Believe It or Not, Tulip Fields and Festival Top Unbelievable List

A blog that I follow, Culture Trip, popped up in my e-mail the other day with an article entitled:  15 Unbelievable Places You Probably Never Knew Existed in America . Of course I couldn’t resist the challenge to check it out.  As it turned out, I actually was aware of several of them and had visited four.  To my amusement, topping the list was “Skagit Valley Tulip Fields, Washington.”

The Skagit Valley tulip fields attract photographers, professional and amateurs alike, because of the beautiful settings it provides/

Amusing to me because the tulip fields lie just 20 miles to the south of where I live and have been the subject of my own blog twice.  (Tourists and Locals Love Tulip Time and A Trip to Skagit Valley’s Tulip Farms)  I had already planned to make my re-entry this week to my blog  about the tulip festival (after an absence due to my preoccupation with my duties as Executive Director for CASCADIA International Women’s Film Festival) .  The idea was prompted by a notice that this weekend would be the last for the tulip festival this year.  It’s always a little sad to learn that those beautiful flowers will be clipped and harvested starting tomorrow bringing an end to another display of fields of color.

Visitors are asked to stay out of the fields and park only in designated areas.

I’m sure those who live in the immediate area are a little happy and relieved to see the month-long event come to a close as literally thousands of people are drawn to see the brilliant blooms causing residents to post ‘no parking’ signs along their property and take alternate routes to avoid the traffic back ups leading to and from the nearby freeway.  For visitors, finding a place to park along the roadways becomes a challenge if you opt not to pay the fee asked by those with the lots.  But it all seems worth the time and money spent to admire the planted ribbons of color and masterful landscaped gardens of the various growers.

Mount Baker rises in the distance with bulbs of bright red in the foreground .

Among the most popular of these farm stops is the RoozenGaarde owned by Washington Bulb Company.  The company flourished under the ownership of William Roozen, a Dutch emigrant who purchased the business in 1955 from its original founders and the first bulb growers in the area, Joe Berger and Cornelius Roozekrans. Today, the Washington Bulb Company is the largest tulip-grower in the country with  350 acres of tulips and 70 million cut flowers shipped throughout the U.S. annually.

In addition, the company also plants 500 acres of daffodils (not nearly as much a draw as the tulips), 150 acres of iris and 600 acres of wheat (no one goes to see that.)

Boxfuls of tulips are cut from the fields and shipped throughout the country.

Someone, I can’t recall who, once told me that the tulips cultivated in the Skagit Valley when harvested are shipped to Holland where they are propagated then returned to the U.S.  and marketed as “Dutch” tulips. Whether or not this is true or just legend I don’t know and haven’t, as a good journalist should, followed up to ask company officials.

The flowers were late this year due to an unusually longer cold spell of weather and didn’t come into full flourish until mid-April.  The festival itself, begun in 1984 by the town of Mount Vernon, starts April 1st, regardless.  What began as a three-day event now is a month-long celebration that includes not only self-guided visits to the fields, but a parade, a ‘tulip’ run,’ concerts and a street fair.

Photographing the tulips looking skyward, the cup-like blooms remind me of colorful balloons on strong green strands.

I’ve not seen the figures but I can only imagine what the economic impact of this highly attended annual festival has on the town and the surrounding area as people make the trek from all over the state and British Columbia just to take in the splendorous display by nature and the bulb farmers. Kind of nice to know that in this day and age of virtual reality and high-tech devices that people can still find such enjoyment and pleasure in what nature has to offer.

I didn’t make the trip down to the fields this year, opting instead to satisfy myself with the tulips growing in my own garden.  But it’s likely I will, as in years, past, go again along with the thousands of others because the beauty of the tulip fields of Skagit Valley is still compelling no matter how many times you’ve seen them.

Tourists and Locals Love Tulip Time

It’s tulip time in many parts of the U.S. and nowhere are the tulips more colorful and splendorous than in Washington’s Skagit Valley.  Fields and fields of the highly valued bulb are grown for commercial sales.  Each year at this time, the area plays host to thousands of visitors who come for the annual Tulip Festival.  The exits from Interstate 5 which skirt the town of Mount Vernon and connects Vancouver B.C. to the north with Seattle to the south are literally backed up for miles with cars making their way on the weekends to see the rainbow-colored floral fields.

