Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Glimmer of Spring in the Pacific Northwest

Here in the Upper Left Corner USA, the first tentative signs of spring are starting to take hold. After a few months now of mostly slate gray skies, lots of rain, and bare deciduous trees, little tender green shoots and delicate blossoms are like an exhale of relief on the landscape.  

The natives (and non-natives) are waking up again.

I've been fortunate to have some daylight time to walk in the lowland forest near my northwest Seattle home to witness the emergence. Each year I look forward to seeing the sweet little snowdrops bursting upward through last fall's downed leaves in a patch of forest just north of historic Piper's Orchard in Carkeek Park.

Although these aren't native plants, these remnant bulbs from long ago, perhaps a century, have spreadSame for the crocus pushing up throughout an undeveloped corner down the block from my house. Like the snowdrops, not many have fully blossomed yet.

Down in the woods at Carkeek, the native Indian plums (Oemleria cerasiformis) are just barely unfurling. Within a few weeks or less, this will be an extravagant cluster of tiny white blossoms.

Although the forest is still pretty barren except for ubiquitous sword ferns and moss, it's these little treasures that add a spice of anticipation to my regular walks now.

Down at Golden Gardens on Puget Sound yesterday, I looked down and noticed the abundant English daisies are already well in bloom, bright and cheery.

Even the moss growing on decomposing logs in the woods is looking fresh and sending up new shoots.

So while the hillsides are wintry brown and the goldeneyes are still hanging around Puget Sound, if you observe more closely, glimmers of spring are increasing by the day.

 Barrow's Goldeneyes, seen in Puget Sound during the winter but usually gone by April.

Indian plum
 Is spring springing where you live? What signs of spring have you noticed?

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Northwest Museum Snapshots: Henry Art Gallery

Beyond busy downtown Seattle and Portland Art Museums, many smaller museums and galleries thrive in the arts-minded Pacific Northwest. Look for several to be featured this year here at Pacific Northwest Seasons 

A treasure trove of contemporary art in Seattle sits perched on the western edge of the University of Washington campus, just below the UW's iconic sculpture of George (Washington) himself.

Originally a small brick box of a building that opened in 1927, in 1997 the Henry Art Gallery completed a major expansion that quadrupled the overall gallery space and created an amalgam of quasi Neo-Gothic and contemporary architecture. I think this juxtaposition of new and old is part of the Henry's unique appeal.

When I was studying art history at the UW, I used to love to wander into the Henry and browse the manageable-sized galleries. I don't know about you, but I get sensory overload in big museums (and big box stores for that matter). While the Henry now has more space to exhibit, it still feels intimate. 

The old (left) and the new (right) Henry Art Gallery buildings

This rainy, cold January afternoon was perfect for getting a dose of art, so I drop by the Henry for the first time in a couple years. As usual I'm challenged, amused, and inspired by the art and installations there.

My first stop is, as always, the James Turrell Skyspace room (pictured at the top of this post and below). The first time I was here was for an intro to Zen meditation, and since then this space has hosted many more such events for quiet contemplation and perception-bending light displays.


Entry to this space is via the original entrance to the Henry, and I pass outside to reach this open-door, unheated room. It's about experiencing natural light and the elements, tweaked with a genius artist's touch.

Looking at the original Henry entrance from Skyspace

After sitting, absorbing the light, then taking photos, I sneak back into the warmth of the original main galleries.  

Right now the feature exhibit, The Body Draws, is the first major American exhibition of avante garde German artist Franz Erhard Walther's work.  His art is as much or more about the process than the finished product. So the exhibition features drawings, films, and fabric elements of his participatory events, of which there was one at the Henry earlier in the exhibition.

Franz Erhard Walther installation

As I stand and watch some of the films of the events, which are slow and deliberate, my natural impatience wells up until it gives way to the "being" of the artistic moment. Which is partly what his art is about.

Then I walk downstairs to the large lower level space, where a colorful exhibit by Californian artist Pae White is set up. I get so caught up in the sensory feast that I get reprimanded by a museum staffer who sees me walking into some of the display yarn on the floor, which I didn't notice. My bad.

Pae White installation

Then it's time for me to head back out into the damp January chill, where I enjoy the view outside the entrance back up campus to distinctly  not contemporary Suzallo Library.  

