Travelogue: Norway Pass to Mount Margaret

Mount St. Helens and Spirit Lake are seen from the Boundary Trail looking from the Mount Margaret Backcountry.

Mount St. Helens and Spirit Lake are seen from the Boundary Trail looking from the Mount Margaret Backcountry.

Two Saturdays ago, I took a trip to the Mount St. Helens area yet again. But this time I took a different route.

I had never been to the northeast portion of the MSH National Volcanic Monument, so I figured I would try to visit the Windy Ridge area. However, I thought Norway Pass looked like a good area to traipse around for a bit, so I cut that trip off a few miles early and headed to the trailhead.

The trek was about a good 11.5 miles there and back, good enough for some decent elevation gain and a great workout before I had to head back early due to the time of day. I did not have any nighttime equipment with me, otherwise I would have been out there longer.

I don’t have all the time in the world to post about my trip, but AllTrails.com has some good hike reports from people who have done the same hike.

Meanwhile, here are some of my own photos, shot with a 2013 HTC One and edited on my Surface Pro in Lightroom 5.6.

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Travelogue: Hiking to Coldwater Peak

Mount St. Helens seems to keep a watchful eye over a forest it blew down when it erupted in 1980.

Mount St. Helens seems to keep a watchful eye over a section of forest it blew down when it erupted in 1980.

Today, my friend Aaron and I took a hike to Coldwater Peak in the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. It was my fourth trip to MSH in the past two months, and this one offered the best views so far as the landscape and terrain changed many times throughout the hike.

The trail afforded us opportunities to get glimpses of four Northwest peaks: Rainier, Adams, Hood and the one looming closest, St. Helens.

In all, the hike totaled 12.7 miles and took 4 hours, 19 seconds of moving time to complete. We rested a few times, so our total trip time was a little over 6 hours.

I thought I would do something a bit different with this photo set and develop them in black and white. I think it gives the photo collection a different feel.

That peak in the middle was our destination. Coldwater Peak stands at roughly 5,700 feet.

That peak in the middle was our destination. Coldwater Peak stands at roughly 5,700 feet.

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A trip to Seaquest State Park

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Seaquest State Park is probably one of the least talked-about gems of the pristine landscape that is Washington state. Just five miles east of the small town of Castle Rock, the park offers a cozy camping and hiking experience in a setting that is home to an old-growth forest that tells quite a story.

My father worked at the park in the early 1980s, before I was born — and subsequently would take my brother and I to Seaquest many times over the years. We would walk the trails, see the changing scenery in the forest and then stop for lunch before visiting my dad’s alma mater, Toutle Lake High School just east of the park.

It’s a place I still enjoy to this day, and Saturday I took my first trip there in three years. It was as if the park is frozen in time and has the same tales of history to tell among the hundreds of thin tree trunks that tower over the forest floor like organ pipes.

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Saturday’s walk was much like many others I had taken throughout my life there, but my father and brother were not with me this time. Instead, I sought solitude in the forest after a week of emotionally draining work. It would prove to be just the remedy I needed as I trod slowly past damp moss, growing ferns and a thick mass of forest undergrowth that insulated me from the outside world.

Taking my camera into the forest might not have been the best idea initially, as a cloudburst spewed forth rain for 15 minutes, muddying up the trails and forcing me to seek shelter under a bent-over tree.

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I stayed under that tree for a time, but once the rain passed, the sun peeked out and illuminated the trail a shade of green more vibrant than it had been upon my arrival. Just that scenery change opened up a world of memories for me, as I remembered visiting my grandparents who lived just one road over from the service entrance to the park at my back.

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A part of the Seaquest State Park system exists on the other end of State Route 504, as a walkway takes one over the slowly-disappearing Silver Lake. There, you can see wildlife — especially small colorful birds — singing their songs and calling out into the open air.

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Silver Lake is interesting in that, as mentioned before, it is slowly disappearing. It is plainly evident by the presence of more greenery in the water than in years past when I visited there. But it is still a beautiful sight nonetheless, and one that I will always hold dear in my heart as an embodiment of everything Northwest, everything home: the trees, hills and beautiful shades of green that the rain so generously contributes to.

