Friday, March 31, 2023

Ducky Drama

This winter I've been making the rounds to some local nature areas, both to get a little exercise and photograph whatever wildlife I find.  One of the places I frequented often had a flock of wood ducks swimming in the water.  Wood duck males are very photogenic - their heads a brightly colored mix of greens with an orange bill and unusual red eyes.  

"Did you hear the gossip about Quackly?"

On a recent visit, I was lucky enough to see a sizeable flock of these lovely ducks.  Not only were the ducks in abundance, I was also able to capture some of their antics.

"My love, you are the only woman for me"

Pairs of male and female wood ducks swam around together, often posing for my camera.  After downloading and editing a few images, I'm posting them here for you to enjoy, along with a few funny captions.

"And another thing...."

After the argument

"Look at meeee!"

Duck fight!

It was mating season and every once and awhile a couple of males would get into a fight.  I'm assuming it was over a female (no matter the species, men always fight over women!)

Chasing away his challenger

The two males would race around the pond, chasing after each other.  Lots of flapping and splashing ensued.  The ducks were so fast it was difficult to capture photos of the drama.  But I did manage to get a couple of images I liked.

The victorious male

As I was walking back to my car, I spied a great blue heron nearby.  Just as I was focusing on the bird, it spread it's wings and took off.  And lucky me, one of my images captured the moment of liftoff.

We have liftoff!

I hope you enjoy this "ducky" post!

Saturday, March 25, 2023

A Winter Waterfall

Who doesn't love waterfalls in the winter season?  Blanketed in snow, icicles hanging on the nearby canyon walls, and if you're lucky, maybe some interesting ice formations in the splash bowl below.  In my opinion, frozen cascades are the holy grail of landscape photography.

Chilly Cold Spring Creek

Where I live, the waterfall corridor of the Columbia River Gorge usually gets one to two days per year of temperatures low enough to partially freeze the cascades.  But when that happens, the road to get there is usually icy too.  However, there is one waterfall near Mt. Hood where winter conditions are fairly reliable most of the season.  Tamanawas Falls, located in the higher elevations of Mt. Hood National Forest, is a popular winter destination.  A short hike or snowshoe along Cold Spring Creek rewards intrepid adventurers with gorgeous, snowy scenery.

Snow-dusted trees

One cold winter morning I made the long drive to Mt. Hood's east side, destination Tamanawas Falls trailhead.  Arriving to a parking area with snow piled high, I decided to enlist the services of my snowshoes.  Although the adjacent trail appeared to be well packed, I wasn't sure what the rest of the route would entail.  There was a lot of snow in the forest!  Having been stuck post-holing on past hikes where I'd left the snowshoes behind, as far as I was concerned it was better safe than sorry.

Hiker bridge over Cold Spring Creek

I shuffled easily along the well-tromped trail, stopping frequently to admire the snowy forest and adjacent creek.  White-dusted fir trees captured the attention of my camera many times.  The sky was overcast, but occasionally the clouds would briefly part, teasing me with the promise of sunshine.  

Blue rapids

About halfway along the 2-mile trail hikers cross charming Cold Spring Creek, rapids bubbling in an unusual icy-blue-aqua color.  Of course, the creek enticed me to flounder through deep snow to it's bank for more intimate captures (good thing I had my snowshoes!)

Intricate ice formations in the creek

Beyond the bridge crossing I sauntered along the trail, stopping frequently to check out more beauty.  Where the creek's rapids slowed, icicles had formed on overhanging tree branches.

First view of Tamanawas Falls

Even with a packed down trail, I was finding hiking in snowshoes required much more effort than mere walking.  Huffing and puffing uphill through a large talus slope, I began to think I'd never get to that darn waterfall.

A bit closer view

But of course I eventually did arrive.  And boy was it worth the effort!  Deep snow covered the valley.  Huge icicles hung from the canyon walls.  In the middle of it all Tamanawas Falls stood, it's white rapids gushing.  Absolutely stunning!

Lots of snow this year!

I'd never seen so much snow here.  The waterfall's flow had transformed the deep snowbanks below into unique patterns.  Some of the icy creations glowed with a bluish hue.

I loved the unusual snow formations at the waterfall's base

I ventured closer to the waterfall.  Winds caught the spray, covering my camera lens.   Close-range photography became difficult, but between gusts I managed a few droplet-free images.

Mother Nature's artwork

I loved trying to capture details of the icy sculptures beneath the cascade.  Due to all the white color, exposure was tricky.

Breathtaking beauty

I had Tamanawas Falls to myself for nearly a half hour before other hikers appeared.  By then I had a memory card full of images, so I decided it was time to head back.  But leaving such an impressive winter scene wasn't easy.  I lingered a bit, snapping a few extra photos with people in the frame for scale.  Then snow began to fall, making this beautiful place even more magical.  Oh, I couldn't leave without a few images of the snow falling!

