Archive for the ‘the Palouse’ Tag

Rural America, Part II: The Pacific Northwest   10 comments

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.

Western Oregon.

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.

HEADING EAST

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.

 

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The Palouse IV: Travel Tips   3 comments

The vibrant green of the Palouse in eastern Washington after a spring shower.

The vibrant green of the Palouse in eastern Washington after a spring shower.

The Palouse in southeastern Washington is one of those areas of the Pacific Northwest that does not receive many visitors.  It is out of the way and not nearly as spectacular as the Cascades or the Coast.  But if you are into photography you really can’t do much better.  It is a slice of rural life in the drier eastern parts of the Pacific NW.  Perhaps it doesn’t belong at the top of your list during a first visit to the region, but it should definitely be considered on a second trip.

WHEN TO GO

The Palouse is best in spring and fall.  It is quite windy and cold in winter, and in high summer it’s a dry and often dusty place.  When I say summer I mean from July through early September.  June is really late spring in these parts.  The flowers, which are only found in certain areas, begin to bloom in mid- to late-April.  The bloom continues through May or early June.  The splashy yellow sunflower-like balsamroot peaks around early May.  Spring is a very green season, with the rolling fields taking on an almost electric hue.  Fall offers superb golden wave-like fields of wheat.

A patriotic barn in the Palouse of Washington state.

A patriotic barn in the Palouse of Washington state.

WHERE TO STAY

Despite its lack of big towns and parks, it is fairly easy to find a good base from which to explore the Palouse.  You can stay in the small town of Palouse, which is very central, but there are only a few motels.  You’ll find more choice in Pullman or Moscow, Idaho.  Realize that, depending on where you intend to photograph at sunrise, this will involve getting up VERY early.  Tekoa in the north is also a good base, with several places to stay.  Throughout the Palouse lie scattered  B&Bs to choose from, so google this.

Newly planted rows of wheat grace the smooth terrain of the Palouse in Washington state.

Newly planted rows of wheat grace the smooth terrain of the Palouse in Washington state.

For campers there are several options.  Towards the western end of the Palouse, you’ll find Palouse Falls State Park.  This compact little park has a big advantage in that you can photograph the stunning waterfall here at any time when the light is good.  Near the eastern end of the Palouse, there is a beautiful campground at Kamiak Butte.  This county park has a great hiking loop that takes you over the top of the butte, with flower-fields and views of the rolling fields below.  The problem with Kamiak is that the gates are closed at dusk, ruling it out as a base from which to make forays for sunset photos.

You can also camp at the Palouse Empire Fairgrounds 20 miles north of Pullman.  The Boyer Park RV camp 22 miles SW of Pullman is a good choice if you have a camper/RV.  They have showers and laundry there.  Wherever you stay, note that the region is fairly spread out, so prepare for some driving.  The great news is that the roads are pleasantly rural with little traffic.

In this view from Kamiak Butte in southeast Washington, the fields of the Palouse appear to form a green carpet over the undulating landscape.

In this view from Kamiak Butte in southeast Washington, the fields of the Palouse appear to form a green carpet over the undulating landscape.

WHAT TO DO/PHOTOGRAPH

There are not many traditional tourist sights in the Palouse.  There are a number of small, quirky museums and plenty of great barns and farms to see and photograph.  Check out Palouse Scenic Byway and Visit Palouse, and of course Trip Advisor’s Forums.  For photographers, you’ll notice almost immediately that it helps to get up in elevation a bit.  The easy approach is to head up Steptoe Butte or Kamiak Butte (the latter which you’ll have to hike to access the summit).  Tekoa Mountain south of Pullman is also a great choice.  But since you don’t actually need to be that high for good photographic compositions, you’ll find hills when you’re driving around which will get you high enough.  I’ve got a secret little hill that sticks up, but I’m going to keep that to myself for now, sorry.

Arrowleaf balsamroot bloom on the slopes of Kamiak Butte in southeastern Washington.

