Trees

The Umpqua and the Chainsaw

Loafer Timber Sale Unit 35, Umpqua National Forest
In 1998 I was in grad school in Southern California and taking a seminar in physical geography. One of our assignments was to write a critique of an essay entitled “Sustaining the World’s Forests” by Janet Abramovitz. I won’t bore you with a discussion about the essay (or my critique!) but suffice to say that I had to do some research in order to craft my critique. As I descended down into the rabbit hole of research, I happened across the website of a group called Umpqua Watersheds (UW). Based out of Roseburg, Oregon, this group was fighting to save old growth stands under threat of logging around the Umpqua River watershed.

At that time in the 1990s, the Umpqua region was the center of renewed attempts to log old growth forests as a result of something called the 1995 Salvage Rider (background link and link). The links better explains it but, briefly, the Salvage Rider was one of those typical unrelated 11th hour amendments attached to a larger piece of federal legislation and it re-opened countless numbers of timber sales that had been previously withdrawn due to environmental concerns. To get their message out, UW used their website to publicize the various sales and the UW case against them, and this was something of a first at that time. It was pretty effective because the combination of narrative and photos taken out in the contested sale units really helped make the point about why these places were so special.

On a trip north to visit the Pacific Northwest one summer, I even tried to visit one of the contested sales (I don’t recall actually making it to the contested site, though). A couple years later, I realized one of my dreams and moved up to Washington State. As my new life in Washington came together, I ended up losing track of what was happening down in the Umpqua. Sometime last year, I got curious about what had happened over the last 16 years. The UW website had been revamped at some point and the new version had largely no mention of its past work. The photographer in me was very curious since I love to go out and photograph lesser known locations.

East Fork Coquille Timber Sale Unit 105, Coos Bay BLM District
East Fork Coquille Timber Sale Unit 105, Coos Bay BLM District
E-Mile Timber Sale, Roseburg BLM District
I don’t think I’ve mentioned it before but my background is in cartography and geographic information systems (GIS), and I decided to put those skills to use in answering the question about what has happened. I spent a lot of time combining spatial data from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) & US Forest Service with the information that used to be posted on the old UW website (it’s still accessible via Google searches). I was actually able to do quite a lot on my own but, due to the time frame we’re talking about, a lot of content isn’t available online. I eventually contacted UW to ask the proverbial “what happened” question and share the fruits of my own labor. Not only did I get a lengthy, insightful response, I also got a CC response from Francis Eatherington who was UW’s first salaried employee and someone who was deeply involved in the activism as it was happening.

It was a great surprise to have her respond with her thoughts. Even better, she offered to assist me further with my project by offering access to UW’s hardcopy files in order to fill in the gaps I ran up against on my own. It was a fantastic offer that I’d be crazy to turn down. I made my plans to visit and recently got back from my five days down in Roseburg. Before going too much further, I think it’s important to review a little history lesson. Much of the landscape in the Cascade and coastal mountains in Southern Oregon owe its existence to the expansion of the railroads in the 1800s. The Oregon & California (O&C) line was developed to connect Portland to California. The BLM has a more detailed version of events (link here) but the cliff note version is that the company trying to develop the land as part of the O&C expansion ran into issues and the federal government had to step in. What was left was a severely fragmented landscape that resembles a checkerboard where ownership alternates between private and public land every other square mile.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was tasked with management of the federal lands within the checkerboard and its management is largely dictated by the mandates that are part of the O&C Lands Act of 1937. This act really set the tone for resource management in the area (and not in a good way). The act was very pro-logging and mandates that the local counties get reimbursement payments in return for the “loss” of tax revenues due to the O&C land ownership pattern. This worked out pretty good for counties like Douglas for several decades. The 80s gave rise to concerns about the rapid loss of old growth forests in the region and their impacts on Salmon, Spotted Owls, and the Marbled Murrelet.

