Archive for the ‘Rivers’ Category

Tamanawas Falls   7 comments

Tamanawas Creek in Oregon's Cascade Mountains has a beautiful Native American name that befits the scenery it offers on a springtime hike.

Tamanawas Creek in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains has a beautiful Native American name that befits the scenery it offers on a springtime hike.

I recently took the first hike since I broke my ribs.  It was only about 4 miles, along a glorious stream east of Mount Hood called Cold Spring Creek (I like calling it Tamanawas Creek though).  The hike heads a short way down the East fork of Hood River and turns up the rollicking creek to Tamanawas Falls.  This is an American Indian name, but I’ve had trouble tracking down its meaning.  It’s a beautiful hike and a beautiful waterfall.

By the way, I hope you enjoy these images.  Just click on any of them to go to the main part of my website, where purchase is possible.  They’re not available for free download, sorry.  The versions here are much too small anyway, but purchase as print or download of high-res. versions is possible by going here.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks for your interest!

The beautiful stream course of East Fork Hood River during spring melt-off.

The beautiful stream course of East Fork Hood River during spring melt-off.

To get there drive from Portland to Hood River on I-84.  At this town, get off the freeway and head up the Hood River Valley on Highway 35.  You’ll pass beautiful apple and pear orchards (which bloom around Easter), and in nice weather you’ll have grand views of Mount Hood.  Soon the road begins to be crowded by the valley walls as it heads into forest toward the mountain.  Before you begin climbing you will see a sign for Sherwood Campground.  Look for the trailhead on the right.  There will likely be other cars there.

The East Fork Hood River is fed by numerous springs along its upper reaches.

The East Fork Hood River is fed by numerous springs along its upper reaches.

From the trailhead walk into the woods and cross the East Fork Hood River on a log bridge.  Come immediately to a T-junction and take a right.  In a half mile or so you’ll curve into the canyon, then soon come to another wooden bridge.  Cross this and turn left at another junction, heading up Cold Spring Creek.  Follow this all the way to the falls.  Return the way you came.

Ripples form patterns in a rare quiet eddy along the energetic East Fork Hood River in Oregon.

Ripples form patterns in a rare quiet eddy along the energetic East Fork Hood River in Oregon.

The snow had just recently melted off the trail when I was there a few days ago, so this was the first time I photographed the curtain-like cascade with leftover snow.  It added an extra challenge to the photography, since the white of the snow wanted to blow-out (over-expose) whenever I properly exposed for the darker moss.  The even darker basalt that the falls flows over is nearly impossible to expose perfectly, but I think it’s fine to allow those areas to go nearly black.  Let me know what you think!

Tamanawas Falls comes into view framed by large fir trees.

Tamanawas Falls comes into view framed by large fir trees.

The trail offers many opportunities for communing with the rapids and small waterfalls along the way.  I used a circular polarizer for these shots.  Combined with a fairly small aperture and the fact that the sun was by that time too low to shine into the canyon, this gave me the long exposures that result in the smooth silky water.  Most of the photos had exposures on the order of 2-5 seconds, a few much longer (15-20 seconds).

Tamanawas Falls is a pretty waterfall near Mount Hood, Oregon.  In April the falls hastens the snow's retreat.

Tamanawas Falls is a pretty waterfall near Mount Hood, Oregon. In April the falls hastens the snow’s retreat.

Beautiful pools and small waterfalls occur along the trail to Tamanawas Falls near Mount Hood, Oregon.

Beautiful pools and small waterfalls occur along the trail to Tamanawas Falls near Mount Hood, Oregon.

Horizontal vs. Vertical: River of the West   9 comments

The Columbia River rolls west toward the Pacific, as viewed from the mossy banks on the Oregon side.

The Columbia River rolls west toward the Pacific, as viewed from the mossy banks on the Oregon side.


A short post on one of my favorite places to go when I sense a nice sunset coming up.  The River of the West is of course the Columbia River.  The North American continent has some big rivers, most draining the older eastern part of the continent.  But there are a few big ones in the west too.  The Columbia is one of these (The Yukon and McKenzie are two others).  The big river originates high in the Canadian Rockies and empties into the Pacific at the charming little town of Astoria, Oregon.  Lewis and Clark, the pair of explorers that Thomas Jefferson sent out west in 1804 to map a route to the Pacific Ocean from America, passed this spot.  Who knows, they might have stepped ashore here, stepping from their canoes to stretch their legs.

This spot is just 20 minutes or so from my house.  The river is wide here, and is influenced by tides despite being many miles from the ocean.  I scrambled down these rocks, nearly falling because of their slickness.  A rainshower had just passed, giving the moss, rocks and sky a fresh look that I think really adds to the photo.

I am posting both the vertical and horizontal versions.  I will often shoot both formats.  Sometimes one of them just jumps right out as the superior take.  But often I’m left wondering which one has more impact.  This might be the case here.

When there are many vertical elements in your composition, such as trees or tall buildings, a vertical composition is most often the best choice (not always though).  When you have an expansive composition, perhaps taken with a wide-angle lens, a horizontal composition often works better.  If there are layers in the scene, such as that provided by flat clouds or contrasting levels of ground, trees, mountains, etc., a horizontal composition is definitely worth it.  But do not think just because you have horizontal layers that a vertical composition will not work equally as well.

What I’d like to know is which one you prefer, the horizontal image above or the vertical one below.  Feel free also to post a pair of images on your own blog, same scene but one horizontal and one vertical.  Then post a link in your reply here so people can take a look and give their opinion on which format they prefer.  I suppose it would be a theme/challenge.  Thanks very much for looking!

