Royal Basin

In between finishing my dissertation and planning for an international move, we squeezed in a weekend trip to Royal Lake in Olympic National Park. I haven’t done a lot of backpacking, so the 7+ miles up with a pack was a big push for me (not to mention the return 7+ miles down, feeling every step!) The whole trip was stunning, and absolutely worth the effort.

The trail started in mossy forest, which sported funky fungi along the path, and followed along the noisy waters of Royal Creek. After some climbing, it opened out to rocky slopes and bits of late fall color (mostly vine maple, ocean spray, and slide alder). A few more miles and switchbacks to Royal Lake, at about 5100 feet. We set up camp here and climbed pack-free another 600 feet to the Royal Basin area, which features the rough peaks of Mount Deception, Mount Clark, and the Needles range rising above rocky mountain meadows. The crowning glories were the blue glacier-formed tarn, and the slim crescent moon hovering just above the ridge.

After a decidedly cold night, the return trip featured the sun creeping in to frosty meadows, calming time on mossy trails, and some final eye-catching mushrooms.

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Where the Elwha meets the strait

In August I got to attend a National Park Service event for volunteers who had worked on the Elwha restoration. After hiking around former Lake Mills, we visited the Elwha delta, where the river lets out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, between Washington and Vancouver Island. Before the dam removals, the delta beach was fairly limited. Removing the dams allowed enormous quantities of trapped sediment to move downstream, building up the beach into expanses of space for native coastal plants, birds, and other wildlife. A lagoon area has formed where thousands of seagulls were hanging out as we walked along. And I’ve been told it’s even improved the surfing options!

Someday after Whiskey Bend road is rebuilt I’d like to do a hike into the park following the Elwha upstream. How cool would it be to see the Elwha from source to sea!

Elwha Reservoir 2018

Nowhere have I been so overwhelmed by the transformative, vibrant power of nature as on the Elwha river. The transformation that occurs every season since the removal of the two dams on this is mind-blowing (also road- bridge- and campground-blowing, with the river restored to unfettered flood patterns).

In this place, too, shines the strength of restoration management, as the plants brought in to supplement the natural regeneration of this area take hold and promote others to grow. The riverbank lupine shown below has improved soil quality for a variety of species that follow it–much as other nitrogen-fixing species have done on Mount St Helens. Planted woody shrubs and conifers also claim space, even the ones that die in turn enriching the soil. It’s also fantastic to see the effects of microclimates–such as the small hollows near decades-old logs where seedlings are sheltered from the wind and sun–and straight, thin rows of cottonwoods where three years ago the water pooled for just long enough for the seeds to germinate and put down their roots.

I stand in awe here.

Reservoir Time

One of my favorite things about living in Washington is getting to watch the progression of the Elwha reservoirs as the vegetation and wildlife re-establish more each year. Pictured above is the former Lake Mills in the summers of 2013 (top left), 2015 (bottom left) and 2018 (on the right).

The dams on the Elwha were removed between 2011 and 2013, and I spent the summers of 2013 and 2015 studying the plant communities that colonized the drained reservoirs. Although recent floods have closed the road to public vehicles, you can still bike or hike in to see Lake Mills. I’ve actually been there three time this summer–once hiking in from the Madison Falls parking lot, once on a Park Service organized volunteers’ event, and once hiking down 5000 feet from Hurricane Ridge. I also made additional trips out to Aldwell reservoir and the Elwha delta, both of which are more easily accessible. I’ll post more pictures from those trips as soon as I stop hiking long enough to go through all of them!

Subalpine Wanderings

Five years ago, I took a hike off of Obstruction Point Road, in Olympic National Park. It was one of my top ten favorite hikes, with spectacular wildflowers interspersed with gnarled fir trees and snowy-splashed peaks. Last month I returned, hiking the Badger Valley loop with some wonderful naturalists. The 8.5 mile trail includes 2500 feet of elevation change (first down and then back up again!) through plant communities ranging from meadows to forest to alpine. I also got to see many of my favorite flowers: columbines, lupines, penstemons, larkspur, tiger lilies, and the bizarre elephant-head flower. Also orchids, two grouse, and corn lilies (one of the most “violently poisonous” flowers in Washington, according to my field guide), and Mount Olympus.

