Spring sometimes comes on like a lion and that seems to be the case this year. We’re still getting some late season snowfall in the mountains but the melt is definitely on. The east slopes of the Cascades are the first areas to produce wildflowers and in 2009, I learned that the Leavenworth / Cashmere area are home to an explosion of arrowleaf balsamroot. I’ve tried visiting every year since then around the middle of May; last year I was a week or so too late so this year I gambled on being a week early. As it turned out, I threaded the needle perfectly.
In Leavenworth, head over to the old ski hill. The slopes hold various flowers as does the wooded cross country ski trail that parallels Titus Road. On the south side of town, Mountain Home Road steeply gains a ridge (seemingly a lateral moraine) and traverses out along it towards the southwest. The roadside holds a variety of wildflowers and offers views down towards Leavenworth as well as the entrance to Icicle Creek Canyon. On this day, the only wildflowers were about 1 mile up the road right next to it. The day was blustery, making photos of flowers quite difficult. Every now and then, the wind would finally die down and provide a fleeting moment to click the shutter.
After a while, I decided to go with the flow and I tried out my newly purchased B+W 10 stop neutral density filter. It’s basically a light reducing filter (almost like a welder’s mask!) which will dramatically lengthen your exposure times. I bought it for another purpose but I figured if I can’t beat ’em, join ’em! I doubled up the filter with my B+W thin mount circular polarizer and was taking exposures out to 20 seconds at F16 and ISO-100. I was concerned about the filter creeping into the corners of my frame (I’m using it on my APS-C 12-24mm lens) and it does do that at the widest end. The intrusion disappears at 15mm so that was a relief.
The next stop on our whirlwind tour was Eagle Creek Road, about 2 miles outside of Leavenworth to the northeast. The first 5 miles or so are paved until the junction with Forest Service roads 7500 and 7502. Just a quarter mile up road 7500 is a nice view up valley and a small grouping of balsamroot. Well- not this year because we were a little early. They might be there if you go in another 2 weeks! We also made a quick trip up 7502 to check out spur road 7531 but nothing was going on up there either. Pretty forest up that way, though!
One place I do know that has a great display of balsamroot is located up Ollala Canyon Road near Dryden. Sadly, the blooms are located on private land so any photography should be done roadside. About halfway up the valley and on the opposite side of the canyon is a nice location of balsamroot growing in a former wildfire burn area. The slope immediately above the road can also yield a nice combination of balsamroot and lupine (but not this trip). The jewel of Ollala Canyon is at the head of the canyon, just before the end of the county road. A couple of rounded hillsides (one with a lone tree on the top) is filled with balsamroot and turn the slopes a wonderful shade of yellow.
This year my timing was spot on and we spent a fair amount of time there. At one point, my friend pointed to the top of the ridge and almost a dozen deer appeared and proceeded to graze along the upper slopes. As awesome as it was here, I wanted to explore a couple of other canyons in the Cashmere area. The first canyon (via Hay Canyon Road) was nice near the mouth of the canyon but didn’t have much else despite being reminiscent of oak-chaparral woodlands found in southern California. A quick bust so we made our way to the next canyon over to the east which is served by Nahahum Canyon Road. This canyon is much broader than Ollala and very scenic. Most slopes seem to be good habitat for balsamroot and, indeed, several slopes had small patches of yellow. Nahahum Canyon is also largely private property and is actively signed as such.
Almost all the way up the canyon we found one small slope and draw that had a mixed display of balsamroot and lupine. You could tell that the flowers were *just* a bit past prime but still pretty and photogenic. Except for the occasional car driving the road or cow moo, it was very quiet and peaceful up there. The day was finally getting late so we finally headed back to Leavenworth for a little dinner. We still had time to dart back up Mountain Home Road for sunset. The thick clouds from a front dropping rain over the crest wiped out our sunset but that was ok. It’s nice to come out ahead sometimes!
Of course, I also had my trusty GoPro with me for some timelapses. Here’s a composite of four different ones from the day: