Archive for the ‘Oregon’ Tag
Snowy Mt Hood catches the first rays of the sun as it presides over rural Hood River Valley, Oregon.
America is still largely a rural nation. And not just in terms of area. Many states lack major cities and most people still live rurally. In states with metropolises, a well-documented trend, the return of Americans to city centers, has been going on for some time. But another trend has continued unnoticed, and it involves far greater numbers of people. Suburbs have expanded into more traditional rural areas, places once dominated by farming and ranching. These so-called exurbs sit some distance from a city but are still connected to it in many ways.
While some of the exurbs resemble true suburbs and should probably be described as quasi-rural, many actually have a strong countryside feel. They’re usually centered around small towns that retain much of their original character. As mentioned in the last post, those living here are an important political force these days, as witness the last election.
In many exurbs it is only a matter of time before they lose any remnant rural feel. A progressive expansion, fed in large part by retiring baby-boomers but also by steady population growth, is pushing aside America’s original rural character. But this blog series is not about bemoaning that loss. I prefer to celebrate what is left, which while inevitably changed from the old days, is still very much intact.
Seeing Rural America – The Pacific Northwest
Let’s start out in a part of the west that will always be special to me. If you have read this blog for awhile, you know that Oregon is where my heart lies. It’s a place I’ll always call home. I was born and raised on the east coast, but I’ve lived by far most of my years there. I’m currently living in Florida, in self-imposed exile. But I’ll return someday.
A farmhouse sits in the Willamette Valley south of Portland.
DOWN (UP) THE WILLAMETTE
In order to see some of the prime farmland of that drew early settlers to this territory on the Oregon Trail (see the Addendum below), start in Portland and drive south up the Willamette River. I know, south upriver sounds strange. Avoid Interstate 5 wherever possible. Instead take the back roads, hopping back and forth over the river using the few ferries that remain (Canby, Wheatland). Visit Aurora, and Silverton, stretching your legs and being wowed on a hike in Silver Falls State Park near Silverton. Continue south past Eugene, saying goodbye to the Willamette as it curves east into the Cascades. The Cottage Grove area is famous for its covered bridges, so get hold of a map and enjoy the photo opps.!
Keep going south, making sure to stop at the Rice Hill exit off I5. Here you should partake of Umpqua ice cream the way it should be eaten. Delicious! Visit the little town of Oakland just north of Roseburg, where I lived for a time. Then divert west from Sutherlin on Fort McKay Road. to the Umpqua River. Then wind down the river on Tyee Road. Drive slow or better yet, do this on a bicycle!
You can keep going to the coast or return to I5 on Hwy. 138. Another detour takes you east from Roseburg up the North Umpqua to Diamond Lake and the north end of Crater Lake. If you’d rather stick with the rural theme and save nature for later, keep going south and visit the rather large but still charming town of Ashland, where a famous Shakespeare Festival happens every summer.
It’s difficult not to include Mount Hood, Oregon’s tallest peak, in photos of rural bliss.
THE OLYMPIC PENINSULA
Let’s not forget the great state of Washington. One of my favorite places in the world is the Olympic Peninsula. It can be visited on a road trip that takes in both nature and rural charm. The towns are spaced far apart here and Olympic National Park covers much of the northern peninsula. But lovely farms still lap the slopes of the Olympic Mountains and talkative waitresses serve pie at cafes in towns like Forks, which retain much of their timber-town flavour. Everybody still knows everybody in these towns.
Lake Crescent (image below) is incredibly scenic and a great place for a swim. At dusk, in certain light, you can sit lakeside and easily transport yourself back to quiet summer evenings at the lake. I wonder when vacations stopped being full of simple pleasures like jumping off a tire swing, fried chicken on a screened porch and word games in the dark, and became all about ticking off bucket lists and posting selfies?
Even areas quite close to the metropolis of Seattle retain much of their charm. Take the back roads directly east of the city and drop into the valley of the Snowqualmie River. Take Hwy. 203 north or south through Carnation, site of the original dairy farm of the same name (remember?). Generally speaking you need to travel either east or, overwater via ferry, west of Seattle and the I5 corridor in order to experience rural western Washington.
