Last weekend, I drove to Spokane to see my Dad. Rather than take the interstate the whole way, I drove a slightly longer, but more scenic route, that took me through the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge. I was hoping that spring had brought wildflowers to the refuge, but I was too early in the season (I think the wildflowers in eastern Washington are late this year – does anyone have a wildflower report for the area?). No flowers, but wonderful dynamic skies, as I hope this shot shows. I didn’t have much time for photography, it is a five-hour drive without stops after all, but did get a few “keepers.” Enjoy this quick shot of the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Washington.
I’m working on a couple of other things right now, but am not ready to post about them yet. So I thought I’d give you one more look at the Palouse. In my previous post, I talked about spots in the Palouse that are not on the available photographer’s maps of the area. This is not to say the maps don’t provide for some good subject matter. All the images featured in today’s post were shot at spots shown on the maps. The spring season is about done in the Palouse, but in a few months, these green fields will turn golden; and photographers will again flock to the Palouse for its late summer, golden season. I hope you have enjoyed this series of posts about the Palouse. Please let me know if you have any comments or questions.
Steptoe Butte is by far the most popular destination in the Palouse. When I was there on May 30th for sunset, there was at least one photo workshop/tour going on as well as eight or so other independent photographers at the spot I stopped. There were likely more further up the road. The Palouse is a world-class photography destination, and June is one of the two prime times to be there (the other being August), so even though it was not yet June (albeit by only two days), I was not surprised to see so many tripods. Luckily, if you go and find the place crawling with photographers, there is a lot of room.
But there is so much more to the Palouse than Steptoe Butte. The Palouse is a big area. According to Wikipedia, “the Palouse region was defined as the fertile hills and prairies north of the Snake River, which separated it from Walla Walla County, and north of the Clearwater River, which separated it from the Camas Prairie, extending north along the Washington and Idaho border, south of Spokane, centered on the Palouse River.” Many great shots can be made by driving around looking for scenic barns, patterns on the fields, old houses, etc. But when you only have a day or two to explore, it is helpful to have an idea of where to go.
One option is to join a guided tour or workshop. There are many to choose from, though many also fill up fast. My photographer friend Jack Graham offers Palouse workshops every year, for example. Or you can even go with a custom, personalized workshop, like that offered by Greg Vaughn.
But, if you are more of a do-it-yourselfer, another option is to use a photographer’s map of the Palouse. There are two such maps available that I know of. The first one was created by Teri Lou Dantzler and is available for $25 (who also offers workshops). The other, is free and available from the Pullman Chamber of Commerce. Why consider the $25 map when a free one is available? Because, according to Teri Lou, the Pullman Chamber of Commerce stole her map. I have purchased a map from Teri Lou and also have the one from the Pullman Chamber, and I have to tell you, I think she has a good point. The listed spots are almost identical. Both maps show locations of red barns, other barns, lone trees, viewpoints, abandoned houses, granaries or silos, abandoned farm equipment, and windmills. I will say, Teri Lou’s map does a better job with the roads. There are three types of roads in the Palouse: paved, gravel, and dirt, and if it rains, you better forget about driving on the dirt roads. Teri Lou’s map does, for the most part, a good job differentiating between the three road types while it is less clear on the Pullman Chamber map.
While these maps are helpful, there are a few problems with them. First, some of the mapped barns, other buildings, or trees are no longer there. Others are falling down. Second, the icons used to show photo locations are too large for the scale of the maps (this might be my geologist background raising its head here, but I did find this very distracting). Third, both maps only covers part of the Palouse. They both only go as far north as Rosalia, and neither goes into Idaho. And fourth, they missed a lot. All of the shots in today’s post are from places not on the maps! While the maps are helpful, they are certainly not the ultimate guide. I used them as more suggestions, but exploring on your own may be the best way to get unique shots.
The point I’d like to leave you with is that no guide or photographer’s map about the Palouse is complete. It is a large area, and there are many wonderful photographic opportunities there. One easily could spend a week or more exploring. I’ve made three trips there in the past several years and still have much to see. As I mentioned, all of the images in this post were not on the photographer’s map or (to my knowledge) in any Palouse guide that I have seen. For example, the featured image above of the lone tree was taken northeast of Colton – a barren area on the two maps. If you have the time, do some exploring of the back roads in the Palouse. You never know what you might find.
I’ve blogged about the Palouse before. That earlier blog featured shots in springtime. However, late summer is also a great time to visit the Palouse. The greens of spring give way to golden fields in August. After the wheat harvest, the fields have great textures left by the combines. The weather is usually good, blue skies and puffy white clouds.
I say usually, because that is not always the case. Tanya and I visited the Palouse last weekend. Luckily we left early Friday and had a grand afternoon finding barns and vistas.We drove to the town of St. John, then took back roads this way and that. We eventually ended up in the town of Oakesdale, with it beautiful old flour mill. Then more backroads, looking for the perfect vista for sunset (which, unfortunately, we did not find). The day started partly cloudy, but as it progress, the clouds got thicker and thicker. This did lead to some beautiful dark skies near sunset, but did not bode well for the next day.
