Saturday, October 13, 2018

Mount Rainier NP in Fall

Mount Rainier National Park has always been a favorite fall color destination for me, offering a smorgasbord of reds, yellows and oranges any given year.  But this year there were some concerns about how these colors might unfold due to the hot, dry summer.  Typically such conditions stress the plants and do not result in the best autumn show.

Well, all worries went out the window around the last week of September when the colors  began to pop!

The most popular destination for fall colors in the park is Paradise Park above the Paradise Visitor Center.  Here the intense colors start at the parking lot and continue up several hundred feet through the meadows.  Hikers can walk the paved trails to Edith Creek, Nisqually Vista or Alta Vista - or all the above!

The wanderings can be endless and slow going during peak season as around every corner a different array of color combinations present themselves.

As you wander, keep your eyes open for wildlife. Chipmunks, marmots and pikas are numerous and will typically announce your presence. Deer are a common sight as well. Also, it is not uncommon to see black bear in the bushes feasting on the huckleberries as they try to fatten up for their winter slumber (always keep a safe distance away).

There are other nearby places for the casual visitor to enjoy fall colors as well, and with less crowds.  The Lakes Trail provides a beautiful hike through red foliage while visiting several small tarns.  Most of the colors are lower down near Reflection Lake, not on Mazama Ridge.

The trail to Bench Lake is another excellent area to enjoy the colors and views of the mountain.  Colors are reached just a short distance from the trailhead in wide open meadows.

Further away, Tipsoo Lake is also a splendid area to enjoy roadside fall colors.  Short hikes in the area offer further explorations.

Fall is probably my favorite season to be in the outdoors.  While the days can be warm, the nights can be crisp (as can early mornings and late evenings).  Be sure to have warm clothes with you!

All the images accompanying this story were taken this year - about 2 weeks prior to this writing, in fact.  To see more of these images, as well as images of the other areas I have mentioned, visit my Mount Rainier Gallery.

As always, thanks for looking!  Hope to see you on the trail!

Monday, July 30, 2018

My Little Hiker

A young hiker on the Kautz Creek Trail, Mount
Rainier National Park.
Backpacking with your kids can be so rewarding, especially if they are truly enjoying the experience.  This image of my son was taken on his second backpack, a trip up to Indian Henry's Hunting Ground in Mount Rainier National Park.

We approached Indian Henry's via the Kautz Creek Trail, which admittedly was much longer than I remembered (I've always snuck in via the Tahoma Creek route).  It was a tiresome day for him, but he never got down - what a trooper!

Camp at Devil's Dream was a welcome reward for him, and allowed him to rest up for our evening adventure - a photography excursion back up to Indian Henry's.  Oh, did I say photography excursion?  Well, maybe for one of us.  But for the other it was learning that frogs exist in those tarns and could be fun to try and catch!  He was never actually successful, but that didn't matter.

My son is 12 now, and has outgrown these hiking boots many times over.  But the memories of the earlier years still put a smile on my face.

This image was recently licensed to appear as a full page layout in a book being published in Spain.  Fun to be able to share the memory with so many others!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Valley of the Gods

Tucked away in the far southeast corner of Utah is the very scenic and remote Valley of the Gods.  This scenic gem is very similar to nearby Monument Valley, but on a smaller scale and without all the strict tribal regulations and commercialism.  It offers isolated buttes, towering pinnacles and wide open spaces for wandering and exploring.

Located off Highways 163 and 261, the nearest town is Mexican Hat, population 31 (as of 2010), offering a 7/11 gas station as its only service.

Valley of the Gods was formerly part of Bears Ears National Monument, but lost that status in 2017 with the changing of the monument's boundaries.  It now resides on BLM land.  There are no official trails or campgrounds, but both hiking and private camping are very much available.

A 17-mile dirt and gravel road (FR 242) winds through the valley, stemming between Highways 163 and 261.  It's a relatively well-groomed road, but does have some bumpy and steep sections.  In dry conditions the road is easily travelled by regular vehicles.  But after heavy rains, a 4x4 might be necessary.

Valley of the Gods, Utah.
The valley is home to such landmarks as Lady in the Bathtub (Balanced Rock), Rudolph and Santa Claus, Castle Butte, Battleship Rock, Setting Hen Butte, Rooster Butte, Seven Sailors and more.  It doesn't take much imagination to see the resemblance of each formation to their name.  Conveniently, FR 242 winds amongst them and offers great access to up-close viewing points.

The red sandstone rock in the valley is extremely photogenic and turns a brilliant red at sunset.  Mornings can be quite nice as well.

Battleship Butte in Valley of the Gods, Utah.
The valley can be entered at two locations.  If driving from the east on Highway 163, the entrance is an easily missed turnout to the right with a small "Valley of the Gods" forest service sign.