Lake Crescent on the Olympic Peninsula in very interesting dusk light.
I’d feel bad if I didn’t mention the forgotten half of the Pacific NW. It encompasses an enormous region east of the Cascades, one that retains in many places nearly all of its rural character. The Palouse is a perfect example. Lying in southeastern Washington and far western Idaho, the Palouse is wheat-farming at its purest. It is an expansive area of rolling hills, backroads and picture-perfect barns. Despite having become very popular with landscape photographers in recent years, its size means it always feels quiet and uncrowded. I won’t say anymore about it since I posted a mini-series on the Palouse geared toward anyone contemplating a photo-tour. Check that out if you’re curious.
There are so many other routes to explore in the Pacific NW that will allow you to experience the unique flavour of each region. For example a fantastic road trip, again from Portland, is to travel east over Mount Hood. But instead of continuing to Madras, turn off busy Hwy. 26 at easy-to-miss Hwy. 216. Drop into the high desert and visit the little burg of Tygh Valley. Continue east to Maupin on the Deschutes River, famous for its trout fishing and whitewater rafting. Then drive over Bakeoven Road to historic sheep central, Shaniko. Then drop east down twisty Hwy. 218 to Fossil and on to the Painted Hills. This tour, by the way, is popular with motorcyclists in the know. Thanks for reading and have a fun weekend!
A patriotic barn in the Palouse of Washington state.
Addendum: Pacific NW History
I’ve always vaguely resented the fact that the Pacific NW is divided into two states. I think the Oregon Territory should have been left as Oregon, no Washington. To make 50 states we could have split off northern California (plus far SW Oregon) and called it the state of Jefferson. I know a bunch of people who would be very happy with that!
Native tribes have occupied this region for thousands and thousands of years. In fact some of the earliest remains of paleo-indians in North America come from eastern Oregon and Washington. Now a semi-desert, back then it was significantly wetter, with large lakes full of waterfowl, and the rocky hills bursting forth every spring with all sorts of edible plants.
White Europeans began to take an interest in the area very early on in the 1700s. But they only visited by sea. To the north, British fur trading companies sent parties into the Canadian part of the Pacific Northwest eco-region. But it would not be until Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led a party of young, energetic men down the Columbia River to the Pacific Coast near what is now the little town of Astoria, Oregon in 1804 that the young country signalled its intention to make the region part of America.
Edgar Paxson’s famous painting of Lewis, Clark, Sacajawea, Charbonneau and Clark’s slave York at Three Forks.
In the mid-1800s mountain men of the west, with beaver all but trapped out in many areas, turned to guiding settlers west along the Oregon Trail. The destination these hardy families had in mind was the rich farmland along the Willamette and other rivers of the Oregon Territory. Some never made it all the way, instead stopping in cooler, drier areas like the Baker Valley of eastern Oregon and the Palouse, a dryland farming area in Washington.
Timber harvesting, farming and ranching have long been the mainstays of the Pacific Northwest. If you’ve never read Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Keasey you should do so. It is expertly written and imparts an authentic look at traditional family-based logging in Oregon. The movie is top-notch as well.
But times have changed. The mills are shut down in most places. Private timber lands are still harvested but with few exceptions federal National Forests are for reasons both environmental and economic no longer being cut. The ways in which people here make a living have largely changed from natural resource-based to a mix of technology, tourism and a variety of service jobs.
Winter begins by dusting the Pueblo Mountains of southeastern Oregon.
I posted Friday on photography around stormy weather but neglected to include snow. Good images are really difficult to get when it’s snowing heavily. So let’s follow up and correct that error. This is an image where the snow had just fallen on the mountains but never really reached me. It was early morning and I was hoping for the mountains to show themselves. It was chilly so I though maybe there would be snow, but I was surprised there was so much.
I was in what is called Oregon’s “outback” (apologies to Australia). Southeastern Oregon is very thinly populated and is wide-open high desert. Geologically, the mountains are fault-block type. This simply means that they were formed by high-angle faults which throw one side down (becoming the valley or basin) and one side up (forming a long relatively narrow range). It’s also known as basin and range terrain and continues south through most of Nevada and east to the Wasatch Mountains of Utah.
