A Mammoth summer 2021: hiking Olympics, Sierras, Rockies; Nebraska

Our summer 2021 went from Mammoth Lakes to woolly mammoths!

Hiking mostly new trails for training in Washington kept us motivated and fit, climaxing with superb backpacking for 9 days in California’s High Sierra. That breathtaking acclimatization helped tackle Chasm Lake Trail, an impressive alpine cirque on Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness, Colorado.

Continuing by RV to Indiana, we visited family then returned to Seattle via hypnotic Midwest cornfields. Along the way, Nebraska revealed some hidden gems: the SAC & Aerospace Museum, International Quilt Museum, Chimney Rock NHS, Agate Fossil Beds NM, and Fort Robinson SP. Sightseeing finished on a high note in South Dakota’s Black Hills region at “The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs” — an active paleontological site containing the world’s largest collection of in-situ mammoth remains!

Granite Park at sunrise in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, Eastern Sierra, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Granite Park at sunrise in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, Eastern Sierra.

This blog page describes summer highlights in 2021, where clicking any image loads Tom’s Portfolio site (where you can view a more extensive gallery, “2021 Aug 1-Sep 12: CA Sierras, CO, NE, SD“).

Related pages: Washington; California; Colorado; The Midwest (including Nebraska & South Dakota).

California: hiking in the Eastern Sierra Nevada

Backpack 4 days from Pine Creek to Granite Park, near Bishop

From August 16-19 in 2021, we backpacked to Honeymoon Lake, Granite Park, and Pine Creek Pass in John Muir Wilderness, in Inyo National Forest. Six months in advance, I was lucky to reserve the “Pine Creek JM11” entry near Bishop for a group of three.

  • Day 1: Backpack from Pine Creek Pass Trailhead to Honeymoon Lake (6.2 miles with 2900 feet gain). We ascended a spectacular gorge overlooking the former Pine Creek Mine (1918-1990). Opened in 1918, Union Carbide’s Pine Creek Mine was once the largest tungsten producer in the United States, also yielding much molybdenum and silver. During World War II, the mine supplied tanks with tungsten armor plating and armor-piercing projectiles. Proceeding upwards, monumental scenery drew us ever upwards, with sparkling drinking water (sterilized with Steripen) regularly available from tributary streams, Pine Creek, Pine Lake, Upper Pine Lake, and camping at Honeymoon Lake.
  • Day 2: Backpack 3.1 miles with 1300 ft gain to Granite Park, a rocky alpine route which felt tiring due to the high altitude and effort yesterday. A GPS map was helpful to find the cairns and boot track.
  • Day 3: The golden sunrise on granite spires took our breath away, truly awesome. Then we descended 1300 feet with backpacks for 2.7 miles to Honeymoon Lake to set up tents; then day hiked 4.4 miles round trip with 900 ft gain to Pine Creek Pass, overlooking the broad head of French Canyon capped by Mount Humphreys.
  • Day 4: Backpack 6.2 miles with 2900 ft descent to the trailhead.

Backstory: Captured in Granite Park in summer 1983, “Flourishing photographers” became my first published photo, appearing in February 1987 Modern Photography magazine. 38 years have passed since our group of seven family and friends backpacked to Royce Lakes, Royce Peak, Granite Park, and Italy Pass. Revisiting in 2021 enhanced the significance of both trips.

Sunrise illuminates peaks reflected in Honeymoon Lake in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California, USA.  (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Sunrise illuminates peaks reflected in Honeymoon Lake in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California.

Day hike Devils Postpile to Rainbow Falls as a loop, near Mammoth Lakes

Hexagonal tops of basaltic columns in Devils Postpile National Monument, near the town of Mammoth Lakes, California. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Devils Postpile National Monument, in Ansel Adams Wilderness. These basaltic columns formed underground about 90,000 years ago when hot lava dammed behind a moraine. As the lava lake cooled and shrank, cracks extending from the top and bottom merged to form vertical columns which were hidden underground. Then 20,000 years ago, grinding glaciers scalped and polished the hexagonal tops.

A loop day hike to Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls (6 miles with 780 feet gain) helped demystify Mammoth’s complicated parking and Shuttle system. From a reserved campsite in Mammoth Lakes, we drove past Minaret Summit Entrance Station (before the 7am-7pm daily cutoff for private cars) to reach Devils Postpile’s limited parking. Five days later, this would be our second backpacking trip’s exit point via Reds Meadow Shuttle. By the way, Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls can be hiked with less effort from their separate parking lots connected by the Shuttle bus.

Rainbow Falls, on the Middle Fork San Joaquin River, in Devils Postpile National Monument, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, near Mammoth Lakes, California, USA. The water plunges from a lip of hard volcanic andesite down 101 feet to hit the lower layer of more-easily eroded volcanic rhyodacite, which has undercut, forcing the falls to move 500 feet upstream from its original location. A loop day hike to Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls (6 miles with 780 feet gain) helped demystify Mammoth's complicated parking and Shuttle system. From a reserved campsite in Mammoth Lakes, we drove past Minaret Summit Entrance Station (before the 7am-7pm daily cutoff for private cars) to reach Devils Postpile's limited parking. Five days later, this would be our second backpacking trip's exit point via Reds Meadow Shuttle. By the way, Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls can be seen quicker from their separate parking lots connected by Reds Meadow Shuttle bus. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Rainbow Falls, on the Middle Fork San Joaquin River, in Devils Postpile National Monument. The water plunges from a lip of hard volcanic andesite down 101 feet to hit the lower layer of more-easily eroded volcanic rhyodacite, which has undercut and moved the falls 500 feet upstream from its original location.

5-day traverse: High Trail to Thousand Island, Garnet, Ediza, Iceberg, Cecile, & Minaret Lakes

For many years I’ve wanted to return to Thousand Island Lake, where as a child in 1967 and 1968, I horse packed with family, friends, and a folding double kayak. This year, six months in advance, I luckily reserved the “High Trail / PCT AA09” entry point for our backpacking group of three in Ansel Adams Wilderness. In this popular area, Inyo National Forest requires securing food in an approved bear canister (2.5 pounds). More spectacular than we had imagined, the trip gave us majestic mountains and perfect golden sunrises every day. (Direct sunset light tended to be blocked by high mountains to the west.) Trip log for August 22-26, 2021:

  • Day 1: Starting with the earliest reserved ride on Reds Meadow Shuttle bus from Mammoth Adventure Center to Agnew Meadows Trailhead, we backpacked the High Trail for 9 long miles with 2000 feet gain to Thousand Island Lake, on probably the dustiest trail I’ve ever hiked, albeit scenic. Hikers should use the Shuttle, otherwise trailhead parking is quite limited and most vehicle entries are blocked from 7am to 7pm. Multi-night parking is allowed in the Shuttle lot at Mammoth Adventure Center.
  • Day 2: Backpack from Thousand Island Lake to Garnet Lake (3.1 miles, 650 ft down, 500 ft up).
  • Day 3: Backpack from Garnet Lake to Ediza Lake (7 miles / 1400 ft down / 1000 ft up).
  • Day 4: Tom and Rebecca backpacked an exciting use-trail via Iceberg and Cecile Lakes to Minaret Lake (3.1 miles, 1130 ft up, 630 feet down) on steep scree and boulder rock-hopping, where a GPS trail map helped find the safest path to avoid cliffs. Older paper maps don’t mark this use-trail (a beaten boot track). (Earlier in the season, steep snow and ice can make the route unsafe for the unprepared; but our intentional pick of late August was snow-free.) To regain RV comforts, as planned, Carol returned on the attractive and familiar Shadow Creek (day hiked last year) to Agnew Meadows shuttle bus (8 miles, 400 ft up, 2700 ft down), back to Mammoth Lakes.
  • Day 5: Exit with backpacks from Minaret Lake to Devils Postpile Ranger Station (7.1 miles, 135 ft up, 2240 ft down), where we caught the frequent Shuttle (backpackers can return using Day 1’s round trip ticket).

