Thursday, August 26, 2010

Going-to-the-Sun Road

The Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park is regularly voted one of the most scenic roads in America year after year by many publications. And for good reason! It is quite the engineering accomplishment, having been blasted from rock in many places as it switchbacks up to highly scenic Logan Pass. Views from this road are outstanding!

But this road has much to see in it lower stretches as well as it leaves Apgar Village and winds around the waters of Lake McDonald. Views across the water to distant peaks are magnificent, especially in early season when the peaks are still snow-capped.

Just past the Lake McDonald Lodge is scenic McDonald Falls and the Sacred Dancing Cascades of McDonald Creek (shown above). Sacred Dancing Cascades are easiest reached from a pullout alongside the road. Across the foot bridge, a short trail leads to McDonald Falls.

A short ways up the road is Avalanche Gorge. A trail ascends thru the gorge en route to Avalanche Lake, one of the most popular hikes in the park. This trail can also be accessed from the Avalanche Creek Campground.

The gorge is magnificent with its deep blue rushing water. There are many viewpoints of it along the trail - all worth checking out. The view from the bridge might be the best of all though.

A great time for photographing Avalanche Gorge is in the morning before the sun hits the area. The area rests in shadows until mid-morning. I also found the area void of breezes for about the first hour of each morning I photographed it.

Obviously, cloudy skies would also be kind to this area.

You can continue up the trail to Avalanche Lake for possible evening photography. However, I think your efforts might be better spent else where.

Going-to-the-Sun Road continues up the valley. As it nears The Loop trailhead, views begin to open up to Mount Canon and other peaks towering above you. There are some nice pullouts along this stretch. Watch for wildlife in this area.

Continuing around the sharpe switchback, the road begins to climb in earnest. Views of Heavens Peak across the valley are excellent, and only get better! Beautiful sunrises and sunsets can be captured from various pullouts along here. Clouds can be dramatic during unsettled weather.

I found the last pullout (before the road goes around a sharp corner) to be the best for evening compositions of Mount Canon and Oberlin, but others would work as well. The view back down McDonald Valley is also impressive.

The previous evening I passed this spot after shooting Haystack Falls and saw a group of about twenty photographers set up here. Both evenings I shot from here, I was alone.

I wasn't fortunate to get much cloud action during my visits here. In fact, conditions became quite hazy during my second evening of shooting, with a storm advancing on the area. Still, beggars can't be choosers!

Road work on the Going-t0-the-Sun Road also dictated my shooting during the week days as the road was closed a short ways beyond this pullout at 9:00 pm. Sunset was close to 9:30 during my visit.

Next up is Haystack Falls. Pullouts are limited for this waterfall, but do exist. Evenings are a less hectic time to photograph this waterfall, after most road traffic has subsided. There really isn't much of shoulder to the road here, so your tripod will be set up in the road. Of course, evening also brings the best light to this area.

As this waterfall eminates from the snow above along the Garden Wall, I would assume this waterfall to all but vanish in late season once the snow is gone. These images were taken in late July, for the record.

There are a lot of composition choices for this waterfall. You can compose tight as I did on the first one, you can include part of the fancy stone work along the side of the road, you can include the pool at its base and/or the peaks above, etc. It's a fun waterfall to play with.

Beyond Haystack Falls, the road traverses below Weeping Wall and climbs up to Logan Pass, with jaw-dropping views the entire way.

As a photographer, you can really "get lost" along this road if you choose to. Opportunities seem to abound around every bend.

If planning to visit Glacier in the next couple of years, I would definitely encourage you to note the road closure times for construction and plan around them, especially in summer when sunrise and sunset both occur during closed times. This project was originally suppose to be coming to a close soon, but was recently extended in thanks to the Stimulous Package.

I hope enjoyed my little tour of the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Flowers at Paradise, Mount Rainier

It appears that flowers might be hitting peak on Mazama Ridge finally, based on reports I have read and heard. I hope to go down either tonight or tomorrow morning and check them out for myself!

