Local Walks: Tofoni at Larrabee

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10. Dried eelgrass on the rocks.

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12. Roots and rocks look alike.

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These photos are a celebration of tafoni* and accompanying formations in the rock at Larrabee State Park, along with two vistas so you can see the context. And there are children enjoying their finds before returning them to the water, and two intertidal denizens called Purple sea stars.

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Tafoni – in Sicilian it means windows (or so I read in Wikipedia). And in Corsica, taffoni (with two “f’s”) also means windows (says Wiki). The tafoni we’re talking about could be related to a Greek word for tomb, taphos but in any case, the window/tombs I’m thinking about are sensuously sculpted holes in rock. Tafoni is a term geologists use for certain the intricate patterns that occur in rocks from complex weathering processes.

This phenomenon can be found in the desert and at the shore, and the shore is where these photographs were made, at Larrabee State Park in northwestern Washington.

Larrabee was Washington’s first state park, thanks to a wealthy family who donated some beautiful waterfront acreage to the state over a hundred years ago. Primarily a rocky stretch of saltwater coast, the park also includes the west side of Chuckanut Mountain. The cliffs there are very steep: last year a man died in a fall from the rocks, and a couple was injured in another fall this year. The narrow, winding road that passes through Larrabee is full of blind curves and marvelous scenic views which you can enjoy as long as you remember to pay attention to where your tires are. After arriving at Larrabee I like to cross under the railroad tracks and follow the easier paths along the shoreline. The rocky beach is great to explore at low tide when tidepools reveal all sorts of creatures.

Maybe because they’re more dependable than sea life, the rock formations are the big draw for me. Whether the rocks are towering over the shoreline or defining it, the 57-million-year-old sandstone displays many fascinating forms. You can’t help but wonder how the tafoni and the smooth, svelte curves came about. The process of honeycomb weathering (those Swiss cheesy holes in the rocks) is fairly complex. It begins with the process of physical weathering, a loosening of the structure of the rock caused by a tree root, freeze and thaw cycles, the action of wind, acid rain…a myriad of forces that work on rocks to alter their shape. At Larrabee the rock is quite permeable. It’s subject to salt from ocean water, carried from many miles away by the tides and storms. Salt water splashes on the rocks, leaving salt crystals between grains of rock as it dries. The salt crystals grow, pushing grains of rock aside, a process that happens readily because sandstone here is quite porous. Certain minerals in the sandstone are more susceptible to salt crystallization than others and once a pit begins it can increase its size more quickly than the surrounding rock, so weathering can be very uneven.

Add to this the effect of algae growing on the surface of the rocks. Where algae grows, the rock absorbs water much more slowly so weathering is retarded. In places without algae the rock is eaten away faster, expanding into a hole. There is controversy about the exact science here and frankly, this is as much detail as I can absorb! If you’re interested, Dave Tucker at Northwest Geology Field Trips points to further discussions of tafoni in a blog entry here.

Better yet, visit this little stretch of shoreline and admire the rocks in person. Run your hand along the surface – it may look smooth but it’s not; the grains are large and rough, providing nice handholds if you want to scramble. Or locate a place close to you where honeycomb weathering can be found. Altdahn Castle in the Palatinate Forest of Germany, Mt. Wellington in Tamania, and Arches NP in the US are some examples, and here’s a map of the world with tafoni locations. Check it out. And bring your camera.

Further Afield: In the Mountains

Yesterday I went hiking in the North Cascades with a friend who loves the mountains and is as curious about plants as I am. It’s time for berry picking now and most of the wildflowers are finished, but we hoped to find a few flowers hanging on. One of the flowers still blooming was a delicate, pure-white flower that looked familiar. I knew I’d seen it in the field guides but I couldn’t remember the name for it. I made a few quick photos to study when I got home. The pretty little wildflower was dropping snow-white petals onto the dark soil at the trail’s edge; it was a lovely, poignant sight signifying the end of summer.

After I got home I looked for the plant in my field guide and found it: it’s the Fringed Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia fimbriata). The odd name instantly brought up a memory of my mother saying “Grass of Parnassus” as she described a similar wildflower she found hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains in western North Carolina, where she lived. In fact, Grass of Parnassus is probably one of the flowers we saw on our last drive up into the mountains back in 1999, when she was fighting pancreatic cancer. Late that summer I visited her to help out and we took a pleasant drive together to see the scenery. It was one of many visits I made that year before she finally drew her last breath in her own bed, on Christmas Eve.

My mother loved wildflowers and passed that along to me. Mountains, too – she hiked many miles in the Blue Ridge Mountains with her hiking buddies. We never hiked in the mountains when I was a child; we lived in places with rolling hills and we vacationed nearby, or at my grandparent’s home near the ocean. But I remember standing on a hillside outside of Syracuse, New York with my mother when I was a schoolgirl and gazing at a glorious view spread out below us. It was essentially the same feeling I get from mountains vistas, that peaceful relaxing into open space that assures you there are endless possibilities ahead.