The reason I didn’t get snowed on is because of the “rain shadow effect”. This is when rain or snow is essentially blocked by a mountain range. The clouds are lifted by the mountain slopes, cooling the air and causing precipitation. When the air descends the lee side of the range, it warms and dries, leaving little or none of the wet stuff for the valley beyond. In areas where the weather pretty much comes from one direction, there can be very dramatic differences in vegetation between the windward and lee sides of any range that runs nearly perpendicular to the direction of prevailing winds.
Enjoy your week and Happy Labor Day to my fellow Americans!
Dust and sand from the dunes at Mesquite Flat blows up-valley ahead of a storm. Surprising for this hyper-arid place, I got soaked hiking back.
I took a break last week from Foto Talk. Hope you all didn’t give up on me! This week I passed by an area that was readying itself for a hurricane. And there’s been plenty of rain besides. So I’m taking the hint and posting on the subject of photography and weather, in particular photographing in the wet stuff.
Shooting in stormy conditions presents both challenges and opportunities. You’ve probably heard the advice to keep shooting right through stormy weather. While I won’t disagree with this in general, I prefer a less absolute, more realistic attitude. It’s a matter of weighing the upsides against the downsides.
On the plus side, depending on the clouds and sky, you may get some of your most atmospheric or dramatic shots during bad weather. On the downside your gear is at risk. In wet weather you are taking the obvious risk of getting moisture inside camera or lens. Since that’s where your sensitive electronics reside, this is of course not good.
A storm blows itself out over the Columbia River, Oregon.
SHOOTING IN THE STORM
I’ve lived in both Oregon and Alaska, two places where dramatically bad weather is very common. Here is what I’ve learned over the years about photography in bad weather:
- I just mentioned the risks of water inside the camera. But that’s not nearly as bad as putting yourself at risk. It doesn’t happen often but dangerous weather does occur. Use common sense and know when to beat a hasty retreat, to high ground and/or shelter.
- Find camera protection that works for you. I’ve posted before with tips and recommendations in this regard, and this post isn’t about that. Just realize that no matter how good your rain cover, lens changes and other occasions expose your camera to the weather. So no matter what you do some moisture will likely fall on your camera. If you have a well-sealed professional grade camera and lenses, you can get away with wetter conditions. The key is to know how well sealed your gear is and act accordingly.
I shot this lighthouse on the Gulf Coast of Florida recently just after a heavy shower had passed.
- At least as important as having camera/lens protection is having good clothing that keeps you reasonably dry and comfortable. But since no clothing is perfect, be ready to put up with a certain degree of discomfort. I always remember what my grandmom used to say whenever I complained about getting wet. “You’re awfully sweet but you’re not made of sugar. You won’t melt!”
- Unless I see something quite compelling, either while driving or hiking with camera in a pack with rain-cover on, I usually don’t bother getting my gear out when the rain (or wet snow) is coming down hard. Shots I may try when it’s dry I won’t chance when it’s very wet; that is, unless it’s really calling out to me. It’s a simple calculation of risk vs. reward.
- When it’s raining or snowing, contrast tends to be subdued. So I tend to be attracted to compositions where low-contrast helps instead of hurting. Low contrast in the wrong shot can rob it of impact, but in the right situation it helps establish the mood of your image.
Hiking up into the Oregon forest during a rainstorm near dusk was the only way to get this shot.
- I shoot from within my vehicle a lot more when the weather is bad. And I don’t think it makes me a wimp! It does require sometimes pulling off in odd places. If you do this, take it from me: turn your attention away from the light and pay attention to your driving until you’re stopped, and even then continue to keep one eye out for traffic. Unless the road is truly empty, I won’t block the travel lane. I always make sure there is good sight distance behind and in front. Having good sight distance is key, as is using emergency flashers and being quick about it.
The rain was coming down hard for this shot from inside my van: Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.
- Being near big waterfalls can be just like being in a rainstorm. So all the precautions you take in rainy weather you should also take when shooting a big waterfall in high flow.
