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Photography locations – Washington




  • Photographic subjects, Photography locations - Washington

    Photographing Wind Turbines in Washington State

    12.31.11 | Permalink | 1 Comment

    Wind Turbines.  While the subject is turbines in Washington State, these were actually photographed in California between Desert Hot Springs and Palm Springs. Hundreds of turbines are found in this area, and the setting sun made the image irresistible. Nikon F100, telephoto lens, Fuji 100 Pro film.

    Wind turbines are relatively new ways to generate electricity in a sustainable manner that has less damaging effects on the environment. While they may be “greener” than burning coal or natural gas, they do have some environmental consequences. Hundreds or thousands of birds and bats are killed each year when they fly into these structures, especially during long migrations at night. Wind power officials are aware of this, and studies are conducted prior to construction to try to select areas to site wind farms that are not primary migration routes for birds, especially large birds of prey like hawks and eagles. When I worked for the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife, we worked closely with power companies to develop siting and construction policies that would minimized the environmental impacts of wind turbines, and those policies were a model for the nation.

    Wind turbines really started kicking in Washington State at the beginning of this century, and many hundreds of turbines have been constructed over the last 20 years. Living in Walla Walla in the SE corner of the state and surrounded by wheat fields, I’m often “desperate” for new things to photograph, so I spent several days photographing turbines near Walla Walla (actually located just over the state line in Umatilla County of Oregon) and near Dayton, WA, about 30 miles east of Walla Walla. My goal was to capture some of the aesthetic views offered by wind turbines, although some contend these giant structures, so visible at the tops of ridges, will always be a visual detriment to the natural landscape. How one reacts to the sight of wind turbines is very subjective, and IMO each is valid.

    While wind turbines come in a variety of sizes and designs (evident in my opening photograph), those in this part of Washington State consist of three rotating blades, and they are huge!


    Typical wind turbine near Dayton, Washington.
      Canon 1DsMKIII, Zeiss 50mm f/2 ZE lens.


    A few statistics I gathered from web sites: The turbines in this area number 204 (Hopkins Ridge owned by Puget Sound Energy, and Marengo I & II, owned by PacifiCorp). Each turbine tower is 221 feet tall and weighs 77 tons. The blades are each 129 feet in length, weigh 7 tons, and rotate about 15-17 revolutions per minute. The total weight of each wind turbine structure is 223 tons, and each can produce 1.8 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 460 households over the course of the year. Considering there are a number of similar wind turbine farms in the state, this adds up to a considerable amount of generating power.

    My goal was to capture some of the interesting photographic aspects of wind turbines. Using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 B&W conversion software, I created a more romanticized view of the turbines (these are located just across the Oregon State line, west of Milton-Freewater). Most turbines have restricted access, primarily for safety reason, but some allow a close approach.


    Wind turbine near the Oregon-Washington state line.
    Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 16-35mm II f/2.8 lens.

    Most of the turbines are constructed on farmland leased from local farmers. Even though the wind farm may cover thousands of acres, the actual footprint of the turbine itself is very small. Farmers benefit by receiving financial income from the lease, new roads to move their farm equipment between fields, and an ongoing ability to farm the area very close to each turbine.

    Wind turbines in a wheat field, a very typical situation. Canon 1DsMKIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens.

    Wind turbines can have different aesthetic appeals. I managed to capture four in the same rotational cycle, and it reminded me of a squad of soldiers led by a commanding sergeant:
    Five synchronized turbines. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Some of the most appealing photographs of wind turbines for me appeared when evening fog moved into the valleys and climbed toward the ridge tops as the sun set on the western horizon:
    Rising from the fog. Canon 1DMkIv, Canon 400mm f/5.6 lens.

    A close-up of one turbine with others rising through the fog had particular appeal:
    Rising from the fog II. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 400mm f/5.6 lens.

    Zooming out a bit added some farmland in the foreground, creating a slightly different look:
    Turbines in farmland with fog. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 lens.

    My fascination with the fog made me forget all about the nearly full moon that would be rising that evening, and I was shocked and dismayed when I looked to the east and saw the moon already well above the horizon. I quickly drove to a pre-scouted location to get some turbines for the foreground, although it wasn’t exactly as I had planned:
    Rising moon and turbines. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 lens.

