Posted tagged ‘national park’

SILENCE OF THE CANYON

February 6, 2018
All American Man Pictograph in Canyonlands National Park's Salt

All American Man, a pictograph created some 700 years ago, with a shield design incorporating red, white, and blue (or black) pigments, and made by an Ancestral Puebloan or Fremont artist, Salt Creek Canyon in The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, Utah, USA

Salt Creek Canyon, located in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park, is where my wife and I chose to backpack in October of 2017. Our last backpack in Canyonlands occurred in October of 1976: 41 years ago! It was wonderful to return to this land of red slickrock, golden cottonwoods, and starry, starry nights. This time, we were enchanted by the evidence of the Ancestral Puebloan People of the region. Their houses, granaries, potsherds, and pictographs provided a spiritual presence and brought the canyon alive in our imagination. 

There are trail guidebooks and blogs that provide detailed descriptions of the hike, so I decided instead to simply provide a visual look at the canyon through my photography and to use a few word impressions to give a sense of the experience.

Backpacker in Canyonlands National Park's Salt Creek Canyon

Karen Rentz climbing a route through a sandstone fin within Salt Creek Canyon

10,000 years ago, a Raven chuckles to its mate and young as they play in the air currents along the canyon walls. A Camel glances upward at the sound, then resumes munching a mouthful of Sagebrush, vaguely wondering why it hasn’t seen any other Camels for years. Wind quietly flutters the Cottonwood leaves as a Coyote howls in the distance.

800 years ago, Ancestral Puebloan women chatter and giggle along the creek while filling clay pots with water. Children play hide-and-seek among the sagebrush and rocks, shouting suddenly upon spotting a companion. Turkeys gobble at the irritation of being packed together in the village’s pen. Men chip arrowheads from chunks of chalcedony, creating sharp percussive sounds. Then a sudden shout to ascend to the cliff fortress, as strangers are spotted creeping along Salt Creek!

700 years on, the sound of cattle lowing and spurs-a-jangling occasionally brings the canyon alive, as ranchers run cows in the sagebrush. Picture the clouds of dust during the roundup as cowboys herd the cattle along ancient trails. Listen to the crackle of pinyon logs in the evening campfire while cowboys scrape their tin plates; a Great Horned Owl hoots in the distance.

60 years ago, a jeep engine roars as a uranium prospecter shifts into low gear while descending steep red slickrock. He gets out and tests the sandstone with his rock pick, then tosses the rocks aside with a clatter. He camps tonight near the stream, the soft gurgling reassuring him. Then a wildcat screams from the cliffs above.

In October of 2017, we set up camp as the last warm sun glows on the cliffs. I use a rock to pound the tentstakes into clay, while the gas stove hisses as water starts to boil for our evening meal. After dinner, all is quiet as we snuggle in a warm sleeping bag. Two Coyotes howl back and forth in the canyon. There are no human sounds in the distance under the vast panorama of stars.

Dead Tree in Canyonlands National Park's Salt Creek Canyon

Dead tree among the colorful sandstone formations within Salt Creek Canyon

Here is a selection of other photographs from the trip. Double Click on one to see them larger and with captions.

Canyonlands National Park’s Salt Creek Canyon was a quiet place during our four day backpacking trip. In fact, we didn’t see anyone for 2 1/2 days during the hike, making it the perfect wilderness experience.  It is a place suffused with remnants of the past, as well as spectacular slickrock formations and evidence of wildlife.

When we visited in October, we started out at the Cathedral Butte Trailhead and hiked in about as far as there was potable water. It is named Salt Creek for a reason: there are alkali salts suspended in the water that quickly clogged our filter, so we had to depend upon iodine tablets and boiling water in order to get drinkable water. No problem if you are prepared.

October was colder than we expected, with the three clear nights reaching down to 16°F, 13°F, and the last night at 11°F. Our down sleeping bags were perfect; don’t expect to be warm with summer-weight bags. The Milky Way and moonlight were wonderful in the canyon, and it was great to climb into the fluffy sleeping bag after our stargazing sessions.