1. Mount Baker, or Koma Kulshan, an active stratovolcano in northwestern Washington, seen from a meadow on Dock Butte.

2. Mount Shuksan from the trail to Dock Butte.

3. The Sauk Mountain trail with a view of the Skagit River Valley far below.

4. A pond by the trail to Dock Butte.

My parents retired to place where they could hike in the mountains, and without making the connection to what they did, I did the same thing, although I’m on a different side of the country. But it’s no surprise since they set the stage early on, conveying a deep and lasting appreciation for nature. I kept the passion alive, thanks to my own enthusiasm and to the people around me. Now I’m living in a beautiful part of the world, making forays out to places that nourish the most fundamental parts of my life.

I’ll keep going back up to the mountains as often as I can, which isn’t as often as I’d like. It usually involves a long drive on terrible roads, and a bit of planning. But oh, is it worth it!

5 – 7. Wildflowers and butterflies on Sauk Mountain.

8. Another butterfly on Sauk Mountain.

9. Blueberries on the trail to Dock Butte. This blueberry bush has lost its leaves but the berries were incredibly sweet and flavorful. Another connection with the past: my mother picked quantities of wild blueberries in the mountains every summer and froze them for pies.
10. Old evergreens on the trail to Dock Butte.

11. Towering firs have a commanding presence on the trail to Dock Butte.
12. Sauk Mountain meadows and wildflowers in late July.

13. Wildflowers and mountain views, Sauk Mountain trailhead, 4300 feet (1310 m).

Late in July I hiked Sauk Mountain, another North Cascade Range peak. I didn’t quite make it to the top that day but that did not diminish my pleasure. The wildflowers were riotous, the butterflies and bees happy, and the view seemed endless. I’m sure my mother would have enjoyed that day. My son would have too, if he’d been there. The passion for nature, especially for the mountains, is alive in him.

14. Going camping in the mountains.

There’s something exhilarating about being high up in the wilderness. I’m thankful that my parents instilled a keen appreciation for the outdoors in their kids, and thankful I have friends and family who share the passion. My wish for you is that even if the mountains aren’t accessible and the wilderness is out of reach you can still go outside, quiet down, and forget yourself. With a little luck, the energy around you will bring peace, and maybe even a tear to your eyes.

15. Fringed Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia fimbriata), losing its last petals in early September on the Dock Butte trail at about 4200 feet (1280 m).

Small Town Parade

Happy Fourth! We didn’t want to miss our local Independence Day parade. Anacortes has a reputation for being a bit odd, and I think you’ll see the evidence here. The town is pretty laid back, too. From senior citizens in wheelchairs to toddlers driving tiny cars – and let’s not leave out dogs dressed as lions – everyone is happy to keep it simple and low key – no self-conscious displays of power or anything else. Let’s just have a good time. And throw me some candy while you’re at it!











I threw this post together quickly….the pictures needed to get out there before it’s over. Those of you in the US are probably already barbecuing by now or on your way to watch fireworks. Some of you will watch from a rooftop, some from a beach, some in the back yard. Those of you outside the US are probably asleep already and won’t see this until tomorrow, but no matter.

A few American traditions have already wrapped – on Coney Island, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut won the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest by scarfing down 71 of ’em. Yum. In small towns and big cities the parades are over, ball games are being played, beaches are crowded. We’ve heard from several relatives and friends today. Everyone’s fine.

We’ll skip the tanks, thank you, and we’ll be fine too.

ROAD TRIP: Over the Pass

A few weeks ago we took a three day road trip to the Methow Valley, a popular weekend hiking, biking and skiing destination in north-central Washington State. I read that Methow is an Okanagan word for sunflower (seeds). I don’t know why “seeds” is in parentheses, but I suppose that the sunflower is Arrowleaf balsmaroot, a locally abundant flower that brightens the valley’s hills in Spring.

Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) flowers backed by Bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) at peak bloom.

To get to the Methow Valley we had to drive over the North Cascade Mountains, following the two-lane North Cascade Highway east for over 100 miles. By the time we reached the pass, our elevation had increased by about 5,450 feet (1661m). It’s an exhilarating drive, once you get into the mountains. We stopped at Newhalem, a tiny company town built around the hydroelectric plant that has powered Seattle for almost a hundred years. Here, we took a short walk on the Trail of Cedars to enjoy the view of the Skagit River and the beauty of the mature forest around it.

Skagit River at Newhalem, with mares’ tails clouds
Northern Starflower (Trientalis arctica) on the forest floor.
Mid-day shadows are well defined, and black and white brings them out.

We stopped a second time at an overlook to gaze at the blue-green waters of Diablo Lake, a reservoir created by one of three successive dams on the Skagit River.

Diablo Lake with Davis Peak in the background

As we approached the pass the clouds thickened and patches of snow appeared on the sides of the road. The North Cascade Highway is very avalanche-prone during the winter and closes from October until sometime in May, depending on weather. For a good six months you have to drive further south to another pass if you want to get from one side of the state to the other.

North Cascade Highway (Route 20) heading towards Washington Pass

Up at the pass there’s an overlook with an impressive mountain view where I hoped to stop for a look. The short road to the overlook was closed and still snowy, but we were able to park the car outside the gate and walk up. Taking care on the snow, we sucked in the fresh mountain air and enjoyed the silence.

Ravaged trees covered with lichens stand tall at Washington Pass.

