WY01702-00...WYOMING - The Upper Terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs at sunrise in Yellowstone National Park.

WY01702-00…WYOMING – The Upper Terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs at sunrise in Yellowstone National Park.

Summer has just arrived and it is time for Tom to head out to Yellowstone National Park to teach his bi-annual landscape photography class. This year he will be sharing teaching duties with fellow photographer, Greg Vaughn. Greg is an established camera artist whose work can be found in numerous publications and has several books to his credit including “Photographing Washington.

This summer the subject of Tom and Greg’s class will be waterfalls and wildflowers, a really fun combination. However, the purpose of this blog is not to extol the virtues of this sold out class. The focus of this short article is to introduce everyone to the advantages of the many, very affordable opportunities offered by the Yellowstone Association Institute.

WY00512-00...WYOMING - Cabin at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch in Yellowstone National Park.

WY00512-00…WYOMING – Cabin at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch in Yellowstone National Park.

Classes and seminars sponsored by the Yellowstone Association Institute abound. The best are  held at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch. Staying at the ranch is like camping indoors. The ranch has a large kitchen where everyone can cook their own meals then spend the nights in cozy little cabins. There are even showers for guests.

WY00313-00...WYOMING - Detail of the travertine on the Upper Terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park.

WY00313-00…WYOMING – Detail of the travertine on the Upper Terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park.

Early morning starts are enlivened by fresh coffee and hot water to get you going. Trips out from the ranch are made in mini-buses, with an experienced driver to take you to your locations and deal with the traffic and parking, making it an amazingly stress free journey. All you have to do is enjoy the views and wildlife along the way. Back at the ranch, classes and seminars make use of the classroom for lectures, discussions, question and answer periods and slide shows.

Of course, the best classes are all about photography. However, if you happen to have other interests, there are a plethora of options. You can join a wildlife watching group and get your fill of wolves, elk, buffalo and maybe even a bear or two. There are geology seminars, bird watching trips, history tours and family friendly groups. Or, for those of you who had always wanted to hike or backpack in Yellowstone, but did not know where to find enough other people to insure the party’s safety, there are backpacking and day hiking trips.

WY00541-00...WYOMING - Soda Butte at night in Yellowstone National Park.

WY00541-00…WYOMING – Soda Butte at night in Yellowstone National Park.

Tom’s next photo class, “The Art of Winter Landscape Photography”, (with Terry Donnelly), will be taught when the meadows and thermal features are shrouded in snow and ice. The dates are January 25 through the 28th. Interested? go to YellowstoneAssociation.com . Registration for this class starts on July 6th 2017.

WY00511-00...WYOMING - Terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park.

WY00511-00…WYOMING – Terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park.

 

Its a Crowded World Out There!

UTAH - Photographers at Meas Arch waiting for sunrise.

UTAH – Photographers at Meas Arch in Canyonlands National Park, waiting for sunrise.

 

Last September, Tom and I headed east, planning to do some extended hikes and exploration in Wyoming’s Wind River Range. What an amazingly beautiful area – we are definitely going back. Unfortunately, for this trip, the weather was impossible. Every few days, a really nasty storm would wash through the area bring torrents of rain and heavy dumps of snow in the high country. But actually, it was not the weather that caused us to give up the trip last year, it was the streams of hunters. Uncertain as to what was in season, we inquired at the Forest Service office. “Anything that moves,” was the disquieting answer. So we headed north to the “hunter free zones” of Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.

WYOMING - Sunset at the dormant Fishing Hole Geyser located in Yellowstone Lake at the West Thumb Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park.

WYOMING – Sunset at the dormant Fishing Hole Geyser located in Yellowstone Lake at the West Thumb Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park.

The first indication that parks were not enjoying a calm, shoulder season was the long backups at the entrance stations. The campgrounds were full to overflowing, visitors were circling parking lots like shoppers circle malls during the Christmas season. Trails were crowded.

