Steptoe Butte is by far the most popular destination in the Palouse. When I was there on May 30th for sunset, there was at least one photo workshop/tour going on as well as eight or so other independent photographers at the spot I stopped. There were likely more further up the road. The Palouse is a world-class photography destination, and June is one of the two prime times to be there (the other being August), so even though it was not yet June (albeit by only two days), I was not surprised to see so many tripods. Luckily, if you go and find the place crawling with photographers, there is a lot of room.
But there is so much more to the Palouse than Steptoe Butte. The Palouse is a big area. According to Wikipedia, “the Palouse region was defined as the fertile hills and prairies north of the Snake River, which separated it from Walla Walla County, and north of the Clearwater River, which separated it from the Camas Prairie, extending north along the Washington and Idaho border, south of Spokane, centered on the Palouse River.” Many great shots can be made by driving around looking for scenic barns, patterns on the fields, old houses, etc. But when you only have a day or two to explore, it is helpful to have an idea of where to go.
One option is to join a guided tour or workshop. There are many to choose from, though many also fill up fast. My photographer friend Jack Graham offers Palouse workshops every year, for example. Or you can even go with a custom, personalized workshop, like that offered by Greg Vaughn.
But, if you are more of a do-it-yourselfer, another option is to use a photographer’s map of the Palouse. There are two such maps available that I know of. The first one was created by Teri Lou Dantzler and is available for $25 (who also offers workshops). The other, is free and available from the Pullman Chamber of Commerce. Why consider the $25 map when a free one is available? Because, according to Teri Lou, the Pullman Chamber of Commerce stole her map. I have purchased a map from Teri Lou and also have the one from the Pullman Chamber, and I have to tell you, I think she has a good point. The listed spots are almost identical. Both maps show locations of red barns, other barns, lone trees, viewpoints, abandoned houses, granaries or silos, abandoned farm equipment, and windmills. I will say, Teri Lou’s map does a better job with the roads. There are three types of roads in the Palouse: paved, gravel, and dirt, and if it rains, you better forget about driving on the dirt roads. Teri Lou’s map does, for the most part, a good job differentiating between the three road types while it is less clear on the Pullman Chamber map.
While these maps are helpful, there are a few problems with them. First, some of the mapped barns, other buildings, or trees are no longer there. Others are falling down. Second, the icons used to show photo locations are too large for the scale of the maps (this might be my geologist background raising its head here, but I did find this very distracting). Third, both maps only covers part of the Palouse. They both only go as far north as Rosalia, and neither goes into Idaho. And fourth, they missed a lot. All of the shots in today’s post are from places not on the maps! While the maps are helpful, they are certainly not the ultimate guide. I used them as more suggestions, but exploring on your own may be the best way to get unique shots.
The point I’d like to leave you with is that no guide or photographer’s map about the Palouse is complete. It is a large area, and there are many wonderful photographic opportunities there. One easily could spend a week or more exploring. I’ve made three trips there in the past several years and still have much to see. As I mentioned, all of the images in this post were not on the photographer’s map or (to my knowledge) in any Palouse guide that I have seen. For example, the featured image above of the lone tree was taken northeast of Colton – a barren area on the two maps. If you have the time, do some exploring of the back roads in the Palouse. You never know what you might find.