Field Notes - Lisa Parsons

Field Notes

  • Sun, 22 Apr 2018 22:00:11 -0400

    From the Air Above...

    What does the Green River Gorge look like from above?  That is the question I asked myself when I enlisted my friend, a pilot, to fly me over the Gorge in April of 2017.

    Before that day I’d only seen the gorge from the depths or along the cliff edges.  Above the gorge the sky is framed in a forest or 50 million year old sandstone.  Planes fly overhead along with Eagles and Osprey.  Along this narrow airspace cliff swallows perform aerial maneuvers catching insects in the evening sky.  Below, on the ground and in the river is a secluded corridor where bear, cougar, bobcat, coyote, and river otters can move freely from east to west unencumbered by roadways and houses.   White water boaters, hikers, fishermen seeking solitude or adventure can find it here.

    The corridor is long and snakes between one landscape to the north and the one to the south.  From the highway 169 you might consider the gorge a big ditch that you have to cross to get from Black Diamond to Enumclaw.  There is no way through it, only over it.  From the ground it is hard to gauge the profoundness of this deep river carved gorge.

    From the air it is equally elusive but more is revealed.  At the eastern edge is the foothills of the upper Green River watershed.  Up against the foothills is the the barrier of the Howard Hanson Dam.  The dam supplies water to the city of Tacoma and is used for flood control.  It filled the upper gorge which was also quite unique.  Richard Bangs, the founder of Expedia and one of the first people to raft many of the world’s major rivers rafted the upper gorge before it was dammed.  Now that gorge is a lake of water. 

    It was a dam that led Wolf Bauer in the 60s to advocate for creating the Green River Gorge Conservation Plan.  He had watched the Cowlitz river canyon disappear under a reservoir behind a dam and new that he had to save the the Green River Gorge.  The evidence shows what could have happened to the Green River Gorge without his efforts to protect the gorge.

    Surrounding the upper dam and reservoir is a tapestry of clearcuts and third growth timber forests.  A green steel railroad bridge marks the transition from the upper watershed to the middle watershed.  The foothills lie above it and the rural transition lies below it. Just below the railway bridge the Kanaskat / Cumberland Road crosses over the river and is one of only 3 bridges over the gorge.  To the north of the bridge is a gravel pit.  Below the dam are a smattering of houses and the Cumberland / Kanaskat bridge before the river enters Kanaskat State Park.  There the Gorge narrows as it enters the actual Gorge. 

    From above the gorge looks like a deep green snake it twists its way through a millennia of river carved sandstone.  Cutting through thick evergreen forest.  Wherever the landscape is more forgiving you’ll see a house or two along the edge. 

    Wolf worked to protect the land from the rim of the river to the bottom of the gorge but beyond that there is very little protection for the uplands behind the river’s edge.  Already view homes are cutting away forest.  Still there is a sense of wild remoteness where forest remains, towering cliffs carve quiet islands broken only by a kayaker, rafter, or merganser riding the river’s currents.

    From Kanaskat to the Green River Gorge resort is the upper gorge and the most wild and isolated area of the river.  Only broken by a power line corridor that cuts across the river just above the famous rapids Mercury and the Nozzle.  

    At the Green River Gorge resort is only the second bridge to cross over the gorge.  A small gathering of homes and a private access to the river lies there.  Trails lead down to cascading waterfalls, sandstone footpaths, and a green alley of water that ends in a play wave called Paradise ledge.

    Beyond the ledge the river sneaks back into seclusion past towering white and yellow sandstone cliffs, by a myriad of springs that topple out of the surrounding hillsides and fill the river with cold clear water.  Fishermen’s trails careen through thick forest, Devil’s Club, and along steep cliff walls to small open beaches perfect for casting a line into the deep green pools below the whitewater rapids.

    Just below halfway, highway 169 crosses over the river and marks the transition of the river from  deep remote canyon to wider forested slopes with rural farms and houses encroaching closer to the edge.  To the north Black Diamond grows around the gorge’s edge.  To the south farmlands of the Enumclaw plateau stretch towards the White river further to the south.