Arrowleaf balsamroot bloom on the slopes of Kamiak Butte in southeastern Washington.

Some ideas:

      • Drive the Palouse Scenic Byway and turn off at random dirt roads that strike your fancy.  Many of them loop back to the pavement.  Take along a good atlas (such as Delorme’s).
      • Visit Steptoe Butte.  This isolated hill lies in the heart of the Palouse.  The great thing about it is that you can stop on the road that winds its way up the butte at whatever elevation you wish.  This will allow you to pick your perspective for photography.  Or simply drive to the top for 360 degree views.
      • Visit Kamiak Butte.  To photograph at sunset and/or sunrise, you’ll need to camp here, because they close the gates at dusk.  Make the short hike to the top of the butte for both sunset and sunrise.  If its springtime the flowers are as fantastic as the views.
      • Visit Palouse Falls.  This is an amazing waterfall with a spectacular plunge pool.  You can hike to the bottom or do a short loop around the top.  There is a state park here which requires a Washington Discovery Pass ($10/day).
      • Walk around a couple of the small towns with your camera.  Try Garfield, Lacrosse & Rosalia.  Uniontown has a fence made of wagon wheels.  In addition, during your driving explorations, keep on the lookout for beautifully situated barns.
      • If you are in the Colfax area and want a nice quiet picnic spot, check out Klemgard County Park.  From Hwy. 195 heading south of Colfax, turn right (west) on Hamilton Hill Road, then right on Upper Union Flat Rd.  There are signs.  A short trail loops up through the small forest and there is plenty of open grassy space in this peaceful little park.
      • Drive along the major watercourses in nice light for great photo opportunities.  The Palouse River meanders through the countryside and is a lovely stream.  Even where it flows out of the town of Palouse it is picturesque (see image below). The Snake River is accessible in several places, but for me its size clashes with the more intimate nature of the Palouse landscapes.  The Pataha Creek valley west of Pomeroy along U.S. Hwy. 12 is beautiful.  Wind turbines add some interest.  Often in the Palouse you will be starved for subjects, the landscape is so spare, so windmills, barns, etc. are worth keeping an eye out for.
The Palouse River winds its way through the rural landscape of eastern Washington.

The Palouse River winds its way through the rural landscape of eastern Washington.

The Palouse is an understated yet beautiful and peaceful place to visit.  If you’re looking for action or adrenaline sports, look elsewhere.  But for history and photography enthusiasts, and for those who wish to spend time being transported back to America’s simpler times, the Palouse is one of the best places in the Pacific Northwest.

Please note that the images here are copyrighted and not available for free download, sorry ’bout that.  But if you’re interested in one of them you can either click the image or contact me with questions and requests.  Thanks for your interest!

A small farm with big broad fields sits under a big beautiful dusk sky in the Palouse region of eastern Washington.

A small farm with big broad fields sits under a big beautiful dusk sky in the Palouse region of eastern Washington.

The Palouse III – Loess & Farming   1 comment

The classic view of the Palouse from atop Steptoe Butte in eastern Washington.

The classic view of the Palouse from atop Steptoe Butte in eastern Washington.

I just returned from a trip to southeastern Washington.  The Palouse region north of the Snake River and stretching along the Idaho border was my prime destination.  Among landscape photographers, the Palouse is justifiably famous for its unique landscape of rolling, wave-like fields of wheat.  It is a very rich farming region, primarily known for its dryland wheat.  But it’s also one of the world’s premier lentil-growing regions.

As is the case for most of our planet’s resources, where and how we take advantage of the bounty is dictated by geology and geography.  This is especially true of farming.  The Palouse bears a lot of resemblance to other rich farming regions in the world in at least two respects: it is relatively flat and it’s covered in a special kind of silt called loess.  You can pronounce loess anyway you want.  But perhaps Lois is best reserved for some women by that name.  Most people in the know pronounce it somewhere between loose and lus, sort of luhs.  Brits put an r in there right before the s.

