the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

Eastern Washington

Undiscovered Palouse

Last month I made my 6th trip to the Palouse in the past 12 months. Over the five trips, I had photographed at over 100 spots in the region. I had visited perhaps another dozen or so that I’d been to and but didn’t photograph because the light was bad. And finally, there were another 10 spots I knew of but hadn’t scouted yet.

On my sixth trip, my goal was to make images at some of these spots that I knew of, but hadn’t done so previously. With that goal, I made the almost sacrilegious decision not to photograph from Steptoe Butte. In fact, even though it was the prime photograph season in the Palouse, I only saw five other photographers over the three days I was there (one group of four and another solo photographer).

I also decided to do some random driving around, looking for roads I hadn’t driven before, to see what I could find. One of the pleasures of the Palouse, if you have the time, is to just drive without a plan and see what you can find. Having literally spent 100s of hours in the Palouse, I wondered if I could still find anything new.

I wasn’t disappointed; and I came back with some decent images of places I hadn’t been to before. These may be familiar to others, but they were new to me. All the images featured in this post are of places I hadn’t previously known of. I did most of my “random” driving in the late morning or early afternoon before or after going to spots where I wanted golden hour (or near golden hour) light. (The driving wasn’t actually totally random; I picked areas where I knew I hadn’t been to before). Therefore, most of these images were taken in late morning or early to mid-afternoon.  Even so, I’m happy with what I captured.

Barn, windmill, horses – classic Palouse along Conrad Road. The featured photo above was also shot on Conrad Road.
I also found this grain elevator along Conrad Road.
On Steiger Road, I found a farm with a sizable old tractor collection
Another shot from the tractor collection
This big white barn is along Elberton Road. Actually I had driven by this barn once before (in winter) and didn’t stop. So I guess it wasn’t totally undiscovered.
Another old grain elevator, this one near Hangman Creek Road in Idaho
Panorama I shot along B Howard Road. Note the lone tree and windmill in the middle distance.
Close up of the windmill along B Howard Road
The lone pine tree along B Howard Road
A lone tree and tri-colored green fields along Pat O’Neil Road
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Quick Shot – Palouse Moon

I recently returned from spending a few more days in the Palouse. June is prime season for photography in the Palouse, with green hills everywhere. My goal was to get a few shots I’ve missed in my trips last year. In that regard, I did not go to Steptoe Butte, but rather hit the few spots on my list that I missed last year and did some exploring on roads I had not previously driven.

For now, I wanted to offer up one quick shot from the trip. I shot this last Sunday evening just after sunset with the soon to be full moon rising over the hills. I’m not sure I like the sunset lit clouds on the edge of the image, but I can’t really complain being able to witness and capture such a scene. I’ll post some more from the trip in the next week or so.


Columbia National Wildlife Refuge

Basalt formation at Columbia National Wildlife RefugeA couple weeks ago, Tanya and I visited the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Washington. While obviously it is a good place for bird photography (in season at least), it is also a good place for landscape photography. The refuge is full of small lakes and wetlands set among basalt cliffs. Add in blue skies and interesting clouds, and the area is ripe with landscape photo opportunities.

The best time to visit for photography is the golden hours. However, if you are driving over from Tacoma (like I have the two times I’ve visited), it’s difficult to be there at sunrise or sunset. But even mid-day offers some possibilities if you can control the contrast or find a composition where the contrast doesn’t ruin the image (such as the photo above; well at least I don’t think it does).

On our recent visit, I was hoping to catch some of the spring wildflowers, but we were a little early. If you are thinking of visiting, I bet the flowers are in full bloom right now.

The refuge is traversed by gravel roads, some of which are closed during parts of the year to protect wildlife. There are also several short trails. During my visit last month, I took the 4-mile round trip Chukar and Blythe Lakes hike. The hike traverses the shoreline of Blythe Lake before climbing to a viewpoint above Chukar Lake. If you do take a hike or wander around in the brush taking photos, be sure to do a tick check when returning to the car.

Reeds along the shore of Blythe Lake, Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

Reeds along the shore of Blythe Lake

Clouds and basalt cliffs, Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

Clouds and basalt cliffs near Blythe Lake

Wetlands along the trail to Chukar Lake, Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

Wetlands along the trail to Chukar Lake,

Hawk, Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

Can’t have a post about a wildlife refuge without showing some wildlife. There were quite a few raptors about. Also saw several great egrets and lots of Canada geese. We talked to someone who had seen sandhill cranes, be we did not see any.

Rocks, Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

I liked the shape and color of these rocks near Chukar Lake.

Soda Lake, Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

Black and white conversion shot of Soda Lake.

Drumheller Channels, Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

These are part of the Drumheller Channels, which is a National Natural Landmark, are a classic portion of the Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington. They were formed by glacial outburst floods (and are very cool for me as a geologist). The Columbia National Wildlife Refuge is set within the Drumheller Channels.


