Two weeks ago I went on my annual fall road trip. This year I decided to fly out to Seattle and start the road trip from there. I’d been out there on one of my first backpacking trips with my friend Ben probably about 11 years ago when I was just starting to get into photography but didn’t know much about it yet. We saw a lot of great places but didn’t come home with very many good photos. This trip was more of a driving trip with just some short hikes mixed in.
The flights were smooth and even landed 30 minutes early however things started on a bad note when my luggage didn’t show up.
I had to spend a few hours driving around Seattle waiting for the next flight to come in which would hopefully have my bag. When I do these trips, I typically camp in my rental minivan. I have NO idea where I’ll be from one day to the next and don’t have an address for the airline to ship luggage to so I had no choice but to wait for the bag as I really needed my sleeping mat and bag.
While driving around, I hit some highlight spots including gasworks park along with Golden Gardens Beach Park which provides a nice view of the Olympic mountain range.
Then I drove all around to try to find a nice view of downtown Seattle with Mt. Rainier in the background. I was not able to find the view I was looking for so I headed back to the airport through rush hour traffic to get my luggage which thankfully was there. I then drove to an area where I thought I would get the view I was looking for. It was still the wrong angle but I ended up shooting a 150 megapixel panoramic shot of the city.
I continued to look for “the spot” and realized I needed to head up Queen Anne street into a hillside suburb that reminded me a lot of San Francisco. I got there shortly after sunset so I missed the evening light hitting Mt. Rainier so I waited for the sky to turn a deep blue and shot a whole bunch of city shots.
It was beautiful seeing Mt. Rainier looming behind the city.
It got dark at 7:00pm and I new I wanted to start the day in northern Washington so I drove for a couple hours north to Bellingham where I got dinner and spent the night. The next morning I woke up at 4:00am to drive into the mountains via highway 542. It was a roughly 1.5 hour drive up to Mt. Shuksan and Mt. Baker. The road ends at Artists Point. I arrived at the end of the road well before sunrise. It’s been many years since I’ve seen such a beautiful and clear night sky. Stars were EVERYWHERE. I waited for the first hint of light and then started shooting some long exposure star photos which gave some cool star trail shots. I thought I was looking at Mt. Baker but it was so dark, I was disoriented and realized later that I was actually looking at Mt. Shuksan.
Prior to the sunrise I started exploring around Artists Point and found this beautiful pool of water to shoot a mirror reflection of Mt. Shuksan.
I then turned the opposite direction where I had a beautiful panoramic shot of Mt. Baker with the first morning light hitting the glaciers. It took an HDR shot to capture the light in the foreground and background.
Looking yet another direction, there were some beautiful clouds off on the horizon which were being lit by the first sun of the day.
By 8:00am I realized I had already been up for 4 hours and hadn’t eaten breakfast yet so I went back to the van, had some cereal and then shot a few infrared photos near Mt. Baker.
I started to head back down the mountain and took a few more photos of Mt. Shuksan with the morning sun. Mt. Shuksan is better viewed in the afternoon when the sun hits the mountain but that wasn’t going to stop me from shooting some pictures.
As I headed back down the mountain, I stopped for a quick look at Nooksack Falls which is an incredibly massive 100 ft high waterfall that is easily accessible to get to the viewpoint.
I spent some time exploring the river and woods nearby.
At this point it was around 11:00am and time to head into the cascades. As I was driving across US-20 to head into North Cascades National Park, I stopped to photograph a few scenes near the side of the road.
Driving through the cascades, I was not that impressed. Although pretty, the whole park is a massive hydroelectric project. One of the highlights is Diablo Lake where the view is also tainted by power lines that run around the whole edge of the lake. I planned to have lunch enjoying the view but it was INCREDIBLY windy so I sat in the car and ate (3:00 pm).
Next stop was Rainy Lake on top of Rainy pass. This was now outside of the park. It was odd that the landscape actually got more beautiful as you left the park. The top of rainy pass was quite…well…rainy. It was grey and overcast and didn’t provide much of a scene at the lake itself however, there were some nice photos along the way.
The highlight of this area is definitely Washington Pass which provides an incredible panoramic overlook. I took a nearly 150 degree panoramic image made up of 12 photos that I stitched together.
The dramatic sky provided the perfect opportunity to sit and wait for the drama of sunset.
After the sun went down I drove a few hours to the old west styled town of Winthrop, WA where I stopped for dinner and for the night.