As I departed, snow began to fall

A great outing, it was icy Tamanawas Falls for the win!  Although this trail is accessible year-round, I think winter is the very best time to visit.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

A Winter Hike in the Gorge

It had been too long between hikes!  A trip home, lots of ski days, and a bout with the Covid monster, meant hiking had taken a back seat for much of February.  But the promise of a sunny day later that month had me texting friends and making plans.  Although the Portland area had just been clobbered by a surprise snowstorm, the Columbia River Gorge had somehow escaped the bad weather.  With it's trails relatively snow-free, the plan was to head east.

Mt. Hood anchors a sunny sky

So I rallied friends Young and John, and they in turn invited mutual friend Steve for a trek up the Labyrinth Trail on the Washington side of the Gorge.  After braving the icy Portland freeways, I survived my white-knuckle drive across town to rendezvous with Young and John.  From east Portland, we carpooled to the trailhead, where Steve was waiting.

Partially frozen waterfall near the trailhead

The entire Coyote Wall-Labyrinth-Catherine Creek area of the eastern Washington gorge is a year-round hiker's paradise.  Shared with mountain bikers, this network of trails leads users through some unique geology.  Wildflowers begin blooming in early spring and the high plateaus boast spectacular sweeping views.


Close up of the icicles

My friends and I started down an old road that led to the Labyrinth trailhead.  A short distance down this road a waterfall spilled down the side of adjacent cliffs.  The extra bonus for today was that the cold weather had created icicles on the rocky cliff walls and an icy coating on the area below.  I'm a big fan of frozen waterfalls, so it was already a good day.

Frozen creek and another small waterfall

Arriving at the Labyrinth trailhead, our climbing began.  My hiking companions and I wound through interesting rock formations as we trudged uphill.  An icy creek snaked through a low spot between the landscape, creating another waterfall that churned over a small cliff.  

Rough country of the Labyrinth

Lucky for us, the morning temperatures were low enough to freeze the mud on the trail tread.  But with the sun's rays starting to warm things up, we knew this easy walking wouldn't last.  There was only a small dusting of snow in the shady areas, and we were grateful for that.  But sadly the recent inclimate weather had stunted much of the grass widow flowers, for we saw dozens of wilted blooms.  Hopefully when temperatures warm the flowers will rally.

The day's hiking compadres

Although bundled up for the cold weather, our steep climb up the Labyrinth got everyone warm quickly, and clothing layers began to shed.

Lone oak tree

After a mile or so of climbing, I pointed out a side trail that took hikers over to the Catherine Creek area.  Having hiked this way before, I convinced my friends to try this alternate path.

Snowy grove

We sauntered downhill, over wide-open ridges with lovely views and then hiked through a grove of barren oak trees, snow settled beneath their branches.

Lunch with a view

One open area had views so inviting, we decided to make it our lunch spot.  I think you can see why.

Approaching the Catherine Creek cliffs

Bellies full, my friends and I continued our downhill trek.  The high cliffs of the Catherine Creek area soon came into view.  The scenery here was absolutely gorgeous - it's one of my favorite parts of this trail.

Hiking up through the talus slope

The trail took us to the very base of the cliffs.  We then navigated a steep path through a talus slope to the top of a large plateau overlooking the Columbia River and Catherine Creek area.

Top of the cliffs

Our climbing wasn't done yet - far from it!  The trail continued uphill along the clifftops.  Although a lung-busting slog, the fabulous views more than made up for the effort.

My friends trudging uphill

The higher we climbed, the smaller the mighty Columbia River shrank below.  It's waters gleamed bright blue in the midday sun.  A few snow-covered hills rose up from both sides further east.  With such stunning views, I was especially thankful for this clear, sunny day to fully enjoy them.

The views had Young smiling!

Finally after much huffing and puffing we all reached the top, which was our trail's intersection with an old road known as Atwood Road.  Another mile tromp westward on this road would lead us back to the Upper Labyrinth trail, our return route.

Almost to the top

Atwood Road was much more level than our past climb, but it did roller-coaster up and down a couple of heavily-forested drainages.  It was here in the shade of the trees that we encountered the most snow.  But it wasn't difficult to traverse and I found these snowy forests quite lovely.

The shaded areas were very snowy

The sunshine and rising temperatures had finally melted the ice holding the trail's soil in place.  Instead of firm dirt, my friends and I now encountered thick, slippery mud.  It quickly caked our boots and pant legs.  Some places got so bad we ended up walking beside the actual tread.

Hiking back down the Upper Labyrinth trail

The Upper Labyrinth Trail provided more photo-worthy views, and I lagged behind the group most of the way down, frequently pulling out my camera.  The constant in and out of my camera bag finally broke it's zipper, forcing me into an over-the-shoulder camera carry for the hike's final mile.

Bare trees in the afternoon light

In addition to such wonderful views, the late afternoon sunlight illuminated the eastern gorge wonderfully.  Maybe it was a good thing I had my camera so handy!

Looking east down the Columbia River Gorge

Such a great day for a hike!  It was totally worth braving the city's icy roads and the Labyrinth's muddy trails for scenery this stunning.