Moon shadows. Sun shadows. Street light shadows. All it takes is a point light source that reveals the world to our eyes, while casting into shade those places not illuminated. The light examines, while the shadows add mystery. And definition. And design.
I have worked extensively with shadows as a compositional tool during the last few years, and here I present some of my favorite photographs from this era of my life.
On the end of a sunny day in March, the sun was shining warmly upon the land, with trees casting their organic shadows across the faces of buildings. I especially liked this old farmhouse, which had just a touch of gingerbread trim left from an earlier era.
LOCATION: Central Michigan, USA
Spring shadows crossing a snowy field, then gliding up the front and roof of a house. These are the kinds of compositions I notice, putting a subject in a whole new light.
LOCATION: Mormon Row, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, USA
SNOWSTORM IN A REMOTE VILLAGE
While visiting Newfoundland in midwinter, we stayed in a cozy home once used as a cod fisherman’s residence. I walked out at night during a heavy snowstorm and photographed homes and a church in the village. The falling snow leaves a slight texture in the sky, and the warmth of lights coming from inside the house lend a human touch. There is an air of mystery in this photograph that encourages repeated viewing.
LOCATION: Dunfield, Newfoundland, Canada
WINTER NIGHT BY THE SEA
On a February trip to Newfoundland we stayed at an old house right along the Atlantic shore in a tiny fishing village. It was magical. Then it started snowing. I took this picture with a very long exposure to blur the snowflakes, which adds an interesting texture to the dark background.
This picture is one of the rare pictures where I worked on the scene extensively using Photoshop. I modified the color that came from the sodium vapor street lamps and chose instead to bring the red colors and the snowy landscape back to what they look like in the daytime, and I think it looks painterly. It is my interpretation of the scene, and I like the feeling of it.
LOCATION: Dunfield, Newfoundland, Canada
DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN
Returning late from a snowshoe trip to the Mount Baker area, we stopped in the small town of Maple Falls to get a sandwich and gas. It was quiet, and the darkness beyond the brightly lit gas station reminded me of the paintings of Edward Hopper–one of my favorite American artists. I carefully composed the photograph in several ways, and this turned out to be my favorite. The name for the photograph comes from a Bruce Springsteen album, which has some of the same thematic elements as this photograph: the power of darkness, the lure of the open road, and the magic and threat of night.
LOCATION: Cascade Mountains, Washington State, USA
Utah’s Nine Mile Canyon is known for the petroglyphs and pictographs along its some forty mile route. But on this autumn day, an old cabin captured my lens. The mind has to puzzle out what is going on here, and that is part of the mystique of this picture.
LOCATION: Nine Mile Canyon near Price, Utah, USA
CURVE IN SPACE AND TIME
At the end of a spectacular Great Plains sunset, I had just finished photographing a grain elevator with a wash of sunset warmth. Leaving, I immediately crossed these railroad tracks, which reflected the orange and magenta colors in the sunset. I quickly turned the vehicle around and returned to photograph this wonderful curve in the universe. Grace in steel and light and darkness.
LOCATION: Boise City, Oklahoma, USA
STREETLIGHT SHADOWS ON SNOW
It was the dead of winter with a fresh layer of snow upon the ground. I was tired from driving home at night, and stopped at a rest area for a few moments of respite. There I noticed the orange sodium vapor lights casting their eerie glow upon the snow, with tree shadows adding grace and lines to the scene. I spent a long time trying to get the perfect composition without disturbing the snow, and this was my favorite for its organic lines and rich color.
LOCATION: Central Michigan, USA
TULIPS IN SUNSET GLOW
On a spring visit to Alaska, where my brother and his wife have raised a family, I noticed the warm sunset light glowing on the walls. I picked up a camera and began photographing the shadows and patches of light all over the house. When my sister-in-law saw what I was doing, she held up a vase of tulips to create these shadows on the wall.
LOCATION: Chugiak, Alaska, USA
BLUE WINDOW AND ADOBE SHADOWS
I like visiting Taos in October, when the warm, low angle sun sets the adobe afire with color. In this photograph, I captured a classic blue-framed window at the end of a crystalline day, with delicate leaf shadows adorning the adobe, as if painted by an artist.
