the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

Travel Photography

Two Summer Seasons of the Palouse

My recent posts of the Palouse featured images captured in June when the landscape is green. However, mid to late summer in the Palouse looks totally different. June is green; August is golden. Most photographers prefer the green season – on a Tuesday night back in June, my photographer buddy Don and I shared the top of Steptoe Butte with at least 50 other photographers. Last week I returned to Steptoe Butte, and I had the only tripod in sight. Is one season better than the other? In my opinion, at least photographically, they are both great. You can visit the same locations and get two totally different images.

There are non-photographic differences. The weather is hotter in August than June. The average high temperature in June is 84 degrees F in Colfax and 72 degrees in Pullman. In August, those average highs jump to 91 and 83 degrees. Plus, the air quality is typically better in June. In recent years, late summer has brought many wildfires to the Pacific Northwest, which cause smoky conditions in the Palouse. This August was no exception, and the distant views were limited. On the other hand, a photographer wandering around in the tall grass in June is likely to find ticks looking for a meal; while in August, the ticks are mostly gone (though they can return in the fall). Plus it is much easier to find a motel room in August than in June (unless you come on the weekend of a WSU football game (which can sometimes start in late August).

Though the some of the comparison images below were shot from slightly different vantage points and/or different times of day, you can see the difference between the green and golden seasons. Green or golden, which is better? You be the judge.

Barn on Shawnee Road in August

Barn on Shawnee Road in June

Old house on Whitman Road in August

Old house on Whitman Road in June

Lone tree along Tennessee Flat Road in August

Lone tree along Tennessee Flat Road in June – BTW, Steptoe Butte is in the background in both shots

Barn along Hoffman Road in August

Barn along Hoffman Road in June

View from Skyline Drive in June

View from Skyline Drive in June

Old building in Wilcox in August

Old building in Wilcox in June,

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Non-golden Gold

One thing I like about the Palouse is there are still plenty of good shots to be made outside the golden hours. Granted, when photographing in the region, I still aim to shoot in around sunrise and sunset, but I keep shooting well into the day. I captured all the images presented here more than four hours after sunrise and more than four hours before sunset – in other words, in the middle of the day. And maybe some of them might be better if shot during the golden hours, but I think some are pretty good anyway. Perhaps some might even be photographic gold?

It’s great to be able to capture a few good shots outside the golden hours, because in mid-June in the Palouse, the sun rises very early (a little before 5 a.m.) and sets quite late (just before 9 p.m.). This makes for a very long day. My normal schedule for shooting in the Palouse is to: get up early and catch sunrise, then drive around shooting and scouting until about 11 a.m.; eat lunch; return to my motel and plan the afternoon/evening shoot; take a nap; head out again shooting/scouting starting about 3:30 or 4 p.m.; shoot sunset; drive back to the motel, plan the morning shoot, and go to bed.

There are a couple of reasons why the Palouse can offer photographic gold during the non-golden hours. First, is the tendency for the skies to have white puffy clouds in the afternoon (and sometimes in the morning). The shadows cast by the clouds can give definition to the landscape, breaking up the flat light of mid-day. Secondly, there are plenty of subjects available that work well at almost anytime of day.

Now, I wouldn’t recommend making a trip to the Palouse and ignoring the golden hours, but if you decide you don’t want to get up at o-dark-thirty some morning, know there are still some decent photography waiting for you out there. As always, your comments on my musings and/or images is most welcome. Enjoy these shots of mid-day Palouse.


Steptoeless – A Photographic Guide to Non-Steptoe Butte Palouse Viewpoints

Without a doubt, Steptoe Butte is the most popular photography destination in the Palouse. And deservedly do. Rising more that 1,000 feet above the surrounding landscape, there is no better place to capture an iconic shot of the rolling hills of the Palouse. If you only have time to go one place in the Palouse, this is it.

However, if you would rather not share the view with dozens (or more) of other photographers, or if you are just looking for someplace else to go, there are several other places I know of that can give you similar shots to those captured at Steptoe Butte.

