Friday, February 27, 2015

Making the Best of a Crummy Winter

For us Pacific NW skiers, it's been a horrible winter.  With the exception of Christmas week, and a small MLK weekend dusting, there's been NO SNOWFALL in our mountains.  The weather's been an endless string of unseasonably warm days.  And things are looking mighty bare.

I know all you folks back east are cursing the tons of snow and cold temps, and wishing for some of this warm weather.  But out here, we depend upon mountain snowpack for our summer water supply.  No snow = water shortages and forest fires.  It's not just crazy skiers like me that are lamenting the lack of winter.  (Wish we could trade weather!)

But, each Thursday, my ski bus has been faithfully making the trip up Mt. Hood, giving us diehard skiers our weekly fix.

We ski on whatever meager snow there is.  And no matter the conditions, we're thankful for it.

So today's post is a salute to all my ski bus friends who've embraced this crummy winter and are having a good time anyway.

Like this lady, all decked out in pink for Valentine's Day!

I tell myself these sunny days mean amazing views of my favorite mountain.  And dodging all these rocks is making me a better slalom skier!

Warm temps mean no windy, cold chairlift rides.

Endless solar energy turns icy slopes into nice, soft corn snow - perfect for making turns (until it gets too soft and tranforms into mashed potatoes....)

Endless blue skies......usually a PNW winter rarity!  We've had to stock up on sunscreen and locate missing sunglasses (items that normally aren't needed around here

Springlike weather means enjoying a beer on the lodge patio.


My fellow bus-mates are a celebrating bunch.  Not only do we observe Valentine's Day, we also hand out special awards.  Here's to my buddy Dave, an avid skier and bus rider, this year's proud recipient of the "Purple PECR" award!  Congrats!

And here's to all my friends in the "Back of the Bus" Gang.  Rides home are never boring!

Lastly, clear, sunny skies make great conditions for recording with the GoPro.  Enjoy my latest video offering.

The lesson is, even if Mother Nature is stingy in the snow dept, get out there anyway!  At least my bus buddies and I do.  We're making the best of this crummy winter.

(Hey, it's still better than going to work!)

Sharing with:  Our World Tuesday.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Wahclella Falls

Now that my foot was nearly healed, I had a huge hankerin' to visit some waterfalls.  There's no better place to see beautiful cascades than the Columbia River Gorge.  Time to reacquaint myself!

Nice trailhead sign

Two weekends ago, all of western Oregon was being drenched by a "pineapple express" rainstorm.  Unless I wanted to get soaked, hiking didn't look very probable.  However, the weatherman predicted a break in the precip for Sunday afternoon.  Being the optimist I am, I decided to sneak in a quick hike.

The trail starts on a wide road

The Gorge is full of wonderful trails to gorgeous waterfalls.  Seeings as I had to keep the distance short, I opted to visit Wahclella Falls.  A mere two-mile round trip, it fit the bill perfectly.

Moss-coated trees

It had been many years since I'd visited Wahclella.  There's so many amazing cascades in the Gorge, this one is easy to overlook.  Tucked in a steep canyon, it often gets bypassed on the way to other trails.

Tanner Creek surrounded by lots of green

Leaving my house around noon, rain battered my windshield the entire drive.  I was beginning to doubt the weatherman's forecast.  But by the time I located a parking spot, the sky had dried up.  What timing!

The trail began to narrow

The trail began on a wide road paralleling lovely Tanner Creek.  The water was high and fast-moving from the weekend's heavy rainfall.  Everything on both banks was coated with a carpet of thick, bright green moss.

Gorgeous forest

The creek was absolutely gorgeous.  It captivated me and my camera from the very start.  I kept stopping every couple of yards to capture yet another wonderful shot.  It took quite a bit of time just to travel the first quarter mile.

Moss close-up

Because this trail is so short, it's very popular.  Families with kids, and other casual hikers made up most of the crowd.  I was surprised to see so many people on a rainy February day.

Getting closer to the falls

I finally tore myself away from Tanner Creek's wonderful scenery, and hoofed it down the rest of the road.  It ended at an intake dam for a nearby fish hatchery, and from that point transitioned to a normal trail.  Still following the creek, I continued on.

Small trickle from the cliffs

The further I traveled down the trail, the higher and steeper the adjacent canyon became.  I crossed a sturdy wooden footbridge with the gushing creek below.  Recent heavy rains had created wispy waterfalls that trickled from high up the canyon walls.

Wahclella Falls in sight!

