towers

War Bonnet Peak and Warrior Peak above Lonesome Lake

Morning shadows fall across the Cirque and Lonesome Lake

Part of the Cirque from the trail up to Jackass Pass, from right to left: Overhanging Tower, Shark’s Nose, Block Tower, Watchtowers, an unnamed peak (or at least one I couldn’t find the name of), and Pylon Peak

It was not all mountain scenery, wildflowers were plentiful

View of the north portion of the Cirque and Lonesome Lake from Jackass Pass; Texas Pass is at the snowfield in the notch directly above Lonesome Lake

View south of Jackass Pass featuring Arrowhead Lake

View of unnamed lake and Schiestler Peak on the trail between Jackass Pass and Big Sandy Lake

Big Sandy Lake and Big Sandy Mountain


Cirque of Towers Part 1: Shadow Lake

Following the eclipse, my brother and I set off backpacking in the Wind River Range of Wyoming. We did the Cirque of Towers look hike, about 25 miles through some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in the United States. I’ve wanted to go there for several years now after seeing some photographs taken by my buddy, Don Thompson, on a trip he made. After the wildfires in British Columbia canceled our hike in Kootney National Park, we needed to find an alternate destination that didn’t require a lengthy or complicated permit process. The Wind River Range was the answer. No permits needed, other than signing in at the trailhead. In preparation for the trip, I found this blog post, which provides a nice guide to the hike.

Divide Lake

After the eclipse, we made a sort-of-quick stop in Pinedale to borrow bear canisters from the Forest Service ranger station. BTW, apparently they accept reservations for the bear canisters, which we did not have. Luckily, several had just come in and they cleaned them out and let us have them. We started our trip on a Monday, if you plan on starting closer to a weekend, you may want to reserve (or bring your own). Bear canisters are highly recommended. Reportedly, the rangers will give out tickets to anyone who does not practice bear-safe food handling. Further, according to a sign at the trailhead, the bears in the area have learned to cut ropes to get hanging bags of food down. Play it safe, take a bear-proof container.

While picking up the bear canisters was quick, getting a “quick bite” before running off into the wilderness was not. We went to the Wind River Brewing pub and the place was packed, even though it was well past lunch time (about 3 pm). We found the last two seats available at the bar and waited. It took about 15 minutes to get a beer and an hour more to get our meal.

It was well after 4 pm by the time we left town. And while Pinedale is the closest town to the trailhead, that is not to say the trailhead is close to town. The hike starts at the Big Sandy Trailhead, a mere 54 miles (half over dirt roads) from Pinedale. Despite its remoteness and the fact it was a Monday evening, there must have been a hundred cars at the trailhead, many lining the road for a half mile before the parking lot. Tanya says I have parking karma, so I drove right up to the trailhead itself and parked in the open spot there.  We loaded our bear cans and repacked our backpacks to make them fit, and off we went, hitting the trail at the early time of 6:30 pm, entering the Bridger Wilderness shortly thereafter.

Dads Lake

Based on the blog cited above, we decided to hike the loop in a clockwise direction (I highly recommend hiking this direction due to the elevation gain), first traversing a section of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDT). Needless to say, we didn’t go that far that first day. We hiked several miles until near sunset, aiming to camp at Divide Lake, which is about 1/4 mile off the trail. We weren’t the only ones camping there. A couple who had left the trailhead perhaps 15 minutes before us was there, and later, perhaps 10:30 pm of or so, we saw headlamps from another group wander into the meadow below the lake and set up camp. It was a pretty spot, though we couldn’t camp directly near the lake because of marshy conditions (besides, camping within 200 feet of lakes is prohibited). We made dinner in the dark and slowly ate, amazed by the brightness of the stars and Milky Way.

The following morning we hiked back to the trail and continued north, passing lake after lake – Mirror Lake, Dads Lake, Marms Lake, as well as several smaller unnamed ponds. Just past Marms Lake, we left the CDT and headed off on the Hailey Pass Trail for a mile or so before turning east on the Shadow Lake Trail. The scenery was grand along the trails, which run mostly through meadows and give views of granitic mountains to the north and east. Along the trail we met several other groups of hikers going our same way. This is not a trip to take if you don’t want to see anyone else for days. While the route was not lonely, but neither was it overwhelmed with people.