Felix Timber Sale Unit 5, Umpqua National Forest
Felix Timber Sale Unit 8, Umpqua National Forest
Felix Timber Sale Unit 8, Umpqua National Forest
As the 90s began, the court of public opinion was turning towards the saving of old growth (outside of the logging industry & associated families, that is). A number of timber sales were challenged and successfully stopped. This is the point in time where we circle back to the passing of the Salvage Rider. Through determined efforts, groups like UW were able to defeat some timber sale proposals that were re-introduced as many as three or four times. Around the early 2000s, the last of the Rider area sales reached a resolution and with that, the Rider era timber sales by and large quieted down. Umpqua Watersheds transitioned from an organization focused on activism to one that now promoted education and conservation.

So, 20 years after the passage of the Salvage Rider, what, ultimately has changed? Certainly, logging volumes have certainly declined from their heyday but logging is s a culture / mindset that’s deeply embedded in the community. According to the County, nearly half of the population is directly or indirectly associated with the timber industry. Just down the block from UW’s offices, the city is updating the downtown area and part of that upgrade includes some public art in the form of small sculptures that resemble log rounds. Roseburg’s city seal even includes the phrase “Timber Capital of the World.” County revenues have taken a significant hit thanks to the reduced volumes of timber harvested. Recently, Douglas County opted to clearcut one of its own county parks in order to make up a budget deficit within their parks department. The county is also preparing to join with 17 other counties to sue the BLM about the reduction in the reimbursement payments.

Fragmented as it is, stands of old growth still exist. Visiting them is not like visiting a national park. There’s no fanfare or anticipation; it consists of traveling along logging roads through large sections of industrial clearcuts and knowing where to park and then crashing through brush in order to reach the stands. It’s not always easy, as I learned firsthand. The BLM road network is immense and can be quite confusing. BLM roads might be federal roads but they often must cross through those private ownership sections and sometimes the private owners have elected to install access gates. I ran into this situation with one of the stands I wanted to visit. The addition of a gate added a 2.2 mile, 1,400′ elevation gate hike just to even reach the location of the stand. Having experienced the situation of being locked behind a gate before, I was very concerned about this happening to me and so I wasn’t able to visit all the sites I had hoped to visit.

East Fork Coquille Timber Sale Unit 108, Coos Bay BLM District
East Fork Coquille Timber Sale Unit 108, Coos Bay BLM District
East Fork Coquille Timber Sale Unit 108, Coos Bay BLM District
I’m glad that I did some pre-planning before my trip because it can be easy to get turned around while visiting these old sale units. I made a series of aerial maps for each of the sites that I was going to visit. Additionally, I used the GAIA GPS app on my iPhone to log GPS tracks while in the field and referred to aerial photos I pre-cached each day before heading out. Most sites are located on hillsides which means either climbing up or down in order to explore the site. Pacific Rhododendron, which is a common understory shrub, creates some challenges for a photographer seeking compositions. They have a tendency to grow 10′ or higher and in thickets so it can be hard to see much else in the forest. To counter this, sometimes I would use a 7′ gimbal to raise my camera to a taller height or hold my tripod in the air like a color guard would do with a flag.

After a day and half of exploring on my own, I finally had my meeting in Roseburg with Francis Eatherington at the Umpqua Watersheds office. Initially, I had only expected to spend 4-5 hours but the depth and wealth of material prompted me to change my plans and I spent the whole day scanning pages. In addition to a floor to ceiling bookcase full of project binders, they also had 2 file cabinets with more files. It wasn’t hard to get sucked into the history; many pages had hand written comments and just bringing up the name of a timber sale would prompt some story or recollection from Francis. Time flew by quickly and soon it was 5pm and Francis had to leave to attend some lands committee meeting.