If arriving from the north via Highway 261 at the base of the spectacular Moki Dugway, the entrance is much more obvious with a large pull-out, bulletin board and entrance sign, and a bed and breakfast shortly up the road.

Valley of the Gods, Utah.
If arriving in the morning, I would recommend starting at the east entrance.  In the afternoon, the west entrance would be the better choice.  This puts the sun to your back rather than looking straight into it.

There are numerous pullouts along the road for extended viewing and photography opportunities, as well as camping.  Surprisingly, you will find mostly solitude along this road.  This valley offers a much more peaceful setting than its more famous neighbor 30 miles to the south - Monument Valley.

Valley of the Gods, Utah.
Photo Advise:  You can probably leave the wide-angle lens at home for this one.  Much more useful will be your standard and telephoto lenses.

While the entire stretch of road is quite scenic, I found the northern section of the valley to be my favorite.  With campsite pullouts all along the road, it is easy to scout out desirable photography locations and then find a place to camp very near by.

This would likely be a prime destination for night photography as well.  Unfortunately, I had cloudy skies at night during my short visit - another reason for a return trip!

Keep in mind that you must be totally self-sufficient photography wise when visiting this area.  If you forget to bring something, it is a long drive to find photography supplies.

Finally, this can be a dusty area and you will want to protect your camera gear accordingly.

Rooster & Setting Hen Buttes in Valley of the Gods, Utah.
When you are ready for a change of pace, there are plenty of other options available nearby.  For starters, I highly recommend turning right on Highway 261 at the west entrance and driving up the Moki Dugeway.  This highway switchbacks up the cliff face 1,100' to the top of Cedar Mesa!  It's a slow traveling gravel road, with 3 miles of hairpin turns.  From the top you have a spectacular birds-eye view of Valley of the Gods and Monument Valley further off in the distance.  There's not much for photography here, but the views are must see!

Monument Valley is about 30 miles to the south with incredible monoliths that vastly outshine those of Valley of the Gods.  Unfortunately, with it come large crowds, strict regulations, and commercialism around every bend with roadside trinket stands, commercial photo offerings, etc.  While the scenery was spectacular, I found it a hard pill to swallow after enjoying the serenity of Valley of the Gods.  I would recommend visiting here first if you choose to do so.

The San Juan River meanders through Goosenecks State Park, Utah.
The San Juan River meanders through Goosenecks State Park.
Only a couple miles down the road from Valley of the God's west entrance is Goosenecks State Park.  Here the San Juan River meanders for over 7 miles, while only traveling less than 2 miles!  Designated campsites are available along the rim, with excellent views of this triple gooseneck.  No matter what size wide-angle lens you have, it is not possible to get them all in a single shot, unless using aerial means.

The San Juan River meanders through Goosenecks State Park, Utah.
Panorama of the San Juan River from Goosenecks State Park.

You can see more of my images from Utah and the southwest in my Southwest Gallery.  As always, thanks for looking! 

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Newly Updated Southwest Gallery!

Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park
 I have FINALLY finished updating my Southwest Gallery on my website.  I'm proud to say it is finally up-to-date, and includes images from all my visits to national parks, state parks, national monuments and recreation areas.

I've enjoyed several trips to the southwest over the years, yet I just can't get enough of the area.  While I have visited most of southern Utah and some of Arizona, I still have so much more to see (and will be very soon).

Here are some of my favorites.

Soda Springs Basin, Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park near Moab, UT is a fantastic park to visit, and much less crowded than its neighbor to the north, Arches National Park.  It is comprised of three districts - Island in the Sky, The Needles and The Maze. 

Island in the Sky is by far the most popular and accessible.  It provides access to Mesa Arch (pictured above), Grandview Point, White Rim Overlook, Green River Overlook, Murphy Point and more.  These are all accessible by car or short walks.

Don't forget to visit Dead Horse State Park while in the area.  It is reached via a spur road just before the Island in the Sky entrance, and offers amazing views that will rival anything in Canyonlands!

Gooseneck, Dead Horse State Park.
The Needles District can be accessed by car, but its best offerings are from the trail, including a hike into Chesler Park.

The Maze is 4X4 or mountain bike country and is visited much less.

Practically across the highway from the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands is Arches National Park.  There are many things to see along the road into the park, starting with Park Avenue and the Courthouse Towers.  These require a short hike to be fully enjoyed, though it is quite easy (and can be made a one-way hike, all downhill, with a second vehicle).

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park
Next up is Balanced Rock is just off the road a little further, and can be enjoyed from a picnic area.

Delicate Arch, the state icon, can be reached by a 3 mile trail to the fantastic viewpoint.  Be prepared for the crowds, but understand the area is large and accommodating.

