Sunday, December 31, 2023

2023 in Photos

2023 has drawn to a close.  And that means it's time for my most favorite blog post - Linda's year-end review in photos.  Can you believe its a tradition I've continued for 13 consecutive years?  Doesn't seem that long ago it was 2011 and I was penning my very first annual recap!  

This year I managed to stay healthy enough to enjoy lots of hiking and skiing.  Although I didn't write any posts about it, 2023 was a banner ski season here in Oregon.  (I logged a record 17 days at Mt. Bachelor alone.)  Even though this year I chose not to do a hiking challenge, I still completed 53 walks in the outdoors.  Not too shabby!  With the COVID threat finally lessened, I also traveled internationally to the beautiful country of Ireland (a definite highlight of 2023) and visited four U.S. National parks.

So now it's time to share with my readers the annual photographic recap you've come to expect.  As with previous years, I've chosen one image to represent each month from my experiences in 2023.  These aren't always my finest photographs, but the ones I've deemed best depict memorable moments of the year gone by.  Every image was captured on the month the event actually happened, not when I finally got around to writing about it.  And as a special surprise, you'll even see a couple pictures that haven't made it into the blog.  (Until now that is!)

So here we go again - presenting Linda's Lens 2023 in Photos:


Waterfall action at Silver Falls State Park

It's no secret I love photographing waterfalls.  In early January my hubby and I took a hike along the entire "Trail of Ten Falls" at nearby Silver Falls State Park.  Since hubby doesn't join me all that often on my treks, it was nice to show him one of my favorite places to see waterfalls.  I really liked the above image of Lower South Falls.  If you look carefully you'll see my hubby to the right of this cascade's watery curtain, dwarfed by its mighty flow.


Celebrating a milestone birthday on the slopes

I didn't blog about this, but in February I reached another milestone birthday.  And you know me, I always try to celebrate birthdays on the ski slopes!  My buddy Kim and I traveled to Central Oregon's Mt. Bachelor resort, where the skies were blue and the snow soft and plentiful.  As I did on my last milestone b-day, I borrowed Kim's princess hat helmet cover and made a spectacle of myself.  Here's my favorite selfie sporting this celebratory attire.  Could my smile be any bigger?


Cherry tree blossoms along Portland's waterfront

One of the sure signs of spring is when the cherry blossom trees along Portland's waterfront bust out their lovely pink blooms.  When I worked downtown, it was easy to walk over during my lunch break for photos.  But post-retirement, I never seemed to go there at the right time.  This year that all changed as I convinced my neighbor Cheri to join me on a borderline rainy day.  Our gamble paid off - not only did the skies stay dry, the threat of rain meant less people (the park becomes horribly crowded during peak bloom.)  Although most of my images were stereotypical pics of the pink trees in a row, my favorite shot turned out to be this zoomed-in photo of the blossoms.


The Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary, Ireland

The highlight of 2023 was a trip with my buddy Kim to Ireland.  We spent 11 days in the Emerald Isle, taking in as much of the country, culture, and Guinness as we possibly could.  I'm in love with the scenery and people of this stunning, green republic - so much so that Kim and I have both agreed a return trip is definitely in order.  I took over 5,000 photos on my camera alone (not counting cell phone pics) so it was difficult to choose just one image that best represented this grand adventure.  But finally I selected the above selfie that Kim snapped at the Rock of Cashel.  Every day we'd take several selfies from the places we visited.  Kim was much more adept at this special skill, but by the end of our trip I got pretty good too.


Wildflower explosion in the Gorge

A wetter than average spring season produced the best Columbia River Gorge wildflower bloom in years.  Home from Ireland for mere days, I fought jet lag and a horrible cold to get out there and photograph it.  This image from Chatfield Hill had probably the highest concentration of wildflowers I've ever seen here.  A great welcome home gift!


Yellowstone National Park

More adventures of Kim and Linda!  In late May/early June we embarked on another trip, this time a drive to South Dakota, where I showed her around the Black Hills and Badlands.  On the way home I detoured to Yellowstone National Park, where we spent a fabulous two days seeing as much of the park as we possibly could.  Such an amazing place!  We had several wildlife sightings, saw Old Faithful erupt three times, and visited so many geysers.  It was Kim's first visit to Yellowstone and it had been many years since my last trip.  I enjoyed revisiting the place through a newcomer's eyes.


