[/caption] One of the best areas to visit Mt. St. Helen’s is via the Windy Ridge viewpoints and trails. It’s the furthest from any of the other areas but it’s well worth it. Since there are no roads that connect the Johnston Ridge and the Windy Ridge area, you have to make the long drive from either the south or the north. It’s 128 miles, one way, from Portland, which made this the longest one day drive I’ve done so far. However, it’s well worth it. I passed several camping areas, which would make for a great couple of days. There are endless amounts of trails throughout the entire wilderness area. The Windy Ridge highway have close to a dozen viewpoint areas that have trail access. Every parking area was in fantastic shape. The highway was clean and smooth and the viewpoint areas had ample parking and some had picnic benches and bathrooms. I was extremely surprised at how well it’s maintained. It had a National Park feel and look. However, the drive is very long and windy. There are several twisty areas that cause you to slow down a lot. This will add an hour to your drive. I also found a small herd of elk standing on the highway at one point. You really need to be cautious when driving here. There were three hikes that I did on this day. The picture shown was taken along the Independence trail. On this trail I came upon a large herd of elk that were resting under some trees. I watched them scurry up the hillside. It’s also amazing how much pumice lay within the wilderness area and the amount of wildflowers scattered within them. The trail leads to an awesome viewpoint of Mt. St. Helen’s, Spirit lake and a panoramic view of the logs in the lake. You can also see just how immense the destruction of the landscape was. The entire wilderness was stripped of its trees and now lays in Spirit lake. St. Helen’s caused the largest landslide in recorded history and it hit Spirit Lake at some 150 mph with a tree-clogged, toxic mudflow that sent the lake sloshing more than 800 feet up the opposing bank. What had been a pristine, alpine lake ringed by old-growth conifer forests suddenly became a hot, toxic sludge hole. You can also see Mt. Hood in the distance as well as Mt. Adams. Mt. Rainier can be seen at the top of Windy Ridge viewpoint, which is a steep but short hike up the hillside. To get this shot I made sure to attach my UV filter as well as my warming filter and my CIR-PL. It was around one o’clock, so I was having to adjust my white balance quite a bit. I never used my tripod due to the huge field of view and the brightness of the sun. I had the ISO set at 100 and the aperture at F-8. I had the camera set at Auto Exposure, the shutter speed was at 1/600 second and the white balance at -.7. I was using my 12-24 wide-angle lens and had the focal length at 14mm. This wasn’t my best shot of the day but I wanted to show as much of the area as possible. Everywhere around you allowed for a great photo opportunity. The Harmony Falls trail allows you the only trail down to the edge of Spirit lake and it’s worth it. You can feel the warmth of the lake as well as the frigid cold creek bubbling out of the earth. There is a small waterfall which allows for a great place to cool down but the water is frigidly cold. I had collected some pumice stones and waited to see how long it took them to sink in the lake and suddenly a huge trout swam from beneath the logs to investigate. The Windy Ridge trail is the start of the volcano and the glacier hikes as well as several other shorter hikes within the wilderness. If you live in the area and don’t have the time to visit a National Park, I highly recommend this area. It’ had National Park written all over it and offers some of the most unique sights that other Parks can only dream of.