Marms Lake

We reached Shadow Lake late in afternoon. The maintained trail ends at Shadow Lake, but an unofficial trail continues on above the to more lakes and on to Texas Pass. Earlier in the day we talked with several knowledgeable hikers who suggested the camping was better at Billy’s Lake, the next lake (about half a mile) past Shadow, and upon reaching Shadow Lake, we considered continuing. But being tired (living at sea level and hiking at over 9,000 feet in elevation will do that to a person), we decided to camp at Shadow. Besides the view of the lake, and the backside of the Cirque of Towers above it, was spectacular. With a bit of scouting and boulder hopping, we crossed over the outlet creek and camped on the west side of the lake. We had this side of the lake to ourselves (three or four other groups were camping on the east side). For photography purposes, I suggest camping where we did, as I think the view of the lake and mountains is better from the northwest shore of the lake.

I shot a ton of images that evening, as the sun lit the mountains above the lake with orange alpenglow – though fish jumping played havoc with the mirror-like reflections in the water. And when the alpenglow faded, I walked a couple hundred feet on the other side of our camp, where Washakie Creek (the outlet creek from Shadow Lake) widens into a large pond studded with granite boulders and shot some more. I finished the day with some Milky Way shots as it rose over the mountain west of the lake.

At sunrise, I was at it again, though the way geography is situated, sunrise photography is not nearly as good as sunset shots. Later that morning, we packed up and started up the trail to Texas Pass to hike into the Cirque of Towers itself. More on that in my next post.

Hailey Pass Trail north of Marms Lake

Heading toward the Cirque on the Shadow Lake Trail

Shadow Lake at the outlet creek

Shadow Lake near sunset

Another near sunset shot of Shadow Lake

Sunset over the pond portion of Washakie Creek

Milky Way over Shadow Lake

Morning light on the pond area of Washakie Creek

Morning light reflections on the shoreline of Shadow Lake

 

 

 

 


Third Time’s a Charm

As I mentioned in my last post, Tanya and I recently spent several days camping east of Chinook Pass, during which I drove up to the pass for sunrise each morning. Chinook Pass is a great sunrise location, as it sits almost directly east of Mount Rainier and the view of the mountain is fantastic there with two alpine lakes – Tipsoo and Upper Tipsoo. Because of how the two lakes are situated, it is easy to get a reflection of Mount Rainier in upper Tipsoo Lake right from the shoreline, so it is the preferred lake for most photographers who know about it (Upper Tipsoo is not visible from the road, so unless you have prior knowledge or a map, you may not know it is there).

This is a great sunrise location because the rising sun imparts a beautiful alpenglow  on the mountain when it is visible. That’s the tricky part, when it is visible. I tried three consecutive mornings for the shot. The first morning was cloudy; the second morning was foggy at the pass (but clear elsewhere). It wasn’t until the third morning (the day we packed up camp), I was able to capture the sunrise in all its glory.

Another feature of Mount Rainier favored by photographers is that the mountain often forms lenticular clouds. Such clouds can dramatically add to a sunrise (or sunset) shot, particularly if there are no other clouds around to break up a totally blue sky. Such was the case that third morning. In fact, there were two separate lenitcular clouds over Rainier that morning, delighting myself and the, perhaps, 10 or 12 other photographers there.

As you can attest by the photo above and below, I think it was worth getting up a 5 am to drive to the pass by sunrise at 5:30 am to capture this scene.

Sunset shots at Chinook Pass are a more iffy proposition. Because the mountain is west of the pass, you are not guaranteed a good showing of alpenglow. Instead, much depends on the clouds and how they light up. I did try for one sunset shot at Chinook Pass on the trip; the result is below. This shot was taken from above Tipsoo Lake, right next to the highway. Though the sunset was lackluster, luckily there was a lenticular cloud present that gave a bit of color. I captured this image the evening before the sunrise shots above.


