Water Cascading Through Beverly Creek

The water tumbles down over rocks along Beverly Creek in the Wenatchee National Forest. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The water cascading over rocks along Beverly Creek in the Wenatchee National Forest. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The water cascading down the narrow valley, crashing and tumbling over boulders. Mist hung in the cool air, and the musty smell of fallen leaves and wet conifers filled my nostrils. Beverly Creek, a tributary of the North Fork Teanaway River originates high in the Central Cascades at the edge of Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. Light snow covered the high ridges, and recent rain made the forest wet, giving much to fill this little creek. The sounds and smells wrapped around me and I settled to contemplate this watercourse.

Scientists recently released “Climate Science: Special Report,” which concluded, “… based on extensive evidence, that it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominate cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.” In late fall, as I sat beside the creek, it was actually cold – low forties – and I wondered how long I could sit before I needed to move to stay warm.

Leaves lined the sides of Beverly Creek as snowmelt and rain contributed to the torrent of water crashing over the rocks. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Leaves lined the sides of Beverly Creek as snowmelt and rain contributed to the torrent of water crashing over the rocks. (G. Thomas Bancroft)Winter snowpack is an essential component of keeping these forests healthy as well as downstream areas. The Teanaway River flows into the Yakima River, and this system is already experiencing water shortages during the summer because of the reduced snows this region has experienced over the last few decades. Allocating water between people, agriculture, and nature is difficult when the amount isn’t sufficient. And this challenge is likely to worsen.

The report also concluded:

Annual trends toward earlier spring melt and reduced snowpack are already affecting water resources in the western United States and these trends are expected to continue. Under higher scenarios, and assuming no change to current water resources management, chronic, long-duration hydrological drought is increasingly possible before the end of this century.”

The state recently protected more than 50,000 acres lower in the Teanaway watershed from additional development because of concerns about water supply. The national forest where I sat, as well as the wilderness upstream, protects additional lands critical to maintaining natural water regimes. Fortunately, Washington State is a leader in combating climate change. During the 2018 Legislative session, our representatives will have the chance to pass legislation that could make Washington a model for how to implementing programs to reduce the release of gases causing climate change while also maintaining a healthy and robust economy.

The double note chip of a Pacific wren caught my attention, and I turned to watch the bird move through a tangle of cedar branches before flying back into the woods. I then rose to walk along the edge of the creek, studying the design of the fallen leaves in the water eddies, some still holding a little yellow color. The water felt cold, not much above freezing. Snowmelt from higher elevations was driving the flow. The crystal clear water should make ideal habitat for aquatic insects. Small fish and American dippers should be along this rivulet. The sounds radiating from the creek filled my heart with hope and resolve. Washington can lead us forward to a solvable solution to this dilemma.

The soft sound of water cascading across rocks filled the air with the sweet sound of fall. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The soft sound of water cascading across rocks filled the air with the sweet sound of fall. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

USGCRP, 2017: Climate Science Special Report: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume I [Wuebbles, D.J., D.W. Fahey, K.A. Hibbard, D.J. Dokken, B.C. Stewart, and T.K. Maycock (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, 470 pp., doi: 10.7930/J0J964J6.

 

Wild Nearby: An exhibit on the North Cascades at the Burke Museum

Watson Lakes. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The view down onto Watson Lakes in the Noisy-Diobsud Wilderness.  (G. Thomas Bancroft)

 

The Burke Museum recently opened an exhibit titled Wild Nearby that allows you to get a real sense of the vastness and intrigue of the North Cascades. The exhibit has a full sized replica of a fire lookout. You can even get a splinter from the wood if you are not careful. You can handle skulls of a wolverine, deer or coyote and they have movies on wolverines and high mountain frogs.

They used my photograph of Watson Lakes at Noisy-Diobsud Wilderness in the "Wild Nearby" exhibit at the Burke Museum in Seattle. (Thomas Bancroft)

They used my photograph of Watson Lakes at Noisy-Diobsud Wilderness in the “Wild Nearby” exhibit at the Burke Museum in Seattle. (Thomas Bancroft)

 

They printed my photograph of the Watson Lakes really big and it is on display in front of a floor map of the North Cascades. I am so honored to have one of my photographs of these wilderness lands included in the show. The exhibit is open until February 5, 2017. The Burke Museum in on the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle.