LOCATION: Taos, New Mexico, USA
OCTOBER IN SANTA FE
With the aroma of pinyon logs burning in fireplaces, the cottonwoods sifting golden light through autumn leaves, and the piercing blue sky, Santa Fe is a special place in October. While browsing the art galleries along Canyon Road in late afternoon, I came upon these flowers and their shadows at an adobe house. This photograph brings back fond memories of a wonderful place and time.
LOCATION: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
I was high on a ridge at sundown, when the sun was casting long autumn shadows on the colorful autumn meadow. The fir trees, with their pointed tops, create a strong graphic statement.
LOCATION: Paradise, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington State, USA
NIGHT SHADOWS ON AN ADOBE CHURCH
San Francisco de Asis Mission Church is one of the finest photographic subjects I have ever encountered. In the course of one October day, I returned three times to photograph the church under different lighting conditions. This photograph is among my favorites: taken at night, the adobe walls are graced with shadows cast by a streetlight shining through cottonwood leaves. It has an interesting juxtaposition of shadows and shape and the texture of adobe, and even has stars overhead.
LOCATION: Taos, New Mexico, USA
Shadow of a car moving fast on a Michigan highway in the late light of an early autumn day.
LOCATION: Central Michigan, USA
While camping in Hell’s Gate State Park, I noticed how the occasional vehicle passing by my tent illuminated the dandelion seedheads in the grass. I loved the backlit look of the dandelions and the shadows cast by the trees, so I employed my van as a photo prop and set up this picture at deep twilight.
LOCATION: Lewiston, Idaho, USA
AMISH BARN IN WINTER
This is a recently built Amish barn in Michigan. I love the simple lines of it, suitable for the people who built it, with functionality foremost and certainly no embellishment. Look at the lines of the walls and roof and shadows: how they intersect each other and how they define the blocks of red and blue colors. This is another in my series studying how light falls on buildings, inspired by Edward Hopper’s paintings that worked with this theme.
LOCATION: Central Michigan, USA
Amish homes near my Michigan winter home are austere, with white paint and no superficial adornment, including flower beds or foundation plantings (interestingly, many have bird feeders outside the windows to bring color and life into their lives). In this photograph, I saw the blue shadow at the end of the day crossing the simple white house and thought it added a gaudy and unexpected touch.
LOCATION: Central Michigan, USA
All of my photographs are available for sale as prints, either on cotton rag paper or on metal. Go to http://leerentz.com to see my entire catalog. If you would like one of the photographs shown here in the size I have listed below, you have the option of ordering it through PayPal.
SHADOWS PHOTOGRAPHS FOR SALE
The photograph shown to the left is simply an example; any of the above photographs are available for ordering. Please indicate which of the above photographs you would like to order. This is a 16 x 24″ metal print on aluminum with high gloss surface and incredibly rich and accurate color, ready to hang with no picture frame necessary (slightly rounded corners, stands about 3/4″ out from the wall for a floating, modern appearance). You can see a much larger selection of print sizes and types at my website: http://leerentz.com. Shipping is free; sales tax will be added for Washington State residents. I am glad to answer any questions at email@example.com
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When I was just 19 years old, I drove to the California coast for the first time. I had two days off from my job as a U.S. Forest Service firefighter in the Cascade Range of northern California, and I decided to drive to the coast for the first time. I left the ranger station and drove west, through Lassen National Park, then down into the scorching Central Valley, which was about 100°F in the shade, of which there was very little.
I got out of the valley as quickly as possible in my little fire engine-red Buick Opel, then drove past golden hills covered with grasses and scattered oaks, up into the Coast Range, which was covered with soothing green Douglas Firs. This was California State Highway 36, which turned out to be the slowest road I’ve ever been on. It snaked its way up into the mountains, following closely the contours of the deep ravines and steep mountainsides, with one hairpin curve leading immediately into another. Imagine a really long strand of spaghetti noodling around the mountains, and you get an idea of the playful road. It took most of a day to drive.
When I reached the hamlet of Mad River, there had been an accident in which a man had been thrown out of the back of a pickup. I stopped to help his family lift him back into the pickup, supporting his head rigidly as we lifted. It was going to be a long three-hour trip for him to the nearest hospital while laying with his neck and back badly injured in the back of the pickup. Life was more primitive then; today a helicopter or plane would be dispatched.