 

Sunset and Stars at Deer Park

The day before my birthday was unusually clear, with views across the Strait of Vancouver Island and to the east of Baker Mountain. It was also a night with no moon, and so I greeted my partner in crime at the door with great excitement–clear sky! bright stars! milky way!–and a packed picnic dinner. We drove up to Deer Park, a campground and lookout point in Olympic National Park, WA, and meandered the trail up to the top.

The view was indeed spectacular, and though we were joined with other photographers and hikers for the panoramic sunset, they all cleared out with the end of the light, and we had the starry night all to ourselves. Well, and one late-night buck who wandered in front of my camera, and paused long enough for my night picture set up (40mm equivalent lens, and a 4 second exposure) to catch his visit.

This was also my first time playing with combining multiple images together in different ways, using a couple of different softwares. There are panoramas, which are multiple horizontally adjacent shots stitched together (using Lightroom 6’s included merging). I tried one HDR picture where three shots were taken at dark, medium, and bright exposures, and then combined to get more out of the range of lights and shadows (in Affinity photo). And a couple of the Milky Way photos are also composites, with multiple 20-second exposures taken one after the other, and aligned to keep the stars bright, reduce background noise, and remove streaks from airplanes and satellites (using the Starry Landscape Stacker). I’m pretty happy with the early results, although I know there’s a lot more to learn about how much digital software can do–and how to make it look good.

More Mpala Mammals

On my first few game drives at Mpala, I saw more wild mammal species than I can remember seeing in the rest of my life combined. The later weeks did not disappoint, with a longer drive to the northern, drier areas of the reserve, different antelope species, the elusive straw-tailed whydah bird, charismatic reptiles, broad-shouldered raptors, and multiple elephants with young babies, including one that we watched nurse!

Backyard Birds at Mpala

Just over halfway through my trip to Kenya, my camera’s shutter broke. This is the murphey’s law well-known to professional and travel photographers, that cameras are most likely to break on big international trips when they’re not possible to fix or replace–and the missed photo opportunities are priceless. For this reason, many photographers will carry a second full-size camera with them when they travel. However, I am not a professional photographer and my second camera is a reliable but simple waterproof point-and-shoot, and while it takes pretty good landscape and macro shots, it doesn’t have much of a zoom.

Around this time, the rainstorms started, and all the birds changed their behaviors as they began nesting and breeding patterns. I was surrounded by stunning birds, but without my camera.

These pictures were taken with a friend’s camera, loaned to me for one day, and almost all of them were in the bushes around my house–and even perched on a string hanging between the porch columns! I’m so grateful to her for letting me borrow her equipment, and glad I had the time to sit and watch these beauties. Seeing a weaver bird build his nest from start to finish put me in awe of the complexity of creation. The paradise flycatcher was one of my favorite birds of the whole trip, and I was charmed he came to visit my porch on that day. Also pictured are a go-away bird, purple grenadiers, swallows, sulfur-breasted bushshrike, and a sunbird with incandescent feathers.

I hope you enjoy seeing these pictures as much as I enjoyed taking them.

Rains in Africa

Since the first afternoon we arrived in Kenya, storm clouds had been threatening to bring an early start to the rainy season. We worked hard to get the prescribed burns for our research project finished before the rains, each day looking anxiously out across the valley where other ranches were getting isolated storms. Fortunately we were able to finish in time, and just a few days afterwards, multiple bands of storms thundered in. It was amazing to see the intensity of the rainstorms, and how quickly the land responded! Plants started greening up in just three days, and week after the first storm the whole landscape was transformed. Animals changed their behaviors too, with birds starting their breeding and nesting patterns for the new season, and insects emerging in droves out of the ground.