Four Seasons on the Palouse

Over the past 15 months, I’ve made 6 trips to the Palouse: two in winter (one without snow), two in June, one in August, and one in October. There are no locations that I photographed on every trip, and only a couple I photographed in each season. I thought it would be fun to do a seasonal comparison for one spot. I visited the former Heidenreich Dairy Barn in all four seasons. This former dairy barn (now a wedding/event venue) is one of the iconic images in the Palouse, visited by hundreds or more photographers every year. It is close to Colfax and best photographed early in the morning. That makes it a prime spot to photograph at sunrise without having to drive too far from your motel room. And when the sun rises at 5 a.m. in late spring and early summer, getting a few extra minutes of sleep really matters.

What makes it such a great shot, besides being an amazing barn, is the adjoining silo and the old orange truck that is always parked in front of the barn. The barn was built in 1910 and was refurbished in 2009. It is a Washington State Heritage Barn, and in 2011, it won the Heritage Barn Rehabilitation award from the Washington State Department of Archeology and Preservation. You can learn more about the rehabilitation of the barn at https://wadahp.wordpress.com/2011/05/16/2011-shpo-award-winners/heidenreich.

Here are four images of the barn, taken in the four seasons from the same approximate viewpoint.

This was shot on June 20, 2018, still technically spring. Spring brings wonderfully green fields of wheat and other crops to the Palouse. May and June are definitely the favorite time for photographers to visit the region. Most workshops in the Palouse run in these two months. And if you visit this barn at sunrise in June, there will be a good chance you will not be the only photographer there.

By August, the wheat (and most the other crops) will have turned golden. Before harvest (which starts in August), the fields have the soft texture visible here. I shot this image on August 8, 2018. Unfortunately, when I was there, though not cloudy, the sky was very smokey due to forest fires elsewhere in the state. The filtered sunlight was nice, but the sky was rather bland. August is probably the second most favorite time for photographers in the region. However, I fear smokey skies in late summer will become more common, which may make the season less popular.

Autumn seems to be the forgotten season in the Palouse. The fields have been harvested and many have been plowed under. Luckily when I visited the Heidenreich barn on October 20, 2018, the fields behind the barn still had golden stubble (instead of plowed dirt). The field in front of the truck had not been plowed yet, but the stubble had been mowed for straw and the ground not very appealing photographically (thus I minimized it in this shot). Overall though, other than the pumpkins by the truck,and the lack of leaves on the small trees in front of the barn, and a bit of color on the trees in back, it scene isn’t too dissimilar than the scene in August.

I’ve wanted to photograph in the Palouse when it was snowy for some time now. When I visited in December 2017, there was no snow. So this winter, I kept an eye on the weather forecasts, but this has been a warm winter in the Pacific Northwest, at least until February. When lasting snow did reach the Palouse, I jumped at the opportunity to get over there and had quite the adventure getting home (see my previous post). As it turns out, the region got much more snow since I took this image on February 8th and is still snow-covered.

There is truly no bad time to photograph in the Palouse, each season brings it own rewards and challenges. As you can see, you can visit the same spot multiple times throughout the year and come away with wonderfully different shots.


A Winter Story

I’ve photographed in the Palouse in spring, summer and fall, but to finish up my soon-to-be release Palouse photography guide, I needed to photograph there in the winter. To be honest, I have shot in the Palouse in winter before, but not when there was snow. So all winter long, I’ve been waiting for snow to coat the Palouse hills (and for some free time for me to make the journey). When I did go last week, I found the Palouse is incredibly beautiful when covered by snow.

This is the lone tree along JW Baylor Road east of Steptoe Butee

Winter in the Washington State has been very mild (that is up until about eight days ago), and snow has been rare in eastern Washington. Finally, several weeks ago, the weather forecasts were looking favorable, so I made plans to do a quick trip over. My plan was to drive over the evening of Thursday, February 8th, shoot on Friday and Saturday, then after a quick visit to my Step-mom in Spokane, drive back to Tacoma on Sunday. It was a good plan, except it didn’t account for the largest snow storm to hit the state in decades. The photography part of the trip went great (though I didn’t get to as many spots as I would have liked), but the driving home on Sunday part was not so good.

The snow coverage in the Palouse was uneven. Down near Uniontown, there was less snow (and in some places, almost none – though earlier this week, I’m sure this changed), while up near Tekoa, the snow cover was much thicker. My journeys on Friday were hampered at times by falling snow, which greatly cut visibility and made scenes look foggy. Saturday provided much better light, but brought its own special challenges – high winds and drifting snow.

Many of the back roads in the Palouse are “all-weather” gravel roads. I found many of these barely passable because of the drifting snow. In my mid-sized, all-wheel drive SUV, I plowed through many snow drifts as long as they weren’t too tall – it was fun. While this allowed me to get to some good shots, it later came back to haunt me. By mid-afternoon Saturday, the light was wonderful, but the wind had really picked up, and even the paved highways were being drifted over.

