Tanya and I returned from our trip to the Tetons and Yellowstone last night. Above is one of the last shots I captured while in Yellowstone. This grizzly brought down this bull elk on September 18th by chasing it into the Yellowstone River, mauling and drowning it, and bringing it back to shore to eat. The drama was captured on video by a lucky photographer, which you can see here on YouTube. My photo was taken several days later, on the morning of the 21st. According to the ranger, the bear will stay and feed on the elk for days, probably until the local wolf pack arrives and chase him off. The bear has buried the portion of the elk it is eating to hide the smell.
The bear is camped with his kill on the far side of the Yellowstone River from the road. The park service made a no stopping zone directly across the river from the bear, but is allowing people to view the bear from slightly up and down stream. I drove by the spot several times before stopping to take photos. As you might imagine, the place was packed with photographers and and other visitors (many without masks and not keeping social distance). I went on Monday morning (our last morning in the park), hoping for a smaller crowd. Indeed, the crowd was a bit smaller, but perhaps it was because it was foggy and, at least when I arrived, you couldn’t see the far side of the river. I stayed for about an hour and a half, and the fog partially lifted.
In this shot, to me, the bear looks quite satisfied. Prior to this shot, as the fog started clearing, I could see the bear busily piling more dirt on the back end of the elk, presumably having finished a morning meal earlier when the fog was took thick to see.
This was shot with my Tamron 150-600 mm at 600 mm and then cropped in some as well. The raw image is hazy due to the fog, and it took a healthy dose of the dehaze filter in Lightroom to bring out detail.
In my last post, I mentioned how I am reading The Soul of the Camera, the Photographer’s Place in Picture-Making by David duChemin, and I described his first of four “rules” or “principles” of photographic improvisation – agreeing or to say “yes” and not “no.” Today, I look at the second and third principles – Contribute Something, and Try Something.
To contribute something, you need to make the scene your own. DuChemin explains, ” Photography is not objective… We bring our own thoughts, opinions, points of view, and interest to the scen and to every single decision, from aperture to focal length to shutter speed to composition. We chose what to include and exclude. It’s not so much about what’s there as it’s about what I see and how I see it.”
Say you travel to a famous landmark or scene and want to photograph it. Don’t worry about how others have done so, make the scene you own. Sure, take that one composition that you’ve seen before, the shot the maybe even inspired you to come in the first place, but then explore the subject scene on you own, making your own compositions. Or as DeChemin says, “Own it. Add to it. Make every photograph you create a collaboration with what’s before you.”
This, I think, directly relates to the third principle, try something. DuChemin urges his reads to “take a risk and try something. Don’t just wonder what would happen if you moved the camera over to the right. Move it! Slow the shutter, use a wide lens. Listen to the questions, but don’t let them go without a response. And if the first answer doesn’t work, try again.”
It doesn’t even have to be a famous scene, just maybe one you’ve been to or photographed many times before. Do you take the same shot again and again? Perhaps. But to improvise, you’ve got to make it new again for you. Maybe try black and white, or shoot it with your phone instead of you DSLR, or shoot only high-key images, whatever! Sometimes to make it your own you need to try something different.
For example, for the past several years, I’ve been offering walking photo tours of downtown Seattle. These tours are great for my clients, as they see Seattle through fresh eyes. But I’ve seen it and shot it all before. It’s a real challenge for me to find something new. So on a couple trips, I pulled out the fish-eye lens. Now, a lot of what I shot didn’t work so well, but some of the images aren’t so bad. In fact, they are kind of fun, and definitely something I made my own by trying something I hadn’t done before, even after shooting the same places dozens of times before – such as Pioneer Square (above and below), the ferry terminal (below), and the waterfall garden (below). That is photographic improvisation.
Last week, as part of the gradual easing of its stay-at-home order, Washington State opened up the majority of state parks for day-use only. Knowing that I was going into photography withdrawal, Tanya suggested we head out on a photo day. Even though the parks were open, it was suggested people stay local. Well, local is a relative term, and being a Westerner, I don’t mind driving several miles – in this case 200 miles one way. Is that local? It was still in the State of Washington and we didn’t need to stay overnight – that’s local to me.