    Later in the evening, as the light was fading quickly, I photographed a much darker turbine with the moon in the background (all of these are single shots with no post-processing to balance the light — it’s pretty much how it looked to my eye):

    Nearly new moon in late twilight. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 lens.

    By far my most exciting and rewarding experience photographing wind turbines occurred when I made the short drive to the wind farm near Milton-Freewater, Oregon (I believe it’s the Vansycle Wind Project owned by NextEra Energy Resources). When I was driving to the wind farm, the sky was clear blue and the day was beautiful (although blue skies are generally not the best for landscape photography). A short time later, a storm started moving in from the west, and some of the most dramatic cloud formations I’ve ever seen marked the forefront of the storm. I wanted some wind turbines in the immediate foreground, but the closest ones were a short distance behind me and on private, gated land. Therefore, I used a longer lens and included a wind farm located in the distance. In the end, I like this larger assemblage of wind turbines at a smaller size relative to the clouds, because I think it better communicates the size of the storm. I converted the photograph to a toned B&W using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 software.

    Wind turbines about to be tested by an approaching storm. Hasselblad H4D-40, Hasselblad 210mm f/4 lens with 1.7x converter (284mm equivalent in 35mm terms).

    A nearby radio tower also showed off the power and beauty of the approaching storm:
    Radio tower and approaching storm. Hasselblad H4D-40, Hasselblad 35-90mm f/4 lens.

    I find that clouds make all the difference when photographing wind turbines. Converted to B&W, some striking photographs can be made:
    A line of wind turbines and brush strokes of passing clouds. Hasselblad H4D-40, Hasselblad 210mm lens with 1.7x converter (284mm in 35mm terms). I really like the H4D medium format digital camera for high ranges of light like this, because it has an amazing ability to capture a broad range of light (HDR photography with its inherent challenges is often not needed).

    Five turbines against a turbulent sky. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens.

    Three turbines against a turbulent sky. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 70-200mm f/4 lens.

    A slower shutter speed will reveal some motion of the turbine blades, and this can be very appealing. A shutter speed that is too fast will simply make the blades appear slightly out of focus, while a shutter speed that is too slow will allow the blades to move to the extent that they “disappear” from the photo. A Goldilocks approach of “just right” is needed, but that depends on the rotating speed of the turbine blades. I photographed these turbines using a shutter speed of 1.3 seconds:

    Motion in turbine blades. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 50mm f/2 lens, 1.3 seconds.

    The whole point of the wind turbines is to produce electricity, and I wanted a scene that captured this notion:
    Wind turbines and electrical power. Canon 1DMkIv, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    While flying birds and bats may be adversely affected by the presence of wind turbines, ground animals are apparently unaffected. This deer asked for its picture to be taken with ghostly turbines rising through the fog in the background, and I obliged:
    Deer and distant wind turbines. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Finally, a quick word about wind turbines versus windmills. “Wind turbine” defines structures that are used to produce electricity. “Windmill” defines structures that are used to move mechanical devices, such as grain-grinding machines and water pumps. I photographed this derelict windmill against a crescent moon some time ago. Since then, a couple more blades have been lost. Soon it will be just a tower with a hub, a relict of the past:

    Windmill and crescent moon. Pentax 645NII, lens unknown, Velvia 100 pro film.

  • Photography locations - Washington

    The Carbon River Area of Mount Rainier National Park, and Notes on Photographing Forest Interiors

    I’ve always enjoyed photographing forests, especially in the interior under the forest canopy.  It can be a so-called “mess” with trees of various sizes, fallen logs, shrubs of all kinds and sizes, and groundcovers that vary from delicate clovers to strongly-defined ferns.  Finding a composition that is “aesthetically pleasing” amid this chaos is a challenge that I greatly enjoy.

    Two of my favorite forest interiors have been the Kestner Creek Natural Area near Lake Quinault on the Olympic Peninsula and the Carbon River area in the northwest portion of Mount Rainier National Park, both in Washington State.  I’ve written about Kestner Creek in a previous posting on this blog.

