November is often a dreary month in the Pacific Northwest, and I find it hard to get excited about outdoor photography. The fall colors are mostly gone and it rains (a lot) west of the Cascade Mountains. The hope of winter photography is often yet not realized – if there is much snow in the mountains, it is often heavy, wet, and melting under dull gray skies. Okay, things aren’t quite that bad, but November is not my favorite time of year for photography.
That’s why I was pleasantly surprised last week when I tagged along with Tanya to her work conference in Vancouver, Washington and found some good November photography. While Tanya was being educated, I decided to drive down into the Willamette Valley of Oregon to visit a few wineries and take some pictures. It was sunny on and off throughout the day mixed with light rain. Not perfect conditions, but better than the steady downpours we’ve been having lately.
The Willamette Valley south of Portland is chock full of wineries and vineyards, and it can be hard to figure out where to go for photography. So once again I relied on an excellent photography guidebook by Greg Vaughn, this one about Oregon. In his section on the Willamette Valley, he lists several wineries that are particularly photogenic, so I picked out a few of those and plotted a route through the area.
Unfortunately, most of the grape vines had already lost their leaves, but I was able to find enough to take a few colorful late fall photographs. Mid-November is a bit late for color here, and based on what I saw, I’d think late October would be much better. But between the photography and the wine tasting, it was one of my better days photographing in November.
It seems that every autumn, I comment on the lack of fall color in the Pacific Northwest and the need to know where to look for it (for example, see this post from last year, or this one from 2014). Last month I spent a long weekend in northeastern Washington looking for autumn colors, and I came away very impressed with how beautiful fall is there. Northeastern Washington does not get a lot of attention from nature photographers in the state. With Mount Rainier, the Olympics, the Pacific coast, the Columbia Gorge, and the Palouse, who has time for northeastern Washington? Well, if you want some great autumn scenery, make time. And as a bonus, you won’t have to fight for a spot for your tripod; in the 2 1/2 days I spent photographing there, I didn’t see anyone else with a camera.
I booked a room for a Friday night in Colville, Washington. Despite an early start from home, the drive (in the rain the whole way, except for at the top of Snoqualmie Pass, where it was snowing) took most the day. Though I only made a few stops on the way for photos, I got to the Colville region with less than an hour’s daylight left, which didn’t leave much time for scouting photo locations. So I headed to the one spot I knew I could get a good shot – Crystal Falls. This pretty little waterfall is 14 miles east of Colville on the Little Pend Oreille River. Though there wasn’t a lot of color at the waterfall, it made a pleasant stop before heading to town for the night.
The next day, I decided to explore the region between Colville and the Pend Oreille River, an area recommended by my photographer friend, Greg Vaughn, in his book Photographing Washington. I headed back east on Highway 20, continuing past Crystal Falls, to a series of small lakes along the upper reaches of the Little Pend Oreille River (the featured photo above is at one of these small lakes, Frater Lake). The previous day’s rain was gone, leaving a wonderful blue sky with scattered clouds and a dusting of snow on the ground in places. The forest around the lakes are thick with western larch, which made the forest a patchwork of bright yellow and dark green. Larch, one of the few deciduous conifers, turn bright yellow in fall and are fairly rare elsewhere in the state, but plentiful here. They are best photographed with back or side lighting.
Continuing past the lakes, the highway goes by Tiger Meadow, which has several aspen groves along its edges. I spent several hours there roaming the meadow, photographing the aspens and larch, and enjoying the crisp air and solitude (the image in my previous post is from Tiger Meadow). From there, I drove along the Pend Oreille River for a while where I found some colorful cottonwoods. Then I headed back to Colville via South Fork Mill Creek Road, with some beautiful aspen groves along it as well as larch on the hillsides.
I needed to get to the town of Republic where I planned on spending the night. This took me over Sherman Pass in the late afternoon. The larch are thick along Sherman Pass, and the late afternoon sun lit up the forests.
The following morning, I spent a short while photographing cottonwoods along the highway south of Republic (again recommended by Greg Vaughn), but the went off on my own without advice from Greg’s book. I headed west, then north, looking for the ghost town of Bodie, Washington. Along the way, I found more aspens and larch begging to be photographed. At Bodie, the aspens had already nearly lost all their leaves, but it was still fun to photograph the old buildings. From there, I decided to explore another ghost town, Molson, which is up near the Canadian border. The route took plenty of back roads, past some secluded scenery. Unlike Bodie, which is just falling apart with age, the Molson ghost town is actually an outdoors museum, with buildings and equipment moved to the current site and maintained by a historical society. There was plenty to explore there, and I could have easily spent more time doing so. However, I had promised my son, who lives in Yakima, I’d visit him and his girlfriend for dinner, so I put away the camera and headed south.
