Plein Air Painting in Washington State

Plein Air Painting Washington  - Travelog and Paintings from the one week trip - August 2016.

 Washington State is  #21 in my Quest to Plein Air Paint in all 50 States

  Due to unexpected travel to South Africa earlier this year to attend a family wedding my travel budget could only accommodate one State this year rather than the 2 or 3 I had hoped to accomplish.  Never mind, staying flexible in life and in painting plans is what it is all about.  Plein air painting is a great teacher of flexibility after all.  The changing weather, light and circumstances keep it fresh and exciting as things rarely turn out exactly as one expects.  Usually they turn out better than I would ever imagine.  Given the Pacific Northwest's reputation for a lot of rain and mist, I was fully prepared to paint in whatever conditions I would be granted.  In an effort to stack the deck a little in my favor however, I did plan my trip for the month of August, as I was advised that it would be least likely rain then.  This also meant that it would be a lot more crowded then due to Summer, school vacations etc.  Wildflowers were also supposed to be at their peak on the flanks of Mount Rainier as well. 


 Day 1 - Seattle to Packwood/Mt. Rainier - My traveling companion for this trip was my friend and fellow Santa Cruz artist, Michele Hausman.  My cousin, Mary Smith from Sisters, Oregon also planned to meet us for a couple of days of painting on Mount Rainier too.  Michele and her husband Rich had driven up to Seattle on their car from Soquel, California and met me at the SeaTac Airport.  Michele and I then got our rental car and Rich drove back home to California on his solo road trip.  Traffic going South from Seattle towards Mt. Rainier was horrific - we crawled along on clogged roads for quite a while before things cleared up traffic wise.  Don't always believe what Google tells you will be the length of time on the road!  It took us twice as long as they predicted.  On the plus side, the weather was spectacular and we could see Mt. Rainier in the distance very soon.  The Mountain was totally clear of clouds at 14,400+ feet high - quite a spectacular sight!

We arrived at Packwood, the closest small town to the entrance of Mt. Rainier National  Park at close to 5pm.  We had a room at the Packwood Lodge which is a couple of miles outside of town which put us that much closer to the entrance of the park.  Packwood itself is a small town with not a lot of choice of places to stay or eat.  We got to try 3 of the 4 available restaurants during the 3 day stay.  I will do brief reviews of each as we go along.  The first night we ate at Cruisers Pizza in town.  This is a small chain pizza place and very popular.  Also, due to the limited selection of eating establishments in Packwood, it was quite crowded.  The pizza was good at least.  Not gourmet but plentiful.

Packwood Lodge - we stayed at this hotel for 3 nights.  It is the closest to the Ohanapecosh/Stevens Canyon Eastern entrance to the National Park.  Our room was clean and adequate and  there was air conditioning which was a good thing as it was very hot there during most of our stay.  Close proximity to the road with trucks roaring by in the early morning ensures that one will not sleep in late! Especially if you have the window open.  A Continental  Breakfast is included in the room price - available at 8am each morning.  My one complaint was the late time of the breakfast room opening.  Everyone there was waiting to get going with hiking, biking or, in our case, painting.  Why such a late breakfast?  At least hard boiled eggs and peanut butter were provided for protein along with the usual bagels, oatmeal and fruit and coffee at the self serve breakfast bar. 


Painting Spot #1 in Mount Rainier National Park.  This is a morning painting spot.  Enter the Park at the Ohanapecosh/Stevens Canyon Entrance.  Drive about 6 miles uphill  the first view pullout on the left overlooking Mt. Rainier.  As it is the first really fabulous view of the mountain up close, you can't miss it.  I was beside myself with joy at seeing it in the sunshine and totally free of clouds!  A rare treat I understand.  At 14,400+ ft. high Mt. Rainier was covered with snow and has numerous glaciers coming down from her summit.  The wildflowers were at their peak too - truly spectacular.  There are no bathrooms or facilities at this pullout which has room for many vehicles.  There were a couple of picnic tables and we were able to set up in the shade with a direct view of the mountain.  We couldn't ask for better - and, there were no crowds of people and no one visited our easels while we painted there for over 2 hours.  The photo above is the painting I did at this spot.


Painting Spot #2 in Mount Rainier National Park.  Afternoon painting at Reflection Lakes which is on the way to the Paradise Visitors Center.  There are several small lakes next to the road reflecting the mountain - another superb spot.  No facilities but they can be found at the Paradise Visitors Center a few miles up the road from here.  We painted happily for several hours at this spot.  It was much busier than our morning painting site.  It was a very warm, sunny day and thankfully it was considerably cooler up on the mountain that it was in Packwood at our hotel.  Above is painting #2 of the trip done at Reflection Lakes area.  