View toward Red Square and Suzallo Library

Like I said above: juxtapositions. I believe they make our lives richer and more interesting.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.

 When You Go
The Franz Walther exhibition runs through March 6, 2016. The Pae White exhibit only runs through Sunday, January 24, 2016. Besides the art exhibits, the Henry offers a vibrant menu of events, ArtBreaks, film screeningstalks & performances, and ArtVentures (second Sunday of each month at 2 pm). Here are directions to the Henry and hours/admission. Like many museums, it's closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.  There used to be a cafe at the gallery, but right now it's not operating. The guy who took my admission said they are seeking a new vendor to operate the cafe, so hopefully this year.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Winter Hiking in the Columbia Gorge: Wahclella Falls

Like a homing pigeon, I'm drawn to the western Columbia River Gorge's abundant waterfalls and lush green riot of moss and ferns whenever I visit  Portland. I always try to sneak up for a hike along the Gorge's many trails, some I've walked since I was a girl and some for the first time.

On a rainy morning recently I hiked to Wahclella Falls, a first for me. When I was growing up in east Multnomah County this trail near Bonneville Dam wasn't open for public access, but now it's quite popular. Of course. It's easy, relatively close to Portland (about 30 minutes east up I-84), and gorgeous.

When I get to the trailhead around 8:30 on a Saturday morning, there's only one car in the parking lot. Anymore that's pretty unusual on a weekend.

After layering up in fleece and a water-repellent shell, I start up along swollen Tanner Creek through a forest of moss-encrusted trees. It rained heavily the last few days, so there's a lot of water rushing down the narrow canyon walls into the creek.

Pretty quickly I cross a small bridge with a waterfall (Munra Falls) gushing beside the trail with the intensity of a fire hose.

Looking back down Tanner Creek to Munra Falls and bridge on the right.
This short and easy hike (1.8 miles roundtrip with just 300 feet of elevation gain) starts out fairly flat along the creek before rising gently. Right away I pass evidence of slides down the steep basalt canyon walls.

It occurs to me that hiking after a heavy rain in a slide-prone area is not the safest place to be. (Same goes for those icy days when traversing sections of trail with steep drop-offs.) Just the day before a woman had been killed by a landslide on the Oregon coast. So I proceed  with caution, a little more quickly than usual.

One of several slides across the trail.
But I'm rewarded with ethereal beauty that makes me feel like I'm walking through an ancient Chinese landscape painting.

Ephemeral waterfalls that aren't there in the drier months have sprung all along the trail, mingling with remnant patches of snow from a few days earlier. After a very dry 2015, it's fantastic.

Not too far from the Main Event (Wahclella Falls), I come to a fork in the trail and decide to stay high.  From here it's not too far down to the end of the loop trail. 

I can feel and hear the falls before I see it. And then there it is, flowing full throttle.

Wahclella Falls

With the rain coming down harder, I don't linger too long after taking a few shots. It's hard to capture the falls with all the mist and rain.

Looking back up the trail

Of course I can't resist stopping to take more shots along the way. I especially love the vibrant aqua green-blue of the creek between the mossy rocks.

And the moss!

Traffic is picking up on the trail on the way back. I'm always slightly surprised at how many more people are on the trails than when I roamed the Gorge as a teenager.

'Twas a short hike, but I need to return to Portland to meet up with some friends. I drive back west on I-84 along the Columbia River happy and refreshed from this morning dose of nature nourishment.

Do you have a favorite hike in the Columbia Gorge? Would love to hear in the comments below.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.

When You Go
The trailhead is about 30 miles eastward up the Gorge from Portland. From I-84, take Exit #40/Bonneville Dam. Turn south at the stop sign and drive about 100 feet. Stay to the right, which takes you to Wahclella Falls trailhead.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Skiing into the New Year

My New Year's tradition involves a road trip to the edge of Mt. Rainier, where I start the year off right with a brilliant bluebird day at Crystal Mountain. With stunning views of the Big Kahuna of Cascade volcanoes just a few miles away, it's hard to not get revved up for the year ahead.

With a series of snowstorms in December right up until Christmas, Northwest skiers and riders are flocking to the mountains to slake our thirst from last winter's drought. And the slopes haven't disappointed.

It's still dark when we leave Seattle on a freezing cold morning. Gonna be really cold up there in the mountains I think as I scrape heavy frost off the windshield. 