The lower Columbia River in Oregon flows west toward the Pacific past the moss-covered rocks lining its banks.

The lower Columbia River in Oregon flows west toward the Pacific past the moss-covered rocks lining its banks.


Lost Coast, California   5 comments

Eel River Sunrise

Northern California’s Lost Coast is located in northern Mendocino and southern Humboldt counties, north of San Francisco.  Steep mountains plunge down to a rocky shore.  Lonely beaches with waterfalls and good abalone hunting face out on great surfing breaks.  Just inland, wildlife abounds in the forest and small communities are separated by majestic redwood groves.

The rising sun sets the sky afire in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California.

The rising sun sets the sky afire in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California.

The Lost Coast includes the King Range, a rugged, steeply uplifted piece of geology with many valleys oriented parallel to the coast – a very unique situation.  California’s  western-most headland, Cape Mendocino, occupies much of the Lost Coast.  These two geographic facts give the place its isolated character.  And as usual, the geology of the region is the underlying factor driving everything.

The Lost Coast of northern California is the scene of a peaceful winter's sunset.

The Lost Coast of northern California is the scene of a peaceful winter’s sunset.


The famous San Andreas Fault, which parallels the coastline all the way north from San Francisco, leaves the coast here and merges with the offshore Cape Mendocino Fault (which runs perpendicular to the coast and out to sea).  This is where three of the Earth’s tectonic plates come together.  The North American Plate, the Pacific Plate, and the small Gorda Plate join in what geologists call a triple junction.

The plate tectonic setting for the Lost Coast of California is dominated by the triple junction just offshore from Cape Mendocino.

The plate tectonic setting for the Lost Coast of California is dominated by the triple junction just offshore from Cape Mendocino.

The slip-sliding characterized by the San Andreas to the south gives way to a subduction zone to the north.  The Gorda Plate is slipping beneath the North American Plate.  This means that a line of volcanoes lies inland.  The Cascades begin at Mount Lassen and extend north past the Canadian border.  But much closer to the coast, an enormous torquing action occurs, which is why the uplift is extreme here.  The rocks are heavily buckled and folded, forming the rugged King Range.

The part of the northern California Coast between Fort Bragg and Eureka is called the Lost Coast.

The part of the northern California Coast between Fort Bragg and Eureka is called the Lost Coast.

The coast’s spectacular scenery owes its existence to this triple junction.  Rapid uplift of a coastline is marked by frequent earthquakes and landslides, and this area is no exception.  Offshore sea stacks, for e.g., are often the result of enormous landslides in the past.  And of course landslides are often precipitated by earthquakes.  All the while erosion is taking place,  from constant wave action.  And the uplift of the coastal margin gives the waves a constant source of new rocks to erode all the time.

Ice Plant, a non-native, blooms in winter-time on the Lost Coast of California.

Ice Plant, a non-native, blooms in winter-time on the Lost Coast of California.

I stopped in the little town of Garberville, just off Hwy. 101.  It is a typical northern California town, filled with real characters.  Not all of these people, believe it or not, are old burnt-out hippies.  For the first time during this trip, I didn’t feel out of place in my VW camper.  Now if I only had a dreadlocks wig as big as one of those giant octopuses that live in the nearby ocean, I would have fit in perfectly.  Actually the town is peaceful, with a magnificent stand of redwoods nearby in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

A cave on a northern California beach looks out on a sunny Pacific day.

A cave on a northern California beach looks out on a sunny Pacific day.

Then I headed over the extremely curvy and hilly two-lane that leads from Garberville out to the coast at Shelter Cove.  What a road!  The last hill descending off the King Range to the coast is extremely steep, granny gear both ways.  The little settlement of Shelter Cove is spread out, and seems to be populated by people who enjoy their isolation.  I wouldn’t necessarily call them anti-social loners, but there is a reason why they live  here.  Almost 1000 people live here, but I am sure many of the spectacularly-located houses are 2nd homes.

A beach house on the coast of California.

A beach house on the coast of California.

I experienced a nice sunset, getting there early enough to explore the rocky shore below the little park.  This park is easy to find if you turn left at the first T-junction after the big downhill.  The grassy park, set up on a terrace above the sea, is centered around the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse (see below).  It’s a simple walk down to the rocky shore from this park, and you can continue south past the boat ramp around Shelter Cove itself.  The rock is black, and forms dramatic silhouettes with the numerous tide pools.  Be careful though, and consider rubber boots if you’re planning on exploring and/or photographing.  It’s slippery and there are sneaker waves.  It’s wise to remember the venerable warning to never turn your back on the ocean.

The rocky coastline at Shelter Cove on California's Pacific Coast is a tide-poolers heaven.

The rocky coastline at Shelter Cove on California’s Pacific Coast is a tide-poolers heaven.

Cape Mendocino Lighthouse

This stubby structure, which dates from 1868, did not need to be tall since it was originally placed atop a 422-foot (129 meters) cliff on Cape Mendocino.  It was shipped to the site and hauled up the steep mountainside.  The first ship sent to start construction at the site ran aground, and all supplies were lost (everyone survived though).  Over the years, the light saved many lives, and in more ways than the obvious.  For one thing it was a great lookout.  On one occasion a keeper spotted a ship that was on fire.  He brought help just in time to save all aboard.

The Cape Mendocino Lighthouse, now restored and located in nearby Shelter Cove, glows just after sunset.

The Cape Mendocino Lighthouse, now restored and located in nearby Shelter Cove, glows just after sunset.

