Friday, December 31, 2021

2021 in Photos

Let's kick 2021 to the curb!!

It's time once again for my favorite post - the annual "year in review."  The 2021 version is extra special, since it's my 10th YIR recap.  Can't believe I've stuck in there for so long - still plugging away, when many of my favorite blogs have faded into oblivion.  

After a craptastic 2020, I thought the year 2021 would be better.  It started off great - with me learning how to be retired.  (I was a model student!)   Then along came vaccinations for all, providing freedom to travel again.  But on my first big trip - finally visiting my parents since the start of COVID, I ended up having a health issue that required emergency brain surgery.  Once I recovered from that ordeal the Delta variant reared it's ugly head, again confining my activities closer to home.  And now we have Omicron.....

With retirement, my photo-taking has ramped up but my sharing of images not so much.  I've been so busy out there with my camera getting captures, it consumes much of the time I would ordinarily use for editing and processing of photos, not to mention creating blog stories.  Sooo.....postings to this blog have not been as frequent as I anticipated.  Oh well, maybe I'll do better in 2022.  (We'll see!)  

Nonetheless, as per my end-of-year ritual, I went back to the archives and pulled out a dozen images that I think best capture my experiences in 2021.  As always, these aren't necessarily my finest photographs, but ones that I feel best represent the year now past.  So sit back and enjoy this latest installment of Linda's Lens year in review!


Sunrise over the Columbia River Gorge

January - I was newly retired and already loving the freedom.  I got my first taste of how wonderful retired life could be on the first week of January when Cheri and I did an early morning Gorge trip to catch sunrise.  It was great to wake up early for something I wanted to do.  As the sun crested over the horizon, I thought to myself "I've been waiting my entire career for this!"  A good precursor of things to come.


Shore Acres State Park

I made a solo midweek trip to the south-central Oregon coast to capture waves and sunsets.  Staying in a freezing cold yurt at Sunset Bay State Park (the heater didn't work very well) I warmed up by getting out and photographing the unique coastline at nearby Shore Acres State Park.  I also spent a night in the nearby town of Bandon.  One of my favorite coastal towns, it's always a pleasure to capture sunset on Bandon's lovely beach.  


Cottonwood Canyon State Park

I reserved a cabin at Cottonwood Canyon State Park, someplace I'd wanted to visit for a couple of years.  Located in north Central Oregon, the dry climate here was a welcome relief from the rainy weather west of the Cascades.  The terrain here was also quite different from the green, mossy forests around Portland.  I enjoyed the wide-open spaces, partially sunny skies, (a rarity in March where I live!) and rolling hills along the John Day River.  I had a great time hiking most of the trails, and finally spotted some of the resident Bighorn sheep on my last day.


Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm

One of the advantages to being retired was the opportunity to visit places during the week, when crowds were far smaller.  One such place was the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, which after remaining shuttered during 2020, opened it's gates to visitors again in 2021.  Cheri and I bought season photographers passes so we could go anytime we wished.  I made good use of my pass with several visits over the course of their season.  The most memorable trip came in late April, when we journeyed to the farm at dusk.  We lucked out with a nice sunset, and had a great time photographing images of a colorful sky over equally colorful flower fields.


Spring flowers in the Gorge

Due to last spring's COVID quarantine, I missed the entire wildflower season in the Columbia River Gorge.  Now that trails were reopened, I wasn't about to miss it a second time!  During April and May I logged plenty of hiking miles on both sides of the river capturing acres of beautiful yellow balsamroot blooms, along with many other colorful spring wildflowers.


Happy to be out of the hospital

June.....the month where everything changed.  I'd been happily marching through retired life enjoying the copious free time and good health to do everything.  Then what started as a headache turned into emergency brain surgery for an abscess.  After a successful surgery and 6 days in the hospital, I emerged with an iv pump that would be my constant companion for the next 5 weeks, flooding my system with strong antibiotics to rid my body of the infection.  Thankfully this emergency occurred when I was visiting my parents in South Dakota.  I had a great team of great doctors and nurses and my family to take care of me.  This ordeal made me realize that life is precious and things can change in the blink of an eye.  I'll never again take my health for granted.