So last Saturday we packed up a picnic and the camera gear and headed off to Sun Lakes – Dry Falls State Park. Why there? One, it has the raw beauty of the channeled scablands. But perhaps more importantly, I thought there wouldn’t be as many people there as in closer state parks. The weather was sunny and warm, and there was bound to be more than a few people out enjoying the state parks on this first weekend since the pandemic started that they were open. And while there were a fair number of people at the park, the park’s parking lots was not crowded – unlike the several hiking trailheads we passed on the way over the mountains that were overflowing with cars. In fact, the parking for the trail we took in Sun Lakes State Park only had one other car (out of four parking spots – so with us, it was half full; is that crowded?).
Sun Lakes State Park is located in the Grand Coulee. The park itself contains at least four lakes, and there are a number of other lakes further down the coulee. That gave this trip the added bonus of having a place to stop before reaching the park for me to fly my drone (drones are not allowed in Washington State Parks without a permit) while Tanya took Benson, our 8-month old, 102-pound Newfoundland, on his first swim. We picked a spot along Alkali Lake, and while Tanya and Benson frolicked in the water, I checked out Alkali Lake and Lake Lenore from the air.
Then it was on to Sun Lakes. The state park has a developed camping (closed) and day-use area on Park Lake with nice green grass and large shade trees. Instead of stopping there, we took the road to Deep Lake, which is developed with a small picnic area with natural vegetation and a boat launch. There were about 10 cars there and several dozen people swimming or fishing in the lake. So instead of taking the lakeside trail, we decided to take the Caribou Trail with climbs the hillside above the lake (not sure why it is named the Caribou Trail, caribou are definitely not native to this desert terrain).
Though I’ve been to Sun Lakes perhaps a dozen times before, I had never been to Deep Lake or on the Caribou Trail, so this was new territory to me. I knew the trail climbed above up toward the top of the coulee, but I didn’t know if it had a view of Deep Lake from up there. It is a relatively short trail, and the official trail ends when reaching the top of the cliffs. No view from there. So we kept walking on a faint unofficial trail, and then, eventually, set off cross country to find a view. And sure enough, we found a view of Deep Lake far below. We sat on the rocks, pulled out our water bottles, and drank in both water and scenery.
After shooting for 15 or 20 minutes, we headed back down the car. We don’t quite have our car setup organized well with the new dog yet. Trying to fit the dog and all the camera gear in the car along with food and drink (which must be separated from the dog) is a challenge. I decided to pack the camera backpack in a different spot after the hike, to be loaded after the dog got in. Unfortunately, after loading the dog, I forgot about the bag and started to back out onto the road only to run over something. You guessed it, my camera backpack!
Luckily, my camera was not in the pack, and a quick check didn’t show anything broken. We drove back to Deep Lake for our picnic dinner. There were a few less people, and we got a picnic table isolated from others. While eating, I checked out the gear in more detail. All the lens seemed to be working okay. However, there are cracks on a portion of the barrel of the Tamron 150-600 mm zoom. Also, the split neutral-density filter is history. Hopefully the lens can be repaired (currently the Tamron repair shop, which is in New York, is closed due to the pandemic).
After dinner, we drove over to Dry Falls Lake, which, not surprisingly, is located at the base of Dry Falls. It was an hour or so before sunset and the light on the cliffs of Dry Falls was particularly nice. The featured shot above is a 4-shot panorama of Dry Falls and Dry Falls Lake.
If you plan on making the trip out to Sun Lakes – Dry Falls State Park, be forewarned that the road to Dry Falls Lake is extremely rough. We did okay in our SUV, and I do think most regular passenger cars would make it, but some cars without much ground clearance could have difficulties. The road to Deep Lake is paved.
We left before sunset so we could get home before 11 pm. All in all, even with the the misadventure with my camera backpack, it was a good day. As always, I welcome your comments.
Tired of having nothing to do while being cooped up during the pandemic? Try exploring the world and planning your next photo trip with PhotoHound. PhotoHound is dedicated to responsibly sharing the best places in the world to shoot travel photography. It was set up by three photographers, Luka Esenko in Slovenia, Jules Renahan in London, and Mathew Browne in Wales. PhotoHound is an outgrowth of the former Snapp Guides, which was started by Luka and Jules. As some you might remember, I did a Puget Sound area guide for Snapp Guides and had one in the works for the Palouse as well. Before I could publish the Palouse guide, Snapp Guides started its conversion to PhotoHound, so I’ve been working with PhotoHound from its very beginning. My Puget Sound and Palouse guides are now available on PhotoHound.