Cape Flattery, Washington

Over the July 4th weekend, hubby and I camped at Olympic National Park.  We've been here twice before, but it's a big park and there was more to explore.  One place we visited for the first time was stunning Cape Flattery, the most northwesterly point in the lower 48 U.S. states.  A long distance from anywhere in the park, its stunning seaside cliffs were totally worth the 4-hour roundtrip drive.


Paradise Park, Mt. Hood

Not only were wildflowers prolific this spring, the summer bloom high in the Cascade mountains was pretty amazing too.  I spent the month of August chasing the peak, hiking several popular trails in both Oregon and neighboring Washington.  It was hard to chose just one favorite, but I finally decided upon this year's visit to Mt. Hood's Paradise Park.  This trail is stunning every summer, but this year's wildflowers were some of the most vibrant and bountiful displays I've ever seen here.


Twin Lake, Crazy Mountains, Montana

So much happened this month that I just couldn't pick one photo - so instead you get two!  First, hubby and I traveled to Montana in early September to visit our son.  The highlight of this trip was a hike on the Big Timber Creek Trail in the nearby Crazy Mountains.  We journeyed to one of the Twin Lakes, where my son and hubby practiced their fly fishing skills.  The lake was nestled in a valley ringed by craggy peaks - a most picturesque setting.

Mt. Rainier view, Naches Peak Trail

My second September highlight came later that month when I made the trip to Mt. Rainier National Park to check out both the wildlife and fall colors.  (Yes, I realize I just blogged about it, but this visit was worthy of the yearly highlight reel)  I had some great wildlife encounters and was lucky enough to capture them on memory card.  And the autumn leaf hues were amazing, especially along the Naches Peak Loop.  Good thing I went when I did, as snow fell the following week and covered everything.


Golden Western larches on Mt. Hood

In early October Pacific NW hikers and photographers go ga-ga for the lovely golden larch trees.  These unique conifers have needles that turn a yellowish color in the fall, much like their deciduous cousins.  Although the highest larch concentrations are in neighboring Washington state, I discovered an ample supply on Mt. Hood's eastern slopes.  My exploratory hike here coincided with peak color.  A most memorable autumn day!


Columbia River view above Oneonta Gorge

After thinking there wouldn't be much of a fall color show in the Columbia River Gorge this year, come November the entire area suddenly erupted into the most vibrant of leaf hues.  During that glorious first week of the month, I hiked three different trails.  Each one was as stunning as the next - as a matter of fact, it was hard to chose just one representative image.  But the eventual winner was this shot of colorful bushes lining the steep slopes above Oneonta Gorge.


Sunset on Cannon Beach

This year, I didn't take many photos in December.  Due to family commitments and rainy weather, my camera sat in its bag a lot.  But mid-month I made a quick trip to Cannon Beach in hopes of capturing a nice sunset.  Although it wasn't the most spectacular I've ever seen, the setting sun did give the sky a lovely orange hue.  And it felt good to be outside enjoying nature once again.


Thus ends another year of chronicling my photographic adventures.  Although I didn't recap every one of my outdoor excursions on the blog, I tried to hit the highlights.  Nowadays blogging to me sometimes seems like a chore - choosing and editing photographs and thinking of something interesting to say takes a lot of time.  So I don't post as much as I did in the "early years."  However, I do enjoy looking back on the entries I've written from memorable trips and favorite hikes, and find I'm always thankful for taking the time to document these endeavors.

So yes, I'll be hanging out in this space for awhile longer.  As always, thanks to all my followers for viewing my photos, reading my narrative, and especially for leaving comments.  Although I keep this blog mainly for my own entertainment, it does feel good to know others get enjoyment from my postings.

As with every year-end review, I have high hopes for the next 12 months.  I've planned some ski trips and another big international excursion.  And of course I'll return to my favorite hiking trails and wildflower patches here in the Pacific NW.  So I hope you'll stick around and see where 2024 takes me!