- Normally I don’t use UV filters, but when it’s wet I like to put them on. Lenses seal much better with a filter than without. Any filter will help seal a lens. If I’m shooting in a forest and especially along a stream, I use a circular polarizer instead of a UV filter. CPLs cut down on reflections from wet leaves and rocks, bringing out their colors.
- If you like shooting the stars at night, consider also shooting on moonlit nights when clouds or even storms are around. Lightning is an obvious draw for many photographers, but if you let your imagination roam you can find unusual night compositions.
Most photogs. want clear skies when they shoot at night, but the clouds added drama to this overview of Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone Park.
As I’ve gone along, shooting in weather of all kinds, I’ve learned that shooting on weathery days is all about transitions. Periods when weather is moving in on you or just clearing away very often offer the most rewarding light and atmosphere. That’s why I titled this post Shooting around Weather, not in it.
- Given that weather transitions usually happen quickly, it’s important to be ready. That means, for a start, getting out there. Some people think it strange, but a landscape photographer looks at bad weather forecasts and plans to go out shooting. And it’s not just landscape shooting that can benefit. You’ll get some of your most interesting architecture, people or wildlife shots when weather adds some drama to spice things up.
The interesting light here at Bollinger Mill & Bridge, Missouri is from a rapidly approaching violent thunderstorm.
- So how to plan for something so capricious? First, identify “transition days” ahead of time. They are days when weather shifts from one regime to another, and the weather-person will sometimes call them out for you. Otherwise you can see them coming yourself, once you’re familiar with the weather in your area. Because they are full of change and thus unpredictable, you can easily get skunked with either socked-in conditions or clear blue skies. But you can be rewarded with fantastic light as well.
- Because they are literally defined by change, success on transition days is anything but guaranteed. So instead of trying to outsmart the weather, go out on storm days too. Transitions in the middle of stormy periods, often featuring brilliant sun-breaks and colorful rainbows, occur between fronts and generally don’t show up in weather forecasts (although you can sometimes see them on radar).
Within seconds, the rain stopped and light of the setting sun shot out from behind the Grand Tetons, Wyoming.
- Watch the sky carefully and try to anticipate transitions. This can take practice, and expect Mother Nature to throw you many curves. During dry times, get to where you want to shoot and wait (hope) for the shift to stormy weather at the right time, when the sun is low. During the storm, get to your spot and shelter there with camera & tripod at the ready. As the sun lowers, there is always the chance it will dip below the storm clouds, illuminating everything in beautiful light.
Thanks for reading. Now I’m off to get some shots of the ocean and sky in tropical storm weather. Wish me luck! Have a great weekend and happy shooting!
Recent sunset in a coastal area along the Gulf of Mexico where Hermine was due to hit.
A rare selfie in one of the narrow canyons of Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada.
Time for a themed post: Narrow. It’s this week’s WPC travel theme, so check out all the other entries.
I’ll start out close to home: Oregon’s Oneonta Gorge. Nowadays it is quite famous, but I recall a time when only locals knew about it. In the warmer months hordes of people hike up the short narrows, wading through the cool water to escape the heat. In just a half-mile or less your progress is halted by a tall waterfall, where you can climb up a short way and jump off into the pool below. So refreshing!
Green Oneonta Gorge, Oregon
The narrows at Oneonta Gorge, full of water during the heavy rains of early Spring.
My pictures of Oneonta, however, were all captured in the worst weather I could manage, normally winter or early spring. The canyon is at its greenest and the mossy walls drip with tiny waterfalls. At these times it is dangerous to go further than the log jam. The water is deep and swift and believe me, you wouldn’t want to be swept under the logs. They would be pulling your body out later.
These logs testify to the power of Oneonta Creek when it floods during heavy rains.
Wading through the icy water of Oneonta Creek during a winter storm.
While most of the canyons in this amazing place are not the ultra-narrow slots common to the Colorado Plateau, the park does boast a plethora of narrow canyons to explore. One of the most famous is Titus Canyon. Most times you can drive this canyon. You leave the park on the east side and then re-enter it by descending Titus, passing a ghost town along the way. There are other canyons near Titus that represent great hiking destinations. Just hike north from the parking lot at the mouth of Titus Canyon.
You can drive down one of Death Valley’s largest canyons, Titus.