Black Bears are frequently sighted in the canyon, so the National Park Service now requires that hikers carry bearproof canisters. What would the wilderness be without a few predators to make us wary?

Salt Creek Canyon is filled with evidence of prior inhabitants. Please, leave everything untouched so that our descendents can enjoy the magic of this spiritual place.

The National Park Service requires backpacking permits for Salt Creek Canyon, and there are four campsites that are assigned when hikers get their permits. Go to the Canyonlands National Park website for more information about the park and backpacking permits.

For more information about my photography go to Lee Rentz Photography.

MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK: Gobblers Knob Fire Lookout

August 16, 2012

View from the deck of Gobblers Knob Fire Lookout toward Mount Rainier

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.

Gobblers Knob Lookout sits atop a rocky promontory with terrific views into Mount Rainier National Park, and back toward the clearcut expanses of Gifford Pinchot National Forest

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.

Gobblers Knob is no longer staffed during each fire season, and is maintained now for historical reasons rather than fire fighting

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.

Sunset reflecting in the Gobblers Knob lookout windows, looking toward Mount Rainier

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.

Sunset on Mount Rainier from the lookout; what a wonderful place it would have been to spend the summer!

Subalpine trees silhouetted by the last light of sunset as we started our descent

After dark, we left the lookout and hiked down the trail 1.6 miles back to camp by headlamp; the only spooky moment was seeing the bright green eyeshine of a hiker’s dog looking back at us

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 tranquil view from our campsite along Goat Lake; that is, until I disturbed the peace with my yelps upon entering the cold morning water!

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:

The trail to Gobblers Knob leads past Lake Christine and through subalpine meadows filled with summer wildflowers

White Avalanche Lilies, which melt almost immediately after snowmelt, were the star wildflower attraction here

I have rarely seen wildflowers packed as densely as these spectacular White Avalanche Lilies; avalanche fields forever

Western Hemlocks and Western Red Cedars and Douglas Firs are among the big trees in the forest near Goat Lake

The green of Beljica Meadows viewed from Mount Beljica, site of another abandoned lookout that has vanished without a trace into the annals of U.S. Forest Service history

Dark-throated Shooting Star is a spectacular wildflower of these high wet meadows

Magenta Paintbrush blooming along the trail

A close view of White Avalanche Lily

Rare yellow form of the normally red-and-yellow columbine that graces the high forests of Washington State

For more information about Gobblers Knob Fire Lookout and the trail approaching it, go to:

National Park Service trail to Gobblers Knob (Note: this is NOT the route we took; the National Park Service route is longer, and much of it follows the West Side Road, which is now closed to vehicles.

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.

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) 

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

CHANNEL ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK: Exploring Santa Cruz Island

May 31, 2012

Island Foxes greet each other with obvious affection; seeing these foxes was the highlight of our journey to Santa Cruz Island

En route to Santa Cruz Island, the boat’s captain steered us off course, so we could see dolphins porpoising (or is it porpoises dolphining?) over the Santa Barbara Channel. Our crossing was smooth, so we were glad that we hadn’t applied the seasickness patches; they work, but make me groggy.

Dolphins viewed during our ride to Santa Cruz Island

We pulled up to Scorpion Anchorage, a protected cove with a dock, where a National Park Service Ranger greeted us and filled us in on the rules and regs. He also checked our campground reservations.

Visitors arriving on the Island Packers boat from Ventura; from here we carried our packs and other gear about a half a mile to the campground.

Then we gathered our gear and began the scant half-mile trudge to our campsite, which proved to be a lovely spot under huge old eucalyptus trees that were planted in the early days of Scorpion Ranch. There was a picnic table and a pair of food lockers, one at each end of the table, to ensure that campers’ food was kept away from the inquisitive and daring little Island Foxes that trot through the campground with regularity, as well as the startlingly intelligent Common Ravens that know we are a source of food.

