I intend to get back to my series on the Grand Canyon, but I visited the Palouse last weekend and want to give a report on the conditions there. In short, the Palouse has been hit hard by the drought occurring this year in eastern Washington. Several farmers I talked to are concerned about how much harvest there will be this year, as everything is growing more slowly except for the few irrigated fields (most the fields in the Palouse, and all those on hills, are not irrigated; this is dry-land farm country, which relies on rain and snow to water the fields).
In spots, some wheat fields are starting to turn brown before the wheat heads are even formed. The plants in the lentil and chick pea fields are about half their normal size. And I fear the canola fields this year will not bloom, or at least bloom considerably late. The plants in most canola fields are only several inches tall or in drier spots of the fields, never even came up. Normally, the canola is almost full grown and getting ready to bloom at the end of May. Overall, my visit this year at the end of May had more of the appearance of the end of April in normal years. Perhaps, conditions will improve in June before the wheat turns golden brown in July.
Here are a few reports for specific spots:
Manning-Rye Covered Bridge: the bridge is totally gone. It was destroyed in a wildfire last year, which also burned down the house and barn south of the bridge that was accessed by the bridge. There is rebuilding activity on the farm, which is now apparently accessed by a new road south of the river. It’s very likely the bridge will not be rebuilt. The view of the river is nice, even with a few scorched trees, but it just isn’t the same without the bridge.
Steptoe Butte: lots of green field are visible, though not as much as in previous years, and because the chick pea fields are growing so slowly, there is less variety in the green colors than in a normal year.
Palouse Country Barn: there is an untilled, fallow field around the barn – not very photogenic
Skeen School: it’s still standing, but barely. The front left corner is almost totally collapsed. Go soon before the entire building is down.
Overall, it is still worth visiting. The hills and colors are still amazing, just a bit different than in previous years. A lot of the major photo spots are not much changed for previous years, such as the Heidenreich Dairy Barn. There is still no place else like the Palouse, even in a drought year, as I hope the featured image above (from Steptoe Butte) and those below attest. By the way, descriptions of and directions to all the above spots and may more are available on Photohound in my guide to the Palouse.
Last week, as part of the gradual easing of its stay-at-home order, Washington State opened up the majority of state parks for day-use only. Knowing that I was going into photography withdrawal, Tanya suggested we head out on a photo day. Even though the parks were open, it was suggested people stay local. Well, local is a relative term, and being a Westerner, I don’t mind driving several miles – in this case 200 miles one way. Is that local? It was still in the State of Washington and we didn’t need to stay overnight – that’s local to me.
So last Saturday we packed up a picnic and the camera gear and headed off to Sun Lakes – Dry Falls State Park. Why there? One, it has the raw beauty of the channeled scablands. But perhaps more importantly, I thought there wouldn’t be as many people there as in closer state parks. The weather was sunny and warm, and there was bound to be more than a few people out enjoying the state parks on this first weekend since the pandemic started that they were open. And while there were a fair number of people at the park, the park’s parking lots was not crowded – unlike the several hiking trailheads we passed on the way over the mountains that were overflowing with cars. In fact, the parking for the trail we took in Sun Lakes State Park only had one other car (out of four parking spots – so with us, it was half full; is that crowded?).
Sun Lakes State Park is located in the Grand Coulee. The park itself contains at least four lakes, and there are a number of other lakes further down the coulee. That gave this trip the added bonus of having a place to stop before reaching the park for me to fly my drone (drones are not allowed in Washington State Parks without a permit) while Tanya took Benson, our 8-month old, 102-pound Newfoundland, on his first swim. We picked a spot along Alkali Lake, and while Tanya and Benson frolicked in the water, I checked out Alkali Lake and Lake Lenore from the air.
Then it was on to Sun Lakes. The state park has a developed camping (closed) and day-use area on Park Lake with nice green grass and large shade trees. Instead of stopping there, we took the road to Deep Lake, which is developed with a small picnic area with natural vegetation and a boat launch. There were about 10 cars there and several dozen people swimming or fishing in the lake. So instead of taking the lakeside trail, we decided to take the Caribou Trail with climbs the hillside above the lake (not sure why it is named the Caribou Trail, caribou are definitely not native to this desert terrain).
Though I’ve been to Sun Lakes perhaps a dozen times before, I had never been to Deep Lake or on the Caribou Trail, so this was new territory to me. I knew the trail climbed above up toward the top of the coulee, but I didn’t know if it had a view of Deep Lake from up there. It is a relatively short trail, and the official trail ends when reaching the top of the cliffs. No view from there. So we kept walking on a faint unofficial trail, and then, eventually, set off cross country to find a view. And sure enough, we found a view of Deep Lake far below. We sat on the rocks, pulled out our water bottles, and drank in both water and scenery.
After shooting for 15 or 20 minutes, we headed back down the car. We don’t quite have our car setup organized well with the new dog yet. Trying to fit the dog and all the camera gear in the car along with food and drink (which must be separated from the dog) is a challenge. I decided to pack the camera backpack in a different spot after the hike, to be loaded after the dog got in. Unfortunately, after loading the dog, I forgot about the bag and started to back out onto the road only to run over something. You guessed it, my camera backpack!
Luckily, my camera was not in the pack, and a quick check didn’t show anything broken. We drove back to Deep Lake for our picnic dinner. There were a few less people, and we got a picnic table isolated from others. While eating, I checked out the gear in more detail. All the lens seemed to be working okay. However, there are cracks on a portion of the barrel of the Tamron 150-600 mm zoom. Also, the split neutral-density filter is history. Hopefully the lens can be repaired (currently the Tamron repair shop, which is in New York, is closed due to the pandemic).
After dinner, we drove over to Dry Falls Lake, which, not surprisingly, is located at the base of Dry Falls. It was an hour or so before sunset and the light on the cliffs of Dry Falls was particularly nice. The featured shot above is a 4-shot panorama of Dry Falls and Dry Falls Lake.
If you plan on making the trip out to Sun Lakes – Dry Falls State Park, be forewarned that the road to Dry Falls Lake is extremely rough. We did okay in our SUV, and I do think most regular passenger cars would make it, but some cars without much ground clearance could have difficulties. The road to Deep Lake is paved.
We left before sunset so we could get home before 11 pm. All in all, even with the the misadventure with my camera backpack, it was a good day. As always, I welcome your comments.
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.
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.
A 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.