[/caption] Mt. Rainier National Park is an amazing place if you want to witness one of the most spectacular wilderness areas in the Pacific Northwest. The snow was still on parts of the trails which means that most of the trails are probably still impassable. The lakes are completely swollen as well as the many streams and rivers. Don’t expect to enjoy the park on a short day trip since there is over a week of exploring available at the park. Unfortunately, I was only able to spend about 4 hours at the park since my wife and I had started the morning by visiting the Mt. St. Helen’s National Monument and then driving north through Randle, WA and then heading towards the Stevens Canyon Entrance which is in the South East corner of the park. By the time we were done we had clocked over 200 miles and didn’t get home until about 11:00pm. However, I would recommend this road trip to anyone that is interested in one of the most scenic areas around. We didn’t even reach the Park entrance until about 2:00pm so I knew that I had to hurry many of my photographs. Luckily we were driving on the south side of the park with Mt. Rainier in the north. This way the sun was behind me and I didn’t have to worry about too much glare. It was also later in the afternoon so the timing worked out well. We ended up driving from the SE Entrance and exiting via the Nisqually Entrance which is in the SW corner. There are so many places to view the mountain while driving on the main park road that you can really hammer out some great photos. I lost count of the amount of streams and creeks that we saw as well as the many waterfalls cascading over the rocks. Reflections Lake and Louise Lake are two great places to stop and take some great photos. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to drive up to Paradise Park, which I’m sure would have added another hour to our trip. I hope to make a camping trip to the Park early next month and hope to photograph the entire NE and South part of the park. The Park is literally overwhelming and I could probably spend an entire month here. It truly is an outdoor enthusiasts dream and well as a photographers candy store. This particular shot was taken at Reflections Lake. When I first arrived at this spot Mt. Rainier wasn’t showing its reflection so I would think that you need to wait until later in the day for the sun to move further west. I took the photo at about 6:10pm and the sun was behind me and to the left since that was true west. The sun was at about a 90 degree angle which made for the perfect photo opportunity. I walked down from the road and set up my tripod at the waters edge. I made sure to use my tripod, bubble level and remote switch in order to avoid any camera shake. I was using my Sigma 17-70mm lens and attached my CIR-PL and warming filter. I set the ISO to 100 and the white balance at -2 which caused the aperture to be set at F-4.6 and the shutter speed at 1/83 second since the camera made was in Program/Normal.
[/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.