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Autumn Wonderland at Mt. Rainier

In trying to catch up from a very busy photographic autumn, I thought I'd share another of my more memorable experiences.  This post features a late September visit I made to Mt. Rainier National Park.

Mt. Rainier rises above the Wonderland Trail

This park is beautiful in August, when wildflowers carpet the mountain's upper slopes.  I try to get to the mountain annually for the flower show, but this year it didn't happen.  However autumn is also spectacular.  Due to the high elevation, this seasonal change happens early, so come September you don't want to dawdle for fear of missing the entire thing.  Knowing that time was running out, I hightailed it up there for two days last September.

Marmot at attention

Not only wildflowers and fall colors, Mt. Rainier NP is also the place to see wildlife.  Marmots are plentiful on the high tundra surrounding the mountain.  As a matter of fact, on this day I started my hike from the Sunrise Visitor Center and took the Wonderland Trail all the way to Skyscraper Point.  As I began to climb the final mile to my turnaround goal, a baby marmot popped out of a hole right next to the trail!

The little guy popped out of a hole right next to the trail!

Upon seeing me standing right beside him, the little guy quickly disappeared down his hole.  But I backed off and waited, and sure enough the marmot reappeared.  As long as I kept my distance, I was able to watch this marmot and his parent ramble around the grassy area above the trail.

I spied a large mountain goat herd

One of my hopes for this trip was to see some mountain goats.  They are plentiful here at Mt. Rainier NP, but on past visits I've always missed seeing the resident herd.  But on this day, while climbing up to Skyscraper pass, a hiker heading in the opposite direction pointed out a group of these fluffy white creatures on top of a nearby ridge.

Goats on the move

Although the goats were a fair distance away, I'd carried a zoom lens just for this purpose.  The extra magnification enabled me to get some decent photos.  And it was fun to watch the herd's antics through the lens.

Grazing in the shadow of the mountain

On my trip back down from the pass, I noticed the mountain goats still atop the ridge.  Pausing to watch them for a second time, I was delighted when the herd rose and began walking downhill towards the trail.  Although the goats eventually turned and wandered farther away from where I stood, I was able to get more photos from a closer distance.  I watched the goats for quite a long time and then, deciding it was time to move on, continued my hike.

During my descent, I kept looking back at the herd.  When I was a good half mile away, all the goats began to move again.  This time they traveled back towards where I'd been standing and walked right across the trail!  Darn!  I kicked myself for not staying longer.  However, wild animals are not predictable.  I consoled myself with the thought that I couldn't have anticipated their movements.

Golden-mantled ground squirrel posing for me

Back down the Wonderland Trail I hiked.  In addition to marmots, the alpine tundra here was home to dozens of golden-mantled ground squirrels.  I kept seeing these chipmunk-like animals darting between the boulders.  One little guy posed atop a large rock and didn't move, even when I got fairly close.

Adorable pika!

Back at my car, it was still midafternoon, so I decided to hike another trail.  A short distance down the road from the Sunrise visitor center was Sunrise Point.  Located at a hairpin bend in the road, it's a popular place for tourists to take in great views of Mt. Rainier.  It's also a trailhead for the Palisades Lake Trail.  Having never before hiked this trail, I thought today was a good time to check things out.

Pike giving its special call

From the parking area, this trail plummeted steeply downhill for the first mile.  But passing by a talus slope I head the faint "meep" of a pika call.  Zoom lens came back on my camera and I positioned myself at the foot of the slope, hoping to get a glimpse of this shy little creature.

Luckily, my wait was short.  A pika poked its head out, and then to my delight, climbed atop a rock and sat.  Slowly I walked towards the little creature, snapping images as I went.  The pika let me get rather close before diving back into the boulder field.  But he remerged several feet up hill, long enough to give out his distinctive "meep" warning noise before disappearing once again.  

I was so happy to see one of these adorable little rock-rabbits and get a bunch of great photos too.  Along with the mountain goat sighting, one of my trip highlights!

