Archive for the ‘Oregon’ Category

Wordless Wednesday: Goodbye Oregon ~ All Good Things Come to an End   11 comments

Ramona_Creek_Sunstar

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Friday Foto Talk – Enjoy the Moment!   6 comments

Trout fishing anyone? Crooked River, Oregon.

This is a short Foto Talk.  The light was beautiful this morning at Smith Rock State Park in central Oregon.  Even though dawn lacked that warm orange or pink glow we all associate with beautiful sunrises & sunsets, it was a lovely morning for a walk and some photography.

So in the middle of shooting, and just after getting the image at top, I paused and stood on that rock, admiring the river.  I wished I could snap my fingers and make my camera gear switch instantly to fishing gear.  The Crooked River is a fine trout stream, and all of a sudden I was into enjoying the moment, not photographing it.  Bald eagles were nesting nearby too, and at one point a half-dozen little goslings followed mom across the river.

On the grassy banks of the Crooked River in central Oregon.

So today it boils down to one tip and one tip only:  enjoy the moment.  Actually, enjoy a lot of them!  Wherever you are, and whatever kind of photography you’re doing, take time out occasionally to simply enjoy your surroundings and your subject.  It’s the reason we do this, to show others through images how we feel: about a place, a person, or whatever subject we’re focusing on.

So leave some time for those feelings to flower.  Don’t make photography so much like work.  And now I need to find a fishing rod compact enough to fit in my photo pack!  Have a great weekend everyone.

Morning sun hits the walls that line the Crooked River at Smith Rock State Park, Oregon.

Morning sun hits the walls that line the Crooked River at Smith Rock State Park, Oregon.

Mtn. Monday: Mount Mazama & Crater Lake   9 comments

Crater Lake, Oregon

Crater Lake, Oregon

My first day back in Oregon after almost a year gone, and I am psyched!  I went up to Crater Lake and hiked out into the snow for a sunset that never quite materialized.  But it was magnificent as always, staring down and out at one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.

For those who don’t know, this is a caldera: a giant hole in a volcano.  Calderas usually fill with lakes, at least until they are breached by erosion and drained.  This particular caldera was formed when Mount Mazama exploded in a furious eruption about 6700 years ago.  It’s estimated that the mountain was a bit bigger than Mount Shasta, making it one of the (former) giants of the Cascade Range.

The large magma chamber underneath the mountain emptied rapidly and gravity took over.  The entire peak area collapsed down, creating a caldera.  Some of the last volcanic activity at Mazama, some 800 years ago, formed Wizard Island at one end of the lake.  You can visit the island on boat tours.  I highly recommend you do this if it’s summertime and the tours are running.  You can hike to the 763-foot summit and then return to the cold blue lake waters for a very refreshing swim!

The meadows at Crater Lake aren’t as abundant as at some other Cascade Mountains, but they are nonetheless beautiful.

By the way, hiking to the top of Wizard Island gives you the all-time best lesson in the difference between a crater and a caldera.  Wizard is a cinder cone, a pile of loose pumice and other debris ejected into the air as hot frothy lava and ash.  At it’s summit is a crater, the hole left when that debris blasted out of the summit vent.  So instead of collapse into a large void beneath the mountain, craters are created by explosion outward.  Craters are normally quite a bit smaller than calderas.

This isn't Crater Lake, it's the lake filling Rinjani Caldera, a still-active but otherwise similar volcano on the island of Lombok, Indonesia.

This isn’t Crater Lake, it’s the lake filling Rinjani Caldera, a still-active but otherwise similar volcano on the island of Lombok, Indonesia.

Mazama’s position and height make it a magnet for snow storms, so it wasn’t long before the steaming caldera filled with some of the world’s cleanest water.  Springs in the porous volcanic debris also helped fill the lake, where evaporation and input from these two sources are now in equilibrium.  Visibility down into the lake is awesome, 100 feet plus.  In recent times that clarity has fluctuated, and scientists monitor things closely.