(I last wrote about the tulips here.)

Farmer workers in the fields help to create interest and perspective when photographing the tulips.

As a local, I have the luxury and advantage of being able to go to the fields on a weekday and avoiding the crowds.  I also get to pick my day, waiting for the weather to clear.  And so I did earlier this week when I awoke to sunny skies at sunrise.  When I go, I’m out the door by 7 a.m. to make the 20-mile scenic drive south so as to arrive by 7:30, even earlier is better.  By arriving about the same time as do the field workers, I not only miss the multitudes of tourists but I have better light for photographing these gorgeous flowers.  The dew is often still on the petals, the colors are bright and the sky is bluer. (That can of course be boosted with the help of a filter over your lens or later manipulated digitally in post-production.)

In the early morning light, the dew shimmers on the flowers.

I never know exactly which field I’ll work in unless I scout them ahead of time, as I did this year when I drove down to get the required permit from the RoozenGaarde growers that allows professional photographers to go into the fields without scrutiny from the field foreman.  I pick one spot because the light changes so quickly that by the time you’ve moved from one place to another, you’ve  lost the optimal conditions.  I “work the location,” capturing the chosen field from as many different angles as I can,  studying the surroundings to maximize what’s there and letting the location be my guide as to what and how to photograph it.

Sitting at the end of the field, boxes of bundled blooms await transport to be distributed to sellers in the area.

Some years I feel more productive than others. I rarely concentrate on just the flowers themselves. I try to make use of whatever is present: field workers, farm implements, signs, other artists or photographers who might be there, farm buildings to help create a sense of place.  When I  focus on the flowers, I strive to find different ways to photograph them and try to zero in on a particular feature or color.  If I decide to photograph the field en masse, I look for the overall impact of color or the setting.  Until I’m in the editing and post-production process  I often don’t know how I ultimately want to treat an image.

After years of having done this, I know how to dress. The fields are frequently muddy and the early a.m. air chilly.  I dress for the conditions.  Jeans and a sweatshirt are must with a warm jacket that I can shed if it should warm up, as it did this year.

Snow-capped Mount Baker rises in the distance and creates contrast with the multi-colored fields of flowers. I used a dry brush treatment in post-production to create a painterly feel to the scene.

Gloves with the fingertips cut out are also handy for those times when the morning temperatures are cold.  I also wear my insulated ‘muck’ shoes that I use for gardening because they are warm and wash off easily.  After years of crawling around in the dirt with a gardening pad, I now strap on heavy-duty knee guards so that I don’t have to scoot around on a pad and can literally get on my hands and knees to  get the shot I want.

Get down low, look up and see the tulips from a different angle to create an out of the ordinary perspective. Not how the tulips shine from the underside.

Equipment-wise, everyone has their own preferences. A UV lens filter is a must. I stick with my zoom lenses and fit close-up filters over them for really tight shots. Sometimes I use a tripod, sometimes not.  And a lens hood helps to block out annoying light flares.  I don’t spend a lot of time switching lenses or cameras in part because it creates less risk of getting damaging dirt on my sensitive digital gear.  I find it’s better  and sometimes more interesting to work within the parameters of my equipment.

I don’t make the trek to the tulips every year but this year I did as a way to unwind and relax after months of preparing for the film festival of which I now head up.  Usually I’ll take a friend along with me. This year I did it solo and enjoyed the time to myself.  No matter how you go, alone, with family or friends, these beautiful blooms are sure to restore your soul and remind you how wonderful the spring season is.

My last photo of the morning was a self-portrait still wearing my knee guards and muck shoes.

Sip a Brew, Have a View at Fairhaven Artwalk

March is Women’s History Month.  And while I’m not history yet, I  was invited by  Stone’s Throw Brewery to show some of my photographic art from my portfolio this month because I  am a woman photographer .

The collection on display at Stone’s Throw Brewery includes images taken at Mount Baker National Forest.