Below: departing from Agnew Meadows, a packer on horseback leads mules on the dusty High Trail portion of the Pacific Crest Trail in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest.
Above Agnew Meadows, a packer on horseback leads mules  on the dusty High Trail portion of the Pacific Crest Trail in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, near Mammoth Lakes, California, USA. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, & Minaret Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Banner Peak and the Moon reflect in Thousand Island Lake at dawn in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Banner Peak and the Moon reflect in Thousand Island Lake at dawn in Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Below: At sunrise, Mt. Ritter, Banner Peak, and the Moon reflect in a pond at Garnet Lake.
At sunrise, Mt. Ritter, Banner Peak, and the Moon reflect in a pond at Garnet Lake in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California, USA. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, Minaret Lake, and Devils Postpile Ranger Station, reaching trailheads using the Reds Meadow Shuttle from the town of Mammoth Lakes. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Rays of sunrise illuminate our ledge campsite on the southwest side of Ediza Lake, under the Ritter Range, in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California, USA. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, Minaret Lake, and Devils Postpile Ranger Station, reaching trailheads using the Reds Meadow Shuttle from the town of Mammoth Lakes. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Rays of sunrise illuminate our ledge campsite on the southwest side of Ediza Lake, under the Ritter Range, in Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Below: Under the Minarets, Mount Ritter, and Banner Peak, we cross one of Ediza Lake’s inlet streams on Day 4.
Under the Ritter Range, hikers cross an inlet stream at Ediza Lake, in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California, USA. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, Minaret Lake, and Devils Postpile Ranger Station, reaching trailheads using the Reds Meadow Shuttle from the town of Mammoth Lakes. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The Minarets (part of the Ritter Range) rise over Cecile Lake in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, in backcountry near the town of Mammoth Lakes, California, USA. Clyde Minaret is at center. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, & Minaret Lake. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: The Minarets (part of the Ritter Range) rise over Cecile Lake in Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Below: Clyde Minaret (12,281 feet elevation) cuts a sharp shadow in late afternoon over Minaret Lake in the Ritter Range.
Clyde Minaret (12,281 feet elevation) cuts a sharp shadow in late afternoon over Minaret Lake in the Ritter Range in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, in backcountry near the town of Mammoth Lakes, California, USA. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, & Minaret Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

At sunrise, the Minarets reflect in Minaret Lake in the Ritter Range, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, in backcountry near the town of Mammoth Lakes, California, USA. At 12,281 feet elevation, Clyde Minaret is the highest, sharpest peak of the Minarets. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, & Minaret Lake. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above and below: At sunrise, the Minarets reflect in Minaret Lake.

At sunrise, the Minarets reflect in Minaret Lake in the Ritter Range, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, in backcountry near the town of Mammoth Lakes, California, USA. At 12,281 feet elevation, Clyde Minaret is the highest, sharpest peak of the Minarets. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, Minaret Lake, and Devils Postpile Ranger Station, reaching trailheads using the Reds Meadow Shuttle from the town of Mammoth Lakes. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Comfortable yet lightweight overnight backpacking gear
  • 1.8-pound TarpTent Stratospire Li double-wall tent for two: saves weight by using two hiking poles for support.
  • 2.5-pound Enlightened Equipment “Accomplice” Quilt covers two people, rated 10 degrees F, includes pad straps.
  • Big Agnes Insulated QCore SLX sleeping pads 20×66″, 3.5″ thick, comfy, 18 oz each
  • Food: freeze-dried dinners. Calorie-dense lunches and breakfasts. For the Pine Creek Trail, tying bear bags onto tree trunks away from camp at night protected our food (and protected bears from the falling risks of pursuing a higher-hung cache). We encountered no bears this summer, as most hikers seem now better-trained to protect food. In Mammoth Lakes area, we stored food in mandatory hard canisters.
  • Luxury items: one Helinox 1.1-pound chair, carried by “chairpa” Tom; Kindle E-reader; Samsung Note9 Smartphone for GPS maps; battery bank charger 10,000 mAh
  • Carrying the pocket-sized Sony RX100M6 camera saved several pounds compared to my RX10M4 system.
Sierra acclimatization day hikes done August 7-19, 2021

Off of Highway 50, popular Wrights Lake Campground was full, so we found free dispersed camping nearby in Eldorado National Forest. Sadly, heavy smoke crept in that night, aborting the next day’s hike on Grouse Lake Trail into Desolation Wilderness. Acclimatizing our lungs would have to start higher than at the locally moderate elevation of 7000 feet. Darn. We had to drive 4 hours southwards to find healthier smoke conditions. Turning west of Highway 395 at Toms Place reached the wonderful retreat of Little Lakes Valley.

On August 7, from Rock Creek Lake (at a gasping 9700 feet elevation) we puffed upwards to reach Dorothy Lake at 10,560 feet elevation (6 miles round trip with 960 feet total cumulative gain and loss). Despite our destination lake being a little smoky and 80% shriveled by drought, the quiet trail and surrounding scenery refreshed us. Whew, not bad. Little did we know — the following day’s popular hike to Gem Lakes featured stunning pyramidal peaks reflected in multiple lakes and streams, with beauty around every corner (7.9 miles round trip with 1040 ft gain). Having been here once 6 years ago, we knew to avoid the extra grunt to humdrum Morgan Pass.

For the next three nights, we car camped at Willows Campground, out of Bishop. From Bishop Pass Trailhead at South Lake, we day hiked 7.2 miles round trip with 2040 feet gain to a third lake above the first two Treasure Lakes. Wow, it’s another impressive hike surrounded by pyramidal granite peaks reflected in pristine alpine lakes.

On August 10, we walked Tyee Lakes Trail, next to Willows Campground (6.4 miles, 2000 feet gain). Rebecca continued upwards from Tyee Lakes on a traverse over to Sabrina Lake (8.6 miles with 2530 ft gain), where we drove to pick her up, then return to Willows Campground.

Yellow monkeyflowers (Mimulus genus) thrive along splashy South Fork Bishop Creek above the first two Treasure Lakes, in Inyo National Forest, Bishop, California, USA. From Bishop Pass Trailhead at South Lake, we dayhiked 7.2 miles round trip with 2040 feet gain to a third lake above the first two Treasure Lakes. In the evening, we car-camped at Willows Campground. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Yellow monkeyflowers (Mimulus genus) thrive along splashy South Fork Bishop Creek above the first two Treasure Lakes, in Inyo National Forest, near Bishop, California.

On August 15 we tackled a harder hike, from Big Pine Creek South Fork to Brainerd Lake (aka Brainard Lake), 9.2 miles round trip with 2800 feet gain from the day hikers parking lot (which would have been 10.7 miles round trip from the overnight hikers lot).

Gnarly pine trees along Brainerd Lake Trail. Big Pine Creek South Fork, John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Gnarly pine trees along Brainerd Lake Trail. Big Pine Creek South Fork, John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California.

The Brainerd Lake Trail affords striking views of the Palisades, along Big Pine Creek South Fork, in John Muir Wilderness within Inyo National Forest, west of Big Pine, in California, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Brainerd Lake Trail gives striking views of the Palisades around Mile 3.6, in John Muir Wilderness. From left to right are Middle Palisade Peak and Glacier, Norman Clyde Peak, Firebird Peak (aka “Peak 3862,” rising most prominently in the center foreground), Palisade Crest, and Mount Sill (14,153 ft). The Palisades group runs for 6 miles along the Sierra Crest, dividing the Owens Valley watershed (here) from the Central Valley, on the boundary between John Muir Wilderness and Kings Canyon National Park on the other side.

For final acclimatization before the two backpacking trips (described at top), we drove high into the White Mountains to find free dispersed camping in Inyo National Forest east of Bishop. Since last visiting six years ago, the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest was well worth repeating, for the Methuselah Walk (4.1-mile loop with 705 feet gain) amongst the world’s oldest living trees, more than 4000 years old. Nice Visitor Center!