Some of the terrain in the Palouse of eastern Washington is left golden-bare even in late spring when most everything is vibrant green.

Some of the terrain in the Palouse of eastern Washington is left golden-bare even in late spring when most everything is vibrant green.

Loess is a windblown silt found in many places throughout the world.  It is made of angular pieces of rocks and minerals somewhat finer than sand.  It forms such rich soils because the minerals in it are diverse.  This is not always the case with fine debris deposited on the earth’s surface, but loess is special.

It is a gift of the Ice Ages.  All over the world, when glaciers retreated (both after the last time 10,000 years ago and during previous retreats), the fine debris scoured from the various rocks that the ice passed over was left bare.  Winds picked up this silt and sand and deposited it downwind, often far downwind.  Natural depressions, the base of mountains, or anywhere that wind speed drops, were natural places for loess to be deposited.

In springtime, wildflowers bloom on Kamiak Butte in the Palouse.

In springtime, wildflowers bloom on Kamiak Butte in the Palouse.

In the case of the Palouse, loess from the Ringold Formation and from glacial deposits exposed to the west and south was blown in and deposited essentially in dunes.  This is a big reason for the wave-like nature of the landscape.  It accumulated during the drier and windier climates between glacial advances, and did so for over a million years.  The loess in the Palouse reaches up to 200 feet thick in places.

Two little extra features of the loess deposits found in the Palouse help to make it such a rich dryland farming region.  For one, the Cascade volcanoes to the west occasionally supplied layers of ash into the mix.  This ash not only adds to the mineralogical diversity (and thus the richness of the resulting soil) but is also very good at holding water.  The Palouse soils are famous for their ability to hold onto the modest amount of water they receive.

The wheatfields of the Palouse in eastern Washington on the north side of Kamiak Butte.

The wheatfields of the Palouse in eastern Washington on the north side of Kamiak Butte.

The second feature is another happy coincidence.  The topmost loess deposits, blown in after the last glaciers retreated 10,000 years ago, also happen to be among the most diverse minerals-wise.  So they support the richest soils.  Mount Mazama in Oregon (now Crater Lake) blew its top 6700 years ago and its ash is prominently represented in these latest Palouse loess deposits.

So farmers have it good in the Palouse, growing their crops on a landscape covered in especially rich soils that hold water well.  There is one little problem though: these latest loess deposits are also the most prone to loss through erosion and poor management.  Just like so many agricultural areas in the world, this one requires careful management practices to conserve the precious soil.

Wind turbines are situated along the crest of a ridge in the Palouse, Washington.

Wind turbines are situated along the crest of a ridge in the Palouse, Washington.

The geologic story does not end here though.  The loess deposited in long wave-like dunes originally extended far to the west of where you find it today.  If you head west from the Palouse you run right out of rich dryland wheat country and into a different terrain altogether.  This is the so-called channeled scablands, spectacular result of the great Missoula Floods of the last Ice Age.  I will cover this great story in a coming post; suffice it to say these floods removed much of the region’s rich loess before human farmers ever got the chance to farm it.

A group of mergansers rides the Palouse River downstream near the town of the same name in Washington state.

A group of mergansers rides the Palouse River downstream near the town of the same name in Washington state.

People have been farming here since the late 1800s.  In the 1880s there was a land-boom after dryland wheat farming was proved valid in the previously settled Walla Walla area to the south.  In fact, the last decades of the 19th century saw far more people living here than lived in the Puget Sound region to the west.  Now of course it’s the opposite.  The Palouse is sparsely populated while the Puget Sound has Seattle, Microsoft and traffic nightmares.  There are signs of new growth here, as some people tire of the rat race and move here, expanding the suburbs of large towns like Pullman, Washington and Moscow, Idaho into prime agricultural lands.

The empty Palouse of eastern Washington at sunrise is all wheatfields and sky.

The empty Palouse of eastern Washington at sunrise is all wheatfields and sky.