But the frequent earthquakes and landslides were a constant hazard, and the lighthouse was eventually abandoned in the early 1960s.  The lighthouse was later saved when a local group had it moved and restored.  For the last 12 years it has shone at Shelter Cove not far south of the Cape.  But its business end seems a bit empty without its original Fresnel lens (which was replaced years ago while it was in service).

Coiled and mounded kelp is a common sight along northern California beaches

Coiled and mounded kelp is a common sight along northern California beaches

I also enjoyed some time in the redwoods at Humboldt Redwoods State Park.  There is a 2-lane road (appropriately called “Avenue of the Giants”) that parallels Hwy. 101, allowing you to stop and walk through the big trees, or enjoy the beautiful Eel River (which winds its way through here on its way to the sea).

An amazing variety of stones are present on this northern California beach.

An amazing variety of stones are present on this northern California beach.

It’s a beautiful and remote stretch of coast, one I can highly recommend visiting.  The coast both to the south (as far as Point Reyes) and to the north (the Oregon border and beyond) is also beautiful.  I didn’t get the opportunity this time to explore the Lost Coast fully.  There are hiking and mountain biking options, plus several fire roads that take off from the Shelter Cove Road.  I encourage you to go further than I did in exploring this rugged part of the California Coast.  I know I’ll do so when I return.

The Pacific Ocean and the day's last light stretch west from the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse in Shelter Cove, California.

The Pacific Ocean and the day’s last light stretch west from the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse in Shelter Cove, California.

Utah’s San Juan River   1 comment

The San Juan River flows through southeastern Utah near the town of Bluff.

The San Juan River surprised me. Never having traveled through the Beehive State’s southeastern corner, I had no idea it was such a significant and beautiful river basin. Rising in Colorado’s mountains of the same name (which I posted on recently), the San Juan enters canyon country in Utah and flows for hundreds of twisted, lonely miles, finally winding up in Lake Powell. This is the reservoir that, sadly, covers both Glen Canyon and the confluence of the San Juan and Colorado Rivers.

Just west of the town of Bluff, Utah I stopped at a boat launch/campground called Sand Island. Here there is an enormous petroglyph panel, hundreds of feet long, with a dizzying variety of Native American rock art. Wandering down to the riverside, I was floored when I saw how much water the San Juan was carrying. This is the driest part of the year, after all. The sun approached the horizon, the light grew golden, and I took the opportunity for a great little photo walk along the river.

A full moon shines on the Goosenecks, a series of incised meanders on the San Juan River in SE Utah.

The San Juan cuts some truly spectacular canyons on its way west, including the famous Goosenecks. This series of what geologists call entrenched meanders can be viewed from a state park off Hwy. 163. If you’ve never seen pictures of the Goosenecks, try to imagine a lazy river meandering across a broad river valley. Then imagine that pattern cut deeply into layered sandstone to form a rugged meandering canyon.

The sun rises behind a cottonwood tree in one of Valley of the Gods’ many canyons.

This is the layer-cake geology of the Colorado Plateau, a stacked geological movie through the Paleozoic Era.  Frozen in time are huge sand seas, big river basins, seaside salt pans (as in the Middle East), coral reefs and muddy ocean bottoms.  The canyons of this region cut into this record.  The rivers had no choice as the entire region was lifted straight up during formation of the Rocky Mountains.

Ship Rock in northern New Mexico is formed from a spectacular dike that runs for miles across the desert.

I camped out on the Navajo Reservation in northern New Mexico.  Although I was a bit nervous about this, being visible for miles in the flat and treeless sage plain, I wanted to get moonlight and dawn pictures of Ship Rock.  For some reason I got little sleep, dreaming of my van being invaded by a group of angry natives.  I suppose it is all those old western movies to blame, when the wagon circle was attacked by the “savages”.  But there was a bright side to this; I got pictures of the stars after the moon had set – beautiful!

Ship Rock stands under a glowing moon in the northeastern New Mexico desert.

Ship Rock is an enormous volcanic plug sticking out of the desert.  The monolith trails out on either end (but more obviously on the south) into a spectacular dike.  A dike, in the geological sense that is, is a tabular sheet of magma that invades upward into a fissure or fault in the earth’s crust.  It hardens when it cools, just like lava.  Then, many millions of years later, when (if) the area is uplifted and eroded, the dike is left standing up because of its superior hardness compared to surrounding rocks.  It then resembles the natural version of a dike built to hold back water.  The one that Ship Rock is connected to is a classic “textbook example” of a dike.

Melting ice forms patterns on sandstone in a spring found while hiking one of Valley of the Gods’ many canyons.

A cottonwood tree frames one of the rock ramparts in Valley of the Gods, Utah.


I also visited an area that seems to be known mostly to locals: Valley of the Gods.  This is a beautiful area of canyons and monoliths that is quite similar to the better-known Monument Valley to the south.  You need to drive a gravel loop road 16+ miles long to get in here.  It’s a wilderness study area, and is connected to an equally wild and huge area called Cedar Mesa to the north.

I camped along the gravel road, then in the morning took a hike up a canyon.  Quite a few vehicles were driving the loop, it being a weekend.  But nobody else was hiking, that is unless you count a horseman I ran into.  He was a nice fella, smoking a cigar as he rode.  As I scratched his horse behind the ears, I thought of my own horse back home.  Could she handle this rugged country?  It might take some getting used to.  I miss her and Khallie (the filly) both.

I traveled south from Valley of the Gods, past the Goosenecks (that I had visited in moonlight the night before) and on towards Monument Valley.  I came upon a just-completed wedding ceremony at riverside in the town of Mexican Hat.  Guess what the town is named for.  You got it, a rocky pinnacle with a sombrero-shaped top.