Colorado: Chasm Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness

We hiked 8.5 miles round trip with 2500 feet gain to Chasm Lake, nestled under a majestic cirque of Longs Peak, in the northern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, near Estes Park, Colorado.

Longs Peak (14,259 feet) rises above Roaring Fork Creek, which is Chasm Lake's outlet, in Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness, near Estes Park, Colorado, USA. Hike 8.5 miles round trip with 2500 feet gain to Chasm Lake. Longs Peak is in the northern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Longs Peak (14,259 feet) rises above Roaring Fork Creek, which is Chasm Lake’s outlet.

Rock pattern on Longs Peak seen from Chasm Lake Trail, in Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness, Estes Park, Colorado, USA. Hike 8.5 miles round trip with 2500 feet gain to Chasm Lake. Longs Peak is in the northern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Rock pattern on Longs Peak seen from Chasm Lake Trail, in Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness.

Nebraska

After a family visit in Indiana, we pointed our RV back to Seattle. Bonus sights in Nebraska included the following:

Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum in Ashland, NE

Well worth a visit, the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum’s ominous aircraft and missiles are a sobering reminder of the Cold War, when the SAC served from 1965–1992 as nuclear air defense. In 1992, SAC was disbanded and reorganized into other units.

Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird (USAF s/n 61-7964) inside the entrance of the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum in Ashland, Nebraska, USA. The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird is a long-range, high-altitude, Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft that was operated by both the United States Air Force (USAF) and NASA (from 1966-99). During aerial reconnaissance missions, the SR-71 could outrace threats using high speeds and altitudes (85,000 feet). As of 2021 the SR-71 continues to hold the official world record it set in 1976 for the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft: 2,190 mph or Mach 3.3. This museum focuses on aircraft and nuclear missiles of the United States Air Force during the Cold War. The US Air Force's Strategic Air Command (SAC) served 1965-1992 as nuclear air defense during the Cold War. (In 1992, SAC was ended, by reorganization into other units.) The museum's imposing aircraft and various war exhibits are a sobering reminder of the ongoing nuclear era, of which the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis was the scariest event. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird is a long-range, high-altitude strategic reconnaissance aircraft that was operated by both the United States Air Force (USAF) and NASA (from 1966-99). During aerial reconnaissance missions, the SR-71 could outrace threats using high speeds and altitudes (85,000 feet). As of 2021, the SR-71 continues to hold the official world record it set in 1976 for the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft: 2,190 miles per hour or Mach 3.3.

Below: A Vajen-Bader smoke helmet for firefighters. Its round eyes have mica for fireproof viewing and even wipers to clear condensation! Made in Indiana in the 1890s, the helmet let firemen carry their own oxygen supply in an attached compression tank and protected them from smoke and falling debris. The technology would later be applied to high-altitude flight.

Vajen-Bader smoke helmet for firefighters displayed at the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum in Ashland, Nebraska, USA. The round eyes have mica for fireproof viewing and even condensation wipers! Made in Indiana in the 1890s, the helmet let firemen carry their own oxygen supply (in an attached compression tank) and protected them from smoke and falling debris. The technology would later be applied to high-altitude flight. This museum focuses on aircraft and nuclear missiles of the United States Air Force during the Cold War. The US Air Force's Strategic Air Command (SAC) served 1965-1992 as nuclear air defense during the Cold War. (In 1992, SAC was ended, by reorganization into other units.) The museum's imposing aircraft and various war exhibits are a sobering reminder of the ongoing nuclear era, of which the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis was the scariest event. Also included are space exhibits. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

International Quilt Museum, Lincoln, NE

Although the International Quilt Museum has the world’s largest publicly held quilt collection, our timing was off, arriving between shifting exhibits. In a later year we’ll return to this attractive building, operated by the University of Nebraska.

Chimney Rock National Historic Site, NE

Acclaimed in the mid-1800s diaries of pioneer emigrants, Chimney Rock is worth a stop. Its Museum concisely reveals the travails of westward prairie emigrants who passed this 325-foot-high natural rock landmark along the Oregon Trail, California Trail, and Mormon Trail. Modern travelers can see it along U.S. Route 26 and Nebraska Highway 92. At 4228 feet above sea level, the distinctive formation towers 480 feet above the adjacent North Platte River Valley. Its layers of volcanic ash and brule clay date to the Oligocene Age (34 million to 23 million years ago).

Below: Prairie emigrants used covered farm wagons like this (instead of heavy boat-shaped Conestoga wagons), displayed at Chimney Rock National Historic Site.

Prairie emigrants used covered farm wagons like this (but not heavy boat-shaped Conestoga wagons), on display at Chimney Rock National Historic Site, Bayard, Nebraska,  USA. At Chimney Rock, a slender rock spire rises 325 feet from a conical base, serving as an impressive natural landmark along the Oregon Trail, the California Trail, and the Mormon Trail during the mid-1800s. Modern travelers can see it along U.S. Route 26 and Nebraska Highway 92. At 4228 feet above sea level, the distinctive formation towers 480 feet above the adjacent North Platte River Valley. Its layers of volcanic ash and brule clay date to the Oligocene Age (34 million to 23 million years ago). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, NE

Agate Fossil Beds boasts the most well-preserved Miocene fossils in the world. Exhibits also elucidated local native American history and culture.

Below, a skeleton diorama of the Agate waterhole of 20 million years ago (Miocene epoch) shows two entelodont mammals and a small beardog scavenging a chalicothere carcass (related to horse and rhino). The entelodont (Dinohyus hollandi) was a hoofed mammal 6-8 feet tall at the shoulder, with powerful jaws and teeth for eating both carrion and plants. The smaller skeleton in the foreground is a beardog (Daphoenodon superbus, the most common carnivore at the Agate waterhole site), which preyed upon juvenile rhinos, camels, and oreodonts. Notice that someone with a sense of humor put a blue mask on the beardog during the pandemic! The chalicothere (Moropus elatus) was related to the horse and rhino, standing 6 feet tall at the shoulder and having 3-toed, claw-like hooves.

A full-sized skeleton diorama of the Agate waterhole 20 million years ago shows two entelodont mammals and a small beardog scavenging a chalicothere carcass (related to horse and rhino), at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Harrison, Nebraska, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Fort Robinson State Park, NE

Continuing north towards Crawford on the edge of the High Plains, Fort Robinson State Park provides large campgrounds with attractive bluff scenery in the Pine Ridge region of northwest Nebraska (resembling the Black Hills 50 miles to the north). Fort Robinson was a US Army base (1874-1947) which played a major role in the Sioux Wars from 1876 to 1890.

The Mammoth Site, Hot Springs, South Dakota

Here is the largest collection of in-situ mammoth remains in the world. Although the Black Hills of South Dakota offer many other great sights, don’t miss this fascinating museum and active paleontological site. Sheltered under the Mammoth Site’s roof is an ongoing excavation of a prehistoric sinkhole filled with the remains of animals and plants preserved by entrapment and burial around 140,000 years ago, in the Late Pleistocene. Since mammoth bones were found here accidentally in 1974, the remains of 61 mammoths have been recovered (including 58 North American Columbian and 3 woolly mammoths as of 2021). The Pleistocene, often referred to as the Ice Age, is the geological epoch that lasted from about 2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago, spanning the earth’s most recent period of repeated glaciations. The most recent glaciation period reached peak conditions some 18,000 years ago before yielding to the interglacial Holocene epoch 11,700 years ago.

The Mammoth Site is a fascinating museum and active paleontological site in the town of Hot Springs, in the Black Hills, South Dakota, USA. It is the largest collection of in-situ mammoth remains in the world.  (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: “The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs” in the Black Hills.

