Florida’s Natural World

Pond Cypress forest scene at Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Collier County, Florida
It’s hard to deny the importance of Florida’s landscape on a global scale. Thirty percent of all bird species found in North America have been sighted passing through the greater Sanibel Island area. The same conditions that attract all those birds also attracts another species- humans. Typically, when nature and humans compete for the same land, humans typically win. Sanibel Island, however, bucks that trend and did so long before conservation came to mainstream America. If you’re not familiar with the development history of Sanibel / Captiva Islands, it is well summarized in the nature guidebook Living Sanibel. The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, located in nearby Collier County, is about 29 miles to the southeast of Sanibel Island and is HUGE- nearly 13,000 acres in size. Nearly half of that acreage had been already preserved by 1955, and the rest followed in the subsequent years.

Unlike the Ding Darling Refuge on Sanibel Island, the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is privately owned and managed by the National Audubon Society. From the visitor’s center, just over 2 miles of elevated boardwalk trail traverse through five different “ecosystems”: pine flatwoods, wet prairie, Pond cypress, Bald cypress, and the central marsh. Our visit in July was outside of any “peak” visitation by migrating birds but don’t let something like that from deterring you from visiting. We were not able to visit the sanctuary first thing in the morning so we saw less wildlife than we might have otherwise. The afternoon thunderstorms were beginning to establish and the combination of the sounds of distant thunder and insects in the wet prairie were very peaceful and mesmerizing.
Swamp Lily (Crinum americanum) at Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Collier County, Florida
Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei) at Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Collier County, Florida
Barred Owl (Strix varia) at Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Collier County, Florida
The swampy landscape and “tropical” nature of the plants were very foreign to my familiar surroundings back in the Pacific Northwest. The land is very intricate & complex and that makes it quite difficult to pre-visualize compositions. Now add 85% humidity, 90° F temperatures, and mosquitoes and you have a struggle on your hands. I gambled on just using a monopod and, in a situation like the swamp where I wanted to also incorporate some landscape photography, I didn’t do so well. A traditional tripod support would have improved the quality of some of my opportunities. The beauty of the surroundings was obvious and I appreciated it; I just had trouble capturing it. I think the key to recognize it, admit it, and move on. I can always make a return visit so it’s not worth ruining one’s enjoyment in the moment.

The “noise” which made it hard for me to make sense of everything also enabled me to walk right past a Barred Owl just mere feet away from the boardwalk! Thankfully, the people I was with made sure I was aware of it on the return trip back to the visitors center. The owl seemed fine with the attention and didn’t show any signs of uncomfort at my presence. I still gave it space and used the length of my 500mm lens to bridge the gap. I was able to photograph the owl for several minutes before I needed to catch up with my group. During our brief stay, we barely scratched the surface of what Corkscrew has to offer; I hoped to make a second visit during our stay (the entrance fees are good for 2 consecutive days) but that did not work out. I will have to make another visit in the future.
Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) & crab, J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula), J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula), J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida
Back on Sanibel Island, the heart of the island’s natural world is the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. While it’s not as big as Corkscrew, it’s still over 6,400 acres in size (2,800 of which are federally designated wilderness). The majority of this land is on Sanibel’s bay side and it’s focal point is the 4 mile long one-way road which traverses through some of those lands. The road makes its way through the mangrove forest which is broken up by several large expanses shallow water that the road bisects. I made two visits to the refuge on the same day- once at late morning and then later in the day around 4pm.

The noon visit was very quiet, except for the noseeums (or sand fleas) which attacked me voraciously. A local photographer whom I had met earlier at sunrise warned me about them but they focused their attack on whatever skin that was left exposed. This was not fun! I would echo the photographer’s recommendation of long sleeves & long pants but would add some DEET or other bug spray to help ward off these relentless foes. I was advised to either visit the refuge before 10am or after 4pm and that seemed to ring true. At midday, the refuge was pretty quiet and most wildlife is off somewhere else. Despite this fact, I still managed to quickly see an alligator, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, and a little later, a Snowy Egret up close.
Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens), J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida
Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens) pursuing a Longnose Gar (Lepisosteus osseus), J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida
Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) and prey, J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida
A bit dejected, I returned to where we were staying for the week to relax and wait for the late afternoon. Sure enough, my return visit in the late afternoon was a different story. Maybe it was the DEET but the noseeums weren’t eating me alive which allowed me to relax a bit more and focus on photography. The water levels were lower and the birds were more active and closer in than before. I was able to enjoy the hunting ritual of the Reddish Egret as well as Yellow-crowned Night-Heron & Little Blue Heron. I eventually developed a shadow- another wildlife photographer with a 3 foot long prime lens of undetermined length. I’d stop- he’d stop. I’d pass him, he’d pass me and so on and so on.