The happy couple were rafting down the river when I stopped and joined the wedding party in watching them float down the San Juan through town.  I didn’t take any pictures, feeling the wedding photographer might not like it.  But I did feel a bit sad and lonely, as I always do when I see weddings.  Not for long though.  It was a gorgeous day and Monument Valley at sunset was waiting not far away.  That will be the subject of my next post.

By the way, if you’re interested in downloading any of these copyrighted photos, please click on one and you’ll be taken to my website.  There you can browse my photos and order any of them, for download or as beautifully made prints (framed or unframed).  These particular photos will be up soon, but if you want one right away, just email me.  Thanks for your interest and cooperation in not trying to download any illegally.




Along the San Juan River in SE Utah, fall holds on in late October under a nearly full moon.

Nicaragua III: Rio San Juan   Leave a comment

The Rio San Juan at the outlet of Lago Nicaragua. The town of San Carlos is at right.

It felt rather surreal pulling into the small port of San Carlos at the south end of the lake.  I had a few hours before I caught a small boat down the San Juan, so I explored the town a bit.  A lot of trade comes through here, and bananas are no small part of that trade.  I headed to the riverside town of El Castillo.  It’s dominated by a very interesting fort on the hill above town.  It was built by the Spaniards to protect the entrance to Lago Nicaragua (and the rich town of Granada) from marauding pirates.

Unloading bananas from the overnight ferry that travels the length of Lago Nicaragua.

El Castillo is the jumping off point for trips downriver and into the pristine rain forest on the Nicaraguan side (the Costa Rica side of the river has been cleared for ranching and agriculture, sadly).  But the town is a great spot to hang for a day or two.  I found a little family-run place along the river, where I again worked a deal to photograph their rooms and beautiful exterior in exchange for lodging.  You can hear the rapids on the river as you fall asleep, always a good way to beat insomnia.

The Rio San Juan (central America’s longesr river ) winds toward the Atlantic as viewed from the walls of El Castillo

I walked around town rounding up a few backpackers to share the cost of a boat and guide into the rain forest downstream.  Next morning we were on our way.  We hiked a beautiful stretch of jungle, and I saw my first poison dart frogs (see image).  On the way back upriver we stopped at a place called Refugio Bartola.  I decided on a whim to stay, despite having only the clothes on my back, a water bottle and bug repellent ( I had left my luggage with the family in Castillo).  Bartola sits on the river and is backed by wild jungle.  I had a little adventure here…

The so-called blue-jeans frog inhabits the pristine rain forest along the Rio San Juan in Nicaragua.

Although it was getting to be late afternoon, I took off on a hike into the forest, by myself.  I often do this in unfamiliar places, not sure why.  I like the challenge of using only my sense of direction to find my way back.  And I often am rewarded with great sightings.  I was really hoping for a jaguar, but my consolation prize was a spider monkey, my favorite!  I blame this sighting for keeping me going away from the Refugio for too long.  As I worked my way back, I took a wrong turn and ended up against darkness.  I was still running on the rough root-strewn trail when darkness caught me.

A spider monkey sits in the jungle of southern Nicaragua.

In the tropics dark comes quickly, and in the jungle it descends to true blackness.  With no flashlight, I tried to proceed.  But it immediately became obvious that it was impossible to stay on the trail.  I was stuck!  I sat down for awhile in the blackness, but then stinging ants found me and I hopped wildly about, shaking them out of my shorts.  I had to keep pacing to keep the insects off me as the jungle started to come alive.  I had nothing but a near-empty water bottle.  Luckily it wasn’t destined to get cold overnight, so I would probably survive.  But would I still have my sanity in the morning?  I was doubtful.

After a couple hours of this being alone with my thoughts (“I am NEVER hiking without a flashlight again!”), I saw a brief flash of light in the trees.  I was thinking fireflies, but then I heard them: guys speaking Spanish!  I shouted at the top of my lungs: Ayudeme!  I was rescued!  The guide who works at Bartola had had happened to hear from one of the women who works in the kitchen that she had seen me hiking off alone.  He rounded up the two military guys from the nearby post and, armed, they began the search.  They were amazed that I was so distant.  I asked why the guns were necessary, but knew the answer before it came: jaguar.  There apparently was a large male that called this patch of jungle home.  As we walked back to the Refugio, I wondered about my confidence that I could survive the night.

A couple days later I was traveling, again by river, across the border into Costa Rica.  This country is safer I thought, more traveled and more civilized.  Isn’t it?


The Himalaya (Finally)   Leave a comment

Since I just started blogging not long ago, I am going to start an occasional series on recent travels, where I wrote only for myself.  I don’t journal on my laptop while traveling, only with pen and paper.  I carry a small netbook simply for photos and internet acces while traveling, but the idea of burying myself in a computer for my journal is anathema.  I would much rather sit at a cafe and people watch while writing.  I simply can’t do this when on a computer, plus nearly all screens are unsuitable for outdoors.

Alpenglow on Mount Everest from the 5400-meter high viewpoint of Kala Pathar in Nepal.

I’ve traveled pretty extensively over the past few years, at least for me.  As soon as I got the chance, I went to Nepal.  The Himalayas were at the top of my list.  I just did not want to wait until I was too old to see the highest mountains in the world.  Nepal was the obvious choice, but I went to north India as well.  I actually went twice in one year, once in Spring and once in Autumn.

The great stupa at Boudhanath, near Kathmandu, Nepal, draws Buddhists from all over Asia.

