Skagit Valley Daffodil Fields, Washington

Skagit Valley Daffodil Fields

Skagit Valley Daffodil Fields, WashingtonSkagit Valley Daffodils #61987b  Purchase

Last Saturday I made my annual spring pilgrimage down to the Skagit Valley Daffodil Fields. Being the end of March means that the  fields are in full bloom and the tulips aren’t too far behind. Like most years, I drove though most of the valley roads to see which fields have tulips and daffodils. Since the fields planted with bulbs change location every year it’s worth scouting out in advance where the best compositions may be.

In my experience one of the best fields for photography is the one appearing in this blog. The row of poplar trees always adds a great compositional element, with the rows providing nice symmetry to the composition. A few years ago this field was planted with beautiful red tulips, however this year it’s yellow daffodils. Next year it’s most likely going to be fallow.

Skagit Valley Daffodil Fields, WashingtonSkagit Valley Daffodils #61960b  Purchase

Photographing Skagit Valley Daffodil Fields can be a bit more challenging than photographing tulips. This is mostly because daffodils bloom earlier in the season. In late March the weather is still winter-like with rain and cold winds. Since daffodil blossoms stand higher on thinner stalks than tulips, they sway easily in a slight breeze. So, if you’re lucky enough to have good light you may be hampered by windy conditions.

Most photographers know that it pays to get up before dawn to take advantage of blue hour light and sunrise light. Here in the Skagit Valley, another good reason to arrive early is to beat the crowds. On a sunny weekend the roads will be gridlocked like Seattle on a Friday afternoon. At the height of the bloom it may seem like everyone on the entire West Coast is here to get a photo of their loved ones in the tulip fields! So go early, and preferably on a weekday.

Other Skagit Valley Daffodil Fields Attractions

Besides photographing Skagit Valley daffodil fields and tulips the lower Skagit Valley also boasts some other worthwhile attractions. Foremost among these are the snow geese and trumpeter swans. Every winter through early spring these beautiful white birds come to the fields to rest and feed before resuming their long journey north. They move among the fields every day, so it can be a challenge to photograph them in the best location. If you plan on photographing these birds please refrain from alarming them. While it’s a magnificent sight to see an entire flock in flight, it also cause undo stress on them.

Snow Geese Skagit Valley WashingtonSkagit Valley Snow Geese #59742  Purchase

Another attraction I rarely miss out on is Snow Goose Produce, located on Fir Island Road. Aside from local produce, seafood, and crafts, their ice cream cones are outstanding. A single scoop in a freshly made waffle cones is a must have. I swear that a single scoop translates into nearly a pint of ice cream!

Of course a visit to the lower Skagit Valley wouldn’t be complete without stopping by LaConner, a self-described artist enclave and boater’s paradise. Aside from browsing the quaint shops and having a bite to eat, photographers can come away with some great travel photos from this picturesque town. Hint, photograph the red bridge and sailboats in evening light!

Skagit Valley Daffodil Fields, WashingtonSkagit Valley Daffodils #61982b  Purchase

Mount Challenger North Cascades National Park

Whatcom Pass Tapto Lakes North Cascades National Park Part 2

Whatcom Pass Tapto Lakes North Cascades National Park

Mount Challenger North Cascades National Park, Whatcom Pass Tapto Lakes North Cascades National Park Part 2Mount Challenger, North Cascades National Park  #61740    Purchase

Several weeks ago I was finally able to make a return visit to Whatcom Pass and Tapto Lakes. In the heart of North Cascades National Park, Whatcom Pass is quintessential North Cascades wilderness. It rises out of deep untouched forest valleys to jaw dropping views of rugged glacier clad peaks. From Part 1

Exploring Tapto Lakes Basin

Tapto Lakes is one of those locations that many hikers dream about visiting. Remote, high in the subalpine, and surrounded by rugged snowcapped peaks, the lakes have all the features of a classic backpacking destination. Tapto Lakes sit in a basin about 800′ above Whatcom Pass. The basin contains on large lake and several smaller lakes set in a heather filled subalpine meadow. The basin is shaped somewhat like an amphitheater, with the main show being the stupendous views of Mount Challenger and Whatcom Peak. Situated in a designated cross-country zone by the park service, with a permit you are free to camp anywhere among the lakes, though with a few caveats.

After investing two days of hard work reaching the lakes I woke up rested and refreshed. Content on not having to hike anywhere with a full pack I took in the view and planned my day. Of course since my main reason for being here was landscape photography I woke up early to survey the light. I had already identified several excellent spots to run to in the event of some great morning light. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case on my first morning, so I had lots of leisure time to explore all the lakes. My usual modus operandi is to spend most of the day scouting out and lining up possible compositions. I then try to assign a priority to them and work from top down when the lighting becomes appropriate. My first evening had some very nice light, enabling me to photograph some classic reflections of Whatcom Peak.

Whatcom Peak North Cascades National Park, Whatcom Pass Tapto Lakes North Cascades National Park Part 2Whatcom Peak, North Cascades National Park  #61499    Purchase

The View North

On my second day I decided to move camp to a higher location. My map showed a very small lake not far away in its own small talus fringed basin on Red Face Mountain. It appeared to offer even more commanding views, along with quick access to a ridge on Red Face Mountain. The short hike up was definitely worth it. The lake still had some snow along one side and also had some good composition qualities. I quickly found an excellent spot to set up camp, after which I hiked up to the ridge.

