Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Palouse Falls, the Official State Waterfall of Washington State!

A rainbow forms at the base of Palouse Falls in Palouse Falls State Park, Washington, USA. Palouse Falls is a magnificent waterfall located along the Palouse River in the southwest region of Washington State, about 4 miles upstream from its confluence with the Snake River.  It resides in Palouse Falls State Park, a park that provides full viewing access to the falls from a viewing platform and a paved path along the canyon rim.

The falls are 198 feet in height, and owe their history to the great Missoula Floods that swept across the Columbia River Plateau periodically.  Previously, the river flowed through the Washtucna Coulee to the Columbia River.  This coulee is now dry.  During the Pleistocene epoch, the Missoula Floods diverted the river over the south valley wall of the original canyon, channeling a new course to the Snake River, and creating Palouse Falls in the process.

A rainbow forms at the base of Palouse Falls in Palouse Falls State Park, Washington, USA.
The waterfall seems to be rapidly gaining in popularity in recent years.  A primitive road full of pot holes used to access the park.  That road has been graded and oiled now, and RVs and tour buses can be commonly seen in the parking lot.  Thanks to some Washtucna elementary school students who lobbied the state legislature, Palouse Falls became the official state waterfall of Washington State earlier this year – February 12, 2014 to be exact.  This will surely pick the curiosity of Washington residents who have not yet visited this waterfall.

 I find the waterfall is best viewed and photographed in the spring time when water volume is at its peak – April and May are ideal.  Early May brings the addition of wildflowers to the area.  Snakes are also common beginning in mid-April or so (be careful!).  By summer the falls can be but a trickle in comparison.

A close-up of the thundering waters of Palouse Falls in Palouse Falls State Park, Washington, USA.
On sunny spring days, a beautiful rainbow forms at the base of the waterfall in mid afternoon.  This is my favorite time to photograph the falls.  You can position the rainbow where you wish simply by changing your vantage point.  Of course, the rainbow also moves as the angle of the sun changes.  Definitely bring a polarizing filter to capture the vibrant colors of this light spectrum.

If you are fortunate to have interesting clouds in the sky in the morning or evening, you’ll have a great opportunity to compose a panoramic image encompassing the waterfall, entire pool and even the canyon downstream if you choose.  In order to capture the full dynamic range, you will need to bring split neutral density filters for this, shoot HDR, or employ the method of stacking images in Photoshop.
I attempted some night photography during my last visit in April, but there was too much light pollution nearby to pull this off.  I would love to hear if anyone has been successful with this.
A train passes through a carved out route in the Palouse near Palouse Falls State Park, Washington, USA.

Finally, don't forget to check out the periodic trains, best viewed from the bridge before the parking lot.  The trains run pretty regularly and you can usually hear their low rumble well in advance if you pay attention.  Watching the nearby train traffic light can tip you off as to the direction of the next train.

The railroad tracks are quite the engineering feat.  Since trains require relatively flat track, they can't handle the rolling hills, bluffs and ravines of the Palouse very well.  So instead, a route was carved (blasted) into the plateau to form an open top tunnel.

As I wrote about in a recent post, yellow-bellied marmots are everywhere around the falls and very fun to watch and photograph.  If you missed it and don't see it below, you can find the post here.
You may view more images of Palouse Falls, the rolling hills around the Palouse, and more in my Central and Eastern Washington Gallery.

In the meantime, here are a few images from my recent visit.  Enjoy!
A rainbow forms at the base of Palouse Falls in Palouse Falls State Park, Washington, USA.

A rainbow forms at the base of Palouse Falls in Palouse Falls State Park, Washington, USA.

A rainbow forms at the base of Palouse Falls in Palouse Falls State Park, Washington, USA.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Lost Basin, Olympic National Park.

Lupine at Lost Pass in Olympic National Park, Washington.
Lupine at Lost Pass, with Sentinel Peak and Hayden Pass beyond.
Lost Basin is set deep within the remote backcountry of Olympic National Park, at the headwaters of the Lost River.  It is most often approached via the increasingly wild Dosewallips River Trail.  This is a long backpack in, and includes an additional 5.5 mile walk up the washed out Dosewallips River Road to the trailhead.

The trail itself follows the steep walls of the Dosewallips River through lush forest and across many stream crossings.  There are many campsites along the way, beginning with Dose Forks at 1.4 miles, and ending with Dose Meadows at 12.6 miles, shortly before the trail climbs to Hayden Pass.  From here, one can leave the main trail and follow a steep, primitive trail up to Lost Pass and meander into the beautiful rolling meadows of Lost Basin.

In early August, the flower show is profuse here and bears, goat and deer roam the meadows.  I wrote an article entitled "Finding Lost Basin" for Washington Trails Magazine a few years ago, detailing a particularly enjoyable trip.

The image above is one of my favorites from the trip, and is appearing in the May issue of Backpacker Magazine.

More images from this beautiful area and other highly scenic places in Olympic National Park can be viewed in my Olympic Gallery.