For a canyon hike in Death Valley, the one I most often recommend is Marble Canyon. Access it by driving the dirt road from Stovepipe Wells, passable in a 2-wheel drive car (but check at the ranger station). Walking up-canyon, you soon reach the narrows, where canyon walls reach hundreds of feet into the sky. On a hot day try pressing your whole body against the grey limestone canyon walls. Definitely a cooling experience! By continuing up-canyon you eventually come to the beautiful marble that it’s named for. Most of the way you are passing through limestone, stacks and stacks of it piled into layers at the bottom of the sea hundreds of millions of years ago.
Marble Canyon, Death Valley National Park, California.
SLOTS of the COLORADO PLATEAU
Spreading across southern Utah, northern Arizona and part of Colorado is an enormous feature called the Colorado Plateau. It is an uplifted landscape characterised by naked sandstone bedrock. Known throughout the world for its iconic scenery, the plateau is dissected by countless canyons of all description.
The heart of the Colorado Plateau is incised by the meandering San Juan River, Utah.
The Grand Canyon is of course the biggest, but many are so narrow that you have to squeeze yourself through. These are the famous narrow gorges called slot canyons. They formed because, during the plateau’s uplift (at the same time as the Rocky Mountains rose), fractures developed much like a rising loaf of bread. It is along these fractures that the slots have been eroded by a combination of freeze-thaw action and flowing water.
One of the biggest concentrations of slot canyons lies in Zion National Park. Many of these are accessible to any adventurous hiker – for example the two most popular hikes: the Narrows and the Subway. But some others require specialized equipment. Being a popular national park, there are plenty of outfitters who will guide you safely through the technical slots. If you’ve never done any canyoneering before, let me tell you: it’s a blast!
Zion Canyon from Angel’s Rest. The famous Narrows of the Virgin River are at the head of the canyon in the background.
If you want to hike the Subway, I recommend either getting a permit way ahead of time or doing it off-season. Permits are required April through October, so November is a perfect time to do it. It’s not a short hike but anybody in good shape and with some experience should have no problem.
The Subway in Zion National Park, Utah.
Yet it’s easy to get a feel for slot canyons without investing a lot of time. Simply drive up to East Zion (beyond the tunnels), park at a likely spot and set off up one of the canyons, turning around at your whim (or when your way is blocked). This is a great way to explore the park.
A side-canyon in East Zion, Utah.
To the east of Zion is another wonderland of slots: the Escalante country. A drive down Hole in the Rock Road near the town of Escalante brings you to numerous hikes into the typically narrow tributary canyons of the Escalante River. You don’t have to brave that long washboard road, however. Get a good map and explore the numerous canyons accessible from Highway 12.
There is such a thing as a slot that is too narrow: southern Utah.
Nearby Bryce Canyon, while not known for slot canyons, nevertheless has an amazing hike you should do if you visit. It drops below the rim and wanders among the hoodoos (rock pinnacles) that make the park famous. It’s like a maze of narrow passages, including one named Wall Street (image below).
Aptly-named Wall Street in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.
Capitol Reef National Park also has some amazing narrow canyon hikes. One I can recommend hiking is the strangely-named Muley Twist Canyon. Drive the Burr Trail Road (an adventure in itself) and near its summit you can hike either up- or down-canyon, exploring Muley Twist to your heart’s content. A shorter canyon hike at Capitol Reef is Grand Wash, located at the end of the scenic drive (turn off at the Visitor Center).
The Wave is a sculpted stretch of sandstone in southern Utah.
Continuing east across the plateau you’ll find more fun canyons to explore in the Moab area, including Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. You could spend your whole life doing nothing but hiking canyons on the Colorado Plateau and never finish with them. There are just so many. It’s a true wonderland. But be smart when you go canyon hiking. Take the ten essentials plus a hiking partner (or at least let someone know where you’re going and when to expect your return).
A slot in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.
Squeezing through a slot canyon.
Thanks for looking!
Oregon’s rugged upper Salmon River valley, an amazing place to photograph in cold wintry weather. 70 mm., 1/6 sec. @ f/16, ISO 100; tripod; converted to B&W in Nik Silver Effex 2.