Campsites are located in a eucalyptus grove

After setting up our tent, we followed a trail up Scorpion Creek, then went off trail into Scorpion Canyon, in hopes of seeing the Island Scrub-Jay among the oaks that thrive in that canyon. Skirting pools of standing water, we walked and scrambled up the rocky, narrow reaches of the canyon. It was lovely, with red rocks and intricately branched oaks. There were lizards and small birds and species of plants that we had never seen before. There were even a couple of small rock overhangs, one of which had clear evidence of early humans. With the pile of chert and abalone shells out front, we could imagine a Chumash Indian crouching there, eating a meal and waiting for night to steal away the day, revealing a stunning spread of the Milky Way overhead.

Wild and beautiful Scorpion Canyon is the the best place to see the Island Scrub-Jay when coming to Scorpion Anchorage, though it is a rough hike over the boulder-strewn creek bed

Then we heard it … a clear call of a jay. In the oaks across the canyon, higher on the dry slope, there was a big, blue Island Scrub-Jay foraging in the branches of an oak. This species lives nowhere else on earth, so all the bird listers from across North America have to make a similar pilgrimmage into this remote canyon in order to add the species to their life list.

Island Scrub-Jay–a species found nowhere else on earth. This species is substantially larger than its nearest relatives on the mainland, and makes its living feeding mainly on Island Live Oak acorns.

After the jay moved on, so did we. The day was getting late, so we had to figure out how to get out of the canyon and back to camp before nightfall. We decided that instead of going back, we would try to climb out of the canyon by going due north up the steep side of the canyon. It was a huff-and-puff climb and scramble, but eventually we emerged onto a stunning, grassy plateau, where we followed an old ranch road toward Potato Harbor. As we gazed down toward the crashing sea below, Karen spotted an Island Fox trotting through the grassland. This was incredibly exciting for us, since we had hoped to see a fox but thought the chances were remote. Little did we know that, since their population recovered from near extinction, the little foxes are again thriving and don’t seem to mind being seen by humans. They are certainly not tame, but they are not especially afraid of us, either.

Island Fox fitted with radio collar to help scientists monitor the population

Island Foxes are about a quarter the size of their closest mainland relatives, and saw their populations plunge from above 2,000 in the 1990s to below 100 about seven years later, due to a complex series of events set in motion by mankind. I will fully explain this chain of events in a coming weblog.

We watched a second fox hunting in this area above Potato Harbor, and this one had on a radio collar that was recording its every move, so that scientist could monitor the recovering fox population.

The high and lonely headlands above Potato Harbor

Is it just me, or does this formation above Potato Harbor look like a warning that Indiana Jones would have disregarded?

With darkness coming fast, we switched on our headlamps and followed the old Potato Harbor Road back toward the campground. As the road led steeply down off the plateau, we crossed some extensive patches of bare, white earth. These were different from most of the soils of the island, and they turned out to be diatomaceous earth, which is composed of billions of silicon skeletons of algae that once lived in the sea.

Heading back to camp by headlamp

We reached the campground well after dark. While walking through the campground, Karen caught the gleam in a fox’s eye as it stood atop a picnic table, foraging on food left on the table by some campers who had turned their backs and were rummaging in their tent. Another coup for the wily fox!

That night, the stars splayed magnificently across the sky as we prepared a backpacking dinner with the hiss of the MSR stove and the stabbing rays of our headlamps. Deeply tired, we sank into pleasant sleep.

The next morning, we awoke to beautiful sunshine on the grassy hills rising across Scorpion Creek from our campsite. We spent a couple of pleasant hours exploring the Scorpion Ranch buildings and immersing our minds in the lives of those who spent generations here, growing grapes, raising hay, tending sheep, maintaining roads, and all the other tasks of a large-scale rancher. The National Park Service has maintained the ranch buildings beautifully, and repurposed one of them for use as a visitor center. This is the area where people coming off the boat for the day generally have lunch, and there are plenty of big lockers to keep food from the foxes while people are taking a short hike or exploring the ranch buildings.