The forests surrounding Mount Mazama attract snowclouds in this image from the other morning.

The forests surrounding Mount Mazama attract snowclouds in this image from the other morning.

My first morning back into my home state after a long time away, and this is what it looked like:  Upper Rogue River area

My first morning back into my home state after a long time away, and this is what it looked like: Upper Rogue River area

Often overlooked when people come to Crater Lake are the beautiful forests surrounding the mountain.  On the wetter west side rises the Rogue River, which the writer Zane Gray made famous when he lived and fished its lower reaches.  Wandering around the rugged and heavily forested upper Rogue you’ll find big evergreens and crystal clear streams, punctuated by the occasional waterfall.

Enjoy Crater Lake, Oregon’s only National Park!

Crater Lake in August.

Crater Lake in August.

The Painted Hills   13 comments

The foothills of the Ochoco Mountains rise to the west of the grasslands near the Painted Hills, Oregon.

The foothills of the Ochoco Mountains rise to the west of the grasslands near the Painted Hills, Oregon.

It has been way too long since I’ve done a travel-oriented post.  It’s really my favorite kind!  So in place of photography advice this week, I’m going to recommend a photo destination:  The Painted Hills!  They are known by landscape photographers across the west, and even across the country and world.  Perhaps you have seen pictures of them.

Lying in a remote area of central Oregon near the small town of Mitchell, the Painted Hills are a series of colorful formations with photogenic textures.  This post will give some tips on visiting and photographing them, and also some background information on the area’s fascinating geology.  It is the first of two.

The Painted Hills are part of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.  National Monuments, if you don’t know, are sort of like National Parks lite; they’re protected federal land that is not as high profile as parks.  This national monument is made up of three main areas (units) separated by drives of 2-3 hours.  It is a very scenic area worth exploring outside of the Painted Hills themselves.

The three units – Painted Hills, Sheep Rock and Clarno Units – form a rough triangle that can be explored going either clockwise or counter-clockwise.  You’ll need a car, no 4×4 is necessary.  There is easily obtained camping and lodging scattered through the area.  It is definitely not touristy.

Morning light hits the Painted Hills in Oregon.

Morning light hits the Painted Hills in Oregon.

Home on the range in central Oregon near the Painted Hills.

Home on the range in central Oregon near the Painted Hills.

Directions

If you want to hit the Painted Hills first, drive east from Portland on Hwy. 26.  Follow it across Mount Hood and through an Indian reservation.  Then, just after passing through the town of Madras, turn left to stay on Hwy. 26.  It will take you through the cow-town of Prineville, up and over the beautiful Ochoco Mountains, and down into the huge basin where the Hills sit.

If you’re coming from Bend, first drive north to Redmond, then east to Prineville to pick up Hwy. 26.  The signed turnoff for the Painted Hills, Bridge Creek Road, is not far after you finish descending off the Ochocos.  The Hills are about 6 miles north of Hwy. 26 just off Bridge Creek Road.

In the Painted Hills, a family of geese makes its way across a rare stretch of water in this dry area of eastern Oregon.

In the Painted Hills, a family of geese makes its way across a rare stretch of water in this dry area of eastern Oregon.

Layers of fossil soils form colorful bands in Oregon's Painted Hills.

Fossil soils form colorful bands in Oregon’s Painted Hills.

What are the Painted Hills?

The Painted Hills are formed by exposures of sedimentary rock belonging to the Big Basin Member of the John Day Formation.  In the Oligocene epoch, some 34 million years ago, volcanoes to the west sent ash clouds over the area, and streams deposited more layers of ash-rich sediment in a subtropical river basin.  The sediment weathered to deep soil before being buried and turned into rock.  Because they are rich in volcanic ash (tuff), the rocks weathered to a clay-rich material.  Volcanic ash has a lot of silica and aluminum; just add water and you have clay.