Marymere

I’ve lived in Washington a long time and driven by Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park seemingly countless times (okay, perhaps several dozen), but I’ve never taken the short trail to Marymere Falls. Last week I cured this default. I left Tacoma before sunrise (and boy is that early this time of year), hoping to catch the rising sun on the Olympics from the shores of Hood Canal, but the sky was overcast and the sun rose without apparent effect. But overcast skies are great for waterfall photography, so I drove on and reached the Marymere Falls trailhead, reaching the parking lot a little after 7 a.m.

I was the first  one there, which is always a plus when photographing popular spots. And this hike is popular, and deservingly so. It travels through moss-covered old growth forest along a pretty creek to a beautiful waterfall. It is short, only 1.5 miles roundtrip, and is flat until the end, where it climbs several hundred feet to the falls.

Though it is an out-and-back trail, end of the trail near the falls has a small loop. As the trail nears the falls, it crosses over Barnes Creek (on a relatively new steel bridge) and then quickly over Falls Creek (on a classic one-person-wide wooden log bridge. From there, the trail climbs uphill and forms a small loop, leading to two viewpoints of the falls, one directly at the base, and one higher up nearly level with the top of the falls. I found the views at the lower level, and part way up from there, to be better for photography than at the upper viewpoint.

I mostly had the falls to myself, only interrupted by two sets of people who came quickly through, and I spent about 20 to 30 minutes photographing (leaving shortly before about a dozen people arrived). I spent another 20 to 30 minutes photographing in the forest on the way out. All in all, it was worth the stop, and I wondered why it took me so long to give it a try.

Detail shot of Marymere Falls.

Barnes Creek along the Marymere Falls trail.

Scene in the forest along the trail.

Devils club growing along the trail.

Large old growth tree adjacent to the trail. It’s hard to tell how big this tree is by this photo, but I estimate it is at least 6 to 8 feet in diameter.


Mossy Cave

One quick, last post about my recent trip to Utah. On our last morning there, before driving back up to Salt Lake City and the airport, we took the short hike in Bryce Canyon National Park to Mossy Cave. This short trail travels along a stream up to a mossy grotto that weeps groundwater. It is a pleasant and beautiful little hike that let you experience Bryce Canyon without the huge crowds or paying an entry fee. The grotto (ie the “cave”) is interesting from a geologic perspective, but difficult (at least for me) to photograph. More photogenic are scenes along the stream, looking up into the surrounding hoodoos and formations, and a small waterfall on the stream.

The trail  starts from a small parking area along Highway 12 between the town of Tropic and the turnoff to the main entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park. The day before we took the Mossy Cave hike, we took a hike in the main part of the park. Needless to say, we were not lonely on the trail. There may have been one 30 second span where we did not see any other hikers, but most time, it was not different in the number of people than walking down the sidewalk in downtown Seattle. The Mossy Cave trail was different, only a few other people, well at least until near the end of our hike when a tour bus pulled up and spit out a crowd.

If you have an extra hour when visiting Bryce Canyon, I highly recommend the Mossy Cave hike.

The stream along the Mossy Cave Trail

Small windows in the formations above the trail.

The small waterfall near the end of the Mossy Creek Trail

I couldn’t post about Bryce Canyon without at least one shot of the “main event.” This was taken shortly before sunrise from near Inspiration Point. Sunrise at Bryce Canyon National Park is an experienced not to be missed. Just do not expect to be the only one there. I shared this view with hundreds of other people.


Hiking in the GSENM

On our recent trip to Utah, Tanya and I (with our friends Jim and Kris) spent two days in the Escalante area in the heart of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. I first took Tanya here about 15 years ago, when the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument was still relatively new and unknown to many. Not so much today, though it still gets a fraction of the visitors the Utah national parks get. We did three and a half hikes in the national monument, and while we weren’t the only people on the hikes, they were not like the hike we took in Bryce Canyon National Park a few days later where there were many hundreds of people on the trail. On each of the hikes we took in GSENM, there were long periods of time were we didn’t see other people. And on the half hike (can’t call it a full hike, it was only 1/2 mile round trip) we were the only ones there.