This continues the mini-series on black and white (B&W) photography. Check out Part I for tips on what types of images lend themselves to B&W. I really like trying monochrome processing with any shot, because you never know until you see the image. A few things to keep in mind while shooting B&W:
- See in B&W: This can be tough to do, since we see all day everyday in color. One thing to try is setting up your camera to display in black and white while shooting. If you’re shooting in RAW (which you should be), the image is still recorded in color. It just displays in B&W on the LCD. Also try going out and shooting only B&W, as an exercise. Shoot Jpegs and deliberately limit yourself to B&W. I don’t recommend doing this regularly though; give yourself options by shooting RAW.
Sunset on the Olympic Coast, Washington. 50 mm., 1/80 sec. @ f/10, ISO 200; hand-held.
B&W conversion in Silver Effex 2.
- Look for Texture: As mentioned in the last post, textures are just made for B&W. That’s because color often distracts us from the underlying texture of a scene. Remove it and voila! Interesting textural patterns are revealed. Many people have too limited a view of texture. They think of peeling paint, tree bark, or a patterned rock wall. That is texture at one scale. In reality texture comes in all sizes, from the very fine to much larger patterns. Try to get used to looking for texture in all its forms.
Ancient sand dunes near Page, Arizona. 32 mm., 1/60 sec. @ f/16, ISO 200; hand-held w/polarizer.
Bringing out the texture: converted & processed in Silver Effex.
- Don’t Forget the Basics: The same principles of composition that make color images work apply to B&Ws as well. Limit the “junk” in your comps., and seek balanced scenes that are interesting and pleasing to the eye.
The foot bridge at Ramona Falls, Oregon. 50 mm., 4 sec. @ f/13, ISO 50; tripod; processed in Lightroom.
- Go for Monochrome Scenes: These are situations where the light and your subject are already monochrome, either nearly or completely so. Often it’s when the light is quite low, since light begets color. When things are already nearly monochrome, it’s quite easy to see and shoot monochrome images (funny how that works!).
Zooming in on Faery Falls in Oregon’s Columbia Gorge, the image became nearly monochrome. 50 mm., 0.4 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50; tripod; Processed in Silver Effex.
This wider composition of Faery Falls is a panorama of 6 shots combined & includes the surrounding green lushness.
- Get in the Mood: Finally, try to feel the mood of a scene and shoot it accordingly. Foggy and mysterious is the obvious one, but there are many other moods, including bright, contrasty and optimistic. Try to mentally impose different post-processing looks, such as toned to sepia, high-key, low-key, and so on. For example, with a monochrome scene that is already a bit dim, I’ll try to imagine what it might look like even darker and toned with a subtle sepia or cyan.
Okay that’s it for today. Stay tuned for more on black and white. Have a great weekend and get out there!
Beacon Rock on the Columbia River, a landmark that Lewis & Clark mentioned in their journals in 1803. 106 mm., 1/200 sec. @ f/10, ISO 200; hand-held; processed in Nik Color Effex, then given antique sepia tone in Lightroom.
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.
The Wilson River flows west from the rugged peaks of Oregon’s Coast Range, including King’s Mtn. visible in the distance.
It’s been quite awhile since I’ve done a Mountain Monday post. Today I’ll focus on King’s Mountain in Oregon’s northern Coast Range. But since it’s impossible to visit mountains without also coming across rivers and streams, I’ll also highlight the main river in this area. While it has a modest elevation (3226’/983 m.), King’s Mtn. is nonetheless a steep and rugged peak. I haven’t captured the mountain in a photo before this, at least from a distance. I know it mostly from a loop hike that I’ve done a half dozen times or so. It takes you up a steep few miles to the summit of King’s, then over a very rugged traverse to the equally steep Elk Mtn. You then descend a vertiginous trail to the Wilson River, where you loop back to the car. Next morning you may feel like you’ve been kicked by a mule!
King’s is cloaked in a lovely conifer forest along its lower slopes. In autumn tasty golden chanterelles pop up in dells and behind mossy logs. The golden chanterelle is the official state mushroom (yes, there’s an official mushroom!). This beautiful green forest has grown in from seedlings that were hand-planted after the disastrous Tillamook Burn in 1933 (plus succeeding fires in the 30s). The Burn laid low nearly 450,000 acres of prime Oregon timber, most of that in a hellish 30-hours where huge trees were uprooted and thrown into the air by the winds ahead of the inferno. It’s a big part of Oregon history.