Not far beyond the bridge, I began to hear the telltale roar of a waterfall.  Looking up ahead, I spied Wahclella's tiered cascade straight ahead.  Squeezing between a slot in the canyon walls, it looked even better than I'd remembered.  Why had I waited so long to return?

Creek-level view

I snapped many photos from the creek bank.  As there were many people hiking by, I had to patiently wait for the bridge to clear for many of my shots.

Photo from the bridge

Finally I moved up to the bridge closest to the falls.  Perching my tripod on the narrow plank, I captured some great shots of the roaring cascade and churning creek directly below.

Wahclella Falls is two-tiered - a plunge falling through an upper slot, and a 60-foot tall lower cascade that fans into a thick horsetail.

Churning water below

I attempted to get some photos closer to Wahclella Falls, but the huge volume of water tumbling down the rocks created lots of spray.  Constant mist in the air made it nearly impossible to get any photos.  All mine ended up with water droplets on the lens.  Today I had to be content with admiring this cascade from afar.

Lovely Tanner Creek

After enjoying a lengthy photo session, and a good conversation with another man also trying to photograph the falls, I finally packed up my tripod and headed back the way I came.  Making one final stop on the way out, I captured some of my favorite images of Tanner Creek.

White rapids

But the rain's return cut my photo session short, and I hightailed it for the car.  Luckily, it wasn't far away, and I didn't get too wet.

Glad I was able to squeeze in a short hike on a rainy winter's weekend.  It's nice to be back on the trail chasing waterfalls again!

Sharing with:  Wednesday Around the World.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Fort Clatsop

"Ocian in view! O! the joy."

These words were written in Captain William Clark's journal upon taking his first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean.

Guess where I went?

The most famous journey in American history, the Lewis and Clark expedition traveled over 4,000 miles across the North American continent exploring a huge unknown territory west of the Mississippi River.  Their group spent the winter of 1805-06 near the Oregon coast at a place they named "Fort Clatsop."

A replica of the original fort

In my recent coastal jaunts, I've come within close proximity of the old fort site, now a National Historic Park.  After a couple of readers inquired about it's location, I decided it was time for a visit.

Enlisted men's quarters

On the day of my trip, a huge "pineapple express" rainstorm battered western Oregon.  These warm, extremely wet weather patterns wreak havoc for skiers, as they produce torrential rain, instead of snow, in the mountains.  Although I love skiing, I draw the line at doing it in the rain.  With no trip to the mountains on the agenda, I had to think of somewhere else to go.  That's how I ended up at the coast.

The rain barrels were full!

Throughout my drive west, the rain came down in sheets.  More than once I questioned the wisdom of traveling to the coast on such a stormy day.  Arriving at the fort, the deluge wasn't letting up in the least.  Although these dismal conditions gave a very good picture of what Lewis and Clark endured, I would've welcomed a little less of the wet stuff.

Lewis and Clark's quarters

One benefit of bad weather - I'd have the place to myself.  Pulling my car into a nearly empty lot, I congratulated myself for such good planning.

Thick forest beyond the fort

But, when I stepped into the visitor center, I was surprised to find it full of teenagers.  Two busloads of kids from a nearby school happened to be visiting on the same day as I.  So much for having the place to myself....

Looking out one of the rooms

Still, I'd traveled here specifically to see the fort, and told myself to make the best of it.  After one group of rain poncho-clad kids had exited the visitor's center, I was able to pay my admission and get some maps and literature.  The ladies working here were exceptional.  They were very much into the  history of this place, and full of knowledge that they freely shared.  One women, seeing my camera, directed me to a barrel of loaner umbrellas, specifically for use on days such as today.

River view through the trees

Out the visitor center's back door, signs directed me to the fort.  Although no one knows the exact location where Lewis and Clark spent the winter, historians believe the park is within very close proximity.

Entrance door

A short (and very wet) walk from the visitor center, and there it was, the fort itself.  Built from drawings in Clark's journal, this replica is thought to closely resemble the original Fort Clatsop.  An amazing bit of historic recreation, I felt as if I was going back in time as I passed through it's gates.

Lewis and Clark's room

The fort consisted of two rows of log buildings.  One side had three rooms, and was where most of the men stayed.  The other side housed the storeroom, and two separate rooms, one for Lewis and Clark, and the other for Sacagawea, her husband, and infant son.  A thick log wall surrounded both buildings, with a sturdy gate, which was closed each night.