Golden hills and cirrus clouds in morning light near the campground

Old ranch buildings and blooms of bougainvillea at Scorpion Ranch

This was a beautiful, but sometimes lonely, place to live and raise sheep

The walkway into the building now repurposed as a National Park Service visitor center is paved with tumbled and polished beach stones

Old ranch building with a huge circular saw blade

At Scorpion Ranch there is a lot of old and rusting ranch and road-building machinery; this photograph shows the fanciful logo of an old Caterpillar bulldozer

Canned goods inside the old kitchen, now part of the visitor center at Scorpion Anchorage

Interior detail of an old blacksmith shop at Scorpion Ranch

We stopped and photographed an Island Fox in the bright sunshine as it foraged among the tall grasses of the hillside. Then we walked down to the pier to see what tide pool creatures we could see, and were rewarded with the sight of a colony of bright purple sea urchins. There was also a crab that was bigger than we expected to see–about a foot across. We got glimpses of it through the kelp that waved back and forth. There were fish about a foot long, and we looked for large, bright orange Garibaldi (California’s state marine fish), but didn’t see any.

An impressionist view through surging waves of Purple Sea Urchins, which are collected for their edible roe by divers in the vicinity of the Channel Islands

We decided to do another hike up Scopion Canyon, to see if we could get a closer look (and photograph) of an Island Scrub Jay. We enjoyed good looks at Pacific Chorus Frogs and their tadpoles. We also saw a new bird species for our life list–the Rufous-Crowned Sparrow. We eventually saw a jay, but it kept its distance.

Side-blotched Lizard in Scorpion Canyon

Pacific Chorus Frog in a stagnant pool in otherwise dry (that day) Scorpion Creek

Rock shelter used by Chumash Indians, perhaps over thousands of years during their occupation of the island

Again, we climbed out of the canyon onto the plateau. This time, as we looked down the length of Santa Cruz Island where the steel gray Pacific met the land, there were thick gray layers of clouds, with watercolor washes of rain falling on the distant hills. We decided to head quickly back to camp.

High grasslands in the area above Scorpion Canyon and Potato Harbor

Headlands above the Pacific Ocean between Potato Harbor and Cavern Point

That night, the heavens opened up, with hard rain all night. We stayed dry in a new tent, but other campers weren’t so lucky. Two young men were sitting glumly at their picnic table early the next morning; when I asked them if they got wet, they grumbled that they were soaked, because water came up through the bottom of their tent. Later, I watched them pouring GALLONS of water from the tent as they packed up. I asked a lady ranger how much rain had fallen overnight, and she said there was about 1.6.” That’s roughly 10% of the yearly annual rainfall here. There were puddles in the road, but the plants looked as fresh and happy as the wet campers looked wet and dejected.

Blue tarp campers–more commonly seen in the Pacific Northwest, where we live, than in southern California

In the unsettled weather, we decided to hike the dirt road to Smugglers Cove, where there was another old ranch. The road surface was slick from the overnight rain, and our hiking boot treads caked uncomfortably with heavy, squishy mud. Once atop the plateau, the views across the open grasslands toward the sea and the distant mainland were stupendous. We stopped for a break in a grove of Monterey Cypress, then continued on to the ranch. Descending the steep hill to the ranch, we walked past an old grove of olive trees, planted when the owners long ago decided to get into the olive business.

Scorpion Anchorage viewed from the Smugglers Cove Road

Monterey Cypress grove along the Smugglers Cove Road, with a view to Anacapa Island

An evocative view along an old fence line intersecting Smugglers Cove Road, with the grand Pacific Ocean distant

An olive orchard was part of the Smugglers Cove ranch operation

As we approached the ranch from the cobble beach, four foxes that had been foraging in the meadow scattered into the adjacent brush. The ranch still had plantings of bougainvillea, which was bright with magenta blooms. We took shelter under the eaves of a building next to the ranch house during a hard shower; and I took the opportunity to pick a couple of oranges for us from a tree. As northern people, we had never before had the opportunity to pick oranges fresh from a tree [In contrast: when I was displaying my photography at an art show in San Francisco several years ago, one woman said my photograph of apples hanging on a tree in late autumn, and she said she had never seen an apple tree!]. There was also a nearby lemon tree, very pretty, but we decided that these fruits were impossible to eat fresh from the tree.