    The Carbon River area of Mount Rainier National Park receives a large amount of rainfall, and the vegetation resembles that of a temperate rainforest.  This contributes much to the area’s qualities for photography.

    Carbon River Area Temperate Rainforest. Canon EOS 20D, Canon 300mm f/4 lens.

    A road five miles in length begins at the Carbon River entrance to the park and ends at the Ipsut Campground, from which other trails begin.  One section of this road washed out in 2006, and a decision was made to keep the road permanently closed to vehicles but open to hikers and bikers.  This decision was a boon to photographers, because the road extends through the temperate rainforest.  I’ve spent many hours photographing along the road, but now I don’t need to be aware of and step aside for passing vehicles intent on getting from point A to point B.

    Carbon River Road. Canon EOS 1DsMkIII, Canon 135mm f/2 lens.

    A short nature loop begins at the Carbon River entrance and is a nice introduction to what lies beyond. Boardwalks cross wet areas where skunk cabbage grows in the early spring, and bridges crossing small streams are attractive photographic subjects in themselves.

    Boardwalk through wet areas. Canon EOS 20D, Canon 24mm f/1.4 lens.



    Skunk cabbage. Nikon F100, lens unknown.




    Bridge across a small stream. Nikon F100, lens unknown.


    Walking down the road toward the campground, the nature of the temperate rainforest unfolds on both sides. The tangle of moss-covered trees and limbs, downed logs being taken over by groundcovers, shrubs (especially vine maples and devil’s club) making off-trail or off-road passage difficult, all make for the mess and beauty of the old-growth forest.

    Complexity and beauty of an old-growth temperate rainforest. Canon 5D, Canon 24-70 f/2.8L lens.


    The thick tangle of groundcovers, shrubs, and downed logs makes off-trail walking very difficult. Hasselblad 501cm, 120mm makro lens.


    The challenge is to find compositions in this “mess” that have aesthetic appeal. Canon 5D, 24-70 f/2.8L lens.



    The dense tree canopy causes lower limbs to die, but they often persist and become covered with moss.
    Pentax 645NII, 80-160mm lens.


    Ferns are best at the end of June and beginning of July. Canon EOS 20D, 16-35 f/2.8L lens.


    In past years, I always preferred to photograph forest interiors under cloudy skies. It was then that the light in the forest would be more evenly distributed, and the range of light would be within the capabilities of the camera to capture in a single exposure. Therefore, the resulting photographs would not suffer from blown highlights or deep shadows within the same frame.

    Now that I live on the eastern side of the state, my opportunities to photograph in the Carbon River area are much reduced. During a recent visit, I was happily photographing along the road when the late fall / early winter sun peeked over the south slope and began to throw stronger light into the forest. Rather than pack up and call it a day (this was the only day I had), I decided to work harder to incorporate the light into the photographs. That meant that larger areas with a wide range of light values would not be possible. Instead, I had to concentrate on smaller areas in which a relatively bright spot could be a desired focal point. It was a new way of photographing the forest interior for me, and I really liked the results — it gave me a new kind of forest-interior photograph.

    Early Autumn in an old-growth forest. Hasselblad H4D-40, Hasselblad HCD 35-90mm f/4 lens.



    Vine maple stretches across a shaft of sunlight in front of shaded trees. Hasselblad H4D-40, Hasselblad HC 150mm f/3.2 lens, cropped to square.



    Spots of light. Hasselblad H4D-40, Hasselblad HC 150mm f/3.2 lens, 1.7x converter.


    Turning vine maple stand in sunlight against a shaded background. Hasselblad H4D-40, Hasselblad HC 150mm f/3.2 lens.



    Yellow vine maple stand in sunlight seem to form a spiral staircase. Hasselblad H4D-40, Hasselblad HC 150mm f/3.2 lens + 1.7x converter.


    Overcast skies or a combination of sun and shade provide their own unique opportunities for great compositions within a forest interior. When the quality of light changes, it just requires a different strategy to find a striking photograph of the forest interior.

  • Photography locations - Washington

    Photo Trip to Puget Sound, October, 2010

    I just returned from an early-October trip to Puget Sound. Having moved from Olympia at the southern end of Puget Sound a year ago, it was wonderful to be back in some of my favorite areas. Because it was early October, color was good in some areas but a little early in others. My first destination was Sunrise at Mount Rainier National Park, as it was scheduled to close for the winter in about a week.