See you on the trail!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Fascinating Yellow-bellied Marmot

A yellow-bellied marmot stands alert in front of Palouse Falls.
Marmots, or “whistle pigs” as they are sometimes called, are large squirrels.  These mammals burrow underground and hibernate during the winter months.  They are highly social animals that use loud whistles to communicate with one another, especially when alarmed.

Here in Washington State, we are fortunate to be home to three different varieties of marmots, including a unique species found nowhere else – the Olympic marmot.  The Olympic marmot resides at middle elevations on the Olympic Peninsula.

In the Cascade Range, one can find the hoary marmot at middle to high elevations.  While they can be found almost anywhere in the range, one of the most popular places to view them might be Mount Rainier National Park.

Central and Eastern Washington is home to the ever-popular yellow-bellied marmot.  This is the widest ranging marmot, seen throughout most of the western United States and southwestern Canada.  It is commonly seen at lower elevations such as steppes, fields and higher up in alpine meadows.

A yellow-bellied marmot stands alert in the early morning light at Palouse Falls State Park, Washington.I recently enjoyed photographing yellow-bellied marmots while visiting Palouse Falls State Park.  I find marmots in general to be very fun and entertaining to watch.  As already mentioned, they are highly social animals and also very curious.
Not much patience is needed if photographing them in a large concentrated area.  Even if they scurry off to hide, their curiosity always seems to bring them back out to check on things in short time.  Of course, if you are in an area where they have grown accustomed to people, they may have little fear of you and even approach you (this would suggest they are being fed by people, which is never a good idea and I would highly discourage others from doing so).
As for most wildlife photography, soft light works best.  This can be found on cloudy days, or in early morning or late evening on sunny days.
These images were captured with a 70-200mm 2.8 lens and 2x teleconverter at F9.  I like this aperture as it keeps the entire animal in focus while blurring the background for less distraction.  Using a 2.8 aperture setting, for instance, will often blur part of the subject as well (e.g; the nose will be in focus but the hind feet not be).  An aperture setting of F32 will bring everything near and far into focus, and often distract the viewer's eyes from the subject.  Of course, it all comes down to personal preference and what you are trying to achieve.
A yellow-bellied marmot peaks out from behind some rocks with Palouse Falls in the background, Palouse Falls State Park, Washington. Palouse Falls State Park offers the opportunity to photograph the marmots while using the falls as a backdrop, adding an interesting element to your composition and helping tell a story.  The best place to do this is long the trail that explores the cliff edge above the falls, just a short walk from the campground and picnic area.  There is no fence along this section and a slip and fall would be disastrous if not fatal, so be careful!

Along the paved path in the developed area of the park (and fenced!) is another great place for close-ups of these critters, as there is a den with a large family (as of this writing) of 7 or 8 - many young and playful.  They are found just the other side of the fence, and very close.

One word of caution about this area - it is rattlesnake country!  Keep alert while walking the paths and walk "heavy" by scuffling your feet periodically.

There are many other places in our state to view these animals as well.  Hikers and backpackers will find them most everywhere on and off trail in our mountains.  But if you are not a hiker and want some easily accessible places to view them, some places I recommend are Paradise and Sunrise Visitor Centers at Mount Rainier National Park, Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park,  Artist Point in the North Cascades, and almost any rocky, open area in eastern Washington (such as Palouse Falls!)

A yellow-bellied marmot stands atop a rock in Palouse Falls State Park, Washington.When photographing wildlife, make sure you take some time to simply watch and enjoy their behavioral habits as well.  This is important.  The more you understand them, the more your photographs will tell their story and not just be a snapshot.

I hope to have more wildlife images up on my website again soon.  Please feel free to check it out at www.mountainscenes.com.

Thanks for looking!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Spring Photography Ideas Around the Pacific Northwest

The Washington State Capital Building (Legislative Building) and a carpet of daffodils, Olympia, Washington.
 Spring has arrived in the Pacific Northwest, which means it's time to get the camera out for some fresh air!  There are lots of places begging to be visited in the spring months, so I thought I would list some of my favorites.

The State Capital Building (or Legislative Building) is a beautiful place to visit in the spring time, especially if you can catch the cherry blossoms and daffodils in mid to late March, or the tulips in April.  Early morning will provide relative peace and quiet before the masses arrive later in the day.

The University of Washington campus is also an excellent place to catch the cherry blossoms in late March or early April.

The Washington Park Arboretum and Japanese Garden are beautiful in the spring time, particularly from mid-March to early May.  You will want to head to Rhododendron Glen and walk Azalea Way.  Unfortunately for photographers, the Japanese Garden has restricted hours, charges admission, and tripods are not allowed (though monopods are).  Still, I understand it to be a must visit!

A yellow field of daffodils in the Skagit Valley, Mount Vernon, Washington.
 The Skagit Valley is popular in the spring for a reason - fields upon fields of flowers!  The blooms start in late March with the daffodils.  Because they are not nearly as popular as the tulips, this is a relatively quiet time to visit, and the rewards are great.  You might be surprised at how many different varieties of daffodils there actually are.  Definitely dress for wet weather and muddy fields this time of year.  Rubber boots are recommended.  Be sure to check out the bloom map when planning your visit.

