Posted by: Brad Nixon | October 17, 2016

Crepuscular: Beams of Light in the Forest. Olympic National Park

One of a series celebrating the 100th anniversary of the U.S. National Park Service.

I don’t travel in order to make pictures, but photography is an integral part of traveling, both as a way to memorialize what I’ve seen and as a fascinating pursuit.

There are photographic skills, knowledge and techniques I’ll never master. I won’t always rise early enough or stay late enough to get just the right light or catch the elusive wildlife.

Sometimes, though, there’s another element, impossible to plan, prepare or calculate: luck.

Olympic National Park (in green on map below) occupies almost a million acres on the Olympic Peninsula in the west of Washington State in the far northwest of the continental United States.


Seattle is to the east, the state capitol, Olympia, is at the southern edge of the map and Victoria, Canada is across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north.

The park is not only vast in area, but in its diversity of climate, environments and terrain. There are snow-clad mountains and glaciers.

Olympic NP Brad Nixon 7847 (640x374)

There are rainforests and rugged coastline, which looks like this at Ruby Beach, a little south of Olympic.

The park is home to an impressive variety of flora and fauna, which change according to rainfall and elevation. The scenery ranges from low coastal areas hung with moss:

Olympic NP Brad Nixon 7701 (640x480)

To alpine forest.

Olympic National Park Brad Nixon 3 (640x541)

It requires planning to see even representative portions of this extensive and varied terrain. Today I’ll focus on one spot, one day, where Dad and I enjoyed some spectacular scenery and had a good deal of photographic good fortune. In the map above, the red flag marks Sol Duc Falls, reached by a winding road that climbs from U.S. 101 into alpine forest. The trailhead is marked in the red circle at the bottom of map 2.


On the right, marked in the blue circle is another worthwhile destination, Hurricane Ridge, at 5,242 feet elevation, from which I shot the above photo of the snow-capped Olympic Range. The city of Port Angeles, worth a look, is north, along the Strait.

The drive is beautiful, paved and navigable by ordinary vehicles unless it’s blocked by snow. The temperature and vegetation change as you climb from about 500 feet to several thousand feet elevation. As we drove, the weather kept changing, sun alternating with clouds and rain.

Olympic NP Brad Nixon 7803 (640x457)

We reached the Sol Duc trailhead in midafternoon as the sun was beginning to get low in the west on the last day of October. It was chilly up there, but not unbearably cold, although snow was already accumulating on the firs.

Olympic NP Brad Nixon 7828 (640x480)

There, luck was with us. The sky cleared. The low sun shone through the branches of the trees in an effect called crepuscular rays. Stunning.

Olympic NP Brad Nixon 7819 (640x480)

It was impossible to walk along the trail quickly, because on every hand was another riveting scene. Click on a photo below for larger images and use the arrows to navigate through the shots.

As a result, we didn’t come close to covering the distance to the falls. The beams piercing the dark of the forest captivated us and put an end to determined forward progress.

It’s standard wisdom among photographers that one isn’t recording people or scenes or objects: You’re photographing the light. Rarely, though, does one have such a glorious opportunity to think only of the light itself.

You don’t have to travel to Olympic to find crepuscular rays. Pay attention, and hope for some luck, too. Oh, and have your camera ready, as Dad did in this picture shot over the Pacific near Carlsbad, California.

Crepuscular rays Willard Nixon 2337 (640x433)

Visit the NPS website for more information about planning your trip to Olympic National Park. Prepare for a wide variety of weather. The Hoh and Quinault rainforests receive approximately 150 inches of annual rainfall. Weather varies greatly by season and altitude. Forks (beloved by fans of the Twilight books and films) and Port Angeles are two options for bases of operations, although there are numerous other accommodations.

Have you been to Olympic? What would you recommend as must-sees? Leave a comment.

For more about Olympic and other Washington parks, click on Travel: Washington in the Categories list in the right-hand column.

© Brad Nixon 2016, 2017. Final photo © Willard Nixon 2016, used by kind permission. Map 1 © Google. Map 2 © U.S. National Park Service.


  1. Beautiful!


  2. You are far too modest in describing your photographic abilities.

    I know from experience that getting a good result in high contrast environments as you were in is very challenging, and often the result is not what we had hoped. Sometimes, the lens aperture will close too much from the bright light, and you’ll get a too dark shot. Other times, the lens will open too much due to the darkness, and your shot will be whited out. Photography is an art, not a science, and the results are unpredictable.

    Congrats on great work!


    • Thank you. There are both aspects, as in painting, writing, sculpture, etc. But I greatly appreciate the kind words.


  3. All your posts are mesmerising!! And I absolutely loved the pictures of the
    crepuscular rays!! Looks very enchanting and from a far away land☺

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. Yes, the beams have that effect. You’ll see them there, too. Just keep looking.

      Liked by 1 person

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