Fawns in my parent's backyard

Due to my medical emergency, what was originally planned to be a one-week visit turned into a 2-month stay with my parents.  However, my 2-month treatment duration in South Dakota turned out to be a blessing in disguise - I got to spend lots of quality time with my parents.  After not seeing them at all in 2020, it was great to have the bonus weeks to fully catch up.  While recovering I whiled away many hours sitting in their huge backyard, watching the wildlife pass through (lots of turkeys and deer).  Of particular interest were four fawns who made frequent visits, often getting a drink from the birdbath on hot summer days.  Photographing the local wildlife kept me busy while I slowly recovered.


One of my first hikes, post-surgery

In mid-August my treatment finally complete, I returned home to Oregon.  It was wonderful to be back in the beautiful Pacific NW once again!  I'd missed the hiking trails most, so I didn't waste any time in getting back outside.  One of my first hikes post-surgery was a trek on some new trails at Mt Hood Meadows.  A local ski resort in the winter, Meadows reinvented itself as a summer destination with the addition of several new treks around it's ski runs.  I can't tell you how happy I was to be walking around my favorite mountain once again, even if it was just a short saunter.


The neighborhood owl

One of the things I've done much more of this year has been wildlife photography.  My neighbor Cheri, who captures amazing wildlife images, took me under her wing, introducing me to several places where birds and other animals congregated and instructing me in the art of capturing animals in motion.  I've had a great time these past several months, photographing eagles, sandhill cranes, osprey, blue herons, wood ducks, pelicans, woodpeckers, and many more creatures.  But the best bird sighting of the year occurred right in our own neighborhood.  Cheri spotted a barred owl on one of her morning walks, and good friend that she is, alerted me to the owl's location so I could snap a few photos of my own.


Fall colors at Clear Lake

October is my favorite month of the year.  It's the time when fall colors erupt here in the Pacific NW.  Not being confined to weekends, it was a busy month traveling from various locations, chasing the peak autumn hues.  One of my highlights was spending a couple of days at Central Oregon's Clear Lake and surrounding areas.  With showy vine maple bushes lining it's shores, this lake is one of the best places to see fall color in Oregon.  And the lake, with it's crystal-clear waters, is a worthy attraction in itself.


The Eagle Creek Trail, post-fire

After being closed for nearly four years, the Eagle Creek Trail in the Columbia River Gorge finally reopened this summer.  Torched from a horrific wildfire that consumed much of the Oregon side of the gorge, I was afraid this favorite hiking trail had been irreparably damaged.  Immediately after it's opening, the Eagle Creek trail was mobbed by hikers.  Not keen on fighting the masses, I waited for a rainy November day to make my first visit post-fire.  Although many areas were full of charred trees, I discovered the canyon green and bursting with lovely fall colors.  Much better than anticipated!  Walking this trail once again was like seeing an old friend.


Happy to be back skiing!

When I was lying in the hospital last June recovering from a brain abscess and several neurological issues, one of my thoughts was "Will I be able to ski again?"  In December, almost six months to the date of my surgery, I happily returned to the slopes of Mt Bachelor (with a brand new helmet of course).  I picked right up from where I left off the previous season, with no apparent effects from the summer's infection and treatment.  I was elated!  After several long months of recovery, things finally felt normal again. 


Earlier this fall I was cleaning out a closet when I discovered a bunch of my old diaries.  I'd faithfully documented my life during high school, but the entries tapered off quickly once I went off to college.  The last time I'd written was in the early 90s, after that life got too busy to continue.  Inspired to resurrect this tradition I considered the monumental task of penning a 3-decade catchup.  But then I came to the realization - I'd been keeping a diary right here since 2008.  This blog has been a visual account of my life, documenting events much better than any written diary could.  There's a lot of memories archived here on Blogger.  I find much enjoyment re-reading posts from the past and perusing photographs of previous hikes and outings.  This is what keeps me going year after year, even when comments to my blog dwindle and my enthusiasm for creating another blog post wanes.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is I'll keep on sharing photos and stories here for another year.  As 2021 draws to a close, I'm already hatching plans for new adventures to make up for the time I lost this summer.  I'm hoping for a healthy 2022 so I can do all the things I'd hoped to accomplish in 2021 and more.  

As always, thanks to you readers who are still hanging in there for commenting, viewing the photos, and reading the posts on this blog.  May the coming year bring you peace and health (and hopefully an end to COVID).


Thursday, December 23, 2021

Wildlife Sightings With the Hubby

I'd originally intended to write separate stories about these two October get-aways with my hubby.  But since the year is winding down, and I'm horribly behind (once again) these two trips are getting smushed together into one big ole blog post!

