We’ve got a new welcome sign in the Cle Elum Field office: a giant map of the Central Cascades!
When a spruce log leaves Haines, Alaska, in its raw state, it doesn’t bring much value to the local economy. But in the hands of Fairweather Ski Works, it becomes part of a high-value product.
Written By Beth Geiger
Winter is here — time to warm up to some of Washington’s coolest adventures. Tromp through snowy forests, dodge salt spray as waves thunder onto a driftwood-strewn beach, and get your wild on as you watch soaring eagles and blizzards of snow geese.
Snowshoe into the Central Cascades for a delightful adventure in the wintery magic of forests you’ve helped protect. The quiet blur of falling snow, the flick of a gray jay, the rich shadows of a winter afternoon. Forest Service rangers lead snowshoe hikes at Snoqualmie Pass, Stevens Pass and other locations, with snowshoes available. No experience needed, but advance reservations are required. National Park Service rangers also lead guided snowshoe hikes at Paradise on Mount Rainier.
The Mountaineers’ Meany Lodge, east of Snoqualmie Pass, is a fine, if rustic, overnight base for winter explorations. The lodge, located within the Conservancy’s 2014 purchase of 48,000 forest acres, is accessible by ski or sno-cat. In winter, the property features cross-country ski and snowshoe trails, a private downhill ski area and simple, dorm-style accommodations including group meals.
A little sunshine more your thing? Head east to the Oak Creek Wildlife Area outside Yakima, where elk share that same sensibility. Each winter, these four-legged “snowbirds” migrate from the snowy Cascade Crest to the relative warmth of the pine-scented eastern slopes. About a dozen years ago, The Conservancy purchased a 10,000-acre swath of adjacent forest and donated it to the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife. The addition protected migration corridors between the elk's summer and winter grounds. You can ride along on the feed truck for a close look at elk (reservations recommended, contact the refuge).
Waves lash the Pacific coast with wild fury. Gulls screech and whirl overhead. The scene is dynamic, yet somehow calming. And yes, storm watching is a thing, especially on Washington’s fabled western edge. At La Push, near Forks, dodge salt spray at First Beach or hike to the stunning wilderness coast at Second Beach. Either destination provides wind-whipped immersion into winter’s wrath.
Poseidon also dishes up plenty of excitement at Cape Disappointment State Park, further south near Ilwaco, Even better, some spray here may not be from waves, but the spout of south-bound grey whales. Thousands are spotted from here every winter in late December through January.
Washington’s coastline is a diverse gem, where commercial fishing is balanced with scenic treasures. The Conservancy works with the Quileute and Quinault Nations to recover lost crab pots, fishing gear, and other debris. With your help, we are working to preserve this coast for the future, while recovering valuable fishing equipment.
Winter’s For the Birds
Nothing shouts “Puget Sound winter” quite like the din of ten thousand snow geese. Clouds of the big white birds gather in the Skagit delta from November to March, attracting devoted flocks of birdwatchers. At the Skagit Wildlife Area near Conway, see birds along a two mile walk, or from the viewing platform at Fir Island Farms Reserve. Here, the Conservancy has helped restore the estuary, and farmers plant a buffet of winter wheat for geese.
It’s a special thrill to spot even one bald eagle in the wild, much less dozens. The majestic white head and stern pose are evocative symbols of nature’s power and beauty. Each winter hundreds of bald eagles gather along the upper Skagit River near Rockport to feast on a buffet of returning salmon. Pack a thermos of hot tea and float the river on a raft for a truly moving scenic experience, or look for eagles from several road-side points along Highway 20. Eagles and salmon are part of a fascinating ecological cycle at the heart of the Skagit River ecosystem. The Conservancy has been working here for decades, preserving critical habitat for both eagles and salmon.
Member hikes in the Central Cascades
Written by Cailin Mackenzie, Marketing Intern
Photography by Nathan Hadley
One of our wonderful members who joined us for a hike last week referred to the Forests for our Future as “our land.” This simple turn of phrase represents what makes The Nature Conservancy able to create significant environmental benefit at impactful scale: dedicated supporters with deep passion about the lands and waters we all protect.
Our forest team has led two hikes with Conservancy members this fall, with another coming up in October. Our members are truly partners in our work to sustain Washington’s natural resources for future generations. On the hike, one member showed our group what a Douglas fir pine cone looks like after as squirrel has enjoyed his lunch. Another taught about her work with the wildlife bridges along the I-90 corridor. I don’t know about you, but after I’ve helped core a Ponderosa pine, counting its rings and starkly seeing different growth rates over its long life, I feel a deeper connection to the systems that nourish me. When I see 1000 species of flora and fauna growing proximate to almost 1800 people, I better understand the challenges and opportunities of living with nature for a symbiotic future.
Hiking with members has been an inspiring opportunity to be invigorated by the commitment of our community to the work we do. This community of resolved support will help stitch together Washington’s landscapes and strengthen nature’s remarkable capability.
Written and Photographed by Cailin Mackenzie, Marketing Intern
Last week, Conservancy members explored our conserved land in the Central Cascade region with James Schroeder, Director of Forest Conservation & Partnerships, and Brian Mize, Central Cascades Field Forester.