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I highly recommend taking a couple hours and enjoying Seaquest State Park. To get there, take Exit 49 from Interstate 5 and head east on State Route 504. The entrance to the park will be on your left, five miles from where you exited the freeway.

A day trip to the Long Beach Peninsula

My friend Megan and I took a trip to Long Beach, Wash., yesterday. Here are some photos. Enjoy!

A tourist snaps a quick photo of the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse over the Pacific Ocean on Saturday, March 23, 2014.

A tourist snaps a quick photo of the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse over the Pacific Ocean on Saturday, March 22, 2014.

A beautiful, cloudless spring day opened up a view of the Pacific Ocean as far as the eye could see.

A beautiful, cloudless spring day opened up a view of the Pacific Ocean as far as the eye could see.

Tree branches frame -- and partially obscure the view of -- the ocean as seen through Dead Man's Cove at Cape Disappointment, Washington.

Tree branches frame — and partially obscure the view of — the ocean as seen through Dead Man’s Cove at Cape Disappointment, Washington.

A young boy dances in the sand at the edge of the Pacific Ocean as the sun begins to set in Long Beach, Wash. on March 22, 2014.

A young boy dances in the sand at the edge of the Pacific Ocean as the sun begins to set in Long Beach, Wash. on March 22, 2014.

Two people and their dogs walk along the beach at Long Beach, Wash. at sunset.

Two people and their dogs walk along the beach at Long Beach, Wash. at sunset.

The Astoria-Megler Bridge dominates the landscape over the Columbia River as it empties into Youngs Bay.

The Astoria-Megler Bridge dominates the landscape over the Columbia River as it empties into Youngs Bay.

Only the penitent man shall pass: A day at the Ape Cave upper trail

To enter Ape Cave, you descend a set of stairs into a hole in the ground that suddenly becomes pitch black.

To enter Ape Cave, you descend a set of stairs into a hole in the ground that suddenly becomes pitch black.

One of the more interesting geological features of the Pacific Northwest lies right in our backyard in southwest Washington state.

Ape Cave was extensively explored in the 1950s by a hiking club known as the Mount St. Helens Apes, hence the name. Now people come from just about everywhere to explore the 2.5 mile lava tube that is administered by the U.S. Forest Service, in the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

Today, I met up with a cheerful and friendly group of guys from Vancouver, Wash., who invited me out to enjoy a hike in the upper portion of the cave, known as the more difficult of the two portions. I had previously hiked the lower portion with my father and younger brother when I was much smaller, but had never been to the upper portion — so I jumped at the chance to go.

Anyone going to Ape Cave should do three major things: (1) wear boots, (2) dress warmly and (3) use a bright headlamp. You’ll need your hands to do some clambering up through several rock fields inside the cave.

Once we arrived, we walked up past the closed gate to the entrance to Ape Cave (pictured above), where we promptly received our first sign the hike was going to be a bit of a test.

The beginning of the Ape Cave upper trail indicates the hike is a bit difficult -- multiple scrambles up rocks await.

The beginning of the Ape Cave upper trail indicates the hike is a bit difficult — multiple scrambles up rocks await.

The inner portion of the cave is wet year round — after all, we live in the Pacific Northwest — so being mindful of where you place your footholds is key. The trail through the cave, about 1.3 miles or so in length, alternates between rock fields and smoother portions of a path.

The group heads down a rather tame portion of the upper trail.

The group heads down a rather tame portion of the upper trail.

The first half of the cave includes several rock fields that you will absolutely need a headlamp for help navigating. In this instance, a headlamp is better than a flashlight, because you’ll need both hands…

…especially when you come to a portion called “The Ladder.” Members of the group helped each other up, and I have no shame in admitting I took the longest simply because I had the longest legs of anyone there…it was tough to swing my right leg over a portion of the giant rock wall. The Ladder is the toughest part of the climb by far.

Only the penitent man shall pass, and thankfully, all six of us were able to easily kneel before the Lord.

Teamwork is crucial when it comes to an area known as "The Ladder." Very few footholds exist on a rather difficult rock wall that must be scaled to continue.

Teamwork is crucial when it comes to an area known as “The Ladder.” Very few footholds exist on a rather difficult rock wall that must be scaled to continue.