The Milky Way over Mount Adams

Muddy Meadows had taken on a golden brown cast and contrasted with the white summit of Mt Adams peaking through the sky. (Thomas Bancroft)

Muddy Meadows had taken on a golden brown cast and it contrasted with the white summit of Mt Adams that peaked through the clouds. (Thomas Bancroft)

Clouds had obscured Mt Adams all day except in late afternoon when a small window formed between the high and low clouds. I hoped the clouds might disappear as the day shifted to night and so I set my alarm for 10:30 PM. I had hiked into Muddy Meadows in Mt Adams Wilderness with the hope that I could photograph the Milky Way over Mt Adams. I have a personal goal of photographing the Milky Way over all 5 shield volcanoes in Washington. With a new moon just started, this night promised to be dark and perfect for seeing the Milky Way if the clouds disappeared. Lodgepole pines and firs surrounded the large wet meadow and the meadow had taken on a wonderful warm brown tinge as fall approached.

The Milky Way twinkled above Mt Adams and Muddy Meadows. (Thomas Bancroft)

The Milky Way twinkled above Mt Adams and Muddy Meadows. (Thomas Bancroft)

At 10:30 PM the Milky Way twinkled above the mountain and I didn’t see a single cloud. I found a good place to watch the sky and the mountain. A few meteors streaked through the sky and one large one looked like a shooting rocket. Unfortunately, it was just outside of my camera’s view. I found the stars memorizing and lost track of how cold it was. My fingers slowly became numb in the low 40s temperatures. Little light pollution was evident and I could see far more stars than I can see in Seattle. Muddy Meadows sits on the north side of Mt Adams and a little northwest of the peak. The Milky Way stretched southwest. I wondered how many stars were out there? Some scientists estimate that we may have 400 billion stars in just the Milky Way and many have planets circling them. It always thrills me to think about the vastness of the universe and how small our planet is within the expanse of space.

I stood staring at the stars when suddenly I caught the shadow of a dark object shooting by the right side of my head, maybe only an arm lengths away and slightly higher than me. Just beyond me, it dropped down to eye level and disappeared into the darkness without a sound. I thought an owl, maybe a northern pygmy-owl. It surprised me that I hadn’t jumped or even flinched. The owl must have been checking out what this strange object was in the middle of “its” meadow. Seeing it added an additional excitement to the night experience. I wondered what else might be watching me from the surrounding wilderness?

I did it again here. I seem to drift into a meditative state each time I stand watching stars gradually drift west. My mind wanders from family and friends to thinking about wild country. Seeing wild country or experiencing it through literature, films and art always seems to leave me energized, happy, and excited for tomorrow. When I began to shiver, I realized it might be time to find my tent and my warm sleeping bag. I grabbed my camera and tripod, turned to head toward my tent, but stopped for one last look up and to wonder a little more.

Do you enjoy seeing the Milky Way? Does it raise thoughts and feelings in you?

The Milky Way twinkled above Mt Adams and Muddy Meadows. (Thomas Bancroft)

The Milky Way rises above Mt Adams and Muddy Meadows in the Cascade Mountains of Washington. (Thomas Bancroft)

Dorothy Lake on an April Morning

 (Thomas Bancroft)

Dorothy Lake in Alpine Lakes Wilderness sits in a glacier carved valley. (Thomas Bancroft)

We climbed the trail toward Dorothy Lake in Alpine Lakes Wilderness hoping to see what it might look like on this spring morning. Every quarter mile or so, we heard a Pacific Wren singing his complex melody to declare that spring is here and he is ready for a mate. We stopped at Camp Robber Creek for 20 minutes to watch and listen to the water tumble down the granite chute from the valley above. The bridge across the creek is right where Camp Robber Creek joins the East Fork of the Miller River coming down from Lake Dorothy. Smith Creek joins these two from a ravine a dozen yards below this junction. The chorus formed by these three watercourses was so loud that we had to shout to each other to be heard over the symphony engulfing us.

The water tumbled down through a series of crevices in the water smoothed rocks.  The water divided between water courses and came back together as it tumbled down the cascade. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The water tumbled down through a series of crevices in the water smoothed rocks. The water divided between water courses and came back together as it tumbled down the cascade. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Soon after leaving the bridge, we discovered snow on the trail. I had not expected snow today when I suggested this trip. The storm that moved through Seattle during this last week must have brought snow to these mountains. Looking through the forest on both sides of the trail, we noticed that the snow on the ridges looked fresh, maybe from last night. Snow clung to the branches of the subalpine firs to make a winter wonderland scene in mid-spring.