Fiery Furnace is a maze of confusing narrow canyons.  Ranger led tours through this labyrinth are recommended, at least for your first visit.

Balanced Rock, Arches National Park
At the end of the road is the trailhead to The Devil's Garden.  This trail accesses Landscape Arch, Navajo Arch, Double O Arch, and many more.

5 miles east of Escalante, UT is Hole in the Rock Road.  This is the main access to Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument.  There are several popular slot canyons to hike along the road, and also sports its own Devil's Garden (not to be confused with Arches).  The first 12 miles of this road are suitable for cars, as long as weather conditions are nice.

Calf Creek Falls, Grand Staircase - Escalante NM

Also near the town of Escalante is a short hike to a wonderful waterfall, Calf Creek Falls.  This waterfall has a beautiful pool at its base, making the hike quite popular on a hot day.  It also sports a fair amount of poison ivy, which I have yet to be successful in avoiding!

Scenic Byway 12  is an incredibly scenic road that connects Escalante and Boulder, UT.  This section passes through some of the most incredible scenery Utah has to offer and always ranks among the top scenic drives in America.  It's not to be missed!

Bryce Canyon National Park is beloved by most all.  It offers easy access to prominent overlooks along its rim,  and excellent hikes down into the canyon that add to the experience for those wanting more.

Sunrise and Sunset Viewpoints are easily accessed from the parking lot.  Sunset Point is probably the best spot to view Bryce Canyon - and is also the most popular.  A little further south is Inspiration Point, which requires about a twenty minute walk.
The Cathedral, Bryce Canyon National Park

To really experience Bryce Canyon, I highly recommend descending down into the amphitheater and wander amongst the hoodoos.  Two popular trails to do so on are the Queen's Garden Trail and the Navajo Trail.  You can connect these two trails for an even better experience, and enjoy the sights of Thor's Hammer, Wall Street and The Queens Garden in one enjoyable stroll!

Fairyland Viewpoint, Yovmipai Point and Rainbow Point are also nice visits, though much different.

The light on the hoodoos changes drastically throughout the day.  This place should be experienced in both early morning and late afternoon to see it at its best.

Oh, and don't forget to visit Red Canyon just outside Bryce NP!

The Temple of Sinawava, Zion National Park
Zion National Park is a much different park than those already discussed.  It basically consists of two areas - the canyon and the plateau.  The plateau is easily viewed by car and incredibly scenic, especially around Checkerboard Mesa.

The canyon is also extremely scenic, but lends itself more to hiking.  It can be zoo at times.  It has a mandatory shuttle service to get you to the end of the canyon, and the Visitor Center's parking area to catch this shuttle is usually full by mid-morning during peak season.  That being said, the shuttle system is the best I have experienced and could be modeled after.

Admittedly, I have a lot left to do at Zion.  The popular attractions on foot are Angel's Landing, The Subway, and The Virgin Narrows.

Sights to see from the road are Towers of the Virgin from the Visitor Center parking lot and The Temple of Sinawava at the end of the road.

Lake Powell, Glen Canyon Recreation Area
The Glen Canyon Recreation Area in Arizona is an incredible place to visit, and offers something for everyone.  Lake Powell is a man-made lake (still the subject of controversy) and an excellent place to base camp.  Nearby are numerous slot canyons and hikes, enough to spend days exploring.  There are scenic road tours as well.  Nearby are such attractions as The Wave (good luck getting permits!), The White Pocket, Cathedral Wash, Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, Glen Canyon Dam and more.

View from Mather Point, Grand Canyon National Park
Finally, there is one of the great wonders of the world - the Grand Canyon.  Grand Canyon National Park is divided into two sections - the South Rim and North Rim.  The South Rim is the popular side with easier access.  It two incorporates a shuttle service all but a couple months of the year, and it works quite well.

Mather Point is probably the most popular vantage in Grand Canyon National Park.  Nearby Yavapai Point is also very nice.  Both serve well for both sunrise and sunsets.

View from Mather Point, Grand Canyon National Park
Hopi Point is an excellent point to experience sunset on the South Rim - possibly the best in fact.  One can hike out to this point, then take the shuttle back after dark.

Yaki Point is best for sunrises and popular with photographers (along with Mather Point).  This requires an early rise and the use of the shuttle service.

The North Rim is at a substantially higher elevation.  The winter months bring road closures, which makes access difficult.

For the more ambitious, there are numerous hikes down into the canyon.  These are best planned well in advance as permits can be challenging to obtain.