You will not think of rocks when you first see the Painted Hills.  They look like they’re made of soft fluffy sand or dirt.  But if you could take a shovel and dig down into this stuff, you’d soon hit solid rock.  It is merely rock that has been heavily weathered, not just under today’s climate but under the ancient wet climate it was originally deposited in.  Don’t go digging though, take my word for it!

The frequent wet-dry cycles of today’s semi-arid central Oregon cause these clay-rich “fossil soils” to crack in a fascinating pattern called alligator cracking.  It can easily take years for the clays to crack in this way, so if you walk on them you are ruining the scene for countless photographers and other visitors who come behind you.  Please heed the signs to stay off the bare earth.

The different minerals within the original rock – iron, magnesium, etc. – stain this clay with a variety of rich colors.  Iron mostly weathers to red & orange but in oxygen-poor environments can weather to green.  The dark bands are mostly horizons of organic-rich lignite that trace ancient oxygen-poor stream bottoms.  Manganese-rich clay can form this ash-black color too.  The most obvious colors, the red-orange horizons, mark the ancient soil horizons that were deeply weathered to laterite.  Iron oxide (rust) is responsible for the color.  It’s the kind of thing happening in deep soils of tropical regions in the world of today.

Painted Hills meets Funhouse!

Painted Hills meets Funhouse!

The countryside around Mitchell, Oregon.

The countryside around Mitchell, Oregon.

Visiting and Photographing the Painted Hills

As you head into the area on Bridge Creek Road, you’ll pass some teaser exposures of painted hills.  Turn left at the sign and drive a short distance to a parking area on the left.  You have arrived at the most popular viewpoint in the Painted Hills.  They are to your east, so in late afternoon the hills can yield great photos in wonderfully warm frontlight, with the dark bulk of Sutton Mountain behind.  The sun sets behind the Ochoco Mountains here, so arrive early for sunset.

From the viewpoint, look up and to the left.  A dark band tops nearby Carroll Rim.  This rock band is a “welded tuff”, the Picture Gorge Ignimbrite.  About 30 million years ago a scalding hot wave of dense ash flowed across the landscape, killing all in its path.  You can hike a short trail up to Carrol Rim for a higher vantage point.  From the viewpoint, walk further up the ridge from the parking lot to get good views down into the colored layers.  Use a long focal length lens to get abstract images of the colored patterns.  Please stay off the exposed (cracked) earth.

Drive a little further in from the overlook to a T-intersection.  Go left for two short nature hikes (Leaf Hill & Red Hill).  If you keep going on this gravel road, just after you exit the Monument, you’ll come to a small area on the right where you can free-camp.  Just be quiet and respectful; leave it cleaner than you found it.  Back at the T intersection, turn right to go to Painted Cove, another short nature trail.  This place is great for close-up views (and pictures) of alligator cracking.  You also have a view of the only water in the area, a reservoir that is full and ringed with pretty yellow flowers in springtime.

Back out towards the main entrance there is a picnic area with wonderful green grass.  If you head left out at the turn off Bridge Creek Road, you’ll traverse south on a gravel road for about 6 miles to the John Day River.  This is one of the river’s largest rapids, and you can camp here.  Along this road there are a few spots where you can just park and head off  on a hike into the hills.  Get a map and make sure you are not on private land.  There is plenty of public land here.  In May keep an eye peeled for the wonderful mariposa lily.

Gopher Snake

Meeting a local in the Painted Hills

Deer don't heed the signs not to walk on the Painted Hills.

Deer don’t heed the signs not to walk on the Painted Hills.

 Mitchell

If you keep going east on Hwy. 26 past the turnoff to the Painted Hills you will quickly come to Mitchell, where lodging and camping (in the city park) is available.  Mitchell is a tiny town, but has a restaurant and bar, along with a great bed and breakfast.  Even if you don’t stay, stop for breakfast or have a beer.  Meet the locals!

On the west side of Mitchell, just behind and below the state highway maintenance station, is an old homestead.  Once a dairy farm, this is a fantastic and little known place to photograph.  Be very respectful and low-profile; don’t climb on fences or try to drive down there.  Park near the highway and walk down.  The buildings and barns are in good condition.  In late afternoon or early morning light they offer very good image potential, very different from the landscape shots you just got of the Painted Hills.