If I saw him stopped, it was a pretty good sign that something was nearby. Towards the end of the wildlife drive, I came upon his parked car and the photographer was behind the opened hatch of his SUV and he was pointing his mighty lens up the road. I creeped a little forward in my car and finally saw what he was photographing- a river otter. The otter was on the road, drinking from a rain puddle. I immediately parked and tried to get out & access my camera from the trunk from my rental car as quickly (and silently) as possible. About the moment I turned the lens towards the otter ahead of us, another car pulled up behind me. It paused for a few seconds, and then proceeded to drive past us towards the otter. As you can guess, this spooked the otter which ran off into the brush. A huge missed opportunity!

I only got a brief glimpse at what this area has to offer. I can only imagine what the area is like during the height of spring migrations. A trip earlier in the year would yield far great opportunities and that’s something I would like pursue in the future.
Juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea), J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) and reflection, J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida
Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida
Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja), J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) and reflection, J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida
Juvenile Heron and crab, J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida

Website Update (and some commentary)

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve updated my website by adding nearly 40 new photos taken during the first half of this year. You can view those photos in my New Photos gallery. Normally, that would be the extent of my “new photo” announcement. This time, however, I’d also like to mention that I’ve also completed a large project where I have re-processed nearly every photo that is on my website (that’s 300+ photos).

I created my website about four years ago and a lot has changed since then. My experience, both in the field and with Photoshop, has grown tremendously. I’ve largely been focused on the present and the future but, earlier this year, I realized that I could do a better job of processing my oldest photos based on my current knowledge and skill set.

And so it began. I’ve posted a few before and after comparisons on my Google Plus account but I’ll share a few examples of what I’m talking about. One of the common mistakes I made was using a display that wasn’t color-calibrated. Eventually all serious photographers realize this mistake and incorporate color calibration into their normal workflow. Your not aware of it at the time but it slaps you in the face once you realize it. Here we have a waterfall scene along Deception Creek:

Deception Creek- Original (left) and updated version (right)It should be obvious that the original photo (on the left) has a HUGE green color cast to it. However, once corrected, the difference is striking. Here is another example from the wildflower meadows on Mazama Ridge in Mount Rainier National Park:

Mazama Ridge wildflowers- Original (left) and updated version (right)After the correction, the colors of the lupine really pop and it’s not due to an increase in the color saturation! Another type of correction, although less common in my collection, was for dynamic range. Now consider this photo of fall color in the Wells Creek drainage on the north side of Mount Baker:

Wells Creek fall color- Original (left) and updated version (right)The foreground was in shade but the upper ridge where the fall color was located was in full sunshine. When I originally processed this photo, my abilities at the time could only accommodate the shadows or the highlights but not both. At the time, not even an HDR process could produce a satisfactory result. Through what I have learned since then, I was able to blend two exposures from the original single RAW file and I’m very happy with the results. Now the clouds, bright fall color, and cliff faces are not overexposed *AND* there is sufficient detail in the shade of the foreground.

Some photos were originally color but, after some reflection, I felt would have more impact if converted to black and white. This photo of Hemispheres at the Mount Baker Ski Area is a prime example:
Hemispheres in the Mount Baker Ski Area backcountry- Original (left) and updated version (right)This process took quite a while and seemed like it would never end. In the end, however, I am quite happy with the results and feel that is was well worth the effort.

Deep at Bagley Creek

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Labor Day marks the traditional end of summer but our weather must be “gifted” since signs of fall have been noticeable for as week or two. Weekend forecasts had been called for gray and showery conditions so a return trip to Bagley Creek with a friend was penciled in. My first visit was a quick one a couple weeks ago but the scenery was stunning and seemed to have potential for even more. During that first visit, it looked like there were some drops and waterfalls just out of sight so some more thorough exploration was in order.

