Generally I prefer to hike in the morning; the light is nice, I’m not rushing to finish before the sun sets, and there is something special about enjoying the silence of morning in nature. That being said, my trip to Washington State Park was not like my normal trips.
Washington SP was one of the last four parks I planed to visit this year. I chose it because my wife and I camped there last year and we didn’t get the chance to hike any of the trails. It seemed like a cool park, and it is only an hour away from Saint Louis, so I wanted to go back.
The park is probably best known for its large group of petroglyphs. The glyphs are associated with a culture known as Mississippian that is believed to have inhabited the area around 1000 AD. Because of the large number of petroglyphs, the area was placed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. I did not get the chance to see the carvings, but the park has much more to offer to visitors.
As with many of Missouri’s State Parks there are numerous stone structures that where built by the Civilian Construction Corps. includes the Thunderbird Lodge, and two outposts that overlook the Big River which runs through the park. They also laid the stone steps of what became the 1000 Steps Trail, one of the three hiking trails in the park.
As I stated earlier, my trip to Washington SP was unlike my normal outings. The biggest difference was that I made the trip in the afternoon instead of early morning. Choosing to make the hike in the afternoon had an impact on the atmosphere, and also set a limit on how much I time I could spend there. Despite having planned to hike a couple trails, a number of unexpected discoveries took up much of my time and I was only able to take one of the trails.
I parked at the Thunderbird Lodge, and that is where I ran into the first surprise: the lodge and adjacent restrooms where not what I had been expecting. I took my time to fully investigate the area. I was shocked by how many lady bugs, or as I found out later Asian Lady Beetles, there where. They were swarming around the lodge, but as I moved towards the nearby river I didn't see any more.
Down by the river I got to experience firsthand the effect weather and lighting have on photography. It was mostly cloudy, and when the sun was covered my photographs appeared very flat. For each composition I had to make the choice of creating the image as is, or wait for the sun to break through for more dynamic lighting. For a few of the exposures I waited up to 15 minutes. Delaying the photograph was always worth it because the sunlight brought a drama to the image that was not there before. Unfortunately I could not take the time to wait for each frame because I was racing against sunset.
After the river I was only able to hike the 1000 Step Trail before it started getting dark. The trail gets its name from the afore mentioned staircase climbing from the rivers floodplain to the top of a nearby ridge. The steps were in a state of disrepair and a few were slippery which made the climb a bit more challenging, but it was a good hike.
At the top of the stairs was one of the shelters that overlooked the valley. It was built into the side of the hill and provided a great vista.
The place was swarming with lady beetles as well, so I didn’t stay long. From there the trail passes the park office before beginning to descend back towards the starting point. One point of interest was a rock I found that was painted like a mummy.
I am understanding more and more why the best landscape photographers will wait for hours for the right conditions before creating even one exposure. It is amazing how minor changes in conditions can effect the atmosphere of the image. As an example, there was a heavy fog the morning I traveled to Washington SP. If I had chosen to make this trip early like normal, my final images would have felt completely different.
In the end though, I am happy with how things turned out. I don’t think I’ll switch to hiking in the afternoon all the time, but it did provide a different experience, and in the end that’s a big part of why I hike, and why I photograph.