I drove on from Mad River through two more hours of twisting roads until I descended from the sunny mountains into the cool and foggy California Coast. It was soothing and new. I saw my first Coast Redwood trees as I approached Highway 101. I learned about ocean fog. I drove north to Redwood National Park on my whirlwind tour, stopping at a roadside cafe in redwood country where burly guys were talking about the huge size of a redwood they had just cut–one of those trees that took up an entire logging truck all by itself.
I hiked some short trails in the redwoods and walked the Pacific Ocean beach to explore Fern Canyon in the fog. It was magical. Too soon, I had to hightail my way back to my job, but at least I had experienced a bit of the storied California Coast.
Since that early summer, I’ve returned many times. One summer, my wife and I explored the Menocino Coast while I was stationed in Mad River, where I had helped administer first aid several years before. We saw our first sea stars: this is embarrassing, but we were very young and from the midwest and were so excited to sea starfish that we attempted to take several home with us. Of course, they died and we were left with a stinking mess and a guilty conscience. Live and learn.
Many years later, in 2013, I drove up Route 1 and 101 from San Francisco, after participating in an art show in a redwood grove in Marin County. The road was as twisty and slow as I remembered it, and there didn’t seem to be many more people living out there along the lonely coast than there were before. It is a hard place to make a living, with much of the logging industry diminished.
The old-fashioned tourist industry struggles along this coast; I suspect that Californians spend far more of their money fashionably sipping wine in Napa Valley than in walking among ancient redwoods. But there is still a drive-through tree for travelers who want to show their kids what the tourism experience used to be like.
But there were reminders on the radio that there are alternative ways to earn cash. There was a report of several black SUVs heading north on a back road near Mendocino, with a wood chipper being hauled behind one of them. It seems that the government uses its black SUVs to search-and-destroy marijuana crops, which are then fed through the chipper (maybe the mulch is then fed to pigs; and perhaps it gives the pigs the munchies which helps fatten them up). There is apparently a whole network of people who call in reports of the government agents and where they’re headed. This seems to be a contemporary twist on the moonshiners and revenue agents that made up so much of the popular view of Appalachia.
I camped overnight at MacKerricher State Park north of Fort Bragg. I’ve heard that this park is where the movie set for the house in the great movie Summer of ’42 was built. That film, which came out in 1971, starred Jennifer O’Neill as “Dorothy,” a woman living on Nantucket while her husband was away and fighting during World War II. It was an enchanting story, and based upon a real experience in the screenwriter’s life. See it if you haven’t.
MacKerricher was filled with ocean fog during my visit, so it was wonderful for photography. The roar of heavy surf hitting the rocky shore lulled me to sleep.
The next day, I drove north through the redwoods, eventually reaching Oregon, the words to a Jimmy Webb song so memorably sung by Linda Ronstadt making for an unusually pleasant earworm in my brain:
“Going up north where the hills are winter green
I got to leave you on the California coast …”
And, so, that’s where I’ll leave my memories until my next visit.
To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com (just ask to email you a small version of a particular photograph you like if you can’t find it on the site; my website is not up to date).
While I was young, my family had a cabin in northern Michigan that we would drive up to on weekends throughout much of the year. We knew we were getting close when our Chevy station wagon crossed the Muskegon River over a rusty steel truss bridge near the village of Hersey. The backwater pool under the bridge, with its sandy river bottom, became our favorite swimming hole and canoe launch point. While swimming there, local teenagers would sometimes climb to the top of the spidery bridge and launch themselves like bad boy Olympic high divers down to the river far below. It was a center of the community in summer.
Alas, the old steel bridge was replaced several decades ago by a concrete structure that is undoubtedly stronger and wider and safer than the original bridge–but has none of the charm and grace of the older structure. This has been the story across America, as bridges over troubled waters run into trouble themselves, and are replaced with more mundane structures.
One man saw the disappearance of iron and steel truss bridges as a sad Michigan and American trend, and he had the vision to create something truly unique. Dennis Randolph, Managing Director (at the time) of the Calhoun County Road Commission, assembled a team of staff and volunteers to move five bridges from various parts of Michigan to a small park along the Kalamazoo River near Battle Creek. In a few short years, the bridges were brought in and lovingly restored by Vern Mesler and many other dedicated workers.
