FURTHER AFIELD: An Afternoon in the Mountains

I’ve been longing to go up into the mountains. On a calm Monday two weeks ago, the smoke had cleared and the weather was favorable, so we headed out to the North Cascades for a stroll around a pristine alpine lake. At 4300 feet (1310m) Bagley Lakes isn’t the highest hike in the Mount Baker area, but for us, it was a welcome change of scenery, from an island at sea level to a mountain’s dramatic peaks and valleys.

1. On the way. The first glimpse of mountains in the distance is always exciting.

2. Mt Shuksan and Hanging Glacier, seen from Heather Meadows on the flanks of Mt. Baker. At the lower left is White Salmon Lodge (a ski base).

Mt. Baker is a favorite destination for hiking, climbing, snowboarding, skiing and other recreational pursuits. The highest point that vehicles can access is at the end of a series of steep switchbacks that climb the mountain’s north side. The final 2.7 miles is under snow most of the year and only opens in the summer. It takes road crews two to six weeks to dig through the 30 – 50 feet of snow that falls up there. Depending on conditions they could finish in May, or it might be August before the last section opens up to visitors.

At the end of the road is Artists Point, a huge parking lot with an array of trails leading into the rocky wilderness beyond. Even on a weekday in September it’s a very popular place, so we decided to leave the road before the top and hike a little lower. It was a good choice; our trail wasn’t deserted but it wasn’t busy either. We had some space.

As we set out on a loop trail around lower Bagley Lake, I could feel the anticipation building. When I’m in the mountains my feet want to leap ahead, my mind races and my spirit soars. I have to consciously bring myself back down to earth – at least enough to sense the rocky path under my feet. Over and over that day, I reminded myself to watch where I stepped, slow down, and be careful. And over and over again, I felt the exhilaration of simply being alive in such a beautiful, humbling place.

3.

4.

5. There were blueberries everywhere!

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7. For about 8 months each year this lake is under snow. Unofficially, the Mt. Baker ski area is said to have the highest snowfall of any resort in the world – on average, 53.4 ft (16.3m) per year. The mountain summit is 8 miles away from this spot, as the crow flies.

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10.

11. This old tree has seen weather that I can’t imagine.

12. Battered by the elements, Douglas firs still stand tall.

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Here’s a link explaining how these amazing rock shapes form. The rock reveals the volcanic origin of the area and in fact, Mt. Baker is an active volcano. In 1975, Koma Kulshan (an indigenous name for the mountain) emitted steam when magma intruded somewhere deep under the mountain. The steam melted a huge hole in the glacier at Sherman Crater, below the summit. A stunt pilot was enlisted to fly scientists as close to the active crater as possible so they could photograph and study it. Seismometers were installed and campgrounds below the active crater were closed for the summer, but thankfully, no eruption occurred. Now, systems and procedures are in place in case the mountain erupts. The local county sheriff’s website has instructions for what to do in case of an eruption, noting that there WILL be warnings, in the form of “days or more of increased earthquakes.”

15. Like a giant’s building blocks, these enormous rock cubes tumbled down during some long-ago disruption, landing in a lush bed of wildflowers and grasses.

16. A sturdy stone bridge crosses the spot where a creek connects upper and lower Bagley Lakes. Two straight-sided boulders nearby offered a fine spot to sit and devour my lunch. Just beyond the bridge American dippers (small, dark gray birds) actively pursued their own lunch – under the water.

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18. Fallen trees in every stage of decomposition litter the steep hills. This one was adorned with sprightly Lady ferns (Anthyrium felix-femina).

19. A parting view of stately Mt. Shuksan, a 9,131 foot-tall massif (i.e. not a volcano) that’s beloved by climbers, with 14 different ice and rock routes to the craggy peak. We will leave that for the technical climbers. They get the supreme views but we get the blueberries.

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88 comments

    • Theoretically, the Adirondacks isn’t so terribly far from you but I know how hard it can be to make a trip like that happen. At least we can do it as a day trip. I’m very happy that you enjoyed the post, Jean. Thanks for letting me know, and have a good week!

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  1. That’s a great looking mountain scene in #2, reprised in #19. I’d love to see (but not climb) the massif.
    #17a shows a non-astronomical little dipper. The caterpillar in #17c looks like it’s made of plastic. Nature photographers enjoy hoverflies but would like them more if they hovered less and got on with settling down.
    #14 offers appealing ripples in stone. The linked article notes columnar jointing in the Devil’s Postpile in California but doesn’t mention probably the best-known feature with a similar name, the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.
    Those are nifty lichens in #13c. Yikes for your earlier Mt. Baker experience.
    I’ve never heard of a corn lily; your pictures do show them looking like corn plants. “Artful decay” is a good phrase.
    Most of your readers have probably also never heard of #8b’s fringed grass of Parnassusโ€”what a name. Don’t you love how the ray flowers fold back over the aster in #8d?
    How come you didn’t send us some of those yummy blueberries?