On the way to Bagley Creek, I decided to visit a location I discovered in an old out-of-print book. The location is a rock outcrop which contains fossilized imprints of plant leafs. I’ve never heard of something like this in the Cascades and the ease of access makes it pretty incredible. Through the years, I suspect that most of the quality examples (such as what was in the book’s photo) have been taken home by careless individuals. In order to preserve what remains, I’m electing NOT to reveal its location and simply share some photos.

Fossilized Ferns - North Fork Nooksack River Drainage
Fossilized Leaf - North Fork Nooksack River Drainage
Fossilized Palm leaf imprint - North Fork Nooksack River Drainage
It was very cool to see and touch some of the history of the Cascades. We cut our time short and made our way to Bagley Creek. I wanted to check out two things- the stretch of creek immediately upstream of a forest service road & then a second stretch of the creek further upstream which had a nice sized waterfall. Before wading upstream, we checked out the scene just below the bridge:

Bagley Creek
Bagley Creek
Plunge pool - Bagley Creek
Bagley Creek
Looking upstream from the bridge, one can make out a nice 6′ drop so it was time to wade upstream to investigate it further. As it turns out, a nice amphitheater contains the drop. Just below the drop, however, a plunge pool at least 6′ deep prevented any further travels. After a few more photos, I headed back to the bridge to move on to the second location.

The second location is basically just around the corner. Accessed off of a decommissioned logging road, the forest is dense and makes travel difficult. The waterfall proved elusive yet again due to steep sidewalls and deep waters. We were there and had more time so we followed the old road which paralleled the creek downstream.

We would walk down 50 feet, then pop over to the water’s edge to survey the scene. Our first location provided some really interesting rock formations:

Bagley Creek rock formations (portrait view)
Bagley Creek rock formations (landscape view)
In stream rock formations - Bagley Creek
The next location downstream had one of the deepest plunge pools I’ve seen. I believe this location is roughly where Razor Hone Creek joins Bagley Creek. I managed to get some nice photos despite the sun’s off and on appearances.

We reached one of the bridges used as part of the winter cross country ski trails and then turned around. We now know that this area is accessible during the winter so it might be on the list of places to visit this coming winter!

Bagley Creek
Bagley Creek waterfall
I’ll be taking a break for the next two weeks to attend to some other commitments so look for a new post later this month!

5 Minutes in Spray Park

Weather in the mountains can change very quickly. On this day, we were treated to one of these transformations as fog gave way to a glorious sunset in less than 5 minutes.

Based on some internet reports about conditions, I decided to head down to Spray Park in Mount Rainier National Park to check out conditions and hopefully shoot sunset. I was able to convince a friend to join me on this endeavor (the forests here are bogeyman quality once it gets dark!) so we set out from the trailhead at Mowich Lake around 5pm. Earlier in the week, Mount Rainier was blessed with nice light around the time of sunset but on Saturday, the clouds were very stubborn around the mountain, offering a short glimpse of its glaciated slopes every now & then.

As we hiked in along the trail, we passed dozens of people who had spent the day at Spray Park. They described the flowers as good in spots but in between the earlier phase of lillies and the lupine / wildflower phase- and no mountain views. In a while we stopped at the Eagle Cliff viewpoint and saw a very thick cloud layer around 6,000 feet.

Creek along the trail to Spray Park
We pressed on and eventually arrived at the sidetrip to Spray Falls (my first visit to the falls). The red rock in the narrow canyon really provides a dramatic setting for the wide, fanning waterfall which originates from the subalpine parklands of Spray Park. We got our feet wet crossing the creek to explore a better view of the falls. Quickly snapping a photo, it was time to head to our primary destination: Spray Park.

False hellebore and Spray Falls
The first 2 miles to Spray Park has minor ups and downs but the last 0.5 mile push to Spray Park from Spray Falls switchbacks up 700 feet. Spray Park has several terraces to it and the trail works its way up through them before reaching the divide that separates Spray Park from Seattle and Mist Parks. Leading up to our visit, I spent some time studying the imagery in Google Earth looking for potentially interesting locations. I ended up identifying three locations to pursue and the first one was near the entrance to the Spray Park area.

