Category Archives: Photography

National Parks Traveler Checklist: Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)

The National Parks Traveler has published my latest Checklist. This one offers tips and suggestions for things to see and do while visiting Mount Rainier National Park, in Washington state. To read the article, just click on the image.

This image above was captured back in the autumn of 2018. I’d moved to central Washington three months earlier and wanted to get out and explore the park. I’ve visited Mount Rainier a number of times, but this was the first time since moving to the state.

I’ll have to wait on visiting this park or any other for a while. I even had to cancel (and in part reschedule) plans I had to visit three national parks in California. Two days prior to the trip, my left eye suddenly became so veiled that I couldn’t see a thing out of it. Talk about scary! As such, I returned home yesterday from eye surgery this past Monday (June 14). Thankfully, no detached retina, but I did have retinal tears that needed to be lasered back into place and some filmy hemmorrhaging that needed to be removed. I can see again, for which I am thankful, but for the next 2-3 weeks must behave like a bump on a log. No stress, strain, no lifting anything heavier than 10 lbs, no bending over, no housework, no nothing. Although I’m used to being busy, I can certainly behave in order to keep my newfound eyesight. Photographer or not, the eye is a delicate and wondrous instrument and should never be taken for granted.

Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.

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It’s Trivia Tuesday, June 8th, 2021

The Rosy Glow Of Sunrise, Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)

It’s Trivia Tuesday, so here’s a little bit of trivia about “The Mountain.” Mount Rainier is an “episodically active” volcano and the most-glaciated peak in the Lower 48. The indigenous people named this mountain Tahoma or Tacoma, but it’s present-day moniker was bestowed upon it by one Captain George Vancouver, after sailing into Puget Sound in 1792. He named it after his buddy Peter Rainier. Mount Rainier National Park is America’s fifth national park.

Looking at this image might cause you to think I’ve deliberately oversaturated it. Nope. I can honestly tell you that for 20+ seconds, the sunrise colors are indeed this saturated. You have to work quickly to catch the scene, because as quickly as the colors appear, they disappear and are replaced by regular sunlight which turns the snow on the peak blindingly white and risks overexposure of a photo.

See that tiny person standing at the edge of Tipsoo Lake, in the lower center-ish portion of the shot next to the tree? That gives you an idea of the majesty of the landscape: One Big Mountain, One Teeny Person.

This sunrise shot was captured one fine autumn morning, a few months after I’d moved from Texas to Washington state. It’s early summer as I post this photo, and if you were to go there now, the lake would be mostly covered still in ice and snow.

Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.

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Filed under Mount Rainier National Park, National Parks, Photography, sunrise, Washington State

It’s National Trails Day, June 5th, 2021!

Hiking along the Fairyland Loop Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)

Today (June 5, 2021) is National Trails Day, folks! Where will that trail take you? Perhaps out among the red rocks and surreal hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park? Perhaps closer to home? Where ever that trail takes you, stop a moment and appreciate the builders of that trail and the fact that you are out in nature. Also practice the Leave No Trace Principles, while you are at it.

This image above was captured one chilly spring morning in 2018, about three months prior to my move from Texas to central Washington state. It had snowed a couple of days before but most of it melted away by the time I hit that trail. It was my last day in the park, and I was tuckered out. So, I didn’t hike the entire 8-mile loop. Next time I visit this national park, I plan on finishing out the hike!

Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.

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Fun Fact Friday – June 4th, 2021

Denali Mountain And Landscape, Denali National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

It’s Fun Fact Friday! So, here are a few facts about Denali Mountain and Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska. Did you know that only about 30 percent of people visiting the park ever get a glimpse of the mountain? Like Mount Rainier, Denali Mountain makes its own weather and these conditions can hide the 20,310-foot tall mountain behind a wreath of clouds and fog most of the time. The first climb to the top of this tallest peak in North America was done in 1913, and a member of the climbing party – Harry Karstens – would later become Denali’s first superintendent.

There’s an interesting article in today’s edition of the National Parks Traveler about Denali Mountain. Climbing rangers out there are voicing concerns about inexperienced climbers trying to summit the mountain, and after reading the article, I see there is very good reason for them to be concerned. To read that article, click on the image above.

I visited Denali National Park and Preserve for five days several years ago, and was lucky to have been able to see Denali every single day I was there. This image is the result of one such day of clear viewing.

Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.