Before leaving, Francis offered to “guide” me the next day at one of the timber sales and that was a fantastic opportunity which I knew I couldn’t pass up. After Francis left, one of the UW board members suggested we go grab some dinner to talk some more about the region and my mapping project. Over that dinner, he recalled numerous stories of how logging (and the timber industry in general) have impacted the region. Some things, like how clearcutting steep slopes leads to landslides, is fairly obvious but others impacts aren’t so obvious to the untrained eye. For example, I remarked how many streams in the region (not just the Umpqua) ran over bedrock bottoms, devoid of much cobble. As it turns out, in Oregon, you can thank logging for this. One factor was an early practice which loggers would fell trees into streams and let high flows transport the logs. A second factor was a puzzling decision by the State that rock in streams was bad for salmon and so timber sale contracts had stipulations that required the contractor to clear streams of rock. Just crazy.

East Fork Coquille Timber Sale Unit 108, Coos Bay BLM District
East Fork Coquille Timber Sale Unit 108, Coos Bay BLM District
East Fork Coquille Timber Sale Unit 108, Coos Bay BLM District
It was a great day of conversation and I have a lot of admiration for people that continue do work under such adversity.  The next morning I touched base with Francis and made plans to meet and head over to the sale units from the East Fork Coquille timber sale. Located about 25 miles southwest of Roseburg, this was a sale proposed by the BLM but was successfully defeated on appeals. These units are located in the coast range and have stand ages over 300 years old. I did visit a couple of these units after arriving in Roseburg but those were quick, cursory visits.  We eventually decided to visit Unit 108, which is near 50 acres in size. The unit isn’t as steeply sloped as many other units so traversing through the unit wasn’t as bad. That being said, there were still many large thickets of dense Rhododendron that made travel interesting.

The unit has plenty of big trees- Douglas Fir and Western Hemlock. It actually has quite a high concentration of big trees per acre and that’s one of the reasons that UW sought to save these units from the chainsaw. Francis recalled that there was at least one 7′ diameter tree somewhere inside the stand and I’m sure that we passed by it at some point. Our deepest penetration into the unit was a point along the east edge of the unit. The edge outside the unit had experienced some thinning and the big trees extended literally up to and along the unit boundary. Despite blue sunny skies, I didn’t have too bad a day photographing the forest and trees. Overexposure was an issue but I was able to bracket scenes using multiple exposures to capture the range from shadow to sun. We had to head back eventually but it was a really great time out in this unit.

It was now mid afternoon and Francis was willing to take me to another sale somewhat nearby named Dickerson Heights. This time, we encountered a gate right off the highway. It was shut- but wasn’t locked. Nonetheless, I was still skittish about passing through the gate. We called it a day & headed back to Roseburg. Over dinner, Francis suggested a number of options for me to check out the following day (my last full day down in the area). I ended up with a lengthy & ambitious list and the next day I tried to tackle all of it.

East Fork Coquille Timber Sale Unit 108, Coos Bay BLM District
North Umpqua Trail, Umpqua National Forest
North Umpqua Trail, Umpqua National Forest
My first stop was a portion of the North Umpqua Trail in the vicinity of Susan Creek. The trail is a pretty long trail and entry/exit points are separated by somewhat lengthy intervals. As it turns out, a new bridge across the Umpqua was built just a couple years ago which drops you off right into a beautiful stretch of old growth forest. Boy- was Francis right about this one! It had big trees, a nice understory with lots of Oxalis. I could have continued on and explored longer but I had too many other stops to make. I couldn’t have asked for a better start to the day, though! The next stop was Toketee Falls which was as beautiful as all the photos I’ve seen. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as inspired photo wise since compositions are extremely limited due to the dangerous nature of visiting the falls (officially, there’s only a small elevated platform).

Near Toketee Falls, was my next stop: the Loafer Timber Sale Units. This sale is actually a fairly recent one (proposed 2011/2012) but threatened some pretty large trees just like the older sales. Accessing these units was a little more difficult because the units I was visited were situated away from existing roads and required bushwhacking in order to gain access. The chances of getting confused and lost were high so I made sure I logged a GPS track. Francis had told me that there was an old road that led into the area of the units but she couldn’t recall how to find it. I tried following what I thought was a slight sign of a road that I spied in an aerial. I wasn’t really convinced that I was actually on the road but, as luck would have it, during a traverse around a nasty Rhododendron thicket, I stumbled onto the old road. There was no doubt about it, especially since it was flagged at regular intervals.