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    • That hoverfly (assuming that’s what it was) was very cooperative – maybe the cooler air kept it quieter, or maybe it was intent on feeding on those final blossoms of the season. Thanks for bringing Devil’s Tower to my attention – I’m sure I’ve seen photos of it before but I never looked carefully enough to see what’s obvious. ๐Ÿ˜‰ It’s an 18-hr drive, through Spokane, Missoula, Bozeman, Billings, and on down past the Stoneville Saloon and B&J’s Convenience on HWY 212. Looks interesting!!
      Corn lilies have a nondescript green flower and are poisonous to livestock, but oh, their leaves with those deep veins, they are wonderful. ๐Ÿ™‚ You would have a great time with them. Grass of Parnassus – the Carolina version – was a favorite of my mother and I always think of her love for wildflowers, particularly the spring ephemerals, when I see it. As for the aster, you must know that’s what I loved about that one flower. So shy. ๐Ÿ˜‰
      We didn’t even bring any blueberries home that day. It was satisfying enough just to pick and eat. They’re so much better than store-bought, and the flavor varies quite a lot from bush to bush. At least I sent you virtual blueberries! Thanks, Steve, have a great week! ๐Ÿ™‚

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      • In 2017 we spent three nights in Rapid City, South Dakota, from which it was an easy day trip over to Devil’s Tower. On the opposite side of Rapid City is Badlands National Park, also highly recommended if you get the chance to visit that area.

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  2. Lynn, Youโ€™ve outdone yourself with these enticing images and storytelling. This area is fabulous and I must put it on my list to explore someday. Your wide landscapes are wonderful and your close-ups and identifications a treat. Thanks for taking me away.๐Ÿ˜

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    • Oh, hardly, Jane. You’re too generous. It isn’t easy to take good photographs when you’re so excited just to be there and you aren’t used to the conditions. At least this time I had a circular polarizer on the lens! ๐Ÿ˜‰ I don’t know if you’ve been to Mt. Rainier, but parts of it are, I’d say, even more beautiful. It’s more accessible too unless you’re traveling pretty far north. But Rainier gets horribly crowded. The North Cascades are very rugged and there are many trails to explore, especially if you have 4-wheel drive. I’m more than happy to give you a brief holiday from the city – but I’m hoping you’ll give me a brief holiday in L.A. one of these days, too. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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    • That’s the idea, Mark, but I always think things – the images, the writing – could be better. You know how that is. So it’s quite nice to read your comment! I will keep plugging away at it. Have a good week!

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      • Oh I know. Sometimes I have to stop myself from tweaking to death, both my writing and photos for the sake of just publishing something. Sometimes it works out, other times I wish I hadnโ€™t! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. This is a wonderful collection of images and commentary, Lynn. The wider landscapes, esp. 2,3,7,10, and 19, have a warmth of color reminiscent of an earlier time, Kodachrome days perhaps. I’m happy you were able to make the trip up into the mountains before the road closed, both for you, but also for us…good to see Mt. Shuksan in #2. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • It’s interesting that you mention the warmth in the color in the landscapes. When I saw them all together here I began to wonder if something was a little off! ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve used film effects/filters in the past sometimes, but I didn’t this time. I think it probably is a pretty accurate representation of the way the color looked that day, perhaps because of the stage of growth in the plant life – leaves beginning to turn more golden, etc. It would be great to get back up there this year but I’m not sure it’s going to work. We shall see! Thank you so much, Mic, it’s good to have you here.

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  4. Oh so beautiful! I think I need to get myself to the mountains. I enjoy seeing all the details as well as the landscape shots, and I especially like the middle shot of the Corn Lily – like an abstract painting. Sounds like you had a great day!
    Alison

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    • ๐Ÿ™‚ I know you’ve been up to the mountains at least once this year, and maybe you’ll get back there soon. How nice that you point out that middle shot – did you click on it? It’s actually a horizontal format. I like using the galleries but you do lose a little sometimes. I really enjoy alternating between a wide view and the details – which I believe you do as well. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks so much, Alison. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  5. What a breath of fresh air! and what a very scenic place you visited. Lovely to trail along with you here. I’m so glad you didn’t get injured again. That would have surely ruined the experience. Mostly I’m just glad you had a chance to get out and about!