A North Cascade mountain view at Washington Pass


The lichen-splotched rocks are an elegant complement to the plant life at the rugged pass.

Willow catkins

Liberty Bell mountain from Washington Pass

As we walked back to the car, a pair of Gray jays flew into view. It was clear that they were checking us out, and I knew what that meant – they wanted food! These birds are called Camp robbers, a well-deserved reputation. We happened to have a bag of nuts with us so we doled out a few peanuts, and could barely contain our joy the two jays swooped down onto our hands and grabbed the treats. I’ve fed birds by hand before, but not jays. I was struck by the satisfying plunk of their strong feet on my hand – these birds actually have a little weight to them, unlike the tiny chickadees I’m used to.

Hitting the Jackpot


Over the pass, down the mountain and into the valley we drove, from the wet west side of the Cascades to the dry east side. Before checking into our bnb we made one more stop, at Lewis Butte, where we dawdled amidst fragrant bitterbrush, lovely lupines, and sparkling aspens.

Aspen grove off Gunn Ranch Road, Winthrop

A pond reflects the Cascade foothills
A tree skeleton amidst the wildflowers near Lewis Butte

Homes with views

It’s such a pleasure to be able to experience a completely different environment after just a few hours’ drive. The small towns of Methow Valley have their charms too, with their “Wild West” atmosphere. They can get overrun with tourists at times, but it wasn’t a problem on this trip. We had a great time exploring back roads, and I plan to post photos from the rest of the trip later.

Old Forest

Under an ancient volcanic mountain on the edge of the North Cascades, a wide river meanders through a moss-shrouded forest of giant Douglas firs, Western hemlocks, Western Redcedars, and Bigleaf maples. Lumber has been a prominent industry here for centuries, so you’d be correct to think that a healthy forest with easy river access would have been harvested at least once by now. Somehow, part of this verdant lowland forest escaped the cut.

“Rockport State Park” isn’t a place name that excites me. It doesn’t make me want to know more. I had passed by the park sign several times without a thought, bound for places like “Diablo” and “Twisp.” But it turns out, there’s magic behind that sign; after reading about the park, I was determined to go beyond the sign.

Winter is quiet in this corner of the world. Few people are interested in walking through damp woods on a chilly day in January.  They’re up in the mountains skiing, they’ve gone south, they’re indoors. So a winter weekday afternoon proved to be a good time to walk the trails at Rockport State Park. The predominantly evergreen forest practically glowed with vivid greens. Leaves, lichens and mosses dripped with moisture, thanks in part to nearby Skagit River. Creeks gurgled, the trees stretched higher than we could see, mist floated in and out of the tree canopy, and shafts of sunlight knifed into the fern-laden understory. The effect was otherworldly. We were smitten.

Two weeks later we returned to walk another trail, where we were treated to a meeting with a magnificent Redcedar tree that has owned that spot in the forest for hundreds of years. Regal doesn’t begin to describe the bearing of that tree.

I wonder what early Spring flowers are beginning to poke though the moss and forest floor litter now. We’ll have to wait until we return from a trip to explore the park again. In the meantime, here are photographs from two mid-winter walks in the old growth forest at Rockport State Park.

 

1. On the Way

2. Greenglow

3. Sword fern fronds

4. The green machine at work in January

5. Bigleaf maple trees were leafless but colorful, from thick coats of moss, lichens, liverworts and ferns.

6. Moisture dripped through multiple layers of growth to the forest floor.

7. Everywhere, fallen leaves were caught on branches, and even trapped in lichen clumps. What’s happening between the decaying leaf and the lichen strands is a language I don’t speak, but sometimes I can feel it – that quiet language of nourishment and constant change.

8. Precious drops of water hung like pearls on a slender piece of Usnea longissima lichen. The lichen will use what it needs, and what’s left will drip down to nourish another part of the forest. A sign of clean air, Usnea doesn’t grow in places with significant air pollution.

9. A fallen leaf from a Bigleaf maple tree has laid here long enough for moss to crawl over it.

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10. Age and youth.

11. The bench gives you an idea of the immense size of this old Redcedar. Leaning against it was comforting. Circumambulating it, I paid my respects.

12. A certain someone leans in.

13. Water drop magic.

14. Moss or lichen? It can be hard to tell.  I think this is a moss. Naming the plants isn’t necessary but it gives me pleasure. It helps keep me grounded.

15. A big piece of foliose lichen, probably lung lichen (Lobaria pulmonaria), tumbled to the ground to rest on a bed of Sword fern and Bigleaf maple leaves. This lichen can be found in wet places in North America, Asia, Europe and Africa, and it’s been used medicinally in most if not all of those continents, as well as for dye and perfume making.

16. Trees could be seen at every stage of life and decay.

17. Mist and moss conspired to create an otherworldly feeling.

18. There was elegance along the trail.

19. A leaf caught on a branch, wrapped around it, and stuck to itself. Then another leaf landed on the first one, and they breathed the moist, forest air together.

20. Either my fingers were too cold, or I was too lazy to switch lenses on my camera. I photographed the river in brilliant sunlight with my phone, which doesn’t handle bright contrast well. But you can get the idea – it’s a big river with an abundance of life all around it.