Tanya in Peek-a-Boo under a natural bridge in the slot canyon.

Still, it isn’t like it was 15 years ago. One hike we took, both last month and 15 years ago, was to Peek-a-Boo and Spooky slot canyons. The first time we did this hike, I think Tanya and I saw one other group of people and there were maybe two other cars at the trailhead. Last month, there were probably 20 cars at the trailhead, and other 20 that were parked down the road from the trailhead (that couldn’t make it all the way in due to not having high enough clearance). We saw plenty of people, from 4-year old kids to 70-year old grandmothers.  However, there were few enough people that I didn’t have a problem setting up and using my tripod while in the slots. This trip, we also hiked down to Brimstone slot canyon (we didn’t do this 15 years ago); on that part of the hike, we only saw two other groups of people – so it is fairly easy to still find solitude in the GSENM.

The Peek-a-Boo/Spooky hike is, perhaps, the most popular hike in the GSENM, and rightly so. There are few other areas with such easy access to pretty and non-technical slot canyons. The two slots, as well as Brimstone, are tributaries to the Dry Fork of the Coyote, which itself has some nice narrows. The trailhead is on the rim of the Dry Fork canyon, and the trail down to the canyon bottom is a mile or less. Peek-a-Boo is almost directly across the canyon bottom from where the trail from the carpark ends.  The two canyons make a nice loop, climbing up Peek-a-Boo and back down Spooky. Peek-a-Boo requires a short climb to get into, but from there on it is fairly easy to navigate, with only one spot where you need to crawl a short distance. Spooky is much narrower in many spots, and there is one set of large boulder-sized chockstones that requires climbing down through a hole in the boulders, back up canyon under a boulder, down through a very skinny hole, and then down canyon again under the remaining boulders. Down canyon from that spot there are no more obstacles, just plenty of super-tight sections where both your chest and back rub against the walls at the same time. Peek-a-Boo is not as deep as Spooky, and when we were there at mid-day, direct sunlight into the slot made photography difficult due to contrast issues. Spooky, being deeper and narrower, made for better photography, but it was much darker and a tripod was definitely needed.

Brimstone Canyon is about an hour’s walk down the Dry Fork from Spooky. This side canyon starts large and narrows and narrows until was impossible, for me anyways, to go further. It is very deep and extremely dark, but well worth the extra hike.

The day prior to our slot canyon adventure we hike to Upper Calf Creek Falls. Though the turnoff from the highway is unmarked, we still found 10+ cars at the trailhead. This relatively short trail goes downhill over slickrock and sand into the Calf Creek canyon to a lovely small waterfall. We chose this hike over the more popular Lower Calf Creek Falls because Tanya and I had not hiked it before. Lower Calf Creek Falls is larger and more spectacular, but you will find the trail more crowded as well. After our hike to Upper Calf Creek Falls, we stopped at the Calf Creek Campground – which is also the starting point of the trail to Lower Calf Creek Falls – for lunch and the parking lot was overflowing with cars of hikers to the lower falls.

Jim checking out Upper Calf Creek Falls

Our third hike was down and back up through the Willis Creek Narrows (the featured photo above is from there). There are several points where Willis Creek canyon slots up. At it narrowest, the slot is perhaps only three feet wide, so it is not quite the claustrophobic adventure of Peek-a-Boo, Spooky, and Brimstone. But it has a small stream running through it, and we found it a easy, beautiful, and very relaxing hike. It is possible to do the hike without walking in the creek, at least at the water level present when we went, but I hiked in my sandals and just walked in the water.

The Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument offers many other hikes and slot canyons to explore. I’ve been to the area a half a dozen times, and each time I come away wanting to go back soon. If you haven’t been to this area of Utah, I highly recommend it. This national monument is on the list being examined by the Trump administration for possible elimination; it would be a crime if the protection the area is afforded by its national monument status is taken away.