I traveled to Delhi, then to Kathmandu.  An amazingly chaotic and energetic city is Kathmandu, and I loved it.  My favorite was renting a mountain bike and doing a big loop up into the upper valley.  I definitely recommend this way of seeing the other face of the Kathmandu Valley.  It’s not all traffic and movement, as in the city.  The children run after you yelling Namaste! and if you stop they shyly smile and hide behind each other.  Utterly charming.  And such a great ride.  Do it if you find yourself in Kathmandu.

Another must if  you’re in Kathmandu is the pilgrimage site of Boudhanath (image left).  This is a huge stupa (temple) in a suburb of the city.  Just grab a taxi there and prepare to soak up an absolutely amazing atmosphere.  This could be spiritually transformative for you, it’s that powerful.  I’ve been three times, and will never miss it on any future trip to Nepal’s capital.

I stayed in Thamel (of course) and I found a nice little guiding company.  I just clicked with the woman running things in the office.  I still consider her a friend, and very much hope that she will be able to visit the USA someday, where I will be so happy to show her around.  She has been experiencing much trouble getting a visa to visit, since U.S. immigration assume every person from a 3rd world country wants to come to stay.  Even though she has a company, a family, a life in Nepal, they still think she wants to escape.  Amazing!

I arranged a trip with her company, Equator, now called Himalayan RST Expeditions, to head to western Nepal.  I was to spend a week rafting the Karnali, one of the world’s classic river runs.  Then I would visit Royal Bardia National Park.  I first traveled to Pokhara.  My hikes were only dayhikes, no trekking this time.  Also, I rented a motorbike to head into the rural areas around the touristy Pokhara.

Once you get into rural areas, you start running into folks who have walked in to markets from the surrounding countryside.  Back in the foothills of the Himal, where no roads travel, there are small villages of people who subsist on the edge.  They are very poor and very beautiful people.  Many are Muslim, but the majority of Nepalis are Hindu.  Buddhism is also prevalent.

The bus ride out to western Nepal took two days over the worst roads you can imagine.  It was a bone-jarring ride.  If you do this trip, unless you enjoy bus rides from hell, I would fly.  We arrived on the banks of the upper Karnali in the late afternoon.  Villagers joined us in our preparations, but they barely distracted me from the river.  It was utterly gorgeous, a beautiful turquoise color and cold!  The Karnali originates on one of the world’s most sacred mountains, Mount Kailash, in Tibet.  And this water certainly was heavenly.

What a river trip!  Seven glorious days on a river with huge and fun rapids in its upper stretches.  It calms somewhat in the middle stretch, and wildlife is abundant.  The lower part widens out and there are bigger villages.  We had company at most of our riverside camps.  The children were so adorable.  This was only my second encounter with true mountain people (the first in the Andes), and I was amazed at how hard they have to work to survive.  The women especially!  I saw women of short stature carrying huge, heavy loads of firewood on their heads and a baby in their arms.  Tough to do on any terrain, but they were going straight up extremely steep slopes.

A lone farmstead in Nepal’s HImalayan Mountains lies in spectacularly rugged country.

The effect of these small villages is easy to see.  The entire undergrowth of the surrounding forests iscompletely stripped bare.  The people burn to spur more growth, trying desperately to provide their goats with forage.  The big trees are still intact, thank heavens, but the forest is borderline ugly.  I took hikes every evening after our rafting, and I was the only one of the group to do so.  I will never understand my fellow tourists.  They tend to hang out with other white tourists if at all possible, eschewing real contact with either the local people or with nature.  This of course is a general observation that doesn’t apply to everyone.  But it is true worldwide.

I also visited the Royal Bardia National Park, along with one of my fellow rafters.  The park is very near to the takeout on the Karnali.  This park is beautiful, much more like northern India than Nepal.  It lies on a low, hot plain, and hosts a healthy population of one-horned rhino, elephant, leopard, and best of all, tigers.  I didn’t see the big cat, but I did see the biggest snake I’ve ever seen in my life.  It was a rock python, well over 20 feet long and FAT.  My guide said it was the biggest snake he had ever seen, and he grew up in the area.  It had recently eaten a deer, and that explained its girth.

There was a party our first night at Bardia, and I drank a bit too much wine.  One of the guides, an Indian fellow, was drinking pretty heavily too.  I danced with the local Nepali women, and had a great time.  Later that night, in my tent (I camped in their garden), I was woken by someone unzipping my tent.  I saw the silhouette of a man, and reacted on adrenaline.  I burst out of the tent and caught him by the throat, demanding to know what he wanted.  He either did not or could not speak English.  But he was nonetheless convinced that I did not want any company.

Then, in the middle of the night, I had another visitor.  This time it was the English woman from the rafting trip.  She wanted to take shelter in my tent, because someone had tried to get into her room.  She was pretty sure it was the Indian guide, who had been pursuing her much of the previous day.  She was very frightened, and I let her sleep in my tent.  Next day the manager of the lodge was pretty blase’ about the whole thing.  So I wrote an email to the tour company, and they ended up discontinuing their relationship with that lodge in Bardia.  In this part of the world, women do not have the power they have in the west, and so I felt I had to do some sticking up for her.  It made a big difference, let me tell you.

A woman in the Himalaya of Nepal is proud of her vegetable garden, and her grandson.

So this trip was near its end.  I got stranded for a night in the town of Nepalganj.  I noticed there many men dressed in the peculiar drab green that says “marxist”, and was reminded that this region is often the seat of unrest in the country.  I was the only tourist I saw, and I enjoyed the authentic look at the life of Nepalis.  The people of Nepal are some of the warmest, friendliest and most unaffected folks I’ve ever met.  Though I spent about three weeks there, I felt I did not have enough time to do the country justice, certainly not to take a major trek.  But the rafting trip was definitely the best of my life.  I was to return to Nepal with more time later that year, and that’s the subject for the next post.