So that’s the Painted Hills.  Great pictures abound.  If it has recently rained the colors are that much richer.  You will also find the remains of Oregon’s geologic and human histories.  It’s very quiet and peaceful, a great getaway.  Stay tuned for the next installment, which visits the other two units of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.  Thanks for reading!

The Painted Hills in central Oregon take on subtle hues as dusk arrives.

The Painted Hills in central Oregon take on subtle hues as dusk arrives.

Winter Olympics (Share your World)   14 comments

My backyard is a long way from the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

My backyard is a long way from the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

That Cee comes up with some great ideas for challenges.  This is a “Share your World” challenge, where you answer a few simple questions – this week on the Winter Olympics.  I really love the Olympics, I’m not ashamed to admit.  For some reason I’m not watching these games.  Maybe I’ll start.  Since I’m marginally better at winter sports than summer, the winter games have always been a favorite.  I really hope you’ll answer some too, either in the comments below or by going to Cee’s page and doing one yourself.  Now on to the questions:

      • Have you watched or plan to watch any of the 2014 Winter Olympics?  Think I’ve already answered this one.  I’ll probably catch a little, at least some skiing and maybe a hockey game.
      • What is your favorite winter Olympic event? Would you ever want to be an expert in that sport?  The Downhill, without a doubt.  I’ve gone pretty fast on skis but no way would I ever be able to go that fast.  About as likely as hitting a major leaguer’s slider or blocking Terrel Suggs (NFL linebacker).  I’d love to be an expert in the downhill skiing, at least down to the giant slalom.
Oneonta Gorge in Oregon's Columbia Gorge Scenic Area  is not an easy place to access in winter.

Oneonta Gorge in Oregon’s Columbia Gorge Scenic Area is not an easy place to access in winter.

      • Have you ever met an Olympic Athlete?  Actually two.  I ran into a U.S. mogul skier once, in Hawaii, hiking at night to the active lava entering the ocean (of all things).  Think she said she won a silver or bronze, but I don’t really remember much (besides the lava and her blonde hair).  For a time I knew a multiple gold medalist (summer games) named Mariel Zagunis.  She’s still one of the world’s best women at fencing sabre, and has golds from two successive games.  I was one of her high school science teachers.  I remember giving her homework to do while she was off to Europe or somewhere for fencing tournaments.  She always seemed very calm and focused, but otherwise not super-athletic.  I think that’s what it really takes.
Ice-clad wall along Oneonta Gorge.

Ice-clad wall along Oneonta Gorge.

      • Do you have a favorite athlete? Name sport.  Currently, I’ll say Haloti Ngata of the Ravens (American football).  He’s just so huge (6’4″ 350 lbs) but very athletic and dominant.  He plays for my hometown’s team, went to my alma mater (U of Oregon) and best of all, he’s Samoan.  I imagine him on a palm-fringed beach, cooking up and eating whole chicken after whole chicken, and laughing.  Historically there are several more, but I don’t idolize athletes, at least since I was a young boy.
Snow on moss on lichen on basalt, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

Snow on moss on lichen on basalt: Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

Horsetail Falls in the Columbia River Gorge begins to break free of the icy grip of a cold snap.

Horsetail Falls in the Columbia River Gorge begins to break free from a cold snap.

      • What is your favorite exercise or sport? Is there a reason why?  Probably cross-country skiing.  I love all types, from track skating to back-country telemarking.  To go on long tours where you must use all types of skiing technique, plus call upon your navigation and winter travel skills, ability to evaluate avalanche dangers, and your determination, it seems to bring everything together.  The fact that it exercises your whole body, you can do it when the weather is good, bad or in between, the zen state it can put you in, its rhythm and grace, the downhill fun; all that makes it almost the perfect outdoor sport.