Rainier at sunrise

The following morning I rose early to capture sunrise from the Sunrise Visitor Center (sunrise at Sunrise, ha-ha!)  I walked a short distance up the main path and stood with my camera at the ready.  A young couple hiked up and stopped nearby.  Busy photographing the morning light on Mt. Rainier, I didn't pay attention to what the couple was doing.  It wasn't until a passing hiker exclaimed "congratulations" did I discover the man had just proposed to his girlfriend.  Apparently he'd traveled all the way from Texas to pop the question here at Mt. Rainier NP.

Mountain reflections in Upper Tipsoo Lake

With the sun now rising in the sky, I left the happy couple and returned to my car.  I had one more stop for the day - nearby Tipsoo Lake and the Naches Peak Loop.

Mt. Rainier view from the Naches Peak Trail

It had been several years since I'd hiked this amazing short trail that loops through some of the best scenery in the park.  The last time here was during peak wildflower bloom and it was nothing short of incredible.  But I'd yet to see the trail decked out in fall colors.  Today was the day!

Outstanding fall colors!

I decided to start my hike from Tipsoo Lake and go counterclockwise.  I remembered there were some great Rainier views from this first portion of the trail.  

More blazing red huckleberry leaves

Oh my were the fall leaves spectacular!  The trail was lined with huckleberry bushes that had turned the most dazzling shades of red, orange and yellow.  

Grand view near a small tarn

And the views of Mt. Rainier were amazing too.  It was a good thing I started the trail where I did, as I got some clear views of the mountain.  About halfway through my hike I noticed the mountain starting to be obscured by clouds and by the time I finished, it was totally covered.

Looking towards Dewey Lake

About halfway into my loop I intersected with the Pacific Crest Trail.  I ran into a couple of people who were through hiking the entire trail.  Always fun to chat with these determined hikers.

Another small tarn with a jaw-dropping view

Although for the first couple of miles I had the trail nearly to myself, by the time I started down the PCT, the masses were out.  This loop is wildly popular and always brings out the crowds.  Of course, I totally see why.

Golden meadows

The last mile was probably my favorite.  The forest cleared and the trail routed through several golden meadows.  The clearings were dotted with colorful huckleberry bushes.  The gold and red hues made for some amazing photo subjects.

A huge patch of red-leaved goodness

I thought the Naches Peak Loop was amazing during the summer wildflower bloom, but now I think it's even better with peak autumn colors.  Definitely a must-do next year!

A very popular trail for good reason!

Glad I made the trip up north to get my yearly Mt. Rainer fix.  Critters and fall colors....what more could I ask for?  

Monday, December 18, 2023

Western Larches of Mt. Hood

In my quest to photograph the fall colors of NW Oregon, there's one tree species that always rises to the top of the list.  Described as a unique coniferous variety, in autumn its needles turn a lovely hue of yellow and drop to the forest floor.  Come early October, people in the Pacific NW become obsessed with seeing the stunning golden larch.

My friends are all smiles!

This "larch madness" is more prevalent in neighboring Washington state, where larches are much more plentiful.  Home to both the Western larch and the more showy subapline larch, people flock to trails featuring forests full of these golden beauties.  I can always tell when larches there are peaking - my Facebook feed is crammed with breathtaking photos.

Golden goodness

Someday I'll make it up to Washington to see the larch show for myself.  But in the meantime, the eastern slopes of Mt. Hood put on a performance of their own - and it's a much shorter drive.

Larch trees everywhere!

The forests directly east of Mt. Hood are home to the Western larch tree.  In the past, I've hiked the Divide Trail (see my post from this hike and also this post from 2020) to Flag Point Lookout where there's a scattered bunch of larches.  But two years ago I stumbled upon a nice grove on the slopes of nearby Five Mile Butte.  At the time, the trees were just beginning their autumn transition, so I made a mental note to return later in October for peak color.  However, life got in the way, and it took me two more years to fulfill that promise.

This one was practically glowing

But one sunny Saturday in late October, the planets finally aligned.  I invited my hiking buddies Debbie and Barry to join me on a larch reconnaissance mission.  My objective was a trek on the Eightmile Loop trail to hopefully catch the Western larches in their fall finery.

