5 Straight Days – Part II

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series 5 Straight Days

As I mentioned in my earlier post I spent 5 straight days over the last weekend with railfanning related activities.   The first 3 days I spent travelling through the Columbia River Gorge with local friends and some out of town visitors.  My goal over these 3 days was to make sure our out of town friends had a great time.  I go to the gorge often enough that I don’t need to push hard to photograph everything I see.

The Northwest finally transitioned into the normal fall and early winter weather where it rains or is cloudy most days from the Cascade crest to the west.  The first day of the trip aligned perfectly with this.  Robert had the tour guide duties covered for most of the morning so I stopped off in the middle of one of the rainiest spots in Washington to gather a couple of rainy day photos.  North Bonneville lies smack in the middle of the Cascade Mountain range so it can see much more rain than other areas thanks to the ability of the mountains to wring moisture out of clouds. With a couple of trains to photograph I decided to scope out the fall colors and work them in to contrast with the slate gray clouds around.

After North Bonneville I moved east and found improving weather conditions.  The constant clouds gave way to broken clouds with some sun.  That mix was both a blessing and a curse.  Over the next two days the clouds did end up hurting some wonderful photographs by appearing at just the wrong time.  Since this was supposed to be a relaxed trip for me I didn’t worry about the variable light.  I continued photographing and enjoying what I saw.

On two different occasions the group ended up at MP 99 on the UP between The Dalles and Biggs.  The magic of this location it has sun on it through most of the day thanks to a big sweeping curve which can be used advantageously.   By now we’d joined up with visitors from California and Georgia and they were absolutely loving the location.  I was happy to see them climbing all around and getting excited for the next train.

This image gives a great example of the conditions we were dealing with over the days in the Gorge.  Fortunately the light was on the subject this time.

Friday was a washout.  Heavy rain was predicted for the Gorge and Vancouver and a MOW window opened on both the BNSF and UP that morning.   We awoke a bit late that day and took our time getting breakfast.  The visitors headed east in hopes of finding trains and better weather but instead found clouds and a shut down railroad.  They did score a few photos though.  I headed west and spent some time doing the Portland hobby shop loop with another group.  In terms of photography not much happened on Friday.

Saturday was of course slide show day and I’ll cover that in a post next week.

Sunday I did a bit of railfanning as I worked my way from Centralia back to Vancouver.  In my earlier post I presented one of my two favorite images from the day.  The other one is below.  Again, I love the contrast between the fall colors and the gray-blue hills.  Some say they don’t like cloudy days, well I do (shhh, don’t tell anyone I said that).

I walked away from these railfanning days with some images I love and some great memories.  The groups I hung out with over these 5 days have a wonderful passion for railroads and railroad photography.  Even when train traffic was slow or the light was less than desired we had a great time hanging out and waiting for the next thing.  That’s all you can ask for from railfanning weekend.


Sometimes rain happens.  We stood at this location for around an hour and for the majority of it the weather was decent.  When the train showed up it was a different story.  A shower moved overhead and the moment I took my lens cap off the rain drops were all over it.  Ahh the fun of photographing in the spring!

I’m taking a break for a few days for a family vacation.  There’s not much of a chance of seeing any trains on this trip so that means nothing interesting for dogcaught.  However, if you like my photography, feel free to follow along with what I post on Flickr.

Slide Prone

First, let me say passenger safety is of the utmost importance.

For years I’ve been frustrated by the slide problem we have along the Amtrak Cascades route in Washington.  It seems every time the weather gets bad the trains stop.   However it’s during these times of bad weather when highway travel is slow or disrupted that we really need our trains.   I think Amtrak Cascades has a unique opportunity to be there in the bad weather when other modes have failed.  Right now they are worse off than the highways.

This winter has been particularly slide prone.  According to the WSDOT there have been nearly 20 slides in the last 6 months keeping nearly 90 trains from their destinations.  In my opinion this is not a good record and doesn’t give the public confidence in the reliability of the trains.  If they don’t have confidence they’ll get there those passengers will seek a different mode of transportation.