Kamiak Butte

Most blog posts that recommend where to shoot in the Palouse, as well as Greg Vaughn’s excellent Photographing Washington, Kamiak Butte is mentioned as a good place to get similar views to Steptoe Butte. Though a bit lower in elevation than Steptoe Butte, its peak is more than 1,000 feet above the surrounding lands. There are several differences, however. Kamiak Butte is elongated, running northeast to southwest, so it doesn’t give the all directional views that Steptoe does. Also, most of its northern half is forested (Steptoe is treeless), so views to the north and northwest visible except in a few spots. Perhaps the largest difference is access. Kamiak Butte is a Whitman County park. The park access road is gated, and the gate locked from dusk to 7 a.m. If you want to drive up there for sunrise photos in the summer – forget it. Plus, unlike Steptoe, you need to hike to the viewpoints on Kamiak. The main loop trail up to the viewpoints is 3.5 miles, but you can get to the first viewpoints in about half a mile (with an elevation gain of about 320 feet).

Having to access the viewpoints by trail makes it difficult for sunset shots as well. Unless you are a trail runner, it might be difficult to shoot at sunset, hike back to your car, and get out the gate before it is locked for the night. (And yes, the sign specifically states you can get locked in.)

On the plus side, there will be fewer people there and the wildflower display at Kamiak is wonderful – in my experience, much better than at Steptoe. There is also no fee to visit Kamiak, while Steptoe Butte is a state park and requires a $10/day fee (or an annual state parks pass – the Discovery Pass).  Also, you can camp at Kamiak, while there is no camping at Steptoe.

I didn’t want to take my chances with the gate, so I my recent trips, I shot from Kamiak in the mid-afternoon and went elsewhere for sunset. The gate to Kamiak Butte County Park is in Kamiak Butte Park Road (image that!) at GPS coordinates 46.880353, -117.149009.

Marvin Wells Road

I found one source (Photograph America Newsletter #54) that suggested Marvin Wells Road as a good viewpoint. On this road, you can get to an elevation of about 2,975 feet, about 700 feet of the top of Kamiak Butte. The road approaches the butte from the west and skims along the bottom of the treeline (with the trees above the road on the butte). The view is not so vast as you get from the top, being only toward the west through north, nor will you be 1,000 feet above the surrounding landscape, but you do not need to worry about being locked out at sunrise or locked in after sunset.

Also, the elevation difference may not be as big a deal breaker as you might think. There is some debate about where is the best place to shoot on Steptoe, and many photographers prefer not going completely to the top, photographing instead from pullouts between some 400 to 600 feet lower than the summit. Marvin Wells Road puts you just underneath that same elevation range.

If you like your sunset between just you and your tripod, I can guarantee you, you won’t find any other photographers at the viewpoints along Marvin Wells Road (unless, of course, my blog post goes viral – ha ha!). Plus, there will be little to no traffic. The road leads to a single farm on the side of Kamiak Butte. I shot there several times during my recent visits and didn’t see any other photographers and only a single car passed me.

The best approach to the Marvin Wells viewpoints is from the west (the road does loop around to Fugate Road, just a mile east of the entrance to Kamiak Butte County Park; however, Marvin Wells Road off of Fugate is a very sketchy “summer” road [dirt roads open only in the summer] that I chose not to test with my SUV). Both South Palouse River Road (from the west) and Fugate Road (from the east) merge directly onto Marvin Wells Road below the butte. The viewpoint at GPS coordinates 46.862410, -117.182667 is to the west and northwest. By driving a little further on the road you can also see more to the northeast.

Woody Grade Road

The viewpoint at Woody Grade Road is directly east of Steptoe Butte on the eastern edge of the Palouse region (in Idaho). It has an elevation of just over 3,030 feet, but the nearby surrounding lands are only about 500 feet lower. Still, you can get some good shots here. This spot, to my knowledge, is not mentioned any in other guides to the Palouse. I found it by searching Google maps.

There are two views here; one is a wide-open view to the west and north, and the other is a more restricted view to the south. The two viewpoints are about 500 feet apart.

You can access the Woody Grade viewpoints either from the south or from the west. Woody Grade Road west of the viewpoints is a summer road, which was in good shape when I drove it last month. South of the viewpoints, it is a good gravel road – so that is the preferred approach, especially if it has rained recently. Besides, it you approach from the south, you will go by a nice old school house (on Yellow Dog Road) that will surely tempt your camera lens.

