Walla Walla and Beyond

5786-wallawalla1We ran into a little rain on the way to Walla Walla, but otherwise had a pleasant drive in. We found the RV park we stayed at during our last visit and played around with some of their enhanced amenities. A wet day is also forecast for tomorrow so we plan to stay here until Tuesday. It would also be getting wet at John Day where we are headed, so we decided to stick around and have a town day. We went to see “The Girl on the Train” at the local theater and later had a late lunch in town. We almost never do this while on the road, so it was a fun change.img_4186John Day Fossil Beds – Painted Hills
Tuesday, October 175967-redhills23aAfter a long 220 mile drive, made longer by our GPS picking a slightly different route than the one we planned to take, we arrived in Mitchell. Towns don’t get much smaller than Mitchell. A few dilapidated/abandoned buildings, a couple of operating businesses and a bunch of wild turkeys. But they do have a municipal park with 4 spaces – 2 of which are 30 amp. Water is available nearby, but no dump. There are a couple of dispersed sites very near the Fossil Beds, but with all the rain, they were a little soggy so we opted for Mitchell.5810-redhills4It’s best to have a partly cloudy day here to take advantage of constantly changing light. There is a chance of afternoon clearing tomorrow and we are hoping to capitalize by spending the entire day there.5805-redhills2 5806-redhills3It was very cloudy in the morning and looked like it would not be clearing soon. We didn’t rush to get out, but by mid-morning we were rolling up the road to the monument. The evening rain had soaked the badland-like mud hills, darkening them considerably.5796-redhills1Previous visits here, the hills were very yellow with deep red streaks through them. This morning they had a distinctly greenish tint. The clouds made the scene very dim, but it should be better later. We drove the short access road to the main overlook and made some images, but will put off the rim hike till later when we hopefully have more sun.5812-redhills5 5822-redhills6 5831-redhills7 5832-redhills8Instead, we drove out to two other sites with short hikes around them. We first stopped at the Red Hill Trail and walked the 1/4 mile path out around a big red hill. Sounds a little dull, but this landscape is quite interesting.5885-redhills11Other hills along the dirt road were worth stopping and spending some time.5855-redhills10 5845-redhills9 5901-redhills12 5906-redhills13We also stopped at the Fossil Leaf trail which moves around a large mound of fossilized leaf imprints on rocks. We didn’t find any though.

By now the skies were beginning to lighten up some. We went back to the main overlook for lunch, but it was still another hour before breaks began emerging between clouds. It seemed a good time to go for a walk.5913-redhills14It is an easy, if windy, uphill walk along the rim of the monument. We could see the light breaks coming from the west, but they seemed to close up just as they arrived. We kept working our way up trail – taking time to hang-out and observe the landsape. It was a great chance to really look at the valley a good long time.5918-redhills15 5919-redhills16 5923-redhills17 5925-redhills18The even lighting, while kind of flat, did bring out a multitude of coloration. It is so distinctive –  I’ve never seen patterns and colors anywhere quite like here. We moved up the trail, and found new perspectives.5941-redhills21 5948-redhills22 5950-redhills23From here, the streaked hills took on an almost blurred effect. Looking closely at the original, it is actually completely sharp. A cool effect.5969-redhills23At the top of the trail, there is more of a panoramic view. We’d been looking toward the valley hills most of the way up, but turning around now, breaks of sun were splashed over the banded hills and headed our way.5984-redhills24More sun finally started reaching us and sweeping across the valley. Large areas would become spotlit – but just for a moment. The fast moving clouds were wreaking havoc with composing images. Try to anticipate – always get it wrong, or the light doesn’t quite hit the spot needed.5991-redhills25 6008-redhills26 6028-redhills27 6039-redhills28 6060-redhills29It began looking like another wave of rain coming in and we still wanted to see the Painted Cove area of the monument. The drive out goes through smaller, but no less scenic hill areas.6063-redhills30The Painted Cove Trail is a mostly boardwalk 1/4 mile loop through cracked, red and gold mud hills. There is also a short branch to an overlook where nice views of the area can be seen.6071-redhills31 6081-redhills32 6090-redhills33It was clouding up again and seemed like it might rain. We finished our walk and headed home, stoping one last time before leaving the park for a few last images.5926-redhills19 5929-redhills20 6098-redhills34Tomorrow, we move on to Bend for a few days. Then a rather slow dash home by next Friday.

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A Final Day in the Hills of the Palouse

Friday, October 145696-palouse4-2As predicted, rain arrived early on Thursday. It was rarely heavy but was steady all day. We could have gone out on another backroad excursion, but the thought of driving those now muddy dirt roads did not appeal. We were ready for a down day anyway and used the time to catch up on image editing and blogging. Yesterdays weather forecast said steady rain for the next four days, so we were thinking we would leave the Palouse tomorrow (Friday) and head south. The latest forecast said partly cloudy morning, cloudy and windy later.5693-palouse4-1I convinced Mary to leave open the possibility of it being just the kind of morning light we would most like to have, and be willing to go out for the morning and stay one last night in Colfax. It turned out just that way. We woke to a partly clearing sky and calm winds. One more time we ventured out.