The other part of this image is the beautiful Wilson River, which is famous for its steelhead runs. It rolls swiftly through the forested landscape, and its deep green pools are lined with volcanic rock outcrops that on hot days beg to be leapt from into the cool green depths. The Wilson flows down to the Pacific Ocean at the town of Tillamook (where I’m writing this). You always know you’re approaching Tillamook because of that wonderful (not!) smell of dairy cows. It’s still the best cheddar cheese I know of for a grilled cheese sandwich, on good sourdough bread of course! Make sure and get your free samples if you ever come this way on a tour of their factory.
The Wilson River banks are mostly lined with conifers and large vine maples, but frequent rock outcrops make for great places to fish or swim from.
Many springs empty into the Wilson. I camped just a short stroll from this spot.
There are plenty of camping and picnicking sites to enjoy in the Tillamook State Forest where these images were captured. A visitor center is located centrally not far west of the trailhead for King’s Mtn., and there are plenty of easier trails, including a rolling trail stretching 24 miles along the Wilson itself. You obviously don’t need to do the whole 24 miles! So if you ever find yourself traveling the Oregon Coast, consider a side-trip east along Hwy. 6 from Tillamook into the Coast Range. Have a great week!
The first winter snows in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains often fall before autumn leaves.
I love winter. Not as much as I used to; I blame the effects of aging. For at least the first half of my life, winter was my favorite season. And I still crave that clarity of air, that bracing atmosphere, Winter has a pure and simple beauty.
The goal of this series is to both convince you to of the value of winter photography and to remove all excuses to avoid shooting in winter. Check out the previous installments. Today we’re covering winter safety in the form of the clothes you wear. By the way, if you’re interested in any of the images you see here, be sure to contact me.
Dressing for Winter
You may have heard this expression: “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” It’s so true! But you’ve probably also heard that clothing can mean the difference between life and death in winter. This is not strictly true. Humans of today are very used to being comfortable. So we tend to equate our comfort with safety. While the two are certainly related to each other, and I certainly don’t want to minimize the very real risks of hypothermia and frostbite, clothing in most cases simply means the difference between comfort and discomfort, not life and death.
A trail in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge passes several icy waterfalls.
But we’re talking photography. It helps greatly to be comfortable when shooting. Not like when you’re plopped in front of a fire in your favorite chair. The goal is to be relatively comfortable. There’s a couple reasons why this is important. One is that no matter how much you want to go out in wintertime to shoot pictures, if when you do your body is sending signals that it’s cold and miserable, next time your mind will just make up excuses to stay inside. The other reason is that it’s hard to focus on photography while you are wet or cold.
A very recent shot from a hike into a remote canyon in southern Utah.
Here is what I’ve learned about dressing for winter in nearly 40 years (longer if you count mom bundling me up):
- Layering: We’re often told the most important thing in dressing for winter is layering. Layering is a great concept, especially if your plans include exercise, but it’s a little like saying the most important thing about walking is putting one foot in front of the other. Of course if you’re cold you will put something else on top of what you’ve already got.
- What’s Really Important? I focus on bottom-up and top-down, and also staying as dry as possible. Bottom-up refers to your feet, and top-down refers to your head. More than any other body part, when our feet are cold, we humans tend to object strongly. More heat escapes through your head than anywhere else. So if you have both of these bases covered you’re more than half-way there. Lastly, getting wet, either from the outside or by sweating, can eventually lead to the often-deadly condition of hypothermia.
More of a fall shot, but it was chilly here along the Fremont River in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.
- Materials: This is another thing that people harp too much on. You may have heard the phrase “cotton kills”. In wet and cold conditions it sure can. But if you have three pairs of jeans on I’m guessing you’re bottom half is going to be okay in most circumstances. Of course you shouldn’t go out in winter clothed in cotton. The reason is that cotton is unable to insulate when wet. Also it dries too slowly. Down is the same way. Other materials like synthetics and wool are much better because they don’t absorb water as readily as cotton, they dry more quickly, and (most important) they still insulate when wet.
