LOCAL WALKS: Mount Erie

1. Swaddled in a warm blanket, someone settles in to enjoy the view.

On this darkest day of the year, let’s stay with the theme of extremes and go up to the highest place on the Fidalgo Island, Mount Erie. At 1273 feet (388 m) high, this hunk of Jurassic era volcanic rock wouldn’t even be noticed in most places on the mainland but relative to sea level, Mt. Erie is a prominent point of reference. Locals like driving up the narrow, winding road to the top to take in breathtaking views of the landscape around the mountain and beyond, where islands dot the horizon and two distant mountain ranges rivet one’s attention. Even on a chilly, late November day like the day when this photo was made, a quick trip up the mountain is rewarding.

Here’s a topo map of the mountain if that’s your thing. Personally, I love the way topographic maps translate on-the-ground reality into simple, graphic patterns.

Before we look around the mountain itself, let’s take a step back and see how it looks from a distance. When I’m out on the flats (Skagit Valley agricultural land) and I see Mt. Erie’s distinctive, bumpy shape and twin cell towers, I always feel reassured. I know that home is nearby. Before there were cars and roads, the mountain would have been an important navigation tool.

2. On a snowy February afternoon the bulge of Mt. Erie, with light from the open waters of the Salish Sea glowing beyond it, is a very pleasing sight.

3. Exactly six months ago, on the summer solstice, we were exploring Cornet Bay on neighboring Whidbey Island during a super-low tide. Looking northwest, we were happy to see our mountain.

4. There it is in the fog, looking east from Washington Park on Fidalgo Island.

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6. This view at the base of the mountain shows a pretty little waterfall on a trail that traverses the wooded west face. The waterfall runs all year and nourishes one of the island’s few colonies of Maidenhair fern, growing in moist, rocky crevices.

But enough, let’s go up!

7. Erie Mountain Drive in November…

8. …and on another foggy day in June.

9. One rainy day in December I drive up and park at the top. No one else is here.

10. It’s peaceful.

11. A view through the branches of a Shore pine on a September afternoon.

Mount Erie lies within the Anacortes Community Forest Lands, comprising almost 3,000 acres of protected forests, wetlands and lakes on Fidalgo Island. A network of trails climbs up and down the mountain. If you choose to hike from the parking lot at the bottom to the summit, you’ll gain about a thousand feet in 3.5 rocky, rooty, twisted, scenic miles. The most I’ve done is to climb Sugarloaf, Mt. Erie’s shorter neighbor (on the right in photo #2). That left me feeling beat. I prefer to hike along trails near the bottom or drive to the top and wander through the forest just below the summit.

12. Ravaged trees and lavender-gray mist on eerie Mt. Erie.

13. Some of the older Douglas fir trees are gnarled and twisted from years of exposure to the elements.

14. The mountain catches moisture and holds it close, which these lichens find very agreeable. This tree is almost buried in them!

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18. Douglas firs grow tall and straight just below the summit.

19. Looking northwest toward the San Juan Islands during the Pacific Northwest’s “June Gloom,” a weather phenomenon we suffer through each year while we wait for the sunny days of July and August. Beauty can be found in that June Gloom!

20. On a bright summer day a pastoral view includes hay fields, freshwater lakes and a tall, rugged cliff called Rodger Bluff. Pacific Northwest painter Morris Graves lived a hermit’s life up there in the 1940s. He bought 20 acres on “The Rock” for $80, using money he made selling paintings to the Museum of Modern Art. You can find more about Graves’ sojourn on Fidalgo and see his work in this article by local blogger Julee Rudolf.

21. Joyous Young Pine, 1944. Morris Graves.

22. The North Cascades from Mt. Erie.

23. Mount Rainier is over a hundred miles away and doesn’t exactly loom on the horizon but the sight of it always quickens my heart.

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Maybe one day when we’re all free to roam again you’ll visit Fidalgo Island and see the views from Mt. Erie for yourself. Maybe you’ve already been here, or perhaps your only glimpses will be virtual ones. In any case, I hope you’ve enjoyed one person’s very subjective visual diary of this old hunk of rock.

A previous post about Mount Erie can be found here.

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81 comments

  1. That red in the opening photograph sure draws the eye. It can even get extra credit compositionally for following the so-called rule of thirds.

    Thanks for the introduction to Morris Graves’s “Joyous Young Pine.” The central portion reminded me of a Native American breastplate, https://www.bing.com/images/search?q=native+american+breastplates, and the branches curving toward the sun could even be upraised arms. I don’t know if the artist intended either of those associations. For $80, or even today’s equivalent, I’d buy 20 acres anywhere.

    Never having lived in a place with large mountains, I’m still impressed with how far away some of them can still be seen, like the 100 miles in your final picture.