The steady rain restricted where we were willing to go. Some of the best roads for views are little more than dirt paths cut into the landscape. The are mostly used by the wheat farmers to access their fields and are often steep and, when wet, very slippery.5706-palouse4-5We drove back out to an area northwest of Colfax where we left off Wednesday. On the way to our turnoff, we passed an overturned big rig on the side of the road. It looked like it had just happened. Just a couple of state troopers, a few flares and an extremely dejected guy sitting on a rear wheel. Might have been a combination of speed, a curve and last nights heavy winds.5698-palouse4-3We managed to create a route that stayed primarily on the better graveled roads that wind through the hills here. We came acreoss a few muddy areas, but not enough to turn us back. We found more winter wheat sprouting in strips here that traced the contours of the hills.5703-palouse4-4The light through the clouds was really great. Sometimes it would break through and illuminate individual hills. It constantly changed. It just took some patience to get nicely lit compositions.5708-palouse4-6 5713-palouse4-7 5714-palouse4-8I found myself including much more sky in my compositions. The presence of these clouds have allowed me to widen the scene. The images become less abstract, but the fields now are seen a little more in scale and context. I still made abstract images, but kept making the sky a larger part of the picture.5727-palouse4-9 5730-palouse4-10 5746-palouse4-11 5767-palouse4-12We finished our morning at the crest of one of the many rolling hills that define this place. During our time out, it had gradually gotten so windy we could barely hold cameras still. We sat and watched while the wind-blown clouds raced across the land. In the distance, Steptoe Butte rose over everything.5776-palouse4-13

Returning to our fairground campsite, we noticed it had gotten much more populated. There were at least 15 rigs now, We speculated that it could be the Washington Cougar homecoming game in Pullman – they come from miles around to attend – or perhaps hunters. I noticed it was mostly men, some in camo, then Mary asked one women what was up, and was told this was the only weekend for deer hunting in the Palouse. On our way south, we saw a few little orange dots out in the fields – hunters in their vests. We also saw several bucks tied to roof racks, and one strung up by it’s hind legs being “dressed”, out behind a shack along the highway. A good time to leave.

We are heading out to Walla Walla tomorrow. The forecast days of rain ahead mean the Palouse probably won’t dry out anytime soon. We wanted to stay a few days longer, but decided to start heading toward John Day to visit the Painted Hills section of the John Day Fossil Beds there. We will stop in Walla Walla for a day for chores, or maybe longer if the weather gets bad.

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Spokane and the Palouse

Saturday, October 8
5163-refuge1Our our way to the Palouse area of Washington, we stopped first in Coulee City for a night, then on to Spokane for two. Mary’s father worked as a welder/steam-fitter on the dam project and she was hoping to find out if there was a record of his time there. She asked at the visitor center if there was an official register or some official record of him, and a staffer, because it wasn’t particularly busy, actually spent some time doing a little research, but could only find a couple of vague references to him.

On Saturday we continued on to Spokane. We found an RV Park south of town. Peaceful Pines RV Park didn’t quite live up to it’s name with 2 rail lines, an airport, and an  Air Force base nearby, but it was remarkably quiet most of the time. When I don’t think about what the trains might be carrying, I generally enjoy the sounds as they pass by.5165-refuge2Just a couple of things drew us to Spokane. The Turnbull National Wildlife Reserve and two public parks in town. After arriving and setting up, we went out to the reserve. It was just a few miles down the road and our geezer passes got us in free. We only saw a few other people on the paths. Maybe because there was no wildlife to be seen while we were there – save a mallard or two.5170-refuge3It is set up the way so many reserves are with ponds surrounded by tules, reeds and grasses. There is a driving path and walking paths that allow easy walking and viewing, but nothing was stirring this afternoon. So we had a nice walk – and later a drive – around the ponds, made a few images and called it a day.5231-spokanepark6Sunday we went into Spokane. It was supposed to be raining heavily here, but the storm band bent down to the south a bit, leaving us with just a cloudy gray day. We stopped first at the John A. Finch Arboretum, where they have a large section of colorful trees this time of year. We caught a few in a nice setting.5188-spokanepark1 5202-spokanepark3 5224-spokanepark4 5192-spokanepark2 5228-spokanepark5We then stopped downtown to check out the river that runs through town, but we just weren’t feeling it. Our last stop for the day was at Manito Park. Mary wanted to see the Japanese garden within the larger park.5238-spokanejap2It was much smaller than expected and a bit dark because of the heavy cloud cover and all the tall trees around the park. We did a brief walk around the path and found some nice tree and water compositions. A quick look at a nearby rose garden and we were finished for the day.5234-spokanejap0