The next morning I woke up early to do more star photography but it was overcast with just a few stars showing through. I started the drive down towards Lake Chelan and made sure to stop as the sun was coming up.
As I continued down highway 153, I found a few nice spots along the way for some pictures.
As the morning progressed, it was very hazy and foggy which created some eerie scenes which are always fun to get pics of. This was along the river by highway 97 just north of Chelan.
I drove to Lake Chelan but it was a massive lake that was pretty built up. The clean and pristine areas are farther north but not as accessible and the light was not good for photos as it was now nearly 10:00am. I continued on to a Bavarian village called Leavenworth where they were getting ready for their annual Octoberfest. People were dressed in Lederhosen and the building were all adorned with flowers on the balconies just like in southern Germany.
I then decided to drive towards Mt. Rainier. I love it when the GPS takes me through some country roads as it provide a lot more photographic opportunities than if I was on the expressway.
On the eastern side of the cascades, it is very dry and almost desert like. There are lots of vineyards and the landscape and trees reminded me a lot of Tuscany in northern Italy.
I saw some beautiful little steams, farms, ranches and horses, etc.
This is when things started to get interesting.
The GPS was showing that I was roughly two hours from Mt. Rainier. The roads were nice country roads driving by ranches and farms. Then the ranches turned into cottages and the paved road turned into gravel. Then the cottages grew sparse and the gravel road turned to dirt. Then the cottages ended and the dirt road turned into a REALLY potholed crazy dirt road. It was extremely narrow, hilly, and definitely not the kind of road to be driving a two-wheel drive rental minivan. I looked on the map and there really was no other way to go to get to Mt. Rainier without a major detour. I figured that I was probably going to be on this road for a short time until connecting with another paved road. I drove for about 6 miles which took nearly half an hour due to the road conditions. I started to get freaked out and realized that if I broke down out here, NOBODY would find me. I also realized that this forest road was going to take me over the mountains and I had roughly 30 miles to go before getting to a better road. There was also a concern that at any point, the road could become un-driveable or I might have to do a river crossing or who knows what else. I made the UN-macho decision to turn around and take a nearly 2.5 hour detour back to the main highway and around the mountains to get to Mt. Rainier. This was not a fun decision as I would now have VERY little daylight left by the time I arrive in Mt. Rainier and there was 2 days of storms coming so today was pretty much it.
As I got closer to Mt. Rainier National Park, the natural beauty was everywhere. I came across this peaceful scene of a couple guys fishing on a small lake with a mirror reflection of the trees.
I entered the national park from Highway 12 and as you come around a bend you get an ominous view of Mt. Rainier. The clouds were starting to come in and collect near the top of the mountain.
As you drive closer to the mountain, it becomes so big that it fills your entire windshield. The size of Mt. Rainier is just incredible to see.
I drove up to Tipsoo Lake which is near the intersection with highway 410. It provided very peaceful mountain scenery.
Driving up to Tipsoo Lake, was only a mile or two from the Mt. Rainier loop road but it has some serious elevation gain which provided an incredible view of the surrounding area.
One of the highlights of Mt. Rainier is the road to Sunrise Point. The road has switchbacks up through the trees until you get above the treeline and get panoramic views of the whole area. At 6400 ft. and above the trees this place provides one of the most amazing sunrise locations in the world. This was actually the location that I wanted to propose to Cheridy but when we were out here in 2001, it was a rainy snowy day and the road was still shut down due to heavy snowfall and it was so cloudy you couldn’t even see the mountain. That’s a whole different story.
Unfortunately I was there at sunset this time instead of sunrise. I would have spent the night and waited for sunrise but a storm with 100% chance of rain was coming any minute. Mt. Rainier was already starting to be shrouded by the rain clouds but with the sunlight backlighting the clouds and the mountain, it still provided for some amazing pics.
I started to head back down the mountain and stopped for some other incredible views.
My goal was to try to find the location that I actually did propose to Cheridy. I knew it was along the southern edge of the loop road. Unfortunately sunset had already happened and I was losing the light of day and I was hoping to get one more shot of Mt. Rainier from Reflection Lakes. I tried to find the proposal spot but there were just too many similar turnouts and I didn’t have the time to stop at them all so I had to keep going. I got to Reflection Lakes just as the rain was starting. By this point the rain clouds had completely enveloped Mt. Rainier and it was interesting to watch as they collided with the massive mountain.
With the rain here and the light of day gone, any more photo ops were pretty much done. I stopped for dinner and to sleep for the night. With two days of heavy rain in the forecast, there wasn’t much for me to photograph so I decided to head down to Oregon to visit my good friends Eric and Shawna Anundi.
