The North Cascades Highway gets snowed in for the winter, so we decided to take a trip up there before the snow arrived. It was also a good time for fall foliage, so we wanted to see what the mountains had to offer. The colors in the trees as we drove up were very nice but, the higher you get, the more you are into the evergreens and the foliage becomes sparse. However, we had something equally attractive awaiting us.
It was an overcast day as we drove up with any hints of sun from the lower levels gone as we got higher. There were some really cool bands of clouds to see as we drove. At one point we had the valley in sight and the tops of the mountains but a band of cloud in the middle. It was while on a stretch of road with nowhere to stop so no shots of that. However, as we got up to Diablo Lake and then Washington Pass, we got plenty of mountain tops in and out of the clouds.
I experimented with both normal shots and HDR. With the shadow of the valleys and the brightness of the clouds, the dynamic range was pretty wide, and I thought HDR might give me some more processing options. I was glad I made that choice as it really helped to get detail in all parts of the images. That will be our last trip up there this year. The snows will be getting heavy before too long and then it will be a waiting game until the pass is cleared in the spring.
The high point – literally and figuratively – of the North Cascades Highway is Washington Pass. If you aren’t heading to the other side of the Cascades, this is also likely to be the point at which you turn around and head back the way you came. There is a parking area and trails at the top to allow you to wander around and take in the view of the pass including the highway far beneath you as it starts its descent.
It was July when we were there and the sun was out and the conditions warm. There were still hints of snow on some of the more sheltered slopes but the summer plant life was making its presence felt. The views up there when the air is clear are really lovely. I think I have posted images from here before but it always changes so here are some of my recent shots.
The dams along the Skagit River coming down from the Cascades are all pretty interesting but Diablo Dam is the easiest one to access so, when mum was visiting, we made the side trip to go across it. I actually missed the turning for it when we were heading into the mountains but I made sure to remember where it was when we headed back down. Driving across the top of the dam is pretty cool but it is a little narrow if you meet traffic coming the other way. There was a good flow of water coming through one of the spillways while we were there and that looks impressive compared to when everything is calm.
The water running out of the mountains along the North Cascade Highway brings a lot of sediment with it. The result of this is that the rivers and lakes that form along the route of the pass have a distinct green color to them. The Skagit River in Newhalem has a clear green color to it. However, the more dramatic demonstration of this coloration is visible at Diablo Lake. This lake that is formed behind Diablo Dam has a very green appearance. It looks like it must have been created artificially but it is just the result of carrying the minerals down from the mountains above. Of course, a polarizer does a good job of highlighting the color when the reflections are removed.
When listening to photographers discussing equipment and technique, I have heard several times that polarizing filters should not be used when you are high up. As you get higher, the skies get clearer and deeper blue and the idea is that the polarizer becomes too much. I was pondering this when we were up in the Washington Pass along the North Cascades Highway. We aren’t very high at this point but still a decent elevation. I thought about taking the polarizer off but I felt like it really improved the colors and vibrancy of the images. Maybe we weren’t high enough for it to matter or maybe some of you will look at these shots and think it is too much. I’m genuinely interested to hear what you think.