The Palouse
Monday, October 105245-palouse1We thought we would be driving to Colfax from Spokane in the rain, but it actually finished up early in the morning hours and by the time we were on the road, skies were clearing. Once out of Spokane, the terrain almost immediately transitions to the rolling hill country known as the Palouse.5265-palouse75689-rvparkIt was quite a nice 50 mile drive to the Palouse Empire Fairgrounds in Colfax where we will be staying for the duration of our stay. It was it’s usual busy park, with all of one other rig that looked to be stored. This place is open all year, but the services are cut back in the off season. So far, we have never apparently been here during the on season. We do have power and water, but the rest rooms and dump station are shut down.5249-palouse3 5254-palouse4 5260-palouse4Since we knew that tomorrow would be back to full sun, we decided to take advantage of the wonderful partly cloudy conditions and took off on nearby backroads as soon as we were settled. It is always better to photograph here under these conditions. Watching the light change as clouds race over this wide open landscape is always compelling. Images seem to form by themselves and all that is needed is to be there to release the shutter.5278-palouse9 5299-palouse11 5296-palouse11Coming here this time of year we knew the harvest was well past, so the hills would not be covered in waves of flowing green wheat. Instead, we will be photographing hills showing just the straw stalks and the many patterns left from cultivation. Some new winter wheat sprouts should be visible by now as well. 5264-palouse6 5305-palouse13We spent several hours driving the backroads we already knew from earlier visits. We wanted to take best advantage of our time. Using notes and GPS coordinates from earlier visits to the region, we located a number of familiar spots.5312-palouse14 5314-palouse15 5319-palouse16 5321-palouse17We finished our afternoon with a sunset that didn’t really happen at a favorite overlook before heading home for the day.5324-palouse18 5331-palouse19 5341-palouse21 5344-palouse22 5350-palouse23Tuesday, October 11
5357-palouse2-2Now that the rain has passed, it is forecast to get really cold. Not bad last night, but tonight is forecast to be down to 30 degrees and colder still on Wednesday. I will have to disconnect our water hose to avoid it freezing and splitting.5352-palouse2-1We were up and out just after dawn this morning. As expected, the skies were completely free of clouds. It was cold but calm, and the light was brilliant. Mary has organized our daily drives so that we cover both old and new ground without too much overlap or long distances to travel.

Driving south out of town I managed to get pulled over by the local gal in blue. 35 in a 25 zone. Mind you, it was the first time through town this trip and I hadn’t really been aware of my speed. After taking my license, registration and proof of insurance, she was gone a good long time. She apologized for the delay saying the computers in California seemed to be slow today. More likely my record is so free of infractions the computer melted down looking for something. She did let me off with a warning, but now I am a bit paranoid.
5364-palouse2-3We wandered around for the next 3-4 hours finding frost covered grasses by the road, more farm houses, and lots and lots of abstract patterns.5374-palouse2-4 5382-palouse2-6 5386-palouse2-7 5388-palouse2-8 5391-palouse2-9Some of the landscape seemed to resemble the painting style of Wayne Thiebaud.  I liked that idea and played around with my compositions.5395-palouse2-10 5399-palouse2-11 5403-palouse2-12 5404-palouse2-13It was getting to be late morning and the light had gotten harsher. We worked a bit more at various locations, but decided to take a break and come back out later in the afternoon.5407-palouse2-14 5417-palouse2-15 5424-palouse2-17Steptoe Butte5533-palouse3-1After a few hours back in camp, we were on our way out again to Steptoe Butte. It’s origin is volcanic and rises over 3,000 ft. above the surrounding countryside. It is preserved as a state park but we learned that the entire butte is not protected. A large section just below one of the main lower viewpoints was set to sell until an all out effort produced a buyer who pledged to donate it in the future.5530-palouse2-29We arrived at the entrance, paid our $10 entrance fee and began to spiral up and around the butte. The road does 3 or 4 wraps around the butte on the way up and there are numerous pull-outs to stop and admire the views.5426-palouse2-195427-palouse2-18 5430-palouse2-19 5434-palouse2-21 5436-palouse2-21 5445-palouse2-22 5464-palouse2-23We stopped at a lower viewpoint near an electronic relay station of some sort. As we were looking out to the views, a man walks up telling us he had just paraglided down from the top of the butte. He asked if he could have a ride back up so he could jump again. I was reluctant because we would have to rearrange a lot of stuff to get him and his gear in our RAV, and we wouldn’t be able to stop on the way up without leaving him in the car. So we took him up and hung around to see him lift off again.5477-palouse2-23Since we were now on the top, we decided to hang out here while the light gets lower. From up here, I could really see how large this landscape is. Seeing the farmhouses dotting the view gives context and anchors the scene. Seeing some of the field patterns out before me, I tried and failed to imagine how they were produced.5479-palouse2-22Other plow patterns resembled large scale land drawings that can only been seen from the air.5484-palouse2-23 5495-palouse2-25The plowed fields produced just as interesting patterns as those that still had wheat.5489-palouse2-24 5513-palouse2-27 5510-palouse2-26 5520-palouse2-27As we were leaving the park, just after we crossed the boundary, we came across the paraglider guy again – packing up from his final ride in the middle of the road. We offered to drive him back up to his car at the top, and surprise, he accepted. We finished our long day with a quick drive back to camp and another really cold night.