After leaving the ranch and heading back up on the plateau, we took a spur road that led up to an abandoned oil well, where I stopped to photograph the

Rusty surface of a steel shed at the old and abandoned oil well

old machinery. Then we descended steeply into the valley of Scorpion Creek. In the valley, Karen suddenly stopped and said that a Loggerhead Shrike had just dived into a bush about four feet away from her. I got out my long lens and was able to get great photographs of the shrike when it emerged and perched atop the same bush, perhaps eight feet from us. It lingered a long time, enabling me to get dozens of photographs at this unexpectedly close range. This gave me a sense of part of what the National Park Service means when they call the Channel Islands the “Galapagos of North America.” The wildlife is abundant, different from the mainland, and not very afraid of people.

Loggerhead Shrike in lower Scorpion Canyon; a subspecies endemic to the Channel Islands that is relatively rare

Mourning Dove on an old fence

We walked back along the trail along Scorpion Creek, which had turned from a dry creek bed with intermittent pools where frogs lived lazily with their tadpole offspring, to a raging, brown current that moved boulders, carved stone, and carried little tadpoles out to the playground of sharks. This was an excellent lesson in canyon-cutting, and we were glad we didn’t need to hike up narrow Scorpion Canyon again in order to see endemic jays. We might not have made it.

Finch foraging on a thistle near Scorpion Creek

On our next and final morning, we hiked up a trail to Cavern Point. Nearing the top, we saw a fox trotting up the trail ahead of us. Suddenly, it dashed across the meadow; I thought we had scared it, but then we saw what it was doing. It had sighted another fox across the field and was running over to see it. It was like a glorious reunion of people who have not seen each other for years. Well, maybe a bit different since there was tail-wagging (I didn’t realize that foxes could exhibit this dog-like behavior) and vigorous sniffing that looked like kissing. After a long greeting, the two foxes foraged in close proximity to each other. It was thrilling for us to be able to see such fascinating emotional behavior.

Two Island Foxes greeting each other like long-lost buddies

Island Fox hunting in a meadow; these foxes eat a lot of insects, scorpions, mice, and berries

Island Fox foraging on Santa Cruz Island near Scorpion Ranch

Then it was time to leave. We were extremely satisfied with our hikes and wildlife sightings. What a wonderful place!

Common Raven on the headlands at Cavern Point

Beautiful cliffs of Scorpion Anchorage

Patches of white diatomaceous earth–made of the silicon “skeletons” of untold billions of ancient algae that once inhabited the sea–along road leading down to the Scorpion campground

Limbs of an Island Oak along Scorpion Canyon

To get to the Channel Islands, Island Packers offers boat access to each of the islands.  Check their web site for all details and schedules. The National Park Service has excellent descriptions of Channel Islands National Park, including information about the biology and geology of the islands, and the rules for visiting. T.C. Boyle has a new novel, “When the Killing’s Done,” about the ethical implications of the National Park Service’s replacement of exotic species in the Channel Islands with native species; it’s an excellent and timely novel for anyone interested in National Park policy.

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

CADES COVE: Appalachian Lives in the Past Tense

September 10, 2010

The windows of the upper floor of the Tipton Place stare back

When Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established, over 100 families were living in Cades Cove. This beautiful valley in the mountains was a community of farmers, schoolteachers, blacksmiths, grist millers, and moonshiners; all had to eventually leave with the coming of the national park, abandoning the homesteads where they had built their lives.

The black and white photographs here represent some of the artifacts they left behind. We can only distantly visualize their lives, since life in the early 21st century is so vastly different.  But we can certainly imagine and empathize a bit with their lives: the sense of joy at a bountiful harvest; of grief at the loss of an infant; of wonder at the sight of a rainbow stretching over the high mountains; of walking five miles to school in a snowstorm; or the earthy aroma rising from fresh-plowed fields in April.

Hayloft in the LeQuire Cantilever Barn

As time passes, we collectively give up a great deal; yet we also gain in new and wondrous ways as we plow into an unknown future. Cades Cove reminds us from where our current American civilization arose; what we take back with us after a visit to these antique houses and barns is a renewed wonder at just how far we have come, and so fast. For better and for worse …

Recalling an infant with wonderful words: “Budded on earth to bloom in Heaven.”

Interior of The Primitive Baptist Church

Back porch of the Tipton House

Curtains catching afternoon light at the Gregg-Cable House

Elegant window of the Cades Cove Methodist Church

Ox yoke and log detail at the LeQuire Cantilever Barn

Pews in The Primitive Baptist Church of Cades Cove

Interior of the Tipton House

Window detail in the Tipton House

For more information about the history of Cades Cove, go to this excellent publication of the Great Smoky Mountains Association: Cades Cove Tour.

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.


LAKE CRESCENT: Reflecting Olympic Storms

March 8, 2010

A rainbow illuminates cottages along the northwest end of Lake Crescent

Winter storms batter the Olympic Peninsula, lashing the mountains and lowlands with high winds, snow, and heavy rains.  Aside from the Pacific Coastal strip of Olympic National Park, my favorite place to view these storms is Lake Crescent, a deep body of water located on the north side of the Olympic Peninsula, and contained within the national park.  Lake Crescent is really deep.  Though the maximum depth has never been accurately measured, when cables were being laid across it, the depth appeared to be over 1,000 feet.

The days I most enjoy visiting Lake Crescent are when it is still, with clearing clouds from the last storm and waiting for the next storm.  Late in the day, when the atmosphere takes on a twilight blue color, the place possesses magic.

These photographs are from two winter trips to Lake Crescent, separated by 18 years.

Still waters, a photograph I took at the Lake Crescent Lodge circa 1992

A rainbow behind Red Alder branches and catkins along Lake Crescent

Dramatic and intense rainbow

Tattered clouds at twilight hang over the mountains around Lake Crescent

Rainbow’s End

The flanks of Mount Storm King with some namesake clouds

The same area where, earlier in the day, I photographed the rainbow

Looking down the lake to the end of the rainbow

Red Alder branches and raindrops, with rainbow behind

For more information about Olympic National Park, go to:  http://www.nps.gov/Olym/index.htm

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

A Night on Mt. Rainier, A Day in Paradise

October 17, 2009

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Mt_Rainier_October-35Sunset view down Nisqually River Valley in Mt. Rainier National Park..

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Night photography beckoned this fall, so I decided to do an overnight trip to Mt. Rainier on what I hoped would be a relatively clear night.  Actually, my first choice had been an overnight backpack on the lower slopes of Mt. Baker, but then I saw a recent trip report for the Railroad Grade area that had a hiker postholing through the deep snow there.  Change in plans!

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I drove to Mt. Rainier just after noon on an early October weekday.  It was cloudy upon my arrival, but I had time to check out possible positions for night photography and to find some great spots for late autumn photography.

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After taking some evening photographs of a vivid sunset, I went to Cougar Rock Campground and was sawing logs (and not for a campfire!) by 8:00 p.m., with the alarm set for 3:00 a.m., when I expected the half-moon would be high in the sky and most of the clouds would have lifted.

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I awoke as planned and drove to Reflection Lakes, drinking the coffee I had wisely made before bed.  The mountain was revealed and everything went as planned, though I was a little surprised that there wasn’t more snow on The Mountain, given the stormy weather of late.  Later, I had hoped for dawn alpenglow on the peak, but just got the littlest bit of faint pink light.

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I spent the rest of the day photographing in the Paradise area, with a classic clear morning at Reflection Lakes, followed by a hike on the Skyline Trail in search of White-tailed Ptarmigans, which I failed to find.  It was a wonderful day with lots of older hikers on the trail.

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Mt_Rainier_October-73A strange cloud emanates from the mountain at night..

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Mt_Rainier_October-107Dawn glow, stars, and clouds..

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Mt_Rainier_October-114At first light, the cloud emanating from The Mountain began to dissipate..

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Mt_Rainier_October-121A touch of alpenglow on the rock and glaciers at dawnpp
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Mt_Rainier_October-150A classic view of Mount Rainier reflected in Reflection Lakes..
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Mt_Rainier_October-163A cedar puncheon boardwalk crosses a small stream..
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Mt_Rainier_October-167Blueberry bushes, scarlet with autumn, share a talus slope with subalpine trees..
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Mt_Rainier_October-199A grand staircase, with a quote from John Muir, leads to the high country..
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Mt_Rainier_October-195A stunning view of The Mountain on a crisp autumn morning in Paradise..
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Mt_Rainier_October-232The lovely colors of blueberry leaves..
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Mt_Rainier_October-249A Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel living above timberline..
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Mt_Rainier_October-259A tarn in the raw rock and gravel land above timberline..
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Mt_Rainier_October-268Glacier-gouged and polished rocks with the Tatoosh Range distant..
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Mt_Rainier_October-288A cloud quickly rises like a cresting wave or a geyser..
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Mt_Rainier_October-313Nootka Cypress trees (formerly Alaska Yellow Cedar) with blueberry leaves.’
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Mt_Rainier_October-305The enchanted Skyline Trail winds through a subalpine forest..
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Mt_Rainier_October-316Fuzzy white seed heads among blueberry leaves.
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Looking down the Nisqually River Valley at sunset
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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

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LEWIS AND CLARK: Our Maya Lin Weekend

February 7, 2009

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When the Lewis and Clark Expedition crossed the continent in the years 1804 to 1806, they initiated a new adventure for the young American country that would knit together the coasts and Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, giving the nation a vast new identity.  Migration and settlement and displacement and wars and environmental changes on a vast scale were soon to follow.  Two centuries have now passed, and there has been a quiet reassessment of the changes that have occurred during that time.  The bicentennial of Lewis and Clark’s big adventure has now come and gone, leaving a series of new “big box” interpretive centers in Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Montana as remnants of the historical celebration that cross-country travellers can visit.  My understanding is that the Lewis and Clark tourism boom never occurred on the scale that planners hoped, so these expensive centers have not been particularly successful.

Along the west end of the Columbia River, a smaller project took hold among Native American tribes and civic groups of the region.  They had the insight in 2000 to enlist Maya Lin, a great American artist and architect, to reimagine a thoughtful celebration of Lewis and Clark’s visit to what would become Oregon and Washington. 2008_or_1592 Maya Lin is best known for her design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.; she created the concept for that emotionally resonant granite wall when she was a 21-year-old Yale undergraduate.  Since then she has designed a variety of memorials and parks. Maya Lin is also a creative artist.  I saw a wonderful installation and exhibit of her work at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, in which she abstractly created maps using old books and wires and 2x4s.  You can see graphics of this exhibit at this link: Systematic Landscapes.  It was at this exhibit that I first saw her plans for The Confluence Project, and was determined to see the finished installations when I could.

In November 2008 my wife Karen and I took a Maya Lin–themed weekend trip to see the first three completed sites of the Confluence Project.  These are small and quiet installations,with nothing on the scale of the Vietnam Memorial.  But they are effective at making you think about the changes to the landscape that have occurred since Lewis and Clark made their monumental journey.

