Getting Away

That too-quick trip I took up north –

the slow climb to the high peaks, the road’s

twists, slopes and curves, revealing ever-prettier views –

a zippy swoosh

down the east side of the mountain, then

dry, rolling hills,

burnt timber scattered over the valley.

So many discoveries – it was all over

too soon.

I saw this – and more:

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Most of the photos above are from Newhalem, a tiny company town built for hydroelectric projects that supply about a quarter of Seattle’s electricity. Three dams were built here on the fast-running Skagit River.  One hundred and fifty miles long, the Skagit tumbles down from British Columbia, twenty-four miles to the north, through the mountains, past small towns and lowland farms and out to Puget Sound, where the river forms a rich, life-sustaining delta. Seattle is about 116 miles south and west of Newhalem; the road didn’t cut all the way through the North Cascades until 1972, when Washington’s most  northerly route to the “east side” was finally created, tracing a path used for thousands of years for trade by indigenous people.

Newhalem is a clean, orderly little dot on the map, a stopping-off place where tourists traveling over the North Cascades Highway learn about the hydroelectric project and stroll the beautiful Trail of the Cedars. Last year fires raged in the area, as seen in the fifth photo above, but this year’s fire season has been better…so far.

Skies were glaring the morning we passed through so I selected the “Dramatic tone” filter in the camera, and a sepia one. In the end, no matter what you do, pictures don’t convey the bulk and size and benevolent majesty of the old cedars, without question, my favorite Pacific northwest tree.

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Here’s the old Gorge powerhouse plant –

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…where you can learn about the history of this extraordinary project, which involved some nervy railroading feats. In the photo below you can see two local women on the car with an assortment of men in charge and project laborers.

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Back on the road, you’re soon in the heart of the scenic view territory, as one by one, shimmering turquoise blue lakes created by the three dams begin to distract you from the road.   The only question is which overlook to stop at.

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Waterfalls at the road’s edge are irresistible.

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Imagine the flow of these waterfalls and the river in Spring! The highway opens in April or May each year, then closes in November or early December. It takes the crew four to six weeks to clear snow and get the road open each year, and… Every spring, Tootsie Clark, the matriarch of Clark’s Skagit River Resort  (near Marblemount), drives her Cadillac up to the west-side closure gate near Diablo, opens the trunk and serves cinnamon (Tootsie!) rolls and coffee to those waiting in line for the gate to open. It’s a tradition she has been carrying on since the 1970s.” (from the Washington State Dept of Transportation website. I think she is still around but I doubt she’s still driving!)

Forty-two miles down the road is Washington Pass, after which we would descend the mountains along the eastern slope to the Methow Valley. The Pass was our last stop in the mountains, and a fitting one. There is a profound charge to the atmosphere there. Walk away from the parking lot, wander over rocky, moss-strewn ledges, inhale the sweet air and look across to the high peaks. You’re rooted and lighter than air at the same time. Your whole being quiets.

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By the time we dragged ourselves away from the pass it was 6 pm. Our destination, the little town of Winthrop down in the Methow Valley, was only a half hour away. Set in the beautiful, dry hills of central Washington, Winthrop is a Western town offering a main street with old, false-fronted wooden buildings and a sprinkling of lively restaurants with good food.  The day satisfied!

(But sometimes WordPress does not. I have fixed the alignment over and over, and nothing I do will make the photos all align left or centered, so please forgive that some are on the left margin and others aren’t. Likewise with the uneven spaces between the photos).

 

 

 


21 comments

  1. It’s impossible to choose a favorite photo. They’re all wonderful. I am curious — were you using a wide angle lens? I can’t quite decide if your photos seem so spectacular because of your equipment, your processing — or the scenery that you have around you. It certain is more dramatic than the Texas coast!

    I have a trip coming up in October, and I’d love to be able to take photos like this, but I don’t seem to quite have my mind wrapped around landscape photography yet. Some practice would help, of course.

    I sent along an email with a couple of tips for getting your photos to align. Whether they’ll be helpful, I don’t know, but I thought it couldn’t hurt to share what’s worked for me.

    • Thank yo so much – for the compliment and your email about the alignment, which I haven’t been able to really read yet. Too much work! But I’ll get to it.
      I think it’s hard to take the photos you want on trips because it’s not familiar, and you take “snapshots” because you haven’t had the time to really get to know the place. Knowing that, I try to at least look for different angles – literally & figuratively.
      I was mostly switching back and forth between a 20 mm prime lens, which could be considered wide angle, almost, and a kit lens that’s 14mm – 42mm, which is wide at 14 mm. The kit lens isn’t as good as the prime but they each have their advantages.
      Exciting scenery really does make for desirable-looking photos, but I admit I work on the processing, too. The flattened perspective on the waterfalls and the photos just above them comes from playing with NIK Color efex (probably “detail extractor” which you have to be careful about not overdoing). I used the Color efex for a lot of these, often in combination with a few LR adjustments afterwards. There are wonderful things you can do in LR with color, e.g. increasing luminosity of orange and decreasing the luminosity of yellow – you get more depth and life. (I.e. sliding luminosity up, thend down, on adjacent colors). Don’t get me started! I’m one of those people who enjoys the processing.