Currently there are 52 guides available on PhotoHound from regions around the world such as the Peak District in England, Singapore, Venice, Patagonia, the Everest region of Nepal, Dubai, and Coastal Montenegro. Each guide is a curated list of photo spots, highlighting the best of each region. Photo spots are individual locations featuring what and how to shoot.
Besides the guides, there are many other photo spots on PhotoHound that are not in guides. In fact, PhotoHound offers over 4,200 photo-worthy spots around the world in 109 countries and territories with more than 14,000 sample images. More spots and images are being added daily. Each spot gives exact locations and GPS coordinates, descriptions of what to shoot, sample images, suggestions for gear, current weather conditions, current sunrise and sunset times, and more.
While PhotoHound is currently only available for use on a PC or laptop, a smartphone app is slated to be available in a few months. The PhotoHound site is currently in beta testing, and all content is free to users. Eventually, the it will offer both free and paid premium memberships.
PhotoHound is looking for photographers to share their spots and images with the community. Everyone is invited to add new spots – add enough spots and you can become a PhotoHound Pro. Adding new spots easy. Once a spot is added, the PhotoHound team will review and verify the spot before it goes live. You can also add your images to spots that are currently on the site.
Staying at home because of the pandemic, I’ve been spending some time by going through my archives and adding new spots. In the past several weeks, I’ve added several spots in Monument Valley, such as the Totem Pole (the featured image above), as well as:
and more. In total, to date, I’ve contributed 222 spots to PhotoHound. Most are from my Puget Sound and Palouse guides, but I’ve also added spots in Montreal, London, Norway, Spain, Iceland, and a Greece.
So if you are looking for something to do, check out PhotoHound and plan a trip, share your spots and photography, of just see some great images from around the world.
I made two drone flights, one over the mouth of the Duckabush River and one over the mouth of the Hamma Hamma River (shot above is from the Hamma Hamma). I’m still learning how best to operate the drone and how to best shoot still photography and video with it (still using auto mode, which never do with my Canon 6D and almost never even do with my cellphone). But I think I got some interesting shots.
I was intrigued by the color changes in the water where distributary channels from the rivers had cut into the delta sediments (my geologist side is showing here, distributaries are the opposite of tributaries; they are streams that branch off and away from the main river channel; they typically form where a river discharges into a larger body of water). I mostly shot from an altitude of about 250 to 350 feet. In hindsight, I should have investigated shooting lower. For example, some oblong shapes I though were driftwood, when zooming in on my images, appear to be seals or sea lions.
I would also like to go back to these spots and shoot again later in the year. Most of the vegetation on the deltas had not yet greened up for spring. It will be interesting to compare shots taken in summer with these taken in mid-March. But that will obviously have to wait.
Hope you enjoy the images. Stay safe and healthy out there!
With a shelter-in-place order coming sooner rather than later, over the weekend, Tanya and I decided to get Benson out for his first hike before it was too late. Still a puppy, Benson sorely needs more and varied experiences, such as hiking. We decided a a short, easy hike to a Murhut Falls.
This hike is only 1.6 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 250 feet. Being in the Olympic National Forest, it is open for dogs as well (unlike in most national parks). The weather was great, and we were not the only ones with the idea to get outside while possible. We saw many families with small kids, as well as many other dogs on the trail. Luckily, the trail is fairly wide, and it was easy to step off to the side to maintain social distancing in this time of the Covid-19. In fact, out on the trail, you would have been hard press to know there was a pandemic going on (not so earlier in the morning when we went grocery shopping for Tanya’s mom so she could stay sheltered at home – the mood in the store was very somber, with bare shelves in several places, and several shoppers wearing masks and gloves).
The waterfall itself is very photogenic, with two drops falling a total of 153 feet. The falls face north, such that even though we were there at mid-day, the entire falls and surrounding forest were in the shade, perfect for waterfall photography. If you make this hike, you will definitely want to take a wide-angle lens. From the viewpoint, you need at least a 24mm lens to get the whole falls in. With a bit of scrambling, you can also get to the bottom of the falls, where again a wide-angle lens is needed.
So how did Benson do on his first hike? It seems he totally forgot what heel meant. He’s pretty good at it when walking around the neighborhood, but on the trail, he was choking himself most of the time trying to be the one to lead his “pack.” I do hope we can get him trained to heel better soon, at 6 months old he weighs in at almost 95 pounds! He’s getting difficult to hold back when he decides that heeling doesn’t mean anything!