Once you’re through The Ladder, the trail continues to alternate between rock fields and smoother paths — but it narrows and the scenery becomes a bit interesting. The structure of the lava tube is incredible to see in person.

The way Ape Cave was formed is nothing short of amazing. What's not amazing is people defacing the rocks by carving their initials and names into them.

The way Ape Cave was formed is nothing short of amazing. What’s not amazing is people defacing the rocks by carving their initials and names into them.

Perfectly formed rock walls on each side of the trail are common throughout Ape Cave.

Perfectly formed rock walls on each side of the trail are common throughout Ape Cave.

More rocks and narrow passageways await.

More rocks and narrow passageways await.

Looking over a piece of rock that had fallen somewhat recently.

Looking over a piece of rock that had fallen somewhat recently.

Close-up shot of the rock seen throughout the lava tube.

Close-up shot of the rock seen throughout the lava tube.

The hike through the Ape Cave upper trail is very good exercise. For me, it was an equally intense workout for my upper body as well as my legs, owing to the fact I used my arms to provide stability as I navigated the rock fields.

We killed the trail rather quickly — I think I counted an hour and 30 minutes or so — and we encountered a makeshift stairway that takes you out to the open once again, leading to a trail that takes you back to the main parking lot.

Stairway to Heaven. Saint Peter awaits.

Stairway to Heaven. Saint Peter awaits.

Looking down the ladder that leads back to the surface.

Looking down the ladder that leads back to the surface.

We stopped for a few minutes to gnosh on some granola bars and drink some water, then we were headed back for the main parking lot. The hike above ground was impressive in its own right, offering views of a vast forestland that covers most of Skamania County.

The Gifford Pinchot National Forest is home to tall trees and overall beautiful scenery.

The Gifford Pinchot National Forest is home to tall trees and overall beautiful scenery.

Ape Cave is an incredibly awesome trip, one that I highly recommend. The lower trail is perfect for a family excursion, and the upper trail is best suited for more experienced hikers. It’s not only great exercise, but a great experience in one of the more unique geological features of our wonderful region.

If you go, the easiest way to get there this time of year is to take Interstate 5 to Woodland (exit 21), head east into Cougar using State Route 503 and its spur route — then continue following that road as it becomes Forest Road 90. Take a left on Forest Road 83, then a right on Forest Road 8303. Signs directing you to Ape Cave are plentiful.

Orion is on the hunt

The stars Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka shine brightly as part of Orion's belt, as seen from the north side of the Chehalis-Centralia Airport on Monday, March 10, 2014.

The stars Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka shine brightly as part of Orion’s belt, as seen from the north side of the Chehalis-Centralia Airport on Monday, March 10, 2014.

I am slowly beginning to figure out nighttime star photography, and tonight I thought I would try something a little bit different by venturing a couple miles from my neighborhood and shooting the stars along with light from around the area.

Once my shift ended at work this evening, I drove out to Airport Road just north of the Chehalis-Centralia Airport, a perfect spot situated between Chehalis and Centralia. Recent construction to the north has rendered this stretch of road unimportant for the time being, so I pulled off to the side and click-click-clicked a few photos.

The clouds were just drifting away. I felt it relevant to include them in my photos as a sort of symbol of one of the last giant rain systems of winter pushing its way out of Lewis County, giving way to bright skies and a greater view of the world above us.

For those wondering, I used my Canon Digital Rebel T2i and my Rokinon 14mm lens. Everything was manual: Exposure of f/2.8 and 20″ at 200 ISO. I didn’t have my tripod, so I improvised by jamming my wallet between the lens and the roof of my car, clicking the shutter and just watching as it gathered the exposure. Worked rather well.

Longview Community Church in Longview, Wash., is dimly illuminated on a dark, rainy evening on Saturday, March 8, 2014.

Longview Community Church in Longview, Wash., is dimly illuminated on a dark, rainy evening on Saturday, March 8, 2014.

I drove to Longview yesterday, and on the way home I shot a photo of one of my very favorite buildings, the Longview Community Church by Lake Sacajawea.

It is a very historic church with some wonderful architecture, and some of my favorite sounds are the hymns its belltower chimes out to the neighborhood every hour on the hour, publicly praising the Lord.