There are many more places to visit.  I have only scratched the surface.  Many more images can be viewed in my Southwest Gallery.  You may also view images from many other areas at my website,

I hope my images and the info I have shared spark a desire to visit one or more of any of these areas.  As I write this, I am only a week away from going back to some of these wonderful areas myself!  I hope you enjoy.  Thanks for visiting.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Snowpatch Spire in the Bugaboos

Snowpatch Spire in late fall, Bugaboo Provincial Park, Purcell Range, British Columbia, Canada.
Snowpatch Spire, Bugaboo Provincial Park.
Snowpatch Spire is a prominent peak in the Bugaboos of the Purcell Mountains in eastern British Columbia, Canada.  It's named after the prominent snow patch on its shoulder.  As with many of its neighboring peaks, it's granite rock offers world-class mountaineering routes and attracts climbers from around the world.

Bugaboo Provincial Park is accessed from Highway 95 just north of Radium, BC.  This incredibly scenic park is very remote, offering very little in the way of hiking trail.  However, it offers two popular trails - Cobalt Lake and Conrad Kain Hut/Applebee Dome.

This image was taken on a late fall morning during a recent trip to the Bugaboos, and was currently licensed for worldwide usage in a soon-to-be-released book.

While I am still working on my Purcell Gallery and don't have it up yet, you may find other images to your liking on my website at, including images from the Canadian Rockies, right next door to the Bugaboos and Purcells!

As always, thanks for looking!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Photographing Bandon Beach

Pink skies after sunset behind sea stacks at Bandon Beach along the Oregon coast, USA.
Sea stacks at Bandon Beach at sunset.
A few weeks ago I got to spend some extended time photographing one of my favorite beaches along the Oregon coast - Bandon Beach.  Bandon Beach is the sea stack capital of Oregon, in my opinion.  It offers multiple easy access points, easy beach strolling on hard-packed sand, caves and tunnels to explore at low tide, and fantastic photo opportunities in all seasons.  While there are sea stacks to be found up and down the coast, I find these ones to be the most spectacular and most enjoyable to photograph!

These sea stacks offer dramatic seascapes from Colquille Point to just south of Face Rock State Scenic Wayside - a pretty long stretch of beach to explore.  This stretch of beach attracts all walks of people throughout the day, including beachcombers, walkers, runners, hikers, horseback riders and more.

Morning light on sea stacks at Bandon Beach along the Oregon Coast, Oregon, USA.
Morning light on sea stacks at Bandon Beach
Sea stacks are the work of erosion.  They are craggy, isolated rock outcrops that used to be part of rocky headlands before the ocean waves, and to a less extent winds, carved them into the pointed and jagged spires they are today.  They can be spectacular at sunrise or sunset with colorful skies behind them, or dramatic with darkening storm clouds building up behind them.

Much imagination and native lore has gone into the names of the sea stacks.  As legend would have it,Face Rock is the face of Native American Princess Ewauna, daughter of Chief Siskiyou, who was lured into the sea and drowned by the evil ocean spirit Seatka.  Accompanying this rock are Cat and Kittens Rocks, Witches Hat, Garden of the Gods, Elephant Rock, Table Rock, and many more.  Are are very photogenic!

Where To Visit:

There are four main public access points to this section of beach (more if you drive further south):
  • South Jetty Beach
  • Strawberry Point & Table Rock
  • Colquille Point
  • Face Rock State Scenic Wayside
Sunset behind sea stacks at Bandon Beach along the Oregon coast, Oregon, USA.
Sea stacks at sunset along Bandon Beach
Most photographers spend their time between Colquille Point and just south of Face Rock State Scenic Wayside.  Where to start?  It depends on you and the season you are visiting!  The sun sets much further south in the winter than in the summer, offering a wide variety of different light angles between all four seasons.  My recommendation is to spend the day exploring from one end to the other - go for a walk or a run!  Keep an eye out for interesting compositions while keeping in mind where the most dramatic light will be when you are shooting.  The most obvious light source will be where the sun sets, of course.  But keep an eye on compositions using the southern sky for morning photography too!

Where To Stay:

Sunset behind sea stacks at Bandon Beach along the Oregon coast, Oregon, USA.
Sunset behind Witches Hat at Bandon Beach.
Previously, all my visits to this area involved staying at Bullard Beach State Park.  This is a fantastic park that is only a 10-15 minute drive to the above-mentioned viewpoints, making it very convenient.  It's also very close to the Colquille River Lighthouse, which offers tours in the summer months.

For this winter visit, I enjoyed the comfort of the Sunset Motel with my family where we could enjoy the incredible ocean views from the cozy confines of our living room or upstairs bedroom.  We also had easy private beach access just across the street, north of Face Rock.  It was a real treat!  There are many other nearby lodging options to choose from as well.