    The terminus of the Gorge is at Flaming Geyser State Park.  This is where the gorge officially ends and the Green River Valley begins.  This river carved canyon lies just a few miles from over 2 million people. It is the last remaining east / west corridor of open space connecting the foothills of the upper Green River watershed Puget Sound lowlands of the Green River Valley.  

    From the air above it is easy to see why this area is so unique and worth continued conservation efforts that were originally started by Wolf Bauer in the 60s.  Today they need you to help continue the effort.  It is a unique opportunity for conservation in an expanding urban / suburban landscape that can help protect lowland habitat for wildlife and recreation opportunities for the adventurous among us.

    Happy Earth Day!

  • Sun, 15 Apr 2018 21:30:45 -0400

    North Flaming Geyser State Park

    Flaming Geyser is a 503 acre day use park that is the downstream book end to the Green River Gorge.  Flaming Geyser is where the Green River Gorge ends and the Green River Valley begins.  The steep cliff walls of the gorge give way to open fields and farm land.

    Across the river from the main part of Flaming Geyser State Park is an undeveloped section of the park that is at least as large as the main park.  Originally Washington State Parks was going to put the old bridge that used to cross the river at 218th Ave SE (that was replaced with the concrete bridge you see now) in the park and then develop a campground across the river.  Somehow the old bridge just sat in a field next to Whitney Bridge Park for years before it was carted off never to be a link between the main Flaming Geyser park and a new camp ground.

    What remains today is this undeveloped area is an old homestead.  A weathered barn with a newer metal room stands alone on an upper bench of an open meadow.  Primitive trails lead down to the river in several spots.  An old road leads past a wetland and into the forest.  The road passes an old abandoned car and leads down to large creek and a forested wetland.

    While it looks like State Parks has done some recent cleaning of the black berry vines and cut back the brush it remains largely the same as it has since I visited it many years ago.  It is a great alternative to the main park and a nice side adventure on a spring day or a great place to enjoy the river on the busier summer days in the main park.

    To get there:  Head east on SE Green Valley Road past the main entrance to Flaming Geyser.  Turn right on to SE 254th street and follow downhill to where the road dead ends.  There is parking near the gate for about 10 vehicles.  For more info on Flaming Geyser visit the Washington State Parks web page.  There you can download a pdf of the map above.

    Remember to bring your Washington State Park Pass or visit the park on April 22nd, a Discover Pass Free Day. 

  • Sun, 01 Apr 2018 21:15:02 -0400

    Join the 33rd Annual Green River Cleanup

    “The Green River Clean-Up was conceived by Volunteers for outdoor Washington. In 1985 they removed over 100 tons of trash, pollutants, cars, tires, appliances etc. on 130 miles of river banks from Tacoma’s Headworks to Elliot Bay. The 14 mile Gorge reach was organized by Washington State Parks Dennis Meyers, then Ranger At Kanaskat Palmer. Included Washington Kayak Club, Paddle Trails Canoe Club, Boeing Whitewater and Touring Club and the fledgling Washington Recreational River Runners”.

    Join the 2018 Green River Cleanup

    May 5th, 2018

    Sign up on Facebook

    For the last 33 years the Washington Recreational River Runners and Friends of the Green, and others have been organizing a river cleanup of the Green River Gorge.  Whitewater boaters come from all over to run the iconic Green River Gorge and give back to their river.  As many as 500 boaters and ground crews have shown up to help clean up the river and shorelines of garbage.  Garbage that at times consists of flip flops, beer bottles, and deflated inner tubes.  Other times boaters and ground crews have removed old cars, motorcycle skeletons and even a car sized plastic jug.

    Last year was an unexpected adventure.  The opportunity to run the incredible Green River Gorge at 3200 c.f.s. on a weekend is a rare.  To get to do it with hundreds of other rafters who are there to cleanup the Green River Gorge is probably a once in a life time event.  That was the case this last years 32nd Annual Green River Cleanup. 

    If you are an expert boater this is a great opportunity to run one of the top whitewater rivers in Washington State. 

    For non boaters or inexperienced boaters you can see the river through a reputable whitewater rafting company as a passenger or join one of the ground crews at various locations along the river.