Following the road, I would occasionally stop and check out any flagging that had writing on it. One flag caught my eye. It read: “RVT Possible Trees 280° / 150 ft”. Deciphered, it means “Red Tree Vole habitat trees possible, bearing 280° in 150 feet”. This means big trees are nearby! I hopped of the road in search of the trees being referenced. I should mention that mosquitoes were HORRENDOUS at this location despite no obvious sources of water. I was lathered up with bug juice but it wasn’t helping all that much. It really made it hard to keep going but I did. The further I went into the sale units, the more photogenic the forest became. In addition to the big trees, there was finally a nice understory with Vanilla Leaf, Oregon Oxalis, and Star-Flowered Soloman’s Seal. A person can stand only so much mosquito harassment so I made steady progress back to my truck to keep the day moving.

North Umpqua Trail, Umpqua National Forest

Loafer Timber Sale Unit 35, Umpqua National Forest

Loafer Timber Sale Unit 35, Umpqua National Forest
My next stop was a unit from a contentious sale named Snog. While this sale was logged, there was one unit that was saved. It’s located higher up in the Fish Creek drainage and it came recommended by Francis. All was well until I turned onto the last spur road to the unit. I didn’t know it at the time but this was the first of what would be many roads with windfall to deal with. Someone else had gone through and cleared away the worst blockages but I ended up making the passages wider for my benefit and for others. It ended up taking way too long and I made the tough decision to bail out of this stop.

At 4pm, there were only a couple hours of daylight left and I was planning on visiting Crater Lake for sunset. My attempts to visit some locations between Lemolo Lake and Diamond Lake didn’t pan out due to a lot of windfall that hindered access. I realized that I would be rushing my time anyplace I decided to visit before sunset. I eventually just decided to drive up to the northwest rim of Crater Lake to set up for sunset. This was my first ever visit to Crater Lake and fortunately the north entrance to the park just opened the week before. Despite being open, there was still ample amounts of snow up around the rim. A nice sunset didn’t look too promising a few hours before sunset but things changed favorably closer to actual sunset. I would have enjoyed the nice sunset a little more if not for the constant 30mph winds and 40° temperatures.

For my last morning, I attempted to visit a sale named Diamondback, which was located about 10 miles northwest of Sutherlin. I ended up getting confused/lost while driving to the unit. The area has experienced a recent round of logging (that wasn’t visible in the latest aerial photos) and some new roads were built which I inadvertently turned onto. It wasn’t the greatest way to end a trip but it was an exploratory trip. The Umpqua region is quite beautiful but suffers from a tortured environmental history. Although I went to visit sites from the past, I’ve come to realize that my trip now comes at the right time. Both the BLM and Forest Service are beginning the process of updating their long term management plans. Both agencies (the BLM especially) are under fire to increase logging production thanks to budget shortfalls in the C&O counties.

The Spotted Owl and Marbled Murrelet are still at risk species and their suitable habitat has not expanded. In fact, those same locations are likely to become the target of chainsaws once again. It’s important document what makes them so special, and that’s what I hope my contributions do. There are many, many locations I want to visit and photograph so I have unfinished business down in the Umpqua. This won’t be my only post about the Umpqua moving forward.

Sunset from Merriam Point, Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake Sunset – 6/2/2016 from Steve Cole on Vimeo.

If you’re interested in viewing my web map project of timber sales within the Umpqua basin, you can view that map here.

Umpqua Preview

Things have been pretty quiet around here but I’ll have new photos to share quite soon. Rather than my customary spring trip to Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge, I drove a little further south to explore the Umpqua River drainage in southwest Oregon. I’ll explain more when I share my photos but here’s a quick preview. This spot is located in the upper North Fork Umpqua River drainage and is a grove of old growth that’s threatened with logging due to a timber sale proposal by the Umpqua National Forest.