More Palouse
Wednesday October, 125550-palouse3-3We probably would have slacked off a little this morning, but we knew it was going to rain all day tomorrow. Another full sun day today and even so, it is very still very cold.Todays high will be 49 degrees. So we will essentially repeat yesterdays game plan of morning and afternoon trips, only this morning we are headed to the northeast of Colfax.5558-palouse3-4Initially we tried locating a few specific spots using GPS coordinates taken from some previous trips. We could find the correct road, but the scene seemed so different from the first time as to be nearly unrecognizable. An interesting exercise that needs more work.5534-palouse3-2We stopped in Elbertson – or what is left of it. A church, a bridge and an abandoned house. There was frost covered grasses across the road from the church, and while Mary worked the buildings, I played with the grass.5566-palouse3-5 5568-palouse3-6We continued to explore the backroads that wind all around and through these hills. The landscape kept surprising us. Just when we thought an area was played out, turning another bend in the road reveals something new.5571-palouse3-7 5574-palouse3-8 5581-palouse3-9 5588-palouse3-11 5593-palouse3-12 5594-palouse3-13 5599-palouse3-14 5604-palouse3-15 5606-palouse3-16 5608-palouse3-17We were spent for the morning, so we decided to return to camp and take a few hours break before heading out again.

The way the weather forecast is sounding, we may have rain for the next 4 days straight. We want the light we have left so we had to go out again for the afternoon. This time we headed to areas northwest of Colfax. We’ve not explored the area much before, but if it is anything like what we’ve seen, we should be busy.5625-palouse3-18 5631-palouse3-19It was surprising to find a lot of winter wheat beginning to sprout in some of the tucked away corners of the hills. When backlit, it absolutely glows.5646-palouse3-20 5648-palouse3-20 5651-palouse3-22 5654-palouse3-23 5657-palouse3-27 5660-palouse3-28 5665-palouse3-29 5672-palouse3-30 5677-palouse3-31 5679-palouse3-32 5681-palouse3-33Since rain is in the forecast for the entire day tomorrow, we will wait it out and hope for better on Friday. We’re ready for some down time.

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North Cascades – Over the Pass

Tuesday, October 44661-ncascadeshiway1On Monday we moved our camp further east over Washington Pass to the town of Winthrop for the next few days so we can hike a couple of trails on this side. We will still have 30+ miles to drive to get to each of the hikes, but since there are few campgrounds that would accommodate us, this was the best choice. Also, rain is expected on and off for most of this week, so having hook-ups will make life easier.4664-ncascadeshiway2The ride over the pass was easy to drive and quite nice to see as well. We stopped a few times to check out the POI’s, but most I didn’t find particularly photogenic. We spent a little time at the main Washington Pass Overlook where there is a great vantage for Liberty Bell Mountain – except for Highway 20 that runs along and over it’s base.4677-ncascadeshiway5 4693-ncascadeshiway8 4682-ncascadeshiway7 4703-ncascadeshiway9It was from here that we got our first look at the Larch trees that grow in the higher elevations here. We’ve never seen them in fall and didn’t realize they turned color just as aspen and so many others do. The kick here is that in summer, they kind of just look like sickly pines. There needles are similar looking to pine, but a lighter green. In fall the turn various shads of yellow and orange. Very striking and we seem to be here at peak color. Our hikes are to be Larch centric so we can walk among them.4676-ncascadeshiway4In Winthrop we found The Pine Near RV Park. A cute little park with resident deer and a quiet location. We got a site near the back of the park well away from the road. While there we met a couple of other Lazy Daze owners who told us since the new owner took over a couple of years ago, the facility has improved lots. It has what we need for the next few days.

North Cascades – Blue Lake Trail
Wednesday, October 54716-bluelake1Reports said today was to be the best weather day of the week. Still a chance of rain showers, but less than the rest of the week. When talking with, well, everybody about what hikes to do in this area, the names Blue Lake and Maple Pass kept coming up. We picked Blue Lake first because it was just 4.4 miles out and back, with an 1,100’ elevation gain, had great views – and larches. Maple Pass is twice the elevation gain and almost twice the distance at 7.4 miles. If the weather holds this week, Maple Pass is still on the table.4717-bluelake2Funny thing is, it was quite sunny and warm in Winthrop, but by the time we got back into the mountains to our trailhead – a distance of 35 miles – we were once again in cold rainy weather. These mountains are among those that wring the moisture out o the clouds before it gets to Winthrop. It was also much colder at this elevation (5412), and we were happy to have brought plenty of warm clothing and rain gear. It will get colder as we rise, but we’re game.4729-bluelake4The trail rises steadily in dense forest with just occasional breaks to see views. It was very misty too. Sometimes a light rain fell. The trail rarely felt steep, but did rise steadily. After maybe a half mile, we were up close with larches. I always love that feeling the first time I see something so different from the usual. In all the fall seasons I’ve photographed in, I have never seen a larch. I have known they turn color, but it just didn’t sound spectacular. Nice to be proven wrong sometimes.4742-bluelake6 4756-bluelake7 4775-bluelake9 4780-bluelake10 4786-bluelake11 4801-bluelake13We kept climbing up through the larches, until we eventually got to our destination – Blue Lake. We were welcomed by a snow flurry that lasted a few minutes. Much colder up here, and moisture was billowing through and over the lake. Occasionally, sun would break out – very occasionally. We sat through still another flurry while we had lunch, but soon got cold enough to get up and photograph more. The lake color today is more of an emerald green and very reflective. During flurries, it changes, becoming nicely textured.4808-bluelake14 4817-bluelake16 4826-bluelake17A Stellar Jay with wonderfully colorful feathers came by for a visit at one point, and I also found an interesting, mostly submerged tree. I love how the reflections interact with what is underwater.4831-bluelake18 4838-bluelake19The larches always drew me back. Such an unlikely shape and wonderful variety of colors in these trees.4814-bluelake15 4851-bluelake21 4843-bluelake20We spent time just looking. As we sat the scene continuously changed. The lake would get calm and glassy. A flurry would blow through, then sun would break for a minute. I didn’t have to move much to get new views.4856-bluelake22 4861-bluelake23 4866-bluelake24 4878-bluelake25We eventually just got too cold and a little wet so we started back down the mountain. We were getting more light breaking through now and it gave a new look to the landscape. A lot more pictures were made. The views were clearing up as well.4890-bluelake25 4893-bluelake26 4901-bluelake28 4926-bluelake30 4934-bluelake29Once we were back into the heavier forest, we just made a b-line back to the trail head and then back to camp for the night.