Fortunately, the snow and ice on the trail had begun to melt and we had a small amount of traction as we climbed the steps up the trail. Volunteers with Washington Trails Association have improved this trail by using logs to stop erosion, construct steps up steep sections, and build boardwalks across wet places. We hiked delicately so as not to slip and fall on the snow and ice.

We took the side trail out to the outflow from Dorothy Lake. The U-shaped valley is a result of glaciers gouging out this valley and carving the deeper scoop that now forms Dorothy Lake. I suspect the granite rocks here at the outflow were too hard for the Pleistocene glaciers to carve. The snow covering the trees and valley walls gave a picturesque view across the lake, and we found a rock to sit for a while.

A mass of drift logs crowded the shore near the outflow. Water trickled through the logs and down the creek beside our seats. Two small rapids over rocks gave a pleasant sound to the scene. I noticed fresh buds preparing to open on the huckleberries. Once it warms, the new leaves will unfurl. The lake near us was flat and mirror-like, reflecting the mountains and clouds. The creek gurgled behind us and I felt the cold air rising from the melting snow, chilling my back. We rose to hike along the lake a short ways, flushing a few juncos from the bushes and hearing the chatter of chickadees in the cedars and hemlocks above us. Although I could not feel the breeze, the lake surface had become scalloped in a mosaic pattern. We found a rock to eat our lunch and watched the mosaic of scallops twist and turn in the afternoon light before we rose to head back.

Spring will reach this subalpine lake any day now.

 

 (Thomas Bancroft)

(Thomas Bancroft)

 

 

 

Purple Sea Star and Algae

The tide was going out and I found this ochre sea star on the side of a rock with various algae.  The sea star didn't move in the 20 minutes I stood nearby watching.  I was intrigued by the design formed by the sea star and the brown algae. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The tide was going out and I found this ochre sea star on the side of a rock with various algae. The sea star didn’t move in the 20 minutes I stood nearby watching. I was intrigued by the design formed by the sea star and the brown algae. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

 

I am excited to announce that I have a photograph hanging in the Wilderness Forever 50th Anniversary Photography Exhibition. My photograph of a purple sea star and algae taken at Scotty’s Bluff along the coast of the Olympic Wilderness received an honorable mention in the wildlife category. The exhibition is on display at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington, DC through the end of the summer in 2015. I am incredibly flattered that the judges chose this photograph out of more than 5,000 submitted to participate in the celebration. If you make it to DC in the next few months, stop by to see it and let me know how it looks.

Congress passed the Wilderness Act, and President Johnson signed it into law on September 3, 1964. Wilderness is a protection overlay applied by Congress to public lands managed by one of four federal agencies: the National Park Service, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, or Bureau of Land Management. The Wilderness Act defined a process for designating Wilderness in national parks, national wildlife refuges, and national forests. In 1976, Congress added lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management when it passed the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act. Congress has designated more than 109 million acres including almost 4.5 million in Washington.

Congress has designated over 90% of Olympic National Park as Wilderness including portions of the strip of land that borders the beach along the Pacific Ocean. I took this photograph when I hiked south along the beach from Third Beach where I had camped. Tom Martin, my friend who leads American Forest Foundation in Washington, DC, had told me to check out Scotty’s Bluff because the tidal pools are spectacular there. I rose early so I could reach Scotty’s Bluff by 6:15AM when low tide would just be beginning. As he predicted, the tidal pools and surf at Scotty’s Bluff glowed in the morning light, and I found some great things including this purple sea star.

At the time I took this photograph; I was taking an online photography course with William Neil. William Neil creates landscape photograph art of wild country. His work is mesmerizing and inspirational. As I composed this shot, I went through the checklist of techniques he had taught us. Bill’s guidance paid dividends that day and continues to enlighten my photography.

Thank you Tom and Bill. I thank all of you who enjoy my photography too. You inspire me to keep growing.