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Filed under Alaska, Denali National Park, Fun Fact Friday, National Parks, National Parks Traveler, Photography, Travel

National Parks Traveler Checklist: Crater Lake National Park

A Crater Lake Sunrise, Crater Lake National Park (Oregon)

The National Parks Traveler has published my latest Checklist – this one is for Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. These park checklists are not to remind you to bring your toothpaste and toothbrush, but rather they are filled with tips on things to do, see, prepare for, and plan for.

If you are thinking about traveling to this particular national park, then click on the image above to read the latest checklist.

Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.

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What’s On Tap For Your Memorial Day Weekend?

A Smoky Morning Along McDonald Creek in Glacier National Park (Montana)

Planning to visit a national park this 3-day holiday weekend? If so, make sure you check that park’s website for alerts/closures and whether or not you might need a reservation to access certain parts of that park.

Take Glacier National Park, for instance. No, you don’t need to worry about forest fires if you visit now. This image was captured several years ago, during the Sprague Fire on the western side of the park. But, you do need to be aware that the Many Glacier Road is closed this weekend, and visits to this national park now require not only a park pass to enter, but also reservations since it’s ticketed entry to drive Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Same thing with Rocky Mountain National Park – timed entry tickets are required and all the pre-reserved tickets are sold out. This national park does keep a percentage of tickets for those wishing to enter the park on that day. If you want to avoid a reservation, then you need to enter the park before 5 a.m. or after 6 p.m. Good reasons to be an early riser or night owl for sunrise, sunset, and night photography.

I’m staying home this weekend. I do NOT want to encounter the huge crowds I know will be in the parks, and I’m still prepping for my Big Trip that I’ll be taking in about 2 weeks.

Where ever you go, whatever you do, stay safe, keep a good social distance, and be nice to people … unless they are doing something totally stupid, in which case, gently remind them to not do whatever stupid thing it is they are doing (like trying to get a selfie in front of that momma grizzly and her cubs). Your reminders probably won’t work, but at least you’ll have done your part.

Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.

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Filed under Glacier National Park MT, Holidays, Memorial Day, Montana, National Parks, Photography, Travel

National Parks Traveler Checklist: Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona)

The promise of a summer storm over the Painted Desert, Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona)

If you are planning a trip to Arches or Zion national parks in Utah over the Memorial Day holiday, then you’d better brace for crowds. No duh, right? However, if you are looking to spend time in a less-visited park that has some amazing scenery and geology, then why not take a look at Petrified Forest National Park, in Arizona. As a matter of fact, the National Parks published my latest Traveler Checklist today. These checklists I write are not the kind reminding you to bring along your toothpaste and not to forget the toothbrush, but rather what you might do during a visit to the park, what to watch out for, and maybe where to get a decent coffee or meal.

To read the checklist, click on the image above.

This image was captured shortly after my arrival at the Painted Desert portion of the park during my road trip move from TX to WA. It was summer, which is the monsoon season out in that part of the U.S., so storm clouds floated over the park, threatening to create a downpour. Never happened, though – may have been cloudy, but was dry as a bone over the landscape.

Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.

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Filed under Arizona, National Parks, National Parks Traveler, Petrified Forest National Park, Photography, Travel and Photography, Traveler's Checklist

National Parks Quiz And Trivia: May Notables

Late Afternoon In Many Glacier, Glacier National Park (Montana)

The National Parks Traveler recently published my latest quiz and trivia piece. It’s all about May notables: Glacier National Park, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Crater Lake National Park. These parks were established in the month of May. If you are interested in testing your knowledge about these parks, then click on the image above.

Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.

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Filed under Glacier National Park MT, National Parks, National Parks Quiz, National Parks Traveler, Photography

A Day Trip To Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument (Washington State) With My Cameras

An afternoon view of the volcano from Johnston Ridge Observatory (Fujifilm GFX 100)

It’s been almost three decades since my last visit to Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. Since moving back to Washington state, I’ve been thinking about a little return trip there to see what has changed in the ensuing years. I figured a May day visit to celebrate 41 years since the volcano’s eruption would be a great opportunity to field test a couple of new cameras (Sony Alpha 1, Fujifilm GFX 100).