Looking up through some natural bridges in Peek-a-Boo

Where there is not direct sunlight, there is some good photography in Peek-a-Boo

There is less direct sun in Spooking, making shots like this and the next two easier as long as you have a tripod!

More of the Spooky slot

One last shot of Spooky

While Spooky is dark, Brimstone, being deep and narrow with lots of desert varnish, is almost black – this a 30-second exposure in mid day

Here’s another shot in Brimstone

Along the slickrock portion of the Upper Calf Creek Falls trail – loved these basalt boulders laying on the slickrock

More boulders, with stormy skies approaching – luckily not slot canyons for us that day!

Yucca in bloom along the Upper Calf Creek Falls trail

A portion of the Hundred Hands pictograph panel. There are also several nice petroglyphs near this site that unfortunately have been vandalized. The site is about 1/4 mile from the highway crosses the Escalante River.

The prickly pear cactus was blooming on all the trails! This near the Hundred Hands panel.

Kris hiking in the Willis Creek Narrows.

Scene in the Willis Creek Narrows

More of the Willis Creek Narrows

This section is near the end of the narrows. My guide book suggested the first part of the Willis Creek Narrows were the best, but I liked this section more.

 


Cathedral Valley

In the half a dozen trips I’ve previously made to Capital Reef National Park, I was enthralled by descriptions of Cathedral Valley and knew I had to go there. However, until last month, I had never made it. Cathedral Valley is in the northern portion of the park. Park. There is a loop road through the valley, traversing both Park and BLM land. A high clearance vehicle is a must, 4-wheel drive is optional, but nice to have. The road is impassable if wet. In my previous trips to the park, I either had a car without the required clearance, or the weather didn’t cooperate. During my trip last month, I was determined to make it into the valley.

At first, it seemed like fate would prevent me from seeing Cathedral Valley once again, thanks our rental-car company. Tanya and I flew into Salt Lake and met up with our friends, Jim and Kris, who had flown in earlier that day. I had reserved a Jeep Grand Cherokee with Fox Rent-a-Car, picking that vehicle specifically for its high ground clearance. We got the Fox counter about half an hour after the plane landed, and there were two parties in line ahead of me. They gave the person two ahead of me a Grand Cherokee. When I got up to the agent, they said they didn’t have any Grand Cherokee’s left (having just given the last one away). Instead, they offered a Dodge Journey, which they claim was the same class of car (it is not, the Journey is a crossover, not an SUV). I was not happy. Tanya went through their parking lot looking at which cars had the highest ground clearance. We ended up with a Jeep Patriot, which had more ground clearance than the Journey, but not as much as a Grand Cherokee, nor is it as large. With 4 people and luggage, it was a bit of tight fit. But luckily, as I found out, the Patriot worked well on the Cathedral Valley road (later in the trip, but not in Cathedral Valley, we could have used the extra ground clearance, as we bottomed out a couple times).

Abandoned drilling rig in Blue Flats, the Henry Mountains in the background.

After securing the car, we drove down to Teasdale, Utah, where we had an Airbnb booked for that night. Teasdale is immediately west of the town of Torrey and about 12 miles from Capital Reef. The next morning the sun was bright and the forecast was for clear skies and no rain – perfect for a Cathedral Valley drive. We drove into the park and stopped at the visitor center. It was a zoo, loaded with tourists from across the globe. But we would leave 99% of them behind by driving to Cathedral Valley. We purchased the road guide ($2.95 and well worth it) and set off. The road guide describes 41 historic, geologic, and/or scenic stops along the 96 mile (from the visitor center back to the visitor center) trip. The Cathedral Valley loop road itself starts at mile 11.7, and the first “stop” is the Fremont River ford at mile 12.2. The river was running at about 12 inches depth that day (according to the ranger at the visitor center), and we had little difficulty driving across the river even though I missed the shallowest part.