Loafer Timber Sale Unit 35, Umpqua National Forest

Auroras At Last

Aurora Borealis over Mount Shuksan, North Cascades, Washington State
In some parts of world, a display of the Aurora Borealis is a common occurrence. In the Pacific Northwest, it is not common and requires a fairly substantial solar storm in order to even provide a chance of them appearing. It does happen, however, and I remember my first time ever seeing them one night from my home in Everett. It was a far cry from the photos that you see taken from places in the high latitudes but it was still magical. Photographing them has been my white whale, which is to say that I’ve tried on numerous attempts to photograph them but have typically come up short due to weather or a storm event fizzing out.

Since 2014, the earth has entered an increased cycle of solar activity. For aurora lovers, this has meant more opportunities for viewing and in locations that they normally do not occur. A solar storm two weeks ago brought the Pacific Northwest its latest chance at auroras and the siren song was too enticing to ignore. I was excited because I was sure that this would be *THE* time to photograph. Our region was stuck in a weather rut of clear, sunny weather and the storm was predicted to be significant enough to be seen well south into Oregon.

As the afternoon progressed, storm type clouds were popping up across the mountains and especially in the vicinity of Mount Baker where I was planning to go that evening. A huge thunderhead cloud was firmly parked over Mount Baker and it did not look like it was going to go anywhere. At one point, I resigned myself to the likelihood that this night would be another bust. I kept checking an app on my iPhone named RainAware which provided a looped animation of 1km visible satellite imagery in hopes of seeing anything encouraging. Around 6pm, the clouds parked over Mount Baker appeared to be breaking down. I hated to gamble on a 2+ hour drive only to end in disappointment but I decided to roll the dice. Again…
Late Afternoon cloud cover parked squarely on top of Mount Baker
Aurora Borealis over Mount Shuksan, North Cascades, Washington State
Aurora Borealis over Mount Shuksan, North Cascades, Washington State
Once I headed north on I-5 from Everett, I could see a cloud-free Mount Baker. Very encouraging! Two plus hours later, I arrived at my destination for the night- a spot high above Baker Lake with a clear view directly north towards Mount Shuksan. Although sunset had already come and gone, there still was a bit of ambient light due to my high elevation and wide open skies. I broke out my GoPro Hero 4 to set it up for a night time lapse during my outing and then broke out my camera and my Sigma 18-35 f1.8 lens, which has become my “go to” lens for any night photography.

I had to wait about 40 minutes for nautical twilight and much darker conditions. In the mean time, I would shoot a photo every now and then to check if any auroras would show up. About five minutes before nautical twilight, faint green pillars began showing up on my test photos. The darker the skies got, the brighter the auroras became in my photos. I was so excited. After so many failed outings and missed opportunities, it was finally coming together!

Despite confirmation in my photos, the auroras really weren’t visible to my naked eye. This was a small disappointment but I really couldn’t complain. I kept photographing for over an hour until midnight local time. I had a long drive home and while I really didn’t want to leave, I had to and needed to leave before I was too tired to safely drive home. The vertical pillars and mixed green/purple hues were most active during the first half hour I noticed them but the auroras never quit for the entire time I was photographing them. Needless to say, it was a very happy drive home. Now that I have photographed the, I’m looking forward to their next appearance even more.
Aurora Borealis over Mount Shuksan, North Cascades, Washington State
Aurora Borealis over Mount Shuksan, North Cascades, Washington State
Aurora Borealis over Mount Shuksan, North Cascades, Washington State
Time lapse from the evening with my GoPro Hero 4:

Leavenworth 2015

Balsamroot and Lupine, East Van Creek drainage outside of Leavenworth, Washington
I traveled over Stevens Pass last weekend to photograph the spring wildflowers around Leavenworth. In the past, there’s usually a good correlation between the condition of wildflowers in Leavenworth at the Ski Hill and of those found in the surrounding hills. This year, however, was different; at the ski hill, the flowers were in prime condition but elsewhere the flowers were stunted or still coming up in wide open spaces but looked fine in sheltered or edge environments. I have no way of knowing for sure but I wonder if our pitiful winter had a hand in this.