[/caption] I spent only one day visiting the John Day Fossil Beds and even though there are 3 different units throughout the area I only had enough time to visit one of them. The Painted Hills are the closest from Central Oregon and the easiest to get to. I also figured that the Painted Hills were the most interesting to photograph and I wasn’t disappointed. If you haven’t ever been here, I highly recommend it. Even if you aren’t a photographer, this is a spectacular place to visit. There is a hike that takes you about 3/4 of a mile above the Painted Hills and provides a 360 degree panoramic view of the entire area. You would never imagine that you’re in Oregon when visiting this place. It looks more like a colorful image of what the moon might look like. The colorful striped Painted Hills began as ash that erupted from the ancestral Cascades 33 million years ago and eventually settled in a massive lake here. The red color is from iron and the black from manganese and the yellow claystone was colored by trace minerals. Since you aren’t allowed to hike among the Hills, you can see several trails cut by the wildlife that lives in the area. I spent most of the day trying to figure the best position and area to photograph the Hills. In this photo, I made sure to get spectacular Sutton mountain in the background as well as the blue sky hovering above this ancient land. I’m not sure of the elevation of Sutton mountain but I’m pretty sure it’s at about 5,500 feet. I took over 1500 pictures and I’m still going through them but I thought this best shows the color of the Hills as well as the mountains that dominate the Painted Hills Unit. I never used my tripod since the sun was pretty bright and most of my shots were panoramic shot. I also didn’t have the patience to set up my tripod since I was constantly moving. I was like a kid in a candy store on this trip. I was using my uv filter as well as my warming filter and my CIR-PL. I had my 18-55mm lends on my Canon and had the focal length at 55mm. I had the ISO at 100 and I had to have the white noise menu at -1 due to the brightness of the sun. I had the auto setting on and the shutter speed was taken at 1/200 second. I was near the top of the upper part of the plateau when I took this shot and there was no shade to block out the sun. I pretty much had to just mess around with my camera when trying to get the best shots possible. If I had the time, I would have spent an entire week visiting the entire John Day Fossil Beds as well as many of the old ghost towns in the area.
[/caption] Thursday was the perfect day to take advantage of the nicer weather by hiking back in to the Gorge and along the Herman Creek Trail. This trail takes you along one of the most scenic trails in the area. You can hear the rumbling of Herman Creek and witness some of the most spectacular tree lined forests around. I keep expecting to run in to Big Foot whenever I’m on this trail. The entire trail is completely covered by a canopy of bigleaf maples and Douglas Fir’s, which is good if it’s raining. There are several areas that expose you to the awesome views of the canyon below and the forest on the other side. You can hear Osprey and Red Tail Hawk’s flying above you. There is only one smaller, less spectacular waterfall on the trail but the overall beauty makes up for that. However, there are several brooks that cut along the trail as well as several photo op’s to take of the creek. Spring and summer flowers grow along the trail whenever it’s near the canyon cliffs. I also always seem to run in to several snakes during the later part of the afternoon. I took this shot just .8 miles from where I parked. This area is one of the best spots to take of the huge basalt and tree lined cliffs that are on the other side of the creek. Because of the intense neon green vegetation and the numerous trees, I always use a tripod. If you don’t, your pictures will almost always come out blurry. The cameras sensor always seems to get confused by all of the greenery and camera shake doesn’t help either. Since the sun was directly in front of me, I set my exposure to just above 0 and had the ISO set at 200. The F stop was at 6.4 and the shutter speed was at 1/83 second. I was using my warming filter along with my CIR-PL. I was using my 18-55mm lens and had the focal length at 39mm. I had the camera set at auto exposure. I highly recommend this hike if your interested in hiking along a tree lined trail and enjoy witnessing some of the most intense colors the Gorge has to offer. There is also a popular campground near the parking area. However, you can hear the noise coming from I-84 and it’s very loud.