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to check out Cees challenge and to add your two cents on any one or all of the questions below.

Oneonta Creek is thawing rapidly in this shot at dusk looking downstream from atop the log jam.

Oneonta Creek is thawing rapidly in this shot at dusk looking downstream from atop the log jam.

Winter sunset near Mount Hood in Oregon.

Winter sunset near Mount Hood in Oregon.

 

Wordless Wednesday: Sleeping Volcano   1 comment

_MGL9359

Termination Dust   1 comment

When I lived in Alaska I learned the term that locals used for the first snows to dust the mountains in fall:  termination dust.  It happened in August in the north of the state, September in the south, but it was always an ominous harbinger of what was to come.  After a rainy evening in early September, the skies would clear next day to reveal the alarming fact that snow had fallen in the mountains.  Already?!  It would still be quite comfortable in the lowlands, but all you had to do was look up into the mountains to see that winter was lurking.

Recently while driving through southeastern Oregon I was reminded of these things.   I photographed this particular termination dust in early morning after a stormy couple of days.  The Pueblo Mountains appeared ghostly to me as the clouds slowly cleared.  Almost as if this was the ghost of last winter appearing just to let everyone know that winter was on the way.  I think it was saying that we should enjoy all the fall days we have left.  I for one am taking that message to heart.  And I hope you do too!

If you are interested in purchase options for this image, just click on it and then click one of the tabs (prints, for example).  If you have any questions or wish to order directly please contact me.  Thanks for reading!

Termination Dust: Snow dusts the Pueblo Mountains in remote southeastern Oregon.

Termination Dust: Snow dusts the Pueblo Mountains in remote southeastern Oregon.

The Alvord Desert, Oregon   7 comments

The Trout Creek Mountains in southeastern Oregon bask in last rays and the desert prepares for night.

The Trout Creek Mountains in southeastern Oregon bask in last rays as the desert prepares for night.

When I need some wide-open space, I come to this corner of Oregon that we call the state’s “outback”.  I drove through on my way to the Rockies recently and revisited a few old haunts.  But this was the first time I had actually camped on the playa of the Alvord Desert.  While this region is indeed technically a desert (averaging 7 inches/yr. precipitation), I’m not sure why they chose to call this particular place the Alvord Desert.

The Alvord part is predictable, named after a general from the East, from the Civil War no less.  But the desert part is curious.  The whole region is classified as a cold semi-arid desert.  It’s dry and it’s high (4000 feet/1220 meters).  But the area named the Alvord Desert is actually a large playa, a dry lake bed.  So why not call it the Alvord Playa?

Venus sets & the stars come out as night comes to the Alvord Desert in SE Oregon.

Venus sets & the stars come out as night comes to the Alvord Desert in SE Oregon.

Early morning reveals the Pueblo Mountains to have been dusted by snow overnight.

Early morning reveals the Pueblo Mountains to have been dusted by snow overnight.

Climate & Geology

The region’s aridity is caused by the rain shadow of the Cascades and other mountain ranges.  The Alvord itself is in the very dramatic rain shadow of Steen’s Mountain, which rises directly west.  (The Steen’s is also a very spectacular destination in it’s own right.)  The Alvord is a spectacular example of a playa, so dry and flat in summer and fall that you can easily drive and land a plane on it.  In fact, it’s been used to set land speed records, like the Bonneville Salt Flats down in Utah.

The salty playas of this region of North America form because erosion from surrounding mountains dumps fine sediment into the bottom of the basin and the shallow water that collects there cannot run out.  (This isn’t called the Great Basin for nothing.) The water evaporates, leaving behind salt flats and quickly drying muds.

The playa of the Alvord Desert in Oregon attracts a group of "wind-riders".

The playa of the Alvord Desert in Oregon attracts a group of “wind-riders”.

Even a light wind can propel these guys at quick speeds across the Alvord.  I can't imagine the speeds in heavy wind.

Even a light wind can propel these guys at quick speeds across the Alvord. I can’t imagine the speeds in heavy wind!