    I wanted some photographs that were a little different than those I’ve taken in the past at Sunrise, so I was on the trail in the early-morning darkness. A flashlight and ignorance about the possibility of bears or mountain lions were all that were required.

    The first morning had clear skies. The very early light, especially light that hasn’t really shown up on the horizon (at least what can be seen), still illuminates the white top of Rainier. It’s especially nice in those early hours because the sky remains a dark, blue-black color that contrasts so nicely with Rainier. As the sun rises, stars begin to wink out, and the sky gradually acquires more blue and less contrast with the mountain. It’s a wonderful time of day, but one has to get up early to enjoy it.

    Mount Rainier in the Pre-Dawn Hours

    As the morning continued, I looked over my shoulder and saw a very thin crescent moon rising ahead of the sun. This was the day before a New Moon. I walked back down the trail to find a good foreground composition that framed the crescent moon. An outline of the entire moon can barely be distinguished.

    Crescent Moon Rising Ahead of the Morning Sun

    I tried this again the second morning (having slept in my camper in the parking lot), but clouds had come over and dashed my chances for a repeat of the previous morning but at an even earlier hour. Nevertheless, the clouds and other dark forms surrounding the peak made for great long exposures and compositions that are less frequently photographed.

    Mount Rainier Before Dawn

    The forecast was for rain and snow, and I didn’t want to be driving on icy mountain roads, so I left Rainier and continued on to Lake Quinault and Kestner Creek on the Olympic Peninsula. Kestner Creek is a favorite area, especially in the spring when the ferns have nearly finished uncoiling, and again in the fall when the leaves have fallen. I’m always looking for aesthetically pleasing compositions amid the tangle of moss-draped limbs of the old maple that flourish there.

    Moss-Draped Maple at Kestner Creek, Olympic National Forest

    A herd of elk reside in this area. They often congregate in the large, grassy area in front of the ranger station on the north side of the lake (where the Kestner Creek nature trail is located). One one trip I had watched them in the very early hours, and as the sun came up they wandered slowly into the forest. When I was on the nature trail, the entire herd ran about 50 feet in front of me, splashed through the wetland, and then stopped on the other side to look back at me as if to say, “We dare you to walk through that water to get to us.”

    On this trip, the elk came out in the evening. I just drove a short distance down the entrance road, parked, rolled down the window, and rested my 500mm lens on a sweatshirt draped over the open window. I probably could have gotten out and set up the tripod, but I didn’t want to take the chance of spooking the elk (although they are quite used to people). There were three bulls that were very interested in the cows, but the females would have nothing to do with them. I watched and photographed for about an hour. It was dark enough that it was difficult to get the shutter speed I wanted, even at ISO 800. Of the photos I took, I liked the bull elk walking in front of an old maple; relative age was something the two had in common.

    Bull Elk at Kestner Creek, Olympic National Forest

    After leaving the Lake Quinault area, I traveled to Second Beach and camped in the small parking lot that night. I was up at 3:30 a.m. and on the trail by 4:15, hoping to get some very early, pre-dawn photographs as I had done at Rainier. It’s only a 0.7 mile walk from the trailhead through the forest to the beach, but it was pitch black at that time of night. At the beach, the trail ends at a very large pile of drift logs that have to be negotiated to reach the sand. Doing this at night when frost or dew covers the logs can be hazardous. Whenever I’m alone (which is quite often), I take extra precautions to get from point A to point B safely. Once on the sand, it was so dark that I could hear but not see the surf, stars were still in the sky, and I could barely see the outline of the offshore rocks. The 30-second exposures that I took allowed more light and showed more detail than I could see with my eyes. The trick is to allow enough light to make a photograph, but not so much light that night is turned into day.

    Crying Lady Rock at Night, Second Beach, Olympic National Park

    As the dawn progressed, the sun cast a pink color to the clouds, and a long exposure showed some movement in the clouds.