[/caption]It looks like summer is officially here. Nothing but clear blue skies and thundering rivers with cascading waterfalls dotting the Washington’s Lewis canyon. I’ve been wanting to hike the Lewis river trail for a while so I decided that mid May would be a good time to see the river swelled to it’s maximum. Each of the waterfalls cascading through the river were so high that it was flooding it’s banks and swallowing the lush neon green moss that usually protrudes out of the waterfalls. The water was moving so fast that I was forced to use a much faster shutter speed. The drive from Portland to the Lewis River is fairly long (100 miles one way) but it’s still a perfect day trip. Highway 503/90 are well maintained with only about 1 mile of gravel road to get to the park. I take this same highway whenever I’m going to the south flanks of Mt. St. Helen’s. Many sections of the trail were hit pretty hard by landslides during the rainy season which made parts of the trail fairly tricky. The forest service had a sign posting near the lower falls stating that the trail was closed at one of the many bridges that cross along several brooks and creeks. I decided to drive to the upper falls and work my way down to as far as the middle falls before driving back to the lower falls. The Lewis river was swelled to it’s fullest capacity. The waterfalls were thundering so fast that many of the smaller falls were overshadowed by water leaping over them and plunging to the other side. I was forced to set my shutter to as fast as 1/4 second due to the quickness of the falls. I witnessed several hawks cruising just above the river, probably hunting for trout. There were several catch and release trout signs posted so I’m assuming the fishing must be pretty good. To get this shot I had hiked just below the upper falls which has a really nice pool area with hundreds of drift wood resting on shore. I decided to get a shot with the blue sky in the background. I set the shutter speed at 1/4 second and the ISO at 100. Because the sun was so bright and it was so late in the day I ended up having to stack my filters in order to keep out the glare. I stacked my warming filter, ND8 and my CIR-PL and used my tripod. The F stop was at 10 and I intentionally under exposed the shot so I could bring out the blueness of the sky and the greens of the vegetation. I used my 18-55mm lens and set the focal length to 28mm. I highly recommend this hike. There are several waterfalls as well as small brooks and creeks that you cross over on small footbridges and there are several areas where the water is cascading down moss covered rocks. There is also an awesome trail called Big Creek trail just 10 miles west of the park. It’s a 2.5 mile trail that takes you to two huge waterfalls (Big Creek Falls at 125 feet and Hemlock Creek Falls 250 feet) and right to the edge of the Lewis Canyon with panoramic views of the area. Hemlock Creeks Falls are on the other side of the canyon so you will want a descent telephoto lens to get a closer shot. The other side is probably 2 miles or so.
[/caption] Friday was a great day to hike to the summit of Kings Mountain. However, the weather during the afternoon was much better than the morning. And I chose to hike to the 3226′ summit during the morning. It was cold, windy, rainy and very overcast for most of my hike. I was able to get this shot at a time when the sun was barely poking out for just a few minutes but for the most part it was pretty nasty. There was still some snow hovering around the higher elevations and it was a little slippery near the cliffs at the edges of the summit. This is the second time that I’ve hiked to the summit of Kings Mountain and it’s not for the fainted heart. It’s a grueling 2.5 mile hike straight up towards the summit with 2780 feet of elevation gain. This is probably one of the best vantage spots to gaze out towards the Coast Range with views in all directions. Some of the spring flowers were starting to come out but it was still a little bit early with very few wildflowers along the upper ridges. To get this shot I made sure that I was using my tripod since the wind was pretty bad. I used my 18-55mm lens and the focal length was set at 24mm. The F stop was set at 8 since it was pretty gray with limited light. I set the ISO to 200 and I used my warming filter as well as my CIR-PL. This is a great hike so I will be heading up again as soon as the weather improves and the wildflowers are at their peak. The Wilson River is also just below the trail with several other trails and picnic areas nearby. There are also several small to medium sized waterfalls close by.
[/caption] While taking photos at a local park, I had come across a killdeer and it’s four eggs. Since there were so many people gawking at the bird and it’s eggs, mom was having a hard time luring away the many strange faces staring at her nest. It was interesting to see how many times she tried to lure people away with her fake broken wing. I decided to post this photo since it was one of the few times that she was standing still right above her nest. I was standing about 5 feet away and used my 55-250mm telephoto lens at 250mm focal length. I removed my CIR-PL but kept my UV filter and warming filter to bring out the warmth of the brown colors. The F stop was at 5.6 and I set the ISO to 100. I used Auto exposure and I didn’t use a tripod. If you look close you will see that she has four eggs. I normally don’t take pictures of wildlife but this was a great opportunity and I couldn’t resist from taking these shots. I’ve seen several killdeer and even stumbled across one with it’s eggs but I’ve never been able to get this close with my camera in hand.