A Family Outing

A rufous-bellied pademelon pauses from feeding to consider if danger is near and it should flee. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

A rufous-bellied pademelon pauses from feeding to consider if danger is near and it should flee. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

I rounded the corner and spotted her sitting beside a bush. Her fine features, dainty little hands, and smooth curves took my breath away. I couldn’t help but stare at her. She flexed open and shut her delicate small fingers and brought her hands together and then apart as she chewed quietly on something. Occasionally, her pink tongue would slip between her soft lips suggesting that the flavor of her food was satisfying. She cocked her head to one side as she gazed down the trail; she had not spotted me. Her brown eyes twinkled in the soft light. She did not appear disturbed by the light drizzle or the water droplets forming on her hair. Droplets coalesced into larger ones that meandered down her face. I stood frozen not able to take my eyes off such beauty, features so fine, such a marvelous example of life.

She turned toward some movement in the bushes and a smaller version of her hopped out from under a bush to sit beside her. Two miniature kangaroos, two pademelons, a mother and her half grown joey, sat right in front of me, not more than a dozen yards away. My blood raced through my arteries as my heart pumped as if I had run a marathon. I stared frozen in the rain as I watched these two magnificent animals chew on grass. I can’t believe that these miniature kangaroos, the mother only 18 inches tall and the joey only a foot tall, were so close. I worked hard not to move.

The cry, “Mummy, Mummy, can we go play in the playground, pleaseeee,” catches my attention and brings me back to Seattle. I am sitting on a bench in Cal Anderson Park in Seattle Washington. It has been two weeks since I returned from Australia and saw the pademelons in Tasmania, yet the image in my mind is still so vivid, so real as if it just happened and I keep returning to the thrill. I watch the boy, maybe 7, hop with his knees tight together down the hill toward his mother just like a kangaroo. He yells, “Please, mummy, can we go into the playground.” His mother roots through her purse for change for the parking meter. His brother, maybe 5, slips and falls as he tries to climb one of the cherry trees, hitting the ground with a thud but he simply stands back up to attempt to climb the tree again. I chuckle as I watch them. So much life in these boys it reminds me of when my daughter was their age.

My wife and I use to take our daughter to playgrounds when she was young. The Miami Zoo had wonderful playgrounds and we would tour the park looking at the animals and stopping at each playground for a little diversion. Our daughter would scramble over all the equipment: sliding, climbing, jumping, running, and falling. So much energy and life! Just like those two pademelons that appeared to be enjoying a fine meal and the drizzle wasn’t going to bother their outing. This trip to Australia was my first trip overseas by myself since my wife died. My daughter now lives in Sydney Australia and I went to see her but also to see some of this mythical continent with all its marsupials and unique birds. The boys’ mother must have said yes for they run into the playground and onto the jungle gym as she strolls up the hill past me. I drift back to Australia and remember that I moved just slightly when I no longer could hold my breadth and stiff stand on the trail. The mother kangaroo immediately saw me and began an intense stare trying to determine if I was dangerous. I panicked that they would flee immediately but after several moments she seemed to relax and she turned with her baby close behind and hopped slowly into the bushes and out of my sight. I turned to head back toward the lodge where we spent the night so I could have breakfast with my daughter, her husband, and his family. My wife would have liked Tasmania, those adorable miniature kangaroos and she would be proud of our daughter.

The rufous-bellied pademelon gazes intensely down the trail. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The rufous-bellied pademelon gazes intensely down the trail. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

This blog was first posted on The Travel Writers site.

 

Black bear along Comet Falls Trail in Mt. Rainier Wilderness

A black bear checks me out along the trail to Comet Falls in Mt Rainier National Park. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

A black bear checks me out along the trail to Comet Falls in Mt Rainier National Park. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

I was the first at the trailhead and the air smelled fresh, sweet and damp in the forest as I started up the trail to Comet Falls in Mt Rainier National Park. Western Hemlocks and Douglas Firs towered over the trail creating a cathedral feeling of wonder and amazement. I moseyed along just absorbed by the quiet atmosphere, almost drifting into a self-absorbed trance when the bushes to my left exploded into a fury of crashing and twisting branches. I felt like I jumped right out of my skin before I stopped dead still in the middle of the trail.

A black bear climbed 6 to 8 feet up the backside of a western hemlock and then peaked around the right side of the trunk staring right at me. I had disturbed him from sleeping late under the bushes. He looked like a newly independent three-year old. Big but not as big as an adult bear, the size of a pro middle linebacker rather than a lineman.  His sides  bulged; he was fattening nicely for his long winter nap. His eyes showed as much fear as mine probably showed him. He pulled back around the tree and a few seconds later looked again at me from the left side of the trunk, still not sure what I was doing in his forest.