    Pink Clouds in the Light of Dawn, Second Beach, Olympic National Park

    After the morning at Second Beach, I drove a short distance to Rialto Beach for sunset. I think photography at Rialto is best for the trees adjacent to the beach, especially at sunset, but I enjoyed the setting sun behind a large thunderhead on the distant horizon. The longest lens I had with me was a 70-200mm with a 1.4 multiplier. A 300mm or 500mm might have been better, but perhaps this broad perspective has its own merits.

    Sun Setting Behind a Distant Thunderhead, Rialto Beach

    On the way back to eastern Washington, I drove again through Mount Rainier National Park, but the best colors were not yet revealing themselves. I continued over Chinook Pass, where the cottonwoods were bright yellow (and very photogenic) but the larches were just a greenish-yellow, still too early for their equally bright yellow color. That usually comes toward the end of October. That’s another trip.

  • Photography locations - Washington

    Photography in the Palouse

    05.17.10 | Permalink | 2 Comments
    Palouse Region, as seen from Steptoe Butte

    The Palouse area of eastern Washington is a photographer’s mecca, especially in the spring.  Miles of gently rolling hills, multicolored fields, and scattered farmhouses are the main attractions.

    Traditionally, the Palouse region was defined as the fertile hills and prairies north of the Snake River which separated it from Walla Walla Country, extending north along the Washington and Idaho border to just south of Spokane, and centered on the Palouse River in Washington.  Sometimes the Palouse is defined more broadly and refers to the entire wheat-growing region, including the Walla Walla Country, the Camas Prairie of Idaho, the Big Bend region of the central Columbia River Plateau and other smaller agricultural areas in Asotin County.

    The picturesque rolling hills that characterize the Palouse Prairie were formed during the ice ages.  Silt, sand, and clay were blown in from glacial outwash plains to the west and south to form the Palouse.  It’s this rich soil that makes the area so productive for agriculture.  This productivity was discovered during the 1880s, and by 1890 nearly all of the Palouse had been converted from short, perennial grasslands to wheat farming.  The native prairie is one of the most endangered ecosystems in the U.S.; only about 1% of the original prairie still exists.

    The last week of May and the first two weeks of June are the best times to photograph the green hills.  I’ve been to the area during mid-May and had very good luck with the green and yellow of early growth.  Early morning and late afternoons are the best times as the low sun casts shadows of the rolling hills across the landscape.  In early July the hills will turn golden with ripening wheat.  The harvest starts in mid-August and continues into September.  Even the winter months can produce wonderful photographic opportunities, when snow, frost, and fog blanket the area.

    Undulating furrows of early spring growth; taken 4/2 in Walla Walla County
    Sunrise finds a light fog over the Palouse; taken 5/22 from Steptoe Butte

    Besides the rolling hills, the many farms, old homesteads, grain elevators, and single trees or small clumps of trees amid open fields and hillsides provide great views for the camera.

    Palouse Farmland; photo taken May 25
    Lone tree in the Palouse; taken near sunset on May 9
    After the Harvest; taken October 5 of the same area (note the single tree)
    Tracks across a harvested hillside creates a semi-abstract pattern; taken 10/5

    Long-time veterans have their favorite areas.  I simply get a Washington State Atlas & Gazetteer and follow the backroads.  This can lead to some wonderful discoveries.  Steptoe Butte State Park is the highest point in the area and offers a commanding view of the landscape; it’s locate NE of the town of Steptoe and SW of the town of Oaksdale.  If you want some guidance, some photographers offer workshops in the Palouse.  I can recommend Alan Caddey, who has been exploring the Palouse for many years and who is an outstanding photographer.

    Palouse country, as seen from the backroads; taken 5/12

    A strong note of caution about the roads:  The dirt roads of the Palouse often consist of clay, and they become completely impassable when it rains.  DO NOT attempt to drive on these roads when rain is threateneing, during a rainstorm, or just after a rainstorm; you will get stuck, even in a 4WD Hummer.  These same roads get dusty in the summer, and that can be a concern to digital shooters who like to change lenses frequently.