Throughout Friday and Saturday morning, I had visited spots I thought might look good with snow (as well as a couple new spots). My plan by mid-afternoon on Saturday was to go shoot the Lone Pine grain elevator then try to get up on Steptoe Butte. Lone Pine road was heavily drifted, but we made it in. The vantage point I wanted was a short distance from Lone Pine Road, on Chase Road (another all-season road). Tanya and I turned onto Chase Road and almost immediately stopped because the snow was so thick. But then, a tractor plowing the road crested the hill. It went by us and back up the hill. I figured we could now make it, with the road being plowed. I was wrong. We got about 100 meters or less up the road and got stuck. We were stuck for at least half an hour, even with the farmer, Donovan Chase, helping us out. He finally was able to get us out of there, and I didn’t even get the shot I was looking for (the 30+ mph wind was blowing snow straight at us from the direction of the grain elevator – the shot was not possible).

After freeing us from the snow, he asked us to check in at C&D’s Bar & Grill (which he is an owner) to let them know we made it out okay since the conditions on Lone Pine Road were sketchy. We made it out to Tekoa and stopped at C&D’s to have a drink. We decided it was probably best stop the photography for the day and head to Spokane (we probably couldn’t have gotten very far up Steptoe anyway). However, not a mile outside of town on the highway to Spokane, the road was restricted to one lane by snow drifts and that lane was blocked by a tow truck pulling a car out of a drift. Right then, a Department of Transportation truck appeared and told us the highway was closed. We eventually did make it to Spokane by heading east out of Tekoa into Idaho first before heading north. The normally 50-minute drive to Spokane took about 1.5 hours. On the drive, our car was running rough and making unusual noises.

A view of Steptoe Butte with the Palouse River in the foreground. By the way, I cheated on this shot. Steptoe and the foreground with sunlit at different times, so I composited two shots together here.

But we made it to Spokane and checked into our hotel. After dinner with my Step-mom, we decided our SUV should probably go to the auto shop before we drove back across the state to Tacoma. You know how many auto shops are open in Spokane on Sundays in winter? Maybe two. We still hoped to drive to Tacoma Sunday, so I got the car to the Firestone shop when it opened at 8 a.m. Sunday morning. However, with the storm, their power had been out all day Saturday, and they were very backed up. They’d get to my SUV when they could.

About 3 hours later, I got a call from Firestone. They had the car up on the lift and the mechanic saw something he had never seen before. Apparently, the total undercarriage of my SUV was coated with over 1 foot of ice. They said they’d need to thaw the car before determining what was wrong. Needless to say, we did not drive to Tacoma that day. Around 5 p.m. Firestone called back and said they had finally melted enough of the ice to check the car out. They thought their might be a problem with the transmission and suggested I take it to a transmission shop in the morning.

So Monday morning, I picked the car up at Firestone and drove it to the transmission shop. It took them a couple of hours to determine nothing was wrong with the transmission. Though they did call me into the shop and under the lift to show me ice still packed into the nooks and crannies under my car and asked where I had been driving. They thawed more ice and sent me on my way. We hit Interstate 90 toward Seattle at around 10:30 a.m.

However, the car was not totally fine. I had a dead headlight (obtained while plowing through snow banks on Saturday morning) and the wiper fluid was frozen. Driving on the interstate freeway in winter without wiper fluid does not work very well. So, we stopped in Ritzville (about an hour west of Spokane) to get the headlight replaced and the wiper fluid unfrozen. It took about 2 hours – they had to thaw a block of ice in the wiper fluid reservoir, the wiper fluid lines, and the wiper fluid motor. But finally we were back on the road.

All went fine until we were about half way up and over the Cascade Mountains on Snoqualmie Pass. It was around 5:30 p.m., was snowing heavily, and very dark with almost no visibility (I was glad I got the headlight fixed). Not surprisingly, the State Patrol closed the road. Unfortunately for us, they closed it about 10 cars in front of us. If we had left Spokane 5 minutes earlier, we could have got over the pass. Instead, we found a hotel room for the night in Cle Elum.

Tuesday morning, we packed up and learned that the pass was still closed and Interstate 90 was closed both ways. We decided to try for White Pass (good thing, Snoqulamie Pass didn’t open until a day later). He had to first take back road east to Ellensburgh because the freeway was closed. But once at Ellensburg, we got back on the freeway and drove east and south to Yakima. There we got on the US Highway 12 to White Pass. The pass was open, but conditions were not good. However, we finally made it over the Cascades. Unfortunately, the highway to Tacoma from Highway 12 was closed due to snow and downed trees, and we had to take the long way around. We finally got home around 5:30 p.m. – a full two days later than we had planned. It had snowed about 13 inches at our house and we needed to shovel the berm created by the snowplow in front of our house to park.

So, was all this worth it for some winter shots of the Palouse? You be the judge and let me know what you think of these shots.

This is the old Skeen School near Kamiak Butte. It’s amazing how it is still standing.

An old abandoned house near Farmington, Washington.

A red barn along Borgen Road in Idaho, east of Uniontown.

Two barns along Banner Road north of Pullman during a snowy period on Friday morning.

These horses didn’t seem to mind the blowing snow on Saturday morning.

Snow at Dave’s Old Truck yard in Sprague

Palouse Falls on Friday afternoon. The water was a dirty brown color, as was much of the ice. Black and white to the rescue!