Saturday, October 30, 2010

Artist's Point Sunrise

Artist's Point is a viewing area and trailhead at the end of the Mount Baker Highway in  the North Cascades.  It takes visitors into the heart of the Cascades and affords fantastic views both of Mount Baker to the south and Mount Shuksan to the northeast.  It also provides a popular staring point for hikes to some of the most beautiful alpine lakes in the North Cascades.

The road to the Mount Baker Ski Area is open year around, but the last part of the road to Artist's Point itself is only open briefly each year.  Many summers the road is not clear of snow until August and it can be closed again because of snow in September.  Even after the road is open, however, the area around the car park can be so full of snow as to make hiking out of the area nearly impossible.

Thursday, October 21, a rather late date for the road to be open, my wife and I decided to head up to Artist's Point to see the sunrise and to do some hiking.  My week was a little less busy than usual and an evening class had been cancelled, the weather reports were for a beautiful day, and so we headed off at about 6:00 am, arriving at Artist's Point before 7:30 am.

There were only a couple other cars in the car park as we got out our cameras and headed up along the ridge running toward Mount Shuksan.  From different vantage points on the ridge we watched the light illuminate Mount Baker and then watched the sun finally appear over Mount Shuksan.  In the process we saw the peaks to the north turn pink in the morning light and the bright illuminated contrail of jet passing overhead.

Finished with our picture-taking and ready to move on, we decided we would spend the rest of the day in the area, and so headed down to the ski area and to one of the trails there, but that's the subject of another post.  That was the first time we'd seen the sunrise from that vantage point and decided we would also have to watch the sunset from there someday.

Note: in this last picture, if you look closely or view the picture in a larger size you can see a ground squirrel also watching the sunrise.  He climbed up in the shrub as I was taking pictures and posed there until I made a sudden move.

Monday, October 18, 2010

One More Visit to the Little Bog of Horrors

When we visited the floating bog on Summer Lake in Skagit County a few weeks ago (, we had no intention of returning again this year.  However, our good friend, Marti Anderson, expressed an interest in seeing the bog (you'll find her site here:, and so we decided to go once more to show her this wonderful place, and as it turned out, picked a beautiful, sunny, autumn day.

This is the bog where someone has introduced a number of species of carnivorous plants, especially Pitcher Plants and Flytraps and where they have become established and flourished.  The place is amazing and it was a lot of fun to show the place to Marti, who I think enjoyed the excursion but for the wet feet she got at the end with my wife's help.

We had agreed to meet at 10:30 am, but my wife and I arrived a bit early and decided to walk down to the north end of the bog to take a few pictures in the early morning light.  We also looked once more for the Cobra Lilies that had been reported from that end of the lake, but did not find them.  When we were finished taking pictures we walked back and found Marti waiting for us.

We negotiated the rather treacherous series of hummocks, logs and boards that got us out on to the floating mat of vegetation and immediately found several clumps of the Purple Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea), one with a moth floating on the water in the pitcher.  The moth was still struggling, but there was no doubt that it was destined to become a meal.

As we made our way around the lake we found numerous clumps of Yellow Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia flava), growing mainly on the south end of the lake, and were able to photograph a spider lurking down in one of the tubes.  It was fun to show Marti the place, but she was the one who found both the moth and the spider though my wife was the one who found and photographed the spider on its web.

We also spent a lot of time picking bog cranberries which we used to make scones, using a recipe from Marti.  These grow on tiny stems close to the ground and while they are not overly abundant, nor easy to see, enough of them can be gathered to make a treat of some kind.  One of the reasons they are difficult to spot is their reddish color,  It blends in with the sphagnum moss which has also turned a red color at this time of the year.

Along with the carnivorous plants we inspected a floating island which we have seen in different locations around the lake.  This time it was in an area where we could see it, though we did not dare get on it.  I had been told that it was built by fishermen, but whoever made it put a great deal of work into it.  It is also quite old since there are trees growing on it that must be more than twenty years old.  I've included part of a satellite picture of the lake from Google maps which shows the island at the very bottom corner of the lake.  It was further east (to the right when we saw it this time.

At one point Marti, standing at the edge of the floating mat, put her hiking pole down into the water to see how deep it was and though the pole was fully extended, was not able to touch bottom - not very encouraging when one can feel the floating mat moving underfoot and when one has to watch for holes in the mat of vegetation.