The featured shot above is a two-shot vertical panorama from the viewpoint at the end of the trail. The shots below were taken near the base of the falls (except for the three of us at the bench at the viewpoint).
I’m not sure where November went, but it did leave without any posts on my blog. That lack of posts needs to change, so here is one more about Norway. Both Tanya and I enjoy visiting historic sites when traveling, and churches are often on our list of historic places to visit. In Norway, that means visiting stave churches. In the 12th and 13th centuries, while most of Europe was building stone churches, northern Europe, Norway in particular, was building stave churches. These wooden churches are named after the building style that uses thick wooden corner posts, or staves. Their architectural style combines early Christianity with Viking and Nordic designs, and they were traditionally built without nails. Norway once had upwards of 2,000 stave churches. Today only 28 remain. Outside of Norway, there are less than a handful.
Many of Norway’s stave churches look like something out of Lord of the Rings. They are tall and dark (many being almost black), with multiple roofs, decorated with crosses and stylistic dragons. Inside there are no lights and few windows. Traditionally, only small windows were placed high up in the eaves.
While unusual and stunning visually, because they are so dark, both inside and out, they are a challenge to photograph. They are protected from the elements by tar. If the last tar application was recent, the church will be black fading to a dark brown with time. These dark exteriors can lead to bad contrast problems photographing the churches, particularly when including the sky in a composition. I found that for compositions without any sky, I could get away with a single exposure, but if I included the sky in my frame, I usually needed to use HDR to include details in both the church and the sky.
Of the four stave churches we visited, none allowed tripods or flash indoors (and I imagine that is true for all historic stave churches in Norway). The only recourse is to use high ISO settings. I found myself typically using settings of 6,400 or 12,800 while shooting at shutter speeds of 15th to 30th of a second using wide-open apertures.
Brief descriptions of the four stave churches we visited are below. The links lead to my Photohound entries for the churches, which give more details on how and what to shoot as well as directions and GPS coordinates.
Borgund Stave Church
The first stave church we visited was the Borgund Stave Church. It is one of the best preserved stave churches in the country, though the inside is less decorated than many of the others. It was built around 1180 and has wonderful carved portals with crosses and dragon heads decorating the many roof lines. Near the church is a sizable museum dedicated to stave churches. The graveyard around the church is still used for burials today.
Urnes Stave Church
We visited our second stave church later on the same day as the Borgund church. The Urnes Stave Church (the featured image at the beginning of this post) is the oldest stave church in Norway, dating back to before 1130. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Perched on a hillside overlooking a fjord and mountains, the setting for the Urnes church is stunning. Also, the inside is much more decorated than the Borgund Stave Church. We were the only visitors at the time of our visit, and the docent from the (very) small museum gave us a 20-minute talk about the church, its construction, and history while inside the church. The church is more isolated than the Borgund church, reachable only by a small ferry (perhaps a 10-car ferry) or via a long drive down a country road along the fjord which dead-ends a few kilometers past Urnes. The road was closed when we visited due to mudslides from the torrential rains we experienced that day (coming from the last vestiges of Hurricane Dorian).
Lom Stave Church
Two days later we visited a third stave church, this one Fossbergom. The Lom Stave Church is one the largest stave churches still standing in Norway. The oldest part of the church dates back to 1160, but the church was remodeled and enlarged in the 1600’s, when the walls were extended to create a cross shape. Most of the decorations on the inside of the church date from the 1600 and 1700s. There are several carved panels, as well as the carved canopy above the pulpit, within the church. These decorations from the 17th and 18th centuries give the interior a baroque feel.
Hopperstad Stave Church
On our final day in Norway, we made a quick stop at the Hopperstad Stave Church in Vik. The church was originally built around 1130, but much of it has been replaced over time. Eventually the the church fell into disrepair, and in the 1880s, the architect Peter Blix restored it. For the restoration, Blix used in styles from other stave churches, mostly the Borgund church, as patterns. Like most stave churches, the interior of the Hopperstad Stave Church is extremely dark. However, it is richly decorated; particularly the baldachin, which forms a ceremonially canopy over a side altar.
If you are a waterfall hunter, the fjord region of Norway is quite literally a smorgasbord for cascading delights. Where ever we drove, waterfalls were to be found. Waterfalls of every description (big and wide, skinny and tall, tall and wide, graceful, forceful, wistful) abound, cascading over the mountain sides. Waterfalls that, had they been in the United States would be the focus of a state or national park, were only causally mentioned on maps in Norway.