Sinbad is a life-sized replica skeleton of a Columbian mammoth at the Mammoth Site, a fascinating museum and active paleontological site in the town of Hot Springs, in the Black Hills, South Dakota, USA. The Mammoth Site is the largest collection of in-situ mammoth remains in the world. Sheltered within the building is an ongoing excavation of a prehistoric sinkhole filled with the remains of Pleistocene animals and plants preserved by entrapment and burial. Since mammoth bones were found here accidentally in 1974, the remains of 61 mammoths have been recovered (including 58 North American Columbian and 3 woolly mammoths as of 2021). Due to geological conditions after the animals were trapped around 140,000 years ago, the excavated "fossil" bones are not petrified or turned to stone, so are very brittle, requiring professional handling. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Sinbad is a life-sized replica skeleton of a Columbian mammoth, featured at The Mammoth Site.

The giant short-faced bear (Arctodus sumus) was the largest land carnivore in North America during the Ice Age. See this full-scale skeleton in the the Mammoth Site, a fascinating museum and active paleontological site in the town of Hot Springs, in the Black Hills, South Dakota, USA. Sheltered within the building is an ongoing excavation of a prehistoric sinkhole filled with the remains of Pleistocene animals and plants preserved by entrapment and burial. The Pleistocene, often referred to as the Ice Age, is the geological epoch that lasted from about 2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago, spanning the earth's most recent period of repeated glaciations. The most recent glaciation period reached peak conditions some 18,000 years ago before yielding to the interglacial Holocene epoch 11,700 years ago. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Skeleton of an extinct giant short-faced bear (Arctodus sumus), the largest land carnivore in North America during the Ice Age.

A replica of Dima, a mummified baby woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) who died 41,000 years ago and was discovered in 1977 in Eastern Siberia. The skin color and hair presence on this replica was modified to match the original's appearance at the time of discovery. See the Dima replica at the Mammoth Site, a fascinating museum and active paleontological site in the town of Hot Springs, in the Black Hills, South Dakota, USA. The Pleistocene, often referred to as the Ice Age, is the geological epoch that lasted from about 2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago, spanning the earth's most recent period of repeated glaciations. The most recent glaciation period reached peak conditions some 18,000 years ago before yielding to the interglacial Holocene epoch 11,700 years ago. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: A replica of Dima, a mummified baby woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) who died 41,000 years ago and was discovered in 1977 in Eastern Siberia. The skin color and hair presence on this replica was modified to match the original’s appearance at the time of discovery.

Above are highlights. For a more extensive gallery of The Mammoth Site, see Tom’s Portfolio site.

Washington hikes in summer 2021

Before going to California’s Sierra Nevada, we trained on the following trails that were mostly new to us and easily drivable as day trips from Seattle:

  1. June 16: Soaring Eagle Regional Park (Sammamish): pleasing loops
  2. June 18 & 29: Oyster Dome Trail, and North Butte Loop, in Blanchard State Forest: impressive forest and views
  3. Redmond Watershed Preserve: several nice loops on non-muddy trail
  4. July 1: Chuckanut Mountain: good exercise through forest, if you’re passing through the area
  5. Issaquah Alps: Margaret’s Way in Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park; and Wilderness Peak on Squak Mountain
  6. July 12-13: Mount Rainier National Park: Sunrise: Skyscraper Pass on the Wonderland Trail; and the Palisades Trail to Hidden Lake
  7. Little Si including Boulder Loop (North Bend): a rewarding loop, familiar
  8. Lord Hill Regional Park (Snohomish): walk a multi-use loop through disturbed land (slowly rewilding)
  9. July 19: Ira Spring Trail to Mason Lake (I-90): steep and rewarding, hiked regularly in past years; avoid doing on weekends due to crowds
  10. July 21: Pratt Lake Trail (I-90): nicely graded and forested, crossing pretty streams
  11. and the following adventurous loop hike to Grand Valley on July 27…
Olympic National Park: loop hike from Obstruction Point to Grand and Badger Valleys

Reached by turning left just before the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, Obstruction Point Road provides Olympic National Park’s best views of shy Mount Olympus from a vehicle (open from about July 4 through October 15 depending on weather and snow on the steep, narrow gravel surface).

July 27, 2021 hiking report: Starting from Obstruction Point Trailhead, we day hiked a vigorous loop over Lillian Ridge to Grand Lake, with short side trip to Moose Lake, then returned the longer way along Grand Creek via Badger Valley Trail (9 miles with 2740 feet gain). Despite numerous backpackers and fellow day hikers along this popular National Park entry point, the wilderness feels refreshingly remote. For relaxation, allow two or more days round trip from Seattle to explore the Olympic Peninsula.

Mount Olympus (7963 ft elevation) seen from Lillian Ridge, near Obstruction Point, in Olympic National Park, Washington, USA. From Obstruction Point Trailhead, hike 9 miles with 2740 feet gain in a loop across Lillian Ridge to Grand Lake, plus side trip to Moose Lake, then return along Grand Creek via Badger Valley Trail. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: See majestic Mount Olympus (7963 ft elevation) from Lillian Ridge, near Obstruction Point, in Olympic National Park. I fondly recall climbing to the False Summit on May 30, 1982, just 80 feet short of the highest peak of Mount Olympus (45 miles round trip over 3 days with 7400 ft total gain and loss).

A Tiger Lily (Lilium columbianum) flower blooms in Grand Valley, Olympic National Park, Washington, USA. From Obstruction Point Trailhead, we hiked 9 miles with 2740 feet gain in a loop across Lillian Ridge to Grand Lake, plus side trip to Moose Lake, then return along Grand Creek via Badger Valley Trail in Olympic National Park. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A Tiger Lily (Lilium columbianum) flower blooms in Grand Valley.

Hiking Chain Lakes loop, Mount Baker Wilderness in autumn

Our summer’s mammoth momentum continued through fall. On October 19, we enjoyed one of our favorite hikes in Washington:

  • Galena Chain Lakes loop, for 7.3 miles with 1800 feet gain and loss, starting from Bagley Lakes Trailhead (Ski Area parking lot). Start early in the morning and hike counterclockwise for better photographic lighting on the peaks.
  • When the road to Artist Point is open (from July until the first snowfall, by early October), the circuit can be shortened to 6 miles starting from Heather Meadows Visitor Center, in Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest.

Dew drops on leaves (2021 October 19) in Heather Meadows, Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Dew drops on leaves in Heather Meadows.

Mt Shuksan and red fall colors seen from the ascent to Herman Saddle on the Galena Chain Lakes loop trail, in Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington, USA. On October 19, we hiked Galena Chain Lakes loop 7.3 miles with 1800 feet gain and loss, starting from Bagley Lakes Trailhead (Ski Area parking lot). (When the road to Artist Point is open, the circuit can be shortened to 6 miles starting from Heather Meadows Visitor Center.) (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Mt Shuksan and red fall colors seen from the ascent to Herman Saddle on the Galena Chain Lakes loop trail, in Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest.

Mount Baker & Iceberg Lake seen from Herman Saddle in Mount Baker Wilderness, on the Galena Chain Lakes loop trail, Washington, USA. On October 19, we hiked Galena Chain Lakes loop 7.3 miles with 1800 feet gain and loss, starting from Bagley Lakes Trailhead (Ski Area parking lot). (When the road to Artist Point is open, the circuit can be shortened to 6 miles starting from Heather Meadows Visitor Center.) (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: See Mount Baker and Iceberg Lake on the descent from Herman Saddle into Mount Baker Wilderness, on the Galena Chain Lakes loop trail.

Mount Baker rises above Iceberg Lake in Mount Baker Wilderness, a part of Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest, in Washington, USA. On October 19, we hiked Galena Chain Lakes loop 7.3 miles with 1800 feet gain and loss, starting from Bagley Lakes Trailhead (Ski Area parking lot). (When the road to Artist Point is open, the circuit can be shortened to 6 miles starting from Heather Meadows Visitor Center.) (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Mount Baker rises above Iceberg Lake in Mount Baker Wilderness.