Natural or Synthetic? For me the answer is both. Many people will try to steer you away from any natural material, and some even slam older synthetics like polypropylene. They can become quite ideological about it. Why? As mentioned above, I think they conflate discomfort with true danger. Many forms of clothing can keep you perfectly alive while leaving you very uncomfortable.
Wool: Wool is time-tested and it works. It can become a bit heavy when wet, and it doesn’t dry quite as quickly as most synthetics. But wool doesn’t absorb water quickly and continues to insulate very well when wet. It’s also pretty inexpensive and lasts a long time.
Down: Down is superior to all else in keeping you warm. Nearly every Sherpa I met in the Himalayas had a down jacket. But it can be spendy, and you must keep it dry. Down should be worn over at least one wicking layer. If the temperatures are near freezing, you probably don’t need down. But if you bring it make sure you have a good waterproof shell that fits over it. Down is a good choice for photography because of the standing-around nature of many shooting situations.
Synthetics: Nylon- and polyester-based blends make up most synthetic clothing. Fleece of various types is most common for sweaters, jackets, hats and gloves. Capilene tends to rule the long underwear world. But there is an ever-expanding selection of fancy materials to spend your cash on. One note: synthetics are overwhelmingly petroleum-based, so they’re not the best for the environment. Most good manufacturers (Patagonia being the stand-out) offer recycled fleece and other clothing.
Ice over the Slickrock: one cold recent morning in East Zion National Park, Utah.
- Your Head: Take a good warm hat. In cold where I know I’ll be hiking or skiing, I sometimes bring two hats. One is a thin stretchy fleece or other material designed to wick away sweat, the kind runners and other athletes wear. Running shops (in places with real winters) and stores like REI are good places to look. The other hat is a thick, warm wool or fleece hat, which you can either layer over the thin one or wear by itself. In truly frigid places a balaclava (which covers your face too) is in order.
- Your Feet – Socks: Good warm socks are a must. Use nice, tall liner socks plus a thicker wool or wool-blend pair over those. Stick an extra pair of wool socks in your camera pack and leave them there. You never know when your feet might get wet, and that can be catastrophic if you don’t have a dry pair to put on.
- Your Feet – Boots: Boots made for winter are available. They’re insulated and usually have built-in waterproofing of some kind. Be careful though. Some winter boots (Sorels for example), while amazingly warm and comfortable when you’re standing around, are not really made for hiking. If you’re short on cash and already hike seriously in summer, good thick leather hiking boots, treated with waterproofing, do very well. You don’t need special winter boots.
Mount Hood, Oregon sports a fresh coat of snow as it rises above its surrounding forest.
- Your Hands: The other important body part to protect is your hands. One of the main reasons people get frustrated and avoid shooting in winter is cold hands on cold cameras (another is cold feet). Nearly any glove can be used with a camera. All it takes is practice. When looking for the right glove combination for photography, realize you’re looking for the same thing as hunters. Try shopping where they shop.
Layering for Hands: Unless the cold is extreme, life will be easier if you get a thin pair of liner gloves for shooting in. They’re often made of Capilene like long underwear, and they layer under thicker wool, fleece or ski gloves. Mittens, worn over a pair of thin liners or other gloves, are a great way to keep hands warm between shooting.
Fingerless gloves: These are obviously nice for operating the camera, but they expose the worst part of your hands to the cold, your fingertips. Try thin liner gloves under fingerless gloves. And have a pair of looser-fitting mittens or ski gloves to go over the fingerless gloves. I have a pair of thick wool fingerless gloves that have an extra piece of thick wool that flips over my fingers, making a mitten. That piece stays back with velcro when not in use.
- Other Clothes: Long underwear is a must. Capilene is perfect, but so is silk when temperatures aren’t extreme. Layer over with fleece or wool, then a good water-resistant parka. Remember, no cotton. A pair of goretex or other shell pants is important to at least have in your pack. If it’s very cold, invest in a good down jacket or sweater (that can layer under the parka).
A full moon rises high up in the Oregon Cascade Range.