Edit: A busy schedule has prevented me from getting down to Paradise, but I hope to make it happen in the next day or two.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mount Rainier Flower Update

I just thought I would offer a quick update on flowers in the Paradise area. A recent report suggested they are beginning to appear along the upper stretches of the Skyline Trail. A call down to the ranger station revealed that they are still predicting peak to be in another 1 to 1-1/2 weeks.

I might still head down there Saturday to scope things out.

In the meantime, I thought I would share some more images from my recent visit to Spray Park.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Flower Report at Mount Rainier

I thought I would interrupt my Glacier NP trip report with a flower report from a park much closer to us - Mount Rainier.

I've spent the last several days visiting Spray Park and the Sunrise area. Spray Park is very nice right now, especially if you are a fan of lupine and like it in large doses. Nice amounts of paintbrush can also be found. Variety is another story. There isn't much of it. Asters are just beginning to form and are at least another week away for the most part. Glacier lilies can still be found in the higher reaches of the park, to give you an idea how things are developing.

Sunrise is a different story right now. It is bare. Though most all common flower varieties can be found in bloom right now, they are in very small doses and have to be searched out. Again, it looked as though the asters were just starting to form and could be a week or more away. Still, I can't be certain that it will be a good showing here this year. Hope to be proved wrong!

I have not been down to the Paradise/Longmire area yet, but have received reports from friends Jon Cornforth and Robert and Kathy Chrestensen.

Jon scored a nice image at Reflections Lakes, but was disappointed in Paradise Meadows, which he believed to be at least another 1-2 weeks away.

Robert and Kathy visited Emerald Ridge and found a nice showing of lupine. Emerald Ridge is most easily reached via the old Tahoma Trail from the West Side Road.

I hope some of this helps you with your planning!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Logan Pass - Glacier National Park

Logan Pass at the end of the Going-to-the-Sun road is widely considered the scenic pinnacle of Glacier National Park for tourists. Incredible sunrises, sunsets, flower displays and abundant wildlife can all be found here. If one is willing to walk a trail for a couple of miles, these characteristics improve even more.

So it is surprising to know that when the park was first established in 1910, this popular destination was seldom visited. The Going-to-the-Sun Road, always on the list of most scenic roads in America, did not exist yet. Two Medicine Lake, located on the southeast side of the park off Highway 2, actually served as the popular gateway into the park.

Now, Two Medicine Lake is a pretty nice place to visit as well, and I highly recommend it. But it's no Logan Pass. It's interesting to see how the face of an establishment can change. Reynolds Mountain standing tall above the meadows of Logan Pass has become an iconic image of the park and adorned by millions of visitors every year. Yet at the parks inception, it stood in solitude.

Animals do abound around the visitors' center at Logan Pass, and should be treated as wild and respected. Sheep, deer, mountain goats, marmots and the ocasional bear can be seen in the area. Unfortunately, many of the hooved animals can be seen in the parking lot looking for handouts, licking the front grills of vehicles for salt, and eating food and associated garbage left behind (often intentially by picture seekers hoping to draw the animals attention). It's also important to note that the sheep can be particularly aggressive here. Remember, these animals are wild and can be unpredictable.

Ah, but back to beauty of the area. Logan Pass can be spectacular most anytime, but is most special in early morning and late afternoon. I found afternoons to be my favorite for photographing the meadows and peaks of the area. Light here lasts until about an hour before sunset.

Mornings can be nice too, however, and offer a better chance of seeing wildlife in their natural setting instead of the parking lot and roadside.

Last year I visited the park for an extended backpacking trip the first week of August. The flowers were very nice, but a little past their prime in all but a few areas. So this year I decided to plan my visit a week earlier - the last week of July. As was the case at home here in Washington, Glacier NP experienced a late spring and flowers were late in arriving. Instead of catching them at their peak, I was greeted only by yellow Glacier Lilies - the first flower of the season typically to appear. Just when you think you have Mother Nature figured out...