But for now the Palouse remains a quiet, peaceful place where open spaces are the rule.  Stand atop Steptoe or Kamiak Butte and look out on the endless waves, bright green in early summer and golden brown in autumn.  You’ll only see scattered farmhouses, a few barns, a few two-lane roads with little traffic.  It’s a gorgeous setting, especially at sunset when the shadows are long, bringing out the unique textures and look of the place.  I will surely be coming back.

Thanks for reading.  Stay tuned for more on eastern Washington in the next post.  Hope you enjoy the images.  Please be aware they are copyrighted and not available to download for free without my permission.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  If interested in one of the images, just click it to get purchase options.  Thanks for reading!

A solitary clump of blooming lupine decorates a piece of bunchgrass prairie in the Palouse, Washington.

A solitary clump of blooming lupine decorates a piece of bunchgrass prairie in the Palouse, Washington.

Friday Foto Talk: the Palouse II (Photo Trip Planning/Approach)   7 comments

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I’ve been thinking about how I make my decisions on where to go and what to photograph while on the road.  I’m returning now from the Palouse, a spread-out region in southeastern Washington state that is quite popular with landscape photographers.  I did as much planning as I ever do before any trip; that is, not very much.  I identified a few spots that I wanted to visit, both there and in the channeled scablands to the west of the Palouse.  Then I drove out there, knowing that most of my time would be spent winging it.  This is the way I prefer to do things, but I’m getting a little more structured as time goes on.

There are obvious benefits to each approach, and also obvious drawbacks.  An itinerary, complete with expected driving time between the spots and a planned amount of time for each location, is completely beyond me, at least to this point.  But some sort of plan, with a general routing lined out, is a good way to cover an area.  Adherence to some sort of time schedule can help avoid what I sometimes deal with: a mad scramble to get somewhere photogenic while the light is quickly approaching its peak quality.  Having an itinerary and planned place to be for golden hour (the time preceding sunset) allows you to drop a stop or two as you go, in order to make it to your sunset spot in plenty of time.

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But too strict an itinerary and you end up in what I consider to be the wrong frame of mind to capture images that are not over-photographed, images that surprise you.  And it’s more free and fun.  The amount of time you spend just wandering where your impulses take you is rarely a waste of time, so long as you don’t allow yourself to be caught down in some hole when the light turns golden.  At this point, you will wish you had skipped that side-road and instead been already set up to take advantage of that great light.

Having a bit more wanderlust and less adherence to an itinerary makes more sense when you are visiting an area for the first time.  Even on a second visit, there are bound to be whole areas that need some exploring.  On this trip to the Palouse, for example, I was fully in scouting mode.  Although I had been there once before, it was only for a day and night.  It is a large area, with near-countless roads looping through the rolling countryside.

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So this is the approach I take on any first real visit to a place for landscape and/or nature photography:

PLANNING:

      • I look at tourist-related websites devoted to the area.  I also check out sites that are devoted to special interest topics.  In the case of the Palouse/Channeled Scablands, there are several websites devoted to the region’s interesting geologic origin.  The Missoula floods moved through here during the latter part of the Ice Age, greatly shaping what you see.  These topical websites will often give you ideas for places that are both interesting and beautiful to photograph.
      • What I don’t do a lot of is check other photographers’ websites & images, or images on stock photo websites.  I do just enough to figure out where the “go-to” photo spots are, and decide whether or not it’s worth visiting (or avoiding) them.  This can also be easily accomplished once you arrive at towns in the area, by looking over the postcard racks.  I find this to be a more interesting way to do it, in fact.  You can ask people in the shop about places pictured in the postcards and often get very valuable local information that way.
      • If it is a very unfamiliar place, or overseas, I might get in touch with tour agencies and guides by email.  Even if you, like me, prefer to choose a guide once you are on the ground, it is worth getting an idea what is offered and at what price before you travel.
      • If I am going it alone, either the whole time or for the most part, I will purchase maps of the area.  It’s good to have a regional (driving) map and also an atlas that will show much more detail.  These maps can be electronic of course, but I prefer ones I can hold in my hand and read in bright sunshine.  In the case of the Palouse, I have a good Washington-state highway map, along with the Gazetteer.  Published by Delorme and others, these are oversize booklets with dozens of large-scale maps.  They show all the roads, down to dirt tracks, for any state in the U.S.  They show parks, wildlife preserves, and even a general topographic overlay.  For other countries, do some research and find a good map resource.
      • I take my Gazetteer and mark those few primary photo destinations I have planned.  Then on the computer I look at the Photographer’s Ephemeris  (which I highly recommend downloading) to see the directions and times of sunset & sunrise for the approximate date of my visit.  If the moon could be a target for photos (say at full or as a sliver crescent), I also note the moonrise and/or moonset direction and time.  For each of my marked locations, I sketch in pencil these directions as lines, writing along each line the time of sunrise/sunset.  Even if I end up not going to a precise location, I know both the times and directions are going to be very similar for any nearby location.  I don’t overdo this; a few locations per map sheet are enough.