Namibia’s Naukluft Mountains   3 comments

The second of my Namibia articles, the Naukluft is a place you should really consider visiting if you go to Namibia’s number one tourist attraction, the Namib Desert at Sesriem.  The mountains are visible from the desert, and only take about 90 minutes to drive to from Sesriem.  There is a great campsite at the end of the road (very doable in a regular non-4×4 car).  You register at the little office on the left, then drive another 3/4 mile to the camp.  It is a quiet little place, lying right along a gorgeous creek, which flows year-round most years.

The Tropic of Capricorn crosses grassy plains near the Naukluft Mountains.

But I should say right here, right now, beware the baboons!  These are some of the most aggressive I saw in Africa, and though you (probably) won’t be attacked, keep every bit of food inside your vehicle, hidden.  Also keep an eye on the kids if you have them.  Finally, take it from me and don’t leave your tent unattended.  More on that later.

The mountains are quite diverse, with smallish trees, cactus and shrubs.  Namibia’s signature tree, the strangely beautiful quiver tree (a type of aloe), even grows here, as do wild olives.  But the Naukluft is dominated by bare rocky outcrops.  These are really desert mountains, and like those in many other deserts, they have been shoved up by faulting.

Granite underlies the range, but it is the limestone and dolomite which overlies the granite that gives the range its character.  Since limestone tends to dissolve easily in rainwater (think caves and caverns), this means much of the water flows underground.  And where the water surfaces in the many springs, it is clean and sparkling and forms natural swimming pools.  These splendid spots lie in steep canyons, cut into the easily eroded limestone.  The word Naukluft means ‘narrow ravine” in German.

By the way, if you were curious as to why you find granite in so many mountain ranges, it is because granite is much lighter than most other rocks in Earth’s crust.  So when faulting happens (as it inevitably does when plate tectonics is affecting the region), the granite areas tend to rise while the others fall.  Yes, it’s that simple.

The scenic tumbling creeks are not only perfect for swimming, they also attract wildlife.  These are mostly small mammals, amphibians and other small critters.  But you can also spot the mountain zebra, kudu and gemsbok (large antelope; image left).  Many types of birds also call here (over 200 species), including the beautifuly-named rosy-faced lovebird.    Leopards prowl, but you’ll probably not see them unless you go out starting at deep dusk.

The long horns and large ears are characteristic features of the gemsbok (or oryx), which lives in arid regions of Africa.

There are two main hikes accessible from the campsite area.  One, the Waterkloof Trail, leaves right from the camp and is 17 km. (10+ miles) long with a modest elevation gain.  It climbs the beautiful creek bed, with gorgeous waterfalls and pools all the way.  Hiking out in the early morning, I photographed with long shutter speeds for the silky water effect, but it was not until I got to a pool that was filled with frogs that I got a shot that I really like.

This little guy (picture below) just floated on the green surface of his pool as if in the air, staring curiously at me.  After a few minutes of communion with him, he dived and swam away.  For me, this shot really sums up the Naukluft’s contradictory nature.  Who would think that in Namibia, one of the world’s few true desert countries, you would run into a scene like this?

The Waterkloof Trail continues up and over a pass, with awesome views out over the desert, and down into another valley, descending to a spectacular dropoff and waterfall.  Note that the trail switches just before the waterfall to the left side of the valley – it can get confusing here.  Just follow the yellow footprints.  I saw little flocks of lovebirds in the valley.  They seemed to prefer trees shaded by the cliffs.  I also saw, in a rocky area with a cave, a group of rock dassies (image below).  These incredibly cute critters are similar to marmots in the western U.S. where I live.  But they have a funny, cute nose.  It is this nose that gives a clue to their strange heritage.  Their closest relative in Africa, genetically-speaking, is, wait for it…the elephant!

I was loving this hike, but the climb over the pass had made me hot and sweaty.  No problem: the first large pool on the descending creek was too good to pass up, so I stripped off my clothes and hopped in.  Oh what a feeling!  And all alone…or so I thought.  Soon I had a troup of baboons barking at me from the trees overlooking the pool.  I don’t know why I did this, but I jumped out of the water, buck naked, and swelling my chest, barked right back at them.  You should have seen their reactions!  Priceless.


Later, I saw my first and only hikers.  They had caught up with me (what can I say, I’m a photographer), and were, predictably, German.  They of course were camping at the same place I was, but they were smart and did not leave their tent standing.  They were actually using one of those roof-top tents.  In fact, I never saw anyone else in Africa using a tent you pitch on the ground.  I was the only one.  Go figure.

The clean streams in the Naukluft Mountains of Namibia host many frogs, including this curious little floater.


But when I got back to my prized little one-man Nemo (a fantastic tent-maker), yikes, it was damaged!  There was a neat little rip in the screen netting, just big enough for a baboon to squeeze through.  Nothing was missing inside, and it looked just like a person had rifled through my things.  They were looking for food of course.  Since I never have had food inside the tent (leftover habit from my days in Alaska’s bear country), they found nothing.  I did have a package of snacks visible on the front seat of my car, however, and that meant I had baboon tracks all over my windshield, along with a slightly bent windshield wiper blade.

Unlike other animals, baboons are like us and use their eyes and brains more than their noses.  Remember this when you are in Africa.  But here’s the thing:  it’s only when baboons are fed by people, inadvertently or not, that they become bothersome and potentially hazardous to humans.  So please, if you go to Africa, do not feed baboons, and don’t leave food for them to find either.  It will eventually result  in their deaths at the hands of locals.