When To Go:

What season is best?  That depends.  Most beach photographers I know tend to avoid the summer months, though I have found success this time of year.  Spring and fall are more attractive than summer to many photographers, simply to avoid the summer crowds.  Another drawback to summer is the heavy fog bank that can often roll in and envelope localized areas.  This is mostly a non-issue in the spring and fall.  Of course, for tidepooling, summer offers some of the lowest tides of the year, making it a great time to visit!

Sunset behind sea stacks at Bandon Beach along the Oregon coast, Oregon, USA.
Bandon Beach at sunset.
But wait, I've left out a very important season - winter!  Over the years winter has become one of my favorite times to visit the coast.  Admittedly, it can be a roll of the dice.  But I have been rewarded with some of my most dramatic images this time of year.  And if you are into whale watching, visit Colquille Point the week between Christmas and New Year for the peak gray whale winter migration.  The local tip is that the whales like to congregate at the mouth of the Colquille River for its ample food supply before continuing their southward journey, making it one of the premium whale viewing areas in the area!

How To Dress:

As most beach photographers know, photographing along the beach usually involves getting wet - whether it is that unplanned water crossing or those pesky sneaker waves striking while your back is turned or you're not paying attention!  In the summertime I have found shorts, t-shirt and sandals adequate attire for most occasions, along with a light windbreaker jacket (the breeze always seems to pick up in the evening).

Morning waters at Bandon Beach at sunrise.
For winter visits, I highly recommend dressing warmer, preferably layers - including waterproof pants, rain jacket, warm beanie, and donning a nice pair of rubber waders.  The waders will allow you to focus on your work and not having to worry about the incoming surf.  They also clean up easily.

Photography Gear To Bring:

So much of this is dependent on how you process your images.  But regardless of your workflow, a nice tripod is still a mandatory tool of the trade.  I think all lenses can be utilized here - from wide angle to zoom and everything in between.  If you're into star photography, don't forget your ultra-wide angle as Bandon Beach offers excellent opportunities!  If you use filters - and I do, consider complimenting your standard GND filters with a 2 and 3-stop Reverse GND for sunset.  Unlike a standard GND, a reverse GND is darkest at the horizon and lightens higher in the sky, and is one of my favorite and most used coastal filters.  I also find neutral density filters very nice to smooth
the water in low light situations (to  slower shutter speed), creating a rather mystical look.

Sunset behind sea stacks at Bandon Beach along the Oregon coast, Oregon, USA.
The sun dips behind Witches Hat at Bandon Beach.
On the maintenance side of things, make sure to have a couple of lens cloths to wipe any water drips or moisture build-up off you lens, and be sure to check your lenses often.  There is nothing more frustrating than coming home all excited about that fantastic sunset you shot, only to learn you had water drops and streaks on your lens!

I hope this sparks your interest to visit this spectacular place and helps you with your planning and preparation.  Feel free to contact me with any further questions you might have - I'm always happy to help out!

You may view more of my images from Bandon and the rest of the Oregon coast by visiting my Oregon Coast Gallery.  You may also visit the rest the galleries at my website at  As always, thanks for looking!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

2018 Wall Calendars Now Available!

Western Landscapes 2018 wall calendar by Don GeyerLooking for that special gift for someone this holiday season?  Well, I'm excited to announce not one, but TWO of my new 2018 wall calendars are now available for purchase!

The first one is Western Landscapes, which includes images from all over the Western United States and Canada, including Grand Canyon NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Glacier NP, Mount Rainier NP, Bugaboo Provincial Park, Wind River Range, North Cascades, Oregon coast and more!

The second calendar is a little closer to home for me - Mount Rainier.  Mount Rainier is easily my most visited national park due to its close proximity to where I live.  This calendar is comprised of images all around the park, including Paradise, Mazama Ridge, Indian Henry's Hunting Ground, Gobbler's Knob, Spray Park, Moraine Park, Tipsoo Lake and more!

Both my calendars can be purchased online here.

You may also view more of my photography by visiting my Mountain Scenes Photography website.

As always, thanks for looking!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Wildflowers at Mount St. Helens

When people think of visiting wildflowers, they often think of Mount Rainier or even Mount Baker for their lavishly beautiful displays.  And rightly so - both can be spectacular!

However, there is another volcano in our state that also sports nice displays, which many probably wouldn't think of - Mount St. Helens.  While destruction and devastation largely symbolize this area in many people's minds , they might be surprised at the beauty that can be found on its lower flanks and nearby ridges all these years after that mighty eruption.  With the trees naturally cleared by nature's forces, flower seedlings have taken to many of the open, sunny slopes and turned them into beautiful meadows in season.  The difference here is that they are often set against a stark, gray landscape of pumice and ash.

The predominant flowers here are lupine, Indian paintbrush and violet penstemon.  There are many other varieties as well.