Below: Mount Shuksan, seen from Kulshan Ridge in Heather Meadows.
Mount Shuksan seen from Kulshan Ridge, along the Galena Chain Lakes loop trail, in Heather Meadows, Mount Baker – Snoqualmie NF, Washington, USA. On October 19, we hiked Galena Chain Lakes loop 7.3 miles with 1800 feet gain and loss, starting from Bagley Lakes Trailhead (Ski Area parking lot). (When the road to Artist Point is open, the circuit can be shortened to 6 miles starting from Heather Meadows Visitor Center.) (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Above are the day’s highlights, where clicking any image loads Tom’s Portfolio site, showing a more extensive gallery, “2021 Oct 19: Chain Lakes loop, Mt Baker Wilderness”.

Related pages: Washington; California; Colorado; The Midwest (including Nebraska & South Dakota).

2020 Aug: Spray Park–Knapsack Pass Loop trail, Mt Rainier NP

After a dozen hikes to Spray Park splendor since 1982, in summer 2020, I discovered an adventurous loop return to Mowich Lake via Knapsack Pass Trail (see Washington Trails Association), in Mount Rainier National Park. However, slippery exposure on steep scree and snow scared my wife Carol, who vowed never to hike Knapsack Pass again! (6.7-mile circuit with 2600 feet gain.) Fortunately, steps postholed in soft snow allowed crossing safely on that warm day (August 17th). I delighted in this flower-filled loop under the snow cone of 14,411-foot Mount Rainier.

Beware, the unmaintained and unmarked Knapsack Pass Trail exposes hikers to steep scree and year-round snow fields which could become dangerously icy. The trail is best navigated by experienced hikers only, in late summer using a good map, GPS device, and trekking poles (or ice axe if icy). The worn trail, marked with cairns and boot tracks, may become difficult to follow in the half mile of scree and snow fields southeast of Knapsack Pass.

A mountain memorial for David Dempsey in Spray Park

While bicycling on May 8, my older brother Dave sadly lost his life to a negligent motorist along Highway 32 in Chico, California. In the field of flowers pictured below in Spray Park, Carol and I spread some of Dave’s ashes:

In memorium: lupin and aster flowers bloom prolifically in Spray Park in mid August 2020, in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, USA.  (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

In memorium: lupin and aster flowers bloom prolifically in Spray Park in mid August 2020, in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


More images from Spray Park–Knapsack Pass Loop

From familiar Spray Park, our counterclockwise circuit entered territory unknown to us, in the headwaters of Cataract Creek above Mist Park (pictured below). If conditions became too rough, we were okay with turning back.

This panorama shows the headwaters of Cataract Creek in Mist Park, along the Spray Park–Knapsack Pass Loop Trail, in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, USA.  (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

This panorama shows the headwaters of Cataract Creek in Mist Park, along the Spray Park–Knapsack Pass Loop Trail, in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, USA. In mid August, mosquitoes and blue lupin flowers predominated, plus paintbrush and a few late-blooming avalanche lilies. 4 images were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Crossing several steep snow fields made us nervous, perched above sharp rocks:

Mount Rainier seen from the headwaters of Cataract Creek in Mist Park, along the Spray Park–Knapsack Pass Loop trail, in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Mount Rainier seen from the headwaters of Cataract Creek in Mist Park, along the Spray Park–Knapsack Pass Loop trail, in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Then we steeply ascended sharp scree and switchbacks to Knapsack Pass, a small notch in Mother Mountain:

Mount Rainier NP: Headwaters of Mist Park, along Spray Park–Knapsack Pass Loop, Washington, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Ascend steep switchbacks up Knapsack Pass, a notch in Mother Mountain at the headwaters of Mist Park, in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Mount Rainier loomed impressively above flower fields along Knapsack Pass Loop Trail.

In mid August, a late-season avalanche lily (Erythronium montanum in the Liliaceae family) blooms white with yellow center in Spray Park, in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

In mid August, a late-season avalanche lily (Erythronium montanum in the Liliaceae family) blooms white with yellow center in Spray Park, in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Pink flowers bloom on the rim of Mist Park, along the Spray Park–Knapsack Pass Loop, in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Pink flowers bloom on the rim of Mist Park, along the Spray Park–Knapsack Pass Loop, in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Mowich Lake seen from Knapsack Pass trail, which is a steep "social trail" in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, USA. Caution: the unmaintained and unmarked Knapsack Pass trail exposes hikers to slippery scree and steep snow (possibly icy), best hiked in late summer using a good GPS device, map, and trekking poles. The Spray Park–Knapsack Pass Loop is very rewarding but only recommended for experienced, well-equipped hikers. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Mowich Lake seen from Knapsack Pass trail, which is a steep "social trail" in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, USA. Caution: the unmaintained and unmarked Knapsack Pass trail exposes hikers to slippery scree and steep snow (possibly icy), best hiked in late summer using a good GPS device, map, and trekking poles. The Spray Park–Knapsack Pass Loop is very rewarding but only recommended for experienced, well-equipped hikers. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Click here to read more of Tom’s hiking tips in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

2014 spring training hikes in Washington & Eastern Oregon

Where can Seattle hikers go in the spring when high Cascades trails are covered in snow? Motivated to train for summer trekking in Peru, we enjoyed the following series of early season hikes in Washington and Oregon, traveling 1-4 days at a time out of Seattle between April 14-Jun 13, 2014:


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As driving trips out of Seattle, these spring hikes (photos above and links below) gave lots of variety, including wonderful wildflowers and snow-free footing with altitude acclimatization as high as 7140 feet in Washington’s Kettle Range:

  • Oregon (camping in RV parks in our VW Eurovan Camper)
    • John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (click to article or see photo show below): March 15-16 was an excellent time for us to visit, with pleasant temperatures; snow-free most of the year.
    • Troy: Blue Mountains, Umatilla NF, Grande Ronde River:
      • Wenaha River Trail (8.2 miles/600 ft gain): on May 19, this pleasant trail was dry and snow-free.
      • We enjoyed being the sole campers next to the Grande Ronde River in quiet Shilo Troy RV Resort (hot showers; electric hookup).
    • Enterprise: Wallowa Mountains
      • Imnaha River Trail (9.3 miles/800 ft gain), Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest: May 20 was perhaps a week too late to avoid an overgrowth of poison ivy and blackberry thorns across the trail – next time, early to mid-May should be best. Bring a machete. For sure, avoid midsummer heat on this trail which is hikeable from late March through November.
      • In Enterprise, Log House RV Park had friendly staff and good views of the Wallowa Mountains and Eagle Cap Wilderness.
    • Pendleton:
      • Ninemile Ridge Trail (5.3 miles/1250 ft gain, plus more if you want): May 21 had excellent Lupinus luteolus (Pale Yellow or Butter Lupine) flowers; usually best from mid- to late-May.
  • Washington
    • Blewett Pass (camping for 2 nights):
      • Iron Creek to Teanaway Ridge Trail (7.2 miles/1850 ft): May 28 had excellent footing, with some easily crossed snow patches at the top. Camp in nice quiet Forest Service pullouts along the gravel access road.
      • Ingalls Creek Trail (11.2 miles): Excellent on May 29; best mid-May to early-June for wildflowers and rushing high-volume water; hikeable May to October. Camp conveniently in Blu-Shastin RV Park near Leavenworth.
      • Table Mountain Trail #1209, near Blewett Pass, Wenatchee National Forest (5 miles/800 ft): on May 30, one snow blockage in the access road forced us to walk a mile to the trailhead, discovering beautiful rafts of Glacier Lilies, Grasswidow, and Columbian lewisia flowers under the burnt forest!
    • Mt Si Trail, North Bend (9 miles/3170 ft): snow-free most of the year, except summit Haystack area.
    • West Tiger Mountain, Issaquah: snow-free most of the year.
    • Cougar Mountain, Issaquah: snow-free most of the year.
    • Wallace Lake, Gold Bar (loop 8.5 miles/1500 ft): snow-free most of the year.
    • Kettle Range, Colville National Forest, near Republic, for the highest snow-free, early-season hikes in Washington, above 7000 feet elevation:
      • Copper Butte Trail (9.2 mi/2150 ft, reaching 7140 feet elevation): snow-free footing on June 12.
      • Wapaloosie Mountain Trail (6.2 mi/1850 ft, reaching 7018 feet elevation): snow-free footing on June 13.