    After several weeks of relatively clear air here, we have had an increase of smoke coming up from the fire to the south of us. The last few days we’ve had that telltale yellow tone to the sunshine and tonight the sun had a decided orange tint to it near sunset. Probably should have headed out to point a lens at it, but I was too lazy and busy and the fog likely would have smothered it anyway…. ๐Ÿ˜€
    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

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  6. Mt Shuksan and blueberries, love it! My buddy and I climbed that via the Fisher Chimneys route some time back. There is good camping at Lake Ann, about 4 miles from the trailhead if I remember right.
    You sure get out a lot, very inspiring!

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    • I read about some of those climbing routes – I’m always in awe of serious climbs and climbers so good for you. I do try to get out as much as I can, after too many years spent doing the 9 to 5, which usually turned out to be far more than 40 hr/wk and left me way too little time for the outdoors. Thanks for your comment. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • We’ve seen bears at a distance on similar hikes on Mt. Rainier, but not at Mt. Baker. One hardy (foolish?) bear actually swam over to a neighboring island last year and then on this one and then another! But typically I’m not in places bears frequent. Thanks for your concern, Don, and have a good weekend. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  7. Lynn, you make my feet itch (and my knees tremble) to think about having another chance to get back into high country like this. I find myself particularly captivated by your 8b, the fabulous columnar basalt (Iโ€™ve never seen it in waves like this), and your absolutely classic composition of 19. What a treat.

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    • Thank you, Gary. That columnar basalt seems to be a little different every time you see it, doesn’t it? I loved the way they propped short blocks of it up to support the side of that trail. What a delight it was to see that. I hope it’s not too long before you’re able to breathe some alpine air. Meanwhile, at least your country isn’t bringing you down into the depths. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  8. Such scenery as you’ve shown here is so relaxing just to view, and agree with how a call into the wild is just what is needed these days. A fantastic hike ~ and the parting shot of your post of Mt. Shuksan is the perfect ending to the post.

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  9. Walking through nature is always a beautiful moment on this path through Life. And walk in this landscape and next to these beautiful mountain lakes, will certainly be unforgettable and a place to always return.
    I am glad that the conflict between Lynn and the rocks is over, and that peace has settled. This is the perfect place for a peace treaty!
    As always … beautiful photos, details and interesting information.
    Thanks for sharing!

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    • It was one of those quickly made photos that looked like it might be too dark. I actually began with a LR preset that seemed to show the feeling of that spot, then I put a little color back into the cloudy sky. Those trees take a beating! Thanks very much, John. (BTW this time I decided to keep it simple and just used the Oly 14mm-150mm zoom, not a favorite lens but it worked out OK).

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  10. Beautiful shots, Lynn. The rock photos are my favorites, probably because I have had the rock project ongoing for years myself. There’s no doubt that this is one of the most beautiful areas in the country. Thanks for sharing.

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    • I think we’ve talked about how difficult rocks van be to photograph before, but this hike did have some terrific ones, so I did what I could. It’s very rugged up there and that’s a refreshing quality these days, you know? Thanks, Ken.

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  11. The North Fork Nooksack is my favorite area in the mountains, maybe my favorite area anywhere.

    Those particular blueberries, Vaccinium deliciosum, are the best.

    So many truly wonderful photos. I like that you photographed the decomposing Veratrum.

    Iโ€™d like to see a large version of the lichen in #13. Maybe on Flickr?

    In case you havenโ€™t encountered it I recommend “Geology Underfoot in Western Washington” by Dave Tucker.

    I suspect the fern in #18 is the alpine lady-fern, Athyrium distendifolium, although A. filix-femina is also on the WNPS plant list for Bagley Lake.

    Regarding your reply to a comment, I disagree – it really is better than NatGeo.

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    • That’s interesting about the North Fork Nooksack. I’m not familiar enough with the general terrain to have a clear sense of the different river “personalities” but it was clear the first time I saw Artists Point that the area is especially rugged. I’d love to hear about what it is that appeals to you about N. Fork Nooksack (and its feeders, like Bagley Cr). And blueberries – another area where I need to learn more – the different species are confusing, thanks for identifying it. I know habitat does narrow down the choices. Veratrum – I’ve loved those plants since I first saw them. You’re right about the fern; not being familiar with alpine plants means I make mistakes. Slightly overwhelmed with processing the photos and putting the post together, I did not look carefully enough. I knew something was different about that fern! I should have read through the Athyrium section in Pojar carefully – I love their description of this fern as appearing to be scorched by a flame and crinkled. ๐Ÿ™‚ (I didn’t think of looking for a WNPS plant list for Bagley Lake – thanks for reminding me). I will either email the rock lichen to you or post it on FLICKR and let you know. Thanks so much for your interest and support, Richard, it means a lot.

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  12. Still so busy trying to release my new book that I haven’t been here much. So glad I took a break… what a feast for the eyes and soul. ๐Ÿ™‚ One of my favorite places to go, and I didn’t get up there this year. If the weather holds I might go up before the end of the month. I’m glad you had a delightful day!

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    • Stay focused, stay healthy, and good luck on getting the book out without incident. Maybe you’ll still be able to get up there. I think there’s a chance the snow level may not come down too far. Thank you, Sheri. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  13. Your opening photo is a real hit, dear Lynn: the expected that lies ahead of us, framed by the windshield of the car that will take you there. This and some of the following landscape pictures have a common, different color, which I do not know from your photos, yellowish-brownish. Like some discolored (but then again very colourful) old paintings maybe, very autumnal, although the landscape only indicates autumn in tiny signs. But it’s not just the color tone, there is something else, a constant sharpness, like in toy landscapes on model trains. Did you work with focus stacking?
    You also apparently took some of your beautiful detail shots with a very small aperture. Please don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that as a criticism at all, just find it conspicuous because otherwise you tend to prefer the soft backgrounds that the wide aperture gives us.
    Did you have such a great longing for clarity of view after the endless days of the smoke-shrouded view

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    • You also noticed that odd color shift in some of the photos. I’m still not sure why that happened. I played around with some of them but decided, in the end, to not make any big changes to them. I agree, it’s an autumnal look. There were quite a few plants turning colors but these photos don’t show them. I wonder how different it is now. And as for the sharpness, that is probably just a function of the way I sharpened them in LR. But I did use a circular polarizer all day that day and I usually don’t leave them on – I don’t even use them that often. I think I”m changing my mind about them. We’ll see. I tried focus stacking once or twice for flower closeups and found it too cumbersome.
      And you also noticed that there aren’t my usual soft background close-ups. ๐Ÿ™‚ That’s because in order to simplify the hike I used one lens only, a zoom lens that only goes down to f4, no wider. These photos are all between f6.3 & f9.
      That’s an interesting observation about longing for clarity after all the smoke. Realistically, I had been wanting to get up into the mountains for a long time, simply because everything feels and looks so different there. I stuck with the one zoom lens so we could both enjoy everything together, and I wouldn’t be quite so distracted by changing lense, etc. I hope that makes sense. Have a calm, happy evening, Ule, and thank you for your thoughts – you keep me thinking. ๐Ÿ™‚

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      • Well, I’m glad to see by your numerous and thouhtful commenters that I’m not the only one to bear all the responsibility to keep you thinking, dear Lynn.
        It is always an imposition for our companions when we’re photographing more or less all the time, changing lenses or not. But it can defuse the situation when there is not so much technical stuff to carry and to handle, at least. I understand completely what you mean.

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  14. You are so lucky: on the one side the ocean, on the other side the mountains ๐Ÿ™‚ What an impressive scenery, so beautiful. The last picture is awesome! It could be an old oil painting, but it is better than that. Understandable that you feel so exhilarated in these surroundings! Who wouldn’t? These mountains are really high and they look somewhat “tough”. No comparison to the Alpes I think. The vegetation is lovely, these green and yellow tones, (I am glad you get the berries ๐Ÿ˜‰ as the wild flowers are. I especially love the Parnassia fimbriata with the little curls. And you have still a lot of wildlife (insects), wow. The water ouzel is so cute. I think we have a similar species here, which is Cinclus cinclus. I never saw one, only on TV. I like the way they dive. Of course the leave with the holes in it is great (a pattern ready to print ๐Ÿ™‚ and the lichen and rocks build beautiful pictures ready to hang them on the wall. This kind of basalt is fascinating, as geometric forms in nature always are. Hard to imagine how they get to this form. Very nice post and I am glad you didn’t meet any rock personally ๐Ÿ˜‰

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    • Yes, the fact that water surrounds this place and it isn’t too far from the mountains was a big part of our decision to move here – both for the move from NY to Washington and then again for the move to Fidalgo Island. The look of the North Cascade mountains is definitely tough – we would say rugged but I like tough as a description, too. There are lots of rocks and very steep terrain. It’s particularly beautiful when the leaves begin to change colors – not on the trees, which are evergreen, but on all the other plants.
      Your Cinclus cinclus is just like our Dipper. Look at videos of it – they are amazing. We were thrilled to watch them so closely for about 20 minutes. I read an explanation of how the basalt forms in those shapes but geology is always a little hard to follow somehow and I couldn’t put it into words. We’re always delighted to find it. We’ve seen it in other places in Washington, too – not only the mountains. Joe was telling me to be careful – he’s the one who had to help me get to the car and listen to me complain for two hours while we drove to the hospital when I broke my arm! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Thank you, Almuth, I’m glad you enjoyed this virtual trip to the mountains. ๐Ÿ™‚