Thick log structures

I wandered through the buildings, marveling at how dark and cold they were.  I couldn't imagine how dreary it must've been to live here all winter.  One of the rooms was packed full of schoolkids, and a lady dressed in period clothing was giving a talk about the fort.  I stood by the doorway and eavesdropped for awhile.  This lady was an excellent speaker.  I wish I could remember all the facts she was throwing out - living the way these men did, how hard they worked, and how much food they had to harvest to feed themselves.  These people were tough!  We modern folk, in comparison, are a bunch of weenies.

Lewis and Clark River

After listening to the park volunteer for several minutes, I exited the fort and began to explore the surrounding woods.  A trail led to the nearby river (originally called the Netul, it's been renamed the Lewis and Clark River).  Lewis and Clark paddled their canoes up this very river in search of a winter encampment site.

Dugout canoe replica

Wooden boardwalks led visitors to several river viewpoints, and past a dugout canoe replica.  The forest here was thick and lush, with some enormous trees.  Despite the rain, a most beautiful setting!

The fort's back entrance

Some interesting facts about Fort Clatsop:  Lewis and Clark's men built the original fort in 3 1/2 weeks.  The first replica, built in 1955, took 18 months to erect.  It lasted until October 3, 2005, when a fire destroyed the entire structure.  A second replica was finished in 2006, and now features a fire detection system (a necessary modern deviation from the original).

Boardwalk near river's edge

As I walked from the river landing back to the fort, I noticed the rain had stopped.  The only water falling was dripping from tree branches.  Wishing to ditch the umbrella, I made a side trip to the visitor center.

Park volunteers demonstrate a black powder rifle

Now that it wasn't raining, I headed back to the fort in hopes of capturing some better images.  Nearing the structure, I noticed a large group of the schoolkids gathered in a nearby clearing.  One of the adult chaperones told me there was going to be a black powder rifle demonstration very soon.  Curious, I decided to stick around.

The same lady who'd given the terrific talk in the fort demonstrated how a black powder rifle worked.  She held the kid's attention well.  I guess the subject was mighty interesting - who doesn't want to see someone shoot off a gun?  I whipped out my GoPro and captured a short video of the event.

Thick gate

After the demonstration, as the kids dispersed, I wandered back into the fort with my GoPro for one last look around.  The wonderful park lady who'd given such good talks, invited me in to the captain's quarters, and I got a brief bit of footage before my battery died.  The lady explained that this room was normally only open for groups, so it was lucky I'd chosen my visit to coincide with a scheduled tour.  Same with the black powder demonstration - now I was glad those schoolkids were here!

A very interesting look into a huge event in our nation's history.  During summer weekends, Fort Clatsop features costumed reenactments and more ranger-led programs.  A good reason to return!  However, it felt much more authentic to visit this place on a rainy, winter's day.

Sharing with:  Our World Tuesday

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Smith Rock in Winter

It all started with a calendar photo.  Nearly every year, I try and get some type of "Scenic Oregon" calendar for my computer desk.  Not only providing fantastic images of my home state, they also give me ideas of places to photograph.

First light on the rocks

This year's was better than ever, chock-full of gorgeous scenery.  Flipping to January, I gasped at a stunning shot of snow-covered Smith Rock State Park.  The photo was so amazing, it got the wheels turning in my brain.  In late January, I was traveling to Bend to visit my brother.  Smith Rock was on the way.  Perfect opportunity to capture that image for myself!

Lovely golden reflections

Of course with the dismal winter we'd been having, there was no chance of seeing any snow at Smith Rock (thus, no chance of recreating that calendar photo).  But I love visiting Smith Rock State Park. There's no shortage of great photo subjects here.  The seed had been planted, and lack of snow wasn't going to deter me. 

A river of gold

My grand plan was to leave super-early Saturday morning, and arrive in time to catch the sunrise.  On the last day of January, I rose at o-dark-thirty, and left my home in Portland 'burbs.  The drive was fairly uneventful, until I hit thick fog on the back side of Mt. Hood.  The cloud bank stayed with me through the rest of my trip.  I was beginning to get worried.  What if Smith Rock was cloaked in this?  Did I get up early for nothing?

Steep trail to canyon's bottom

Luckily, about five miles from the park turnoff, the sky miraculously began to clear, revealing a fast-brightening sky.  Although it appeared I'd miss the sunrise, at least Smith Rock's incredible scenery would now be visible.

Fog rolling in

Reaching the parking lot by 8 am, I had my choice of spots.  Trudging to the canyon's rim, I looked over and saw the rising sun illuminating the tall rock columns a bright golden-orange.  Perfect!