The next morning I started driving south and stopped at a few locations before first light to capture the misty rain clouds hovering on the pine forests of southern Washington.
Before getting to Eric and Shawna’s house I stopped off at the amazing Multnomah Falls along the Columbia River. It was raining VERY hard when I got here so I did my best to keep my camera gear underneath a small umbrella while I setup my tripod to do some slow exposures of the waterfall. Waterfalls are one thing that are still great to photograph in the rain.
As I got closer to their home, I drove through lots of farms which always make for interesting photos:
The rest of the rainy day was spent catching up with Shawna and Eric, watching football, and relaxing.
Another day of rain was forecast but I knew that most of the day would be spent doing the 5.5 hour drive into the Olympic mountains in northwestern Washington. The weather was TERRIBLE until I got near my destination. Once I arrived at the Olympic Peninsula, the rain was just starting to clear which is always an AMAZING time to be out photographing in the mountains. There were some spectacular scenes with the clouds rolling through the hills.
My goal was to head up to Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park to watch the sunset. At 5200 feet, Hurricane Ridge sat right in the middle of the breaking clouds which was one of the most magnificent scenes I’ve ever witnessed. The wind was blowing so the clouds were moving quickly and with each passing minute the light and the landscape looked different. I sat for almost an hour just watching the beams of light travel across the mountainside. Here are a few images shot from the top of the ridge.
With the position of the sun and the clouds, I was not expecting a great sunset from Hurricane Ridge so I decided to do the two hour drive out to the ocean to watch the sunset. Unfortunately this meant blazing through the park and barely having any time at all to appreciate the pristine beauty. I passed by the amazing Lake Crescent but only had time to stop for a few quick photos.
I had to hurry to make it to the ocean before sunset. There were a few locations that I had picked out which had dramatic rock formations and sea stacks. The one I chose to try was Second Beach.
What I didn’t know was that when you park for second beach, it’s nearly a mile walk through the woods to get out to the beach. I had to run through the muddy trail to make it out there before the sun went down. When I got to the beach, I was NOT disappointed. It was an incredible place. Unfortunately there were not dramatic clouds to make a dramatic sunset but that just required shooting and editing the pics a bit different to take advantage of the location.
I waited for the sun to go down so I could capture some of the dramatic evening light.
This was shot with a 6 second exposure of the crashing waves which is what makes it look like mist around the rocks.
The difficult part about waiting until after sunset was that I now had to hike a mile back through the woods in the dark. Once you get under the canopy of trees, the evening light pretty much disappears. The path was really muddy and a few times I sunk in to my ankles. Thankfully I had a pocket flash light with me to help me get back to the car.
After getting back to the car, I drove the few miles around to Rialto beach which I found was MUCH more accessible. I wish I had known that a couple hours ago!!
When I arrived, the moon was just about to set behind the sea stacks so I got one more picture before going to find some dinner.
After dinner I decided that since the weather was clear and sunny, rather than staying near the beach for sunrise, it made more sense to camp by the Hoh Rain Forest on the southwestern side of Olympic National Park that way I could get up and explore the rain forest at first light. Once the sun comes into the forest, it creates very spotty light that is difficult to photograph.
While driving out there, I decided to find a clearing to do some more star photography. Unfortunately I had to drive nearly an hour to find a good opening in the trees but it was well worth it!
I woke up early to find that I was the ONLY one in the Hoh rain forest. There were NO cars or people anywhere…it was kind of creepy. I got my camera out and did the short walk around the Hall of Mosses trail which provides some really unique hanging moss. This is where I decided to shoot a quick self-portrait.
After that, I headed back out to the ocean at Ruby beach along highway 101. By the time I got to the beach, the light was very uninteresting so I only took a few documentary photos that weren’t worth much. However, walking back to the car, the sun was coming into the forest and lighting up the undergrowth and it was really beautiful.
I had a choice that either I could drive back into the main section of Olympic National Park OR spend the day relaxing. Most of this week I was going nonstop from very early in the morning to after dark and driving hundreds of miles every day. I was TIRED! As much as I would have liked to see more of the park, I decided to park the van overlooking the beach, kick back, read a book, and take a nap. It was very peaceful listening to the waves crashing. I then headed back to Seattle, found a hotel where I could clean up and organize my gear for the night and then I headed back to my lookout point overlooking the city to get a few more night shots.
Here’s a map showing the whole route which was roughly 1800 miles: