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West Coast (Part 1): Pacific Northwest

Basically every year since I moved to Colorado my friend Chad from back home in Cincinnati has come out west and we've done a long road trip. The plan is always essentially the same, road trip to the National Parks and take photos, which is a good plan seeing as how we are both photographers. We've gone to Yellowstone and the Tetons, we've done the National Parks in Arizona and Utah, and we even spent a couple weeks locally in Colorado taking in the sights here. Through all of this though Chad had never been to Yosemite National Park and it was on the top of his list. So, we decided to plan a trip along the west coast of the U.S. with the main attraction being Yosemite. Our plan was to fly into Seattle, rent a car and drive through Washington, Oregon and northern California ending up in the majestic Yosemite Valley and the enormous groves of redwoods in Sequoia National Park. Over the next few weeks I will talk about our trip which ended up taking us through 8 National Parks in 10 days and through some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet.

On Day 1 we both flew to Seattle and met in the airport, picked up our rental car and hit the road almost immediately. I had been to Seattle once for two days but other than that neither of us had ever been to Washington State or seen much at all of the Pacific Northwest. Our plan for day one was to drive up around the northern border of Olympic NP, along the northern coast and end up somewhere in the northwestern corner of the state. On the way out of Seattle we caught a ferry and while sailing off to the west we were able to catch our first glimpse of Mt. Rainier behind us (we'll get to Rainier a bit later). The first day involved a lot of driving and we wound up at Cape Flattery the northwestern most point in the contiguous U.S. The drive through the forest was unlike anything else I had ever experienced. I have never been in a forest as dense as that and I must admit it was a bit disorienting. When we emerged at the end of Cape Flattery though, the view could not have been more beautiful.

Cape Flattery, Washington

Cape Flattery, Washington

That night we spent the first of many nights sleeping in the car just outside of a town called La Push on the Pacific Coast. We woke up the next morning to fog and a sprinkling of rain (did you guys know it rained sometimes in the PNW?). This didn't make for the best conditions for shooting, but I did find one particular washed up tree that I really liked. We decided to hit the road and try to see if the weather would be more cooperative someplace else.

Tree at La Push, Washington

Even though we circumnavigated Olympic National Park we only stopped in for a couple of hours. This is the problem with trying to cram two months of road trip into 10 days, you only get to scratch the surface of every place you go. Walking through that forest was an incredible experience nonetheless. The greenness of everything around us was stunning and so different from what I'm used to back in Colorado. Everything there seemed to be alive, growing and wet! Of course even though everything was so green and alive, half of the photos I show you from the park are in black and white (aside: there are only two photos, I like black and white).

Moss in Olympic National Park

Plants growing on plants growing on plants in Olympic National Park

The main attraction for this second day of the trip was Mt. Rainier. This has to be the most interesting mountain I have ever encountered. It is so much bigger than anything around that it completely dominates the sky. But sometimes it decides it wants to play hide-and-seek and completely disappears. It is so much taller than everything surrounding it that when the clouds roll in, the hills are still there but the mountain is gone. It is unlike anything else I've ever seen. This also makes it equal parts amazing and incredibly challenging to photograph. It is really difficult to balance the light in a photograph when the foreground and background seem to be lit from different sources. I would love to stay for a week at Mt. Rainier and do a proper in-depth study of the mountain from all angles and lighting conditions. In fact, I'm sure you could spend your entire life shooting just this mountain and never get bored.

Mt. Rainier

Mt. Rainier Reflection Lakes

Mt. Rainier Reflection Lakes

Mt. Rainier Reflection Lakes

Mt. Rainier Reflection Lakes

And just like that the mountain disappears

We slept in the car again that night (a running theme) and when we woke up the next morning for sunrise we were totally socked in with fog. I would say that for almost our entire trip we didn't have great cooperation from the weather at sunrise and sunset, but that's also part of the challenge and part of the fun of photography. If you have a beautiful sunset every night then they just aren't special any more and the same goes for photography. If you could take a perfect photo every time you went out there would be no fun. Conditions like these help remind me that in order to get a great landscape photograph you need to be dedicated, persistent and also get a little bit lucky.

That was it for our time in Washington. The next day we drove down into Oregon and partook in the drinking of beers, a grand northwestern tradition. Unfortunately there are no photos of the interiors of micro-brews so you will just have to wait until we meet again to hear all about Oregon and Crater Lake.

Until the next time,


If you want to keep up with my west coast series subscribe below and I'll send you an email when the next installment comes out.

As always, if you are interested in purchasing a print of any of these you can find them HERE.


Camera - Nikon D3

Lens - Nikkor 24-70

Tripod - Slik

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