But the church is not well-lit at night, and on a rainy night it seemed to have a sort of mysterious ambiance to it. I think it looks even more so in black and white. What do you think?

An air of mystery at a Longview community landmark

Tour de Puget Island: A cycling excursion across one of Washington’s hidden gems

A gorgeous day made for a beautiful ride across one of the hidden gems of the Pacific Northwest.

A gorgeous day made for a beautiful ride across one of the hidden gems of the Pacific Northwest.

Yesterday I took a day trip to one of the more charming and quiet places I’ve visited in recent memory.

Puget Island, Washington is home to about 800 people who all seem to enjoy a very calm lifestyle, away from the bustle of the city but close enough to populated areas that one can easily make the trip. Puget Island is located just south of Cathlamet, Washington and is home to scores of people of Scandinavian heritage who settled the island.

The island is located in a unique area where the Columbia River splits into two channels. Because of this, the only two ways onto the island by vehicle are via State Route 409 south from Cathlamet and over the Julia Butler Hansen Bridge, or by the county-owned ferry Wahkiakum, which shuttles people and their cars across the Columbia River’s south channel to and from Westport, Oregon.

I drove onto the island and parked my car just off the ferry terminal, where I stopped and chatted with an older woman who was walking her dog. She told me I would enjoy a bike ride across the island, especially around the areas that had some dairy farms on the island’s west side. She wouldn’t be wrong.

The starting point of my ride was the ferry terminal, at which point State Route 409 begins. Note the “Welcome to Washington” sign — this is as far south in this portion of Washington as one can go on land.

I attached my GoPro to my bicycle and began to ride the roads that traverse the island. Here are some still shots from the trip:

The beginning of my ride started at the southern terminus of State Route 409, at a ferry terminal.

The beginning of my ride started at the southern terminus of State Route 409, at a ferry terminal.

In the first few miles of my trip, I passed Heritage Bible Church, a historic chapel located on the west bank of Welcome Slough.

In the first few miles of my trip, I passed Heritage Bible Church, a historic chapel located on the west bank of Welcome Slough.

I passed pockets of evergreenery throughout the ride. The island is mostly flat, but home to some varied trees and shrubs.

I passed pockets of evergreenery throughout the ride. The island is mostly flat, but home to some varied trees and shrubs.

Puget Island's roads were wide open and easily rideable. Very little traffic travels to and from the island, and I had no trouble with cars passing at all.

Puget Island’s roads were wide open and easily rideable. Very little traffic travels to and from the island, and I had no trouble with cars passing at all.

Riding across the Julia Butler Hansen Bridge, built in 1939, was quite an experience. What a joy to see the sun in the distance, the river below and the hills of Oregon on the horizon!

Riding across the Julia Butler Hansen Bridge, built in 1939, was quite an experience. What a joy to see the sun in the distance, the river below and the hills of Oregon on the horizon!

Our Savior's Lutheran Church is located at the intersection of Welcome Slough Road and State Route 409. It is a wonderfully-designed building. Check out their website at http://www.oslcwa.org.

Our Savior’s Lutheran Church is located at the intersection of Welcome Slough Road and State Route 409. It is a wonderfully-designed building. Check out their website at http://www.oslcwa.org.

Back to the ferry terminal, the beginning and end of my ride. Thanks, Puget Island!

Back to the ferry terminal, the beginning and end of my ride. Thanks, Puget Island!

All told, I rode 27.2 miles across nearly every road on the island, including a trip over the Julia Butler Hansen Bridge for a bit of some incline training. Over the course of the ride, I was surprised at the number of cars — or lack thereof — that passed me on the left. My spirits were lifted by the drivers of the cars that passed in the opposite direction, as nearly every single person gave a friendly wave.

The scenery was gorgeous, and the weather was beautiful. Blue skies, hills with evergreen trees on the horizon and a historic community that one can tell takes visible pride in its heritage made for a very inspirational ride. The island is home to vacation houses, dairy farms and a small refuge for the endangered Columbian white-tailed deer.

Speaking of deer, I passed a few that were calmly grazing in people’s yards and walking along the road. They didn’t seem to be scared of me.