The park became Historic Bridge Park, and I was thrilled to walk through the park when it first opened. The old iron and steel bridges were elegant and beautiful in their engineering, and the restoration appeared to be impeccable. I know of nowhere else in America that has an outdoor bridge collection, and I applaud the people who made this possible.
Alas, on July 25 & 26, 2010, a 30″ diameter pipeline carrying diluted heavy crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, burst near Marshall, Michigan, close to Historic Bridge Park. Before the leak was discovered and the flow stopped, 819,000 gallons of dark crude spilled into Talmadge Creek, then flowed into the Kalamazoo River, contaminating birds and fish and the whole riverbed for several miles. Enbridge Energy, the company responsible for the spill, spent two years cleaning up the oil spill with crews and equipment working full time to restore the damaged section of the Kalamazoo River. Historic Bridge Park was necessarily closed to public use for nearly two years.
Part of the cost of cleanup and mitigation for Enbridge was to provide improved facilities at Historic Bridge Park. With these funds, new restroom and canoe launch facilities were provided, and the park got an endowment to help with future maintenance. Historic Bridge Park reopened in 2012, and it is now more beautiful than ever.
When I was in Historic Bridge Park, I noticed blue paint slashes on some of the trees. These are markers for a long distance hiking route: the North Country Trail. If I was of a mind to, I could shoulder a backpack and hike this trail south into Ohio, then east into Pennsylvania and on into Upstate New York, taking my last step in some of my favorite mountains: the Adirondacks.
Alternatively, I could hike the other way out of the park and head to Michigan’s “up north,” eventually crossing the Mackinaw Bridge, walking through the vast north woods of the Upper Peninsula, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, then ending up in the sea of grass of the North Dakota prairie.
Alas, I cannot do either, as it is time to leave Battle Creek and fly back to Washington State, crossing the snowy winter landscape at 35,000.’
For specific information about the bridges in the park, go to Historic Bridges.
For information about the Enbridge Energy oil spill, go to Kalamazoo River Oil Spill.
The visionary engineer behind Historic Bridge Park, Dennis Randolph, is also a prolific administrator and author. He has written a good book about community engineering: Civil Engineering for the Community.
To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com (just ask me to email you a small version of a particular photograph you like if you can’t find it on the site; my website is not up to date)
To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website.
When I was studying forestry in college, a guy who shared a lot of my classes told me kinda, sorta jokingly that he thought I would end up manning a fire lookout tower. Yeah, he was essentially right: I was and will forever be introverted, and I am happy to be alone with my thoughts. Though I never was stationed on a fire tower, I could have been perfectly happy doing so, and would have followed in the tradition of beat writers Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder, both of whom manned lookouts in the North Cascades of Washington State. Alas, spotter planes have replaced fire lookouts in most areas of America, so the option of being a fire lookout has closed in on those of us suited for the job.
I have known a few fire lookouts, and they conformed to no real stereotypes. The first one I met was an elderly lady (probably about my current age!) who was staffing a lookout about 50 road miles from anywhere in California’s Lassen National Forest. At the time, I was a 19-year-old on a forest fire water tanker crew, and one of our routine jobs was to deliver water to that lookout, which lacked a nearby spring. When the lady lookout greeted us, she was wearing a dress and long white elbow-length dress gloves–which she considered to be the proper way to greet visitors. She certainly made an impression!
Fire lookouts in the past were sometimes the wives of firefighters, back before the US Forest Service routinely employed women on fire crews. Every morning we would hear the four or so lookouts announce that they were starting their workday on the radio that blared across the fire compound where I worked. I recall one lookout from Horse Ridge in California saying that the lady lookouts with the sexiest radio voices were often the most overweight (hey, a little snarky commentary is always fun!).
Several years ago, we encountered a young woman staffing a fire tower in Mt. Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest. She hadn’t seen many fires that summer and, when I asked her what she really thought her job was, she said “public relations.” She was to put a good face on the Forest Service for all the hikers who came her way, and to establish a sense that someone really was caring for all the vast forests of the Pacific Northwest. I envied her lifestyle: immediately after leaving her Forest Service temp job as a fire lookout, she was heading to Antarctica’s McMurdo Station for a long season working in the cold. She was having a series of lifetime adventures!