As I enjoy photographing waterfalls, so I was in waterfall heaven. And waterfalls, unlike many landscape subjects, often look best under gloomy skies, which is what we had for much of the trip. Normally, the best time of year for waterfall hunting in Norway would be in mid-summer, as the snowpack melts and fills the riverbeds, not mid-September when we went. Yet as luck would have it, the remains of two tropical storms went through Norway when we were there, causing heavy rain and cascading waters everywhere ( I guess all that rain was one of those if life gives you lemons, make lemonade type things).
The featured image above is of the famous Seven Sisters, also know as Die Sju Systre and Knivsflåfossen. Below are more of the many waterfalls I photographed during our two weeks in Norway. You can find directions and photo hints for most of these on Photohound – a internet photographic guide site I’m partnering with. If you are interested in these waterfalls and more, also check out the European waterfall website, which catalogs waterfalls throughout Norway and the rest of Europe.
By the way, Photohound is beta-testing its website right now and is looking for photographers to help out. Check their site out, it really is outstanding.
Norway has 18 national scenic highway routes; and Tanya and I drove several of these as we traveled around the western Norway. I previously posted images from one such route, Hardangervidda. On one of our longer travel days during our trip, I planned a route along three national scenic highways. The first of the day was Sognefjellet. The National Scenic Route Sognefjellet runs 108 kilometers, from Gaupne on Lustrafjorden (a branch of the Sognefjord, Norway’s longest and deepest fjord) up and over the mountains, past Galdhøpiggen (the tallest mountain in northern Europe), and down to the town of Lom.
This is truly a magnificent and scenic road. And we luckily were able to drive it on a mostly sunny morning. We drove from west to east, starting at sea level along the fjord and climbing through a series of hairpin curves up into the mountains above the treeline. The fjord was like a mirror and the mountains were covered with fresh snow – totally incredible. There were almost no cars on the road, which was a good thing considering how slick the road was in the shady sections while coming down off the pass (driving as slow as possible to keep on the road in our rental car with non-winter tires). Our journey over Sognefjellet ended in Lom, with its famous stave church. By the time we reached Lom, the fine sunny morning had given way to a cloudy mid-day.
After visiting the church, we took a different highway and drove back over the mountains to Geiranger, planning to take a detour along our second national scenic road of the day. However, the road was closed due to snow. So we drove straight to Geiranger, traveling on the third national scenic route. But by now, the fine sunny morning had turned to a snowy afternoon with near whiteout conditions, so there wasn’t much scenery to see. As it turned out, that road was closed due to snow not more than an hour after we drove it.
So my day photographing along three scenic roads was disrupted by weather. But even so, that first road, Sognefjellet, made the day one I won’t easily forget.
Tanya and I have left Norway and are now spending several days in London before heading home. However, I still want to put out a few more posts about Norway. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Austdalbreen, a tongue of the mighty Jostedalsbreen glacier. Jostedalbreen is the largest glacier in mainland Europe. There are several places to visit the glacier, but one of the best is at Austdalbreen.
Most the glacial hiking tour companies had closed for the season, but we found Icetroll was still open, so we booked a glacial hike on Austdalbreen. To reach Autdalbreen, you need to cross a glacial lake in front of the glacier, Icetroll offers trips crossing the lake by kayak and by Zodiac. We choose the zodiac approach. This worked very well as the weather was good in the morning, but deteriorated later in the day. In fact, the weather in morning and early to mid-afteroon was about perfect. The rainstorms from the day before brought fresh snow to the mountains and glacier, and partly sunny skies provided beautiful light on the glacier as we approached on the lake and later on our hike. However, by the end of our hike, about the time those touring by kayak arrived, the weather turned and it started snowing again.
On the trip across the lake, as we approached the glacier, the guide took us by several small icebergs, and stopped so that each of us could stand on an iceberg (there where four others in our group besides Tanya and I). Then we tied up to shore and hike a short distance to some gear boxes, where we roped up and put on crampons. From there, our guide took us up onto the glacier. We hiked on the glacier for about an hour and a half, stopping for photos and for some hot chocolate. The view was magnificent. As we left the glacier, we stopped at a spot where we could get down underneath the ice (see my Instagram post of glacial ice). Then it was a zodiac trip back across the lake in falling snow to return to the van and a trip down the mountain.
The featured image, above, is a 3-shot panorama I took while up on the glacier. Below are several other images from the trip.