Paradise Visitors Center has a lot of parking but it was crammed with visitors and we had to park a distance away and walk there.  Apparently the whole park is super crowded on most days in June, July and August.  You need to get going early to be assured of finding parking.  Also, the line up of cars waiting to get into the Entrance of the park was quite long, so be prepared.  This park is very well loved by lots of people, plus we were there in the height of Summer, in good weather and the wild flowers were at their peak - so not surprising really. 

Packwood Bar and Grill - Mary and I had dinner together at the Grill/Bar in Packwood.  Country music, big screen TV,  pool table and the bar.  The "dining" area was scruffy and down at heel.  Oh well, no choice as to where to eat in this town.  Food was forgettable to say the least.  We had the ribs - not very good but at least the baked potato was OK.  The salad was iceburg lettuce with croutons sprinked on it and bottle dressing that was too sweet. Yuck.  Michele was spared this meal as she stayed in the air conditioned room to regroup after a tiring day of painting in the heat and altitude.  She made the right choice! 


Day  #2 of Painting Mount Rainier.

Our plein air painting adventure for day 2 takes us into the National Park via the White River Entrance.  A vast crowd of people in their vehicles were in line to enter the park - and we were amongst them.  It took us ages just to make it through the Park Entrance Station as only one gate was open and over whelmed.  Take White River Campground turn off to our wonderful morning painting site on the left before reaching the campsite and trailhead area.  The White River flows lustily after being born of a glacier on Mt. Rainier's summit area.  We had the turnout to ourselves and it was fabulous!  Here is the painting I did that morning.  As we painted we could hear rocks being rolled and tumbled by the icy white glacial runoff.  White River is a braided river similar to those I had seen in Alaska.  We painted happily in this spot listening to the rushing river and the clunking of boulders being tossed around by the cold, churning waters.  We ate our lunch sitting on rocks by the river.  I felt totally at peace and happy in the moment.    Mary Smith's painting of White River is shown above.  My painting done from the same spot is shown below.  It is always so interesting to see how unique each artist's work is done from the same location.

After lunch we wanted to take a hike but had to give up that idea because every available parking space for miles was full.  The hordes of people trying unsuccessfully to get into the park entrance was about a mile long!  The park was full and people were being let in one car at a time as one car left! I was shocked at the press of traffic in this beautiful place.  At least we were gifted with our fantastic morning painting spot that was free of people!

Michele and I were going to go out again in the evening to do a quick painting but decided against it due to  a high wind that sprung up and the crowds.  We agreed to meet Mary for dinner at the last remaining restaurant in town that we hadn't yet tried - Josies.

Josies Restaurant in Packwood - A new place to eat!  I am happy to report that dinner at Josies was really good!  A cute place with a comfortable lounge area to wait for one's table and have a drink.  They are only open from Thursday to Sunday with a limited number of tables - but it was worth the 30 minute wait.  Excellent fresh (non iceburg lettuce) salads and well prepared freshly cooked main course.  Real cloth napkins too!  After dinner we said goodbye to my cousin Mary as she is heading back home to Sisters in Oregon in the morning.

Day 3 - Traveling from Packwood to Moclips on the Pacific Coast

We left Packwood for our drive away from Mt. Rainier to the Pacific Coast and Olympic National Park area where we will stay 3 nights at a small place called Moclips which is right on the ocean.  It took us about four and a half hours of driving to get there.  We did stop at Ocean Shores right on the coast for a seafood lunch at around 1pm.  Lots of new housing is being constructed right on the beach at Ocean Shores.  Coming from California where our Coastal Commission keeps development such as this off the coast, it was interesting to see such development going on with little apparent regard for rising sea-levels and environmental degradation.  On the way into  Grey's Harbor we passed 2 giant nuclear power station cooling towers. I  checked it out on Google as we drove by. Apparently this nuclear facility was recently closed down with little explanation that I could find??  Do all those new home buyers know about this fact?  Inquiring minds want to know!


Pacific Crest Resort at Moclips

Our Resort is delightful! And the tiny village of Moclips is so uncrowded.  A nice respite after Mt. Rainier.  We have a corner room right on the ocean front with a balcony.  When we arrived at 4pm the fog was thick and whipping through the trees.  Once we checked in we decided to do an evening painting of wind and fog and trees with the sun barely showing its face from time to time.  Here is my Pacific Crest painting done from the lawn area overlooking the wide beach.  And the beach is huge!  Wide and flat with miles of sand.  Cars and trucks can be seen driving up and down the beach at low tide.  Better watch that tide however as it comes in fast and high this far north. 