Fire lookout towers come in various configurations. When I was growing up in the Midwest, fire lookouts had to be tall to rise above the trees; they were set atop spindly steel towers that could rise roughly 100 feet tall. When I was younger, I had a fear of heights, and even on a calm day, I was afraid to climb all the stairs to the top of a tower. One time, when I was about 12 years old, I climbed several levels on the tower at Seney National Wildlife Refuge (in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula) and was able to see a Black Bear foraging in a meadow below. But I didn’t like seeing the ground through the gridded metal stairsteps … it looked so far below that my boy’s legs wobbled.
When I was in college in 1970, attending a forestry summer session in the Upper Peninsula, my buddies and I drove from camp one evening to visit a nearby fire tower. Two of the guys climbed the tower to smoke marijuana while watching the sunset (as in “Oh wow, man”); the two of us who didn’t like heights stayed on the ground and didn’t toke. The last thing in the world I wanted to do was descend 120 metal steps at twilight after smoking dope! But my friends made it down without incident and appeared to have had one of those hippie spiritual experiences made possible by drugs.
Fortunately, I’ve outgrown my fear of heights and can now lean over cliffs to get a photograph whenever the opportunity arises. In fact, one time at Palouse Falls I almost took a step too far on an extremely steep and loose slope, but I’ll leave that story for another time.
Gobblers Knob Fire Lookout is different from those Michigan lookouts. The cabin is about the same size, and they used the same Osborne Fire Finder to pinpoint fires (in combination with other lookouts, the location of a fire was precise). The big difference lies in the location. Gobblers Knob commands a stunning location atop a rocky promontory right in the face of Mount Rainier. It doesn’t have to rise above the trees, because the rock it sits on rises above most of the trees. There is only one short set of stairs to climb–after sweating up over a thousand vertical feet of steep trail.
The Tahoma Glacier starts near the summit, which rises above 14,200′, and continues down the mountain to about the 5,500′ level, which is about the level I’m at while taking this photograph from Gobblers Knob Lookout
Gobblers Knob Lookout was built in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC was among America’s best ideas; it put young men to work during the Great Depression and created much of the best rustic infrastructure of America’s national and state parks. The CCC, with camps run by the US Army, also installed discipline and a work ethic in hundreds of thousands of unemployed young men; some have argued that this training and discipline was a huge asset in winning WWII. Gobblers Knob Lookout was used to spot forest fires until after World War II, when it was largely replaced by spotter planes.
The lookout remains today, and it is considered an historic place by the National Park Service, so it is maintained. In fact, several years ago, the roof was crushed by heavy winter snows, but the lookout was rebuilt in its original form.
To get to the lookout, our group of six took a trail that skirted Lake Christine and led to Goat Lake, where we established our campsite. The day was unseasonably hot for Western Washington State, so we were glad to reach Goat Lake. We changed into swim trunks and went swimming in the subalpine lake that had sported melting ice just two weeks earlier. After swimming, we cooked an early dinner, hung our food to guard against bears, then four of us hiked up the steep trail to Gobblers Knob. Along this trail, we passed from the Gifford Pinchot National Forest into Mount Rainier National Park.
Our plan was to experience sunset at the lookout, then to descend the trail in the dark, by headlamp. We took careful note of landmarks along the trail so that we could follow the path without getting lost in the dark. All went well, but in the heat and steepness, I ran out of steam several hundred yards short of the fire lookout, and had to stop for an energy bar and some water.
The view from the lookout was astounding. It sits right in the face of the mountain, and caught the last light from the western sunset. The sky was clear, but we didn’t get the pink alpenglow we had hoped for, and had to be satisfied with the warm light reflecting beautifully off the peak. Before we knew it, dark descended. Two of our group went down the mountain ahead of Karen and I; by the time we decided to descend, we really did need the headlamps almost immediately. We had recently gotten a powerful new LED headlamp for Karen, and it gave us a sense of wonderful certainty about the trail in complete darkness. Based upon this experience, I suggest that anyone going into the back country should use as powerful a headlamp as possible.