It turned out that the features I saw in the aerials weren’t as photogenic from ground level as I had hoped. The meadow WAS beautiful with several nice areas of blooms. This meadow was an area that also was part of the headwaters for Spray Creek. The mosquitoes were aggressive in this area so I covered up before getting out my camera gear.

Avalanche Lillies - Spray Park
Spray Creek in Spray Park
I took a couple photos of Avalanche Lillies and Spray Creek and then noticed my friend saying something to me that I couldn’t make out. I walked closer to him and could finally make out what he was saying… “THERE’S A BEAR….20 YARDS OVER THERE…” …and he pointed towards a grove of trees across a small creek.

Oh oh. Apparently this meadow had a guardian and wasn’t that pleased to see visitors. The bear had snorted a couple times at my friend who had not seen it due to a well concealed rest area in the trees. We decided to make a slow but quick retreat and try our luck elsewhere. Before leaving, I tried to get a photo of Smokey the Bear:

This is my meadow!
Mount Rainier through a quick cloud window
We rejoined the trail and continued to climb into Spray Park. Each step brought us deeper into the cloud bank which was thick and stubborn. We had a brief window through the clouds of Mount Rainier at one point but it quickly closed. We had Spray Park all to our self and it was quite a feeling. It was dead calm and quiet, which was at times erie. Arriving in the heart of Spray Park, we made our way to the second location I had identified. We passed a large tarn which intrigued me due to the large rocks in the shallows and the reflection of the trees lining its edge.

Tarn reflections - Spray Park
We continued but the wildflower blooms weren’t there. The clouds above and around us continued to thicken. We retreated back to the main trail and suggested a rest stop so I could eat a bit. Conditions did not look like they would improve for viewing sunset. I was finishing up my sandwich when I thought I saw some pale blue sky above us. I thought it was an optical illusion but then I turned to look at the mountain.

There it was! I quickly stopped and gathered up my camera and tripod. I ran around in full panic mode looking for a composition. I settled on one location and began to fire off shots.

8:34pm and 12 seconds:

A mountain revealed- 8:34pm and 12 seconds
8:34pm and 40 seconds:

A mountain revealed- 8:34pm and 40 seconds
8:35pm and 5 seconds:

A mountain revealed- 8:35pm and 5 seconds
8:36pm & 17 seconds:

A mountain revealed- 8:36pm and 17 seconds
Wow. The transformation was nothing short of spectacular. As the mountain was revealed, the warm, pink light of sunset was in all its glory. You’ll notice that the photo compositions kept changing. I had to do this because of another photographer who appeared out of nowhere and planted himself right in my frame. A definite bummer but this was no time to pout.

Last light on Mount Rainer
If the light show on Mount Rainier wasn’t enough, beautiful scenes were happening all around us. To the west, we discovered that we were now above the clouds as an endless sea of clouds extended towards the horizon. Behind us, fiery clouds glowed above Hessong Rock *AND* clouds were leaking over the ridge from Mist Park. We ran around looking for different compositions but in short order, the glorious light on Rainier faded away.

Sunset's glow above Hessong Rock
Fog and fire
I turned my attention to the west and took a few shots of the sea of clouds before packing everything up for the hike out. It was 9:14pm and sadly time to go so, with my bear bell and headlamps on, we hiked out. The darkness of the forest is amazingly creepy and I was thankful to have a partner with me during the hike out. Ninety minutes later, we were back at my truck and on our way home.

Last memories - Spray Park
As photo trips go, this didn’t go as well as well as I had hoped. I do rank this sunset as one of the top five that I’ve had the pleasure of shooting. Five minutes can make a world of difference!

Hannegan Peak

After a couple of weeks off, I was eager to get out again. I had wanted to return to Hannegan Peak several weeks ago but it wasn’t in the cards. Hannegan Peak is a 10 mile roundtrip day with 3,500 feet of elevation gain. Once atop the peak, you are treated with tremendous views of the North Cascades, Mount Shuksan, and Mount Baker. Even before reaching the summit, the hike provides views of crystal clear Ruth Creek and snow capped Ruth Mountain.