My favorite St. Helens destinations for wildflowers are Johnston Ridge and Windy Ridge - both on the north side of the mountain.  Johnston Ridge is approached from the west (I-5), and Windy Ridge from the northeast (Highway 12).

Johnston Ridge

Johnston Ridge is a drive to destination with a large parking area at the visitor center at the very end of SR 504. Flowers abound all around the visitor center and recently constructed amphitheater.  There is much easy wandering here, and your pace will likely be slow!  For more flowers, walk the Boundary Trail in either direction to fully enjoy the scenery.  This area offers the most spectacular wildflower display St. Helens has to offer, in my opinion.

Windy Ridge

Windy Ridge is approached from Randle on FR 25, then following the Windy Ridge Road (FR 99) to its end at the parking lot.  While the views from Windy Ridge are jaw-dropping in themselves, a bit of exploring can lead you to even better destinations.

One of the most famous views of St. Helens is from Norway Pass along the Boundary Trail (yes, this is the same trail as the Johnston Ridge one), overlooking Spirit Lake.  You've seen it in books, magazines and calendars.  Flowers add to the scene here, and can be pretty profuse in places along the trail.  For a colorful side trip, be sure and check out the Indian Ridge Trail.

The best lupine display I have ever witnessed also resides in this area.  From the south end of the Windy Ridge parking lot, walk the abandoned road 1.7 miles to the Truman-Abraham saddle.  Stop.  Look down to a sea of purple in season!  Now take the right fork and follow the Truman Trail down the slope to see this amazing meadow up close and personal!  While the Plains of Abraham won't offer any flowers, I highly recommend it as a side trip.  To do so, return to the saddle and follow the Abraham Trail (left fork) to a world of barren world of pumice and scattered boulders.

The image above was taken from Johnston Ridge and recently appeared with an article in a German newspaper on this very subject.  To view more images of this area and around St. Helens, feel free to visit my South Cascades Gallery.

See you on the trail!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) in the North Cascades

A star-filled sky over Mount Shuksan in the North Cascades, North Cascades National Park, Washington, USA.
Stars over Mount Shuksan.
Last week I spent some time up at Artist Point in the North Cascades for some fall color and night-sky photography.  I began shooting around 10:30 or so and learned I was the lucky recipient of a half moon.  The light from the moon helped light up the forefront, making it appear almost as daylight with the long shutter exposure.

This was my first time trying out my new Rokinon 14mm lens, which I acquired specifically for star photography.  Previously I had relied on my Canon 17-40mm, which provided very disappointing quality in low light.  The difference was night and day! (pun intended!).  I'm super impressed with the Rokinon lense (also sold under other brand names such as Samyang, Pro-Optic, and Bower) and highly recommend it to anyone interested in night-sky photography.

Earlier in the day I had hiked up Table Mountain and received a message welcoming me to Internet Canada - "International rates may apply".  I quickly turned my phone to airplane mode, blocking data usage as a safety precaution.

Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) over Mount Shuksan in the North Cascades, North Cascades National Park, Washington, USA.
Northern Lights over Mount Shuksan
So when more cars started arriving at the parking lot around midnight on a weeknight, I began to suspect that an Aurora Borealis alert may have been issued that I wasn't privy to.

I've only photographed the Northern Lights once before - in Jasper National Park in Canada.  The circumstances were much the same.  I got up in the middle of the night to photograph the milky way and noticed some rather bright clouds off in the distance.  I composed a shot to include them and the results came back green on my display!

The same sort of clouds were present this night, but they were so bright I figured it was simply light pollution from the Bellingham area (yes, my direction was a little off as I thought I was looking west, not north).  The stars were more numerous now, so I composed an image of Mount Shuksan once again and noticed a red plume of light in the results.  The red in the sky was not viewable to the naked eye.  Interesting!

The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) over Mount Shuksan in the North Cascades, Washington, USA.
Aurora Borealis over Mount Shuksan.
I changed from a vertical to horizontal composition to include more of the horizon in the sky and noticed the light seemed to growing and that the funny clouds I had seen were indeed the green of the Northern Lights!  It was a good night to be out with camera in hand!

So what is the Aurora Borealis?  The bright dancing lights of the aurora are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth's atmosphere.  The most common auroral color is a pale yellowish-green.  Rarer is the red aurora, which I was fortunate to capture for the very first time (again, I couldn't actually see it).

Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) over the North Cascades, Washington, USA.
Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights).
The Aurora Borealis is predictable as it usually follows a solar magnetic storm on the sun.  The chance of visibility is measured by the kp index.  It's a 0 - 9 numbering system known as a planetary index.  You can download a phone app to follow this, and even receive alerts when the kp number rises in your area.  I use the app "Aurora Alert" for this.  Typically, you need a kp number of 5 or greater in the Puget Sound area to see the lights.  The larger the number, the more prevalent in the sky the lights will be.

