When my children were young, they liked going the Dungeness Spit, though my son liked to call it the “Dungeon of Spit.” Dungeness Spit is the longest natural sand spit in the world. It juts out into the Straits of Juan de Fuca from the Olympic Peninsula near the town of Sequim, Washington. This location, in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains, makes it one of the sunniest places in western Washington (Sequim averages only 16 inches of rain per year while the town of Elwha, about 30 miles to the west, averages 56 inches). The spit is home to the New Dungeness Lighthouse, the oldest lighthouse in Washington State north of the Columbia River.
A week ago, I lead a group of four Tacoma Mountaineer photographers on a photo hike of the Dungeness Spit. Though I have been there many times, I’ve never made it all the way out to the lighthouse (an 11-mile round-trip hike from the parking lot). So that was the goal of this trip. This is the rare hike in Washington where you can see your destination almost the entire length of the hike. The first half mile is through forest. But from there on, the hike is on the beach and the lighthouse if visible – though seemingly so very far away. But keep walking on the beach, and eventually you will get there.
The lighthouse is open to the public; volunteer lighthouse keepers lead tours up the tower and gladly answer questions about the lighthouse operation and history. The volunteers each spend a week at the lighthouse, living in the historic lightkeeper’s house and taking care of the place. Our guide lives in Los Angeles but has come up to Washington for the past six years just to spend a week at the lighthouse.
My friend, Greg Vaughn, who wrote the book on Washington, mentions Dungeness Spit in his book, but says it doesn’t offer much for nature photographers. I usually agree with Greg, but here I beg to differ (at least if you like lighthouses and mountains). On a sunny day, with the Olympics and Mount Baker out, the spit offers great views. Though it does help to have a fairly long lens to help pull in Mount Baker (and the lighthouse if you are not close). On this trip, mainly used my 28 – 300mm zoom.
Dungeness Spit is part of the Dungenss National Wildlife Refuge. There is a $3 entrance fee payable at the trailhead. The trailhead is accessed through the Dungeness Recreation Area, a park run by Clallam County. The refuge is open daily from sunrise to half an hour before sunset (though we didn’t make it back until a little after sunset and no one bothered us about it). Half the spit – the half facing Dungeness Bay – is closed to public access to allow the birds a safe haven. So all the hike is on the Strait of Juan de Fuca side, which has bigger waves and less drift wood. The final half mile of the spit, past the lighthouse, is also closed. For much of its length, the spit is only 100 to 200 feet wide (less at high tide, more at low tide). After the walk through the forest, the hike is all on the beach, which is mostly sandy at low tide. At high tide, much of hike is on cobbles and large gravel instead of sand. The spit is a popular hike, and it can be difficult to not get other hikers in your photographs when looking up or down the beach. However, by getting up off the beach into the drift wood, the drift wood can be used to hide people walking on the beach.
To prominently show the lighthouse in your images, you will have to walk at least several miles. However, my favorite view of the lighthouse is actually from a small viewing platform just above the beach where the trail exits the forest. Here the lighthouse is placed directly in front of Mount Baker, and with a long lens, you can get a good shot of it looking small and isolated, alone and practically in the sea in front of the mountain (see featured photo above).
Besides the views of the mountains and lighthouse, Dungeness Spit offers photographers abstract shots of driftwood, shells, rocks, waves, etc. Being a wildlife refuge, there is also lots of birds. Bald eagles are very common, as are many waterfowl (just remember to stay on your side of the beach). One hiker we met said they had seen coyotes on the spit, and I’ve often seen sea lions and seals just off shore.
As I’ve written before, I work for a company called Robinson Noble, based in Tacoma, Washington. Each year, Robinson Noble produces a calendar for clients featuring photos I’ve taken. We limit the photos to scenes from the Pacific Northwest (where the majority of our business takes place). The calendar is always well received and appreciated. I recently wrote a post for the Robinson Noble blog that highlights the 12 images in the 2014 calendar and provides a back story to each image. Though I’ve shown many of the photos from the new calendar previously on this blog, there are several ones I have not shown. The photo above (of the Dungeness Light House with Mount Baker in the background) for example, is featured on the July page Robinson Noble’s 2014 calendar. If you get a chance, visit my Robinson Noble blog post about the 2014 calendar and tell me what you think.