On the way down the trail, we saw a light in the woods ahead. It turned out to be a young woman backpacking with her dog. She was resting on a log and had a sheen of sweat from the warm night; her dog was panting heavily. We asked if she had enough water for the dog, and she replied that she did, but that he was getting old and tended to overheat more on the trail. Her plan was to camp near the lookout that night, and she had about a mile to go. We made it back to camp without any problems, and quickly burrowed into our tent, where we lay atop our sleeping bags until we finallly cooled off enough to crawl inside.
The next morning, I took a cold swim in the lake, which refreshed me for the hike out. It was cold enough to encourage me to yelp with a combination of pleasure and pain. We stopped at Lake Christine, which had also recently melted out. Near the lakeshore, there was a meadow with the highest concentration of White Avalanche Lilies I have ever seen. These spectacular lilies start emerging through the melting snow, then quickly bloom with pristine white purity. There were also spectacular shooting stars and Columbia Tiger Lilies in this beautiful lunch spot.
The day grew ever hotter as we descended, but near the trailhead Karen spotted a yellow columbine. It turned out that this was a rare alternate color form of the familiar red-and-yellow columbine we normally see. At the trailhead, cold water in an ice chest was a wonderful pleasure.
Photographs from the trail:
For more information about Gobblers Knob Fire Lookout and the trail approaching it, go to:
Washington Trails Association Route Description (Note: this is the route we chose, and we added the side trip to Mount Beljica, which also gives a spectacular view of Mount Rainier)
Gobblers Knob Fire Lookout (information and history)
There is an excellent recent book, Fire Season, by Philip Connors, that chronicles his life as a fire lookout in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest during eight fire seasons. I just finished reading it, and enjoyed how he wove National Forest fire policy into the narrative.
Go to LeeRentz.com to view the range of work by Lee Rentz. Work is available as metal or archival paper prints, and most are available for licensing for websites, magazines, and books.
The Iron Goat Trail leads through the magnificent ruin of an all-concrete snow shed along the now-abandoned high route over Stevens Pass (now replaced with a lower route, less prone to avalanches, over the same pass)
“I was journeying to Seattle from Spokane, planning to visit my sister who lives on an island in Puget Sound. It was nippy when we left Spokane, but the cold was bitter when we reached the Cascade Mountains. As we climbed toward Stevens Pass, the snow was falling steadily, and at the pass it was accumulating on the tracks too fast for the rotary snowplows to keep up. We got to the Cascade Tunnel, and were safe from the falling snow inside the tunnel, but when we emerged on the other side at the little town of Wellington, it was a full-fledged blizzard and the conductor said that we were going to have to wait for the snow to subside before the train could leave the station. We stayed warm enough in the train while we waited for an endless two days. There was enough food, but the snow kept falling. Some of us thought it might be safer if the train could back into the tunnel, but the conductor said that we could be poisoned from the train’s smoke, so the train remained stopped outside.
Finally, the snow stopped late in the day on February 28. Later that night we awoke to a rare winter storm with thunder and lightning. The temperature was suddenly a great deal warmer. I was sleepy, but I could tell that something wasn’t right because there was a loud roar outside. Then a wall of snow hit us hard, and pushed the whole train off the tracks and down the mountain. It was as horrid as can be; passengers were screaming and flying through the air and slamming into walls and the ceiling as the train tumbled down. I hit my head and passed out, so I didn’t even realize that the broken passenger car was now covered by snow. Two hours later, I was pulled from the wreckage by three men; I was colder than I have ever been, but the men said I was lucky just to be alive.”
From the journal of Lucy Annabelle Wiggins
(a Victorian lady, born in England, emigrated to America in 1893, and real only in the author’s imagination)
The Great Northern Railway tried to make first the Stevens Pass route over the Cascades work well, they really did, but the mountains of Washington are prone to tremendous snowfalls followed by rain. When the rain saturates the accumulated snow, the cold, wet mass gets too heavy for the slope, and an avalanche is possible.
On the night of March 1, 1910, 96 people in two trains died in the Wellington Avalanche, which was triggered when lightning hit a snowy slope high above Wellington. Most of the bodies were not recovered until snowmelt the following July. Only 23 passengers survived, in the greatest natural disaster ever to hit Washington State in historic times and among the worst train disasters in America.