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

From a late-Winter visit on March 15-16, 2014, we show photos of Oregon’s John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, including Painted Hills Unit and Sheep Rock Unit (Blue Basin Overlook Trail):


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Index of my Oregon articles:

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2021: 2020: 2016:

2015: 2020:

USA: OREGON & WASHINGTON: Columbia River Gorge

Photos of Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area span both Oregon and Washington, including: Multnomah Falls, Latourell Falls, Wahclella Falls, moss smothered trees on Tanner Creek, Horsetail Falls & Creek, Upper Horsetail (Ponytail) Falls, Beacon Rock, Triple Falls & Middle Falls of Oneonta Gorge, Wahkeena Creek, Fairy Falls, blossoms of Red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum), tugboat pushing barges of grain.


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2014: 2011: 2021:

2020: 2016: 2015:

2020:

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The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is marked at the bottom of this Washington map.

Recommended Washington guidebooks from Amazon.com:

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2009: 2007: 2019:

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2021: 2004:

USA: WASHINGTON: Olympic Peninsula

The Olympic Peninsula in the state of Washington is captured in photo galleries below featuring sea coast, haystacks, animals, mountains, flowers, and plants. In 1981, Olympic National Park was honored as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Animals

Animal photos from the Olympic Peninsula of Washington include: Roosevelt elk, a deer with Mount Olympus in background, and a clay chicken on a lavender farm. The Roosevelt elk (or Olympic elk, Cervus canadensis roosevelti) is the largest of the four surviving subspecies of elk in North America.


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Mountains

July 27, 2021 hiking report: Obstruction Point Road features Olympic National Park’s best views of Mount Olympus from a vehicle (open from about July 4 through October 15 depending on weather and snow, and not suitable for trailers due to steep, narrow gravel surface). Turn left just before the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center. Starting from Obstruction Point Trailhead, we day hiked a great loop over Lillian Ridge to Grand Lake, with short side trip to Moose Lake, then returned the longer way along Grand Creek via Badger Valley Trail (9 miles with 2740 feet gain). Expect to see a lot of backpackers at this popular wilderness entry point.


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In the above gallery, Olympic Peninsula mountain photos include: Olympic National Park, Mount Olympus, deer, Obstruction Point, Lillian Ridge trail to Grand Creek and Badger Valley, Big Quilcene Trail to Marmot Pass, ferry with mountain backdrop, and an aerial view of Hood Canal and the Olympic Range.

Sea coast, ferries, towns

Coast, ferry, and town photos from the Olympic Peninsula, Washington include: dramatic thunderhead and big logs on Kalaloch Beach, sea stacks on Ruby Beach, Olympic National Park, Cape Flattery sea caves on the most northwestern point of the contiguous United States, Port Townsend Historic District, Kingston Ferry, sunset light on abstract cloud pattern, aerial view of Hood Canal and Olympic Mountains.


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Farms, flowers, plants

The following photos from the Olympic Peninsula include: lavender farms, rusting equipment, sunflowers, rhododendron wildflowers on Mount Townsend hike, Phlox flowers, profuse Columbine flowers (genus Aquilegia in Buttercup family, Ranunculaceae), Olympic larkspur (Delphinium glareosum Greene), orange-red Indian paintbrush (Castilleja), False Solomon’s Seal (or Treacleberry, Latin name Maianthemum racemosum), water streaming by Devils Club (Oplopanax horridus, Araliaceae), rime frost on grass and trees, rays of light through moss covered trees in Hoh Rain Forest, ferns.


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Washington map of major parks, cities, roads, geography.

USA: WASHINGTON: North Cascades, Skagit Delta

Photos from hikes and sights in the North Cascades mountain range in the state of Washington (USA) include the following galleries: Mount Baker Highway 542, North Cascades Highway 20, Cascade River Road, Baker Lake Road, and Skagit River Delta.

Mount Baker Highway 542 to Heather Meadows


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Recommended hikes and sights along Mount Baker Highway 542 east of Bellingham in the North Cascades mountain range:

  • The volcanic cone of Mount Baker rises to 10,781 feet elevation.
  • Church Mountain trail is a hike of 8.5 miles round trip with 3800 feet elevation gain in Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest. Trailhead is 5 miles east of Glacier Public Service Center.
  • Excelsior Pass is the next hike east (off of Highway 542) in Mount Baker Wilderness.
  • Further east, hike scenic Hannegan Peak 10 miles round trip with 3100 feet elevation gain.
  • In late afternoon, don’t miss seeing Mount Shuksan reflected in Picture Lake or Highwood Lake, where Highway 542 splits into a one way loop around the lakes in Heather Meadows Recreation Area. For a special treat, hike at peak autumn color season in early October. Picture Lake (located in Heather Meadows, Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest) reflects Mount Shuksan (9127 feet elevation in North Cascades National Park).
  • The Galena Chain Lakes Loop Trail is one of the most rewarding hikes in Washington. Every turn reveals majestic views, including Mount Shuksan, Mount Baker, and wild lakes. I like starting from the bottom, at the Ski Area parking lot at Bagley Lakes trailhead in Heather Meadows Recreation Area, for a counterclockwise loop 7.3 miles with 1800 feet gain and loss. (If the road to Artist Point is open, then starting at Heather Meadows Visitors Center shortens the loop to 6.1 miles.) Starting in the early morning and going counterclockwise optimizes photographic lighting at each viewpoint. From Bagley Lakes, ascend 1200 feet to Herman Saddle, descend to Chain Lakes (Iceberg Lake, Hayes Lake, Mazama Lake), ascend 600 feet to Ptarmigan Ridge junction, traverse to Artist Point (where a car shuttle can save walking 1.3 miles), then descend steeply to where you started. Hiking from late July through mid October helps avoid the chance of snowy footing. For a shorter, out-and-back hike, start at Artist Point for a) 2.8 miles round trip to the top of Table Mountain, or b) 3 miles round trip to the Ptarmigan Ridge turnoff (or higher onto Mount Baker), or c) about 6 miles round trip to Hayes Lake with 700 feet of loss and gain.
Autumn hiking Chain Lakes loop, Mount Baker Wilderness

Catching good weather between storms on October 19 in 2021, we enjoyed one of our favorite hikes in Washington:

Dew drops on leaves (2021 October 19) in Heather Meadows, Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Dew drops on leaves in Heather Meadows.

Mt Shuksan and red fall colors seen from the ascent to Herman Saddle on the Galena Chain Lakes loop trail, in Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington, USA. On October 19, we hiked Galena Chain Lakes loop 7.3 miles with 1800 feet gain and loss, starting from Bagley Lakes Trailhead (Ski Area parking lot). (When the road to Artist Point is open, the circuit can be shortened to 6 miles starting from Heather Meadows Visitor Center.) (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Mt Shuksan and red fall colors seen from the ascent to Herman Saddle on the Galena Chain Lakes loop trail, in Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest.

Mount Baker & Iceberg Lake seen from Herman Saddle in Mount Baker Wilderness, on the Galena Chain Lakes loop trail, Washington, USA. On October 19, we hiked Galena Chain Lakes loop 7.3 miles with 1800 feet gain and loss, starting from Bagley Lakes Trailhead (Ski Area parking lot). (When the road to Artist Point is open, the circuit can be shortened to 6 miles starting from Heather Meadows Visitor Center.) (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: See Mount Baker and Iceberg Lake on the descent from Herman Saddle into Mount Baker Wilderness, on the Galena Chain Lakes loop trail.