A denizen of rocky places all over southern Africa, a rock dassie checks out the stranger, but from the mouth of the cave that he and the family live in. Naukluft Mountains, Namibia.


The other day-hiking trail in the Naukluft is the Olive Trail, which is somewhat shorter than the Waterkloof and requires a short drive from the campsite.  If you have some time, consider the much longer Naukluft Trail, which traverses nearly the entire range.  The trail, 120 km (75 miles) long, takes about a week to hike.  It is easy to find a guided trip for this one, or if adventurous you can get some good maps and backpack it yourself.  But check the regulations, since hiking in Namibia is not like hiking in America.  To get a permit, you even need to submit a doctor’s note saying you are fit enough!  And they actually close trails to hiking during the hot season.  Definitely not like the U.S., believe me.

Visiting these gorgeous mountains is much easier than you might think.  You only need to be geared up for camping, which you should really be if you want to travel Namibia independently and not spend a fortune.  Take a break from the desert when you visit the Namib-Naukluft National Park: hike the Naukluft!

By the way, this website is a great first start in researching Namibia.  For guidebooks, Bradt’s are a great choice, but Lonely Planet will do you well too.

A Namibian ground squirrel, with its signature super-long tail, pops up over a rock.

The Gorge II   1 comment

The sunflower-like balsamroot blooms in profusion along the dry rocky terrain of the eastern Columbia River Gorge in Washington.

This is the second of two parts on the Columbia River Gorge in the Pacific Northwest.  This part focuses on the sights.  The Gorge is truly a playground, one that everybody in the Portland/Vancouver (WA) area treasures.  We often take it for granted, but we love it and want it to remain as it is.  For a great introduction, you can drive up the Historic Highway, exiting I84 at Corbett and climbing up the hill to Crown Point, the landmark overlooking the west side of the Gorge.  Keep going to Multnomah Falls, and past that, to hike the Oneonta Gorge.  Oneonta Creek can be waded in summer, going a half-mile or so up to a waterfall.  Prepare to get wet.  Just past Oneonta is Horsetail Falls, where you can take a moderate hike to Triple Falls, up Oneonta Creek, to view from above the gorge you just waded.  Keep going, lunching in the town of Cascade Locks, overlooking the Bridge of the Gods at the Charburger (on your left right after you exit).

You can either cross the Bridge of the Gods at Cascade Locks, perhaps taking another shortish hike at Beacon Rock on the Washington side, or simply follow Hwy. 14 back to Vancouver.  At Beacon Rock you can either hike up the rock itself (leave your fear of heights in the car), or up the Hamilton Mtn trail to “pool of the winds”, a waterfall only an easy 3-mile round-trip.  Back on Hwy. 14 westbound, there is an awesome overlook at Cape Horn, but only room for a few cars along the steep cliffside road.  Many think this is a better view of the Gorge than Crown Point.

If you have more time, you can continue from Cascade Locks up to Hood River, crossing the river there to follow Hwy. 14 back down.  Hood River has great brew-pubs, restaurants and an outdoors sports vibe.  If you want to stay, Skamania Lodge on the Washington side is fantastic, if a bit spendy.  There is a hotspring at Bonneville, on the Washington side, if your hike made for sore muscles.

Faery Falls in the Columbia River Gorge.

Many people just drive up to Multnomah Falls, Oregon’s most popular tourist spot, grab a few pictures, and drive back to Portland.  If you’re short on time, this is fine.  But at least drive the Historic Highway, getting off at the Bridal Veil exit, where you’ll pass both Wahkeena and Horsetail Falls, both gorgeous, along with Multnomah.  And set aside time to hike to the top on the mostly paved trail.  I don’t often do this (too many tourists), but I will do the loop hike from Wahkeena Falls, climbing to the top past a gorgeous little cascade called Faery Falls (image above), taking a left on the tie trail and dropping down to Multnomah Creek.  From here, take another left and descend past spectacular cascades to Multnomah Falls.  I hope you don’t think me a snob, but this way I only experience the tourists hiking in high heels when I’m almost done.

Dramatic clouds pass over the Columbia River Gorge along the Oregon-Washington border.

Another touristy sight that is nonetheless very worthwhile is Bonneville Dam, where you can see huge sturgeon close-up, and watch salmon swimming upstream through the fish ladder.  There is an underground viewing area where you look through glass into the fish passage.  The Washington side has a visitor center on the dam as well, and here you can see more of the inner workings of the dam than you can on the Oregon side.  But here as well, you’ll have a close look at the fish ladders.  If you travel east of Hood River in the Spring, gorgeous flower meadows invite photography at Catherine Creek on the Washington side, and at Rowena Preserve on the Oregon side.  Sunrise is the best time to photograph in these places, and May is the typical blooming time for balsamroot, paintbrush, grass widow and other wildflowers.

A hiking option near to Portland is Cape Horn, which you access by crossing over to Washington on the I205 bridge, then driving east on Hwy. 14 until you pass over the high point at the Cape Horn overlook.  Just past this you will begin to descend; after just a mile or less you will see a gravel pull-off to the right.  Park here and you can do an amazingly uncrowded loop hike that takes you along the cliff edges, with great views down to the river.  Many people head to Angel’s Rest on the Oregon side for a quick hike, and if you follow suit be prepared for a crowd on the weekends.  But allow a bit more time and you can hike the slightly longer but just-as-nearby Cape Horn trail on the quieter Washington side.