We smelled Ponderosa pine bark, which smells like vanilla, cinnamon, or even coconut for different people. We learned how a native species like spruce budworm can become a pest because of habitat disturbance and climate change. And we observed how reuniting the fractured Cascades checkerboard will benefit wildlife, water, climate, and people for generations.
There are three more opportunities to hike with us on our new acquisition! Let this special place inspire you on Wednesday, September 16th; Saturday, September 19th; or Sunday, October 4th. RSVP to WaEvents@tnc.org - we’d love to share our work with you!
Sahale Arm Trail, North Cascades National Park, WA
Written and Photographed by Sam Davis, Northwest Photographer
It was Fourth of July weekend, and not wanting to be surrounded by people blowing things up, my wife and I decided to load up the truck and head for the mountains. We had a better idea in mind for celebrating our independence and it consisted of a trip to Sahale Arm.
Our original plan was to snag a permit at the Marblemount Ranger Station and spend the night at the Sahale Glacier Camp, but unfortunately all of the spots had been claimed so we decided to make it a day trip instead.
Having been in the area before that year on El Dorado, I was excited to get a slightly different perspective from Sahale Arm of the surrounding peaks. After making it through the seemingly endless switchbacks, we were finally rewarded with open views of Johannesburg Mountain.
Continuing on the trail, we saw a few deer making their way through the brush and enjoying the beautiful weather and views. As we approached the Sahale Arm we were treated to breathtaking views of some of my favorite North Cascade Peaks including Eldorado, Forbidden, The Triplets and Mixup.
Having reached a great resting spot with 360 degrees of stunning views, we fueled up and soaked in the sunshine. Our plan was to enjoy the weather and take our time to explore. With the sun setting later in the day, we had enough time to take a nap and snap some pictures as we continued upwards towards Sahale Peak.
When we came across this particular meadow, I couldn’t believe that a place like this exists just a few short hours from the busy city. This spot was stunning to me because of its contrast. Here you are walking through a beautiful and soft meadow filled with wildflowers, while in the distance jagged mountain tops carve out the horizon. I dropped everything, grabbed my camera and hit the shutter button. This was definitely one of the most memorable scenes I’ve ever experienced.
We spent the rest of the evening enjoying a warm meal while watching the sky turn majestic colors as the sun began to set. It was hard to leave such a beautiful place and I look forward to returning soon.
Sam Davis grew up in the Pacific Northwest and currently lives in Seattle. He works as an accountant during the week and spends his weekends exploring the Cascades with his wife and dog. See more of his work: http://www.samdavisphotography.com/
Wilderness photography and capturing the night sky
Written and Photographed by Andy Porter, Northwest Photographer
The only thing that captures my imagination more than images of stark, forbidding mountains deep in the wilderness is images of the Milky Way.
The sense of wonder looking at a star filled sky…there is nothing like it. All of the themes evoked by such a sight: distance, space, infinity, the unknown, God, space travel, alien races, vastness, our insignificance…I mean, where else do you get such a mélange of emotions?
And when you add to the starry night sky the strip of the Milky Way, with its mottled colors of gaseous clouds, you are exponentially multiplying the element of coolness.
Combining wilderness photography with starry sky imaging is a natural. You need to escape from the lights of civilization to get clear shots at night and any wilderness; mountains, ocean, desert all provide spectacular foregrounds for the Milky Way.
Capturing Night Sky Images
The equipment list is rather meager. You need a decent DSLR (a full frame body is best, but not mandatory) a wide angle lens ( 10 to 20mm is best, 24mm is fine) a tripod and a cable release (or electronic shutter release) and that’s really all you need, equipment wise.
Once you get out to your spot and get set up set the camera on manual exposure mode and open your aperture up all the way (use the lowest f/stop number) and then, using the chart here, set your shutter speed.
As for ISO, that is really the only variable. Depending upon your camera I would suggest starting at a relatively low ISO, say, 1,000 and then work your way up, checking the images as you go. Each camera will have its own ISO sweet spot, often it’s the midpoint between the lowest and highest ISO setting on the camera.
One more important item is focus. You must set your lens on Manual Focus. Auto focus will not work at night and so, before you head out, take some time and figure out how to manually set the focus ring on your lens to infinity.
There are several way to do this, one is look up your lens on line, looking for the manual, or advice as to how to set that lens to infinity. Or another way is to sit with your camera (set the aperture open all the way when doing this) and take test shots of something at least 50 feet away and then review the image on your camera, using the zoom function and keep testing until you find that exact spot for your lens where its set for infinity, then make some mark or note or whatever so that when you’re out in the field at night you know where to set it.
That’s it! Then you can leisurely move about, composing shots and have fun (make sure to check your focus ring from time to time, moving your rig about can often change the focus setting!)
Here in Washington there are many fantastic places to go for night sky images. Mount Rainier, the Pacific Coast, along a wild river really the list is endless. Happy Shooting!
Andy is a nature photographer lured to Washington State by the glorious vistas. He lives along the North Cascades Highway, where he teaches photography and leads photo tours. You can see more of his work at: www.AndyPorterImages.com