Female elk

I got lucky and reserved lodging at two popular state parks for separate weekends last October.  The first was a yurt at Nehalem Bay State Park, one of the few state parks on the northern Oregon coast I'd yet to visit.

Bull elk with big rack

My neighbor Cheri had camped at Nehalem Bay a month before us and said she'd spotted elk in the nearby forest.  The morning after our arrival, hubby and I woke early and decided to go for a walk to see if we could find the herd.

Mama and baby elk

After walking about a half mile down one of the paths, my hubby spotted the small elk herd on a nearby hill.  Excited, we headed towards the hill, which happened to be adjacent to the main park road.  We counted at least eight female (cow) elk laying down amidst the bushes.  Then hubby spotted the bull elk, his large rack of horns sticking up above the shrubbery.  Boy was I happy I'd lugged my large zoom lens along for the trip.

A tender moment between mother and child

Once the elk realized they had visitors, the entire herd rose from their resting positions and slowly started to walk away.  But their direction of travel meant a crossing of the park road.  I positioned myself so I could capture images of the elk as they traipsed across the roadway.  Included in the herd were a couple of young elk (called calves).  One mother and calf hung out quite close to where I stood, and I got some great photos of the mom affectionately nuzzling her youngster.  The large bull elk, when he rose and stood at full height, was a magnificent animal to see (through my zoom lens, that is).

Another image of the impressive bull elk

We ran into a local man, who happened to be walking down the road at the same time as the elk herd was crossing.  The man told us he'd been taking daily trips down this road all summer, and this was the first time he'd ever seen elk.  Today was our lucky day for sure!

Two smaller bull elk in the bushes

It was hunting season, and hunting wasn't allowed in this state park, so that elk herd was likely seeking shelter in a protected area (animals are not dumb - they know where to go to avoid hunters!)

Heading out to set a crab trap

Later that afternoon, hubby decided to try his hand at crabbing in Nehalem Bay.  Usually hubby sets crab traps from his boat.  However, since we'd never been to this state park, and didn't know what the boat dock was like, hubby decided to bring our kayak instead.  It was entertaining watching him paddle out into the bay with a crab trap perched on the front of the kayak.  But he made it work! 

Hubby shows off his catch

Most of the crabs hubby caught were not big enough to keep (like the one in the photo above) and had to be thrown back.  Dungeness crabs have to be a certain size and gender to be keepers.  He did manage to catch one crab that fit the parameters.  Taking him out of the trap, the feisty crab pinched hubby's finger, so I nicked-named him "Pinchy."  For revenge, hubby cooked and ate Pinchy for dinner that night.

Bighorn sheep rams at Cottonwood Canyon

Our second trip, towards the end of October, was a return (for me anyway) to Cottonwood Canyon State Park.  After visiting here in March, I was so impressed by this park I'd gotten up early one morning in April and reserved a cabin for this late October weekend.

Getting ready to fight

In March, I'd hoped to see some of the Bighorn sheep that lived on the nearby hillsides.  On my last day, I'd finally spotted a herd high on a far-away hill, necessitating my camera's zoom lens to see them.  This time, I hoped for a closer encounter.

Checking us out

Well, hubby must be my good luck charm for animal encounters!  On our second day at Cottonwood Canyon, we decided to hike the Pinnacles Trail and look for sheep.  We'd traveled about two miles down the trail, when suddenly my hubby motioned to the slopes above us.  There were two male sheep (rams) not far above the trail!

"That weird lady with a camera keeps following us"

I'd carried my big 800 mm zoom lens for just this purpose!  Hands shaking with excitement, I tried to hurriedly swap lenses on my camera.  Then I focused on the two rams and clicked away.  I wasn't sure if they'd stay around so I wanted to capture as many images as I could.

"Aaaahhh....a little bit to the left!"

Luckily, the rams didn't seem scared of us.  The Pinnacles Trail gets lots of human traffic, so I assume those sheep must've been used to humans.  The rams butted heads for a bit (which was so cool to watch!).  Then they sauntered up the slope, grabbing a bite to eat here and there.  We got a good 20 minute encounter before they finally wandered out of sight.

Sticking out his tongue

Although my photos make it look like we were extremely close to these Bighorn sheep, hubby and I maintained a safe distance.  (That's what a good zoom lens will do for your wildlife photography!)  When photographing wildlife, one always needs to respect the animals and give them their space.  The internet is full of videos of stupid tourists in National Parks getting way too close to dangerous wild animals.