A week ago last Saturday, Tanya, Carson and I took another hike. This one to Ebey’s Landing up on Whidbey Island. This hike covers a bit less than 6 miles roundtrip and involves walking across a classic, island prairie, along the tallest coastal bluff in Washington State, and along a driftwood-strewn Puget Sound beach.
Though this is a great hike anytime of the year, it is especially good in the winter when snow prevents hiking in the mountains. It is also in the Olympic Mountain’s rain shadow, so it rains less there than in Seattle (the average annual precipitation is about 24 inches compared to 34 inches in Seattle).
Almost every step of this hike has a great view of the Olympics (though they were mostly cloud covered on our trip). There is also an awesome view of Mount Baker, and even a view of Mount Rainier far to the south. The hike even has a bit of history; the hike being inside Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve. The area was first settled in the 1850s, and a few of the original homestead buildings are still standing today.
And after the hike, don’t forget to drop into the nearby, historic town of Coupeville for some of the famous Penn Cove mussels. We stopped at Toby’s Tavern for a quick bite and a cold beer. The tavern sits on the water of Penn Cove and offers affordable seafood and other bar foods (though if stuffed animal heads make you nervous, you might want to try someplace else).
PS – Kickstarter update: my project has been online a little over a week and has already been fully funded. However, the project will still be active on Kickstarter another few weeks. You still have a chance to pledge. For a $5 pledge, you will receive a copy of the ebook – that’s a discount on what the ebook will cost after it’s published. Check out my Seattle ebook project here.
I went with a friend and my trusty dog Carson (just over two weeks ago) to Heather Meadows at the end of the Mount Baker Highway (in a earlier post, I gave a Quick Shot from the trip). The fall colors were fantastic, as I hope these images show. Want to go for the colors? You may be too late. The fall color season was short at Heather Meadows this year (though it’s probably short most years). A trail report on the Washington Trails Association websitedidn’t mention fall colors on September 30th, nor did the accompanying photos show much. And as of October 22nd, according to the US Forest Service website, all the Heather Meadows trails are now snow-covered, the lakes have started freezing over, and the road is gated at the ski area’s upper parking lot – a good distance below Artist Point were about half of these photos were taken. Winter has come to Heather Meadows. Fall lasted about 3 weeks.
Though on the Mount Baker Highway, the real star of the Heather Meadows area is Mount Shuksan. The view of Mt. Shuksan from Picture Lake (the featured image above) is one of the most photographed scenes in Washington State. Unfortunately, when we were there, there was a breeze, ruining the reflection in Picture Lake, but it still made a great scene.
Besides Picture Lake, we drove up to the end of the highway at Artist Point and did the short hike along Artist Ridge. Again, Shuksan is the star here – though the view of Mount Baker is good too. We were there in the afternoon (and later, at sunset), and the light was much better on Shuksan than Baker. I venture that Baker looks better in morning light (but with a 5+ hour drive from Tacoma, I wasn’t about to get there early).
Unlike the northeastern United States, the Northwest is not know for its autumn colors. This is not surprising, considering the primary tree cover in the Pacific Northwest is composed of firs, pines, and other evergreens. But, there are some spots where fall color can be found. The Heather Meadows area is one – you just have to be quick to see it.
At last the rain hit today, ending perhaps the longest dry spell in western Washington history. Luckily, I spent the last day of the dry weather (yesterday) up at Mount Baker in the Heather Meadows area. The fall colors were fantastic. Tomorrow, in the morning, I’m heading off to eastern Washington for the weekend to go to a football game. I wanted to leave you with a blog post before I go, so here’s a quick shot I took yesterday. This is Mount Baker, as seen from Artist Point. More from my trip up to Heather Meadows later.