I’m happy with the shots I brought home with me, and the area is on my list as a place to visit again in the future when October colors come again to Washington.
Adobe recently updated Lightroom, in the process creating a new version of the program. They renamed the old version Lightroom Classic CC, while the new version took the previous name of the old version: Lightroom CC. Confused yet?
If you have the photography CC subscription service (currently at $10/month), either version is available to download – but you can only have both if you fork out an extra $10 per month. The new Lightroom CC is the wave of the future. It’s main feature is that your Lightroom catalog and all your photos are saved to the Adobe cloud so that you can work on them in Lightroom from anywhere with a internet connection. Sounds like a great idea. The service comes with 1 TB of storage on the cloud. Unfortunately, I would need about 4 times as much space to upload all my photo files. And while I’m sure I could rent extra cloud space, I’m not sure I ready to give Adobe more money yet.
I have my own somewhat convoluted way of working in Lightroom on multiple computers. I export selected portions of my Lightroom catalog with smart previews to the 20GB of cloud storage that comes with the old Lightroom (and the Lightroom Classic), then work with that catalog when away from my main desktop computer. When finished, I import the catalog back into my main catalog. So, for now, I’m sticking with Lightroom Classic.
Plus, Lightroom Classic received a nice upgrade. Reportedly its speed performance has improved, but what I really like is the addition of range masking. Now, any mask made by the adjustment brush, gradient filter, or radial filter can be modified by color or luminance. Simply first create a rough mask using one of the three tools. Then, at the bottom of the Mask dialog, there’s a new setting labeled “Range Mask” with the default setting of off. Change the setting to color, and you get an amount slider and a color picker tool. Only want your blue sky to be selected, use your mouse to select the color picker, move it to the blue sky and click – the other colors are deleted from the rough mask. You can shift and click to select multiple colors and click and drag to define a “box” of colors. It helps to have the Mask Overlay selected to see how your mask changes.
The luminance setting for the Range Mask works similarly, but with brightness instead of color. It does not including a picking tool, but has a “two-handled” slider for defining a brightness range and a smoothness slider. With your mask overlay on, it is easy to play around with these two sliders to see the effect.
The photo above, that I took in mid-October in northeastern Washington, provides an example of the usefulness of the new range masking. I actually first tried developing the image without the new range masking tools. And while the result was nice, it did have problems. Specifically there was some haloing around the aspen trees, I couldn’t get the brightness of the leaves and tree trunks to what I wanted, and the sky color was not totally natural. I probably could have corrected these issues with Photoshop, but thought I’d try the range masking tools in Lightroom to see if they could help.
Below is a progression of how I developed the image in Lightroom Classic starting with the original image with default Lightroom settings.
Here are a couple quick shots from my trip home from the Wind River Range driving through Yellowstone National Park. We had hoped to see a lot of wildlife, but only saw a couple of bison from a long distance and a trio of magnificent bull elk while leaving the park at 9:30 pm in the dark – so no wildlife pictures. Luckily, the park has great landscapes too! The Grand Prismatic Spring above and Yellowstone Falls below. I posted one more shot from Yellowstone at my Instagram account, so check that one out too.
The Cirque of Towers in the Wind River Range of Wyoming is truly an amazing place. The photos that accompany this post really do not do it justice. It clearly rivals the scenery in many a National Park or Monument, and while there, I heard more than one person question why it isn’t in one. My guess is that it may have more to do with local and western politics than anything else (for example, there was a large, vocal opposition to Grand Teton National Park), but that is just speculation. Or it may be that Wyoming is the only state in which the President cannot use the Antiquities Act to create a national monument. Whatever the reason, the Cirque is worthy. That said, it may be just as well it isn’t in National Park – if that were the case, it would be mobbed. While Lonesome Lake, located in the middle of the Cirque, isn’t really lonesome, it isn’t crowded either.
In my previous post, I described the first half of a backpacking trip my brother, Rob, and I made to Cirque of Towers , where we camped at Shadow Lake behind (west of) the Cirque. The official trail ends at Shadow Lake, but an unmaintained trail climbs up above Shadow Lake, skirts several other lakes, and climbs Texas Pass into the Cirque.
