the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

Palouse

Palouse Report

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).

The Palouse River at the site of the former Manning-Rye Covered Bridge

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.

The slow collapse of the Skeen School

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.

The old Weber House, still looking good.
Another shot from Steptoe Butte
Steptoe Butte and the Palouse River near Elberton

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

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.


Photo Reception Tonight

Into the Blizzard

Sorry for the late notice, but if you are in the local area, we are having a reception tonight from 5:30 to 7 pm for the Tacoma Mountaineers Photography Exhibition at the Catholic Community Services Tahoma Gallery (1323 S. Yakima Ave. Tacoma). Come see some wonderful photography and share some refreshments with myself and the other photographers. You can also enter a drawing to win a free print of your choice from the exhibited works.

Don Thompson, the chair of our photo committee, sent out a list of the judging results along with the the judges notes. The judges this year were two photographers from the local newspaper, the Tacoma News Tribune. My photographers did well. Below are images of mine that won awards along with the judges notes.

Into the Blizzard

1st place – Hand of Man Division — “Into the Blizzard” by Joe Becker.

Judges’ comments: We love the humor and stark simplicity. Cleary the “Hand of Man” is at play here but the architect needs to go back to the drawing board.

Best of Show “Into the Blizzard” by Joe Becker.

Judges’ comments: There are many fine photos in this exhibit but we kept being drawn to Becker’s shot. It’s such an amusing blend of whimsy and cold-blooded nature. We kept waiting for the house to fall down. Any second now.

Winter, Palouse Falls

1st place – Nature Division — “Winter, Palouse Falls” by Joe Becker.

Judges’ comments: Lovely, ethereal image that made the thundering falls look like a fairy kingdom. Well-composed and opting for B&W was an effective choice. It made the scene chillier and brought out layers of detail that may not have registered in color.

Palouse Dusk

Honorable mention – Nature Division — “Palouse Dusk” by Joe Becker.

Judges’ comments: Gorgeous, subtle color palette. Nice minimalist composition. Light is well-captured. Very dreamy photo.


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.