Bear Mountain Reveille Lakes, North Cascades National Park, Whatcom Pass Tapto Lakes North Cascades National Park Part 2Bear Mountain and Reveille Lakes, North Cascades National Park  #61536    Purchase

As I crested the ridge I was presented with incredible views of the wild peaks to the north. Dominating the view was Bear Mountain and the jagged needle-like spires of Mox Peaks and Silver Peaks. Far below the precipitous and crumbling ridge were the turquoise colored Reveille Lakes. All of this territory was completely devoid of trails, a true wilderness only accessible to the most determined mountaineers. I sat there for quite some time, contemplating how fortunate I was to be in such a special place. I got up after a while and headed back down the slope, wondering if I’ll ever return.

Waiting for Light

Back down at the lake the day was wearing on and it was time to set up some compositions. Some clouds had moved in and were swirling arounds the summits of nearby peaks. I was hopeful they wouldn’t completely sock in everything before sunset. I moved to the back of the lake where Whatcom Peak cast a nice reflection in the still waters. Waiting to see what would happen I photographed a series of images in which the clouds and reflection created a sort of Rorshach effect. Although the light didn’t have a dramatic saturation of color, I did like some of the subtle pastel tones. All in all it was a very satisfying day.

Whatcom Peak reflection North Cascades Whatcom Pass Tapto Lakes North Cascades National Park Part 2Whatcom Peak cloud reflection, North Cascades National Park  #61603    Purchase

Whatcom Peak reflection North Cascades, Whatcom Pass Tapto Lakes North Cascades National Park Part 2Whatcom Peak cloud reflection, North Cascades National Park  #61630    Purchase

Middle Lakes

The next day feeling that I accomplish my goals and not wanting to overly duplicate images, I packed up and moved on. A bit east of Tapto Lakes are a few more small lakes, the most accessible being Middle Lakes. I decided to spend my last day here before heading back. Climbing back up to the ridge I turned and bid a somewhat sad goodbye to the lakes I had dreamed of revisiting all those years.

Middle Lakes turned out to be an easy short mile or so further, there was only a steep rock slope to cross to add a bit of excitement. When I reached upper Middle Lake I found the setting to be somewhat desolate. Surrounded by steep slopes on three sides and a boulder filed at the outlet, there didn’t seem to be any good campsites. I moved on to check out the lower lake. The lower lake was more attractive, but it too afforded little flat ground for camping. However, when scouting for campsites I noticed an odd mound near the lake outlet with intense iron red soil. There appeared to be springs emanating from the mound. The main spring had formed small red mineral terraces similar to Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone. I felt the water but it was cool to the touch.

Mineral spring North Cascades, Whatcom Pass Tapto Lakes North Cascades National Park Part 2Mineral Spring, North Cascades National Park  #61666    Purchase

Mount Challenger North Cascades National Park, Whatcom Pass Tapto Lakes North Cascades National Park Part 2Swirling clouds over Challenger Glacier, North Cascades National Park  #61711    Purchase

I ultimately found a nice spot for the night among boulders and heather meadows with a commanding view of Mount Challenger. For a mountain with such an imposing glacier it seemed that its elevation should be more than 8236′. During my entire stay in the area I noticed a nearly constant flow of  clouds near its summit. Apparently for such a modest height Mount Challenger tends to make its own weather, partly explaining the huge glacier. Most of that afternoon and evening I enjoyed and photographed a show of mists whimsically curling around the summit. To commemorate my trip to this special place I made several photos of my campsite, including a couple with the tent illuminated.

Backcountry camp North Cascades National Park, Whatcom Pass Tapto Lakes North Cascades National Park Part 2Illuminated tent and Mount Challenger, North Cascades National Park  #61751    Purchase

Hiking Out

The next day it was time to head out, retracing my steps down to Whatcom Pass and into the Chilliwack River Valley. Although I was filled with a deep sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, I was also sad to say goodbye. I faced a long day of hiking filled with retrospection on this and my first trip to Whatcom Pass many years back. Once again a highlight was riding the cable car across the river. After around ten miles I reached Copper Creek Camp, tired with plenty of hot spots on my heels and toes. The next day I faced the stiff climb back up to Hannegan Pass and then the final miles out to the trailhead where my truck waited.

Nearing the pass I began to meet more hikers. Many of them were just beginning trips similar to mine. You could easily see the excitement in their faces, anticipating the wonders that were waiting for them. Of course I stopped to chat and helped stoke their excitement by passing on some of the highlights from my own trip. Then it was down the pass for the last five miles of the trip. Although I was out of North Cascades National Park and in the Mount Baker Wilderness, it was easy to sense civilization was close. I began to see more people on a wider well maintained trail. I got back to my truck in a few hours, in a parking lot that had dozens of cars in it.

Tired but happy I began to drive home. I began thinking how soon I might get a chance to go back to Whatcom Pass.

Backcountry Camp North Cascades National Park, Whatcom Pass Tapto Lakes North Cascades National Park Part 2Campsite on Red Face Mountain, Whatcom Peak in the distance, North Cascades National Park  #61589    Purchase

Whatcom Pass Tapto Lakes North Cascades National Park Part 2