FURTHER AFIELD: Snow-covered Mountains and Moss-draped Trees along Route 20

Driving east from where I live you can be in the foothills of the Cascade Mountain Range in under a half hour. Keep going and you’re high in the rugged Cascade Mountains. Continue over the passes and you leave the mountains behind for the dry, shrub-steppe country of eastern Washington.

The road I’m talking about is Route 20, also called the North Cascades Highway. Each winter it closes near the highest point because of avalanche danger, and it doesn’t reopen until May, or even June. You can’t follow the the road all the way over the passes now, but it’s still worthwhile to drive east on Route 20 as far as possible for some mountain scenery. That’s what we decided to do on a bright, sunny day in February.

1. I took this photo through the windshield when we were far enough east (and high enough) to see snow on the roadside. We continued east to Newhalem, a tiny company town centered around the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project, a series of dams supplying electricity to Seattle. The road is closed about 9 miles further up. People who live in Winthrop, on the other side of the pass, have to drive south and then west to get to Seattle in the winter, a four-hour plus trip.

2. In the distance is the Picket Range, seen from the North Cascades National Park Visitor Center in Newhalem. This section of the 789-square-mile North Cascade Mountains may not have the highest peaks, but those mountains are every bit as rugged as they look. Reaching the remote Picket Range requires a long, tough slog through steep, densely vegetated terrain just to get to the bases of the mountains. If you’re in tip-top shape and are an experienced climber, for $2050 USD you can join an 8-day alpine climbing expedition to the southern Picket Range in August. You’ll need to bring your own ice axe.

3. Zooming in on Pinnacle Peak (left, also called the Chopping Block), Crescent Creek Spires and the Rake. These peaks are so remote that the first alpine traverse, taking ten days, wasn’t accomplished until 1963. First ascents of individual peaks in the Picket Range were made from 1931 through 2004.

4. We were intrigued by the windblown, clean rock of Inspiration Peak (7900 ft) to the right.

5. Behind the viewing platform the cool, mossy forest of hemlock, alder and fir was quiet in the afternoon sun.

6. Rt. 20 follows the Skagit River down from several lakes in the North Cascades, where the river is dammed after passing the US – Canada border. Fifteen miles below Newhalem we pulled over for a closer look at the river. Here in Marblemount, a boat launch at the confluence of the Cascade and Skagit rivers makes a pleasant place to stop. Just downriver, Bald eagles congregate in December to feed on river salmon. I’ve seen more eagles out my living room window than I have along the Skagit, but maybe I wasn’t there at the right time. In any case, being near the river always refreshes one’s spirit.

7. This magnificent old Bigleaf maple tree (Acer macrophyllum) grows next to the river. It carries a heavy load of moss, ferns, lichens, fungi and is probably home to lots of insects, too. It looks like its been through the wars – half of its massive trunk is broken off and dead, and a clutch of great, heavy limbs spreads towards the sky on one side.

8. Looking up into the hairy armpits of the Bigleaf maple. The biomass of mosses, ferns and lichens on trees like this can be four times that of the tree’s leaves.

9. A close-up of the thick jowls of moss living on the old tree, along with elegant Licorice ferns (Polypodium glycyrrhiza).

10. This section of dead bark had a large fungus growing on the inner bark and moss edging a piece of outer bark.

11. As the sun lowered it lit up garlands of moss that sweep all the way around the tree’s heavy limbs.

12. Red alder (Alnus rubra) trees dotted the river banks.

13. The alders were covered with different fungi in beautiful patterns resembling a map.

14. Another example of decorated bark, from the Newhalem Visitor Center. A sapsucker drilled rows of holes into the bark of this conifer tree.

15. I saw these tracks, which I believe are River otter tracks, on the sandy riverbank at Marblemount.

16. Near the alders the ground is matted with last year’s leaves and tired grass stems, a rich, decomposing brew that will nourish this year’s plants and animals.

17. The river bottom was a tapestry of soft green, gold and rust-colored rocks, and the water was clear as can be.

18. Every time you look at the river bottom it’s a little different, as ice-cold water races over the rocks on the way to the Salish Sea and the light bounces off the surface of the river, reflecting variable skies above.

19. Black and white seems to suit this roadside view of an old homestead nestled in the snowy Cascade foothills that we saw on the way home.

***

EXTRA!

At the risk of destroying the illusion of paradise on Route 20, I give you this: the Marblemount Boat Launch honeybucket and a big puddle. I can’t vouch for the cleanliness of the interior.

***

You can read about traversing the wild Picket Range here.