Tulips in bloom in the Skagit Valley, Mount Vernon, Washington.
 In early to mid-April, things get crazy around Mount Vernon with the arrival of the tulips, and visitors from around the world.  Weekends in particular can be a mad house.  But if you arrive early in the morning, you can still get a few hours of rewarding photography before the masses arrive.  I recommend arriving before sunrise and photographing the fields.  Again, refer to the bloom map.  By mid-morning, you will want to visit RoozenGaarde and/or Tulip Town before the lines get too long.
Tulips in bloom in the Skagit Valley, Mount Vernon, Washington.
 Sunset is also a fantastic time to photograph the fields.  Admittedly, I've never lasted this long!  By late morning or noon, I am always spent and ready to call it a day.  But one of these days I am going to forgo the early morning and plan a late visit just for this purpose.

Palouse Falls is now our official state waterfall.  Have you been there?  Why not?  It's a beautiful state park on the eastern side of Washington - southeastern, to be exact.

A rainbow forms at the base of Palouse Falls, Palouse Falls State Park, Washington.
April and early May are excellent times to visit this majestic waterfall.  The weather is typically nice more times than not, and the heat of summer has not hit yet.  The cooler days of April are still a bit chilly for rattlesnakes liking, but the warmer days of May can be a different story.

Palouse Falls State Park is a 105 acre park that offers a nice picnic area, overnight tent camping on a first come, first served basis, and of course, the dramatic view of the waterfall itself.  It's a bit off the main road (dirt road access), and not recommended for trailers or RV's.  The park itself is stunning.

On sunny days in the spring, a rainbow forms at the base of the falls in late afternoon.

If you are into waterfalls - and I mean lots of them, there is no better destination than the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area to the south of us.  Just a short distance east of Portland (16 miles) the waterfalls begin.  Be sure and drive the Columbia River Gorge Highway, both for the history and the views!  This highway stretches from Troutdale to Dobson, OR and provides direct access to most of the waterfalls.

Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon.
The most popular waterfall in the gorge is Multnomah Falls, because of its picturesque postcard appearance (and it has appeared on many a postcard!).  Unfortunately, the Benson Bridge which famously spans this graceful waterfall was heavily damaged this past winter, and is currently closed for repair work.  This simply means you can't hike the trail to the top.  You can still enjoy the famous view from the bottom!

Also nearby are Latourell Falls, Horsetail Falls, Ponytail Falls, Elowah Falls, McCloud Falls, Triple Falls, Wahclella Falls, Wahkeena Falls, Punch Bowl Falls, Bridal Veil Falls...well, you get the picture!

There are waterfalls for every interest and ability.  Some can be viewed from the parking lot, some require a short walk to a viewing point, and others require a short hike up a trail through beautiful forest.

To get the most out of your visit photography wise, I would plan your visit for a cloudy, overcast day.  This allows for even lightning and one doesn't have to hassle with the contrasting shadows and brightness of sunny days.

The Stonehenge Memorial on May Hill in Washington State.
While you're down there, don't forget to jump over to the Washington side of the gorge and visit Beacon Rock State Park and the Stonehenge Memorial in Mayhill, honoring our war veterans.  It's a full size, astronomically-aligned replica of the original Stonehenge, completed in 1929.

Stonehenge is best photographed under blue skies, hopefully with a cloud or two present to make the sky more interesting.

Smith Rock State Park in Bend, OR might be a little further than some people want to drive, but I can promise you won't be disappointed.

This beautiful park might be most famous amongst rock climbers for its challenging routes on excellent quality rock.  But it really offers something for everyone with its network of hiking trails and supreme views of its giant monoliths.  Keep an eye out for rattlesnakes as they are very common here.  There is no camping here, other than the "parking lot" offered to rock climbers.

A panoramic view of the Painted Hills in John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon.
 Finally, east of Bend, there is the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.  More specifically, the Painted Hills Unit located about 9 miles northwest of Mitchell, OR.  This unit covers 3,132 acres and offers a short boardwalk trail, the main viewpoint trail (where these pictures were taken) and a longer trail to a grand viewpoint overlooking the entire area.

Camping is primitive in this area, though one has the option of camping in the city park in downtown Mitchell, believe it or not!

A panoramic view of the Painted Hills in John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon.
 As for photographing the painted hills, the best time is in the evening shortly before sunset.  This is when the colors are at their best.  And if you are lucky enough to have some nice, dark storm clouds off in the distance to the east - even better!

Why spring for this year around attraction?  Because flowers put on a display in early May.

Well, there they are - some of my favorite spring photography destinations in the Pacific Northwest.  I hope you will have the opportunity to visit some, if not all these places in the coming years.

As always, feel free to contact me with specific questions.

If you wish to view more pictures, visit my galleries at www.mountainscenes.com.

Thanks for looking!