We both were trying to assess whether to run or simply ignore the other. My muscles remained tense and the adrenaline flowed freely through my arteries preparing myself to make lots of noise if he looked like he might become aggressive. After what seemed like forever but probably was only a few seconds, he slid down the trunk to the ground to peer at me through some bushes. I imagined then that he shrugged his shoulders at me. Well at least he simply turned and began to mosey up through the forest, stopping several times to feed on berries in the understory bushes. After a minute or two he had disappeared into the dense understory.

I stood, breathing heavily for a while before I relaxed enough to continue up the trail, my closest encounter ever, thrilling and scary, definitely setting the mood for a great day in Mt Rainier Wilderness.

Chiwawa & White Rivers in Wenatchee National Forest

Chiwawa River just down stream of Maple Creek. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The Chiwawa River just downstream of Maple Creek. The river flows out of Glacier Peak Wilderness in Wenatchee National Forest near Leavenworth, Washington.  (G. Thomas Bancroft)

This last week, I went to explore the valleys of White and Chiwawa rivers in Wenatchee National Forest, northwest of Leavenworth, Washington. From the early 1950s to at least the mid 1980s, forest management here was controversial; should society protect any of the prized old-growth forests within the valleys or should all the trees be cut for timber. The valleys contained magnificent big trees — ponderosa pines, grand firs, Douglas firs, red cedars, silver firs, western hemlocks. The conservation community thought they should be left uncut while the Forest Service and the timber industry wanted to harvest these trees.

Rapids on White River at Indian Creek Trailhead. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Rapids on White River at Indian Creek Trailhead. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

In 1957, the Forest Service proposed a Glacier Peak Wilderness under their 1939 regulations. The conservation community characterized their recommendation as the “starfish proposal” because it protected high elevation habitats along the ridges extending out from the alpine country around the volcano and left open to logging long forested fingers in the valleys. Two of these forested fingers were the White and Chiwawa river valleys. Dismayed with the Forest Service’s proposal, conservationists began to work with national groups to convince Congress to pass The Wilderness Act in 1964. Congress then added some low elevation forest to Glacier Peak Wilderness. In 1968 Congress added even more low elevation forests to the wilderness when they created North Cascades National Park and Pasayten Wilderness, and in 1984 they added an additional 112,600 acres to bring Glacier Peak Wilderness to the 576,900 acres it is today. In 2001, when the Roadless Rule was finalized, the Forest Service protected from logging and road building the Roadless Areas that extended along the ridges further out from Glacier Peak Wilderness. During these decades, the Forest Service gradually extended roads further up the valleys as timber was sold and harvested from these public lands. The current boundaries reflect the conflicts and compromises on how our public lands should be managed and protected.

The White and Chiwawa River valleys are access corridors into Glacier Peak Wilderness. Designated wilderness are shown in light green and Inventoried Roadless Areas are shown in gray-green. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The White and Chiwawa River valleys are access corridors into Glacier Peak Wilderness. Designated wilderness are shown in light green and Inventoried Roadless Areas are shown in gray-green. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The original logging roads provide access up the valleys for recreationists. The White River Road extends 11 miles from the northwest end of Lake Wenatchee. From the end of White River Road, I hiked 3 miles into Glacier Peak Wilderness last summer through protected stands of Douglas firs, grand firs, and red cedars. I remember one cedar that must have been 6 to 8 feet across at chest height, a tree that had grown for many centuries. The Chiwawa River Road extends 19 miles up the valley from Fish Lake at the end of the Chiwawa Ridge. Both valleys have the characteristic U-shape resulting from how glaciers carved these valleys during the last glaciation. As I started up both roads, ponderosa pines dominated the forest, gradually adding grand firs, Douglas firs, western hemlocks, and red cedars to the mix as the valleys gained elevation. In places patches of cottonwoods hugged the rivers and a few aspen clumps interspersed the conifers. Both roads became one lane and dirt half way up the valley but they had plenty of pullovers to allow cars to pass. Forest Service campgrounds occurred at regular intervals along both roads and they provide a base for hikes into the surrounding hills. A thumb of wilderness extends down Chiwawa Ridge between these two valleys and is surrounded by a larger expanse of Inventoried Roadless Area now protected by the Forest Service’s Roadless Rule. The Roadless Rule also currently protects the ridges between Chiwawa River and Lake Chelan.  The Forest Service has proposed that the Roadless Areas that surround the thumb of wilderness extending down Chiwawa Ridge and those adjacent to the upper ends of White River and Chiwawa Rivers be added to Glacier Peak Wilderness. Congress will need to act on these recommendations to make these additions. Conservationists, including me, hope Congress will protect more permanently through wilderness designation more of these roadless areas than the Forest Service recommends.

