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.
Several years ago I saw a photograph of this bridge in the Palouse, but there was no location information with it. When I saw the image, I knew I wanted to photograph it as well. However, after several attempts to find it using internet searches, I could not find its location.
As you may or may not know, in my day job, I’m a groundwater geologist. I’m the president of a consulting firm called Robinson Noble. We work with a lot of different civil engineers who work with water systems. One such engineering firm we work with is based on Port Orchard, Washington – which for those of you not familiar with Washington State, is about 20 miles northwest of Tacoma. A year or so ago, one of the engineers with that firm, Todd, moved to the Palouse region and now telecommutes and serves his company in eastern Washington. A while back, I was talking with Todd about this bridge. I’m not sure how the topic came up, but he knows I do photography and was suggesting he knew some good locations in the Palouse. Anyway, I mentioned I was looking for this bridge, and Todd told me he owned it! He said I was welcome to drop by anytime to photograph it.
I finally had the chance last week. I accompanied Tanya to Walla Walla so she could interview for a vice president’s job at Walla Walla Community College (she was one of three finalists, but unfortunately didn’t get the position). While she was off interviewing, I drove up to the Palouse to meet with Todd. He gave me directions to his house (something like, turn at the second mailbox, drive through the farmer’s field, go over the bridge, and uphill past the barn), and indeed, the bridge in the directions was the bridge I was looking for.
I had a nice time visiting with Todd and his family, and they told me the story of the bridge. They bought their 200-acres of land along the Palouse River northwest of Colfax about a year ago. The land includes an old railroad grade which crosses the river. When the railroad was abandoned, a former owner of the property turned the bridge into part of his driveway. Todd also described an old train tunnel on his property, further down the grade.
Apparently the bridge is well known to at least a few photographers, as Todd and his wife told me of photography workshops that stop and take pictures of the bridge. There is a viewpoint on the county road across the river from their house, which is where I took the above photo.
But Todd said individual photographers, and sometimes even workshops, have come onto their land without permission to photograph at the bridge. The Palouse is very popular with photographers, especially in late spring. Todd said he has talked with several of his neighbors and others from Colfax, and they report the number of photographers in the area seems to grow each year. Several of his neighbors are getting fed up with photographers blocking roadways and trespassing on private land. It’s these type of photographers that give all of us a bad name (but I digress).
Todd has given me standing permission to come by and photograph his bridge (and tunnel) anytime I want. He and his wife suggested other potential viewpoints and the best times of day. Next time I’m in the Palouse, it think I’ll take them up on their offer.