Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Two-Day Trip to Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens with a Stay in Packwood

Part 2, July 19-20, 2013
(See Part 1, Below and More Photos at www.tripper.smugmug.com)

July 23, 2013

A chilly Friday-morning fog misted the evergreen trees around the motel's turret-anchored facade.
I followed along as Nora completed her early morning toilet, No. 1 first and then No. 2.
She spent fewer than 10 minutes at it.
Back in the room I informed the still covered Darlene, up to her nose, that we should have an overcast day on Mount St. Helens, which would be a good thing for photos.
By 8:32 a.m. we stopped at Cruisers on the highway in Packwood for breakfast, armed with a motel-provided ticket giving each of us $2.00 off a breakfast of two eggs, hash-browns, two slices of bacon, toast (either white or wheat) and coffee.
Or was it $2.00 off the total?
I forget, but I recall it as the former.
Then we drove 15 miles to Randle and began a wildflower-lined, 36-mile zig-zag-climb up the hill to Windy Ridge for an awesome close-up view of the volcano's caldera and the blowout across Spirit Lake, the result of the May 18, 1982 eruption.
And below the caldera, a thin, bright waterfall plummeted down what could be a very high cliff.

This would be my third or fourth visit since the 1982 eruption, including two with Sadie the Dalmatian.
Also, on the day the volcano blew, I attended an educator's conference in Portland, along with long-time colleagues Larry Vann and Brian Carter.
So, I have a slight history with the mountain.
So do Darlene and Nora. It would be their second trip to Windy Ridge.
As soon as the narrow, curvy road slanted upward like a tangled ribbon, we noticed a plethora of fox glove blossoms, pink ones and white ones, as well a yellow-mountain dandelions.
I stopped often for photos and eventually processed some images with High Definition Range software.

Then, before I could say there-lies-a-squashed-stinking-possum-on-the-asphalt, we rounded a curve above the mists and the ash-gray mass with a steam-seeping caldera blocked out much of the now blue sky.
I stopped more often for photos along paths around marked overlooks.

Nora and I strolled along a paved path to the edge of Meta Lake. Blown-down skeletons of once flourishing tall pine trees scattered across the rounded hillsides that hovered over the water.

After several other stops to gander at mounts Adams, Rainier and Hood, we parked at the Windy Ridge overlook.
I sucked in a breath at the scope of the view.

Then, with Nora on her leash, I took two cameras (fitted with a wide-angle short zoom and a medium-sized macro) and we headed for the steps up the hillside.
After a few steps, I let Nora go and she scampered ahead almost out of sight and waited only when I whistled.
As we reached the top of the steps, a man going down asked if I had counted the steps. I had not, but he said there were 439.
That sounded several hundred short.

Nora and I walked the trail above Spirit Lake to the top, pausing often for me to take photos of the timber-covered lake and the circumscribing ridges with the distant white Rainier bump to the north.

We spent almost two hours in the high-altitude sunlight.
So, on the way down the mountain, Darlene noted that I had sunburned my face and ears.
Ouch! And Drat. 
I shoulda slathered on the sunscreen, but forgot. Again. And my face felt really, really fried.
We stopped beside a sign announcing a waterfall at 500 feet below the road. Nora and I made the trek, and I plunged my head into the icy water. Mmmm. It felt good.

At 4:17 p.m., and unable to leave Nora in the steaming truck alone, we boosted sandwiches at a Randle store. We ate on the drive to Packwood.
Sunburned and tired, I lobbied to drive the 20 miles or so back to the Grove of the Patriarchs, which I had not visited in many years.
With no pets allowed, Darlene waited with a pouting Nora, and I walked the darkening trail alone. I snapped images of really, really big, really, really dead trees.
Without Darlene and Nora along to pose and show scale,  I had to make do with strangers.

I put lotion and cold wet towels on my face, then I tossed about most of the night. The bed sounded as if corn husks filled the mattress. Twice Darlene woke to demand, rather crossly, why I was making so much noise.
When I finally dozed, Nora growled as she stretch on back legs attempting to see from the open window.
It was dawn.
I got up to look, and a spike bull elk munched grass below the window. I called Darlene. She grumbled but got up to look.
I picked Nora up to see, and she yodeled at 11 decibels above ear-piercing and the Elk trotted off with 20-yard strides.
Darlene missed it.
Neither of us could sleep after that, so we readied for the trip home.
After loading the truck and driving four miles west to Packwood for our second breakfast -- a light one for me (one-egg, bacon, hashbrowns, toast) and a one-half-acre pancake with bacon for Darlene -- we headed home.
It would be 200 miles east via White Pass and Yakima or about 230 miles going north back through Rainier and Chinook Pass.
We chose the later.
As we neared the pass, a bank of misty fog clouds lay to the south above a wide timbered drainage where I presumed the Timberline Valley Motel awaited its next customers.

"It was a pleasant place," Darlene said. "All things considered."
Well, we had plenty of fresh towels but only one fresh washrag for the second night. We had no internet and no phone, although we had two cell phones that didn't work.
"It was big," I said. "And Clean. And big."  