Even in the predawn, Rainier looms large on the eastern horizon. I snap a few windshield shots en route at 60+ miles per hour. (No I wasn't driving.)

The world is a little fuzzy this early on New Year's morning. From Interstate 5.
30+ minutes later, from Enumclaw

Even though we arrive before the lifts open, a steady stream of cars has already half filled the lower B lot at Crystal, and people are crowding onto the parking lot shuttle. Wait, isn't everyone else supposed to be nursing their New Year's Eve hangovers?

So we get our tickets (sigh, no reloading your card online anymore for that discount and bypassing the ticket line) and head on up.

After a few warm-up runs over on Forest Queen, it's time to go up to the top. Because of that view. 

And of course the great skiing down the upper bowls.

Probably one of the most popular photo spots in the state of Washington.
Looking back up Green Valley.
Of course it's a five-star day, with all five Cascade volcanoes in the state visible along with many other peaks that divide our region from wet west and dry east. Prominent to the southeast is Mt. Adams, looking for all the world like Rainier's slightly smaller sibling. (Always makes me smile remembering that I've stood atop that mountain.)

Mt. Adams
So we ski easy, then harder, bump into old friends during lunch at Campbell Lodge, and go back out to tear up the slopes for a few more hours. Then quit while we're ahead.


Nothing makes me feel quite so alive as an excellent day skiing under blue skies in the mountain fresh cold air. What a way to start the year.

I hope your year is off to an equally good start.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.

When You Go
Crystal Mountain is about 70-80 road miles southeast from Seattle (depending on where you start from in the city) on the northeastern edge of Mt. Rainier National Park. Check out their website for details on lift pricing, hours of operation, etc.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Happy Trails 2015: A Year of Northwest Adventures

It seems like just a couple months ago I was compiling my annual end-of-the-year photo montage for 2014. And here we are again already.

Sure, I'll say it again: time flies. But I figure that the years really do fly by faster because each passing year is an increasingly smaller percentage of your life as a whole.  

So here's my run-down of 2015 highlights in pictures, with links back to posts with even more shots of these highlights.

What would make this even better is hearing about some of your 2015 highlights in the comments below, too. Even if you're not in the Pacific Northwest.

One of my goals here at Pacific Northwest Seasons is to inspire you to get out and enjoy your region, wherever you are. And along with that, I hope we're all inspired to share our stories because everyone has interesting stories to tell. It's about everyday stories, adventures, and life. I hope you enjoy a bit of my year in pictures.


Mt. Rainier from top of Crystal Mountain, WA
With a fantastic day skiing New Year's Day at Crystal Mountain, an annual trip with friends, I had high hopes for a good ski season ahead.

Nope. It was the warmest, driest, worst winter for skiing on record.

Our attempt at hiking to Melakwa Lake above Denny Creek, just below Snoqualmie Pass, in mid-January was thwarted by time constraints and muscle cramps, but it was doable. A few others on the trail that day passed us on their way back down.


Punch Bowl on Eagle Creek, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, OR

With mild weather settling in, February was the beginning of a fantastic hiking year.  I returned to hike Eagle Creek (with the masses now) in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area for the first time since high school with, appropriately, a friend from high school.

And there was also that fantastic weekend over Valentine's Day hiking in the Coulee Country of eastern Washington. Delicious.

Frenchman's Coulee, near Vantage, WA


Mt. Hood from Rocky Butte, Portland, OR

Who can resist the view of a snowy Mt. Hood on a clear late winter day?  Lots of trips to Portland in 2015 for family (and some friend) visits. I try to sneak up the Gorge to hike whenever I can, but on this particular trip I met a friend up at historic Rocky Butte.

And of course the continued mild, clear weather made for perfect kayaking in Skagit Bay and hiking on Orcas Island.


Heather Lake, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, WA

When I took a friend visiting from Alaska on a day hike in the Cascade foothills to Heather Lake east of Everett, WA, I was shocked at the seemingly mid-summer hiking conditions. This north-facing alpine lake was completely snow-free in mid-April, which is definitely not normal. But as I'm starting to say, we're not sure what the new normal is anymore.


Broken Group Islands, just off Vancouver Island, B.C.

Unseasonably mild weather = a beautiful, epic week kayak camping in the  Broken Group Islands on the west coast of Vancouver Island up in B.C., Canada. A wilderness by the sea. Seeing no one else for four days besides our group. One day of stormy weather and five days of sunshine. A series of stunning sunsets. Priceless.