    Raft with River Recreation

    As always, garbage continues to be a problem where ever people can access the Gorge.  I doubt there will ever be a day when the Green River Cleanup is not needed.  For now the annual event is a great way to see this unique river gorge and give back to the river. 

    For more information visit:

    Sign up on the event page on Washington Recreational River Runners Facebook page.

  • Sun, 07 Jan 2018 21:30:46 -0500

    Hanging Gardens

    Why is it called Hanging Gardens?

    Hanging Gardens is was so aptly named by Wolf Bauer because of the native vegetation perched along the edges of eroding sandstone.  Small Cedars along with other smaller native plants cling to their narrow purchase.

    Hanging Gardens is a hidden gem that is little known by outsiders.  From its unmarked trail head (find the red gate on the north side of Enumclaw/Franklin Road SE) it is a short walk down an old road and then a primitive trail down to the Green River.

    The trail starts as a wide grass footpath through forest and then along a chain link fence on the right.  The fence is to protect city of Black Diamond’s water supply which consists of three under ground springs. On the other side look out for a trail that shoots off to the left.  This undocumented trail meanders along the upper rim of the gorge and eventually connects, via an old grass covered road, that leads to the Icy Creek trail route.

    Continue past the chain link and stay on the trail to the right past a widened clearing.  The trail continues downward and is muddy in some places during the wet months.  Towards the bottom, the trail gets significantly steeper as it descends along the sloping ridge line.  Before it reaches a flat area on the left, the trail is steep and there is exposed clay that can be slippery.  Still all the trail is navigable with care and a good pair of shoes or hiking boots.

    The flat area to the left, near the bottom, offers up views downstream and across the river where a large sandstone cliff curves away from the river.  People have used this as an unofficial campsite in the past but camping is not allowed by Washington State Parks on this site.

    The trail descends to a flat area through a forest of Cedar, Western Hemlock and Douglas Fir.  As you walk towards the river you get a glimpse of cliff beyond the forest.  A white back drop behind the towering trees.  

    The trail opens up to a beach that grows and shrinks depending on the river level.  Across from the beach is a 150 sandstone cliff  at the sharp bend in the jade green river.  The “hanging Gardens” of small Cedars and alder along with other smaller native plants cling to their narrow purchase along the edges of eroding sandstone.

    This spot in the Green River Gorge is great any time of year!  In the fall the orange, yellow, and red colors of autumn contrast with the white cliff wall and the jade green of the river.  In the winter the high water fills the channel and the white water riffles become waves worthy of rafters.  If you are lucky you may even see a white water kayaker or two braving the winter chill to kayak one of Washington State’s top 10 white water runs.  In the spring the new green pops as vine and giant maple along with alder leaves create a new canopy.  Western sword and fiddlehead ferns unfurl and fill in the space between Salal and Oregon Grape.

    Then there is summer.  In the late summer the towering wall and thick native forest create a private, deep pool that is ideal for taking a dip and cooling off.

    In the warm evenings, the air will be filled with sparrows who have emerged from their hiding places nestled in the cliff walls.  They dart like agile aviators as they catch insects for an evening meal.


    For information about driving directions, access, and a map visit now posted on the Outdoor Project’s website at: Green River Gorge Swimming Hole

    The best time to swim in the Gorge is in July and August when the river levels is generally low enough to swim safely.  The best days are the really hot ones!  

    For some of the best views of the gorge, head 2.0 miles further northeast on Enumclaw Franklin Road SE all the way to the Bridge Overlook at the Green River Gorge Resort, where under ground springs emerge as waterfalls cascading down into a narrow green alley surrounded by moss covered sandstone.

    For more photos of Hanging Gardens.

  • Sun, 31 Dec 2017 21:30:50 -0500

    Winter in the Green River Gorge

    Snow in the Green River Gorge.

    Snow has a magical way of transforming the stark bareness of a winter landscape.  A white blanket of snow covering the ground hides the decaying leaves and limp brown grass.  The bare branches of trees dramatically contrast against the white.  Red berries hidden in dark shadows of winter bushes pop as the shadows are now brightened by snow.  The forest canopy is renewed below dark snow laden clouds.  Quiet lingers between crunching sweeps of footsteps through the snow.