It takes four hours to reach the Johnston Ridge Observatory from where I live in central Washington. In my case, it took a little longer, since I stopped at various view areas along the way. There are actually two ways to get to the volcano. There’s the slightly shorter route to Windy Ridge, on the northwestern side of Mt. St. Helens, with a great view of Spirit Lake (the road which is still closed due to snow). And then, there’s the slightly longer route along Spirit Lake Memorial Highway up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, slightly northeast of the crater.

Hoffstadt Creek Bridge (Fujifilm GFX 100)
Hoffstadt Creek Bridge (Sony a1)

The first view area at which I stopped was the Hoffstadt Bridge area. There are 14 bridges built along the Spirit Lake Memorial Highway leading up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory. This bridge pictured here is the tallest of them and is located at the edge of the blast zone in this area, about 22 miles away from the volcano. The trees and green foiliage you see in the images have grown since Mt. St. Helens’ eruption 41 years ago.

A trail to the side of the Hoffstadt Creek Bridge view area (Fujifilm GFX 100)

After photographing the bridge, I noticed this lovely leading line of a trail creating a yin-yang feel to the scene, with the bare white tree trunks on one side and the heavier, green foliage on the other side. No, I didn’t take the trail, so I don’t know where it ultimately led. I was trying to get closer to the volcano while decent morning light remained.

The scene from Castle Lake View Area (Sony a1)

I stopped at a couple more view areas, including the one above, with a side view of Mt. St. Helens and what I assume is Castle Lake to the center right of the composition. FYI, it’s reaaaalllly windy at this view spot as well as the Elk Rock Viewpoint, a stop before the Castle Lake Viewpoint. I was glad my tripod was heavy but still worried about camera shake because of the wind. I was also glad I had ear flaps to my Tilley hat, otherwise it would have blown off my head and far away.

Noble firs, planted 1983 (Sony a1)

All along the road up to the observatory, there are great stands of trees all about the same height, with signs denoting the type of tree and when they were planted. Most were planted between 1983 and 1986. This stand of noble firs was planted 1983, three years after the eruption.

A morning look at Mt. St. Helens from the Loowit View Area (Fujifilm GFX 100)

The first really good, head-on view of Mt. St. Helens, imo, is at the Loowit View Area, probably a mile – more or less – down from Johnston Ridge Observatory. As you can see from the image above, even at 8 a.m., good morning light doesn’t last very long, as the vista was becoming hazy with a slight blue cast to it. Take a moment to note that contrail in the upper left corner. Every single plane I watched flying over me made a beeline to the mountain. I imagine pilots include this view in their flight plan for the benefit of the plane passengers?

This view area (as well as the observatory area) was totally devoid of the chilly wind I’d experienced on the way up, which was a nice change. No real tripod shake and I didn’t have to worry about my hat flying away.

Where they lay – tree trunks still stripped and bare from the volcano’s blast even 41 years later (Sony a1)

It was interesting to see the growth that’s occurred in 41 years, yet still see very obvious signs of blast devastation. The cliff walls near the top of the image tower over the Toutle River (or what is left of it, after ash and mud spread out, flooded down, and clogged parts of the river.

I think I spent a good 45 minutes there before heading on up to Johnston Ridge Observatory. The observatory is closed, to date, and there are no restrooms or water, but the parking lot and view points are open. The last place for restrooms and water are at Coldwater Lake, some 8 miles back down elevation (or, if you look at a map, further north in distance) from the observatory.

In your face (iPhone 11 Pro)

It was after 9 a.m. by the time I reached the Johnston Ridge Observatory. The volcano was in my face as I walked up the paved rampway.

Morning view of Mt. St. Helens at Johnston Ridge Observatory (Sony a1)

As you can see from the image above, the atmosphere around Mt. St. Helens was hazy and had quite the blue cast to it. Regardless of lighting conditions, to see up close this volcano and the devastated area around it is truly impressive.

All that remains (Sony a1)

There is a paved walkway in both directions from the observatory’s main view area, so I walked up to this view of what remains of trees that were 150 feet tall. These blasted stumps are what is left of trees blown by the power of the eruption back to the valley you see in the background.