Admittedly, I am relatively new to night-sky photography and still have a lot to learn.  But I am finding it fascinating and rewarding!

As always, thanks for looking!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Introducing Mount Olympus Pear Cider from Finnriver!

Well, this is an announcement I bet you're not expecting.  I'm proud to be a part of Finnriver's latest cider release! 

If you are a cider fan and make it over to Olympic National Park, be sure to check out the Mount Olympus Pear Cider (hard) at the visitor center! It is organically brewed locally at Finnriver Farm in Chimacum, and has a beautiful image of Mt. Olympus on the label. Of course, I could be biased!

If you're a cider fan looking for even more choices (lots!), visit Finnriver Orchard & Cider Garden in Chimacum near Port Townsend. They have a fantastic tasting room and knowledgeable staff. Live music on weekends and family friendly.  You can find much more info at!

This image of Mount Olympus was taken from High Divide in Olympic National Park as the lupine were peaking, and is one of my favorite images I have taken in the park.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Visiting the Mount Jefferson Wilderness - Shale Lake

Mount Jefferson above pink heather and Shale Lake along the Pacific Crest Trail in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness, Willamette National Forest, Cascade Range, Oregon, USA.
Mount Jefferson above pink heather at Shale Lake.
I've been wanting to visit the Mount Jefferson Wilderness for several years now - specifically Jefferson Park, or "Jeff Park" as the locals call it.  Finally this year, my schedule allowed me to plan a visit.

I planned to visit two areas not far apart from one another - the Pamelia Lake area and Jefferson Park.  I originally planned on doing them as a single backpack, but logistics wouldn't work for me as I had a deadline to be back in town by.  So instead, I elected to treat them as separate trips.

The Pamelia Lake region is the most popular backpacking destination in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness.  As such, a special Limited Entry permit is required, which can be purchased online at, or picked up at the Detroit Ranger Station. 

I drove down to Detroit, OR and to the TH on Sunday night and slept in my vehicle, planning to get an early start the next day.  I awoke at 5:00 am and was on the trail by 6:00.  My goal was to beat the droves and get a good campsite at Shale Lake for the night.

I arrived at Pamelia Lake in about 45 minutes and took a break to snoop around the campground.  It appeared vacant.  The lake is surrounded by forest and affords limited views.  Basically, it's a place to fish and hangout, and serve as a basecamp for those wanting to daytrip to the high country, such as Grizzly Peak.

I followed the connector trail up to the PCT and turned south for Shale Lake.  The trail climbs mostly through forest, entering sub-alpine country just before the lake.  I arrived to dozens of empty campsites at Shale Lake at 10:00 am.  I had it all to myself for most of the day.  So much for beating the crowds!  Around mid-afternoon, some PCT thru-hikers began arriving and would take a break to absorb the view.  Thru-hikers are prohibited from camping at the lake without the special permit, so all had to move along.  The few campers that did arrive didn't appear until near dinner time.  Most of the campground remained empty during my visit.

I met several thru-hikers as they came by and stopped.  In fact, I was surprised at how many due to how early in the year it was (July).  In each case, I learned they all had one thing in common.  They skipped a section of the trail - most commonly the Sierras, in some cases all of California.

One hiker I really enjoyed meeting and talking with was One Gear (PCT hikers always use nicknames on the trail).  He had a long, 17 mile day that turned into 20+ mile adventure when he got lost and accidentally descended into Hunt's Cove and had to climb out of it off-trail in steep terrain to regain the PCT.  He was beat.

Mount Jefferson reflected in Shale Lake after sunset, Pacific Crest Trail, Mount Jefferson Wilderness, Willamette National Forest, Cascade Range, Oregon, USA.
Mount Jefferson reflected in Shale Lake after sunset.
After setting camp, I wandered south a short distance to an awesome viewpoint overlooking Hunt's Cove.  Hunt's Cove consists of two lakes - Hunt's and Hank's, set in basin of meadows and trees far below.

Thunderstorms were in the forecast, so I was hopeful for some dramatic evening clouds for sunset.  It never happened.  What appeared to be a low level marine layer began sneaking up on the northwest side of the mountain.  Also, the smell of smoke became noticeable in the air.  I began hearing of a new forest fire just over the ridge to the north, it's plume of smoke spotted by several thru-hikers shortly before they arrived.  Speculation was that is was a considerable distance away.

Shale Lake isn't the best photography destination for shooting Mount Jefferson at sunset.  This side of the mountain receives minimal light at sunset in the summer months.  Also, I had hoped for more snow on the mountain.  I found little foreground material to work with as well, focusing on a small patch of heather and other flowers on the shore of the lake.  Fortunately, I was awarded some nice pink skies about 20 minutes after sunset, and the lake finally glassed over to offer a reflection of the mountain.