If you search the Internet for information about Puget Island, you’re not likely to find too much other than a few websites — and I get a feeling that might be alright with the fine folks that live there. I truly believe Puget Island is one of the Northwest’s hidden gems that lies just off the beaten path, as not many people who come from outside the area would deviate from State Route 409, which takes cars between the more well-traveled State Route 4 and the ferry.

Thanks, Puget Island, for a wonderful afternoon and a joyous excursion! I will be back to visit again soon.

Kansas City in black and white

There’s so much history in Kansas City, Mo., that I couldn’t help shooting photos of selected spots in the city while trying to maintain a historic or at least vintage type of aesthetic.

A few friends and I took the three-hour trip north yesterday, and while I shot roughly 50 photos, I tended to like five the most. The first is the city as viewed from the Liberty Memorial, the next two were shot inside Union Station and the remaining two were shot downtown.

Downtown Kansas City is seen from the Liberty Memorial.

Downtown Kansas City is seen from the Liberty Memorial.

The North Waiting Room of Union Station can hold thousands of people at any given time.

The North Waiting Room of Union Station can hold thousands of people at any given time.

The view from the observation balcony at Union Station offers a grand view inside one of Kansas City's finest buildings.

The view from the observation balcony at Union Station offers a grand view inside one of Kansas City’s finest buildings.

A view north toward downtown Kansas City.

A view north toward downtown Kansas City.

I-70 as viewed from the Convention Center overpass. I had to squeeze my camera through a slit in the mesh fence.

I-70 as viewed from the Convention Center overpass. I had to squeeze my camera through a slit in the mesh fence.

The man who could march no longer

A veteran carrying a flag in the Southwest Missouri Veterans Parade pauses after stepping out of formation as the parade goes on around him.

A veteran carrying a flag in the Southwest Missouri Veterans Parade pauses after stepping out of formation as the parade goes on around him.

The Southwest Missouri Veterans Day Parade made its way through downtown Springfield on Saturday morning with veterans, their families and members of an appreciative public paying tribute to the generations of military servicemembers participating.

I took on the assignment of photographing the parade for my job, and I really only had an hour to shoot it, so I decided to walk up and down the route in hopes of capturing some scenes I might not ordinarily shoot.

I snapped photos of the U.S. flag coming by as a young boy in a miniature Air Force flight suit took his hat off; the Missouri State University Band as they rounded the corner from South Avenue onto Park Central Square, and the people in the crowd as they waved and saluted.

As I walked along Park Central East near Big Whiskey’s, I saw three elderly men in formation who were holding up the American flag, the Prisoners of War/Missing in Action flag and another flag. Behind them were members of the Hillcrest High School Junior ROTC marching and shouting a cadence. I walked ahead a little bit and noticed that the three men in formation were down to two.

I stopped in time to look directly in front of where I was shooting. One of the elderly men carrying his flag had stepped out of formation and had grasped a side railing, clearly in some form of distress. I didn’t know if it was a medical episode or if he was simply tired; however, his breathing seemed somewhat labored.

The Hillcrest students were marching by, and an Army sergeant in dress uniform stopped to help and ask if he was okay. I began to walk back and hurriedly snapped the photo you see above.

I wanted to walk up and ask the man if he needed any help, but after turning around and walking a few steps, I turned back his direction and did not see him again. The photograph I snapped of him is the only visual evidence I have of that man, and it was an incredibly stark moment in what was otherwise a joyous occasion to celebrate the service of our nation’s veterans.

As I continued to photograph the parade, my mind kept going back to the man who stepped out of formation. The image of him no longer being able to carry the flag through the parade brought a tear to my eyes as I lifted the camera in front of my face numerous times simply to mask it from the public.

I don’t know the name of the man who could march no longer, but I’d be willing to bet that he likely knew that the frailties that beset him would render him unable to carry the flag the duration of the parade.

But frailties be damned, he carried it anyway, as far and as long as he could. He just could not make it to the end.

There is something remarkably emotional and strong about that, and there’s also something gripping about the fact he could not. It was as if the action of him stepping out of formation represented the veterans of this nation’s earlier wars slipping away — they survived the war and share stories of their service, but they can only remain with us for only so long.

That’s why, a day and a half after shooting that image, I can’t forget it.

And I don’t want you to forget it either as we go forward into Veterans Day.