    #19 makes me wonder whether it’s possible, from a different position, to get a photograph of the same view without the three evergreens in the foreground. That alternative picture, perhaps processed differently, could become an abstraction, especially the part beyond the nearest water.

    You’ve got two attractive collections of f and f (ferns and flowers).

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    • I was saying to Graham, below, that I tend not to photograph people in the landscape but I’ve been trying to be more open to it. When I photographed that person the red kind of irritated me but later I realized I was right to obey that impulse! Habits run deep. Seeing how well that photo opens this post is a lesson for me.
      Graves was a great artist and led an interesting life. I’d never heard of him and knew nothing about the Northwest Mystics school of art before I moved to the PNW. Who knows what associations might have been in Graves’ mind? But it’s a testament to the power of the work that people find what they do there. Thanks for sharing your associations.
      The 20 acres proved to be a difficult place to live, with no electricity or running water. I’d love to see that piece of land but it’s still in private hands – at least no one put a house on it!
      I think #19 is kind of what you’re talking about when you bring up abstracting the view. I probably have a few more photos I could play with in that way – good idea! Thanks so much, Steve. I hope all’s well down there in the Lone Star State. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Hey, maybe tonight you’ll see a lone star made from a double planet!

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  2. I often feel invited to visit these beautiful places you write about (who knows, one day?). It is an amazing wild scenery and I like the pictures # 1, 11, 20, 22 and 23. The view into the countryside is lovely. I love your collection of ferns, mosses and lichen and little wildflowers that are so special in your area. So tiny in these rocky surroundings, but resistent. Always touching. – I hardly could see the climbers. I looked at the pictures before reading and noticed a bit of color, but I wasn’t sure. Crazy ๐Ÿ™‚ But I am sure it makes a lot of fun. #10 is very poetic and #6 is wonderful too. You are happy to live in such a diverse place and I enjoy your walks – thanks for taking us with you ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • The climbers are very hard to see – and those photos are heavily cropped! I watched them for a long time – they were very slow but I think that’s a good thing, right? ๐Ÿ˜‰ Morris Graves had no water or electricity up there (no well and definitely no city water) so it was very difficult for him. He said he left because the daily chores took too much time away from painting, even though he loved the location. The land is still privately owned so you can’t go there but there is a nice hike that starts out picture #20, to the right, and goes along the side of the hill on the right. After a little while, you come to a clearing where you can sit on a rock and see Rodger Bluff across from you – it’s beautiful. The diversity here is wonderful but it wouldn’t mean much if smart people had not preserved so much of the land. Thanks, Almuth, I will be in touch soon. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • I’m glad you checked him out. He led an interesting life, too. Artists from this part of the world have typically not been taken seriously by the New York art world. But there was media acknowledgment of the so-called “Northwest Mystics” school of painting way back in the 1950s. Graves was one of the main players.

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  3. Oh, thank you, Miss Blue. I loved your showing the beauty of that old hunk of rock. And never would I have guessed Mt Erie was in the Pacific NW. I would have guessed Pennsylvania.
    Stay Safe and Happy Holidays to you and yours.

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    • Right, it has that rounded shape you see a lot in places like Pennsylvania and neighboring states. The flora is different of course – our big Sword ferns fanning out under the tall Doug firs give the forest a primeval look. Thanks, Don, I’m glad you’re safe and sound. Keep it that way, and enjoy what you can this year! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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    • Ah, that’s nice to hear – I assume some people just want to brush those branches out of the way. ๐Ÿ˜‰ And the fog, it’s always fun to photograph in it. Thank you so much for your kind wishes. I hope your holidays are warm, toasty and peaceful and your New Year is filled with delights. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Nice! That little rock-lover goes into dormancy during our dry summers and sprouts like that photo with the September rains. By this time of year there are lush green carpets of it in the forests. It’s one of my favorites. Have a lovely week down there – I bet you’re getting together with family. Enjoy it all!

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  4. This approach from various angles to Mt.Eire and then all the shared details gave rise to a beautiful trip that the maps and google maps complemented. I would say that this is a peculiar and different way of strolling “Around there”, an idea that I appreciate so much.
    About the images, I love all of them and the details, but I think the first image is fabulous.
    This person / character floats, as if the body follows the thought and an eventual meditation. It seems to be on a different plane from the surroundings. And the red of the blanket gives a huge strength to the photo. Magnificent.
    Thank you so much for sharing your “visual diary” with us!