The good news is WSDOT is very much aware of the issue and the perception.  They wrote a blog post Wednesday addressing this very issue.   I’m happy to hear they know about the problem and are trying to do something about it.  Of course ‘something’ will take money which seems to be scarce these days.  I hope they find it for the sake of the public’s perception.

I’m also hoping they can work out a plan with BNSF that can keep the trains moving when a slide does occur.  Not all slides are as severe the Frazier slide of 2008 so I’d think there could be something done to keep Amtrak trains moving (refer again to my first sentence).  A form B with a flagman on site for visual inspection maybe?  An on call geologist who can better predict if more sliding will occur?  A Hulcher like service that will come and remove anything that looks remotely like it might slide?

Let’s hope this does get resolved soon.

Farewell Stevens

The only thing I don’t like about the annual tracks in the snow weekend is that it has to end.  There’s something about chasing trains around the pass that is relaxing and rewarding all wrapped up in one.  Add in some awesome railfan friends (and their friends!) and leaving is no fun.  I hate to say farewell to my friends the pass but the realities of life are that I don’t make any money railfanning and photographing.  So with that thought I have to say goodbye to Stevens every January.

For the past few years the Tracks in the Snow crew stayed at the Cascadia Inn in Skykomish.   Henry and his crew do an exceptional job of taking care of us and catering to our needs.  The hotel is always very clean, the food very good (especially the prime rib special!), and the drinks plentiful.  On top of that the staff is very friendly and welcoming to our group.  On Friday night after a wonderful Salmon dinner with couscous, green beans, and garlic bread I stepped outside to capture the hotel while a rolling meet took place in the Skykomish siding.

Dark shadows are the only thing on the fruit trees west of Monitor, Wa.  In about 4 1/2 months the trees will be in a splendid bloom and by early September the harvest will take place.  The cold, snow, ice, and low winter sun will long be forgotten by then.  Soon after though the cycle of the seasons will kick in again and winter will be back.

The early bird gets the worm.  On Sunday after heavy rain and warm temperatures through the night rivers were swollen and lapping at their banks.  When I arrived at Money Creek just after 6am the Skykomish seemed to be much louder and urgent than the night before.  When I compare an image shot just 12 hours before to this one it was clear the river had risen around 2ft.  Gone were the ripples of underlying rocks and a couple of trees around the center abutment disappeared.  The snow melt was on and in a violent way. Trains continued to roll, that is until around noon when BNSF issued a flash flood warning to two trains slowing them from Gold Bar to the Cascade tunnel.   By Monday the pass was closed for a few hours in the middle of the day to let maintenance crews drop rip rap in a few locations.  Such is the difficulty of mountain railroading.

This brings to an end the presentation of the bulk of my Tracks in the Snow images.

Out of the Mountains

Wow, was it ever wet this weekend!  I knew there would be rain but I guess I didn’t realize how soaking it would be.  Between Baring and Merritt the rain came down harder than a normal Western Washington rain.  Instead of small drops they were large and copious.  As usual the worst weather makes for the most interesting photos so despite the rain I feel I was able to capture some very nice images.

At Merritt there is plenty of snow on the ground.  The warm temperatures and rain have caused the snow to fall from the trees leaving them to look no different than on a chilly spring day.  Douglas Fir trees always look great with their branches laden with the latest blast of snow.  Alas this year that situation was just not to be.

Just down the track a few miles we ran into a gentleman clearing the parking lot for the ski trail parking.  The layers in the snow show just how many times this area has been coated but the slushy wheel tracks in the lot show the true condition of it.  That poor snow blower was having a tough time spraying saturated snow.

On Thursday night, my travelling partners Robert Scott and Scott Lothes drove down to the Miller River bridge west of Skykomish to attempt a photo of an eastbound freight climbing up from Baring.  That evening the Miller river was already over its banks with overflow crossing the Old Cascade highway in a dip.  Just like the desert southwest washes this dip allows the excess flow of the river to cross the road without destroying the it.  I’m sure this is a much more cost effective means to handle the occasional flood on such a lightly used road.  By Friday evening the road was officially closed though many locals and law enforcement forded the deluge in the dip anyway.  Of course the early 20th century era railroad bridge was not affected by the high water.