      • This is so helpful. I have LR installed now, but haven’t begun trying to use it. I decided to cull all of my photos before transferring any. Then, I need to start shooting in raw, and then I need to learn how to use the processing programs. I did download Nik, so that’s available to. I have so many learning curves intertwined at this point, I may hang myself on them!

      • You know, I don’t think shooting in raw is necessarily that important, especially if you’re not selling your work and/or printing. For me, it’s mostly to be viewed online – even when someone has bought or published an image, they’re happy with the jpeg. I love LR for organizing and working with photos. I have an older version, with some limitations in editing, so I like using the NIK software, too (esp. for black and white). The NIK is really easy to learn. Very impressive that you did a major culling! Groan…

  2. MANY excellent images, my friend – I’m quite with shoreacres on that – oh, I very much enjoy your photography! And I love “a zippy swoosh” >>> I’m going to try to work that into conversations on this side of The Pond! 😉

  3. Such a delightful post Lynn. The words are lovely and as ever, the photography is superb! I’m especially taken with your first photograph and your 5th. The black and white of the gnarled wood is also particularly good but they are all really lovely and what amazing scenery! Breathtaking! 🙂

    • Another vote for the 5th! I like that one – thank you. And it was fun to take the bridge from underneath. I don’t feel like I’ve manages to get the photos i want of old, gnarled wood that is so very common around here. I will keep working at it! Yes, the scenery up there is outstanding. There were a few patches of snow beside the road, too.

  4. Lynn, you bring such magic through your photographs and posts. It seems you find these places that I know little about, and while I do know of the Skagit River, I didn’t know three dams were built here. While the 5th shot is my favorite, the last shot also resonates as it reminds me of the last glance of the mountains I always take after a great visit. Cheers to a great continuation of summer.

    • The dams are up in the mountains on the North Cascade Highway (Rt. 20). I do try to find out of the way places, though this trip was to generally well known ones. I’m really pleased you mentioned the 5th shot – I like that one too. The 2015 fire was pretty rough up there, but it missed the town and buildings. It was interesting to see the big trees blackened, with all the sword ferns and smaller plant life so green around the burned trees. I think a fair amount of what we saw in that spot was already dead timber, charred by the fire, with most of the live flora surviving. Here’s a link showing the power plant in the photo above, with the fire burning on the hill above it. About this time last year the road was closed up there for many miles, and people were evacuated. It was almost 8,000 acres, started by lightening.
      Nature is impressive.
      http://www.skagitbreaking.com/2015/08/22/update-newhalem-upper-skagit-complex-fire-information/

  5. You are the Clarisa Usain Simone Biles Phelps Bolt of photographers, Lynn. Seriously running out of superlatives for your work.

  6. Another exciting story and collection of photographs, Lynn. Here’s my feedback on the photos that grabbed me the most.
    • #3 Nice composition in your photo of these unusual trees
    • #4 Congratulations on capturing the feeling of depth! I find this hard to do. This is my favorite photo of the bunch.
    • #11 Love the lines, the curved form, the contrast in tone, the composition
    • #12 Wow, these are big trees; I like the tonal range here.
    • #13 Simple (in a good way) with interesting tonal range
    • #27 & 28 I like the lines and the scatter pattern of the trees
    • #31 Nice toning, composition
    • #34 I feel as if the old dead branch is sheltering the new growth. Something sweet about it.

    • #3 is a nursery tree – often trees grow on fallen logs, thus “nursery log” but here the new tree took root on one still upright and growing. They are always hard to photograph because they’re in shady, crowded (with other trees) places, and they’re uniformly dark. #4 was probably just blind luck, but the trick is surely to go ahead and try different angles, even if it seems unlikely to succeed. #11,12,13 – I’m glad you liked these – that tree was just inI would go there everyday to worship it if I could! 😉 And the ferns – well, they turned out well, thanks in part to Silver efex. # 27 & 28 weren’t quite as successful as I wanted then to be – but I wanted to look at the more two dimensional patterns across the valley, of the trees on the mountains. I was doing something similar with the slightly enlarged waterfall photo, about four before that. Thanks for the detailed comments – this was a lot of work. Next time I think I should break it up into shorter posts.


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