Mount Baker rises above Iceberg Lake in Mount Baker Wilderness, a part of Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest, in Washington, USA. On October 19, we hiked Galena Chain Lakes loop 7.3 miles with 1800 feet gain and loss, starting from Bagley Lakes Trailhead (Ski Area parking lot). (When the road to Artist Point is open, the circuit can be shortened to 6 miles starting from Heather Meadows Visitor Center.) (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Mount Baker rises above Iceberg Lake in Mount Baker Wilderness.

Below: Mount Shuksan, seen from Kulshan Ridge in Heather Meadows.
Mount Shuksan seen from Kulshan Ridge, along the Galena Chain Lakes loop trail, in Heather Meadows, Mount Baker – Snoqualmie NF, Washington, USA. On October 19, we hiked Galena Chain Lakes loop 7.3 miles with 1800 feet gain and loss, starting from Bagley Lakes Trailhead (Ski Area parking lot). (When the road to Artist Point is open, the circuit can be shortened to 6 miles starting from Heather Meadows Visitor Center.) (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above are a day’s highlights, where clicking any image loads Tom’s Portfolio site, showing a more extensive gallery, “2021 Oct 19: Chain Lakes loop, Mt Baker Wilderness”.

North Cascades Highway 20

Photos from hikes and sights along State Route 20, the North Cascades Highway, Washington, include:

  • Sauk Mountain is an easy day hike of 4 miles round trip and 1100 feet vertical gain, near the town of Concrete.
  • Camp with your vehicle in the impressive scenery of Ross Lake National Recreation Area.
  • From Rainy Pass, hike Maple Pass Loop (7 miles with 2000 feet gain) or Cutthroat Pass (9-12 miles round trip with 1800-2300 feet gain).
  • Near Washington Pass, hike easy Blue Lake Trail, especially beautiful in early October when larch needles turn golden.
  • Near Mazama, hike Harts Pass and Grasshopper Pass on the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail in Okanogan National Forest for more golden larch color in early October.


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Cascade River Road to Sahale, Stehekin, Hidden Lake hikes

Photos from hikes and sights along Cascade River Road which departs North Cascades Highway 20 at Marblemount, Washington:

  • Hike Hidden Lake Lookout (8 miles round trip with 3500 feet elevation gain).
  • Hike Cascade Pass (7 miles round trip with 1800 feet gain) or further up to Sahale Arm (11 miles round trip with 3000 feet gain), a favorite for views of stunning U-shaped glaciated valleys and soaring ice clad peaks. Backpack onwards into wild Stehekin River Valley which connects to Lake Chelan and the Lady of the Lake passenger ferry.


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Baker Lake Road

Below are photos from hikes and sights along Baker Lake Road in the North Cascades mountain range, Mount Baker National Recreation Area, Washington. The Railroad Grade Trail follows a lateral moraine of the Easton Glacier which flows from the south side of Mount Baker (10,781 feet).


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Skagit River Delta

Photos from the Skagit River Delta include large flocks of snow geese on farmers’ fields, and expanses of commercial tulips and daffodils (Narcissus) blooming in mid April.


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USA: WASHINGTON islands: Bainbridge, San Juans, Whidbey, Fidalgo, Vendovi

View Tom Dempsey’s photographs of Washington islands, including Bainbridge, San Juans, Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands. 

Bainbridge Island

The Bloedel Reserve is a 150-acre forest garden on Bainbridge Island, Washington, made by the vice-chairman of a lumber company. The Bloedel Reserve has both natural and highly-landscaped lakes, immaculate lawns, woods, a traditional Japanese garden, a rock and sand Zen garden, a moss garden, a rhododendron glade, and a Reflection Garden. The Bloedel’s French Chateau-style home is preserved as a Visitor Center, including many original furnishings. Reservations may be required. The following photos portray Bloedel Reserve near peak fall foliage colors on October 19, 2005.


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San Juan Islands

The San Juan Islands can be reached via the Washington State Ferry Terminal in Anacortes on Fidalgo Island, Washington, USA, or from Sydney (near Victoria) on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. Ferries dock at Friday Harbor after visiting Orcas Island and other islands in San Juan County. From the ferry, admire the volcanic cone of Mount Baker rising to 10,775 feet elevation near Twin Sisters Mountain on the mainland. The San Juan Islands archipelago is in the Salish Sea, north of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, west of Rosario Strait, east of Haro Strait, and south of Boundary Pass and the Strait of Georgia.

On San Juan Island, in Lime Kiln Point State Park, watch for orcas (killer whales) which cruise right off the shore near the 1919 Lime Kiln Lighthouse. Visit American Camp and English Camp to learn of the historic Pig War 1859-1872, which peacefully arbitrated the San Juan Islands into the territorial United States.


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Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands

Whidbey Island, the largest island in Washington, offers many good photo opportunities. Visit popular Deception Pass State Park, where State Route 20 crosses a 180-foot high bridge over swirling saltwater currents of the Salish Sea. Tugboats shepherd huge log rafts through Deception Pass. Watch bird life such as Great Blue Heron and Bald Eagle. Admire lichen covered old growth trees on quiet walks. Indian Camas (or Indian hyacinth or Wild hyacinth, Camassia quamash) and other wildflowers bloom in spring and summer. Visit Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, including: Admiralty Head Lighthouse (built 1890) in Fort Casey State Park and Crockett Blockhouse. In Meerkerk Gardens, admire a colorful concentration of hybrid rhododendron flowers blooming in late April.

Drive to Fidalgo Island on the north side of Deception Pass Bridge. At Anacortes, see oil refineries, oil tankers, boats, docks, and catch a ferry to the San Juan Islands. On a clear day, see the volcanic cone of Mount Baker rising in the North Cascades 40 miles to the east.


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Recent trip galleries:

Lummi and Vendovi Islands, plus parks south of Bellingham

Lummi Island is west of Bellingham in the Salish Sea, in Whatcom County, Washington. 

Vendovi Island lies across Samish Bay from mainland Skagit County, between Guemes Island and Lummi Island in the Salish Sea, Washington. The former Fluke family vacation home greets public visitors in a small bay on the northwest side of Vendovi Island. Register for day use and walk the nature trails to beaches and bluff views. The San Juan Preservation Trust, a land trust that conserves open space in the San Juan Islands, purchased the island in December 2010 from the family of John Fluke Sr. Vendovi Island was named after a Fijian High Chief Ro Veidovi who was brought to North America by the 1841 Wilkes Expedition. To keep the island open to public access, support the “Campaign to Save Vendovi Islandat sjpt.org.

On the mainland, south of Bellingham, the hikes to Oyster Dome and North Butte in Blanchard State Forest offer nice views of Sammish Island and the San Juan Islands. To further vary our training hikes in this area, we’ve also enjoyed hiking on Chuckanut Mountain and in Larrabee State Park.


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USA: WASHINGTON: Cascades: Mountain Loop: Granite Falls – Darrington

Ascend excellent trails to impressive peaks, flowers, lakes, and streams in the Central Cascades along the Mountain Loop Highway, in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, from Granite Falls to Verlot Public Service Center to Darrington, in Washington, USA.

Mountains and peaks

Hike well marked trails to beautiful mountains in the Central Cascades along the Mountain Loop Highway. The following photos include: Three Fingers, Goat Flats, Green Mountain, Downey Creek, Dome Peak, Bald Mountain, Walt Bailey Trail, Mount Pilchuck Natural Resources Conservation Area (NRCA), Mount Pilchuck State Park, Gothic Basin, Sheep Gap Mountain, Silvertip Peak, Monte Cristo, Glacier Peak, Mount Dickerman, Del Campo, Morning Star, Sperry, and Vesper Peaks, Hall Peak, Big Four Mountain, Sloan Peak, Mount Pugh, South Fork Stillaguamish River Valley, , Foggy Peak above Goat Lake, and distant Mount Baker, Mount Shuksan, and Mount Rainier.


