For me, photography is about protecting memories. Protecting them for yourself and for others. I spent 14 years living in the Seattle area, less than three hours from Mt. Rainier National Park. We had a family cabin in Packwood just seven miles from the park’s Longmire entrance. I cut my landscape photography teeth at that location. I spent countless hours not only photographing the icons, but roaming old logging roads and US Forest Service roads looking for that perfect angle of the mountain.
What many people don’t realize is that Mt. Rainier is one of the most active volcanos on this side of the planet. There are 200-300 mini earthquakes a day on the mountain. The U.S. Geological Survey has called it the most dangerous volcano in the US. There is evidence of at least 60 lahars over the last 10,000 years. The last major lahar occurred about 500 years ago, when a large chunk of the volcano collapsed and triggered mudflows that inundated the river valleys below, leaving deposits that are 30 feet thick in places.
In 2006, there was volcanic activity on the 14,410 foot tall mountain combined with unusual weather conditions, that led to massive flooding in and around Mt. Rainier National Park. A quarter-mile section of the Nisqually road leading to Longmire was washed out. The Carbon River Road was washed out (yet again). And the road near Ohanapecosh campground was under 4 feet of water in places. The Ipsut Creek Campground was destroyed, and the Ipsut Creek Cabin now straddles a stream channel.
Less widely reported was the loss of a small, narrow, two-land bridge that overlooked the clear fork of the Cowlitz River, and which led to a recreation area popular with locals.
That spot was sacred to me. I did my first long-term landscape project there, making pictures of that serene spot in every season, in every kind of light, and it was amazing.
The photo above came from that series. It sold well in local galleries but was special to me because every time I look at it, it brings back memories.
There was a big old tree on the north side of the bridge where some kids tied up an old tire tube. They used to swing on it and use it to launch themselves into the water. I can still hear their cries of laughter and delight as they swung into the water. I can also still smell the moss. There’s always moss in western Washington. There’s a reason it’s called the “Evergreen State.” In the winter, the locals would disappear to go skiing but I’d trek out there and make photographs. I loved it.
But now it’s gone. Gone forever. The floods changed the course of the river. Homes were lost and so was my bridge. The Goat Rocks Wilderness area will never be the same. There are no plans to rebuild the bridge.
Not only did the flood take out the bridge, it took the tree, much of the shoreline and changed that place forever. No longer is it the peaceful, tranquil place where the crystal clear water tinkled lightly over the rocks. Now it’s gone back to nature and isn’t accessible to most people.
Some of those Forest Service and logging roads are gone too. Many areas of the park are nearly impossible to get to unless you’re special combat operator with the military.
The point of all this and the tip is simple. Never underestimate how important your images may be or may become. I never thought that bridge would be washed away with the old tree and the swing. I never expected to find myself missing the laughter as the kids would play on the old tire tube. I guess I took the place for granted. I always assumed it would be available to me when I wanted to go there. I was wrong.
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