A baby larch

Parking at the Eightmile Campground day use area, my friends and I shouldered our backpacks and headed up the steep, switchback-y trail that would take us to the top of Fivemile Butte.  It didn't take long before we began to notice the golden conifers standing out prominently from the forest's green firs.

Mixed in with the firs

Climbing higher, I came upon dozens of bright yellow trees surrounding the trail.  We'd hit the larches at their peak!  I was so excited!  Forward progress ground to a screeching halt as my camera came out, and lots of photography ensued.  Good thing my friends are so patient and understanding of my hobby.

This entire hillside was golden

Western larch is the only species of larch trees found in Oregon.  It's among the largest of the larches, able to grow up to 200 feet high with trunk widths as wide as 5 feet in diameter.  It has a narrow, tapered shape that allows closely-spaced groves of these trees to thrive.  Larch trees can survive extreme cold and hot, dry summers.

More yellow needles

I slowly inched up the trail, taking dozens of photographs as I went.  The amount of larches increased in number until the forest was nearly dominated by their golden needles.

Sun breaking through

I noticed lots of short larch trees just starting to rise from the forest floor.  If all these baby larches survive, it won't take long for a nice forest to develop here.  It will be interesting to visit this trail in the coming years and see the changes.

Happy hikers

Debbie and Barry are avid birders, so while I was busy taking photographs of the larch trees, they were scanning the forest for birds.  Not seeing any recent reports from this area, Debbie decided she'd compile a list of feathered friends she spotted for the ebird website.

I loved the close-ups

Upward my friends and I climbed, me clicking my camera shutter profusely, and Debbie and Barry listening for bird calls.

We hit peak color

The brilliant yellow needles of the larches practically glowed in the late morning sunshine.

My friends looking for birds

Towards the top of our climb, the number larches began to decline, and the forest opened up to views looking north.  At one point, I spotted Mt. Adam's white summit framed between the trees.

A tiny bit of red

Reaching the top of our climb, we took a side trail to the Fivemile Butte Fire Lookout.  Not only did I love visiting fire lookouts, the amazing view from its base made a nice lunch spot.

Mt. Adams was our lunchtime view

We walked to an open area a short distance from the lookout.  My friends and I sat in the sunshine, filled our bellies, and enjoyed a fine view of the forest below and Mt. Adams front and center.  The warm temperatures and blue skies were much appreciated!

Five Mile Butte lookout

Finished with lunch, we wandered back to check out the fire tower and take a few photos.  While exploring the area, a mountain biker happened by.  He pointed towards the entrance road and told us there was a great view of Mt. Hood not far down the road.

Excellent Mt Hood view on the lookout road

Well of course we had to check it out!  True to his word, the biker was right.  About a quarter mile away from the fire lookout Mt. Hood rose prominently above the trees.  A few scattered larches stood out amongst the green.  An amazing view - many more photos were taken.

Fire lookout peek-a-boo

Then we retraced our steps back to the lookout and rejoined the Eightmile trail to complete our loop. 

Larch trees speckled throughout the forest

Our trail contoured along an open ridge, giving us nice views of the forest below.  The green Douglas fir forest was speckled with yellow from the turning larch needles.  A beautiful sight!

Nice views on top of Five Mile Butte

The rest of the trail didn't have nearly as many larches, so my camera mostly stayed in its bag for the remainder of the hike.  (I'd taken more than enough the first mile and a half!)  But one area had a huge concentration of mushrooms, so I tried my hand at a bit of macro photography, capturing some colorful fungi on the forest floor.

Mushrooms in the forest

Debbie was able to identify a grand total of 10 different bird species for her list.  The highlight was hearing a woodpecker's familiar tap-tapping, and being able to spot a hairy woodpecker high on one of the nearby trees.

Debbie poses on a log bridge

On the drive home down windy Forest Service road 44, I admired the brilliant larch trees lining its roadway.  I came around a bend, and there was Mt. Hood framed by some of these golden beauties.  Such a beautiful scene, I immediately pulled over and snapped a few parting shots.  A great end to what had been an amazing day!

Mt Hood view on the way home

After missing the peak larch color two years ago, I was thrilled to hit both the height of the larch seasonal change, and do it on a sunny day.