After the disaster, the Great Northern decided that they needed more snow sheds along the route. Snow sheds over the tracks provide a way for avalanches to pass right over the tracks without hitting the train. They even built a high-tech (for the era) all-concrete snow shed that was nearly half-a-mile long. With all the snow sheds and tunnels on this route, travel became safer, but the entire route was abandoned in 1929 upon completion of the 7.8 mile long Second Cascade Tunnel down along the river.
Time wore on. Timbers rotted in the wooden snow sheds and roofs collapsed. Douglas Firs and Western Hemlocks and Grand Firs grew up along the old roadbed. Rockfalls and avalanches covered the old route with debris. The village of Wellington, later renamed Tye to avoid association with the avalanche, burned down after being abandoned by the railroad. Traces of the old forest fire and clearcut above Wellington–which had contributed to the deadly avalanche–gradually absorbed back into the forest. Souvenir hunters made off with artifacts. The place was quiet, haunted by the terrible event of 1910.
Then, in the 1980s, the Volunteers for Outdoor Washington, working with the U.S. Forest Service and other organizations, began work to create a trail along this route. The Iron Goat Trail, named for the iconic Mountain Goat logo of the old Great Northern Railway, is now among the best historic trails in Washington State. As a railroad buff since I was three years old, I was thrilled to hike this trail and see the old roadbed, tunnel portals, and snow sheds. There were even a couple of remnant avalanches still melting out along the route to remind us of the terror that still lurks along these slopes during the long, snowy winter.
The following photographs are a gallery of the ruin of the all-concrete snow shed, which was truly an amazing architectural accomplishment and which is now an exquisite ruin
For more information about access and history, go to the following web sites:
Train Disaster Kills 96 (HistoryLink Site)
Iron Goat Trail 1074 Scenic (U.S. Forest Service information about trail)
The web site for Lee Rentz Photography, which includes an archive of tens of thousands of photographs as well as photographic prints for sale or license, please go to LeeRentz.com
I was standing in the middle of the street, intently looking through the viewfinder at a neon sign on the roof of the Pike Place Market, when I heard a shout from inside the market and a fishmonger pointing at me:
My first thought was: “hey, you talkin’ to me?”
Then my brain kicked in and I turned around to face the threat–a dark sedan sliding somewhat sideways down the hill directly toward me. Adrenalin pumping, I backed off the street as the car managed to slide into the turn successfully at the bottom of the hill. Death averted.
Seattle and snow blend about as well as slugs and salt. It just isn’t something that people here deal with very often, so Seattlites don’t have the infrastructure or the driving ability to deal with these snowstorms that happen every few years.
This storm brought perhaps 5″ of snow to downtown Seattle. If you come from a part of the country that experiences macho snowfalls (as I did, coming from Syracuse two decades ago), 5″ will seem puny–hardly worth dragging out the snowblower for. But Seattle has hills … really steep hills right downtown that cause your calves to scream with rage as you hike upslope. And there are few snowplows. During a big storm in the 1990s that took many days to clean up, I remember the mayor saying pitifully that “we only have seven snowplows!”
There is also a Seattle aversion to salting the roads. In the last big snowstorm, several years ago, the city government expressed a horror about the environmental impact of salt and the salty runoff trickling down into Puget Sound. My first reaction was incredulity, as in: “Puget Sound is already … SALTWATER!” Fortunately, the old salts prevailed and the city now uses salt, though not really enough.
Snow affects Seattle politics. In December 2008, then Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels was the guy who refused to use salt on the roads, so they were icy from December 13-27, causing traffic problems and accidents for the whole two weeks. I remember barely making it to the airport that year for our Christmas flight, after getting ensnared in a traffic jam on back roads that were so completely coated with ice that they looked like skating rinks.
Seattle’s mayor had a second PR problem in the snows that year. I recall a media report that the city’s road maintenance department took it upon themselves to plow a road directly from the mayor’s home to city hall, rather than plowing out major streets first. Of course, citizens were outraged, even after the mayor exclaimed that he had nothing to do with that decision. Largely as a result of the snowstorm problems, the mayor didn’t even make it through the primary elections the next year.