70 comments

    • J’รฉtais heureux de trouver les formes simples dans # 11 – tant de scรจnes dans les bois ne sont pas du tout minimes. Merci, Irene, je suis ravie que vous ayez apprรฉciรฉ la balade. Sourire….

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  1. Who’d’ve thought we’d be reading about armpits and jowls in a post about nature?
    The water creates its own Impressionism in #17 and #18.
    How about that decorated/perforated bark in #14?
    And what an excellent lit-up curve of moss in #11.

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    • There are armpits and jowls aplenty around here. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’m pleased you liked the water images, and the sapsucker’s work. #11 was thanks to such generous jowls and late-afternoon sunlight.

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      • The piddling dusting of white stuff that Austin got last week is nothing compared to the snow-covered mountains you got to enjoy, as shown here. Does at least some of the snow linger on the highest peaks through the summer?

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  2. Another enjoyable trip with you, Lynn. I certainly agree that โ€œbeing near the river always refreshes oneโ€™s spirit.โ€ Youโ€™ve posted so many interesting photos of your Bigleaf maple. This collection is outstanding, with #11 being my favorite. If I ever manage to see a Bigleaf maple tree in person, I hope it isnโ€™t too awfully disappointing, having had my anticipation pumped up by your photographs. Other favorites are #s 12 and 14 for their power of engagement through simple forms.

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    • I had a different post in the works, then we went for that drive and I decided to post these. I was excited by that tree – if I go back on a cloudy day maybe I can photograph the entire tree – that day the contrasts were too strong and the background too busy. But the sunlight gave me some other gifts, like #11. You wouldn’t be disappointed by a Bigleaf maple as long as you saw mature trees. They’re a big presence in the temperate rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula, where their “epiphytic load” can be extraordinary because of the constant moisture over there. Image-google Quinault rainforest or Hoh rainforest and you’ll see. I’m glad you enjoyed the drive, Linda. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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    • Ferns and moss we have in spades, and water, too. We’ve had something like 175% of normal rainfall since the beginning fo the year. The grass is green, the moss and lichens are growing! ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks Lynn!

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  3. Those mountains sure do look rugged. I can’t imagine spending $2050 for that kind of climb … it would be torturous for me! I love your river bottom tapestries, just as I have enjoyed all your water reflections and abstracts. The holes in the bark look just like beetle infested trees we have here.

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    • When the holes are in rows, like in this tree, they’re usually the work of sapsuckers, but maybe beetles manage to make holes in rows too? I later realized the $2050 figure is on the low end. It must be quite an exhausting trek and climb, getting up there. Def. not for me. I’m glad you like the water images. It was a nice little spot, maybe more like where you live than most places around here. The shallow, gravel-and-rock-bottomed river, the alders, the snowy mountains in the distance…

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  4. Number 14 reminded me of a sea of faces in a crowd (in a very abstract way). And, your number 19 has an even more classical look than my Luxembourg park scene! Yours conveys a sense of solemnness and serenity that is, well, mildly paradoxical but which makes for a wonderful viewing experience nonetheless. I have to admit Iโ€™m a little curious about how you achieved that look. ๐Ÿ˜€

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    • Oh, I’m a little sorry to say that I used a “crutch” – one of the presets in Silver Efex Pro – as a starting point. I tried a number of the presets and one suited that scene really well. Then I darkened some areas, lightened others and added texture to some areas, in Lightroom. I’m glad you like it. Your reaction to #14 was funny! Thanks for stopping by.

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      • Sure thing! Ahhh, I used Silver Efex at one point, but after switching from Lightroom to Capture One I stopped โ€“ partly because I wanted to learn B&W conversion with this new tool, but mostly because C1 didnโ€™t have a plug-in for Silver Efex. But still, Silver Efex is a great tool to use!