Tom and I looked around for the best fall color, did a location scout for the next morning and found a hole to crawl into for the night. The following day, we arrived at our chosen spot a full hour before sunrise only to find that the parking area was almost full. People with cameras and tripods were covering the hillside above and below the road. We set up our gear and waited – tour buses came, dropping off loads of international tourists. Photo seminar groups showed up. Tempers shortened as people arrived and started blocking the view of those already in place. All in all, a mentally exhausting experience.

 

Photographers lined up to catch the moment.

Photographers lined up to catch the moment.

The next morning we were careful to be at our chosen location a full two hours before sunrise. When I arrived at my first choice location, it was occupied by a photographer who announced that he had already been there for 45 minutes. Luckily, my second location choice was still open. By sunrise, photographers were stacked three to four layers deep.
By the time we headed north to Yellowstone, all I wanted to do was go home! And, after a couple of days, that is exactly what we did.

 

WY01558-00...WYOMING - Mount Moran and aspen trees in fall color reflecting in the Snake River at Oxbow Bend in Grand Teton National Park.

WY01558-00…WYOMING – Mount Moran and aspen trees in fall color reflecting in the Snake River at Oxbow Bend in Grand Teton National Park.

Back home, I discovered the internet to be buzzing with talk of the number of people out and taking advantage of the unusually warm fall weather. Many the national parks were seeing huge increases in visitation numbers over 2014. Some parks were overwhelmed by the number of people touring through the parks and desiring to use the facilities. Budgets were strained to the max just trying to keep the restrooms clean! Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, with limited facilities, reported a 41.5% increase in visitors. And, if you have ever had the opportunity to visit the beautiful Colorado National Monument, you will just shake your head and wonder how the limited park personal managed at 45% spike in visitation on those narrow twisting roads.

Reasons for the increase in park usage vary depending on who you ask. Almost everyone will agree that lower gas prices are a major contributing factor. With the dollar’s current robust value, I am not certain that gas prices explain the masses of international tourists,  So the answer to that question dangles.

 

WY00935-00...WYOMING - Photographers lined up at the Cowboy Workshop in Dubois.
This year the national park system is celebrating its centennial. Adds and promotions for the parks are common. Expectations are high for robust visitation this year. If you plan to visit one of our beautiful national parks in 2015, I suggest checking out a list of the most visited parks, and avoid them. This summer may be the year to visit some of the lesser known parks. Skip Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain and Olympic National Parks. Try some of the parks that less visited such as Canyonlands in Utah, Crater Lake in Oregon, North Cascades in Washington, Redwoods in California, Big Bend in Texas or Voyagers in Minnesota. Make advance reservations, when possible, if planning to camp or backpack on some of the most popular trails.

Head out and plan to enjoy yourself no matter how busy the parks are. Arrive at parking lots early or late and enjoy the fresh morning air or a beautiful sunset. Best of all, plan on meeting a lot of people from around the country and the world! If you are photographing, politely ask anyone in the area if you are in their way before setting up — it is a great way to start a conversation while you are waiting for the light to be exactly right.

WY01702-00...WYOMING - Want to enjoy the Upper Terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park in near solitude, try sunrise.

WYOMING – Want to enjoy the Upper Terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park in near solitude, try sunrise.

A Trip to Ira Spring Mountain

WY12659-00...WASHINGTON - Hiker on the summit of Ira Spring Mountain with a view of Pugh Mountain and Glacier Peak.

About two years ago, the United States Board of Geographic Names finally gave their official approval for the name change of Spring Mountain. This change was to honor my father, the late Ira Spring. It was a small change. Now Spring Mountain is officially Ira Spring Mountain. When I was born, I was named after Mount Victoria in Alberta, Canada. In turn, I named my two children after mountains, Mount Logan and Mount Ruth, both located in the North Cascades. However, being named after a mountain is  completely mundane compared to the honor of having a mountain named after you!