    The magic is that a visit to an old familiar haunt becomes a new adventure and an exploration of a foreign landscape that just the day before was so well known as to seem common place and routine.

    The Gorge is one of those places that is worth a visit after the passing of the northern winds of winter.  Cold freezing temperatures transform the drip, drip of smaller springs along a cliff wall at Icy creek into layers of icycles and icy lace encrusted moss.  Currents of river and stream flow like dark inky strands between snow covered rocks and the white lined shoreline.

    At the Green River Gorge resort a look over the one lane bridge presents new prominent features outlined in white, edged by snow, and encrusted in ice.  The falls, the giant rock on river left, the dark cliff wall behind the forest.  The dark wet sandstone becomes a white path along the river’s edge.

    Check  out the photos (above) from previous winters in the Gorge.  Get ready for the next snow storm by planning your route for adventure in the Green River Gorge.

    Green River Access

    Also visit Nolte State Park

    Here is to great adventures in 2018!

    Happy New Year!

  • Sun, 10 Dec 2017 21:30:34 -0500

    Icy Creek Spring Hike

    Winter, spring, summer, and fall.  Icy creek is a great hike any time of year.  This year I added trail information on the website to help guide adventurers out to some of the best locations along the Green River Gorge.  Recently, as a volunteer contributor, I added the Icy Creek Spring in the Green River Gorge hike to the Outdoor Project website.  Adding this hike to the Outdoor project allowed me to add existing GPS information with a more formal description of the hike including length, elevation loss and gain, driving instructions, and access information.  Additionally you can view photos and learn more about the highlights of the area before you visit.

    For the Icy Creek Spring in the Green River Gorge hike click this link.

    For more information about the Outdoor Project click this link.

    Stay tuned.  I’m working with contributors to update some of the other hikes in the Green River Gorge and add new hikes in the area.

    More About Icy Creek Spring

    In approximately 2000 I discovered an area along the Green River Gorge called Icy Creek.  It is an underground spring that emerges from the ground where the slope downward before cliffs steep slopes plunge downward into the Green River Gorge.

    The southern rim of the Green River Gorge has unique hydro-geology.  Glacial rocky soil sits a top bedrock of sandstone.  Water quickly filters through the gravelly soil into bedrock spring channels.  These channels, or underground streams, then flow downward towards the twelve mile Green River Gorge.  There are approximately seven large springs that flow into the Green River Gorge along the southern rim.  One is those springs is located at the Green River Gorge Resort. Locals and Cascadia Spring water company fill up at a roadside stop where the spring water flows before crossing under the road and making its way down to a waterfall along the gorge. Further downstream there are three springs that Black Diamond gets their municipal water supply from.  Then there are the private Shangri-la springs next door to the Black Diamond springs.  Then Icy Creek spring.  These springs supply cold clear water to cool the temperature of the river as it flows through the gorge.  There continued existence is critical to preserve colder temperatures in the river.

    Icy Creek spring may emerge in two places up stream of where it comes out of the ground as well.  Upstream to the southwest is a large open water pond that can be seen from the roadway on the north side.  On the other side of the the Enumclaw / Franklin road was a large forested bog that was clearcut in 2015.

    The main spring appears out of the ground in a subtle way.  A sunken side hill lined with trees at the top serves as the opening where the spring flows out of the ground between rocks and through ferns.  The spring then widens and narrows again as it goes through an old culvert on an abandoned road.  Below the road is a widened area before the water reaches a small dam that used to hold water back for trout ponds.  Not too long ago the  Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife even tried to use the ponds to raise Bass at one point.  However the steepness of the spring beat up the Bass as they plummeted down waterfalls and steep rocky channels. They would emerge at the bottom of the gorge missing fins and scales.  Or so the story goes.

    In the wide area wildlife trails spill down the adjacent hillsides where they have made a habit of coming down to drink.  Watercress turns the slower moving water into a bright green garden.  The water then tumbles over the channels of the dam to a rocky free flowing channel below.  