The sky begins to fog up

Smith Rock State Park is a scenic canyon comprised of multicolored rock spires rising from Central Oregon's high desert.  The towering rock formations were created from volcanic eruptions.  Volcanic ash erupting under extreme heat and pressure, welded together to form "tuff."  This tuff created a layer over a half mile thick, which over time, became eroded into tall, columnar spires of rock.  The Crooked River makes a lazy loop through the center of these formations, creating some dramatic landscapes.

Ultra-steep walls

Besides jaw-dropping scenery, Smith Rock State Park is also a rock climbing mecca.  The tall, nearly-vertical rock spires create perfect climbing walls.  The park provides many defined routes, including the famous "Monkey Face."

View from near the canyon bottom

At the rim overlook, I set up my tripod and got to work.  Although sunlight hadn't yet reached the canyon bottom, first light on the rock formations was too lovely to miss.  The orangeish color from these rocky walls reflected in the Crooked River below.  Although still in shadow, the river's reflections made an interesting subject.

River reflections from the bridge

Slowly, I worked my way down the steep path to the canyon's bottom.  Every bend and switchback provided yet another perspective on the grand scene before me.  As the morning sun climbed higher in the sky, more of the canyon became illuminated.

Riverside trail

On the footbridge across the Crooked River, I stopped to admire the tall wall of rock before me.  It's brown and green colors reflected nicely in the river's still waters.

River view from bridge

And the view from the bridge's other side wasn't too shabby either.  Small, foggy clouds were beginning to drift over the far canyon.  A mother Canada goose and her babies floated in the river's calm waters.

Perfect morning light along the river

A wide well-used trail led visitors around the tallest rock spire, following the river bank.  I meandered along this path, stopping frequently when something photo-worthy caught my eye.  Looking behind me, I discovered an amazing scene.  The light was so perfect, the colors so vibrant, the reflections drop-dead gorgeous.  It was here I captured my best image of the day.

Following the trail

Continuing on the trail, it led me through the heart of Smith Rock's deep canyon.  Walls of multicolored rock rose from all sides.

Looking up at these enormous rock formations

Although the views down the canyon bottom were great, looking upwards from the trail also gave some interesting perspectives.

Lots of Canada Geese here

Wildlife abounded.  Birds flitted about the river bank, chirping happy songs.  A huge flock of Canada geese had apparently taken up residence in the park.  Their chorus of honks filled the canyon walls.  I wasn't expecting to see so much animal activity in the dead of winter.

Rock climbers

About an hour after my arrival, people began streaming into the park.  Large groups of rock climbers were continuously marching down the trail, ropes dangling off their backpacks.  A few groups of trail runners sped by, and I encountered a good number of people out walking their dogs, enjoying this sunny January day.  I wasn't expecting this place to be so busy in the dead of winter!

More rock climbers (can you spot them?)

I had fun watching some of the rock climbers, perched high on the canyon's walls.  Multiple trails branched off this main one, each leading to a designated climbing route.

Lazy river

I hung out along the riverbank, watching both climbers and geese. 

Clearing fog

Foggy clouds started drifting back around the tallest rock towers.  But instead of detracting from the landscape, they actually made for some interesting shots.  At least I thought so.

Looking back down on the Crooked River

After trekking around the trail for a good two hours, my foot, although nearly healed, began to protest a bit.  Carrying a bunch of heavy photography equipment, and the fact that this was the first "real" hike since my October surgery probably overtaxed it a bit.  Listening to my body, I began the steep climb back out of the canyon to my car.

Zig-zag fence

Oh, was I out of shape!  The trail, although steep, wasn't very long.  I was winded before reaching the halfway point.  Oh well, good excuse to stop and take a few parting shots of this classic view of Smith Rock.  Now about 11 am, it was interesting to see the difference midday light made on these rock faces.  No more vibrant golden hues.

The canyon in midday light

Although I've visited Smith Rock in the summer, (see a past blog post here) this was my first winter trip.  I was impressed by how beautiful this place is, even when all the vegetation is brown.  And I was surprised by the crowds of people who flock here in the off season (when I returned to my car, the parking lot was packed!)

A good break in my journey and a wonderful way to spend a sunny January morning.  Although I didn't capture the coveted calendar image, I did come away with a bunch of great shots.  And maybe I'll get lucky and visit after a snowstorm next winter (I've already written off this year...)

Sharing with:  Our World Tuesday and Wednesday Around the World and Good Fences.