Touring the Gifford Pinchot National Forest: Randle to Burley Mountain, Washington, 2016

posted in: Behind the Scenes | 0
A landscape photograph of an algae covered beaver pond along Woods Creek in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Randle, Washington.
“Beaver Pond, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington, 2016”
–Purchase Print–

It’s been several years since I drove south from Randle, Washington on Forest Road 25 (FR25) into the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. As a child growing up, my Dad, cousin and I would spend a lot of time in this area, especially before Mount Saint Helens erupted in 1980 (I’m dating myself now).

Every year, I would look forward to the “Hunting Camp” my Dad and his buddies would set for the entirety of deer and elk hunting season. In hunting camp, I learned a lot from the old-time loggers that my Dad had as friends. I was being taught Bushcraft skills long before I had heard the term.

After my Dad had passed away in 1991, his wish was to have his ashes scattered at a favorite remote camping spot near Elk Pass. I try to come back to this area at least annually if possible. It brings back a lot of pleasant memories that I don’t often think about on a daily basis.

By the time I arrived in Randle, it was already early afternoon, with heavy overcast skies and pleasantly warm.

My first stop to practice the art of landscape photography was right along FR25 not far from Randle. Along the road, there is a section of Woods Creek that is dammed up by a beaver and creates a decent sized pond that has been there as long as I can remember. During late summer, this beaver pond is covered with green algae as seen in the photographs.

A nature photograph of Woods Creek during the summer in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Randle, Washington.
“Woods Creek, Randle, Washington, 2016”
–Purchase Print–

FR25 gets a lot of summertime traffic, one because it’s a primary route to Cougar, Washington as well as being the access point to the very popular Windy Ridge Vista at Mount Saint Helens.

After photographing the beaver pond, I decided to revisit FR2506 towards Woods Creek and Kraus Ridge. During the late summer, as is common throughout the Pacific Northwest, water flows in the creeks are low. During this August visit, Woods Creek wasn’t more than a trickle.

A nature photograph of the forest along the Kraus Ridge Trail in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Randle, Washington.
“Forest Along Kraus Ridge, Randle, Washington, 2016”
–Purchase Print–

By nature, I love to explore. My Father had this in him as well. I can remember many days of on a spur of the moment, packing up the pickup trick and heading into the hills for the day, destination unknown. It was about the journey. Today, I can’t get enough. That’s why I set up my Toyota Landcruiser as a platform for overland travel, camping and landscape/nature photography. I’m always asking – “what is down that road?” When possible, I approach my photography the same way. Yes, I photograph the iconic locations in and around Washington State and the Pacific Northwest; however, I take great pleasure in finding something obscure, not normally photographed, and making my own icons of nature.

A landscape photograph of the Cispus River along Forest Road 25 in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Randle, Washington.
“Cispus River, Lewis County, Washington, 2016”
–Purchase Print–

After thoroughly exploring FR2506, I was back on FR25 and continuing south. My next stop was at the Cispus River. I parked at the bridge and walked down to river level. After all the times I drove over this bridge, this was the first time I adventured under it. From the topside of the bridge, one would not suspect that was a wooden timber bridge. Even the bridge decking was wood overlaid with concrete.

A landscape photograph of the East face of Tower Rock in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Cispus Center, Washington.
“Tower Rock East, Cispus Center, Washington, 2016”
–Purchase Print–

After a quick lunch by the river, I continued on FR25 past the Iron Creek Campground. Shortly thereafter the campground, I turned on FR76 as it followed the Cispus River upstream to the community of Cispus Center. I wanted to capture some photos of Tower Rock. I found a nice composition of the east face of Tower Rock from the parking lot of the local fire station.

A landscape photograph of the West face of Tower Rock in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Cispus Center, Washington.
“Tower Rock West, Cispus Center, Washington, 2016”
–Purchase Print–

Since the sun was directly overhead of the mountain, wanted to photograph Tower Rock from a different angle. I backtracked a little further west and found another vantage point to capture the west face of Tower Rock. The lighting was better however clouds still hung over the summit.

A photograph of the Burley Mountain Lookout in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Lewis County, Washington.
“Burley Mountain Lookout, Washington, 2016”
–Purchase Print–

Since the clouds were breaking up, I decided to take a chance to see if the local volcanoes would be visible from the Burley Mountain Lookout.

From along the Cispus River valley along FR76, FR77 climbs steadily along 11 miles of single lane, paved forest service road until the junction with FR7708, where the surface turns to gravel. From where the asphalt road ends, you are essentially driving with walls of alder trees on either side with only occasional views into the deep valleys below.

As I made the final turn on the road that leads to the summit of Burley Mountain, the clouds were rolling into the surrounding valleys. I met several vehicles on the way up to the lookout, but when I arrived, I had the area to myself.

A photograph of Mount Rainier as viewed from the Burley Mountain Lookout in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Lewis County, Washington.
“Mount Rainier, Burley Mountain Lookout, Washington, 2016”
–Purchase Print–

Burley Mountain provides one of my favorite views of our local snow capped peaks. The lookout sits almost right in the middle of the triangle formed by Rainier, Adams and Saint Helens. On a clear day, you can also see Mount Hood to the south in Oregon.

Initially, there were clear skies above and clouds in the valleys below and around the base of Mount Rainier. These conditions didn’t last long. Clouds rolled in rather quickly and obscured Mount Rainier.

A photograph of Mount Adams as viewed from the Burley Mountain Lookout in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Lewis County, Washington.
“Mount Adams, Burley Mountain Lookout, Washington, 2016”
–Purchase Print–

Luckily, Mount Adams was clear, with only the occasional cloud rolling by. Mount Saint Helens was only a silhouette in the distance, backlit by the early evening sun.

It wasn’t the greatest day for photographing the surrounding mountains, with hard light and lots of clouds.

Burley Mountain would make for a great place to spend the night on a clear summer night. Evening alpenglow, followed by starry skies and then the early morning sunshine on the mountains.

If you decide to visit, I recommend a high clearance vehicle, preferable a 4×4 so you don’t tear up the road to the lookout. Also, there is limited parking and turn-around at the summit.

After photographing at Burly Mountain, I needed to make way back to FR25 via FR77 before it got too dark. Little did I know how much rougher FR77 was from my previous trip to the area. My guess is that unless improvements are made, FR77 will pretty much be a 4×4 only road in a few years. Hopefully the US Forest Service will continue to keep the road open.

By time I got to FR28, it was completely dark. I continued on past Mosquito Meadows, then to FR25 and back to Randle.

Another rewarding day of exploring and photographing the great State of Washington in the books.