21. Creeks race through the forest to feed the river below.

22. A tree trio in black and white.

23. Thanks to mild winters and abundant moisture, massive amounts of mosses, lichens, liverworts and ferns live in the trees. Bigleaf maples can actually grow roots from under the bark on their branches, tapping into the nutrients of the spongy mass of life.

24. Another Bigleaf maple leaf caught on a twig, in a most unlikely manner. Such a delicate balance, and believe me, I didn’t touch it!

25. On the drive home clouds shifted over the heavily logged foothills. The pale patchwork shows what might have been, if the forest behind us had been logged too. I’m glad those trees still stand.

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When this post is published I’ll be in the air, hurtling east towards Amsterdam for three weeks’ vacation in northern Europe. While on the road I won’t have the tools I prefer to do a proper post. Another post is scheduled for a week from now, and maybe I’ll post a few phone photos from the streets European cities if there’s time. When I return, I hope to get back to Rockport to see what changes the waking-up season has brought to this beautiful forest.

Lens and camera notes: On my second visit to the park, I used the vintage Super-Takumar 50mm f1.4. lens (discussed in this post) most of the day.  When I wanted a wider view I used my phone.  Photos #2, #3, #5, #6, #7, #13, #15, #19 and #24 were taken with the Takumar. Photos #1, #11, #12, #20, and #21 were taken with the phone.  Photos #4, #8, #9, #10, #14, #16, #17, #18, and #23 are from my first visit, when I used a Panasonic 20mm f1.7 lens and an Olympus 60mm f2.8 macro lens. I used an Olympus 14-150mm f4/5.6 zoom lens that day for #22 and #25.

A Little Farther Into the Woods

Since moving to Fidalgo Island last July I’ve immersed myself in my immediate surroundings: the park, town and shoreline locations that are minutes from home. We are a long 90 miles (145km) from the ocean, but it’s still a water-defined landscape; Fidalgo’s shores look out onto sounds, bays, channels, and more islands, and even the forests here are dotted with lakes.

If you head east off the island, it’s a very different landscape. As you mount a high, arcing bridge, overlapping layers of foothills and mountains appear in the distance. Agricultural flatlands spread out on either side of the road, to the north and south. The view ahead steals the show as rhythmic mounds of forested hills rise up and gradually crumple into the jagged, rocky folds of the North Cascade Range. That rough and rugged terrain was beckoning me a few months ago – but I’m no mountaineer, so on a quiet Tuesday in October, we headed east for a lowland walk in the Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National forest.

 

1. Baker River Trail/East Bank Baker Lake Trail.

 

The goal was to meander along the East Bank Baker Lake Trail, an easy walk through the thick, coniferous forest that Baker River passes through as it divides into countless turquoise ribbons, braiding their way towards Baker Lake. The river’s namesake, Mt. Baker, or Koma Kulshan, is a young, glaciated volcano, and the third-highest mountain in the state, at 10,781 ft. (3286 m).  Koma Kulshan’s lofty, somber face dominates many a vista in this region. You might think Baker River begins under a glacier on Mt. Baker, but it actually rises under Whatcom Peak, to the northeast. From there, the river cuts a deep valley southwest, flowing around Mt. Baker before emptying into Baker Lake.

 

2. After a dry summer, the river is a series of shallow ribbons of cold water, unfurling over a rocky bed.

 

Getting to the trail was harder than we thought it would be. The first part was simple – drive east past fields and small towns on State Route 20. Then, in the tiny hamlet of Birdsview, you leave civilization behind to follow Baker Lake Road for 26 miles (42 km). The problem was the final six miles, where the road is not paved, and barely maintained. We still have the cars we brought with us from New York City seven years ago, and neither one is appropriate for the rough, deeply pot-holed forest roads that usually lead to trailheads. It’s really a pickup truck, SUV and Subaru world here. The going was tedious as we crawled back and forth across the road, trying not to wreck the car’s suspension. Occasional glimpses of snowy Mt. Baker beckoned through dense curtains of towering trees, and eventually the painfully slow slog ended.

 

3. The paved section of Baker Lake Road.

 

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4. The road narrows and begins to get rough while Mount Baker looms majestically above us.

 

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5. An old Redcedar leans heavily over the trail.

 

6. This beautifully built suspension bridge puts a little bounce into your step, like it or not.

 

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7. We saw thousands of small moths that day, both alive and dead. This one came to rest on a Redcedar bough. Shining drops of morning dew still cling to the delicate wings and body.

 

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8. This little one was alive, but maybe not for long.

 

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9. A dew-spangled dead moth is cradled in the leaf litter.

 

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10. Another rough-hewn wooden bridge on the trail crosses one of many creeks feeding Baker River. The rustic bridges are a real pleasure to see, to touch, and to walk across.

 

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11. I have great respect for the people who built these bridges.

 

 

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13. The bridge views were mesmerizing. Baker River rippled past water-sculpted rocks and the light danced over smooth stones that were barely covered by the shallow water.

 

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14. Looking up river it’s easy to picture how, after a winter of heavy snow in the mountains, the river fills up with glacial melt and roars down towards Baker Lake, taking fallen trees along for the ride, only to abandon the logs in untidy clumps, as the flow dwindles over the summer.