    The dam is now covered with bright green moss, bright orange lichens and licorice ferns.  There is even a cedar or two growing from between the grates along the top.  Past floods have cut channels around it’s concrete base, but it still stands as a reminder of another time.  Beyond that icy creek enters the rocky course and immediately plunges down a series of waterfalls through deep forest.

    Icy Creek spring emerges at the bottom of the gorge through a tumbling field of rocks that curve sharply around a dark wall of coal laced with undulating maidenhair ferns. Dripping devil’s club sprouts at the base of the cliff like guard dogs constantly on alert.  All along a curved dark wall are more springs forming a row of waterfalls that seem to disappear into the undergrowth of salmon berry and salal.

    Colored stones beneath the moving water lie at the base of the cliff as the water turns yet again and spills over a small diversion dam.  Most of the water goes downstream to the river but some is siphoned off to provide water for a salmon pen that lies between the steep slopes of the gorge and the river.

    In the winter and early summer icy cold water fills the narrow channel.  In late summer after the mountains snow has melted the current lessens and green moss grows atop exposed stones.  At this time of year it is easy to boulder hop from one side of the creek to the other.
    In autumn the shallow spring becomes the final resting place for both native and hatchery salmon. They stage in the confluence of spring and river in the deeper water of the river.  They wait for the rains.  When it is time they make their last ditch effort to swim and flail their bodies through the shallow water as far as they can reach.  Then spawn before dying.  

    Salmon spawn where Icy Creek spring enters the Green River Gorge.  Their eggs, exposed, are food for water ouzels who flit from rock to rock collecting the bright pink irridescant eggs.  River otters and bear feast on their flesh.  Animals, carrying their feast, spread their remains across the forest, putting nutrients back into the soil.  Salmon give life to many critters.  The cold cool water of Icy Creek spring gives life to the salmon.

    In the gorge, forest crowds between cliff and water.  Upstream and down the forest is alive with bob cat, raccoons, deer, coyotes, and bear.  In the river, springs, and in the narrow airspace Mergansers, Osprey, Eagles, and King Fishers call the gorge home.  Here there is a different rhythm in daylight and night that exists.  This wild paradise is so close to over 2 million people and yet here, you would never know it.  
    These springs, like Icy Creek, are the arteries that connect the mountains of the Cascade Foothills to the Puget Sound lowlands.  Arteries that bring mountain snow downstream in the form of moving water and brings salmon back home from their travels in the ocean.  The river connects everything together, but only here in the Green River Gorge does the river reveal a wild remnant of it’s former self.  A snap shot of a wild untamed river that can teach us about what we have lost and what is still left to protect!

    Check out the new Icy Creek Spring hike on Outdoor Project.

  • Thu, 23 Nov 2017 22:00:24 -0500

    Thankful for the Small Things

    Over the years I’ve found my solitude and peace in the open spaces and natural areas.  This is especially true in the Green River Gorge.  This landscape has the power to distract my attention from life’s more tumultuous events like then end of a relationship, a heartbreaking call as a paramedic, or the transitions that life has a way of throwing at us when we least expect it.

    Today, with gratitude, I’d like to share some of the small things I’ve discovered in the Green River Gorge that affirm that life continues in the rhythm of seasons, cycles of life, and that everything has it’s place and time.

    Happy Thanksgiving!  Be grateful for what you have right now!

    and while you are at it #optoutside tomorrow!

  • Sun, 19 Nov 2017 21:00:54 -0500

    Welcome to November

    Welcome to winter in the northwest.  As the rain descends out of the dark grey sky and the damp cold sinks into my bones.  I find myself wanting to hibernate.  Cuddle up in a warm blanket by the fire and binge on Netflix.

    However, I know from braving the harsher elements that there is another Green River Gorge waiting in the winter months.  It is a time of wildness, sinking grey skies broken by hours of darkness.  The color of the water becomes a steel blue-green instead of the color of jade.  The lazy lower water of summer months becomes a torrent of crashing waves, crowded currents, and an energy that is rarely seen in the summer.