Panorama of the Nooksack Ridge and Ruth Creek valley
Ruth Mountain ahead (Hannegan Pass in the upper left)
From the trailhead, the trail climbs towards Hannegan Pass over 4 miles. The lower stretch of trail is alive with a wide variety of plants and wildflowers. I saw lots of Columbine, Cow Parsnip, Penstemon, and Tiger Lilly in bloom. The upper half of the hike spends more time in the forest and included Queens Cup and Sitka Valerian in bloom. A half mile before Hannegan Pass lies the turnoff for Hannegan Camp, a backcountry camp in a beautiful sub-alpine setting.

Small seasonal runoff near Hannegan Camp
Stream at Hannegan Camp
The final half-mile up to the pass includes some open meadows which were in between stages- too early for the main wildflower display but too late for the Glacier Lillies. Hannegan Pass proper is a forested pass with some minor views to the northeast. The pass is really just a busy junction. To the right is the way trail that climbers use to climb Mount Ruth. Straight ahead the trail drops down into the North Cascades National Park and the Chilliwack River valley, providing access to Copper Ridge, Easy Ridge, and Whatcom Pass.

Grouse on the Hannegan Peak trail
Halfway point to the top of Hannegan Peak. Highest point in the photo is a false summit
Some of the exposed geology of Hannegan Peak, which was part of the Hannegan Caldera
To reach Hannegan Peak, the trail the heads left from the pass is the choice. From the pass, it’s one mile and another 1,200 feet to the summit plateau. The trail switchbacks through meadows as the views get bigger and bigger. A final snow slope brings you up to the wide summit plateau and a short stroll over to the true summit.

Panorama from the summit looking at Ruth Mountain, Mount Shuksan, and Mount Baker
Mount Blum in the distance
Chilliwack River valley and Whatcom Peak & Mount Challenger in the distance
Geology of Peak 6445
The views from the top are some of finest I’ve seen in the Cascades. A full 360 degrees provide ample eye candy: Goat Mountain, Mount Larrabee, Copper Mountain, Mount Redoubt, Whatcom Peak, Mount Challenger, Mount Blum, Ruth Mountain, Mount Shuksan, Mount Baker and hundreds of other peaks. I spent about an hour on the top taking photos before beginning the long hike out.

Heather in bloom atop Hannegan Peak
Ruth Mountain and heather
Jagged Ridge and part of the Nooksack Cirque
Mount Shuksan
Overview of the Hannegan Pass area (center) and Ruth Mountain
Heading home...

While on the summit, I tried out an iPhone app that I had picked up recently: Peaks from Augmented Outdoors. Using the iPhone’s GPS and compass, it attempts to label mountains and peaks in your vicinity. It works without a cellphone connection so it’s perfect for backcountry use. You can take a snapshot of what you see and then share it later via email or Twitter. I opted for the screenshot of the app in use:

Screenshot of the Peaks app in use
The accuracy of the labels is only as good as the calibration of the iPhone’s compass. In my use, most of the labels were in the ballpark but a few were off what I thought to be a bit much. I didn’t realize it at the time but you can fix errors like what I saw while using the app. Oh well! The app costs $2.99 in the App Store. The only improvement in it that I’d like to see is a slider that restricts the search results from the user by distance. This is a feature of a similar program ( that’s free but requires a cellular network in order to operate.

Summer in the Nooksack Valley

I spent the day before July 4th traveling around the North Fork Nooksack River valley. I was primarily interested in several waterfalls but I also revisited a small creek that I haven’t been to in a while. The weather was perfect for photography (cloudy and dry) and was a mixture of success and setbacks. I had hoped to find a possible vantage point across from Nooksack Falls but that did not pan out on this trip. I also had hoped to photograph Wells Creek Falls from creek level but that also did not happen due to high water and too many water crossings to gain entrance into the falls’ amphitheater. The last setback was getting cliffed out while bushwhacking up Deadhorse Creek to Deadhorse Falls. If the falls are your goal, follow the LEFT (or east) bank upstream. The right side is easier travel initially but becomes a very steep cliff face as the falls come into view.

On to the successes..

