Tulip Trekking in Skagit County

Not being a morning person doesn’t stop me from trekking an hour north to shoot the sunrise at the Skagit County Tulip Festival.

One thing that keeps me from being more of a landscape photographer is the schedule. I’ve never been one to wake up early if I didn’t absolutely have to, but there’s a lot of great light at sunrise. So when I woke up Saturday morning at 3:30 a.m., without even making some coffee before walking out the door, please know that it’s not a regular occurrence.

Right now is the peak time to visit the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, which is about 60 miles north of Seattle in the towns and fields of La Conner and Mount Vernon. Thousands of people arrive from all over to see large fields of blooming color, making it a photographer’s paradise. This is when getting up early pays off. If the light is good, the results can be spectacular. If the light isn’t so good, you still have lots of color from the flowers and possibly dramatic skies. In either case, you’re usually done shooting and eating a hearty breakfast just as all the tourists are starting to arrive.

This year, I went up with my wife, daughter, and our friend Harper to shoot the sunrise. It’s been quite a wet winter, and I’d heard that many of the dirt turnouts and informal parking lots were closed, so our plan was to park at the big Roozengaarde parking lot (which is paid parking) and walk across the road to Roozengaarde’s big fields at the corner of Beaver Marsh Road and McLean. We picked up Harper, grabbed some coffee at an early-morning Starbucks on the way, and arrived just as the sky was starting to lighten.

Turns out, according to the friendly security guy who pulled in next to us, you can’t park there. And furthermore, the Roozengaarde fields are only accessible by going through Roozengarde, which didn’t open until 9 a.m. As the sky got brighter, we switched to a plan B. This is where it’s great to have local friends. Based on a conversation with local photographer Nancy Crowell, we relocated to a tiny field on Best Road—not nearly as expansive as some fields in the area, but good to catch the sunrise and still have lots of color in the frame.

Alas, the clouds were still pretty heavy and it started to drizzle, so we didn’t get the type of dramatic morning light that I’d been lucky to experience a few years ago. But that didn’t dampen our spirits, because there was plenty to photograph. Harper’s sister and boyfriend also joined us—coincidentally, they were spending the weekend in La Conner—and probably due to the weather or the location, there were only a couple of other photographers there to capture the morning.

After almost three hours of shooting and slipping around in the mud, we piled our cold bodies into the cars and enjoyed a big breakfast at The Calico Cupboard in La Conner.

Sensible photographers would have left town, but instead we returned to Roozengaarde at about 10 a.m., just in time to join the first major wave of tourists. After such a solitary morning, finding ourselves among hundreds of people waiting in line to pay and go in was quite the adjustment. Still, the weather was clearing, the sun appeared, and once inside, we got to view dozens of types of tulips and shoot in a nearby daffodil field.

Finally, the early morning caught up with us and we headed back home to start processing images, grab some dinner, and go to bed early.

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