    After the autumn leaves have fallen and all that is left is the giant cedars, western hemlock, Douglas Firs, and naked trunks of maples, birch, and wild cherry it is easier to see the landscape beneath.  Giant boulders along the river’s edge poke through the bare branches of Red Twig Dogwood and Vine Maple. White, orange, and brown sandstone cliffs that were hidden during the summer reveal themselves to be the outer edge of a wider forested Gorge.  In others they are front and center as the high water laps at the water carved walls.

    In the winter of 2015 and 2016, my explorations revealed new things about the this wild corridor.  These explorations were my reconnaissance for my 2016 summer hike of the entire Green River Gorge and a time when I could be less worried about getting the right shot and instead relax and rediscover the landscape.

    Here are a few images of winter.  If you are adventurous, try some winter hiking at Kanaskat State Park, Flaming Geyser State Park, Icy Creek, or the old historic town of Franklin.

    Access to Green River Gorge

  • Fri, 10 Nov 2017 15:00:26 -0500

    Don't Forget!

    November Event

    Join me for a visual journey down the

    Green River Gorge Mountains to Valley Greenway

    November 12th

     Presentation 4 to 5 pm

    At the new Tukwila Library

    14380 Tukwila International Boulevard
    Tukwila WA 98168

    Its winter and the river has transformed from slow moving summer currents into something different.  Jade green currents fill tight channels.  Bright green moss contrasts against the wet sandstone walls.  The edges are quiet, foreboding, and wild.  The river itself is louder and proclaims it domination of the narrow gorge.  The currents etch new courses, scouring sandstone walls. 

    We’re exploring the edges of the river near the old historic town of Franklin.  I’ve been told by the local old timers that there is an old coal car that rests within the river channel…

    The Green River Gorge is upstream on the Green-Duwamish river. This 12 mile long gorge is the last lowland wilderness left on the river. Steep sandstone cliffs tower 150-300 feet above the river.  Springs emerge from the rim of the gorge and cascade into the water below. Otters, mink, bobcat, eagles, osprey, bear, and cougar find solitude along the secluded corridor.  Its rugged remoteness has allowed this special place to survive as the area around it is developed.

    Experience the Green-Duwamish like never before.  Local conservationist and adventurer, Lisa Parsons, hiked, bushwacked, swam, and kayaked the entire 12 mile long Green River Gorge last summer to document this incredible riverscape. Now she brings her images and stories to communities along the entire Green-Duwamish.

    Learn how you can help protect the Green-Duwamish River in your own community.  Here from local Green River advocate Dennis Robertson.

  • Sun, 05 Nov 2017 21:30:41 -0500

    Need a Little Nature Therapy? Upcoming Events

    November Events

    Join me for a visual journey down the

    Green River Gorge Mountains to Valley Greenway

    November 12th

     Presentation 4 to 5 pm

    At the new Tukwila Library

    14380 Tukwila International Boulevard
    Tukwila WA 98168

    The Green River Gorge is upstream on the Green-Duwamish river. This 12 mile long gorge is the last lowland wilderness left on the river. Steep sandstone cliffs tower 150-300 feet above the river.  Springs emerge from the rim of the gorge and cascade into the water below. Otters, mink, bobcat, eagles, osprey, bear, and cougar find solitude along the secluded corridor.  Its rugged remoteness has allowed this special place to survive as the area around it is developed.

    Experience the Green-Duwamish like never before.  Local conservationist and adventurer, Lisa Parsons, hiked, bushwacked, swam, and kayaked the entire 12 mile long Green River Gorge last summer to document this incredible riverscape. Now she brings her images and stories to communities along the entire Green-Duwamish.

    Learn how you can help protect the Green-Duwamish River in your own community.  Here from local Green River advocate Dennis Robertson.

    Need a Little Nature Therapy

    to Keep Your Spirits Up as we enter the 9 months of winter?

    Cedar Creek Park Trail Work Event

    November 18th from 9 am to 12 noon. 

    Our local King County Park Ambassador, Clare Nance, at Cedar Creek Park is organizing a volunteer trail work event to clean up the trails for winter walks.  The focus of the day will be to meet your fellow park advocates, remove fallen leaves and improve any drainage issues.

    To RSVP to Clare Nance.

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