I was trilled to see both rivers run crystal clear. These are important habitat for Bull Trout and salmon, and currently are closed to fishing to encourage recovery of fish populations.  Waters in these rivers eventually reach the Columbia River and support salmon such as sockeye that return from the ocean to breed here. The lush vegetation along the edge of the rivers helps to keep the water cool and feeds the food chain for young fish. These valleys are worth a visit for a picnic, hike or to camp.

Indian Creek drains the eastern side of glacier peak wilderness.  A large foot log forms a bridge across the creek.  I sat to watch to water flow unde the log.  A dipper flew by several times, complaining loudly that I was on the bridge and disturbing its creek domain.  The tumbling of water across the rocks created a wonderful mesmerizing sound.  After a while, I figured I should let the Dipper have its creek back so I moved along. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Indian Creek drains the eastern side of glacier peak wilderness. A large foot log forms a bridge across the creek. I sat to watch to water flow under the log. A dipper flew by several times, complaining loudly that I was on the bridge and disturbing its creek domain. The tumbling of water across the rocks created a wonderful mesmerizing sound. After a while, I figured I should let the Dipper have its creek back so I moved along. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The Super Moon rises above Dewey Lake in William O. Douglas Wilderness

The supper moon in August 2014 as it rises over William O. Douglas Wilderness. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The supper moon in August 2014 as it rises over William O. Douglas Wilderness. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

10 August 2014. The moon was predicted to be a “super moon,” so I headed to Mt Rainier National Park to see if I could find a good place to watch it rise. I hoped the alpine meadow at the southern end of the loop might be perfect. The Photographer’s Ephemeris said the moon should rise at 8:09PM and the sunset at 8:31 PM, a perfect evening.  The direction of the moon would be 104 degrees so a little south of east. I took my compass to explore.

The loop around Naches Peak is a 4.5-miles starting at Chinook Pass on Highway 410. I hiked southeast from the trailhead to the large alpine meadow with a tarn that sits at the base of Naches Peak. I figured the moon would rise over Dewey Lake.

I found a great spot on an outcropping of granite a hundred yards above the trail where I could look east over Dewey Lake in William O. Douglas Wilderness. The Pacific Crest Trail passes by Dewey Lake and joins the Naches Peak Loop trail to the left of my perch. Congress designated this wilderness from national forest lands in 1984 and named it for the Supreme Court Justice. He grew up in Yakima Washington and hiked these mountains as a boy. Throughout his life, he championed wilderness and environmental issues. It was wonderful to have a Supreme Court Justice with such an environmental conscious.

I met and chatted with a number of people as I scouted sites. Naches Loop has spectacular wildflowers at this time of year as well as beautiful views of Mt Rainier to the west so it is not unusual to see people here during the day. Twice before I have stayed out here to watch the sunset behind Mt Rainier and each time everyone had left before sunset. As I searched for my place, I met one photographer that had come to watch the moon rise too. I expected that the two of us would have the place to ourselves but not so. Between 7:30 and 8:00 PM the trail filled with people. I could hear groups of people in both directions from my perch discussing if they had found their place to watch. I bet at least 30 or maybe 40 people were spread in 5 or 6 groups along the trail.

Dewey Lake in the late evening light just before the moon rises over William O. Douglas Wilderness. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Dewey Lake in the late evening light just before the moon rises over William O. Douglas Wilderness. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

By 7:30 PM, I had settled on my granite outcrop to wait for the show. The sun had already dropped behind Naches Peak behind me so I sat in shadowed light. Seedpods had formed on the bear grass in the surrounding meadow. Two weeks ago, they were in full bloom when I hiked here. As I sat, a swarm of birds joined me. Purple finches, yellow-rumped warblers, and Oregon juncos hung from bear grass stalks, probing the pods. The juncos would drop to the ground and scratch between clumps, scurrying along the ground before flying to the next clump of bear grass while the finches and warblers would fly to the subalpine firs to flit through the branches.  An occasional robin would squawk as it flew to a tree or past my rock. I estimated three-dozen birds enjoyed the evening here. The evening brought back memories of chasing lightning bugs with my sister on our farm in Pennsylvania. Not sure why because the settings are so different. We use to run around the lawn between the house and barn at about this time catching as many lightning bugs as we could. My sister always caught more than me, never could figure out why. We released them before going inside so we could chase them another evening. A warm feeling of contentment settled in me.