First, we visited the Sandy River Delta, where Maya Lin’s concept of a bird blind has nearly been completed.  We walked a 1.2 mile trail on U.S. Forest Service land to a site near the confluence of the Columbia and Sandy Rivers, where the blind has been built in a riverfront forest.  2008_or_1614Most of the people on the trail were out simply walking their dogs (which got me to thinking that most Americans would get no exercise at all if they didn’t have dogs!).  A gentle ramp leads up to the small cantilevered blind, where we looked out through Black Locust slats to the forest beyond. This is nominally a bird blind, but in reality it is a memorial to the wildlife that Lewis and Clark wrote about in their journals, along with the date they first observed each species and the modern name for that creature.  For example, on August 20, 1805, they observed a Moonax.  What is a Moonax?  I had no idea, but it turned out that the Moonax is now known as a Yellow-bellied Marmot. The Black Locust wood used in construction of the blind is an alien to the region planted by early settlers, but it is wonderfully weather-resistant and is sustainable, so it was a good choice for construction. My only wish was that we were visiting in spring and we could observe colorful warblers in the trees beyond the blind.

Late in the day, we drove to our second Maya Lin location.  The Vancouver Land Bridge is in Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, located in Vancouver, Washington and run by the National Park Service. The bridge is a pedestrian bridge over Washington Highway 14,

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connecting the historic fort with the Columbia River. This site has a long history: it was a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post, a campsite for Lewis and Clark, and an army fort for approximately a century. The bridge, designed by Seattle architect Johnpaul Jones, curves gracefully over the highway, and has several kiosks that interpret the history and native peoples of this confluence of the Columbia River and the Klickitat Trail. 2008_wa_1652I especially liked the artwork along the bridge. At the Columbia River end of the structure, there is a Welcome Gate designed by Native American artist Lillian Pitt. The gate consists of two crossed wooden canoe paddles, each featuring a stylized cast glass face of a woman from the Chinook Tribe. It is simply an elegant piece! There are also some wonderful metal interpretations of petroglyphs from the Columbia River corridor.  Maya Lin served as a consultant for this project.

It was getting dark, so we left Fort Vancouver and headed west along the Columbia, finally reaching our third destination, Cape Disappointment State Park, in the evening.  We set up camp in a campground filled with about 120 Rvs and travel trailers on this November night; in fact, virtually every campsite was full and we had the only tent.  Through the tent walls we listened to the crashing surf of the Pacific Ocean; the advantage of a tent is that we are more closely linked to the natural world than if we were in a hard-sided vehicle. The downside is that bears might eat us!

Cape Disappointment was named by an English seagoing captain, John Meares, who somehow couldn’t find the mouth of the Columbia River and was disappointed by his failure.

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It is miles wide here–how could he possibly have missed it?  When Lewis and Clark came to Cape Disappointment, Indians told them of ship captains who had wooden legs and eye patches. They sound just like the pirates in books of my youth!

The next morning we explored the state park, visiting several Maya Lin–designed sites.  First, we took a boardwalk to Waikiki Beach, a beautiful beach with a morning 2008_wa_1357mist hanging over the Pacific Ocean seascape and salt spray fragrance in the air.  The boardwalk itself is inscribed with places and dates from Lewis and Clark’s journals, and it represents the place where the Corps of Discovery reached its Pacific destination.  Next, we walked along a pathway studded with fragments of oyster shells to a cedar grove.  Here there are five driftwood logs sunk into the ground, each inlaid with a wide metal strip.  The logs surround an old cedar stump.  It is a place for contemplation of the forest and of the repeated refrain along the path from the Chinook Tribe praise song “Teach us, and show us the way.”  2008_wa_1344Finally, we visited a trail and boat ramp along Baker Bay, where there is an immense column of basalt that has been sculpted into a fish-cleaning station.  This Maya Lin–designed feature goes beyond its obvious functionality; inscribed on its surface is a Chinook origin legend that celebrates their interdependence with Columbia River salmon.  We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Cape Disappointment, but wish that Washington State Parks would provide better signs to these Confluence Project features.  I talked to one woman who said she had wandered around for a whole day and couldn’t find the trail (which, by the way, she was standing on when I pointed out its location to her).  Of course, she could have asked at the park office.

Our mission to see and learn from the Maya Lin sites was successful; we enjoyed all three sites and are eager to see the remaining four as they are completed in coming years. For more information about the outstanding Confluence Project go to the website for the Confluence Project.

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To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

NEW: 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

Click on the photographs in the gallery below for versions with captions.