From there the road traverses up some hills into a broad valley called Blue Flats. In the middle of the valley is an old, abandoned well drilling rig (next to the last well it apparently drilled; the artesian well providing a flow of several gallons per minute). Jim and I found this most fascinating, as we are both groundwater geologists and often work with drill rigs in our day jobs. From there the road climbs out of the valley through the Bentonite Hills. Bentonite is a form of clay, and here for sure, the road would be impossibly slick to drive if wet. Bentonite also forms lovely rounded, colorful hills and badlands, and it was a delight to the eye to drive through this part of the road.

Here is the road as it climbs through the Bentonite Hills.

From there, the road continues climbing and eventually enters the national park, where there are several viewpoints of the lower South Desert, a scenic valley to the southwest of the road. The road continues to an overlook of upper Cathedral Valley, with a great view of a series of monoliths in the valley below. The monoliths are reminiscent, and about the same size as, cathedrals – thus, I believe, the name of the valley. Near this viewpoint is a campground with six primitive sites.

The road then drops down into Cathedral Valley proper. There are a couple trails in this part of the valley, a short trail to a historic cabin and a 1.1-mile trail to provides up close views of the monoliths. Due to the time of day, and a pending dinner reservation at Cafe Diablo (great restaurant) in Torrey, we declined to take the trails and kept going. Here the loop road turns back to the east as it traverses the valley floor, magnificent valley walls all around. After passing some volcanic dikes – black vertical rocks that have cut through the older sedimentary rocks of the valley – there is a short side road to the Gypsum Sinkhole – an unusual, large, deep hole in the ground at the base of cliff where water dissolved away a gypsum dome.

The road leaves the national park, but another short side road takes you back in. This road takes you to Glass Mountain and the Temples of the Sun and Moon. Glass Mountain isn’t really a mountain, but a large mound of selenite crystals. Selenite is a form of gypsum, and the mound is similar to what was formerly at the Gypsum Sinkhole prior to the sinkhole forming. Nearby are the Temples of the Sun and Moon, two large and impressive monoliths in the middle of the valley floor. The road takes you to base of each. We saw several people camping just outside the park boundary on this road – a perfect spot to camp if you want to capture sunrise light on the two Temples. Not such a great spot if you want shade.

The Temple of the Sun and, in the distance, the Temple of the Moon

The main road continues through BLM land, offering more primitive camping spots with great scenery, including the dramatic Cainville Mesas. At mile 77.3, the road returns to the highway, about 18 miles east of the visitor center.

Cathedral Valley is a landscape photographer’s (and geologist’s) heaven. Photographically, the best way to capture it would be to camp along the loop, either in the small campground in upper Cathedral Valley or off the road in the BLM section, allowing you to be in the area during the golden hours. Even if you cannot camp along the loop, the road is well worth traveling (provided you have a high clearance vehicle and there is no rain in the forecast). Laurent Martries, in his book Photographing the Southwest, Volume 1 – a Guide to the Natural Landmarks of Southern Utah, proclaims Cathedral Valley as “one of the most remarkable spots on the planet.” I have to agree.

Jim and Kris checking out the view between the river ford and the Blue Flats

View into the South Desert valley

View from the Upper Cathedral Valley overlook

Volcanic dike rocks tower above the Baker Ranch Road, which intersects the loop road in Cathedral Valley

Tanya at the Gypsum Sinkhole. The hole is about 50 feet across and 200 feet deep. We spotted a crashed drone in the bottom of it.

Part of the southern valley wall of Cathedral Valley near the sinkhole

More bentonite hills, as the loop road heads eastward on our way back out to the highway

Part of the Cainville Mesas near were the road rejoins the highway

 


Nighttime Etiquette

I recently returned from our quick trip to Utah. While there, I spent several hours in the middle of the night doing some Milky Way shots at Devils Garden in Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument (a fantastic place that I love and that my so-called President is trying to take away). I arrived at the Devils Garden parking lot at about 1:30 am on a weekday morning. I obviously wasn’t the only one with the idea of shooting there that night, as the parking lot had five other cars parked (by comparison, I took Tanya and our friends Jim and Kris back there later in the morning – around 10 am – and there were only two other cars there).