 

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15. Bigleaf maples had dropped their leaves in layers of nourishing mulch – in the woods, on the trail, and on the road, too.

 

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16. Mushrooms crowded this stump like a Hong Kong high rise.

 

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17. A fresh mushroom bouquet decorated with sprays of Licorice fern.

 

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18. This handsome specimen emerged from thick moss on the moist forest floor.

 

19. Forest floor synergy could be seen at our feet: rotting logs, fallen leaves and twigs, moss, mushrooms, and so much more that we didn’t see, all working together to support life.

 

20. A hiker stops to admire an old growth Redcedar pressing against huge boulder covered with moss, lichens and ferns.

 

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21. Constant moisture from the river nearby means that in this part of the forest, every dead limb wears a luxurious coat of spongy moss, all year long.

 

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22. Feathery-boughed cedars with their tapered trunks and waving, mossy branches made an enchanted forest scene. Green never departs from this forest, it just waxes and wanes in intensity.

 

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23. Cedar bark invites a close look, especially when the tree sports a stripe of bright green lichen. Look closely and you’ll see other lichens here, too.

 

24. The drab but pert American Dipper is always a thrill to see. This little bundle of energy forages by dipping, walking and even swimming in the rushing water of tumbling streams. When perched, dippers constantly bounce up and down, and movement is about all that gives them away, since the plain gray birds are hard to see among dark boulders, fallen trees, and the noisy, rushing water.

 

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25. The days were getting shorter and we had a late start that day, so we turned back to avoid driving 26 miles in darkness.

 

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26. Low-angled sun silvered the meandering river.

 

27. As we were about to get into the car, I noticed a maple leaf caught on a twig and made one more photograph. There’s always one more….

 

If you’re in the area:

The East Bank Baker Lake and Baker River Trails are about 115 (185km) miles from Seattle, and about 124 miles (200km) from Vancouver, BC.  The trailhead is 64 rather slow miles from where I live. Once you arrive at the large parking lot, if it’s an off-season weekday, you may be all alone. Set out on the wide, flat trail among huge boulders and towering trees, and soon you’ll sense the river behind the trees. In half a mile a suspension bridge crosses the river. From there, the Baker Lake Trail continues down the river and then follows the lake edge, for a total of 14.5 miles one way. Along the trail you’ll find more bridges, and views of the snow-covered mountains high above that are the repositories for all this rushing water. If you don’t cross the first bridge you can continue straight upriver on the Baker River Trail, reaching a campground in 2.6 miles. It was so pleasant the day we were there, and there was so much to look at, that we didn’t get far at all. That was not the object. The point was to feel, hear, see, and smell this unique place, to fully sense the aliveness of one small corner of our planet.

 

Local Attractions

The small city of Anacortes spans the north end of Fidalgo Island, extends a thin arm to the east, grabs a wide peninsula to the west, and funnels south into the green heart of the island. East of the city proper, two oil refineries scatter storage tanks and pipe stacks over a thumb of land called March Point. Anacortes’ city limits include residential areas, thickly forested parks, a small airport and the busy San Juan Island ferry terminal.

On a map the city seems to be reaching out and gobbling up the island, but the “Old Town” of Anacortes huddles close to the waterfront on the north tip of the island. With deep water access to the Salish Sea, Anacortes is a watery gateway to the Pacific. In a time of relentless real estate pressure from Seattle’s explosive growth, it heartens me to see the laid back, unpretentious city is hanging on – perhaps by a fishing-line-thin thread –  to its working waterfront roots. Pleasure and leisure are the raison d’etre for most boats you see around the island, but businesses serving working boats persist.

This sliver of working waterfront draws me into town, camera in hand. Here is a group of buildings and ships that caught my eye in Anacortes.

 

1. The Shell Oil and Andeavor refineries are major tax payers and employers for the county, but compared to other refineries in the U.S., this complex is small potatoes. Gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, fuel oils, liquefied petroleum gas, and asphalt are manufactured here on March Point. This view from Anacortes looks across Fidalgo Bay, where eelgrass beds and tidal marsh provide habitat for fish, shellfish, invertebrates, and birds.

 

2. Following the road around March Point reveals ships and birds plying the waters, with a backdrop of snow-covered Mount Baker in the distance. Behind you, the refinery business never stops, but neither does the wildlife.  A Great Blue heron rookery, situated less than a mile southeast of the refineries, was found to contain 757 nests at last month’s count, by the Skagit Land Trust, which protects and monitors the nesting site.  Small herds of cattle graze among the refinery tanks, and eagles roam the sky. Industry and nature appear to coexist without incident, but realistically, I know there are dangers – obvious ones like an accident in 2010 that killed five workers, and insidious risks, like the slight decline in eelgrass reported last year.

 

3. A small fishing boat, probably out for Dungeness crab, returns to Anacortes under heavy skies on a Friday afternoon in November. Marine industries – seafood preparation, boat repair, cargo handling, marinas, etc. – employ about 15% of island residents.  I enjoy seeing boat traffic involved in work but when summer comes, it’s a different story, as the town fills up with recreational boaters from all over the world.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but I hope the balance doesn’t ever shift entirely away from marine businesses.