The name change had taken years and the involvement of the State of Washington, the US Forest Service, Senators, Representatives as well as many friends. As name changes are frequent and often asinine, it was odd that the Board of Geographic Names had so many “doubts” about honoring someone who had inspired so many people to enjoy the outdoors through his books. The board found it unlikely that his photo and guide books had created anything but revenue for their creators. From their lofty meeting room on the east coast, they could not appreciate the amount of enthusiasm for the preservation of Washington’s remaining virgin forests and delicate alpine areas that was generated by the people who, inspired by his beautiful photos visited these areas and were inspired to lobby for their preservation. Ira Spring has been credited with being instrumental in the creation of the North Cascades National Park complex and several of the state of Washington’s most popular wilderness areas.

Last summer, I decided it was time to take a look at the mountain that was now officially crowned with my father’s name. This turned out to be a bit of challenge. Ira Spring Mountain is invisible from the roads below and off the main trails. However, after studying the maps, I found a straight forward looking route; half on trail and half cross-country.

Tom Kirkendall  ascending the steep hillside of Ira Spring Mountain in view of the glaciated Pugh Mountains in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Tom Kirkendall ascending the steep hillside of Ira Spring Mountain in view of the glaciated Mount Pugh.

The starting point for Ira Spring Mountain is located 16 miles southeast of Darrington on the Mountain Loop Highway followed by another 3 miles on Road 49 to the Lost Creek Ridge trailhead. On reaching the small parking area, my husband and I found it full, cars everywhere. We drove on for another 1/2 mile before finding an open turnout to park in. Despite the lack of parking, we had the trail completely to ourselves.

The Lost Creek Ridge Trail was in excellent condition and the first 3 miles and 2500-feet of elevation gain went quickly. At Bingley Gap, we left trail and headed west up a very steep forested ridge. It didn’t take us long to determine that the next mile and remaining 1300-feet of elevation was going to be challenging. Locomotion was accomplished by grabbing trees and branches to pull ourselves up the hillside.

After gaining the first 200 feet of elevation, the ridge leveled off, then rose vertically up a 30 to 40 foot cliff. As we had not thought this ascent would require rope and climbing gear, this was bit of surprise. The rock cliff did not look too difficult, but all foot and hand holds were full of slippery fir needles and sand which would be bad to go up and terrible to come down.  We started scouting around for an alternate route and soon found a possible one a short way below us on the south side of the ridge. Before long we were traversing a sloping ledge between cliff bands. The worst part was the duff; dry, hard and very slippery after our nearly snowless winter. Every step was a balancing act as hands transferred from tree branch to a handful of huckleberry then back to another tree branch.

WA12513-00...WASHINGTON - Hiker with the summit register on the rarely visited Ira Spring Mountain located near Sloan Peak in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

 Tom Kirkendall with the summit register on the rarely visited Ira Spring Mountain located near Sloan Peak.

Once we reached a band of trees beyond the cliffs, we climbed back to the ridgecrest and bushwacked our way through the tangle of trees and bushes to the base of a talus slope. Here the rocks were loose and had a tendency to wobble with reach step, but on the whole it was infinitely better footing than the slippery duff below. After one more ascent over a mercifully short rock band and through a nearly impenetrable band of trees, we arrived at the base of the open meadows. There were animal trails heading out in several directions across the scree and heather. From the prints and skat, deer and mountain goat seem to be the main visitors and chief path makers on Ira Spring Mountain.

The first summit we reached was forested so we followed a ridge north to a higher, and rockier, summit. What a 360 degree view! Mount Pugh, Glacier Peak, Bedal Peak and Sloan Peak as well of paragraph of others. Ira Spring would have loved this mountain. He never wanted the first ascents, although thanks to Fred Beckey’s  determination and help, he made one. All he ever wanted from a summit was beautiful scenery and scenery does not get any better than the view from his mountain.

Very few people have reached the summit of Ira Spring Mountain. We found a minuscule summit register protected in a baby food bottle and added our names to the climbers who had summitted in 2009 and another party that had made it to the top in 2011. However, the lack of visitors is certainly part of Ira Spring Mountain’s charm. My husband and I lounged around the summit, enjoying the view and sunshine, until the bugs started to distract us from the beauty of the location.