The Alvord lies near the northern extent of the the Basin and Range province, a term geologists prefer over Great Basin.  Extending down through Nevada and eastern California, and over into western Utah, it is a series of linear mountain ranges and adjacent basins formed by block faulting.  Huge sections of the earth’s crust rise up while on the other side of the fault the adjacent basins drop down.  It happens this way because the crust just below is being stretched and rifted apart, much like the Great Rift Valley in Africa. Since this shallower part of the crust is brittle, faults form.  Earthquakes along these faults still happen, so it is an ongoing process.

Fall-flowering shrubs dot the "pediment", the transition from basin to range, in this case from the Alvord playa to Steen's Mountain.

Fall-flowering shrubs dot the “pediment”, the transition from basin to range, in this case from the Alvord playa to Steen’s Mountain.

Reasons to Visit

I hope you get to visit this region one day.  Other than the glorious skies and wide-open spaces, it has a lot to offer.  It is a fantastic place for bird-watching in springtime (March/April).  Just northwest of the Alvord are huge & temporary, shallow lakes, which attract large flocks of migrating birds.  The area around Steen’s Mountain is home to Kiger mustangs, wild horses that are known far and wide for their spirit and strength. You’ll probably hear coyotes every night you camp.  And you might see a few buckaroos working cattle from horseback, as has been done here ever since white settlement in the 19th century.  The area is dotted with the remnants of old homesteads and ranches.

Hope you have a great week.  Thanks for reading!

View out onto the Alvord Desert at dusk, where recent rains have left small pools and channels of water.

View out onto the Alvord Desert at dusk, where small pools and channels of water from an early fall storm try to make their way out onto the playa.

The Trout Creek Mountains lie just south of the Alvord Desert near Oregon's border with Nevada.

The Trout Creek Mountains lie just south of the Alvord Desert near Oregon’s border with Nevada.

Single-image Sunday: Camping on the Playa   7 comments

No trees for miles around, but it was still a very fine place to camp for the night on the Alvord Desert in southeastern Oregon.  After a drive of about five or six miles across the impossibly flat & smooth playa (dry lake bed), I had my pick of spots.  The only other campers within miles were the wind riders, who were back on the other side of the playa.

Of course, how do you pick a spot when everything looks the same?  Actually, I did choose a spot near some water from recent rain pooling among the desert shrubs at the edge of the playa.  In the morning, I saw birds, who were drawn to the water.  I half-expected a visit from coyotes as well.  I heard them that night, but they never showed up.  The stars were intense that night.  In keeping with the theme of last Friday’s Foto Talk, this is a wide angle shot (19 mm.) that I hope shows the insignificance of my presence there.

Hope you all are enjoying your weekends.  Happy shooting!

 

Camped under the stars on the large playa that makes up most of Oregon's Alvord Desert.

Camped under the stars on the large playa that makes up most of Oregon’s Alvord Desert.

Single-image Sunday: Smith Rock State Park   12 comments

This is Oregon’s favorite place for rock climbing.  The routes are rated up to 5.14, which is extremely difficult and for experts only.  But there are plenty of climbs suitable for novices as well.  A series of trails wind through the park, allowing hikers to watch these spider-men and women practice their sport.  The Crooked River zig-zags its way around the hard formations of volcanic tuff, a dense flow of ash dumped here by an ancient volcano.  Sometimes tuff can be fairly soft and friable, but this one is very strongly cemented.

I woke very early, and worried that the cloudy weather would prevent a good sunrise.  Rain moved in after sunrise, but at dawn the skies cleared enough for very pretty light to make its way into the canyon.  The cascading song of a canyon wren echoed its way up to me from the canyon as I captured this shot.  It was very quiet and beautiful, and the recent rains gave the sage and other desert vegetation a lovely scent.  Thanks for looking.  I hope your weekend is going well!

Dawn breaks at Smith Rock State Park in central Oregon.

Dawn breaks at Smith Rock State Park in central Oregon.

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