 

4. I found this Dungeness crab washed up on a sliver of rocky shoreline in town. Most likely it was caught, and then thrown away, because it’s under the size limit of 6.25 inches. Females, softshell and undersized crabs must be released if caught, but they may not all survive. The daily recreational limit here is just 5 males; the tightly regulated season runs from October 6th through the last day of December. Commercial, licensed crab fishers have a 30 pot limit in the area near Fidalgo Island. The entire Puget Sound commercial Dungeness crab fishery is expected to land 2,874,707 pounds of crab this year.

 

5. The “Oregon” fishing vessel is tied up at Trident Seafoods. Across the channel is Guemes Island; the rolling hills of the San Juan Islands rise in the distance. Seattle-based Trident Seafoods is the biggest seafood company in the U.S. They process fish on board and onshore, with over 40 vessels and 17 plants. At their Anacortes plant, built in 1989, fish like pollock and salmon, caught in Alaskan waters, are frozen and made into ready-to-cook portions for food service use.

 

6. A Trident Seafoods’ catcher/processor, the 312-foot-long Island Enterprise, is undergoing work at Dakota Creek Industries, a ship building and repair business based in Anacortes. Billowing tarps worthy of Christo prompted me to pull over for a closer look.

 

7. Another look at the Island Enterprise under wraps at sunset. Dakota Creek, family-owned and run for over 40 years, builds and repairs everything from fire boats to ferries to research vessels, and of course, fishing vessels.

 

8. One more shot of the Island Enterprise at the dock, taken just after 4pm on a chilly November afternoon.

 

9. Just a few blocks from the working waterfront is Pelican Bay Books, a new and used bookstore with an understated and functional exterior, and a beckoning interior. Their espresso is very good and you can cozy up near a fireplace on a worn leather sofa with a book, the NY Times, or the local paper, if that’s your preference. Maybe someone will play a little subdued jazz on the piano. Maybe you’ll buy a book, or maybe you’ll just enjoy the ambiance.

 

10. Another late afternoon view of the bookstore’s side door.

 

11. The older section of Anacortes has loads of charming, slightly funky small homes, like this one on a side street.

 

12. Back near the waterfront, between Trident Seafoods and the Puget Sound Rope Corporation, there are three tall tanks, a parking lot and a handful of buildings. What’s going on there, I don’t know. There’s no sign (other than the Keep Out signs) and nothing helpful came up online.

 

13. Three tanks and a telephone pole.  OK, and a fence and a sidewalk. A bit of barbed wire, too.

 

14. This decrepit building has become a favorite subject of mine. It was built in a diamond shape, with the wide angle to the right in this view. I read online that the lot and building sold for $500,000 in 2008, so I assume there were plans to tear the building down and build anew, for light manufacturing. Those plans must have fallen through, and the old warehouse, built in 1900, is still standing.

 

15. The acute angled side of the building.

 

16. One end of the building is almost in the Guemes Channel. It was probably a fish processing plant. It would have been a smelly, miserable job a hundred years ago.

 

17. Working the scene with different lenses. This was taken this summer, when the blackberries threatened to crawl into the building. I used a vintage Takumar 28mm, f3.5 lens.

 

18. This view was taken with a different vintage Takumar lens, a 50mm f2.8.

 

19. How much longer will the old building stand?

 

To the Mountain!

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“The Mountain” in this case, is Mt. Rainier.  A powerful presence in the Seattle area, Mt. Rainier has an elegant silhouette that always turns my head. It rises on the horizon like a grandly elegant queen dressed in pale silk and dark velvet. Even for those who only see a huge dome of ice and rock, it’s a commanding feature of the the local landscape. Below, Rainier on clear days in June and November from Seattle.

 

The destination most people visit when going to the mountain is called Paradise, and for good reason. Paradise is stunning. It offers scenic trails that accommodate everyone; families, serious hikers, and people in wheelchairs can all wander together through mountain meadows and gape at breathtaking vistas.

But Paradise gets crowded.

Arrive after 10 am on a summer day and you’re probably going to park in a distant lot and then trudge uphill to the trailheads and lodge. We went to Sunrise, on the southeastern side of the mountain. It’s not as crowded, it offers plenty of spectacle, and at 6400 feet, it’s the highest place you can go on the mountain in a vehicle.  Rainier’s icy summit is much higher – over 14,400 feet – and getting up there is a whole different matter, best left to those in top physical condition.

As you switchback your way up the mountain towards Sunrise, Rainier is a formidable white beast looming overhead.

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Partly due to its abrupt rise from the foothills below, Mt. Rainer makes its own weather.  Air warmed by the sun rises up the slopes, then it cools and clouds are created. When viewed from Seattle and the suburbs, the mountain is often graced with a frothy, cumulus cloud necklace around its middle. Sometimes Rainier sports a stylish white cap of clouds, and once in a while a curvy lenticular (lens shaped) cloud parks over the summit. The mountain has many faces, many moods.

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When we arrived this time, the top of the mountain was draped in clouds.  I enjoyed watching them continually coalesce, dissolve and re-form in a mesmerizing, vaporous dance.