Heading back down, we were rather concerned about the descent down the slippery duff. However, by moving slowly and very cautiously we almost made it without incident. While traversing below the cliffs, my feet and the thin soil below them suddenly decided to follow gravity downhill. Before I know it, I was over a cliff and crashing down through the branches of Douglas Fir. Thank goodness for that tree, I grabbed a branch as I rocketed by and stopped the fall. Then, thanks to an ample supply of adrenaline, I was able to climb hand over hand up the branch, to reach solid ground. It was a really good branch!

WA12660-00...WASHINGTON - Glacier Peak to Sloan Peak from Ira Spring Mountain in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Five months later, the scars on my arm are fading and I am starting to plan my return to Ira Spring Mountain. Next time I will carry a rope and some slings to anchor the way across the slippery duff. The summit is an ideal place to sit and plan hikes and trips into the wilderness, If you are lucky you might even feel the spirit of Ira Spring pointing out the beauty spots that lie hidden among the rolling hills and glacier covered peaks that surround you or you may feel his spirit nagging you to get busy and work to see what can be done to protect more of our pristine mountains.

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Craters of the Moon National Monument

Exploring the lava tubes at Craters of the Moon.

Exploring the lava tubes at Craters of the Moon.

Craters of the Moon is located on a lonely stretch of the very lonely US Highway 20 in Idaho. Sitting between the towns of Carey and Arco, right in the middle of a massive lava flow region, this place is hot as Hades in the middle of the summer and colder then whatever in the middle of winter. So why visit there? The place is fascinating and a photographers dream at any season.

Tom and I were hiking in the Sawtooths when the weather went sour. Rather sit around for a couple of days watching the rain sluice off the roof of the camper, we decided to drive east to the, hopefully, drier desert areas of Idaho. The nearest to us was Craters of the Moon, so off we went. And I am so glad we did. The weather was at least marginally better while the photographing opportunities were massively better. Open areas like the dark colored lava flows at Craters of the Moon just cry out for huge thunder clouds to add interest to the scene. And that is what we got, along with a couple inches of rain in one hour!

ID00221-00...IDAHO - Puddle reflecting the sky in Craters Of The Moon National Monument.

ID00221-00…IDAHO – Puddle reflecting the sky in Craters Of The Moon National Monument.

The following is for those of you who have never visit this desolate spot, which I truly do recommend doing. Before reaching the entrance to the National Monument , the highway passes through an impossible landscape covered with dark colored lava, folded and crumpled and virtually impassible. The scene is amazingly stark. Vegetation has barely managed to gain a foot hold along the edges of the lava flows, but nothing living can be seen out in the seemingly endless miles of lava. Do not be discouraged, there is a lot of beauty waiting to be discovered in this seemly desolate place.

The first thing you want to do upon arrival at Craters of the Moon is to secure one of the limited number of campsites. Believe it or not, the campground fills just about every night. Many people pass through this area before or after a visit to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks so claim a site as soon as you can.

ID00207-00...IDAHO - Hiking Inferno Cone in Craters Of The Moon National Monument. (MR# K1)

ID00207-00…IDAHO – Hiking Inferno Cone in Craters Of The Moon National Monument. (MR# K1)

After you have left something to denote your residency at a campsite, head back to the Visitor Center for a permit to visit the most popular attraction at Craters of the Moon; the lava tubes. These caves were formed as the molten lava cooled on the surface but continued to run underground. The caves are rugged and often hard to walk through, however, they are wonderfully cool compared to the outside on hot summer days. Features that are fun to find and photograph in the caves are the colorful algae, stalactites and ice. Be sure and carry at least one flash light per person, wear protective shoes and do not touch any formation or algae. For photos, bring your tripod and a flash.

After thoroughly exploring the caves, try some of the other popular stops along the roads through the National Monument. Right next to the campground is a short nature trail that loops around a corner of the North Crater Flow. This is a great place to view and photograph the shape and texture of the lava. Early morning and late afternoon light are best for pictures, but the trail is interesting any time of day.

ID00482-00...IDAHO - Park visitor on the North Crater Flow Trail minutes before the afternoon storm hit in Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve.