The road from the school to the turn off to Woody Grade Road is Schneider Road. It continues east past Woody Grade Road, and it looks like there may be another viewpoint along it a bit more than a mile past the Woody Grade turn – though I didn’t go check it out on my recent visit. The viewpoints on Woody Grade Road are at about GPS coordinates 47.018650, -117.010974, and without a doubt, you will not be sharing this view with other photographers. The old school on Yellow Dog Road is at 46.99672, -117.033538.

Skyline Drive Road

With a name like Skyline Drive, is it surprising this road has good views (including the featured image at the top of this post). I found this viewpoint several years ago by just driving around the Palouse scouting for good photographic subjects. At the time, it was the middle of the day, and I made a note to go back in better light – which I did on my recent trip. In doing an internet search, I found that I wasn’t the first to discover this spot – I found several blogs mentioning it. However, I venture to say it is not widely known. In the two times I’ve been to this section of road, I’ve only seen one other person. On my recent trip, just before sunset, a hunter came walking up the hill from one of the fields below. Seeing my camera, he remarked on the view and warned me about ticks (if you do wander around in the grasses of the Palouse, checking for ticks is very good advice).

The northern and western end of Skyline Drive Road starts just north of Farmington, Washington, a right-hand turn off the Tekoa Farmington Road if driving north. The road winds up a hillside and then traverses through Mary McCroskey State Park in Idaho. Skyline Drive Road is nearly 20 miles long, and I have only explored the northwestern end.  As the road continues from there into Idaho, it enters a forest. However, in examining it using Google Earth, it appears there may be several other spots where it leaves the forest and provides views of the Palouse. On a future trip, I hope to explore the full length of the road looking for additional viewpoints.

The northwestern end of the road near Farmington offers wonderful views of the Palouse to the south, west, and northwest, with Steptoe Butte forming a distant bump on the horizon. This portion of the road is at elevation 3,000 to 3,200 feet while the nearby surrounding lands are at about 2,600 feet.

The road itself is dirt and may be unpassable during or after wet weather. I found the road to be generally in good shape. The Idaho state parks website suggests the road may be “too rough” for a family car, but I don’t believe this northwestern section is. Though there are many spots along the road to take great photos, general GPS coordinates for this northwestern section of road are 47.125139, -117.042153.

Other Viewpoints

There are many other viewpoints with more limited views in the Palouse region. Typically these occur where a road crests one of the rolling hills that is somewhat higher than its surrounding neighbors. I’ve found several that are worth mentioning, and I will do so in when my guide to the Palouse comes out next year. For now, I’ll just show you two examples from one such spot, the crest of Clear Creek Road (46.897361, -117.185005).

Meanwhile, I’m on the hunt for more viewpoints in the Palouse. If you happen to have a favorite one, particularly if I’ve missed it, please leave a comment or drop me an email.


Quick Shot – More Palouse

Last Sunday I returned from another trip to the Palouse. My photographer buddy Don Thompson accompanied me for four days, while Tanya kept me company for two more days. I have to admit I’m a bit tired of getting up for 4:55 am sunrises and staying up to 10:00 pm to catch the blue hour after sunset, but it was worth it to capture a few great shots. Above is a quick shot of one of my favorites from the trip. Don and I shot at this spot early in the trip, but I went back when there was better light (sorry Don) and am pleased I did. I’ll post a few more from the trip soon. Want to know where to take this shot? I’ll tell you in my upcoming Snapp Guides guide to the Palouse due out in 2019 (okay, if you want to know before then, just let me know).


Three Monasteries and a Convent

Religion is a big thing in Greece. Every town has at least one Greek Orthodox Church, and usually several. There are random churches out in the countryside not near any towns. Besides churches, there are also many monasteries, as well as a few convents. While on Crete, we visited two monasteries, and when in the Delphi area, we visited another monastery (which by itself had three churches) and a convent.

It seems each church and monastery has its own particular rules. Very often, photography is not permitted inside the churches. This is such a common rule that I was surprised when photography was allowed. And even when it is allowed, it is consider rude to photograph the main altar. At many of the cultural sites in Greece, tripod use is prohibited without special permission/fees. I assumed this was true of the many churches we visited, and did all my photography in the churches and monasteries hand-held and without a flash. The churches are typically very dark, requiring the use of high ISOs. On the other hand, outside the buildings, it was sunny most of the time we were there, and I don’t know how many times my camera complained (okay, it just had a flashing warning in the viewfinder) about not having a fast enough shutter speed available when I forgot to change the ISO off of 6400.