It’s all part of the pageantry.

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Above, Emmons Glacier (the largest in the continental US) can be seen coming down the flank of the cloud-covered mountain, with the White River at its base and Frozen Lake to the side of the river. Little Tahoma, a satellite volcanic remnant of Rainer, is the craggy peak to the left.  Tahoma was the native name for Mount Rainier before British Captain George Vancouver named it for a friend, Rear Admiral Peter Rainier. I won’t go into my opinion of naming places after powerful friends instead of choosing a name that describes the place itself. Or how about honoring the name already given to the place by earlier inhabitants? You can guess my feelings on the matter.

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Above, the White River braids through the valley. Originating from the Emmons glacier, the river flows 75 miles before meeting the Puyallup River, which empties into Puget Sound. The sound’s tidal water flows through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which empties into the Pacific Ocean.

I imagine that a fist full of ice on Rainer’s summit at 14,400 feet might eventually become water deep in Puget Sound, perhaps 900 feet below sea level. The locations are only 75 miles apart as the crow (or raven) flies: over 23,000 feet difference in elevation, in just 75 miles.  Imagine Pacific Ocean water evaporating into clouds that drift east and eventually fall as snow somewhere up on Mt. Rainier: the circle is complete.

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For a moment the clouds drift away and the summit emerges. The air is crisp with breezes that seem to emanate from the purest places. Butterflies float across my path and sip from lavender alpine asters. I hear a raven croak, it appears overhead a minute later, then disappears in silence. I peer at the mountain’s surface, fascinated by the glacier’s curved fissures and cracks. They look tiny from where I stand, like wrinkles, but these are the deep crevasses that form as glacial ice glides over the mountain’s rough surface, and they claim lives. Just days before we came to gaze at this glacier a climber fell into a crevasse while descending from his summit climb, and was killed.

Great beauty, great power.

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The Silver Forest Trail at Sunrise is well named. The area saw a serious fire years ago; now, tree skeletons are scattered about the terrain like giant beasts and sculptures, some still upright, others long since collapsed. Each one nourishes the flora and fauna here, as it slowly decomposes.

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It’s sad to see the mountain disappear in the rear view mirror. I want to go right back up! Until next time……..

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The West is East of Here

 

Here are images from my recent trip east, where I roamed around the West.

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Confused? Well… Washington is geographically in the western United States, but only parts of the state look like our idea of the “West.”  The Cascade Mountain Range divides the state in two: western/coastal Washington and central/eastern Washington. The western side of the mountains, where I live, has a wet, temperate climate. Industry and technology drive the economy, especially in and around Seattle. On the eastern side the weather is much drier, the population more sparse, and agriculture takes precedence over technology or industry.  That’s where I expect to find remnants of America’s “Wild West”  – but I have to travel east to get there.

 

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The Govan Schoolhouse. Photo taken with a film camera and processed in Silver Efex.

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The shingles are loose, the floor is rotten, and birds scatter and cry foul if you get too close.

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The schoolhouse roof has seen better days.

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More old buildings in Govan that seem to embody a life of hard work and practical values.

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A deserted home welcomes plants more than people these days. Photo taken with a film camera, processed in Silver Efex.

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The town of Curlew still has a false-fronted saloon and a general store, but miners no longer come looking for moonshine.  Around the corner…

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An old Seagrave fire truck from about 1949 gathers dust and dirt. 

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The Curlew bridge. It hasn’t been altered since it was built in 1908, and still features a wooden roadbed. Center your wheels!

 

 

Sadly, Riverside’s Detro’s Western Store is going out of business after 71 years. Western boots are on sale, along with saddles, hats, and rodeo equipment.

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Down the street from Detro’s Western store, a weathered building has an aura of neglect.

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Another anonymous building in Riverside.

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The stretch of small town shadows and summer afternoons is mighty long.

 

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A bike in front of the store has been left out a little too long, but it sure adds to the charm.

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A cigar store  Indian stands guard at the grocery store in Riverside.

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A life-size, sculpted Indian on horseback gazes into the distance. He’s part of an extensive Wild West collection at the Black Bear Motel in Davenport.

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In Metaline Falls, architectural details recall a more prosperous past.

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There’s plenty of room to spread out, here among the rolling hills.

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It seems that everywhere I look, whether at an old storefront in town or a grassy field outside of town, colors are subtly weathered, from the harshness of the elements.

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An unidentified wildflower, past bloom but still beautiful, graces a vacant lot.

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A barbed wire fence, a bullet-ridden old can, and utter quiet in Lincoln County.

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This pretty Mariposa lily hosts an insect convention.

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One lone tree stands vigil amid grasses and wildflowers.

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Glacial erratics are scattered over the earth in Douglas County. A National Natural Landmark, the area was on the edge of an ice sheet several million years ago; these giants were left behind.

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The empty road reminds me of all the people who have come west, looking for freedom and a new life.

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Why do we take photographs when we travel? To remember. In the emotional rush that is the excitement of new places, there often isn’t much consideration given to the best angle, the best settings, or how to compose a picture that tells the story – we aren’t even sure what the story is sometimes. We just want to record, and sometimes that means less than optimal images. But each time we travel we get a little better at remembering to work the image, to make it more than a snapshot. There’s another factor that motivates me – I’m looking for patterns. Not just patterns within a particular frame, but patterns across time that are connections to other images from other places.