ID00482-00…IDAHO – Park visitor on the North Crater Flow Trail minutes before the afternoon storm hit in Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve.

Devils Orchard is a fascinating area with rafted blocks of lava towering into the air. Unfortunately, you are not free to wonder through this delicate area and explore the locations for the best angles and photographs. After you have walked the nature loop, consider returning here if there are interesting clouds in the afternoon.

Infernal Cone is another popular stop. A constant stream of visitors make the short, steep hike to the summit throughout the day. The view from the top spans across the lava flows to the mountains beyond and is ideal in the late afternoon. In the early summer, look for small, colorful flowers blooming on the pumice and in the cracks of the lava in this area.

If this is your first visit to Craters of the Moon, stop briefly at the Spatter Cones then head out over the Big Sink to the trailhead for the Tree Molds, Broken Top and the Wilderness. (Permits for overnight camping are issued from the Visitor Center, a very handy detail if you arrive when the campground is full). This is my favorite area of the monument. The Broken Top Trail passes wonderfully textured lava as well as flowers, bushes and grasses which brighten the cinder cones and meadows. Along the trail, pass the enhance to one of the Buffalo Caves. The cave is partially collapsed, limiting exploration, but it is wonderfully cool on warm days. An alternative is the Tree Mold Trail.  The tree molds are very interesting if you have never seen one before, if you have I would skip them.

Flowers blooming on Inferno Cone and patterns and texture of a lava flow.

Flowers blooming on Inferno Cone and patterns and texture of a lava flow.

If you are really looking to explore this region, hike out to the wilderness on the Wilderness Trail. The trail starts out wide and easy to follow for the first couple miles then narrows to an easily lost path for the next couple of miles. The trail disappears altogether at the top of rugged cinder cone and after that point you are free to wander. The vegetation in this area is much tougher than your skin, so carry a pair of pants if you intend to do much off trail exploration.

Unless you plan to backpack into the off trail area of the monument, two days is ample time to sample the amazing diversity of the park. Water may be found at the Visitor Center and Campground only. Always carry a full water bottle whenever you leave your car.    Enjoy!

ID00190-00...IDAHO - Twisted tree trunk at night along the North Crater Flow Trail in Craters Of The Moon National Monument.

ID00190-00…IDAHO – Twisted tree trunk at night along the North Crater Flow Trail in Craters Of The Moon National Monument.

 

 

The Trinity Alps — WOW

CA02751-00...CALIFORNIA - Hiker on the spectacular Caribou Lakes Trail with a view of Caribou Lake, Lower Caribou Lake and Thompson Peak in the Trinity Alps Wilderness Area of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

CA02751-00…CALIFORNIA – Hiker on the spectacular Caribou Lakes Trail with a view of Caribou Lake, Lower Caribou Lake and Thompson Peak in the Trinity Alps Wilderness Area of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

Until June of 2015, I had never visited the Trinity Alps. I knew about them, of course, but never bothered to turn off from Interstate 5 when rushing to the High Sierra or to visit friends in the Bay Area. I have a whole slew of reasons why not: 1) I had heard that the Trinity Alps Wilderness was really not that scenic — wrong, wrong, wrong. 2) The trails were said to be in bad shape, hard to follow and poorly maintained — not so, not so, not so. 3) Reaching the Trinity Alps was a long, difficult drive from the freeway — not at all, really very easy. 4) The roads accessing the trailheads were reported to be in poor shape — that one might have some merit for a Prius or a sports car, however, none were so bad that your average Subaru could not finesse its way there.  I could ramble on with more reasons, but really, I have to believe that all the negative press concerning the Trinity Alps must have been put out by Northern Californians and hikers from Southern Oregon who are trying to keep the area from being over run by visitors — and who can blame them, it is an amazing wilderness, well worth numerous visits and long stays!