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Native wildflowers, plants, insects

Hiking from trailheads along the Mountain Loop Highway reveals a variety of native wildflowers, plants, and insects to photograph, such as: Columbine (genus Aquilegia), fireweed, Cornus canadensis (Canadian Dwarf Cornel, or Canadian Bunchberry, or bunchberry dogwood), Five-Finger Fern (or Western Maidenhair, or Adiatnum pedatum aleuticum), False Lily-of-the-Valley (Maianthemum), vine maple leaves silhouetted, heavy moss on trees, water drops on skunk cabbage (Lysichitum americanum), fall foliage colors, hoverfly on daisies, and Swallowtail butterfly.


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Snow, lakes, water

Hike wonderful trails to distinctive water, lake, and snow features along the Mountain Loop Highway, in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. The following photos are from Goat Lake in Henry M. Jackson Wilderness, Cutthroat Lakes on the Walt Bailey Trail, and Foggy Lake in Gothic Basin. Snowshoe or hike to Lake Twenty-Two Research Natural Area, and to adjacent Heather Lake in Mount Pilchuck State Park.


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USA: WASHINGTON Cascades: I90 to US2, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Wenatchee

The Central Cascades of Washington are easily reached for spring, summer, and fall hikes and winter snow sports via Interstate 90 and Stevens Pass Highway US 2. Hike, snowshoe, or ski to see diverse ecosystems, mountain vistas, lakes, streams, flowers, ferns, and mushrooms in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Wenatchee National Forest, and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Mountains

  • Mountain photos from hikes near Stevens Pass Highway (US 2) include: Baring Mountain, Beckler Peak Trail, Carne Mountain (with views of Glacier Peak, Buck Mountain, Liberty Cap, Fortress Mountain, Chiwawa Mountain and Spider Gap, hiking from Phelps Creek Trailhead), and yellow larch needles in October in the Enchantments (trailhead off of Icicle Creek Road, Leavenworth).
  • Photos from hikes near I90 include: Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park, Mason Lake/Ira Spring Trail to Mount Defiance, Granite Mountain (with views of Mount Rainier), Snoqualmie Pass, Snow Lake, Polallie Ridge, Ingalls Pass (to view Mount Stuart, the second highest non-volcanic peak in the state), Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana) bird.


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Winter snow

  • Photos from snowshoeing near Stevens Pass Highway (US 2) include: Leavenworth Bavarian Ice Fest and Icicle Creek Road.
  • Photos from snowshoeing near I90 include: Snoqualmie Pass, Kendall Peak Lake, Snow Lake, Commonwealth Basin, and Ingalls Pass (to view Mount Stuart, the second highest non-volcanic peak in the state).


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Water, lakes, streams

Abundant rainfall in the Central Cascades of Washington creates many unique water features accessible from hikes in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Wenatchee National Forest, and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, accessed near Interstate 90 and US Highway 2.

  • Water photos from hikes near Stevens Pass Highway (US 2) include: Skykomish, Lake Serene, Barclay Creek Trail to Barclay Lake under Baring Mountain.
  • Photos from hikes near I90 include:  Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park in the Issaquah Alps (Far Country Falls, Coal Creek Falls), Mason Lake/Ira Spring Memorial Trail to Mount Defiance, South Fork Snoqualmie River, Twin Falls Natural Area, Ollalie State Park, Snow Lake, Rachel Lake, Rampart Lakes, Box Canyon, Ingalls Creek Trail.


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Flowers, fungi, plants

My plant and fungi images from the Central Cascades are documented in each caption, including:

Tiger Lily or Columbia lily (Lilium columbianum), Glacier Lily, Columbine flower, Bunchberry Dogwood flowers (cornus canadensis), Monkeyflower (Mimulus), Columbia Monkshood (Aconitum), Bear Grass (tenax, genus: Xerophyllum, family: Liliaceae), pink thistle with camouflaged Crab Spider (Family Thomisidae), Woolly Chanterelle mushrooms (Gomphus Floccosus), False Chanterelle (Clitocybe aurantiaca), Admirable Boletus mirabilis, Coral Hydnum mushroom (Hericium coralloides), white oyster mushrooms, Pinesap (monotropa hypopithys L.), bracket fungi (shelf fungi), Pine-drops (Pterospora), Western Coral-Root (Corallorhiza mertensiana), Five-Finger Fern (or Western Maidenhair, Latin name Adiatnum pedatum aleuticum), White Veratrum (Veratrum Californicum) leaves, vine maple, larch (yellow needles in fall, genus Larix), Salal (Gaultheria shallon) with water drops, foggy forest on Wilderness Peak Trail in Squak Mountain State Park.


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USA: WASHINGTON: favorite photos

View Tom Dempsey’s favorite photographs from his home state of Washington in two galleries:


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The following favorite Washington panoramas are stitched from several overlapping images (for wider angle of view and more detail in larger prints):


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The state of Washington is one of the most ecologically and scenically diverse in the USA. In altitude, the land varies from sea level to 14,411 feet at the summit of Mount Rainier, an awesome active volcano covered in glaciers. The Carbon Glacier flows to a lower altitude than any other glacier in the Lower 48 states. A huge glacier actually covered Seattle 3,000 feet deep in ice only 15,000 years ago, gouging the scenic fjord of present-day Puget Sound. 

The state lies in a transitional latitude between sub-Arctic northern forests and warmer drier regions. Moist temperate air masses sweep onto the west coast and hit the spectacular Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges, dumping heavy rain on the southwestward (windward) slopes, creating dense temperate rainforest. The mountains wring the air dry, creating extensive rain shadows to their east and northeast, such as in the sunny San Juan Islands, and in the desert lands of Eastern Washington, irrigated by the mighty Columbia River.

Washington boasts a tremendous variety of landscapes, native plants, and wildflowers, as illustrated in the following articles:

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USA: WASHINGTON: Mount Saint Helens

Mount Saint Helens is an active stratovolcano in Skamania County, Washington, and is one of 160 active volcanoes that comprise the Pacific Ring of Fire.

The May 18, 1980 eruption was the most deadly and economically destructive volcanic event in the history of the United States. Fifty-seven people were killed. 250 homes, 47 bridges, 15 miles of railways and 185 miles of highway were destroyed. A massive debris avalanche during the eruption reduced the elevation of the mountain’s summit from 9677 feet (2950 m) to 8364 feet (2550 m), leaving a mile-wide horseshoe-shaped crater. The debris avalanche, of up to 0.7 cubic miles (2.3 km³) in volume, was the largest in recorded history.

As the crow flies, Mount St. Helens is 96 miles (154 km) south of the city of Seattle and 53 miles (85 km) northeast of Portland. The mountain, part of the Cascade Range, takes its English name from the British diplomat Lord St Helens, who was a friend of George Vancouver, an explorer who made a survey of the area in the late 18th century.


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USA: WASHINGTON: Goat Rocks Wilderness

A very scenic hike visits Snowgrass Flat and Goat Ridge over a 13 mile loop with 3180 feet total gain in Goat Rocks Wilderness, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington, USA. Ice still covers most of Goat Lake in late July, but the trail should be mostly free of snow barriers by then. Hike Goat Rocks on a clear day to admire several nearby Cascades volcanoes: Mount Adams, Mount Saint Helens, and Mount Rainier. Watch for lenticular (lens shaped) clouds hovering in standing waves of wind sweeping over the volcanic cones.

The following wildflowers bloomed abundantly on July 28, 2006 (see photos): subalpine mariposa lily (Calochortus subalpina, or mountain mariposa lily), pink heather, lupine flowers, Bear Grass (Latin name tenax, also commonly called Indian Basket Grass, Soap Grass, or Squaw Grass), Indian paintbrush (Castilleja), and Western Anemone flowers with hair-like seed heads.


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The Goat Rocks Wilderness is a unique area characterized by high alpine terrain centered around an ancient volcano which dominated the area some two million years ago. The mountainous terrain is between 3,000 and 8,184 feet elevation, much above timberline. Elk, mountain goats, marmots, deer, and a variety of birds reside here.

Recommended Washington guidebooks from Amazon.com:

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2009: 2007: 2019:

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2021: 2014: 2004:

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Washington map of major parks, cities, roads, geography.