Pacific Crest Resort Restaurant

Wow - we struck gold at this place!  Wonderful dining room overlooking the Pacific Ocean with 140 steps leading down to the beach!  The food is really good, with the restaurant open all day and well into the evening.  Certainly the fine dining label can be applied here, with the chef preparing daily specials from local produce from land and sea. 


Day #4 Painting on the Pacific Coast and at Olympic National Park

Painting Sea Stacks and Ruby Beach

We decided to go in search of Sea Stacks for a coastal painting in the morning and then venture into the Olympic National Park in the afternoon.  We asked around for the best location for sea stacks.  Apparently the sea stacks are north of the Quinalt Indian Reservation - we are just south of the reservation at Moclips.  We are told Beach #1 and Ruby Beach are recommended as great sea stack locations.  We ended up at Ruby Beach and set up our easels in the fog with the magical sea stacks just off shore appearing and disappearing in the fog shrouded morning.  There is a little river exiting onto the beach and mountains of ghostly, storm bleached trees and  driftwood all tossed about like giant pick-up sticks.    We painted at this spot for just over 2 hours and the sun and some blue patches of sky showed up only to be obscured by the fog once again.    It was a very complex and beautiful scene that looks like a Japanese print.   Here is my painting from that morning.

After Ruby Beach we drove up to the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park.  Just miles from the coast the sky was blue and the sun was shining strongly.  We walked the loop trail called "Hall of Mosses" and saw huge trees, Sitka spruce 300 ft. tall, cedar trees and Douglas fir and maple trees covered in long, thick strands of moss that looked like fur.  We got a cup of tea at Cafe called Hard Rain Cafe outside the park boundary.  We stopped at 5pm along the Hoh River about 6 miles from Route 101 and did an evening painting of the river and trees.  I am calling my weird painting 'Sasquach Tree" as I painted one of the big maple trees drapped in swaying moss - the branches look like giant animal paws!  it was fun to do however - I felt like a little kid doing it - but that is how we should feel when painting - joyous and open to whatever we want to paint.  Here is the Sasquach Tree painting...


We painted for an hour and then pressed on towards Moclips.  We stopped for gas at Quinalt and also to get a burger for dinner at a place called Dinos Grill and Cafe at Amanda Park.  The girl at the Quinalt Lodge had recommended it.  Based on how it looked from the outside we wouldn't have gone in without the recommendation.  The burgers were pretty good and we were starving as we had only had an apple and almonds since breakfast time.  I drove back in the dark to our hotel along the very  dark and creepy Moclips Highway which seemed to go on forever.  My Dad used to scare us kids by calling such places "Papa Lulu Woods"  - were little girls and boys are taken by a bad wolf called Papa Lulu!  The power of that still works for me apparently because I was very glad to get back to our warm and inviting Resort! without anything nasty happening to us on the way.


Day #5 - Lake Quinault

The next day, our last painting day, we drove back along the Moclips Highway in daylight in order to go for a hike and paint near Lake Quinault.  We did a short hike to see a waterfall and determined it wasn't worth painting due to the difficulty of getting our gear up the steep incline.  In the process however we did discover a massive Sitka Spruce Tree that is over 1000 years old and is near the Lake.  It is quite something to see and worth a visit especially as this tree is near the lake and easy to get to.

We got a sandwich for lunch from the general store near the Lake and ate it sitting on the cool green lawn on the edge of Lake Quinault.  The Lake is a beautiful turquoise blue/green color from glacial runoff.  We painted our last Washington State painting in this spot.  We were both exhausted from days of travel and painting.  It was lovely to not rush and take our time with this final piece.   My first effort didn't work and I scrubbed off the paint and started over.   I decided to focus on color as the item of interest this time  rather than composition.  Here it is below...


Day #6- Olympia, State Capitol of Washington State

We decided to spend our last night of the trip in the State Capitol - the city of Olympia.  We got a room at the Doubletree  near the harbor area.  It is within a block of the water and lots of different restaurants for dinner.  The doorman at the Hotel relieved us of our spent Mineral Spirits as we cannot fly with this flammable liquid in the luggage.    We had our "Art and Wine Show" at the public park near the water - The Percival Park.  A  local woman artist called Sophia came by when she saw the display of all the paintings we had done on the trip.  Connecting with other artists seems to happen naturally on these trips.    Here is a photo of our Art Show!  We did a total of 14 paintings between the two of us on this trip - an excellent haul!  What a great experience and the weather was really great the whole time.  Washington State isn't always rainy it turns out.    Thank you Washington!  You are indeed beautiful.

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