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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Spring In The Northwest

Standing in stark contrast to its usual reputation, May in the Pacific Northwest is a month when the landscape comes alive with vivid colors

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Sunset over Point of the Arches, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington.

Trees in mist and seastack, sunset, Ecola State Park, Oregon.
Winters can be long in the Pacific Northwest...or maybe they just seem that way. But every year, in May, we get our payoff after the winter gloom: a glorious spring. For the next two months, flowers seem to bloom in every direction, the landscape takes on almost impossible shades of green, and thousands of waterfalls are at their spray-filled best.

For a landscape photographer, this is often the busiest time of year. Yes, the high mountains are still buried in snow, and the great alpine flower gardens are months away, but even in the lowlands there’s no shortage of things to do. What follows, then, is my own list of Northwest spring hotspots, places that make it onto my calendar every year in May and June, when I would rather be here than anywhere else in the world.

Consider this a road map for a dream trip through a great corner of the country. If the gods—and the weather—are on your side, you could do it all in two weeks. Even better, take longer and discover your own secret places. I’ll look for you on the trail.

Olympic Rain Forest, Washington
A trip to the Hoh River, or any of the other temperate rainforest valleys on the west side of Olympic National Park, is nothing short of a pilgrimage. In May and June, this is a universe of green—twisting vine maples burst with new leaves, carpets of ferns and oxalis cover the forest floor, thick mosses hang from the tree limbs like luxuriant beards, and massive old-growth trees will make you think you’ve stepped into The Lord of the Rings.

One thing to remember here is that timing is everything. Don’t bother coming to the Hoh on a sunny day. Invariably, you’ll make your best images with bright overcast, when soft light fills the forest and banishes the shadows. And don’t worry if it rains—it probably won’t last and soon everything will be covered with beautiful water drops. Whenever you come, bring your polarizing filter, an essential tool for capturing all those luscious greens, and a sturdy tripod.

Rock rose, endemic to the eastern Cascade Mountains, Wenatchee, Washington; Rainbow over the Palouse Falls, Palouse Falls State Park, Washington; Bigleaf maple, Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park, Washington.

Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
If there’s a more prolific, and spectacular, collection of waterfalls anywhere in the world, I’d like to know about it. No less than 77 cataracts, large and small, can be seen along the Oregon side of the gorge alone. Many of these create a neck-craning distraction along busy Interstate 84, but to see the best, park your car and walk; the gorge is filled with an excellent network of trails. One you simply can’t miss travels along Eagle Creek, at its best in late May. A short hike to legendary Punchbowl Falls is only an appetizer to a feast of mind-blowing scenery. Bring a bathing suit and sandals for the Punchbowl—the best view is from the middle of the bone-chilling stream. Not far away, meanwhile, is little-known Oneonta Gorge, a fern-lined slot canyon no more than a few hundred yards long, but with a hidden surprise at the far end: a delicate ribbon of a waterfall. Amazingly, although thousands of people drive past this little gem every day, chances are you’ll have Oneonta to yourself and a family of Steller’s jays. Full disclosure: You’ll get wet hiking in here, too, so don’t forget your Tevas.


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