    Tree and old barn, converted to B&W; taken 1/30 in Walla Walla County

    There are motels in the towns of Moscow (Idaho), Pullman, and Colfax.  I like to travel in a camper on a pickup truck (very comfortable and very mobile).  The city of Colfax allows RVs to stay overnight in a city park on the north end of town.  It’s free of charge, and it’s something I greatly appreciate.  Kamiak Butte (which is either a county park or state park — I get conflicting information), located SE of the town of Palouse and directly north of Pullman, offers camping, but they close and lock the gate until 7:00 a.m., which greatly affects early morning exploration.  I wish more park managers were also photographers.  However, there are great views from Kamiak Butte, and it’s worth at least a night’s stay.

    Frosted and foggy hills in the winter; taken 12/26 in Walla Walla County
    More frosted and foggy hills; taken 12/26 in Walla Walla County
  • Photography locations - Washington

    Kestner Creek Photography – Olympic National Forest

    Kestner Creek is a wonderful, little-known area on the north side of Lake Quinault in the Quinault Rainforest that is great for photographing large, moss-draped maples and sword fern.  With over 12 feet of rain each year, it’s no wonder the area is so green.

    While there are many photographic opportunities in this part of the Olympic Peninsula, Kestner Creek is special to me.  It’s easy to reach, the loop trail and great photographs start right at the parking area, and, most of all, the trees and vegetation are spectacular.

    The nature trail loop begins at the parking area west of the ranger station.  After a short boardwalk, the trail enters the forest.  It soon divides, and either direction is fine.  This portion of the trail is the beginning of the most photogenic area.  Large, old maples draped with moss are all around.  In some areas, large expanses of sword fern form the understory.  I’ve contemplated taking an eight-foot stepladder just to get a better perspective of the carpet of ferns in some areas.

    Kestner Creek Maples and Sword Fern

    As the trail turns north, it passes a large wetland, and views from either end are great.  Maples lean out over the wetland, and the open area of the wetland allows for good shots of trees and ferns on the other side.  There are a few more photogenic views after the trail passes over a wooden bridge (which makes a worthwhile subject in its own right).  However, while the trail continues through the forest to the Kestner homestead, the best areas of trees have already been seen.  I would recommend concentrating on the area around the wetland and between the wetland and the trailhead.

    Kestner Creek Wetland
    Juvenile Barred Owl, Kestner Creek
    Kestner Creek Bridge

    A shorter route to the homestead (which I did not find too interesting for photos) begins at a second trailhead in the parking area on the north side of the ranger station.

    The best time for photography at Kestner Creek is mid-May when the sword ferns are nearly completely uncurled and before the mosquitoes have made their summer appearance.  Mosquitoes will show up toward the end of May.  Autumn photography at Kestner Creek, despite the abundance of deciduous maples, is hit or miss because the amount of fall color is highly variable and dependent on summer moisture.  I’ve mostly missed.

    I prefer to photograph forests when the sky is overcast, especially if the clouds are high and relatively thin.  It can also be good if there is a light rain, as long as you have means to keep your gear dry and lens free of water drops.  A polarizing filter makes a huge difference in the forest interior.  In my experience, photography in a relatively dense forest is more difficult when the sky is clear and sunlight is streaming through the trees.  At these times, the range of light is too great for film or sensors.  However, selective compositions or HDR techniques can overcome areas of high contrast, and great compositions can still be found.

    On one trip I arrived at the parking area well before sunrise.  Elk frequent the meadow in front of the ranger station, which stands a couple hundred yards back from the main road.  I watched them from my vehicle, but it was too dark to try any photographs.  As it got lighter, the elk gradually drifted into the safety of the forest.  I began my walk on the trail, and it wasn’t long before the entire herd of about 30 elk ran across the trail about 40 feet in front of me, splashed through the shallow wetland, and then stopped and looked back at me from the other side as if to say, “Go ahead, we dare you to get your feet wet.”  This is an area where you want to have a telephoto lens if you like to photograph large wildlife; elk are fairly common, and the best time to see them is early morning.

    Access to Kestner Creek starts at Highway 101 just north of the small community of Amanda Park (about 37 miles north of Hoquiam).  Turn onto the North Shore Road and travel about five miles to the Quinault Rain Forest Ranger Station on the left side of the road.

    For comprehensive information about the Quinault Rainforest, click here.

    Kestner Creek Maples