North Cascades – Maple Pass Trail
Friday, October 64952-maplepass1A down day for us on Thursday. We did a brief walk around a beaver pond for a leg stretch, but just caught up on reading and writing beyond that.4958-maplepass2Friday we were ready for another hike. The weather is a little more iffy today. Rain is supposed to come in later this afternoon, but I think, from the start, today will be wetter than Wednesday. Mary is not so sure about doing the whole hike, being 7.2 miles with a 2000’ elevation gain. It is a loop and can be walked either way, or just up and back down. Going counter clockwise is less steep – rising up more gradually than on the other side. There are arguments in favor of both, but we decided counter clockwise gets us up there with some energy left over to want to look around once to the top.4960-maplepass3Again we had a 30+ drive to the Maple Pass trailhead, so it was already 9:30 by the time we started off on the trail. Just like the last hike, it was only partly cloudy in Winthrop and lightly raining in the mountains. The trail starts off in deep forest again and begins rising right away. Soon there are a few breaks in the forest and Lake Ann began to come into view. The fall color included larch once again, but also great sections of bright reds and orange foliage.4962-maplepass4 4964-maplepass5The mirror-like surface of Lake Ann made for some nice reflections of the surrounding slopes.4970-maplepass6 4974-maplepass7 4976-maplepass8 4983-maplepass9The steepness of the slopes doesn’t really translate in these images. Above, if one was to fall down this slope, one would probably be found somewhere at the bottom when one stopped rolling.4989-maplepass10We eventually reached Heather Pass as the weather continued to worsen. But not terribly bad. It was cold yes, but also was beginning to snow lightly. We took a side trail out to the overlook and found more larch and great views (what we could see of them anyway).4995-maplepass11 5004-maplepass12 5005-maplepass13 5008-maplepass14It was at this point that Mary decided she’d had enough of the trail. Other hikers coming down the trail told of more snowing over the top to Maple Pass, and the much steeper decline on that side would mean more slippery conditions. Mary turned back, but I was still game to finish. I don’t mind getting snowed on. It’s better than being rained on anyway. Maybe the views won’t be as amazing, but I wanted to see the rest of the trail.5018-maplepass15 5021-maplepass16I was soon in even brighter fall colors. Each turn of the switchbacks moved me into new views of lake and larch. Cloud cover was heavier the higher I climbed. Snow flurries were more frequent and lasted longer – and it was colder. It was also great.5027-maplepass17 5028-maplepass18 5037-maplepass19 5040-maplepass20Near the top of the pass, snow began to stick to the trail. I was a little hesitant, but the snow actually added traction to this muddy section of trail.5046-maplepass21Looking down from the top, I could see how the trail switchbacked down the other side. When the fog and clouds would lift, I could see another small lake underneath. It was much wetter on this side of the pass with blowing snow flurries being pushed up against the slop. But it’s all downhill from here, so should be quick going.5048-maplepass22 5052-maplepass23Conditions were ever changing and just standing at various points, I could watch as clouds would rise, fall and reveal interesting details of the landscape. I was almost completely fogged in at one point.5060-maplepass24Suddenly, much of the cloud cover lifted and I could see all around me. There was actually a view of Lake Ann again under one big mass of clouds that I didn’t notice when I first got there.5092-maplepass26 5105-maplepass27 5109-maplepass28 5112-maplepass29 5122-maplepass30As I zoomed down the trail, I eventually hiked out of the larches and back into the forest. The trail becomes very steep on this side. I think I would have been exhausted trying to hike up this incline, so I was pleased to be going this way. My knees would be complaining by the time I reached the bottom, but it is a much quicker way to get down.5137-maplepass31 5147-maplepass32Everything we’ve heard about this trail is true. One of the most amazing hikes I have taken – even if some of the views were obscured. I am constantly amazed at how many people we encounter on these wet, steep hikes. Even today I must have passed a dozen people going either way. Most were doing the entire loop. Many were locals just killing a few hours before picking up the kids at school or going to work. We hiked it today because it was our last chance. A slightly less rainy day would be better.