Here are a few of my thoughts and shots from our visits to three monasteries and a convent.

Moní Arkadhíou

Moní Arkadhíou, or the Arkadi Monastery, is located in central Crete southeast of Rethymnon. The monastery was apparently founded in the 5th century, but the present church was built 1587. This monastery is most famous for an incident in the Creten revolt of Ottoman rule in 1866. Over 900 Greeks, mostly women and children, sought refuge in the monastery. With the monastery under attack by the Ottomans and the Creten fighters defeated, the abbot gathered the remaining people in the powder room in the monastery, and when the Ottomans arrived at the door, he set the barrels of powder on fire, choosing sacrifice rather than surrender. Today, you can visit the remains of the power room ans well view some of the skulls of the sacrificed victims in an ossuary in a former windmill outside the monastery walls.

The monastery is inside a walled compound, with the Venetian church centered in the large courtyard. Several gardens are located behind the church. The interior of the church is beautiful, but photography is prohibited. There is a small museum with nice icons. Several interior rooms are open with old artifacts.

Moní Prevelí

Moní Prevelí sits on the southern coast of Crete overlooking the Libyan Sea. It was also played a historic role in Creten history, when during World War II, the monks hid trapped Allied soldiers from the Nazis, helping them escape by submarine. Most of the monastery is off limits to visitors, at least when we visited. There is a small museum with some very impressive icons and  a small church (again, no photography allowed inside). Other than that, access was limited to a portion of the courtyard. The view over the sea is fantastic. Frankly, with the limited access at the monastery, I wasn’t sure the drive out there was worth it. However, nearby the monastery is a short but steep trail to the beautiful Prevelí Beach, also known as Palm Beach. Combining a visit to the monastery with the beach made a good day trip.

Okay, this view isn’t actually at the monastery, but is from the trail down to the nearby Palm Beach.

Moní Hosíos Loukas

Of all the places Tanya and I visited in Greece on this trip, the Monastery of Hosios Loukas was perhaps my favorite. The monastery was founded by the hermit of Helicon – the Venerable Saint Luke the Stiriote (not to be confused the Evangelist of the Gospel of Saint Luke) – in the 10th century. The site contains two co-joined churches within the monastery walls (and a newer church outside the walls). The relics (physical remains) of Saint Luke are in a small chamber between the two churches. The relics are said to produce healing miracles.

The monastery is a well deserved UNESCO World Heritage Site. Simply, the interior of the larger church, the Katholikon, is amazing. The mosaics, frescoes and other decorations are impossible to describe, and my photographs do not truly capture the ancient beauty of the place. Tanya and I just stood in wonder beneath the magnificent mosaic on the domed ceiling  (the featured image above). There are more frescoes in the burial crypt beneath the Katholikon.

The monastery grounds are widely open to visitors and include a small museum and several exhibits. Surprisingly, photography is allowed in the churches.

Moní Profítí Ilía

A short distance west of Delphi is the convent of Moni Profiti Ilia. It is relatively “new” compared to the other monasteries we visited, being built in the 19th century. It is famously where Essaeas, the bishop of Salona, raised the flag to officially start the Greek revolution March 24, 1821.

We drove up the convent, which sits high on a mountainside overlooking the Sea of Corinth, and found the door to the walled compound closed. There was a small sign, but being in Greek, we could not read it. No one was around, so I took a few photos, and we prepared to leave. About that time, two men drove up and parked near the door. They went to the door and apparently rang a buzzer/intercom and opened the door and went in.

Tanya and I went back and buzzed the intercom. A young nun answered in English and told us to come inside. However, we couldn’t open the door (we couldn’t figure out the latch). We buzzed again and she came and let us in. Once inside, she made Tanya put on a dress over her pants (we knew that one shouldn’t wear shorts, but didn’t know about the dress dress code for women).

There wasn’t that much to see here. You can walk around the courtyard, which has lovely gardens. And they do have a beautiful church – no photos inside and you should not cross your legs when sitting (both feet on the floor please) – in which the young nun kept watch over us. An elderly nun (no English) into their dining hall for homemade candy and a cold glass of water. One of the two men who entered before us interpreted as the nun was very curious about Americans visiting. It turns out there are only about a dozen nuns there, while the place looked like it could house one hundred.