Devils Garden is a fairly small area filled with wonderful hoodoos and several arches. And I was a bit surprised by the number of photographers there there, but figured if everyone was polite with their lights, we could all get along. I headed toward one particular set of four hoodoos shaped like heads from Easter Island that I thought would look great with the Milky Way and some light painting. However, there was a group of people already working there. So instead, I went to Metate Arch and shot the image above. I did my light painting with a LED headlamp covered with an orange gel. I was pretty happy with the result, and hoped the other folks had moved on to another spot so I could capture the “Easter Island” hoodoos. But no, they were still there.

Light pollution caused by other photographers. Red light in lower center and light painting and flashlight spot in lower left.

I talked briefly with another photographer, asking him if my light painting had hindered him, but he said no. He was not with the group by the Easter Island hoodoos also wished they would move. He had been photographing some hoodoos near Metate Arch, and we traded places. I had some trouble shooting this spot, the group down by the Easter Island hoodoos was in the corner of my composition and they rarely turned off their lights. Further the photographer now at Metate Arch was occasionally using his light, and that was partly in my shot as well. Between the two, I took five shots, none without some light from the other photographers – especially the group by the Easter Island hoodoos – whom it seemed when they finished with light painted, turned on red lights and keep them on until they started light painting again (for those who don’t know, when out doing night photography, using a red light helps keep your night vision). Rarely did they have both their normal and red lights off. The image shown here is the best of the lot I took – there is some red light from the photographer by Metate Arch (lower center) and the light on the Easter Island hoodoos (down in the lower left corner) isn’t too bad. I was able to use Photoshop to fix the image (see below), getting totally rid of the red light in the center, removing the light spot in the lower left, and dimming the rest of the light in the lower left (I thought it looked better with a little light there rather than making it totally dark). I am happy with the result, but by now I was starting to get a bit mad at the rudeness of the group down by the Easter Island hoodoos, who almost always had one light or another on.

I ended up photographing three other spots, two of which are shown below, in total spending about two hours at Devils Garden. I never did make it to the Easter Island hoodoos as the light-happy group of photographers there never left the spot. And frankly, even now, days later, I’m still a bit peeved at that selfish and rude group.

Aside: rant directed at that group of photographers: seriously people, would you sit in the front row of a movie theater and talk on your cell phone for the entire movie? Do you enjoy shining your flashlight in other people’s eyes at night? Do you never turn off you high beams when other cars approach on the highway? And it’s not just the lights. It’s hogging the spot. It’s one thing to arrive early and setup at a preferred spot for sunrise – sunrise only last 10 or 15 minutes. But honestly, 2 hours without moving at a place that has dozens of potential shots? Have you no creativity? Obviously not! How many shots of the same set of hoodoos do you need? I suppose you never learned to share your toys when you were a kid either.

With the capabilities of today’s digital cameras, night photography is continually growing in popularity, and you will often find other photographers out with you at the same time as many sites, such as Devils Garden. Such situations beg for politeness and etiquette. If you find yourself out with other photographers at night, please be respectful and use your light sparingly. In places such as Devils Garden, where there are multiple subjects, try not to hog one spot. Nighttime photography is much more difficult than daytime work, it is more difficult to control the camera, more difficult to focus the lens, more difficult to get a composition, and demands long shutter speeds. It is difficult enough that you shouldn’t have to also battle light pollution from other photographers.

Image above with light pollution removed in Photoshop

 


Heading South

Later this month, Tanya and I will be off for a quick trip to Utah with friends. Nahla, unfortunately, gets to stay home with our housesitter. Rather than driving down like we usually do, due to only having a week for the trip, we will fly down to Salt Lake and rent a car. We plan on spending two days at Capital Reef National Park, before heading down to Escalante for two days, and finishing up with two days at Bryce Canyon National Park. This is a great time to go; it is usually sunny and warm, but not yet hot, with fewer thundershowers (than summer) ruining those slot canyon hikes. In anticipation of the trip, I’m posting a few shots from my past trips to the area. The one above is from the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument. The two below are from Capital Reef and Bryce Canyon. Looking forward to getting more shots like these.


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.