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  5. Wow, great post again Lynn! I am really impressed by this wild mountain range. It sounds so adventurous to me, a pass closed in wintertime, bringing your own ice axt ๐Ÿ˜‰ Europe is so small against the US. Of course there are some wild parts in Germany, but this wilderness and largeness is really awesome, these peaks and cragged mountains! You have such a great landscape nearby. -Of course: I love all the moss-lichen-tree-fern pictures. So beautiful!!! I would love to take this tree home with me ๐Ÿ™‚ We could cuddle, haha. What a wonderful tree, what an exceptional vegetation. I know you have lots of moisture, but it is always fascinating to see this growth of moss and lichen. It must be really thick. Do birds nest in it? It looks almost tropical to me. I love #7 to #10, but #11 is my most favourite picture here! The light is wonderful and it creates a subtle and mystic atmosphere. Besides it looks like needlework. What an idea: knitting with moss ๐Ÿ™‚ And the bark is great too. Red alder. It looks like a map or a landscape. I never saw such a nice bark here. The sapsucker did a very good job. Maybe one can try it as a music box ๐Ÿ˜‰ The water photos build a tapestry, don’t you think. Such nice colors that play together so well. The “Design” is perfect. Lovely. The black and white picture functions so well. It looks really ancient. You found so many beautiful things again. I am glad you went for the Route 20. And I love the Extra ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • You like the extra too? Good! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Yes, that tree has personality, I can see why you’d like to bring it home with you. Great idea! I’m not sure if birds next in moss growth on trees like that. It seems like they would but I don’t know if any – maybe I’m just too new here to know about it. Another good idea – mossy needlework. And music box – you are on a roll, as we say in English. ๐Ÿ™‚ I agree about the colors of the rocks in the water – they were SO harmonious, very pretty in the sunlight. There was nothing “fancy” at all about that park, but it was wonderful that day. THanks so much for your attention and your enthusiasm – I value them both. Have a good week – sorry I’m late in replying.

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      • Maybe they don’t nest there, but I suppose they go there for shopping ๐Ÿ˜‰ It would be interesting to know, what indigenous peoples did with it. I can imagine that they used a lot of that material for many different things. Lichen extract is still used here for a dry throat. – Ohoh, so many beautiful things I would take home with me ๐Ÿ˜‰ And don’t worry, I am behind too ๐Ÿ˜‰

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    • Ah, Jean, I wish I could have made a decent photo of the whole tree but the light was very harsh. It would be good to go back on a cloudy day and do more – it is indeed an amazing old being. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m pleased that you enjoyed the stream photos, too. It’s funny, the real draw is the mountains but that little boat launch provided lots of goodies for us. You would understand. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  6. Beautiful place, but you wouldn’t get me up those mountains! Also, love honeybucket, will suggest we get some for the Levels; in pink perhaps, or with a low avocado flush โ€ฆ ๐Ÿ˜‰ โ€ฆ

    17 and 18 are wonderful; but not far behind them are 7, 9, 11 and 12. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • A pink honeybucket might be a nice addition to your scenery but I’m a bit unclear on the low avocado flush business…. Processing those water shots is fun because you can play with more or less clarity, texture, contrast, sharpening, noise, etc. Endless possibilities. I’m glad you like the mossy jowls, thanks Adrian! Have a good week!

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  7. A great โ€œroad tripโ€ album. Those jagged icy crests are terrific, #4 really reminds me of a fossilized stegosaurus, with its bony plates along the spine.
    โ€œThick jowls of mossโ€ is such a great description, that old maple does look like it wouldnโ€™t mind a scratch under its chin. My favorite in this album, is the #11 shot, that nice backlit curve of moss, and then some threads of spiderweb, making it into a tiny Celtic harp.
    I was thinking the alder trees in the next two shots were in camo, and then realized what a dumb idea, itโ€™s the camo that tries to simulate the tree, not the other way around. And the impressionistic shots of the river bottom are so pleasant, it really makes you wish you were sitting on the bank right now – – a very nice tapestry indeed, and one that creates its own background music. And the #19 B&W really looks like a glimpse of the 1800โ€™s, and I like the progression of dark bands-to-lighter, until it fades away over the peaks. Nice!
    I laughed at the Extra! Probably the nicest portrait of a porta-john Iโ€™ve seen, now that I think about it!

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    • There are some really spiky, jagged mountain tops around here – it’s impressive to see. I think you’re right about scratching the old maple – I did give it a good pat, and it felt seriously solid. Your remark about camo was funny. The bright sunlight, which we’ve had precious little of this year, made some photography almost impossible but it was good for photographing the river bottom with those nice colors.
      I’m glad you like the roadside black and white of the old barn with the mountains behind it – there are scenes like that fairly regularly here. We have lots of barns in disrepair, but then I know you’ve seen your share of those, too. The final image couldn’t be resisted, with that purty reflection. Glad you showed it some respect. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  8. And only a half hour away to reach such beauty ! Gorgeous Lynn. Those peaks certainly look challenging bring your own ice axe or no . ๐Ÿ’• the big maple with its gathered moss /fern /fungi * armour *
    Your river tapestry – what a great description of yours – with shifting colours and water-weaving patterns could be very hypnotic .. I’d have lost some time there for sure ๐Ÿ˜‰
    As you might say .. more please ๐Ÿ˜‰

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    • Well, closer to an hour and a half to get into the mountains proper but the gorgeous scenery is a lot closer than it ever was when I lived in New York. The shallow rivers have their own beauty if you just take the time to relax and be with them. I was saying to Adrian above that the watery images are really fun to work with in Lightroom because there are so many different ways you can go with them. It would be interesting to see what you’d do. And wouldn’t a watercolor of that be nice? But challenging, I think. Enjoy your week, Poppy!