We are moving out of the area tomorrow, headed for Spokane for a couple of days before moving on to the Palouse where we hope to spend another week or so, weather permitting. Rain is forecast again for much of the week, but there won’t be much hiking – just a lot of day trip car rides to photograph the area. What fun!

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Old Sauk Trail

Friday, September 294478-oldsauk8Rain was forecast for much of today, so we decided to do a drive-and-walk kind of thing, and perhaps check out another possible campground in Newhalem about 30 miles into the park. Mary found a Scenic Byway to drive and we set off for the day. We eventually stopped at an entrance to the Old Sauk Trail that runs along the river here.4459-oldsauk1At this entrance, there also begins a 1.2 mile nature trail that we decided to walk a little into another deep rain forest. I am really enjoying these forest walks. There is so much happening in the foliage I find myself getting lost in the possibilities. While I was really enjoying the walk, Mary was feeling a bit less inspired. She turned back, while I walked the rest of the loop. About halfway through, it began to rain lightly. The falling rain on the leaves was the only sound to be heard. My rain gear kept me dry enough and it soon stopped.4461-oldsauk2 4463-oldsauk3 4469-oldsauk4 4477-oldsauk7 4485-oldsauk10 4486-oldsauk11After finishing the loop, we drove to Newhalem in the actual Cascades National Park. Most everything we’ve done so far has been outside the park. The Goodell Campground is the one campground still open that would accommodate our 26’ LD and we were concerned about it’s location. As feared, it is in a heavily forested spot. No hook-up here and not much sun in the forecast. Most of the hiking here and around the visitor center are just short local walks around the grounds. None more than a mile, and all flat. We eventually decided to stay on another day at Howard Miller, and do a hike closer to us.4499-power5We also briefly visited the Gorge Creek Falls and powerhouse that sits on it. They boast a manicured garden leading to a waterfall. We took the sort walk across a suspension bridge to the grounds and found several maples trees in nice color. The waterfall is disappointing and the forest around seems to have been the victim of fire in the past. Rain sent us back to the car and finished our day.4486-power1 4493-power2 4495-power3 4498-power4

Sauk Mountain Trail4504-howmillcamp1Saturday morning we woke to heavy fog wafting around the valley. We were going to get an early start to our next hike up the Sauk Mountain Trail but it is a view hike, and with the fog so thick,  we decided to delay our start in hope it would clear. Instead, we found a trail near the river next to the County Park.4517-howmillcamp2 4523-howmillcamp3The trail was all grass and very wet with dew and rain. I expected a regular dirt trail and just had on running shoes. It wasn’t long before I felt the squish squish of waterlogged shoes and socks. It was well worth it though as the fog began to rise and shift, and light began filtering through more.4527-howmillcamp4 4536-howmillcamp5 4540-howmillcamp6Back to the LD for breakfast and then, with the lifting  of fog, we were off to our hike.4548-oldsaukmt1This trail is just 13 miles from our camp, but also includes a 7 mile Forrest Service road that is very narrow and twisting and rose steeply and continuously over those 7 miles. The hike itself is another 1,000’ rise in 1.4 miles, and then there were the 30 switchbacks.

As we rounded one bend in the FS road, we caught a quick look at the trail up on the face of a steep open slope. Thick waist high vegetation covered the entire slope and all the 30 switchbacks were visible. They tell me in spring this area is covered in wildflowers. It would be something to see.4565-oldsaukmt3In the parking area, we got ready to go, making good use of the chalet-like outhouse.4553-oldsaukmt2

After walking through a brief wooded area, we began a gradual rise that soon turned up. The views got better and better. The trail was constructed so that that the start and finish of each switchback were steep, while the middle section was less so – giving us a little rest between ends. Also, several of the ends of the switchback moved through a forested area giving us a little shade in the now very clear skies around us.4568-oldsaukmt4 4571-oldsaukmt5 4579-oldsaukmt6 4587-oldsaukmt7It wasn’t a great photography day with so much haze, but the hike – especially once past the switchbacks – was pretty great. Another huge set of views all along the ridge, and once we climbed over the final ridge, we were treated to still another angle of Mt. Baker. Unfortunately a heavy cap of clouds remained over the top, obscuring the view.4592-oldsaukmt8 4601-oldsaukmt9 4605-oldsaukmt10 4619-oldsaukmt11 4621-oldsaukmt12 4625-oldsaukmt13 4645-oldsaukmt14We lingered on top for a while, then made a much quicker return trip back down the mountain. This was another surprisingly heavily trafficked trail. We saw the very young as well as older hikers – and lots of dogs. I’d like to do this trail again in the spring for the wildflowers, but the views alone are certainly worth the trip up.4649-oldsaukmt15

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Ferry Ride to the North Cascades and More Hiking