The supper moon rises over a ridge in the William O. Douglas Wilderness. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The supper moon rises over a ridge in the William O. Douglas Wilderness. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

A few minutes after the designated time, the moon crept from behind a cliff just to the left of Dewey Lake, glowing red from all the smoke in the air and large as can be. A cheer rose from the crowds along the trail. What fun! The reddish ball slowly rose above the wilderness, creating a rose-colored reflection in the lake below. A number of wildfires were burning up and down the Cascades creating a lot of smoke that added to the evening’s color. I saw craters dotting the moon’s surface including one at the southern pole that radiated fingers out like starfish arms.

At 9 PM, I drifted to the southwest along the trail so I could see what Mt Rainier looked like in the twilight. The western sky glowed salmon color from the smoke, silhouetting Mt Rainier, and putting the meadow and tarn in twilight softness. I stood with a half dozen people just staring at the scene: Mt Rainier, alpine meadow, tarn, and western gleam. All speechless.

My “moon comrades” left so after a while I turned to head back down the east side of Naches Peak to Chinook Pass. Two groups of people that had watched the moon rise near my perch passed me in the opposite direction, heading to the Mt Rainier side of Naches Peak. I had expected to have the 2-mile trail back to the pass to myself but to my surprise I met a number of groups out for a moonlit hike. I met two family groups of at least 10 people with three generations each from grade school to grandma. One group was spread a quarter mile along the trail, some hiking with headlamps and others in the dark. I met two groups of two couples and four couples by themselves. All must have left Chinook Pass after the moon had risen. Many hiked just by the light of the moon. Several of the couples commented that it was a romantic outing for them. My excitement and respect for them increased with each group. A transformative hike!  It was probably good that they didn’t know that I would flush a black bear from his resting spot under a subalpine fir right along the trail at 5:30 AM the next morning.

Sunset behind Mt Rainier from Naches Peak Loop Trail. The red in the sky is partly from the smoke from the many forest fires burning in Washington. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Sunset behind Mt Rainier from Naches Peak Loop Trail. The red in the sky is partly from the smoke from the many forest fires burning in Washington. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Longmire Meadows, Rampart Ridge and Mt Rainier

Rampart Ridge rises behind Longmire Meadows. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Rampart Ridge rises behind Longmire Meadows. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

I stand in Longmire Meadows looking up the valley toward Mt Rainier first simply enjoying the life here in the valley and the wonder of Mt Rainier towering into the sky. I then try to imagine 1200 feet of ice on top of me and this meadow. I had just seen two mule deer browsing through the horsetail meadow under the alders behind me and I watched a flock of 20 band-tailed pigeons roost in some trees along the edge of the meadow. They flew down to the grass to feed before returning to the branches above. For me, seeing these pigeons was a treat for their numbers have plummeted in the last few decades and finding them is now hard. A dozen barn swallows swished back and forth across the meadow-grabbing insects. Their flight seemed almost effortless and so acrobatic. Hemlock forests lined the side of the meadows in a lush thicket like large pillows surrounding a quilted meadow.

Yet 375,000 years ago, this meadow would have been buried under ice and about that time Mt Rainier erupted, sending molten rock flowing down the side of the mountain. The lava flowed along the edge of the glacier until it came against an ice dam formed where the Nisqually Glacier met the Kautz Glacier. Imagine, a 1200-foot high ice dam. This damn would have been about the height of the emperor state building in New York or twice the height of the Space Needle in Seattle. Imagine that much ice.

I see Rampart Ridge rising 1200-foot at the edge of Longmire Meadow, its vertical basalt columns creating a sheer cliff. To think, this ridge right in front of me once was a lava lake, that entire side of the ridge liquid rock. Scary, maybe awesome. The lava flowed along the edge of the ice, meeting the ice dam, began to back up, filling the lake to the top of the glacier dam. The lava cooled first along the ice. After the eruption ended the lava cooled to form basalt and when the ice melted, it revealed Rampart Ridge. I want to hike the loop trail up and around the ridge to gain a better feel for this lava flow and the size of the glacier but for today, just thinking about it from Longmire Meadow is amazing.