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  9. Another beautiful tour that Google maps helped to locate and understand in more detail. These peaks are majestic, full of personality and imposing enormous respect. But the details of the region, so well documented in the images are not far behind. I love this old bigleaf maple tree. Is fabulous, so expressive and so full of history.
    Thank you very much for the trip!

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    • I’m impressed that you looked up the area on google maps – I like to do that too – it helps me put things into context and see the bigger picture. Your way of describing the mountains is appealing – having personality, deserving respect, etc. I like that. When Bigleaf maples get old they tend to be quite incredible, with thick trunks and spreading, curving branches (and their leaves can be as big as dinner plates!). Scientists aren’t sure why, but more than any other specie of tree, the Bigleaf maple attracts heavy loads of lichens, mosses, and ferns. The tree can actually grow roots on its branches that reach into the moss for nutrients! Nature never stops amazing us. Thanks for your comment, and have a great weekend, OK? ๐Ÿ˜‰

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    • It certainly is refreshing to see that kind of scenery after too much winter grayness. We do feel lucky – drive in one direction and you’re at the water’s edge, the other direction and you’ll be in the mountains before too long. So much to photograph! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  10. That’s a trip I would love to experience. Thanks for taking us along. I am with all those folks who found number 11 mesmerizing. I love the light on the mosses. I really like number 12 also. Those trunks are side illuminated beautifully. I’ve seen similar plats on trees in Acadia and elsewhere. It’s fun to think of them as little towns and they are actually a small community. The mountains are beautiful and render ours puny by comparison. Super tour, Lynn. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • It’s good to hear your thoughts, Steve – some of those lichen colonies really are like little towns – the way some shapes are outlines with black was pretty cool. ๐Ÿ™‚ Those particular mountains are very rugged – impressive, but that’s probably as close as I’ll ever get to that range. I hope to get back up there again before too long.

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  11. The grass stems in #16 give the feel of a river bottom too.

    Also love the way the mountains loom over the farm buildings in #19. All that processing was worth it, especially because it’s not at all apparent ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Great to hear from you! And good to hear that all the processing was worth it on #19 – it took a while but I thought I got there, so I value your comment – OK, I would value it even if you didn’t say nice things, I guess. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  12. Gorgeous series, Lynn. The snow-capped mountain images are so vibrant. Love the Alder in monochrome, the wonderful abstracts of the rocks and water, the homestead and…the honey pot for a grand finish! ๐Ÿ™‚ Always sensitive nature shots coming from your eye.

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    • Winter days can be good for mountain scenes, without the haze of summer fires or humidity – as long as the clouds part for long enough, and they were totally absent that day. I’m glad you appreciate the monochromes, Jane, that’s good to hear! Have a good week. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  13. Far behind with my comment, dear Lynn, I’m sorry for that.
    You are really lucky having such very different kinds of landscape within your reach.
    These mountain pictures (even when in colour)remind me strongly of Ansel Adams.
    Especially the one with that hard line of shadow sketching the top forms in the snow is gorgeous.
    And all that fat moss in the wood is so impressing. It comes in such intense greens and structure that stretching out my hand I could feel its moisture.

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    • Be as far behind as you need to be, it’s fine. ๐Ÿ™‚ There were not many choices of snowy mountain scenery that day – only that one viewing place was open and accessible so I did what I could. But it doesn’t take much effort to make a nice photo of those mountains. Especially on a rare, sunny winter day. I’m very glad you enjoyed seeing the mountains from your cozy house.
      You’re right, the moss was very moist – those trees can bear incredibly heavy loads of moss, lichens and ferns, and the trees can even grow roots from their branches, into the moss, to get more nutrients! Cool, right? ๐Ÿ˜‰
      Thanks for being here, Ule.

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  14. Impressive old tree with it’s load of clinging life….I’m tempted to compare it to some of the old saguaros I find out here in our nearby desert, but then only suggest that as an offering, not as a real comparison, as they are so strikingly different in everything but their age.

    I do love that next to last photo in black and white, Lynn, with the old homestead. I could spend months and years there. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • That’s a great comparison, Scott – I love those crazy old saguaros in the same way. Not long after we passed that homestead, we saw an elk herd in a field by the road. There wasn’t a good place to turn around so no photo. The farmers have a tough time with this herd. Others want to promote tourism: See the Elks. Typical Western problems, right? Take care!

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