As Labor Day rolls past my calendar, my mind turns to thoughts of Autumn. The season doesn’t officially start for another few weeks, but I start thinking of pumpkin spice breves, school supplies, fogy mornings giving way to crisp sunny days, and fiery fall foliage.
Leaves begin to tarnish in the high alpine zones of our Pacific Northwest Mountains in August emphasizing a short rowing season where just a month prior the meadows were exhibiting the fertile vibrancy of mountain meadows speckled with pinks, yellows, and purples of wildflowers. Bees and mosquitoes fill the air with ever-present buzzing. Birds sing from the trees and deer nibble on the plant life. The colors turn red and gold in August as the air quiets. Deer are migrating to fresher fields leaving the meadows to marmots and pika gathering stores for the long winter ahead of them.
Summer holds on for another month in the Puget Sound lowlands. Big leaf maples start yellowing in September and the vine maple secluded in the evergreen forests become ablaze in October. Cooler days and more often then not, overcast skies. If you remember your 4 F’s – the subjects best suited to overcast days – forests are one of the F’s. With cloudy skies, you get less harsh shadows, and fewer blown out highlights – in general, more pleasing images without a lot of post processing headaches. You will also need to make sure you grab your tripod; cloudy days mean less light through the lens so often slower shutter speeds – which can be used for fun creative effects.
As you walk through the parks on each of these trips, look for branches of leaves extending across the trunks of conifers or into the scenery. Open your aperture wide to capture just a single leaf in focus with a splash of color in the background. Look for fallen leaves in the trail, on rocks, on ferns, or anywhere really. Grab your macro equipment and focus in on the veins of a leaf or head out after a rain and compose images with rain drops hanging onto the edge. Slow your shutter down and play with creative zooms and pans. Are you out and about while the sun is shining? Don’t be afraid to turn your lens towards the sun and capture leaves glowing with backlit wonder. Your images are only limited by the amount of daylight you have to play in.
This road trip takes you to 4 parks in the Enumclaw area that have a nice variety of forests for your creativity and pleasure.
First we’ll go to Kanasket-Palmer State Park along the Green River near the outflow of the Green River Gorge. Hike the trails along the river shore for views of the Green River Gorge. Rafters and kayakers are often seen drifting past on the current; their colorful boats are a wonderful punctuation on grey days. Look for fallen leaves along the river’s shore – here is a nice area to practice long exposures composing for the stillness of a leaf on a rock with blurred water surrounding the stationary subject.
From there, head to Nolte State Park. This little lake can often be overlooked as a photographic destination but we’re here to shatter those perceptions. A visit in the fall will have you walking through golden vine maples, their leaves drifting to the ground like vibrant snowflakes. Take the time to meander along the mile long trail around the lake. On sunny days point your camera to the sun for leaves that seem to be glowing from within.
Our next stop is to Flaming Geyser State Park. While the namesake of the park – a gas pocket burning above ground – is pretty much gone, the forest of big leaf maples will hold your interest as you hike the trail to the bubbling geyser. As the leaves fall into the grey sulfur mud they sparkle with color. Spend some time exploring the marshes near the parking lot for birds and wild critter settling in for winter.
Finally we’ll drive out highway 410 to Federation Forest State Park along the White River. With over 9 miles of trails, your adventure here can be as long as you want to make it. Start with the interpretive trail near the Catherine Montgomery Interpretive Center. Vine maple grow in abundance here and offer a bright contrast against the heavy bark of douglas-fir trees.
With Enumclaw as the hub for your road trip, make sure you stop at one of the fine restaurants for lunch to refuel your adventure.
Directions from Enumclaw - 40 miles between parks
To Kanasket-Palmer State Park: From Highway 410 in Enumclaw take 284th Ave SE heading north out of town. In a mile and a half the road turns into Veazie-Cumberland Rd SE. Continue to follow Veazie-Cumberland Rd SE as it turns into Cumberland-Kanasket Rd SE, just after Nolte State Park. After Nolte State Park, travel another 2.3 miles to Kanasket Palmer State Park Rd, turn left and drive to the day-use parking lot near the river.
To Nolte: Travel back along Cumberland Kanasket Rd SE towards Enumclaw and turn into Nolte State Park at 2.3 miles.
To Flaming Geyser State Park: Return towards Enumclaw via Veazie Cumberland Rd SE, turn right on 392nd St. which turns into SE 400th Way. After 2 miles, turn right onto State Route 169. Stay on State Route 169 for 3.3 miles then turn left on SE Green Valley Rd. Turn left into the park at 2.8 miles.
To Federation Forest State Park: Return to Enumclaw via State Route 169. Head east on Highway 410 for 15 miles to arrive at Federation Forest State Park.