Thursday, September 284242-townsendferry1To save us 150 miles of driving through urban areas to get to the Northern Cascades, we chose to take a ferry from Port Townshend to Whidbey Island. We haven’t done this with the LD before, so we were just a bit nervous – for no reason really. It was a simple process and went smoothly. We showed up early and drove on separately to save some money. The LD was first in line and I drove on all the way to the other side. I had a great view from right inside the rig. Mary was directed to a different line and came on a little later.4244-townsendferry2Once we were underway, it was a pretty short and uneventful trip across. Upon landing, we made our way to the Whidbey RV Park for the night to get laundry done and empty tanks. The next morning we stopped at a forest service building just outside of Concrete after some Garmin misinformation had us wandering around the fringes of town for a while. The office was of great help with hiking and camping suggestions. Well, not so much the camping part. Virtually every park and forest service campground is closed for the season. We are staying at the Howard Miller Steelhead County Park – open all year. Priced about like many RV parks, but also includes water/electric, especially handy on these cloudy, rainy days. The wifi here is quite good most of the day, but slows at night. We were surprised the the place was nearly full for the weekend – only a handful of rigs today. But we are happy to be set for the next few days and ready to hike.4249-townsendferry3

Northern Cascades – Dock Butte Trail
Friday, September 294257-docbutte1The ranger we talked with highly recommended this trail for views of Mt. Baker and some possible fall foliage color. It looked a little daunting at 1500’ in 1.5 miles, but it was only 1.5 miles, so we decided to give it a try. Today is supposed to be the only sunny day of the week, so we didn’t want to waste the chance. The mountain can hide for days on end sometimes, so we are hoping for the best.4260-docbutte2It was pretty cloudy start to the morning, but mostly all fog. It should either lift or bun off – hopefully. The trip up to the trailhead was a bit confusing with several forest service roads required to reach it. Mary doesn’t seem to read as fast as I tend to drive, so we missed a key part of one sign and drove a few miles on the wrong road before Garmin convinced us we were wrong. We eventually did find the trailhead and were the only ones there.4292-docbutte5For a trail with a 1500’ elevation gain, I was surprised to see it start off downhill for a piece. It didn’t last long as we soon started up sharply. It was steep, but also pretty easy to walk. There were areas of slick roots and rocks, but much of the trail was easy. After each major elevation gain, the trail would level off for a bit, then head up sharply again.4273-docbutte3 4284-docbutte4The heavy forest we started in began thinning and we got our first peek at the peak through trees. Mt. Baker was pretty heavily covered in clouds still, but looking thinner than before. Along the way we came across lovely little alpine-like ponds and meadows. I understand the wildflower in late summer here are amazing.4318-docbutte10 4298-docbutte6 4335-docbutte11We made due with surprisingly nice fall color in the low growing brush all along the trail. We dallied of course, so didn’t even make it to the top by the time we were hungry for lunch. We stopped at a wonderful open spot with a steep drop-off and wide view of Mt. Baker. We watched as what fog remained thinned, leaving just a skirt around the base of the mountain.4300-docbutte7 4302-docbutte8 4306-docbutte9 4365-docbutte13We thought we were pretty close by now. We must have walked a least a mile. There is supposed to be a 350 degree view from the top. We look around and saw a peak off in the distance. It resembled Mordor. Had to be it.4362-docbutte12But the trail made up for the difficulty with many spectacular views as we rose. It meandered – almost straight up in a few spots – to a final set of long switchbacks. Then a final scramble over shattered cap-rock to the top. Once on top, it was a short walk to the best viewing areas. Yes, from up here it truly is a 350 degree view. My iPhone pano couldn’t even take it all in.img_41134394-dockbutte18 4406-dockbutte20By now, the fog was nearly completely gone, leaving just a few clouds wafting around. It was very still and warm and we just took it all in for a while. Then, more picture taking.4368-dockbutte14 4402-dockbutte19 4373-dockbutte15 4406-dockbutte20 4425-dockbutte21 4379-dockbutte16 4442-dockbutte23 4431-dockbutte22The trip back went much quicker of course. We stopped several times and it was just as enjoyable on the way down. The light was slanting in at a steeper angle and there was less fog obscuring it. We passed a few groups on their way up, but I was surprised at how few people were out here. Another reason for early hikes.

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Sol Duc Rain Forest & Hurricane Ridge

