Last December after a winter storm, a friend and I drove out to Washington’s west coast. We went to Ruby Beach, one of my favorites of the Olympic National Park beaches. To my surprise, the storm hadn’t washed up much, but the trip didn’t disappoint, with beautiful grey skies and eagles overhead. And on our drive back, we came across a herd of elk occupying the Forks airstrip.
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.
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!
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.
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.
We squeezed in a late-September backpacking trip up the Elwha. Despite a bit of chilly rain, it was a really beautiful trip, and we camped near a creek that feeds into the Elwha River. I’m really glad we managed this last-minute jaunt, as winter storms have once again destroyed the road leading to this trailhead, and it may not be passable next summer.
To an ecologist, summer means fieldwork. It’s a time to get off our computers and get on the road, migrating to wherever our research calls us. Between early morning starts and hours of outside work, long summer days get used to their fullest. This year, my summer is split between setting up a new experiment in a section of the Sierras that burned in a wildfire last year, and re-sampling my plots in Olympic National Park, Washington.
It’s wonderful being back in the Olympics. The project I’m working on here, a restoration of the Elwha river after the removal of two dams, continues to amaze me every day. The determination required by legislators, engineers, and ecologists to turn a legal decision into a reality is astonishing and motivating. In both reservoirs, plants are seeding in, growing tall in hospitable soils of the valley walls and fighting for survival in the harsher sediment on the valley floor. Take a look at how much things have changed!
Everything is bigger and greener, and yet some things don’t change: I’m still climbing around on old conifer logs, finding amazing wildlife from insects to eagles, and generally reveling in the opportunity to spend every day outdoors and call it work.