This post is presented as a visual narrative of a particular trip, but also carries forward ideas I have about beauty and loss, the intrigue of form and shadow, and maybe, an expression of the fullness of spirit that sometimes finds me, in the best moments of forgetting.

 

 

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Other Roads

Our trip to the Kootenay region of British Columbia hit a snag, and roads led us

elsewhere.

I found the four elements arranged themselves nicely,

anyway.

Fire, earth, air, water – we felt them all, sometimes

painfully.

The heat was oppressive and we had a bad meal or two. But smile-inducing surprises

found us.

And visual delights?

I found them.

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Pastels soothe the eyes and in the distance, power giants loom, but delicately.

We were there, and

Yes, you’re here.

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Here is an arrangement of images, reflecting various arrangements of the four elements, as seen on my trip through central and eastern Washington State.

 

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First Photo:  A rural road in Douglas County, central Washington State. There were 849 farms in the county at last US Dept. of Agriculture census in 2012. The average age of the farms’ principle operators was 59, and farms produced $327,190,000 in wheat. (Earth)

Second: Trail marker at Ohme Gardens, Wenatchee.

Third: Rushing water at Deception Falls, Cascade Mountains, near Skykomish. (Water)

Fourth: Detail of the Tumwater Pipeline Bridge. In the 1890’s the bridge supported a wooden pipe carrying water to power the Great Northern Railroad as it climbed Stevens Pass. Now it is repurposed as part of the Tumwater Pipeline trail. (Earth)

Fifth: A field of Yarrow behind barbed wire outside the ghost town of Govan, Lincoln County. (Earth)

Sixth: “Amber waves of grain” – and green, Lincoln County. (Earth)

Seventh: More wheat fields outside Govan. (Earth)

Eighth: An old windmill in a wheat field, at 60 mph. (Air)

Ninth: Shingle siding on the old Govan Schoolhouse, built in 1905. The small town has slowly faded over the years and is now marked by a grain elevator and shipping terminal.  The steeple came down two years ago; there are many photos of the two room schoolhouse online, with the steeple intact.  (Earth)

Tenth: Plants press against an old window at a general store, Riverside. (Earth)

Eleventh: Lungwort lichen (Lobaria pulmonaria) on a tree at Sweet Creek Falls, between the old mining towns of Ione and Metalline, in Washington’s northeast corner. (Earth)

Twelfth: The Tye River eases over rock at Deception Falls, about 13 miles west of Stevens Pass. Nearby, on January 6, 1893 the last rail spike was set to connect Seattle to St. Paul, Minnesota, and through to the east coast.  Echoes of revolvers and the shouts of men on a winter night marked the achievement of over 1800 miles of track laid down across the West. Twenty-four years earlier the first transcontinental railroad had been completed in Utah; the privately financed GN was now the northernmost rail line in the states. Nearby Stevens Pass is named for its discoverer, John Frank Stevens, who engineered the Great Northern Railroad and later was chief engineer of the Panama Canal. (Water)

Thirteenth: Water roars through a narrow passage at Deception Falls. (Water)

Fourteenth: An old tree root, probably Western redcedar, at Ohme Gardens in Wenatchee. (Earth)

Fifteenth: Forest fire damage in the Colville National Forest, seen from Boulder Creek Road at 60 mph. The Stickpin Fire of 2015 originated with a lightning strike on August 11th. By early September the National Guard, helicopters, and crews from distant locations were on the scene working to contain the fire. It was just 36% contained on September 8th, almost a month after it began, The fire was one of many across the region that year. Three firefighters lost their lives on August 19th when fire enveloped their vehicle in a separate fire east of here. By that time, 600 square miles were burning across Washington. The road this photo was taken from was closed, people miles away wore face masks outdoors, and evacuation orders were issued for some areas.

–  From the Barreca Vineyard blog: “The valleys filled with smoke, the ghosts of dead forests from the mountains around us. We wore breathing masks outside. Ash rained down on buildings, cars, the garden… Fire camps sprung up in Colville and Kettle Falls. You would see helicopters and planes flying here and there to fight the fires.”

By the end of October the 73,392 acre conflagration was 82% contained.  The Incident Commander planned ongoing patrols and mop-up repair work. Today, fireweed blooms among blackened pine trees.  (Fire)

Sixteenth: The Tumwater Pipeline strut work casts shadows that would make an engineer happy, though now they fall on a flat trail bed instead of a rounded wooden pipeline. (Earth)

Seventeenth: Another view of forest fire damage in the Colville National Forest.  (Fire)

Eighteenth: An unidentified wildflower in a vacant lot by an auto parts store, Omak. If you have any idea what it is, let me know!  (Earth)

Nineteenth: Hay bales ready for pick up outside Curlew. (Earth)

Twentieth: Looking up into a wheat field planted hard by the road in Lincoln County. (Earth)

Twenty-first: Summertime on the road, eastern Washington. (Air)

** There is an admitted arbitrariness to these elemental assignments. And let’s not forget spirit, an element that may weave through it all.