Palouse Abstract I

ON THE ROAD

      • I check the weather forecasts just before heading out and then I take off, often traveling late to avoid traffic.  I can always stop along the way anyplace that has internet and get weather updates.  But I’ve found that photographers often mistakenly believe that they benefit by having constant weather updates.  Weather is anything but predictable of course, but more than that, I believe your attitude should be such that you will work with what you have at the time.  You can photograph in nearly any conditions and get good images.
      • More on weather: as I go along, I like to keep an eye on the sky.  If I crest a rise, I’ll stop and get out to observe the weather.  Maybe it’s just me, but I believe the more you do this, the better at weather prediction you will become, at least short-term weather prediction.  Of course I have some background knowledge on meteorology, but in general I find it much more useful to have my eyes on the sky than on some small screen.
      • While I do try to hit popular spots to photograph, I also never ever expect (or even hope) to get my best images there.  I think this is a bit different from the average novice landscape photographer’s approach.  I don’t know what the pros do, but I believe there are just too many variables at work to expect any great photo from anywhere.
      • More on popular spots: taking the Palouse as an example, there is a rather prominent hill called Steptoe Butte in the heart of the region.  Standing well above the countryside and having a 360-degree view, it is popular as both a sunrise and sunset spot, drawing loads of tripod-toters.  I knew I would go there, but my Gazetteer also showed me other high points in the area.  One of these is Kamiak Butte, which I will discuss in another post.  But there are others that are not as high as Steptoe.  The top of Steptoe is almost too high for the best landscape images in the Palouse, and there is a lack of good foreground elements.  That’s just my opinion of course.

But I didn’t ignore the place.  I went up there for star shots toward 3 a.m. one sleep-deprived night.  The Milky Way was amazing!  After an hour’s sleep, I joined several other photogs. at sunrise.  The light was average at best.  But instead of going back up there when the light was much better the next day, I chose a different place.  Guess the upshot is that I don’t really want images that are too similar to those of other photographers as much as I want my own compositions.

      • I will take most impulse-driven tangents, indulging my natural desire to explore.  This is easy and natural during mid-day when the light is normally not good.  If there are a lot of clouds, I try to find interesting subjects to shoot that don’t require much sky to be included.  I also will indulge in macro photography, so seek out meadows and wetlands during mid-day.
      • But come late-day, I try to get somewhere that is either somewhat elevated or has a very interesting, photogenic subject (ideally both).  I try to arrive by at least 45 minutes prior to sunset.  For sunrise, I try to camp very near to the spot where I think sunrise will be good.  Often the sunset spot is the same or very near to the following morning’s sunrise spot.
      • I like to do night photography from time to time, so I seek open skies with interesting subjects in the foreground (old buildings, rock formations, etc.).
      • So between sunset, sunrise, the stars and scouting/exploring, when do I sleep?  If it is winter, I sleep as normal, getting up at sunrise and staying up.  During spring and summer’s longer days, I will often sleep in two shifts.  I get roughly half my sleep between a late dinner and sunrise, then the other half immediately following the sunrise shoot.  This is easy to do when camping in remote spots.  When traveling overseas, on travel days it’s tough.  It’s a good reason to plan more than one night in each place.