Clouds shroud the upper slopes of Church Mountain
Cascade Creek
Cascade Creek
Cascade Creek
Cascade Creek
I made a quick stop at Nooksack Falls to shoot a summer version of a photo I took a few winters ago. I’m very happy with the end result:

Nooksack Falls
I’ve shot a particular creek that flows into the Nooksack immediate above Nooksack Falls a number of times throughout the winter but have rarely visited the stretch of creek located upstream of the Mount Baker Highway. The higher flows right now made conditions more conducive for a visit:

Un-named Creek
Un-named Creek
Un-named Creek
And now…..Wells Creek Falls. It’s somewhat visible from Wells Creek Road and located just 1,000 feet upstream of the road. How hard can it be? Well……….VERY. Photographing the falls from creek level can be done but is best suited for fall when the water levels are lower. On this day, the water was running deep enough to discourage fording since the hike would require several fords across the creek to gain entrance into the waterfall’s amphitheater.

From about the halfway point between the falls and the road, my friend and I looked up and weighed my options. Both sides were steep walled ridges but we decided to go with the right hand side. We huffed it back out to the road and then crashed into the forest. I’ve crashed through some huckleberry dominant understories before but this was unreal. The huckleberry was thick and 6 feet tall. Negotiating this was a huge drain on energy. On the flip side, the floor of the forest was quite prolific with bunchberry in bloom (no photos, though!).

After a lot of scratches and brush crashing, we arrived at the location of the falls. Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear vantage point due to the thick forest. Here’s what I was able to capture:

Wells Creek Falls
If I didn’t believe it before, I do now- the Wells Creek drainage bites back!

Tye Waterfalls

I wasn’t going to head out this weekend but decided I needed to get out after a very lengthy day of yard work. Forecasts were stream and waterfall friendly so I decided to head up Highway 2 to check out a couple waterfalls in the Tye River valley. First, I decided to revisit a location from a couple weeks ago to re-shoot it under better conditions:

Unnamed Creek - Foss River Valley
Unnamed Creek - Foss River Valley
Next up, Alpine Falls which is just east of the Old Cascade Highway’s west end. The volume of water is pretty high so it’s hard to get a balanced exposure and detail in the waterfall:

Tye River
Alpine Falls (Portrait Version)
Alpine Falls (Landscape Version)
My last stop was was a waterfall I had no idea existed which is appropriately named Scenic Falls. It’s located just off of the road to the Surprise Creek trailhead and pretty impressive. Once again, with water volumes running on the high side, photos were difficult because a hefty amount of spray downwind of the falls. I found a “dry zone” which was partially shielded by a slope to take the photos you see here:

Lower Scenic Falls
Another view of the lower Scenic Falls
Base of the upper Scenic Falls
Upper Scenic Falls
Bunchberry bloom
I will return to Scenic Falls at some point to re-shoot it. It was late in the day but I saw another vantage point up higher and outside of the spray zone so I’m anxious to try it.

Less traveled path to Mount Rainier Waterfalls

Mountain forecasts called for showers so it was time for some waterfall photography. Using Bryan Swan’s excellent Northwest Waterfall Survey website, I found an area in Mount Rainier National Park with a high concentration that was new to me. I originally wanted to visit this area last fall but the first snows of the year closed State Route 123 and my access. The area is the north end of the Eastside Trail which begins on the south end at the Stevens Canyon entrance to the park and travels all the way north to Cayuse & Chinook Pass.

Six miles south of Cayuse Pass, a trailhead at Deer Creek allows you to drop down into the valley and begin your hike. The trailhead is more known for being the backside hike up to Owyhigh Lakes but it intersects the Eastside trail at the Deer Creek campground in the valley floor. From the trailhead, the roar of Deer Creek gets louder until you are afforded a great view of Deer Creek Falls. A few more switchbacks down bring you to the Deer Creek campground and the trail intersections.

Deer Creek Falls
Old Growth - Eastside Trail
Deer Creek Falls
My original plan was to hike south along the Eastside trail to Stafford Falls and then return to explore the opportunities around the triple confluence of Deer Creek, Chinook Creek, and Kotsuck Creek. Along my way, I passed a couple returning from Ohanapecosh Falls and based on their recommendation, I decided to extend my hike south to there. The forest here is somewhat open but lush. Vanilla Leaf and oval leafed huckleberry dominates the understory. Huge trees are common but not widespread throughout the area.