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    • You clicked on the map? Cool! ๐Ÿ™‚ You’re right, my strolling style is rather eccentric. You and I would have a great time together, taking things slowly and pointing out interesting details to each other, then stepping back to admire the distant views.
      I’d like to say that I knew the person sitting on that rock would make a great photo but really, I didn’t. I was even a little annoyed when they sat there. It’s a lesson for me to get out of my own habit of always preferring landscapes without people. I’m (slowly) learning that the human figure can add something essential to the picture. At least I recognized the potential enough to click the shutter! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Your thoughts are valued here, Dulce, thank you very much. Have a wonderful week!

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  5. Loved your tour of your slice of paradise, Lynn. Your description of the area gives an excellent sense of the surrounding places. Thanks for identifying the ferns and plants and showing us the incredible views on your explorations. Nothing wrong with June gloom for photos as your rain and fog photos attest to and the great moods you capture on those days. Love the monochrome fog and mountain in 7 and the progression of “let’s go up” with the gorgeous rainy and foggy roads, your isolation windshield and pine branch laden with raindrops. And finishing with a bang with those spectacular landscapes. Great post!

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    • We make lemonade out of lemons during June gloom – but as pretty as it can be, it can also be disappointing, coming right when one is so eager for sunny days. ๐Ÿ™‚ If only we could exchange weather once in a while, right? I appreciate that you enjoyed all the different aspects of the smorgasbord of a post. It seemed to make sense to step back and look at the mountain in context, something I find usually helpful. And the plant close-ups are always important! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Thanks for stopping by, Jane, at a busy time. Take care!

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  6. I also love 19 and 12 and being swaddled in a blanket such a wonderful feeling youโ€™ve created here Lynn…I also appreciate all the details….stellar post ~ sending all good things ~ hugs hedy ๐Ÿค—โ˜บ๏ธ๐Ÿ’›

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    • Those foggy views are always beautiful, aren’t they? #19 was tricky – it’s one of those places with too many trees in the way. ๐Ÿ™‚ But we manage, don’t we? Thanks for all those good things…and your cheer. Now go wrap yourself in a warm blanket, OK? ๐Ÿ™‚

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  7. Beautiful photographs and narrative, Lynn. No need to try to pick favorites here, although the one of Northern Cascades is really striking. Best wishes for the season to you and yours.

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  8. Simply beautiful vistas, Lynn. It’s always a delight to look through your lens.
    Happy Holidays to you and yours ๐ŸŽ„
    Best wishes for a healthy New Year!
    The Fab Four of Cley ๐Ÿคถ๐Ÿป๐Ÿงš๐Ÿปโ€โ™€๏ธ๐ŸŽ„๐Ÿงš๐Ÿปโ€โ™€๏ธ๐ŸŽ…๐Ÿป

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    • Thanks so much! At least you have a little good news with the talks reaching some kind of resolution. What a year it’s been! Best wishes to you all for a slightly less bumpy road next year!!

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  9. This island is definitely written on my walkabout list, in bold. I know in 2021, you’ll continue to see into the beautiful and interesting, and I wanted to express sincere gratitude for your generosity and sharing of your artistic eye and thoughts. I know I’ve said this many times, but your posts arrive as a respite and breathing space, and I really appreciate them.

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    • I do hope you get out here one day. The whole PNW is a great place to visit, particularly if you can manage it outside of the busy summer season. It’s very gratifying to know that I’m providing a little respite, a little breathing space in these crazy times. The pleasure, of course, is mine.
      Have a warm and peaceful holiday, Robert, and can we please just ask for a better New Year? I think we can! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Thank you for your kind words.

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    • Great, thank you so much for stopping by. Your post about Graves and the rock was well-researched and inspiring. And it sounds like you’re a fern-lover, too. The Licorice ferns are looking great right now, aren’t they? If you scroll down and find the “JUST ONE” category, there are posts about some of our ferns, flowers, trees, and lichens. Have a great holiday, JuLee.

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  10. Your skill in conveying atmosphere and a sense of place continue to give me great pleasure. It is difficult yo enjoy the festive season this year, but let’s try and hope for better things in 2021.

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    • Yes, what a year it’s been, and it’s especially tough in your part of the world these days. One wants to run from the news. I’m sure 2021 will have its bumps in the road but we could really use some relief! I’m glad you find a little of that here, Louis. Have a calm and quiet holiday season.

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  11. Thanks for this trip that you shared with those of us not likely to make for ourselves. It’s a nice thought that some of us might be able to visit but a long trip such as that doesn’t seem in the offing for me. Maybe that will change. I certainly know someone who would be an excellent guide. ๐Ÿ™‚
    As you might imagine, I enjoyed all the portraits and closeups of the plants on Mount Erie and especially the Calypso Orchid. It would have been nice to see them larger. ๐Ÿ™‚ And I really liked the view of the Cascades and Rainier at the end.

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    • There’s something about photos of roads taken from cars, isn’t there? You should google Morris Graves if you haven’t already – you might like his work. Prego, Robert, I hope you’re enjoying the holidays – as much as one can these crazy days!