CA02814-00...CALIFORNIA - Western pasqueflower blooming among the colorful rocks below Bee Tree Gap on the Long Canyon Trail in Trinity Alps Wilderness area of Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

CA02814-00…CALIFORNIA – Western pasqueflower blooming among the colorful rocks below Bee Tree Gap on the Long Canyon Trail in Trinity Alps Wilderness area of Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

This summer I had an opportunity to spend a couple of weeks exploring Northern California. So, after ignoring this area for so many years, I headed west off I-5 to take a hike or two in the Trinity Alps. My expectations were low, so maybe, I have overreacted to this amazing area – but I do not think so. It is the best of the Cascades and the High Sierra rolled into one package! The colors are intense. There are brilliant, iron rich, red boulders decorating the vibrant green meadows and beautiful, towering walls of granite. Wildflowers abound in endless combinations of color and shape. The most amazing to me were the pockets of the insect eating California Pitcher Plant and the sweet smelling, very delicate looking, wild azaleas.

My expectations were not high, so I did not schedule nearly enough time to thoroughly explore this area. I started off with a mostly forested dayhike up Trail Gulch and then back down Long Gulch. Having picked this hike to avoid the high country and the very real possibility of thunder storms, rather than for its scenic value, I was immediately impressed by how inviting the country was. The main trails were very good. The secondary trails were also good, just a little steeper. Then there were trails listed on the map as “scrambles” which were even steeper, less maintained and lots of fun. Beyond the trails listed on the map, were a multitude of routes pioneered by enthusiastic hikers and climbers leading to isolated ridges and lakes. Finally, are the climbing routes to the summits of the highest peaks, some which sport small glaciers!

CA02742-00...CALIFORNIA - Late afternoon at Upper Boulder Lake in the East Boulder Creek drainage of the Trinity Alps Wilderness area in the Shasta Trinity National Forest.

CA02742-00…CALIFORNIA – Late afternoon at Upper Boulder Lake in the East Boulder Creek drainage of the Trinity Alps Wilderness area in the Shasta Trinity National Forest.

The next hike I took was along ridgetops on Pacific Crest Trail. It was a scenic walk through meadows with side trails branching off in all directions leading to lakes and more lakes. I settled for a night at the popular Boulder Lakes then returned back to Carter Summit the next day.

The next area visited was the amazingly scenic Caribou Lakes. It was the weekend and the trailhead was overflowing. By making an early start , I was able reach the lakes in time to secure a campsite above the largest of the Caribou Lakes. From the campsite it was an easy walk up the Caribou Scramble to the ridgecrest overlooking Sapphire and Emerald Lakes – high on my “must do” list for my next trip!

California,tent,campsite,Caribou Lake,Trinity Alps Wilderness,backcountry,wilderness,lake,hiker,

CA02777-00…CALIFORNIA – Evening at a campsite near Caribou Lake in the Trinity Alps Wilderness area of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

Looking at my map, I decided that Granite Lake would make a great destination. This brushy lake was a disappointment, so I continue on up the ridgetop and walked the Seven Up Peak Trail through a scenic wonderland of red rocks to the lush meadows of Bear Basin. The scenery just keep getting better and better as I went. Waterfalls, alpine flowers and wildly colored rocks made me wish I had longer to spend in that area.

My final exploration led me up Long Canyon to the Four Lakes Loop. Again, astounded by the brilliantly colored meadows, this area cried out for more time and further explorations. With four very scenic lakes to choose from, it was hard decide which one I wanted to spend the night at.

CA02833-00...CALIFORNIA - Gnarled old tree trunk reaching up to the star-studded night sky at Summit Lake on the Four Lakes Loop in the Trinity Alps Wilderness area of the Shasta Trinity Wilderness area.

CA02833-00…CALIFORNIA – Gnarled old tree trunk reaching up to the star-studded night sky at Summit Lake on the Four Lakes Loop in the Trinity Alps Wilderness area of the Shasta Trinity Wilderness area.

The map of the Trinity Alps Wilderness shows endless destinations that demand exploration. How did I let myself run out of time before hiking to Grizzly Lake or reaching the summit of Granite Mountain?The bottom line is this: the Trinity Alps are a wonderful destination and one I would highly recommend to all wilderness enthusiasts. Don’t forget your camera!