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      • What you describe about the autumnal colors adds up to the other things. You have the sea and the mountains nearby and you have different forms of vegetation. I can imagine that the “land” looks colorful too, not only the trees. One can already see a bit in your photos! – I envy you about the dipper. I don’t know where I could see them here in Germany. It must be a joy to watch them. – Joe is so kind ๐Ÿ™‚

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        • We only see dippers in wilder places, and not near or on islands. I looked for them on inaturalist and one was seen not too far from Hannover. You would need a car of course – it was south of Hildesheim, last December. Most of the sightings are in the mountains.

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  15. These photos of Mt Baker are fabulous! You capture what many of us don’t even see when we are right there! Really wonderful series. You have a great eye, Lynn.

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    • Jann, it’s so nice of you to stop by and leave a comment. Coming from you, that is high praise. I really appreciate it! Yesterday I had an appointment in Oak Harbor and went to Coupeville for treats, then walked out to the bluff at Ebey’s Landing. Wow, some wind!! The sky was amazing. Maybe there will be a blog post about it…

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  16. Fabulous scenery: beautifully composed pictures. As a collection, I like the balance between the grand and the intimate
    You are fortunate indeed to have access to such rich natural resources.

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    • You’re right, we’re very fortunate. Being retired helps, and being willing to live far from family helps. It’s also crucial that places like this are saved and to our great good fortune, people had the foresight to do that. As for the big view and the details, I am pulled to both. You know I always enjoy the details but in a landscape like this one it would be hard to ignore the long view. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you, Louis, have a good weekend.

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  17. Always a treat…I think Iโ€™ve had trouble with my comments โ€œStickingโ€ perhaps this is a repeat ๐Ÿคทโ€โ™€๏ธ๐Ÿคฆโ€โ™€๏ธ Feels like here but lusher….I also love blueberries โ˜บ๏ธ

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    • And I enjoy seeing where you take photos, too, Howard. I think you’re on your way to OR again, maybe even today. Travel safely, don’t work too hard and enjoy those days off, whatever the weather does.

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    • Hi, and thank you. Both mountains are in Washington State but they’re almost 200 miles apart – as the crow flies! So they’re not in the same neighborhood. In the Cascade Range there are many, many “blowdowns” – trees that fall down for one reason or another, often because the soil is thin and conditions are tough. The trees in #4, like the one in #18, came down from more common causes than an eruption. Someday, Mt. Baker might erupt, too. Hopefully, we’ll have plenty of warnings!

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  18. Beautiful mountains and photographs! The glaciers add to the beauty of the peaks. Ours are nearly bare and we are waiting for our first good snow. You have some very nice landscapes here and I especially like the meandering river and colors in #10.

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    • Those peaks never lose their snow, and last year was a pretty good one for snowpack so I guess they’re not doing too badly now. We can see the snowy top of Mt. Baker all the way from our island when it’s clear (not from home but from certain spots). I hope you have a good season for snow on the mountains. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks, Denise!

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  19. Another wonderful tour, Lynn. I could feel your excitement as you approached and then walked your trail. I think the closest I’ve experienced to the late snow you mention is Mount Katahdin in Maine. I am sure Washington in NH may rival that but I’ve never been there. It is always impressive the amount of nature you observe. So many things I am sure I’d walk right by but you turn them into lovely photographs filled with interest.
    Your shot of the woman picking blueberries, my favorite as well although I don’t forage for them, as it reminded me of how Mary Beth used to come home after a stressful day at work and pick the low-bush variety that grew in the field next to our first home together. She picked so many that we bought our first freezer to house them. ๐Ÿ™‚
    I love the landscape with the stone arch bridge…but the others are wonderful as well just like all the nice flower shots.

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    • You would walk right by? I find that hard to believe, Steve, I really do. I love your story about Mary Beth! She’s smart. My mother used to pick oodles of them, freeze them and make great pies. Do you know what did when I was living in a nice house on an acre or so a few hours N. of NYC, after a stressful day working at an alcohol rehab? I would sit in the yard in a spot that was always damp and weed the moss. The grass didn’t want to grow there as much as the moss did, so I would painstakingly pick out the grass, always trying to make it a carpet of moss. It never was of course.
      Thank you!

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