The Yellow Pitcher Plants are the most abundant and on the south end of the lake were everywhere in huge clumps.  I even photographed some of them on the opposite shore far our of reach from where we were exploring.  I was told that their seeds float and so spread to different locations.  That certainly appears to be the case here.

There is considerable color variation in these plants.  They range from green to bright yellow and from being very heavily veined in maroon to no veining at all.  These were also in flower, their rather weird flowers resembling a daffodil.

On the southwest end of the lake we found a few of the White Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia leucophylla) still untouched by frost or age, as well as several good-sized clumps of Venus' Flytraps.  One clump of the latter was a dark red color, but we assumed this meant that it was dying.  After getting more pictures we headed back around the lake.

The only only other thing we found in bloom was a lone stem of something whose flowers resembled the Fringed Grass of Parnassus but which had numerous flowers on the spike rather than single flowers like that species.  Marti subsequently identified this as Buck-bean, Menyanthes trifoliata.

We photographed some Cotton grass and some sedges as well along with the beautiful scenery and in all spent nearly four hours there.  The place is incredible and no amount of time spent there can do justice to all there is to see.

My wife and I had worn old tennis shoes so that we did not have to worry about getting wet feet.  Marti, however, had worn boots and had kept her feet dry, but as we were making our way back out of the bog slipped (with my wife's help) and ended up with wet feet anyway.  Safely back on dry land, we changed into dry footwear and went our separate ways.

Note: nine of these pictures were taken by my wife, including the pictures of the floating island and of the moth and spider.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Little Bog of Horrors Revisited

Saturday, September 25, was a beautiful day and we, my wife, my oldest daughter who was home for the weekend, my youngest son, and myself decided we would travel down to Summer Lake in Skagit County, about an hour south and to see how the carnivorous plants there were doing.

I've written about these plants in a previous post after we visited the lake last year:  Many of the carnivorous plants there have been introduced, though no one seems to know when or why.

Summer Lake is a small lake, very isolated, and used mostly by fishermen.  It is surrounded nearly all the way by a floating bog, also known as a muskeg or quaking bog.  The bog is safe to walk on, though one must be careful of holes, be willing to get wet feet, and in this case the floating mat is quite difficult to access.

We followed a path down from the road to the edge of the water and tip-toed across a series of floating boards and sunken logs, with water on some sides that was too deep to feel the bottom.  The water was considerably higher than last year when we visited, due no doubt to recent rains.

Once on the bog we found not only the plants we were looking for but the bog cranberries in fruit, and once again I ate enough to give myself a stomach ache.  We found a lot of mushrooms as well, some Fringed Grass of Parnassus and some Cotton Grass, but the carnivorous plants were the main attraction.

We found the same species growing there as last year, three varieties of pitcher plant, the Purple Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea), the White Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia leucophylla) and the Yellow Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia flava).  We found only about a dozen pitchers of the White, but the others were abundant.

We also found a number of clumps of Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula), those these did not seem as abundant as last year, and we found the Round-leaf Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia), native to Washington and probably not introduced here.  The latter was everywhere.

It is often the case that spiders are found on the pitchers of the Sarracenia plants.  They seem to know that these plants are visited by insects and that a free lunch is available.  We found a number of spiders on the pitchers and were able to get some photos, too.

In one case a white crab spider with red markings that match the red and white of the pitcher plant was feeding on a moth in the shade of the pitcher plant's lid.  Later it dropped the moth either out of fear of us or because it was finished dining.

We explore the east, south , southwest and north sides of the bog, the north end accessible by a different and easier trail.  We had hoped to find the Cobra Lily (Darlingtonia californica) there on the north end, but it was nowhere evident, though it had been reported from the area previously.

It is a bit strange that the Cobra Lily, which is native to the west coast including parts of Washington and Oregon, does not seem to flourish there, while species from much more southern climates like the Venus Flytraps and the Pitcher Plants do. 

After exploring for several hours and taking all the pictures we wanted, we headed home, stopping on the way for some fresh peaches, freshly pressed apple cider, sweet corn and new potatoes, all of which we enjoyed for our supper a little later in the evening.

Note: eight of these pictures (most of the best ones) were taken by my wife.