Wild turkeys

The other wildlife sighting at Cottonwood Canyon occurred just outside our cabin's door.  One morning I noticed a flock of wild turkeys pecking around in the nearby field.  Having spend two months this past summer at my parent's house in South Dakota, where wild turkeys running through their backyard is a daily occurrence, at first I wasn't too interested.  But, it was a wild animal sighting, so in the end I zoomed in and captured a few images of the birds.

Gorgeous fall colors along the John Day River

Although this is a wildlife post, I do have to include a couple photos of the gorgeous fall colors along the John Day River at Cottonwood Canyon State Park.  The grasses and bushes lining the river had transformed into lovely shades of gold.  It was even prettier than when I visited in the spring!

Perfect reflections

Oregon has many outstanding state parks.  It was fun to visit two of them in the same month, and see magnificent wildlife in both.  I feel fortunate to live in a state with so many great places to recreate outdoors.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Eagle Creek, Post-Fire

Back in September 2017, I watched helplessly as a monster wildfire consumed the Oregon side of my beloved Columbia River Gorge.  The fire, ignited by a teenager playing with fireworks, started on the Eagle Creek Trail, my most favorite trail in the Gorge (and possibly of all time).

(You can read more about the wildfire in this Wikipedia link.)

The trailhead is still the same!

Three months later, winter rains finally doused the fire, but a large portion of the Gorge's forests had been torched.   Most of the burn area remained off-limits for a year.  Slowly, hiking trails and roads reopened.  But the Eagle Creek Trail, where it had all started, sustained the most damage and remained closed for 3 1/2 years.  It opened briefly in January 2021, only to be shuttered 2 weeks later due to landslides brought on by a strong winter storm.  The trail remained closed until mid-July 2021, when it was finally cleared of debris and deemed safe for hikers.

The damage quickly becomes apparent at the first bridge

Of course, once word got out among the hiking community the Eagle Creek Trail was heavily trafficked.  Although I too was anxious to revisit the trail and see the fire damage for myself, I decided to wait for a rainy midweek day in November, when I knew there'd be far less people.

Scorched hillside

The other reason for waiting until November - fall color!  From past experience I knew that the Gorge usually reached peak autumn hues in early November.  After four long years, I suspected enough vegetation had since regrown in the Eagle Creek area to produce changing leaves once again.

Eagle Creek

So in early November, I picked a Tuesday that, although cloudy, wasn't too rainy and invited my friend Debbie to join me.

Debbie walks through a carpet of leaves

Hoping to score an up-close spot, we were delighted to find only a half dozen vehicles in the parking area.  After the necessary pre-hike potty break, and changing into boots and jackets, Debbie and I were off!

Bigleaf maple leaves

The trailhead itself looked the same, but mere steps beyond that the fire damage became brutally apparent.  At the first bridge beside Eagle Creek, we gaped at the hillsides that were covered with charred tree trunks.  Thankfully, some yellow-leaved bushes had grown amongst the blackened trees adding a dash of color to an otherwise bleak scene.

Colorful corridor

Speaking of fall color, it was definitely peaking!  Debbie and I passed through a spot on the trail surrounded by Bigleaf maples and other assorted colorful bushes.  Golden leaves carpeted our trail.  It almost felt as if we were walking through a big, yellow tunnel.

Small cascade trickles down a cliff face

After an extremely dry spring and summer, this fall season seemed to be making up for lost precip.  We'd had quite a few rainy days in late October and, as a result, waterfalls were gushing from everywhere.  We passed by one tiny cascade dripping above the trail, trickling down the side of an adjacent basalt cliff.

The trail was blasted into the cliff face

One thing about this trail that I was happy to see hadn't changed - the narrow ledges blasted into the cliff face.  These walkways seemed to have survived the firestorm and subsequent landslides in fine shape.

I was happy to see that this unique trail segment had survived the fire

Constructed in the 1910s, these narrow trails were considered an engineering marvel.  In areas with high exposure, cable handrails were added, providing a little security to hikers afraid of heights.  Despite the inferno passing through here, I was happy to discover the cables still in place and in apparent good shape.

Looking deep into the canyon

By now we'd climbed high above Eagle Creek, it's waters a blue ribbon far, far below.  The canyon narrowed, giving glimpses to partially forested areas ahead.  The fire here burned in a "mosaic" pattern, sparing some trees while completely incinerating others.  It was good to see a little bit of green amidst so many bare black and gray trunks.

Another mossy cliff

Debbie and I passed by another cliffy area, the rock faces covered with ferns and green moss.  The forest opened up to showcase some nice views of the canyon.