On the morning of the heavy snowfall this year, Karen and I trudged from our Bremerton apartment to the ferry bound for Seattle, wearing waterproof L.L. Bean boots, the parkas we wore on an Antarctic trip a decade ago, heavy mittens, and woolen hats from Kathmandu. Karen was heading to her job in the marble corridors of a law office, and I was going to spend the day documenting the Seattle snowfall. It was a cold and wet day, with constant light snowfall, but I was able to get the selection of photographs you see here.
Seattle was virtually deserted that morning, save for a few hardy office workers who were able to take transit of some sort, since ferries, light rail, heavy rail, and some buses were operational. The buses wore chains, as did most delivery vehicles. That night, when returning home, Karen had trouble descending the steep hills on foot, as the colder evening temperatures turned slush to ice. The problem? Not enough salt to keep the sidewalks safe. So she telecommuted the next day.
The Smith Tower, once the tallest skyscraper west of the Mississippi, rises above one of the old brick buildings of Pioneer Square. The brick building has a faded ad for the Washington State Ferries that says “Have Lunch Over Seas,” which is a playful thing to do when crossing Puget Sound.
The homeless were still on the streets during the storm; after all, where else would they be? I asked one homeless man if I could take his picture; he was wearing a gray snowflake-covered blanket draped over his head, and he was smoking a hand-rolled cigarette, exhaling a cloud of blue smoke that hung in the air in front of his dark face. Alas, he said “No, I don’t think so.” I offered him money, and he said he didn’t need any. So, that one great picture will just have to stay forever etched in my mind.
Home of The Jetsons–actually, it is the monorail from the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair passing through Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen’s addition to the city–the EMP Museum (think Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana), designed by Frank Gehry
By the way, here are a couple of not-to-be-missed videos of a skier launching off a high park in Seattle:
To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com (Just ask if you see a particular photograph you like; my website is not up to date)
To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website
I grew up in Detroit, where from the 1970s on, essentially nobody from suburbia ventured downtown, because of a fear of crime. As a result, the city withered and largely died, though today there are brave artists and urban farmers and other souls hoping to spur a renaissance of that historic rust belt city.
In contrast, Portland, Oregon, amazes me with its pulsing vision of what a thriving downtown can be. The heart of Portland looks like what Detroit may have been 75 years ago, with good restaurants, shops, hotels, and galleries everywhere. Light rail trains (MAX) and streetcars roll through the city and out to distant suburbs. People are everywhere on the streets, giving pedestrians a feeling of participation, excitement, and safety.
Bicycles are also everywhere. Portland has a slogan, “Bike City USA,” and over 6% of workers commute to their jobs by bicycle–an incredible number! Bicyclists zoom over four bridges crossing the Willamette River, and some cyclists double their green creds by boarding MAX with their bikes.
Hungry? Portland is the nation’s capital for food carts, with over 450 choices available throughout the city. Food carts are usually tiny trailers that each sell a limited menu of often ethnic cuisine. At noon, office workers pour down to the “pods” (pods are groups of food carts, usually set up around the perimeter of a parking lot) to get their choice of Thai, Polish, hippie, Indian, vegan, Mexican, fusion, sushi, and scores of other kinds of food. There is usually no
seating area, so people either stand around eating, take the food back to the office, or walk to a nearby urban park. I did the latter, with my excellent turkey, cucumber, and creme fraiche sandwich on a crusty long bun, where I sat near a group of scruffy teens who came to the city for the day to hang out with friends in the park. It took me back to the hippie days of old, when kids in bell bottoms and shoulder length hair and guitars would gather in parks all across America.
I enjoyed spending the day walking around town, camera in hand. On the other hand, there were all the beggars asking for spare change and foul-mouthed transients and a homeless gathering place along the Willamette. Portland certainly isn’t exempt from contemporary issues of joblessness, homelessness, and hopelessness. But it’s still a very cool city, and is a magnet drawing 20-somethings from everywhere.
The Hawthorne Bridge viewed from Tom McCall Waterfront Park, a park named for a popular anti-growth Republican Governor who famously said, at the height of the first mass environmental movement in 1971, “Come visit us again and again. This is a state of excitement. But for heaven’s sake, don’t come here to live.”
For those who want to know more about the food cart culture of Portland, go to Portland Food Carts
To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com
To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website