Saturday, September 243980-solduc10It was an easy drive from Kalaloch up to Forks. Time for some blog uploading, laundry and shopping, and then a hike to Sol Duc Falls in a different part of the Olympic Rain Forest. We had another 40 mile drive into Olympic National Park to get to the trailhead, but it went quicker because most of the distance was on highway 101.3910-solduc1 3912-solduc2There are several ways to get to the falls. We chose to take the lesser used Lovers Lane trail and make a nearly 6 mile loop out of the hike using the more popular and shorter distance trails on the other side of the river. Most people just take the 2 shorter routes out and back. We were on the trail by 10 and saw only a few other hikers pass us by as we lingered over ferns and massive trees. It will be much different when taking the loop back after the falls.
3915-solduc33919-solduc4The trail first moves along the base of the valley, just behind the large hot pools of the Sol Duc Hot Springs development. It is a bit of a strange feeling walking through a primitive rain forest on one side and a modern swimming pool with people lounging around on the other.3932-solduc7The rains from the last couple of days made the trail a little slick. The many roots crossing the trail were very slippery and stumbling was an easy thing to do. We were carrying tripods on this hike, so no hiking poles to help steady footing. They would have been a great help on this one.3927-solduc6At one water crossing, we used a bridge built from whole logs with a leaning rail to photograph from. The rushing stream became a background for ferns growing from the banks. We also found interesting fungi nearby.3941-solduc83968-solduc9We stopped for lunch at a favorite spot along the river. Some nice color in the foliage added to the scene. A nice break and a good place for a few more images.3985-solduc113986-solduc123995-solduc134000-solduc14After a little over 3 miles, we reached Sol Duc Falls. It is a pretty dramatic scene where the falls are split into 3 separate sections as it tumbles into a narrow cavern. A bridge crosses the cavern and is the best place to photograph from. A short trail leads upriver a bit for some different angles.4014-solduc15a4007-solduc154027-solduc164030-solduc17It was quite busy here. The hikers from the parking area 1.7 miles away were here in abundance, so making images was more difficult. The hike in was the real draw for me anyway. We lingered here a while before moving on to the return trip. We managed to get ourselves wedged in between a large group of young kids on an outing. A little noisy for a while, but they soon out paced us and were out of earshot again.4035-solduc18We arrived back at Salt Creek in time for a lovely sunset. Yesterday afternoon after we first got settled, we watched a pod of Orcas hunting just offshore. This evening, we climbed on the LD roof to watch sunset.4036-solduc19 4059-solduc20 4061-solduc21Our last day in the Olympics will be tomorrow when we hike Hurricane Ridge up at 5000 feet. Should be fun!

Olympic National Park – Hurricane Ridge
Tuesday, September, 274072-hurricane1Leaving Forks this morning, we had an interesting encounter. We pulled out of the RV park, headed out of town trailed by another car a little closely. It was one of those occasions where the car just didn’t seem to want to pass, even though there was plenty of room and time to do so. As we reached the outer borders of town, they finally went for it. Just after they passed and were putting distance between us, they went through an intersection. Seconds after they did that, an animal came blasting across the road through intersection. There was still plenty of room between us, so no danger of hitting, but after it passed we looked at each other when we realized it was a llama! No tether, no chasing owner – just out there running around. Now Forks is known for its vampires and werewolves (Twilight), but llamas are something new. By the time we passed the intersection, it was nowhere to be seen.4080-hurricane2We wanted one last hike in Olympic National Park before leaving the area for the Northern Cascades. We chose to drive the 17-mile, 5,000’ rise to Hurricane Ridge for a walk in the clouds. The morning in camp was somewhat foggy at first, but seemed thin. We figured it would burn off in a short while, so we were off.4088-hurricane4 4095-hurricane3We encountered more fog on the way up. We’d drive into thick pockets, then suddenly break open to brilliant sunshine. The road is a steep incline with tremendous views all the way up when not in the fog, and lots of places to pull over. At one point, we again got sandwiched in with 3 identical large white SUV’s full of Chinese tourists. We’d all stop at the same overlook. Another selfie frenzy at each stop. Eventually we got some separation from them and found the parking area for our hike.4120-hurricane7 4130-hurricane8This hike is about 3 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 700’. Normally not too bad, but we’ve been at sea level for weeks and were a bit concerned about acclimating to this altitude. The trail itself is mostly paved – it is a very popular hike in a busy location – starts off at a bit of an incline, but soon decisively angles up. There are a few places where it levels to some degree, before the final set of long steep switchbacks takes you to the top of the ridge. Once up there, it is easy walking along the trails that snake all over the ridge.4153-hurricane9 4161-hurricane10The views were great all the way up as we had hoped. We stopped often to photograph and catch breath. Still lots of fog all around, but not as much as when we started. At the top, looking out toward Vancouver Island only revealed more heavy fog. A little disappointing, but we decided to hang around a while, have some lunch and hope things cleared more. When clouds parted momentarily, we could see Mt. Baker from our lunch spot – our next destination.4165-hurricane11 4116-hurricane6After walking most of the ridge, we started back and were rewarded for our patience with a nice view from the top out over the Straits. The walk down went pretty quickly. Not much need to catch breath now. We both felt great – no altitude problems.4190-hurricane12 4224-hurricane13 4226-hurricane14 4227-hurricane15 4235-hurricane16Back at the car, since it was still pretty early, we hiked another little nature walk near the visitor center. Now properly tired out, we headed home for the day.

Arriving back at Salt Creek Campground, we saw the fog had persisted here. It was a low bank just off the cliff in front of us. There was a kind of strange light on two ends of the bank – kind of looked like an arch if the top had been sliced off. Mary wondered if I wanted to photograph it and I told her, “It’s going to have to look a lot cooler than that before I want to photograph it”. It soon did. A section seemed to almost rise up and arch, but it was sunlight refracting into the fog creating a fogbow.4239-saltcreekrainbowA pretty great reward after a fine stay.

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