Colorful bushes brighten an otherwise bleak burn area

At about 2 miles in, we passed the side trail down to the base of Punchbowl Falls.  Pre-fire, this trail had taken hikers to a pleasant creekside area with a lovely rocky bank boasting great views of the falls.  But I had heard that the fire had denuded the adjacent canyon slopes so badly there was no longer anything holding the soil in place.  Winter rains caused massive landslides, raining large boulders into the canyon and wiping out the nice beach area.  Access to the base of Punchbowl Falls was now very difficult.

Punchbowl falls

Knowing there was nothing to see down below, Debbie and I skipped the side path to Punchbowl Falls. A bit further down the trail was another viewpoint where hikers could see the cascade from above.  This would have to do for now.  I'd hoped the fire had cleared the vegetation from the upper viewpoint, as pre-fire it was beginning to get overgrown.  But four years of regrowth had started to obscure the falls once again.  Blackened trees directly above the splash pool showed how close the flames had gotten to the waterfall.

Beyond Punch Bowl Falls, there was much devastation 

Beyond Punchbowl Falls, the devastation encompassed more of the forest.  Large swaths of ghostly gray trees covered an adjacent slope.  No mosaic burn here, the entire hillside had been consumed by the flames.

Gray, ghostly trees

However, the blackened trunks and gray branches made interesting patterns to photograph.

This silver tree was photogenic

It was sobering, but also fascinating to see the scale of destruction.

Small creek trickles through the burn zone

A small creek tumbled down one side of the ghostly forest.   The creek's banks were lined with green vegetation, which made it stand out from the stark surroundings.

More waterway scenes

Debbie and I continued another mile and a half further from Punchbowl Falls, catching occasional glimpses of Eagle Creek.

The famous cable handrails appear to have survived!

Past more cliff areas with cable handrails.

Another view of the rapids

We traversed two side creeks, one a simple rock-hop, the other requiring a bit more skill to cross (although I just waded through, since my boots were waterproof).  The trail was clear of downed trees until just after we made our second creek crossing.  There on the other side, a large tree had fallen directly into our path forcing Debbie and I to duck and scramble over several branches.  Although it took a bit of time, we were able to successfully navigate this obstacle.

Despite all the charred trees, the scenery was still fantastic

The trail came out of the forest to another clifftop clearing.  There, gushing from the opposite bank was a lovely waterfall.  Named Loowit Falls, this two-tiered beauty was flowing mightily.

Loowit Falls

Very steep dropoffs near Loowit Falls

Past Loowit Falls, the trail again narrowed against a rocky cliff.  Traversing by, I hugged the cliff wall as close as possible - it was a long ways down to the creek.

Debbie approaching High Bridge

Up ahead we could see a deep slot-like gorge.  Our trail crossed this gorge via a bridge appropriately named as "High Bridge."

Crossing High Bridge

Upon High Bridge, one could see Eagle Creek, very far below.  One could also look up the narrow walls on one side that formed the deep gorge.  To the other side of the bridge was a sad sight.  The forest here had been totally burned.  Blackened trunks were all that was left of a once beautiful area. 

The woods above High Bridge were pretty well torched

Although the Eagle Creek Trail continued another 2.7 miles from here to spectacular Tunnel Falls, Debbie and I agreed High Bridge was as far as we'd go for today.  It would make a very respectable 8 mile trek.  I'd save Tunnel Falls for another day.

Heading back through the green cliff section

So Debbie and I retraced our steps back past Loowit Falls and the green cliff section.  Since I'd taken copious photos all morning, I didn't feel the need for many photo breaks on the way back, and our return trip was much faster.

Eagle Creek, far below the trail

This image shows how far the trail got above Eagle Creek.  It's a long ways to the water!

Debbie taking in the lovely fall colors

At the final cliff section, the fall colors were especially vibrant and plentiful.  Debbie and I took a short break to admire the beauty.

Lots of bright yellows and oranges!

The trees down below practically exploded in yellows and oranges.  A fine way to end our exploration of this wonderful trail.  Despite the fire damage, the Eagle Creek Trail was still amazing as ever.

Back through the last cliff section

After being closed for so long, it was wonderful to finally hike my favorite trail again post-2017 fire.  It was like revisiting an old friend!  A huge thanks to the Forest Service and all the volunteers who labored for years repairing the Eagle Creek Trail from fire and landslide damage, getting it reopened to the public once again.