Olympic National Park May 2017 Workshop Report

I recently held my first May workshop in Olympic National Park. I usually go in July for the wildflowers, the deer up on Hurricane Ridge, and the lavender farms in Sequim. But this year I chose May. And May is a wonderful time to visit because the forests are looking great, the waterfalls and streams are full, and the sunsets at the coast can be more interesting.
The downside is that there are little to no wildflowers on Hurricane Ridge, nor are there any deer. In fact, it was still snow-covered. But the parking lot was clear and the mountains were out when they weren’t obscured by clouds and fog.

But fog and clouds at sunrise on Hurricane Ridge is when magic happens.

Early morning from Hurricane Ridge

Some of the greenery and flowers around the park are running a little late this year. We had a rainy winter with lots of snow in the mountains and we’ve had a cold spring. This seems to have delayed the popping-up of some of the forest flowers. But the rain forest looked wonderful and the little stream half-way to Sol Duc Falls had an ideal amount of water and a lot of green moss on the rocks.

Small stream along the Sol Duc trail.

There's a new log! Right next to the new red arrow! Click to en-biggen.

And speaking of Sol Duc, Sol Duc Falls has a new log across it. If you've ever been there to photograph, there's a great spot between a couple trees just upstream from the bridge. Normally you'd stand practically between these trees and photograph the falls with the bridge in the background. And if you had a really great workshop leader he, or she, would don the red jacket he, or she, brought especially for this and walk out on the bridge to act as a model.

Anyway, one of those trees you would stand near is now laying across the top of the falls. But you can still get to that same location, you just have to duck under the fallen tree. The shot is practically the same and the log doesn't get in the way. But if you're shooting from the bridge, you'll definitely have the log in the shot.

Madison Falls, an easily accessible “little brother” to Marymere Falls, looked the best I’ve ever seen it. No logs were across it and there was plenty of water. It’s not a popular waterfall, but that’s only because not many people know about it. Everyone coming to the park sees the sign to Marymere Falls, but Madison? Madison gets little love or promotion from the park and that’s just fine with me. Seriously, how many waterfalls are there that are a two-minute walk on a flat (and paved) trail and that you’ll have nearly all to yourself?

I like Madison better than Marymere for many reasons: it’s more accessible, a lot less crowded, and there's more room to photograph. And even on a sunny summer day, because of the way it's oriented, you can photograph it until at least mid-morning.

Next time you’re in Olympic, be sure to take the short drive (about 2 miles) up the Elwha (Olympic Hot Springs Road) to Madison Falls.

Madison Falls, Olympic National Park

We were lucky enough to have a couple of decent sunsets on the coast. And one dud. But the dud turned out nice since you can make some pretty nice black and whites from a dud sunset. On the first night we visited La Push. Great clouds in the sky made for a good start to the trip. On another night, hiking down to Second Beach paid off. It wasn't a super awesome sunset but it sure was pretty and well worth the short hike.

2nd Beach sunset, Olympic National Park

The Hoh rain forest was looking good. We actually went twice. The first morning was overcast and drippy and perfect and we had the Hall of Mosses to ourselves for what seemed like hours. A ranger told us that it had snowed the day before.

Driving in a couple of days later, we saw a few elk along the road. And then hiking on the trail we saw a massive bull elk in the trees just as we started on the Hall of Mosses loop. I was slow getting a lens on the camera and he moved enough to hide his head behind a tree. But all the same, it was an impressive thing to see.

Archway to the Hall of Mosses

It seems that nearly every time I visit the Hall of Mosses I find something little to photograph. Last time it was a little snail. This time it was the curls on the sword ferns. Close up photography can be the most physically demanding type of nature photography just because you often need to hold yourself in awkward positions just to see through the viewfinder. And you need patience. Patience to find and refine the shot, and patience to wait for the darn breeze to stop. But it's certainly worth it.

Sword fern curl, Olympic National Park

All in all, I enjoyed Olympic in May just as much as, if not more than, July. It's less crowded, the forests are moister, the weather is less predictable, and the waterfalls and streams are fuller. I did miss seeing the little fawns chasing each other around on Hurricane Ridge though.

Chances are that I'll schedule my 2018 Olympic workshop for May as well. Drop me a line if you're interested!

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