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Two-Day Trip to Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens with a Stay in Packwood

Part 1, July 18, 2013

July 22, 2013

Despite of the clean, spacious and uncluttered room we stayed in for two nights last week, I thought of the Bates Motel.
A aura of dark loneliness surrounded it.
Shadowy park-like trees bordered the north side of the castle-like Timberline Village Motel. Several cabins lurked among the shadows.
Occasional vehicles, including roaring 18-wheelers, roared past on Highway 12 about 30 yards south of of the motel.
A thin, slow-moving woman in loose, faded jeans approached the desk from the back. She wore a tired expression and no makeup on her plain face. Stringy grey-streaked hair touched her shoulders. She spoke softly, took my driver's license to copy and handed me a receipt as darkness edged over the scene four miles east of  Packwood.
All three of us, Darlene, Nora the Schnauzer and I, looked about with trepidation as I stopped the truck on the gravel in front of Room 12, directly below our Room 26 on the second floor.
The steep, stone stairs to the second level drew a sigh from Darlene.
And from me.
We had spent nearly 13 hours driving and  from Walla Walla.
We aimed to see the famous field of glorious wild flowers that flourish around Mount Rainier National Park in late July and early August.
After crossing Chinook Pass, we visited Sunrise with many stops for photos on the way.
Abundant blossoms bordered the narrow roads, including foxglove, lupine, spirea, paintbrush, aster, monkyflower, pasqueflower seedhead, avalanche lily, mountain dandelion and penstemon.
I eventually processed many of the photos from this trip using HDR software, with interesting results.

Green grasses, however, dominated the slanted meadows below the mountain. We began to suspect that we had arrived a few day early (on July 18) to see the peak of the wildflower season.
As usual, we stopped often to photograph the stunning scenery, including lakes and peaks, as well as the awesome Rainier.

Darlene bought sandwiches and orange juice at the Sunrise cafeteria. The sun made it too hot to leave Nora in the truck alone, and we didn't see any tables in the shade, so we dined in the truck with the sun at our backs.
We drove south from Sunrise toward Packwood. As we approached the Paradise turnoff at a few minutes past four, we considered another drive to the top. We asked about the distance at the gate. The ranger suggested that we visit that evening  because  we would encounter less traffic than during the day and, since road construction had ended for the day, we would face fewer traffic stops.
So we did.
Yet, I stopped at least a dozen times for photos during the twisting 21-mile drive. Nora and I walked along Louise Lake and Reflection Lake while I took photos of the mountain and its reflection and the blankets of avalanche lilies.

As we left, we passed the Grove of  Patriarchs. The deepening shadows caused us to put off a visit.
That's when we drove on toward Packwood and the shadowy motel that had a "For Sale" sign out front.
And we had it all to ourselves that Thursday night.
Darlene declared our room to be "big and clean...and big."
"And clean," I added. "And big."
It also had no phone and no Internet connection.
And neither of our cell phones worked.
We felt a bit isolated at the Bates Motel.
Undaunted, however, we looked forward to a visit to Windy Ridge on Mount St. Helens on Friday.

Friday, July 12, 2013

More Wildlife (Herons-Deer, etc) Along Mill Creek

July 11, 2013

Sun-scorched days at 90-plus degrees stretched from late June through today, with one day hitting 111 degrees.
Alas, forecasters claim the century-plus mark looms again for Monday and Tuesday.
Nora the Schnauzer and I don't look foreward to more stuffy days  of sweltering beneath the living room ceiling fan and
dozing to the mumbles of old Matlock programs.
Double sigh!
Sure, we managed two-hour walks along Mill Creek on most of those days, in the evenings when cottonwood-tree
shade spread across the paved path along the north side of the creek.
The walks haven't been exactly cool, nor have they been blistering.
Unlike fairytale porridge, neither have they been just right.
Yet, we enjoyed them. I know I did. Nora acted like she did, especially on the college lawns. 
Well, I lugged along a camera with a long lens since we walked during the photographers' fabled "Golden Hour" of evening, 
when the setting sun provides exelemptory light for images. Actually, since we usually started at around 7 p.m.
and darkness set in around 9 p.m., we enjoyed two "Golden Hours."
During those two hours, adding to their enticement, the streamside wildlife (herons, kingfishers, osprey, mink, raccoons, deer, and
wild turkeys) roused to browse from panting though a sultry afternoon.

For example, youngsters from three (at least) great blue heron nests in the tall streamside cottonwood trees
have been feeding themselves in the stream.
On Monday five herons fished between the iron bridge at the project office, near Walla Walla Community College,
and the arching wood bridge half-a-mile upstream at Rooks Park.
The big birds stalked along the weirs and snapped up minnows and crawdads, as well as an occasional trophy
trout. Three night herons also hunted from the weirs and and the trees on Monday and Tuesday.
That's the day Nora and I detoured through the WWCC campus from the Mill Creek trail and back. I snapped four
cottontail rabbits, several quail and a spotted fawn.
The fawn lay in the shade of a flat-roofed campus building. At my appearance, it burst into a graceful sun-lit
gallop past the building, around the corner and into the dark woods. I snapped off 21 frames with the Nikon D3S
and the Sigma 150-500mm lens. They captured lovely images of the spotted fawn, sharp and near-perfectly exposed,
although I'm less than thrilled about the unsightly building as background.

Oh, well.
Also, on that day, I scored nice photos of herons launching or preening. Herons have a frustrating habit of
launching when I not ready. Not that day, with Nora's help. For some reason, each time I stopped to watch the
birds, she wandered down the bank to wade out onto the weirs.
That launched the birds, and of the four chances I missed one.

And, with the evening light disappearing, the birds' images printed out sharp bright and with dark backgrounds.
Alas, the same different happen today. With four chances to snap launching herons, I missed four. I either looked away or stepped in a hole 
 at the moment of launch. Oh, an once the camera didn't focus.
Too dark, I guess.
But the temperature had dropped to below 60 degrees.

Oh, well. It will rise again Friday.
And so on. ...