Speaking of winter, it actually made an appearance in the mountains for our trip across! In the morning, the storm that hit the mountains overnight was beginning to break up. Out in the vicinity of Index, the mix of clouds, sun, and fresh snow on Mount Index was too good to pass up. Nearing Stevens Pass, the fresh snow from overnight reached all the way down to the Tye River valley (2,400 feet). It was too pretty to not photograph so we stopped along one of the pullouts on Highway 2 for some quick photos.

Forecasts for the east slopes called for possible thunderstorms and it held true. They did stay away from our location but that was in doubt for about a half hour in the afternoon when it looked like they were headed in our direction. Once again, we spent our whole day in the Van Creek drainage chasing down a locations that ended up being a bust. This always sucks but it does help with time management for future trips. My next stop will be a much needed return trip to the Gorge and Mount Hood!
Clearing storm clouds and Mount Index
Clearing storm clouds and Mount Index
Clearing storm clouds and Mount Index
Clearing storm clouds and Mount Index
Spring snowfall blanketing the Tye River valley, west of Stevens Pass
Spring snowfall on Lichtenberg, east of Stevens Pass
Young Ponderosa Pine growing out of rock outcrop, Van Creek drainage, Leavenworth, Washington
Balsamroot and Lupine, East Van Creek drainage outside of Leavenworth, Washington
Mount Index and clouds at sunset near Index, Washington
And a couple of quick time lapses from the weekend:

Leavenworth Wildflowers – 2015 from Steve Cole on Vimeo.

Carbon River Old Growth

I recently made the laughable decision to hike the Carbon River old growth forest in Mount Rainier National Park on a rainy day. This is a very special place for me and despite the difficulties of visiting it, I always seem to find something new to see. Here’s a small set of photos from that wet day:
Carbon River valley old growth, Mount Rainier National Park
Carbon River valley old growth, Green Lake Trail, Mount Rainier National Park
Green Lake during rain showers, Mount Rainier National Park
Weathered stump, Green Lake Trail, Mount Rainier National Park
Old growth and young trees, Green Lake Trail, Mount Rainier National Park

Leavenworth 2014

After a five month photo hiatus, I’ve returned! Spring has returned to the Pacific Northwest and the east slopes of the Cascade range are the first areas to have wildflower displays. I’ve made a trip to the Leavenworth area for the balsamroot blooms an annual occurrence but the timing for this can vary wildly from year to year. Last year, I visited around April 20th and conditions were virtually peak but several years ago, May 15th was the timeframe for peak conditions. This year’s peak blooms probably occurred around April 30th but MANY flowers were in prime conditions during my visit on May 3rd.

The balsamroot flowers in Tumwater Canyon and at Leavenworth Ski Hill (and the adjacent trails) all looked good. I normally would also visit Ollala Canyon near Cashmere but did not this year. A friend of mine did visit the previous weekend and conditions looked to be good out there as well. This year, I wanted to photograph something different. I decided to re-visit a location up Eagle Creek Road that proved to be fruitless last year- East Van Creek. It’s a location I found using Google Earth and looked to have the same type of conditions where the balsamroot flowers normally are found.