Brewery co-owners Tony Luciano and Jack Pfluege selected six images from my art portfolio to display on their walls in celebration of women, art and adventure. The two are alumni of Western Washington University who returned to Bellingham to follow their dream of creating a brewery that would truly capture the spirit of sustainability, community, and adventure.  It’s a cozy little place nestled in Bellingham’s historic Fairhaven district.  Over the past two years, Stone’s Throw has developed a steady clientele who  come to enjoy the friendly atmosphere, sit on the sunny upstairs deck, warm up by the fire pit in their beer garden or  listen to the music by played by locals in the evening while sipping a glass of their tasty beer accompanied by barbecue, pizza or sandwiches provided by nearby restaurants or visiting food trucks.

The Pacific Northwest is a paddler’s paradise precisely because of evening’s like this.

On March 31st, Stone’s Throw will host its second anniversary Block Party, a good way to kick off the spring.

But before then, this upcoming Friday, March 23, the brewery will be one of the stops on the Fairhaven Fourth Friday Art Walk from 5 to 8:30 p.m.  Yours truly will be there to welcome gallery strollers and to share stories about the prints in the show and about my photography art work.

One of six prints now on exhibit through April at the Stone’s Throw Brewery. The Tulip Truck was taken in the Skagit Valley tulip fields.

The six prints selected represent only a small portion of my portfolio some of which can be found on-line in my Art Prints album  or in my Beauty of Bellingham album. Some of the images in these albums you may have seen before on the programs, brochures or websites of the Bellingham Festival of Music or CASCADIA International Women’s Film Festival.  The prints in the Stone’s Throw show are all available for purchase and are large, wall-sized art prints framed and ready to display in your business or home.  Some are available in other sizes so if you see one you like but need a different size to fit your space, let me know.

The beauty of Chuckanut Drive has long caught the eye of photographers, my own being no exception.

All the images were made here in Bellingham’s backyard: on the water, at the mountain, in town or in nearby Skagit Valley. They represent an aspect of my photography work that I don’t often publicly display, although it can be readily found on the Fine Art page of my website.  During the two months of the show, I thought it would be fun to share with you the stories behind each here on my blog.

I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I do. Please stop by the Brewery on March 23rd during the Art Walk. for a brew and a view.



A ‘Field Trip’ to Skagit Valley’s Tulip Farms

Every spring, the Skagit Valley, just south of where I live, is bursting with color as the commercial tulip fields there bloom. Thousands of people from the region make the trip just to spend an hour or two admiring the rows of bright flowers growing in the fields. I hadn’t visited the fields for a couple of years so thought I’d wander down on what was the last weekend of this year’s tulip festival.

Getting in close, you can see the beauty of this red tulip.
Getting in close, you can see the beauty of this red tulip.


A garden worker makes certain the exhibition beds look their best before the day's crowds arrive. I shot through the garden's gate to capture this gardener cleaning the beds.
A garden worker makes certain the exhibition beds look their best before the day’s crowds arrive.

The fields had bloomed early this year. The farmers had already begun topping the stems in preparation to harvest the bulbs. Upon arriving at the tulip fields, I checked in at the office of the Washington Bulb Company and asked about the conditions of the fields. The only field still in flower was behind the bulb company’s exhibition gardens. Access to it, through the gardens, wasn’t possible until 9 a.m.

A thin layer of fog covered the field as morning began in the Skagit Valley.
A thin layer of fog covered the field as morning began in the Skagit Valley.

By that time the light would be too bright for my photographs. A nice layer of low fog lying over the field could have made for some dramatic photos but since I couldn’t get into it until 9, it could disappear by then.

My choices were either to leave and go home without taking a single image or stay and see what I could do despite the limited access. I decided to stay and see what photographs I could make before the gates opened and the crowds began to arrive. It would be a good challenge.

Three purple tulips peak above the brilliant red tulips in the bed outside the gardent's gates.
Three purple tulips peak above the brilliant red tulips in the bed outside the gardent’s gates.
The morning dew on the petals of this tulip gives the flower a velvety look.