The unmaintained trail is a bit hard to follow at some points. As Rob and I hiked up the hill east of Shadow Lake, we wandered off the trail once or twice, but the forest is not thick here and it was easy to keep going. At the top of the hill, the land flattens out in a mostly treeless mountain valley. Here the trail is again easy to follow, skirting along or above the shores Billy’s Lake, Barren Lake, and Texas Lake. As we were told earlier, there are great spots to camp near Billy’s Lake, though we both thought the view was better at Shadow Lake (this is not to say the view is bad at Billy’s Lake, it is great, just not as great as at Shadow). The upper two lakes, Barren and Texas, looked to have fewer spots to pitch a tent. Interestingly, Barren Lake did not apparently get its name from lack of fish. As the trail climbed some 50 feet above the shore, we could still see large trout in the cruising along the shoreline.
The valley ends abruptly in a rocky wall of mountains with one steep looking pass. So far, the elevation gain isn’t bad. Shadow Lake is at 10,287 feet, and the trail before climbing Texas Pass is about 10,800 feet (and most of that elevation gain came between Shadow and Billy’s Lakes) covering about 1.75 miles. But from near the shore of Texas Lake up to the top of Texas Pass, at an elevation of about 11,450, is a grueling climb of nearly 700 feet in about just 1/4 of a mile. (For those of you familiar with the Enchantments in Washington State, it reminded me a lot of Aasgard Pass above Colchuck Lake – though not as long – Aasgard gaining 2,000 feet of elevation in about 3/4 of a mile.) During the climb I found myself taking plenty of camera breaks to shoot the lakes below (seriously, just because the scenery is so good).
Though the trail is not maintained, there still is an official Forest Service, weather-worn sign at the top of the pass marking the boundary on the continental divide between the Teton Wilderness in Bridger-Teton National Forest from the Popo Agie Wilderness in the Shoshone National Forest. The view from the pass into the Cirque is dominated by Pingora Peak, a graceful granite tower on the east side of the continental divide named, according to Backpacker.com, for the Shoshone word for “high, rocky, inaccessible peak.”
The trail south of Texas Pass leads down past the base of Pingora Peak to Lonesome Lake (on the featured image at the top, Pingora Peak is the prominent one on the left). Though mostly meadows, the trail is once again easy to lose. Just keep heading downhill, an elevation drop of about 1,300 feet in one mile. The trail is east of the small creek that comes out of the small cirque below the pass, cutting through the trees above Lonesome Lake, emerging at the northwest corner of the lake. From there, it skirts the shoreline and meets up with an official trail again right at the outlet stream at the east end of the lake. (Or I should say river, the lake is the headwaters for the North Popo Agie River.)
There is no camping within a quarter-mile of the lake. We found abundant campsites on the southeast side of the lake. The view of the Cirque of Towers, as it surrounds the lake, is spectacular. Unfortunately, the afternoon we arrived, the sky had grown overcast, and it looked like it might rain that night. I took a few photos, but just mainly enjoyed the view and took a nap on a flat boulder “island” along the lake shore.
In the morning, we rose early for sunrise, just in case the clouds had parted in the night. And they had. As the first alpenglow hit the peaks, the lake was a mirror. As the sun rose, lighting more of the mountains, a slight breeze came up, but the view was no less amazing.
Later that morning, we packed up and climbed the trail to Jackass Pass – not nearly as bad as Texas Pass, only gaining 550 feet over a mile – the scenery spectacular all the way. We spent a long time at the pass, climbing the small hill west of it, soaking in the view of the nearby War Bonnet Peak to the west, the rest of the Cirque and Lonesome Lake to the north, and Arrowhead Lake (shaped exactly like an arrowhead) to the southwest.
From Jackass Pass, the trail traverses along the mountainside above Arrowhead Lake then drops about 1,000 feet down to Big Sandy Lake, about 2.4 miles from the top of Jackass. While the elevation between Big Sandy Lake and Jackass Pass isn’t too extreme, both Rob and I were glad we were coming down instead of going up. What’s not included in the 1,000 elevation gain is all the little ups and downs. We both thought coming into the Cirque from the north via Texas Pass was the easier option if doing the loop trip (if doing an in-and-out, coming in via Big Sandy and Jackass Pass is probably easier, but you would miss Shadow Lake that way).
Our original plan was to camp at Big Sandy Lake and hike out the next day. Even though the scenery at Big Sandy Lake is great, after the previous day in the Cirque, it didn’t quite match up, and still being relatively early in the day, we decided to hump it all the way out that afternoon and spend our extra day driving through Yellowstone National Park on the way home. The trail from Big Sandy out to the trailhead is about 5.6 miles and relatively flat, losing only about 600 feet. We set a good pace and made it back to the car before dinner time.
All in all, it was a great backpacking trip. I highly recommend doing the loop. Don’t be afraid of the portion of the trail that is unmaintained and unofficial. For the most part, it is easy to follow, and where it is not, the way to go is fairly obvious. This national-park worthy hike will leave you wanting go back – I can’t wait to go back.