If planning a visit to Glacier NP, there is something much more predictable you should be aware of - the road closures on Going-to-the-Sun Road for construction, Mon -Thur. Due to the closure times, Logan Pass was not available for sunrise or sunset photography for all but a couple of days (weekend) during my visit. As we head into late summer and fall, the sun's schedule will be more on our side. But until then, best plan your itinerary accordingly. This will remain true in coming years as well due to the length of the project, which was recently lengthened by the Stimulus Package.

I hope to share more images and stories from this park soon, including more from along Going-to-the-Sun Road, a thru hike of the Highline Trail, the St. Mary area, Two Medicine Lake, and a 21 mile loop hike over Dawson and Pitamakin Pass with a repeat ascent of Flinsch Peak. Stay tuned!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Mount St. Helens and Flowers

I've just returned from Glacier National Park, and have had a busy day cleaning, organizing, etc. You know, all the things you have to do upon returning from an extended trip! The family is beat as to be expected - hey, we played hard!

The trip was excellent, and I am in the middle of editing images now. They will follow shortly, rest assured!

In the meantime, I realize I have not shared my last trip to Mount St. Helens yet, which included a supreme flower show. May I?

I drove down to Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument on a Saturday afternoon after celebrating my daughter's 7th birthday at an amusement park. I was beat before I got started!

What a difference a few weeks makes. Three weeks prior, my daughter and hiked up to St. Helens Lake, finding snow above 4,500' and a frozen lake.

This was a much different setting, with wildflowers ablaze across the landscape from the very beginning of the trail. I arrived under blue skies, but as predicted, clouds began moving in from the west creating some very dramatic light. Half an hour before sunset the clouds consumed the mountain for the evening.

I left the Johnstone Ridge parking lot at 9:00 pm for my next destination - Windy Ridge.

Just as I was about to the Windy Ridge parking lot, I saw a little bit of fog. Then BAM! I was in a white out! Solid white. I had to come to a complete stop as I couldn't even see 10' in front of me. I tried to roll ahead slowly, but couldn't. I waited for a break and finally got a quick glimpse of a white paint line on the pavement - a parking stall. I carefully pulled the truck in and parked it. The wind was howling and the clouds were just screaming over the parking lot. It was midnight.

I grabbed my headlamp and got out of the truck to look for the TH and figure out where in the parking lot I was. I couldn't find it and decided to just hope for better conditions in the morning. I began to return to the truck, but couldn't find it. I wandered and wandered. I had only ventured about 50-60' away from it, but somehow got disoriented. Finally after about 10 minutes my headlamp caught the side reflector of my truck.

I had planned to sleep in the bed of the truck, but conditions were too unpleasant. So I set my alarm for 4:00 am and reclined the drivers seat.

Wake up time came and conditions had not changed. I snoozed another 45 minutes and awoke to lighter skies. I successfully located the TH and was somewhat embarrassed at how close I was actually parked to it.

I grabbed my gear and began my hike in the still heavy fog. About 200 yards up the trail, I emerged out of the fog to clear skies and clouds filling the valley below. Mt. Adams was clear in the distance. What a difference escaping the Windy Ridge parking lot (low point in the ridge) meant.

I arrived at the Truman-Abraham Saddle as first light began to highlight the clouds above the peak.

From the junction I went up, following the Abraham Trail up a ridge with fantastic views. Wildflowers were out in force, influencing my pace substantially.

Soon I arrived at the Plains of Abraham, and remembered just how barren this landscape is. I walked south for a ways before returning to the junction and setting my sights on Windy Pass.

The Windy Trail has suffered from serious erosion and washout, and is difficult to follow in stretches. As it climbs to the pass, erosion has created some exposed stretches as you traverse the steep hillside. From the pass the trail descends steeply, and again goes thru some washouts at a couple of steep gully crossings.

But there was reward at the end of my descent. Pumice Plains was carpeted with lupine! I have never seen lupine in such abundance before. The ground was a solid purple, and the perfume was so intense I wished I could bottle it. What a treat the senses to absorb.

Finally, it was time to return to the truck for the long drive home.