My friend and I walked down the road to the unopened gardens. Plenty of tulips were growing in the beds outside the main gate and fence. I pulled out my camera and began photographing.  Thirty minutes later, I had finished. I gathered up my gear and we headed back, stopping along the way for a couple more photos before pulling into a little cafe for breakfast.  We were back in Bellingham by 10 a.m., our ‘field trip’ was over and the rest of the weekend still lay ahead.  The images from that morning were not what I had expected and yet I found many that I liked. I hope you do too.

The snow-covered peak of Mount Baker rises in the distance from the Skagit Valley. This was the last photograph I made the morning of my 'field trip.'
The snow-covered peak of Mount Baker rises in the distance from the Skagit Valley.



Swans’ Song in Skagit Valley

Winter in Northwest Washington is home to large variety of birds.  In fact, birdwatching is at its best here during the winter months when these feathered friends frequent our waterways and fields.  One of the many species that come here to winter is the largest waterfowl of them all, the trumpeter swans.  They arrive by the thousands to take over the farm rich fields of the Skagit Valley where they feast and rest until time to return to Alaska for the summer.

The farm fields of Northwest Washington's Skagit Valley provide a winter home for rumpeter swans.
The farm fields of Northwest Washington’s Skagit Valley provide a winter home for thousands of trumpeter swans.

Last winter, nearly 12,000 of these majestic birds landed in Skagit Valley.  Their population, once threatened nearly out of existence, have rebounded, according to the Skagit Audubon Society. In fact, the trumpeter swans who spend their winter in this area make up the largest winter population in the country.  I decided the other day to take the a drive down the winding Chuckanut Drive that hugs the coast south to the beautiful open flat expanse of Skagit Valley, about 19 miles.

A couple of trumpeters wade together through the mucky mud.
A couple of trumpeters wade together through the mucky mud.

Once you hit the flat land, heading into the little junction of Bow, Washington, you begin to see spots of white dotting the barren, brown fields.  On this particular day, I continued straight out from Bow following Chuckanut Drive or Highway 11.  I hadn’t gone far when I came across a fields full of the swans.  Turning off Chuckanut, I found I could closer to the birds in one of the fields on Thomas Road.  The birds are protected from harassment so the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife ask birdwatchers to stay in their cars when visiting or photographing if possible.  My husband pulled the car off to the side of the road, I rolled down the and pulled out camera.

The beauty of the swan's wings can be seen as this swan stretches its feathers.
The beauty of the swan’s wings can be seen as this swan stretches its feathers.

The birds stopped splashing in the muddy water standing in the field to check us out but after a few minutes decided we were no threat and resumed their chorus of honking.  The swans seemed not to mind as I started to photograph. The birds honked.   My camera’s shutter clicked open and closed as I patiently tried to maneuver from my seat in the car to capture a few images of the big birds.  Mallard ducks mixed in freely with the swans, as they waddled around the fallow fields. But it’s the swans that attract everyone’s eye.

The swans in flight are a incredible sight wtih wings that can span eight feet.
The swans in flight are a incredible sight wtih wings that can span eight feet.

In flight, against the day’s gray-white sky the birds outstretched wings looked immense and .  In fact, these wingspan of the swans is enormous and can be up to eight feet wide, according to Department of Fish and Wildlife sources.  They can weigh as much as 32 pounds and when standing erect will reach four feet tall.  Big birds.

The agricultural fields of Skagit Valley make a pcituresque setting for swans and mallards alike.
The agricultural fields of Skagit Valley make a pcituresque setting for swans and mallards alike.

After a while, satisfied that I might have a few images I would later like, we moved on. The swans were content to remain in the field, honking to their hearts’ desire as the light cold wind that had picked up ruffled their big snowy white wings. There’s still time to view the swans if you find yourself in the area.  Eventually, these magnificent birds will take off for the spring and summer, not to return again until next November.

Pat in the Fields

My friend, Pat, has accompanied me on my photo expeditions to the tulip fields in Skagit Valley for the past several years. I captured this moment of her in the fields during our last foray there.

Scarlet Snips

The remains of the day’s cuttings lie in the tulips fields of Skagit Valley. Beautiful but at the same time, a bit sad.