Mountain goat (Sony a1)

Before I left to head toward Longview and attempt an early check in, I walked the paved trail in the other direction from the image of the blasted trees. Lo and behold, right there on the hillside where the observatory building stood was a trio of mountain goats. I’d been given a heads up by a local photographer that I might see elk, so I’d attached my Sony a1 to my 100-400mm lens. I did see elk along the route to Spirit Lake Memorial Highway (aka Hwy 504), but they weren’t in the national monument proper and I was trying to get to the volcano while there was still decent morning light. I’d switched out lenses while photographing at Loowit View Area, so I had my 24-105mm lens attached, with which I ultimately had to make do for the photos I captured of the mountain goats. This image has been cropped from the original and it was the only one showing this goat’s front end (rather than the butt ends of the other two goats on the hill).

I was able to get early check in for my reservation at the Quality Inn & Suites in Longview, a little over an hour’s drive away from the observatory. In retrospect, I wish I would have stayed at the Comfort Inn, right next to the Three Rivers Mall and closer to places for take out options. The hotel at which I stayed is in Longview’s industrial section and is a bit dated. My room had cracks in the sink and the toilet, plus my room’s door wouldn’t automatically lock after shutting. Thankfully, that issue was fixed promptly, or else I would have asked for a different room. The hotel staff was very friendly, which was a plus to an otherwise meh hotel stay. I only stayed one night, so the room was fine enough.

Late afternoon view from the Loowit View Area (Fujifilm GFX 100)
A lava dome and steam vents (Sony a1)

I returned to Mt. St. Helens later in the afternoon and the lighting was considerably better. I also noticed steam rising from a couple of vents in the lava dome that I had not detected early that morning. That was pretty cool.

Mountain goats and volcanic scenery (Sony a1)

I made my way from the Loowit View Area back up to the observatory (see image at the very top of this post). Once again, as I was getting ready to return to my vehicle, I saw the same three mountain goats I’d spotted earlier that morning. And of course, my Sony still had the 24-105mm lens on it. The goats were closer to the paved walkway, but I didn’t want to get too near as one of the three was rather aggressive and I sure as heck didn’t want to be on the receiving end. So, I did what any good photographer would do with a wide-angle lens on their camera instead of a telephoto lens (left back in the car): I made the wildlife a part of my landscape scene.

What did I think of my cameras? I love them both! That GFX 100 is the landscape camera of my dreams, although I sure wish they had a wider selection of lenses. Fujifilm apparently figured the GFX 100 would be used only for portraiture and architecture. That’s probably true for what the current majority of photographers who own this camera use it. But with the advent of the GFX 100s, I would imagine there are a great many more landscape photographers out there who will use this medium format for their work. Hopefully, the people at Fujifilm will take note and create more lenses.

The Sony a1 is an exceptional camera, as is the rest of its line. This one combines the resolution I like for my landscapes, along with a shutter frame rate (up to 30 fps) perfect for wildlife and sports photography. I’m hoping to get more wildlife action from this camera during an upcoming visit to Kings Canyon, Sequoia, and Yosemite national parks. Yes, I’ll be keeping a long lens attached to this particular camera during that trip.

Becky and the volcano – yup, there was no wind so my hat stayed on my head

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Filed under Fujifilm GFX 100, Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, Photography, Sony a1, Travel, Washington State

The 41st Anniversary Of A Very Explosive Event

The landscape from Loowit View Area

“Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!”

41 years ago, those words were shouted by geologist Dr. David Johnston as Mt. St. Helens erupted, blasting away everything around it. Dr. Johnston had been standing in the area where the Johnston Ridge Observatory now sits, in commemoration of his dedication to monitoring the mountain and the explosion which took his life.

Today – May 18, 2021 – marks the 41st anniversary of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in Washington state. I was in my senior year of high school in Kentucky when the mountain exploded, and my sister in Yakima called us to tell us it had gotten so dark outside (in the middle of the day), that all the streetlights had turned on. And the ash floated down, covering everything. Thankfully, the house she lived in at the time had a garage, so their cars were safe from the damages wrought by the ash (which was, essentially, teeny tiny bits of volcanic glass mixed with dirt and other stuff). It would take me 10 more years before I visited Mt. St. Helens, myself.

Even after 41 years and all sorts of new growth, the remains of that eruption are still very visible and tell the story of the explosive power of the volcanoes here in this part of the Pacific Northwest.

In an upcoming post, I’ll tell you about my most recent visit to this national volcanic monument.

To read an article about the eruption, click on the image above.

To see incredible images of the eruption and it’s aftermath, click this link: https://historycollection.com/living-nightmare-mount-st-helen-eruption-uncovered-unbelievable-photos/

Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.

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Filed under Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, Photography, Washington State