The next morning I awoke at 5:00 am and was on the trail by 5:45, beating sunrise by several minutes.  I made quick work of the trail and arrived back at my vehicle at 8:00 am.  My eyes burned from the smoke in the air at times.

After a short break, I drove back to Highway 22 and caught the Whitewater Road only a couple miles up.  As I approached the first TH, a sign greeted me on the side of the road - "Fire Ahead, Trail Closed".  My heart sank.  I continued up the road in hopes that it was only for that trailhead.  It was not.  As I approached the Whitewater TH, another sign greeted me stating the same thing.  My trip was done before it even got started.

There are other trails to Jefferson Park and I considered them for a brief moment.  But I realized the amount of smoke in the air likely would compromise photography, as well as the overall experience, and elected to save the visit for another time.

In retrospect, I was very underwhelmed with the Pamelia Lake area.  While it was a fun experience, it is not an area I will likely return to.  I believe the popularity of the area (crowds which I never encountered) are due to its easy access (2 miles from the TH) and being a popular fishing hole.  Just my two cents.

For photographers, I recommend a mid-range telephoto lens for this area.  I brought a couple wide-angle lenses, but they never saw the light of day.  While flowers exist in this area, they are not overly abundant.

Thanks for reading.  I hope to see you on the trail! 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

A Visit to Dusty and Ancient Lakes

Evening light above Dusty Lake
Dusty and Ancient Lakes near Quincy, Washington have piqued my interest for several years now.  This spring I finally launched to the area with my son, and we couldn't wait to hit the trail!

The hikes to both Dusty and Ancient Lakes are very short.  They are both optimal day trips from a hiking standpoint.  But when one weighs in the drive time, such a day could become quite long, especially if planning to stick around to photograph evening light. I elected to make Dusty Lake an overnight destination, and visit Ancient Lakes in the morning on our way out.

We arrived on a Friday to a friendlier parking lot than expected.  Parking was plentiful, but it filled up fast while we got ready.  I imagine weekends can get pretty tight.  If planning a weekend trip, I would try to arrive early in the day.

We tossed the packs on our backs and began the gentle hike to Dusty Lake, passing the turn-off to Ancient Lakes not far from the TH.  After the junction, the trail to Dusty climbs over a knoll and traverses east to the lake, which sits in a basin surrounded by coulees.  We arrived in just about an hour from the trailhead.

The prime camping area (the only flat area) is located on the west side of the lake on a small peninsula.  There are several tent sites.  Unfortunately, this area was already inhabited by a loud, drunken and foul-mouthed group that we didn't want to be next to.  As it was, we were still too close to them.

There are other sites on the north end of the lake, not as close to the lake (but not far away either).  The best evening photography in the area, in my opinion, is right in between the two areas, so either would work as a photographer's base camp.

We enjoyed hiking into Dusty Lake under partly sunny skies with beautiful, puffy clouds scattered above us.  As evening approached, these clouds began to disappear, much to my disappointment.  But then, just as the sun began to sink lower in the sky to the west, some beautiful clouds began to develop over the area, turning orange and then pink as the sun lay to rest.  It was a beautiful evening.

The next morning I awoke early to catch sunrise, but not much happened.  Still, it was a beautiful morning to experience.

After a quick breakfast, we packed up camp and headed out.  We found a trail that short-cut the traverse around the coulee that separates Dusty and Ancient Lakes, and followed it to the point it descended into the basin.  We then left it and travelled cross-country due north to pick up the main trail so we could drop our packs and pick them up easily on the way out.

Ancient Lakes were beautiful and there was a lot to explore.  There were a lot more people camped around these lakes, but the area is so large that it swallows people up and pleasant camping can be had.  This is definitely an area I will return to to spend an evening.

After an hour or so of exploring, we returned to our packs and finished our journey back to the TH.

This is tick and rattlesnake country, so we remained very observant and aware. We found two ticks on our gear while camped at Dusty Lake - one on our tent and one on a pack.  We did not encounter any snakes, even during off-trail travel.  This was in early April, and I think it was still a little cool for them (temps reached freezing overnight).

Photography Hints:  It's a short hike with little elevation gain - you can bring the kitchen sink!  If you think you might use it, bring it!  I mostly used my 24-70mm.  I did bring my 14mm lens in hopes of some night photography, but the skies remained cloudy overnight.  You will want to bring your split neutral density filters, unless you plan to bracket and use HDR back home.

If interested, your can view other images from Eastern Washington in my Eastern Washington Gallery.

As always, thanks for looking!