I was excited to see that this year, the flowers were out and numerous. A short but steep 300 foot ascent up a slope brought me up to a six acre meadow of balsamroot. To the southwest, Canon Mountain peaked over an intermediate ridge. To my southeast, the summit of Chumstick Mountain was visible. The area retains a natural look despite having been logged at some point in the past. To have this flower meadow all to myself for hours was spectacular. The meadow was pretty much all balsamroot but there were patches of lupine including one white lupine (the second I’ve ever seen in 15 years of wandering in the Cascades).
Arrowleaf Balsamroot and lupine, East Van Creek.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot, East Van Creek. Canon Mountain in the distance.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot, East Van Creek. Chumstick Mountain in the distance.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot, East Van Creek. Canon Mountain in the distance.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot and lupine, East Van Creek. Chumstick Mountain in the distance.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot and log, East Van Creek.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot, East Van Creek. Chumstick Mountain in the distance.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot and rare white lupine, East Van Creek. Chumstick Mountain in the distance.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot and lupine, East Van Creek.

April Leftovers

I built up a little backlog during the month of April so here’s a quick hit series of photos.
Big Four Mountain
Big Four Mountain detail
Sunny spring day and Big Four Mountain
Skykomish River Valley near Sultan
title
Cumulus clouds over the summit of Mount Pilchuck
Mount Stickney and Wallace Falls
Mount Pilchuck summit detail
High above the Skykomish River valley near Sultan
Mount Stickney and Wallace Falls
Sunset from Monroe
Storm clouds over Mount Pilchuck from Fairfield County Park in Monroe, Washington
Sunset clouds over Lord Hill from Fairfield County Park in Monroe, Washington
Sunset clouds over Lord Hill from Fairfield County Park in Monroe, Washington
Full moon rising above Haystack Mountain
West Face of Vesper Peak (L), Glacier Peak (C), and Morning Star Peak (R) from Monroe, Washington
Mount Baker Ski Area Vicinity
Spring melt along Razor Hone Creek
Moss on Maples, North Fork Nooksack River valley
Moss on Maples, North Fork Nooksack River valley
I also made this timelapse from my lofty perch above the Skykomish River valley:

Leavenworth 2013

Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) in bloom at the Leavenworth Ski Hill
Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) in bloom at the Leavenworth Ski Hill
Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) in bloom along Mountain Home Road near Leavenworth
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.
Long exposure using my B+W 10 stop neutral density filter of Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) in bloom along Mountain Home Road near Leavenworth.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) in bloom near Dryden
Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) in bloom near Dryden
Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) in bloom near Dryden

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!
Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) in bloom near Dryden
Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) in bloom near Dryden
Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) in bloom near Dryden
Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) in bloom near Dryden
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!
Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) and lupine in bloom along Nahahum Canyon Road near Cashmere
Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) and lupine in bloom along Nahahum Canyon Road near Cashmere
Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) and rising moon along Mountain Home Road near Leavenworth
Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) and rising moon along Mountain Home Road near Leavenworth

Of course, I also had my trusty GoPro with me for some timelapses. Here’s a composite of four different ones from the day:

Good Friday

I shot sunrise over the Cascade Mountains from Everett on Good Friday and a good Friday it turned out to be! I had been thinking about it for a few days but the cloud cover had been a little too thick towards the east. This day, however, had a good balance and really put on a show:
Sunrise over the Cascade Mountains from Everett, Washington on Good Friday 2013
Sunrise over the Cascade Mountains from Everett, Washington on Good Friday 2013
Sunrise over the Cascade Mountains from Everett, Washington on Good Friday 2013
Sunrise over the Cascade Mountains from Everett, Washington on Good Friday 2013
Sunrise over the Cascade Mountains from Everett, Washington on Good Friday 2013
Sunrise over the Cascade Mountains from Everett, Washington on Good Friday 2013
Sunrise over the Cascade Mountains from Everett, Washington on Good Friday 2013
Sunrise over the Cascade Mountains from Everett, Washington on Good Friday 2013
Sunrise over the Cascade Mountains from Everett, Washington on Good Friday 2013
Sunrise over the Cascade Mountains from Everett, Washington on Good Friday 2013
Sunrise over the Cascade Mountains from Everett, Washington on Good Friday 2013
I also set up my trusty GoPro to record a time lapse while I was shooting. That also turned out pretty neat!

1 2  Scroll to top