Berries with an elegant, almost iridescent look against a background of fallen snow
After a wonderfully dry summer, Seattle and the Cascade Mountains have entered autumn. When I heard a report that snow was falling at Snoqualmie Pass, I organized a hike to Gold Creek Pond to try and photograph snow and autumn leaves. The forecast kept changing, so we didn’t know if we were going to encounter drizzle or fresh snow at the 3,000′ trailhead.
When we arrived, there was indeed fresh snow; not enough to need snowshoes, by any means, but just the perfect amount for a day of leisurely photography. There were still yellow leaves of Douglas Maple, blazingly scarlet leaves of Vine Maple, and multi-hued leaves of Red-osier Dogwood.
Gold Creek Pond is an artificial creation, despite its stunning and seemingly natural location surrounded by snowy peaks. In the 1970s and early 1980s, the stretch of I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass was under construction, and this was the location of a borrow pit for obtaining gravel for the road construction. Since the bulldozers and front-end loaders departed the scene, the pit has filled with water and is now a wonderful place for families to come and walk, fish, and picnic. The U.S. Forest Service has guided the process of revegetating the shores of the little lake, and it has become an excellent destination for Seattleites wanting a taste of nature.
On our visit, dramatic clouds briefly revealed the surrounding peaks. We also enjoyed seeing and photographing Kokanee Salmon, which are landlocked salmon that spend much of their lives in a lake, then migrate up the inlet stream to spawn. These are the same species as the Sockeye Salmon I had photographed in the Adams River of Canada, but those ocean-going fish are much larger. These fish look to be about 10-12″ long, but still sport the red-and-green color combination typical of the species when it swims upstream to spawn.
A paved one-mile trail leads around the lake, allowing easy access
Red-osier Dogwood leaves varied dramatically in coloration
Autumn Vine Maple leaves turn a vivid scarlet, looking as elegant as the Japanese Maples that so many people plant in their yards; here I photographed the leaves against a cloudy sky
Peaks surrounding Gold Creek Pond occasionally revealed themselves from behind their cloud masks
Migrating Kokanee Salmon clustered in quiet pools along Gold Creek
This salmon group was resting just above a Beaver dam; the bottom of the pond is lined with sticks the Beavers are saving as a winter food supply
Kokanee Salmon are silver for most of their lives, but when the time comes for their death swim upstream, the pigment in their flesh migrates to the skin and the fish become an elegant shade of red
Small gray birds known as Dippers would sometimes swim over the salmon, causing the fish to scatter in a panic
We don’t know why the salmon stay in such tight clusters at this point in their upstream quest; they are undoubtedly resting in a well-oxygenated pool, and perhaps the tight cluster gives some protection against predators or serves a role in mating. At some point the fish will scatter and establish breeding territories along the stream or around the shallows of the lake
Viewed from above, with the distortions of ripples and current, the salmon look as if captured in an abstract painting
Karen, my wife, has a tradition of creating wonderful snowmen on our hikes, and her creation “Autumn” uses seasonal styling cues to bring on a smile
Douglas Maple’s yellow autumn leaves bearing a snow load
Bunchberry, also known as Canada Dogwood, with overnight snow
The pond itself sits in a dramatic location not far from I-90
The evergreen forest with its first major snow of the autumn
Vine Maple leaves against a light gray cloudy sky
When I visited in late October, the conditions were great for a late autumn hike. Be aware that conditions change constantly at Snoqualmie Pass, and be prepared for winter weather. Soon enough it will be snowshoe season at Gold Creek Pond.
For more information about the Gold Creek Pond area, go to Forest Service Gold Creek Trail; or go to trip reports and a trail description at Washington Trails Association.
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