We spent the night in Spokane, and on Saturday drove back down into the Palouse with my Dad and stepmom. The morning started of with a little rain, and it just got worse throughout the day. We had lunch in the town of Palouse, and I took a few street photos there. We also drove down Becker Road, where my Dad grew up, and he told us stories of what it was like 70 years ago. I didn’t get many photos on Saturday, but it was fun hearing some of my Dad’s memories of the area.
The Palouse deserves several days’ worth of exploration, whether in spring or in late summer, and the short trip last weekend just whetted my photographic appetite for more. With luck, I will get back there soon.
The Palouse region of Washington State is famous for its verdant spring hills and red barns. Steptoe Butte is a must-visit destination for many travel and nature photographers. I have shot in the Palouse several times, and blogged about it several years ago (see here and here). But one of the highlights of the region I missed until earlier this week – Palouse Falls.
Palouse Falls perhaps gets a bit less traffic than Steptoe Butte and the rest of the Palouse because it is a bit out-of-the-way, more of an outlier to the Palouse region than being in it. It is an hour and 45 minute drive from the falls to Steptoe Butte, and just a bit less to the town of Colfax, where many photographers stay during their trips to the region. If you are staying in Colfax, do you really want to get up at 3:30 a.m. to drive to Palouse Falls for sunrise when you could sleep an hour later and still get sunrise shots at Steptoe Butte?
But Palouse Falls is worth a visit. Perhaps the best way to visit, at least for prime photography times, is to camp there. Palouse Falls State Park has 11 tent camping spots (no trailer hookups; trailers and RVs are sometimes allowed to park overnight in the parking lot during non-peak periods) that are within 100 meters of prime viewpoints for photography.
The Palouse River falls about 185 feet over the edge of a canyon of basalt. Unlike the verdant hills of the Palouse further east of the falls, the falls are in desert. But there is plenty of green in the canyon below the falls, making a wonderful contrast with the black basalt and brown hills (or in spring, brown and green hills). The canyon below the falls is scenic on its own accord and would be worth a visit even without the falls. The canyon curves to the south just downstream from the falls. The campground is perched on the western canyon rim, and it is easy to walk to viewpoints that either look eastward directly toward the falls, or southward down the canyon. These southerly looking viewpoints are north of the parking lot and provide the best view – encompassing the falls and the downstream canyon. Be warned though, they are right on the edge of vertical drop of at least 250 feet straight down to the canyon floor, beyond the fence on the canyon rim near the campground and parking lot, and are not for those who are faint of heart or afraid of heights. To get the falls and downstream canyon both in single composition will require a wide-angle lens of about 18 mm or less on a camera with a full-frame sensor. My 17-40mm zoom worked well, but if you want more sky in the frame, you may want an even wider angle (or stitch together more than one shot).
The falls face west-southwest and receive direct sunlight in late morning through most of the afternoon during the spring (reportedly in summer they may be in partial shadow into the early afternoon). In the evening, the shadow of the canyon wall climbs up the falls, and before sunset, they are completely in shade. Similarly, the falls are completed shaded at sunrise. And, once the sun is up, it shines through and lights up the mist created by the falling water, making early morning shots of the falls more difficult.
However, if the clouds to the south light up during either sunset or sunrise, excellent photo opportunities await. You may want to use a split-neutral density filter to help control the contrast between the sky and the dark canyon below. Similarly, you may consider using HDR.
The falls are also a great location for Milky Way nightscape shots like I’ve discuss recently, and in fact that was the prime reason for my recent visit. In spring, the best viewpoint is again north of the parking lot, on the canyon rim (just be extra careful in the dark, it’s a long fall down). The falls will be completely dark, so light painting is recommended. When I was there, for the image above, I worked with a photo partner. One of us tripped the shutters on the cameras while the other used a spotlight to light paint the falls and canyon from the fenced viewpoint area near the parking lot.
It is possible to hike to the top of or bottom of the falls, though the trails are not maintained by the park. These unofficial trails are steep, so if you do take them, be extra careful. The one in from the south steeply drops off the canyon rim and circles midway along the canyon wall to the the top of the falls. At one point, almost directly below the main viewpoint by the parking lot, it is possible to get down to the river in the bottom of the canyon by dropping down a steep scree slope. The trail from the north, drops into the upper canyon from the railroad tracks that run west of the park. This is reportedly the easier way in, though you must hop a fence along the tracks to reach the trail and the descent is still steep. You should also be careful along the tracks because it is an active rail line. If you do take the northern route into the canyon, you will pass by a nice stretch of white water above the falls. There is certainly no need to take these trails into the canyon to get good photographs, the views from the top are spectacular (and indeed, during my recent trip, we did not hike into the canyon). Reportedly the trail continues several miles up canyon to Upper Palouse Falls, a fall of less than 20 feet, and during the spring, when the flow in the river is greatest and the area has plenty of blooming wildflowers, this may be a good day hike option.
Marmots are active around the main falls viewpoints, and with a bit of patience, you can get rather close to take portraits of these groundhog relatives. The park is also home to many types of birds. When there recently, I saw several varieties I had not seen before.
Overall, Palouse Falls is a great place for photography. It is worth a quick stop on your way to or from the Palouse; or better yet, spend the night there to experience the falls at sunrise and sunset. You won’t be disappointed.