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  12. Another wonderful and very comprehensive post about Mt. Erie. I love all the variety and seeing what a forest with moisture looks like … ours are so dry! I like #9 and especially along with your caption. I have photographed the rain through my windshield too … it’s a natural filter. I also love #19 … the simple layers and the way the trees bend make a really special image!

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    • Our little mountain – nothing like the ones around you, but everything’s relative, right? ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for appreciating the variety – I try to offer a well-rounded if extremely subjective view. And it’s nice that you like the rainy car photo and its caption – what can you do when it rains for days? #19 has the kind of simplicity I think I’d be photographing if I lived in the desert, but around here it can be hard to find. Thanks for stopping by, Denise, and here’s to a new and improved year coming our way. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  13. Such an abundance of pictures is really a special Christmas present, dear Lynn.
    And everything occurs in it, with which you always delight us: breathtaking, large views and tiny beauties. Subtle shades of gray and glowing green. New speaking color names like lavender gray and deep thoughts. Crisp details and very smooth transitions. Poetry and documentation. The candyflowers are so lovely on the mossy rock.
    Thank you for a whole year with enjoyment of nature on the other side of the globe (regarding from my point of view โ˜บ)

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    • The distant views and close-up details are equally riveting. And yes, the green keeps glowing all winter here, because there is so much rain and the temperatures rarely stay below freezing for long. You understand what I try to do, Ule, and I appreciate that so much. That’s a Christmas present for me, thank you. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  14. Isn’t it interesting how each one of us has specific sensory-related ‘imprints’ that affect us on such deep levels? When away from Louisiana and Mississippi, I am not wistful for that landscape, yet every single glimpse of the Mississippi river affects me on difficult-to-describe levels. I can see why certain vistas affect you in similar ways. It’s contagious as well, when I am affected by the beauty of your images – and of your words = from so far away!

    I see there’s a new post, which is loading now and I’ll enjoy at home…

    Happy New Year – you’ll make the best out of every single day – and you share the beauty with all of us. Thank you!

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    • Thank YOU, Lisa, for sharing your vision all year long. I was just enjoying the Sora post this morning – I haven’t commented yet – and someone posted in a birders’ forum about seeing a “cooperative” Sora right in Seattle, at a park! What synchronicity. They sure do spread out, don’t they? As far as the effects of the landscape go, we’ve only been here 2 1/2 years but already, it seeps in. Still, certain images from the eastern US ring that bell of familiarity for me very powerfully. Of course, pictures of the Mississippi would resonate with you!
      Thanks for being here, amiga, stay healthy and take care.

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  15. It just struck me that it might be best to see your neighborhood virtually (as they say). I get to see all the stunning scenes without the grump-creating kerfuffles. I feel a touch of regret that I didn’t get to wander around with you, but I was not a happy camper back then.

    In the meantime…. I was thinking I could crawl out from under the covers (so to speak) since last week, but I seem to be having one of those streaks where much goes awry. Sissy is not doing well, keeping me awake many nights. Then there’s this threat of the virus variant that is said to be more transmissible. It’s getting a bit daunting just to head out into civilization. Our county’s level of infections has lowered since the holidays, but the county north of us (where we occasionally shop) has been raised. We’ve been having a cycle of storms with sunny days (colder) interrupted by typical winter storms (warmer -usually). Lovely to have the changing patterns, especially when there’s the option to stay inside during some of the wilder weather.

    I did write and then lose a previous comment. I love ๐Ÿ’• topo maps and I was totally enchanted to have the distant shots of your Erie to aid my imagination.
    #5 gave me the willies just looking at people clinging to that vertical rock face. ๐Ÿฅด
    I can totally FEEL you settling into this location. We are the lucky observers of all the passion you get to share these days. Yes, even in our PNW damp weather.
    Loved the gallery of ferns. I see you’ve been playing with some new touches to the WP format. I like it. ANd the ferns are so crisply gorgeous. You’ve made them shine!
    #21 What a very joyous pine… it made me smile.
    #22 Such a splendid view of your side of the Cascades!!!
    Wishing you some sun between the clouds and good health and lots of perfect hikes!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Virtual is certainly easier and these days, so much safer…I hear you about neighboring counties. We haven’t been down to Seattle in well over a year. I’m sorry to hear that Sissy’s having a hard time, and not getting enough sleep is never good. Take care of yourself, try not to worry too much and enjoy those times when it’s beautiful outside. It’ feels like we’ve turned the corner, seasonally and politically. The Song sparrow has been singing here and there and today I heard a House finch singing…the increase in light is welcome even if the rainy, misty days drag on. Thanks for keeping in touch!

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