At Celilo, native American culture was traditionally and still is today centered around salmon.  At the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition, which explored this region in 1805-6, Celilo was the site of an enormous cataract, and there were rapids all through the center of the Gorge.  The era of dams has changed all that, making the river look more like a long lake than a river.  Other places mentioned by Lewis and Clark are Beacon Rock and the mouth of the Sandy River at the Gorge’s west end.  Here, the explorers mentioned the extremely silty and muddy water pouring out of the Sandy.  It’s now known that Mount Hood had recently erupted, sending mudflows down the Sandy River and into the Columbia.

I hope if you visit the Pacific Northwest that you set aside at least one day for the Columbia River Gorge.  It is really a fantastic opportunity to see a cross-section through the heart of the Pacific Northwest.  You can examine the palisades and columns of flood-basalt lavas in detail, hike fern-draped grottoes where waterfalls thunder, and enjoy fantastic scenery & photography.

Lovely Multnomah Creek in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge takes on a glow just above Multnomah Falls.

The Gorge I   Leave a comment

The Columbia River Gorge stretches east from Crown Point in Oregon.

I am taking a two-post break from my African adventures to give some love to a reliable friend.  Close-by, always prepared, consistent and mellow but always ready for adventure.  It’s the Columbia River Gorge, the closest truly natural area to where I live in Portland, Oregon.  I can get to the near western end in under a 1/2 hour, and from there can take trails both mellow and super-hardcore steep.  It is accessible year-round, though the dead of winter involves icy trails.  In the heat of summer it offers cool, narrow side-gorges where you can walk through delicious streams up to waterfalls.  If you want to climb in the Cascades, you can start very early getting in shape, say February, getting in shape by climbing steep 4000 feet goat trails in the Gorge.  Driving, motorcycling, or bicycling the Historic Highway, which was built by the CCC during the depression, is a joy.  In short, it has something for everybody.

The top image is from “Women’s Forum Park”, an overlook along the Historic Hwy. near Corbett.  The building is Vista House, at Crown Point.  The image below was taken from the parking lot of Charburger in Cascade Locks, looking downriver through the heart of the Gorge.  The third picture is Multnomah Creek, just above Multnomah Falls, and you can easily hike the mostly paved trail from the tourist hotspot of Multnomah Falls.  The last image is from the hiking trail at Horsetail Falls.  All of my images are available for licensing and purchase as prints.  I personally perform quality printing and mounting on archival papers, using professional techniques.  If you click on an image and it takes you to my website, you can purchase directly from there, or contact me.  For those images that don’t take you directly to my site, contact me to buy a print or license to use.  Otherwise, for these images only, you can use them if you like, for personal use only please.

The Bridge of the Gods at Cascade Locks in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

The Columbia River Gorge cuts a near-sea-level path through the Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S, running right along the border between the states of Oregon and Washington.  It’s story starts about 17 million years ago when huge fissures opened in what is now eastern Washington & Oregon, emitting tall lava fountains for months at a time.  This happened repeatedly over the next several million years, until the entire area was covered in thousands of feet of lava, which flowed all the way to the coast.

This cooled and hardened to become basalt, the same type of lava-rock the ocean floor is made of.   Eruptions came streaming straight up through the crust, so the fissures ran very deep indeed.  The lava-flood formed the Columbia River Plateau, a significant pile of rock for the Columbia River (which existed but well to the south of its present course) to cut through.  It is one of the world’s few “flood-basalt” provinces.  The largest such plateau lies in Siberia.  Some geologists believe it might have been created by a giant meteor impact, but most think it probably had more to do with the start of rifting along the western edge of North America, a tearing apart that continues today in the form of the Basin and Range of Nevada and adjacent states.

The rise of the Cascades pushed the Columbia River to the north, and it began cutting through the lavas.  That process was happily proceeding at its own slow pace when, some 12-20,000 years ago, a series of huge glacial floods tore down from western Montana (where a dammed glacial lake was filled and breached many times).  These floods, called the Bretz floods (Bretz was the geologist who first recognized it), formed the channeled scablands in eastern Washington, and lower down, cut the Gorge.  They also filled the Willamette Valley with the silts that make up the rich farmlands there today.  So next time you bit into a juicy Oregon strawberry, think of the ice ages and the Pacific Northwest’s version of Noah’s story.

Multnomah Creek tumbles down the last step before plunging over the 600+ feet to the bottom.

When the floods over-steepened the valley sides, the hard basalt lavas resisted further erosion, forming cliffs.  But the valley walls often let loose in huge landslides, and that process continues today during wetter periods.  The landslide debris was carried away by the river, further deepening and steepening the Gorge.  It is really these landslides, along with the floods of course, that are responsible for the broad-bottomed, cliff-rimmed gorge we all gape at today.

The Gorge is a place to hike, rock-climb, picnic and boat, to windsurf and sail, to photograph and bicycle.  Waterfalls, made possible by the floods and landslides, along with the Northwest’s wet climate, are abundant, beautiful, and accessible.  The Oregon side is much wetter and more heavily forested (because it faces north, away from the drying sun).  So if you want a forest hike with waterfalls, stick to the Oregon side.  If you want more sunshine and open vistas, go to the Washington side, especially to the east where you begin to enter semi-desert climate.

A key advantage to the Washington side?  It is quieter, literally.  Interstate 84 follows the Oregon side, and it is quite audible until you hike a few miles back from the river.  Hood River, an hour east of Portland, is wind- and kite-surfing central.  The winds blow almost constantly through the Gorge, because climatic conditions are very different on the east side of the Cascades.  Often the west side has lower barometric pressure than the sunnier and higher east side, so winds funnel westward through the gorge from high to low pressure.  Next up is info. on visiting this excellent destination.

The Columbia River flows past Mt Hamilton and Beacon Rock in the Columbia River Gorge, viewed from the Oregon side.

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