And then there was that fantastic weekend hiking near Bend, Oregon, with hikes at Smith Rock State Park and the Green Lakes trail. These hikes are definitely discovered, so hit the trail early to beat the crowds if you go.

Crooked River, Smith Rock State Park, OR


Almost to Cascade Pass, North Cascades National Park, WA

June 2015, with *normally* late July conditions in the alpine corners of the Cascades and Olympics, was just perfect for hiking. On assignment for the Washington's National Parks Fund, I spent an overnight in the North Cascades National Park and joined a park trail crew leader on a trip up to Cascade Pass and beyond to assess trail restoration work.

Later in the month I was out on the western Olympic Peninsula reporting on the complex and important salmon habitat restoration work going on in the Upper Quinault River watershed. I'm proud that Pacific Northwest Seasons featured this valuable project when bigger regional news outlets like the Seattle Times and other publications and media haven't.


Pacific Crest Trail just beyond the Kendall Katwalk, WA
July was an incredible month for hiking in our mountains and for doing just about anything else outdoors, with warm nights that we haven't experienced that much in the summer here in the Upper Left Corner USA.

My peak hike was to the Kendall Katwalk (and beyond) on the Pacific Crest Trail as it heads north from Snoqualmie Pass into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. This is a gorgeous stretch of trail that passes through lush forest up into rocky alpine high country rimmed by craggy granite peaks. Highly recommend if you're up for a good 11-12 miles.


Ferry to Orcas Island, San Juan Islands, WA

Come August I was in dire need of some soothing after a family death.  I took a retreat to Orcas Island where I hiked, ate wonderful meals at excellent Doe Bay CafĂ©, and spent an afternoon sketching and lounging. I firmly believe that putting in miles on the trail is good for helping heal anything weighing you down.
Later in the month, as forest fires were raging in the overly dry mountains, I stuck to the woods for a hike on the Talus Loop on the flanks of Mt. Si to try and escape the smoky skies.


On the Pacific Crest Trail just north of Stevens Pass, WA

In September, autumn seemed to crank up early after our hot, dry summer. A hike on the Pacific Crest Trail north from Stevens Pass to Lake Valhalla was lovely in the misty alpine chill. An added bonus was the fun we had mingling with the many PCT thru hikers who were close to the end of their 2,600-mile+ walk from Mexico to Canada.
Mid-month I crossed off a bucket-list item with a road trip through Oregon and along the northern California coast into the redwoods, which of course involved a hike.


On the trail to Blue Lake, Washington Pass, North Cascades, WA
October is just golden here in the Northwest, quite literally. In certain pockets of the Cascades of Washington and the Wallowas of Oregon, the golden larches are brilliant this time of year. Early in the month I hiked the popular Blue Lake trail at the height of the larch season. We were definitely not alone. No matter, it was brilliant.

Later in the month was my first trip ever (!) to Deer Park on the northern Olympic Peninsula, where I joined a scientist from Olympic National Park to discuss their glacier monitoring program.


Bridal Veil Falls, just off Highway 2 to Stevens Pass, WA

By November our unusually dry weather pattern was replaced by a series of wet storms that slammed the region, causing river flooding and highway closures (which continued into December). Just a day after a big rainfall and a day before another, a few of us took to the trail to Bridal Veil Falls on the way to Lake Serene.

That's a lot of water coming down hard and fast.


Weekend after Christmas at Snoqualmie Pass, WA
And it's a ski season again, for real this time! True, a strong El Nino is upon us and things are turning dry again. But snowpack right now in the Cascades and Olympics is over 130 percent above normal. So we head to the hills.

Look for a blog post soon about my lovely little hike to Wahclella Falls east of Portland up the Columbia River Gorge on a rainy, wet morning.  Lush, verdant green to follow.

So I'd love to hear about your 2015 highlights in the comments below. Start or join the conversation!

In 2016, let's all get outside more, revel in the joy of movement, connect with friends and strangers in kindness, smile just because, pay it forward, laugh out loud, cook tasty and healthful food, give thanks, tip a little extra for good service, sing in the shower (and elsewhere), and hug those you love...and maybe some that you don't.

Wishing you a happy 2016. Truly.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.