Chinook Creek
Vanilla Leaf - Eastside Trail
Chinook Creek Cascades
Chinook Creek Cascades
Chinook Creek Cascades
My first stop south was an area known as the Chinook Creek Cascades, the beginning of which is where a trail bridge crosses the creek. The creek encounters a series of drops through a tight rock formation and the clarity of the water only accentuates the scene. From here, Stafford Falls is another 0.5 mile to the south. It’s not quite visible from the trail but it can be heard when volumes are high (such as on my visit). A short way trail veers off to the left which brings you to an elevated perch. The scene is somewhat reminiscent of Punchbowl Falls in Oregon since it has a nice drop into a large circular bowl before emptying downstream.

Stafford Falls
Stafford Falls from below
Another way trail leads you down to the water’s edge. The rock around the Stafford Falls bowl is solid rock with sheer walls but near the outlet there is a small platform in the rock to take pictures from. After some lunch and additional photos, I made my way south to the Ohanapecosh Falls (another 1.5 miles south from Stafford Falls). The trail continues with lush portions of forest along with some dark stretches with no understory.

Eastside Trail south of Stafford Falls
Vanilla Leaf along the Eastside Trail
The middle portion of the distance gets quiet as the trail is high above Chinook Creek and not quite close enough to Ohanapecosh River but it soon begins to roar as you draw close. The trail crosses the river just above the very top of the two-tier waterfall. The river here is deep, blue, and fast so a slip here would result in serious injury. Despite the spectacular nature of the falls, the Park Service does not have a developed viewpoint for the falls. A clear view of the entire falls can be had but you must travel south of the falls a couple hundred yards (and potentially off trail).

Ohanapecosh River just above the falls
Ohanapecosh Falls
A steady rain greeted me at the falls and by the time I was finished, I was soaked along with my backpack and gear. I began my (uphill) hike back to the trailhead. Although it was late in the afternoon, I made one last stop on my way back. I remember seeing what appeared to be another waterfall off trail before I had reached Stafford Falls. It turned out that my suspicion was correct and a short diversion brought me to it creekside.

Chinook Creek
Chinook Creek
From here, I kept my head down and hiked out back to my truck. The 0.4 mile hike UP from the valley floor to the trailhead is a bit cruel at the end of a long day but it doesn’t take too long. Despite the fowl weather, it was a great day of solitude and sights in Mount Rainier National Park. I ended up not visiting some locations I wanted but I know I’ll be back- there’s way too much to explore!

As a side note, there won’t be a post next week as my numerous outings from the past few weeks has also created a pile of domestic duties I need to work on!

The Foss

I finally found myself bsck on more familiar ground this week after my trip to Honduras. I lost track of time recently so I spent the best day of this weekend framing my entry for next week’s Edmonds Art Show (I’ll save my original destination for next weekend). I still felt the need to get out so I headed out to the Foss River valley to explore some more.

First up is a small creek that runs underneath Highway 2 a little bit west of Skykomish. I’ve thought about stopping at this location for a while now but never have. It turns out that it did have some photo worthy opportunities:

Unnamed Creek
Unnamed Creek
From here, I pressed onward and headed up the Foss River Road. Once again, there’s one particular creek that I’ve crossed but never explored. The full sunshine was havoc but once again I found some interesting scenes:

Unnamed Creek - Foss River Valley
Unnamed Creek - Foss River Valley
Unnamed Creek - Foss River Valley
Unnamed Creek - Foss River Valley
Next up was a second visit to a particular spot along the Foss River that I found earlier this winter. By now, the weather was SLOWLY turning with scattered clouds beginning to drift through. Still- bright sunshine was still dominating:

Foss River
Foss River
Foss River
From here, I headed up the valley to see if I could get up to the Evans Lake trailhead. It looked hopeful but about 1 mile shy of the trailhead the road became snow covered and undriveable. At one point, I happened to look up and watched some whispy clouds stream across the ridgeline above me. The clouds were backlit due to the sun and a halo kept appearing:

Sun Halo
From here, I doubled back down the valley and wanted to quickly check out the conditions near Jack’s Pass on the Beckler River Rd. I was bummed to find a MASSIVE windfall blocking one of the side roads off of the pass about 0.5 miles in. A four foot diameter trunk sheered off about 30 feet off of the ground. I’m not so sure this will get cleared this year. That will put a damper on a few of my plans!

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