I lived in Olympia, located at the southern end of Puget Sound in western Washington, for many years when I worked for the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Olympia has a number of great photographic opportunities nearby. These include Mount Rainier (2 hours away), several creek drainages on the east side of the Olympics (beginning 45 minutes away), Pacific Ocean beaches (beginning about 2 hours away), the Hoh Rainforest (2.5 hours away), Second Beach and Rialto Beach (about 3 hours away), trails in the North Cascades (about 3.5 hours away), Mount St. Helens (about 2 hours away), the Columbia Gorge (about 3 hours away), the varied terrain and basalt cliffs of eastern Washington (beginning about 3 hours away), and many other areas I haven’t mentioned.
Unfortunately, western Washington is also known for its winter rain, which arrives in October and doesn’t leave until May or June (at least that’s what it felt like to me). While there may be some storms that come in off the Pacific and leave large amounts of rain, much of the rain in western Washington comes in the form of a light sprinkle that might go on for days or even weeks. Bad weather often creates great photographic opportunities, but those are not as appealing when one is struggling to keep cameras and lenses dry. Dark, gray days that last for weeks before a glimmer of sun is seen can weigh on a person.
When I retired in 2008, I decided I had had enough of the rain, and I wanted to settle down in an area where the word “rain” was heard much less. I went to high school and college in Walla Walla, located in the extreme southeast corner of Washington, and that’s the community I chose.
The weather in Walla Walla is absolutely wonderful: hot and dry in the summer, perfect t-shirt weather in the spring and fall, and cold with occasional snow in the winter. It just never seems to rain. When it does, the rain often comes at night and then quickly leaves. I enjoy that aspect of eastern Washington immensely.
But Walla Walla is also surrounded by wheat fields and seemingly little else. I’ve gotten some great photos of rolling, frost-covered, fog-shrouded hills in the winter, and beautiful, green fields in the spring (especially in the Palouse region located about 1.5 hours north). I’ve discovered some cemeteries of the early pioneers, and the wheat harvest has big machines combining the hillsides, so there are possibilities for some human-related landscape photography as well. Unfortunately, I feel like I’ve run out of interesting places to photograph after having been here only a year, and I keep returning to the same landscapes.
I miss the diversity I had in western Washington. For months I’ve been struggling with a single question: Is the amount of winter rain in western Washington worth tolerating so that I can have many places close by where photography has been so enjoyable, or do I live in the wonderful weather of eastern Washington and save my photography for extended, multi-day or even multi-week trips to interesting locations (something I can do now that I’m retired)?
I don’t yet have an answer, and the slow economy and poor housing market have further reduced my opportunity to make a change if that’s what I choose. Perhaps another year will help shine a brighter light on the best place for a landscape photographer like me to live.