Monday, November 12, 2012

Gillette Lake

This is the photo that started it all.

Back in the fall of 1996, my son and I took a hike on the Washington side of the Gorge to a stunning teal-blue lake.  The light was perfect, and the golden leaves at their peak, when I snapped this shot.  The image was enlarged, framed, and hung in my home.  It quickly became one of my favorites.  Since then, every time I look at this photo, it reminds me that I want to go back.  To Gillette Lake.

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger version.

Gillette lake, circa 1996

For some reason it took me 16 years before I finally did.   Last Sunday I had time to hike, and was trying to decide where to go.  Then I remembered this trail.  High time for a return trip!

The trailhead is just across the Bridge of the Gods

One of the fun things about hiking on the Washington side of the Gorge is it involves a trip across the Bridge of the Gods.  This bridge connects Oregon and Washington at the town of Cascade Locks.  The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) crosses this bridge, and there are amazing views of the Columbia River as one motors across.  Sadly, there's no place to stop mid-span and take pictures.  But once on the other side, I did pull over for a photo of the sign.

My hike begins....

The trailhead is near Bonneville Dam.  It has a really nice parking area, complete with a restroom!  From here, a short path (the Tamanous Trail) takes one to a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail.

A golden world

The Tamanous Trail was a delight.  From the beginning, I was treated to a full display of multi-hued trees.  A thick carpet of downed leaves covered my path.  The autumn foliage created a colorful walk-through kaleidoscope.

A large yellow leaf

Some of the leaves were huge!  Like this one - about twice the size of my hand.

Explosion of yellow

Climbing through the forest, I entered an area of thick trees with vibrant color.  An explosion of yellow.  Great photo subjects - but low light.  I braced myself against a tree to steady my camera for this photo.

Old clearcut growing back

After 0.6 of a mile, the Tamanous Trail merged with the PCT.  From here it was 2 miles to Gillette Lake.  Shortly after, I met up with a lone female hiker on her return trip.  After exchanging hellos, I hit her up for trail beta.  The woman said she'd travelled through two clearcuts, one fairly old and partially regrown, but the other very recent and particularly ugly.  She thought the prettiest scenery of the trail was the beginning part I'd just hiked.

More fall finery

Well, I had to find out for myself.  The first clearcut came up quicker than expected.  I remembered this area from my '96 hike.  Happily it seemed to be much more vegetated than when I'd last seen it.  Everything had regrown nicely.  Lots of low bushes and a few taller trees now covered the once-barren hillsides.  There were still some fall colors around, mostly oranges and browns.  And slopes devoid of trees meant I could get glimpses of the Gorge's mountainous Oregon side.  Well, through the fog that is.  The weather, although dry, was very cloudy and foggy.

Gillette Lake, circa 2012

Another lovely wooded area separated the two logged areas.  Leaving clearcut #1, I dived back into a forest thick with Douglas Fir and more yellow and orange-leaved maple trees.  It was so enjoyable, I almost forgot about the second clearcut.

Another lake view

But suddenly Bear and I emerged from the dark forest into a moonscape.  We'd come upon clearcut number two.  Every bit of vegetation had been sheared from the hillsides ahead.  The only things left were dried gray root stubble and rocks.  We picked our way through the scalped land, trudging up a dusty slope.  Although I took a photo of the devastation, it's way too ugly to share here.

Last of the flowers

I was surprised to see that logging is allowed along the PCT.  And that it's allowed so close to the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area.  However, I later learned this logging was done on private lands.  (The PCT must pass through some private land, I guess)  All I can say is I hope the owners will replant more trees.

Blazing yellow leaves

Clearcut #2 lasted all the way to the edge of Gillette Lake.  As I crested the last hill and spotted it's waters, I was disappointed to see many of the trees no longer lining the southern shore.  Those trees provided a buffer from a huge powerline above the lake.  With camera in hand, I tried as best I could to capture the lake, while keeping metal towers out of my viewfinder.

Cloudy skies didn't help either - bright sun would've enhanced the lake water's beautiful teal color.  It's the color I captured long ago, and was hoping to encounter again.  But under an overcast sky, the water's surface appeared a dull greenish-gray.  I attempted a shot from the same location as my 1996 photo, but didn't even come close to matching the lovely image from back then.

A happy doggy

My photo attempts falling flat, Bear and I trekked down to the lake's shoreline for a quick lunch break.  The few trees still sporting autumn colors made feeble reflections on the water's surface.  But it was nothing outstanding.  With just so-so scenery, there was no lingering this time.  I ate quickly and headed back.

The sun's evening rays hit the forest

The return trip was much quicker.  I realized the lady hiker had been right.  The best scenery really was the first half mile of trail.  When I again re-joined the Tamanous Trail, it was like entering a tunnel of fall colors.  Walking through the "yellow zone" I stopped for one last photo session.  The lowering sun's rays peeked through the clouds and projected a final blast of light through the forest.

Although it was great to get out on a warm, rain-free fall day, I don't think I'll be back to this trail anytime soon.  Not a fan of clearcuts, I've had my Gillette Lake fix for the next several years. 

Linking to:  Share Your Cup Thursday and This or That Thursday and Orange You Glad it's Friday and Camera Critters.


  1. Beautiful. And although that first picture is awesome you have improved ten fold. Beautiful shots

  2. All the colors are so rich and beautiful!

  3. That does look like an incredible hike.

    Photographing lightning is surprisingly easy. All it takes is a long exposure, a tripod, and some patience. Having 50 or more thunderstorms a year helps too!

  4. Lovely- Bear seems to like being out there as much as Kelley

  5. email me if interested in joining a photo forum I'm on

  6. Wonderful colors; what a cool place to take a hike, even if the skies were overcast.

  7. The aftermath of logging is rather brutal. Glad you got some autumn colour to make up for that grey moonscape.

  8. I'm sorry you were disappointed, but still happy to read your story and see so many wonderful photos. And, best of all, Bear was absolutely totally happy!

  9. Bear With Me...Lovely sequence of photos. Happy weekend♫

  10. What a gorgeous place for a hike! Your photos are beautiful.

  11. Well you captured it all, fog, mountains, the beautiful color of the leaves...just breathtaking.

  12. Wow - what a breathtaking place!

  13. I just love what I see...
    Feels like to just have been out there walking with you.

    Have a nice week,


  14. Gotta love a camera critter with a smile like that! Adorable dog, and lots of fab photos.

  15. Beautiful Linda. That first photo is amazing! I also love the one with the misty clouds, and of course the one of the happy dog. I always enjoy seeing this beauty through your lens. Thanks for sharing with Share Your Cup.


Don't be shy! Please leave a comment.