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      • Weather dictates all of course.  Clouds are good, unless they completely block the sun from doing its magic.  Never allow rain to dampen your enthusiasm.  They bring rainbows for one thing!
      • The quality of light can often be quite good well into morning hours, or alternatively well before sunset.  You learn to look at the sky, for example in the morning, and be able to predict whether it’s worth sticking with it for a couple hours.  Mid-day shooting is rarely any good, at least for landscapes and nature subjects.
      • So when do I get a chance to process photos, get online, post these things?  I try to find somewhere with internet access every couple or three days.  I think it’s actually more important to journal on a daily basis than to do what I’m doing now.  I try to write down my great finds, the little things I learned about the place and how to photograph it, even the disappointments.  On my map I also trace my route and mark the nice finds (such as interesting barns in the Palouse).

Speaking of that last point, right now I’m at a Starbucks and it’s 5 p.m.  There is the push to finish this post, but the light is calling.  Thus I will post fewer pictures this time, and encourage you to stay tuned for more on the Palouse and other areas of southeastern Washington.  Thanks for reading!

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The Palouse, Part I   10 comments

The sun's first rays sweep across the rolling wheat fields of the Palouse in southeastern Washington state.

The sun’s first rays sweep across the rolling wheat fields of the Palouse in southeastern Washington state.

I’ve finally checked something off my list I’ve been wanting to do for about two years.  That is, spend some quality time in Washington state’s Palouse region.  This is the rich farmland that stretches in a NE-trending belt along the Snake River southeastern Washington.  It laps over into southwestern Idaho.

The Palouse, a region of rolling, rich agricultural land in southeastern Washington is a very green and peaceful place in springtime.

The Palouse, a region of rolling, rich agricultural land in southeastern Washington is a very green and peaceful place in springtime.

The Palouse is justifiably famous among landscape photographers of the western U.S. and beyond.  But I’ve only spent snatches of time here on the way to somewhere else.  It has never represented a destination.  That changed this week, as I spent 5 days tooling around the rolling green wheat fields, the delightful glens, the sparsely forested hills of the Palouse.  I’ll just give an introductory taste here, saving more travel and photo tips, along with a geology primer, for later posts.

Palouse Falls in southeastern Washington.

Palouse Falls in southeastern Washington.

Coming in from the west, the obvious first destination is Palouse Falls, which lies on the western edge of the region.  This is a big bold waterfall, just shy of 200 feet high, that plunges into a large semi-circular bowl lined with tall dark cliffs of basalt.  It was cloudy when I arrived, and the sunset turned out to be fairly colorless.  So the picture here is not the best you will see of this spot, popular with photographers as it is.  But the short time I spent was definitely enhanced by the comical and obviously overfed marmots playing along the cliff edge, hoping for yet another handout from overindulgent visitors.

A marmot at Palouse Falls in Washington rests after a strenuous session of looking cute for handouts.

A marmot at Palouse Falls in Washington rests after a strenuous session of looking cute for handouts.

I went on to the heart of the Palouse, traveling northeast to spend the night in lonely rolling hills of spring wheat near the town of Dusty.  Yes, that is the place’s real name, but perhaps calling it a town is not really fair to real towns.  There is gas and a sometimes-open store but not much else.  The light was gorgeous at sunrise, and despite the evening before, I felt my trip was off to a good start.  Stay tuned for more.

By the way, if you are interested in any of these images (which are copyrighted and not available for download without my permission), please contact me.  Most will be up on my main webpage in a few days when I return home.  Thanks for your interest.

Wheat is the name of the game in the Palouse of Washington state.

Wheat is the name of the game in the Palouse of Washington state.

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