Our trip has been challenged by wild weather, including the remnants of Tropical Storm Gabriella and Hurricane Dorian. The day we drove up to the Hardangervidda Plateau was no exception. We spent the night in Eidfjord (at sea level) and awoke to overcast skies. At least the constant rain from the night before was over. It rained on and off throughout the morning as we toured a couple local sights before heading up toward the Hardangervidda Plateau. When we reached Voringsfossen (about 700 meters above sea level), the weather started to break.
Voringfossen is an amazing set of waterfalls; reportedly the best known waterfall in Norway. The falls are about halfway up to the mountain plateau. Here water tumbles over 180 meters from several sides down into a narrow canyon. The view is amazing. The photo above does not do the scdne justice (even with capturing a bit of rainbow).
Leaving Voringfossen the road continues to up to the Hardangervidda (at an average elevation of 1,100 meters above sea level). This broad mountain plateau is above the tree line and is a land of high tundra hills and studded with lakes of all sizes. It is the highest plateau in Europe and home to a large wild reindeer herd (which we did not see). The drive across the plateau and back was spectacular, with the landscape changing with the changing weather conditions of overcast, light rain, snow storms, and sun breaks. I could have spent the whole day there with my camera, but the near freezing temperature and strong wind (plus a need to get to our hotel in Flam, several hours away) had us only staying on the plateau for a few hours. Here are few shots from Hardangervidda; enjoy!
Two weeks ago, Tanya’s mother fell down in our house while trying to keep the cat from running an open door. She broke her kneecap. So, instead of going home, she is staying with us until she heals enough to walk. Well not quite. She is staying at our house, Tanya and I are in Norway (and my brother and sister-in-law are taking care of our Tanya’s mom at our house). A broken knee wouldn’t keep us from our planned trip!
After a brief stop in London, we flew into Bergen earlier this week. This is a wonderful little city! One of the highlights of the city is Bryggen, the old wharf district of the city. The city of Bergen, during the Middle Ages, was the capital of Norway and an major seaport. It was a member of the Hanseatic League – a trading league of mostly German city states that in the 14th century was northern Europe’s most powerful economic entity. And at the City’s center was Bryggen. What remains of Bryggen is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Bryggen was destroyed by fire at least seven time. A fire in 1702 destroyed all Bryggen’s medieval buildings, which were replaced by wooden warehouses. More recently, a significant fire in 1955 burned down one third of the district, while many other buildings were replaced by more “modern” brick-and-stone structures. Following the 1955 fire, there were calls to tear the rest of the area down, as it was run-down and in disrepair. However, an archaeological dig following the fire revealed Bryggen’s rich history and a foundation was formed to protect and restore the district. Today, one of the biggest challenges to preserving the historic area is that Bryggen is slowing sinking, as evidenced by the fact that many of the historic buildings are leaning.
Bryggen contains about 60 buildings dating back to the 1700’s. The most photographed views are of the gabled buildings along the water, but it is also interesting to explore the wooden alleyways between and behind the main buildings. At the northeastern corner of Bryggen is Mariakirken (St Mary’s Church), which dates back to the 12th century. At the northern end is Rosenkrantzarnet (Rosenkrantz Tower), which was covered by scaffolding at the time of my visit, Bergenhus Festning (Bergen Fortress), and the Hakonshallen, a reconstruction of a Gothic ceremonial hall built for King of Norway in the 13th century.
Photographing in Bryggen is fun. However, it is very popular with the tourists, so I suggest visiting during off peak times. In addition to photographing in and around Bryggen, be sure to shoot it from across the harbor. In addition to being a great viewpoint, the distance helps minimize the impact of tourists milling about in your composition.
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.
A couple weeks ago, Tanya and I visited the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Washington. While obviously it is a good place for bird photography (in season at least), it is also a good place for landscape photography. The refuge is full of small lakes and wetlands set among basalt cliffs. Add in blue skies and interesting clouds, and the area is ripe with landscape photo opportunities.
The best time to visit for photography is the golden hours. However, if you are driving over from Tacoma (like I have the two times I’ve visited), it’s difficult to be there at sunrise or sunset. But even mid-day offers some possibilities if you can control the contrast or find a composition where the contrast doesn’t ruin the image (such as the photo above; well at least I don’t think it does).
On our recent visit, I was hoping to catch some of the spring wildflowers, but we were a little early. If you are thinking of visiting, I bet the flowers are in full bloom right now.
The refuge is traversed by gravel roads, some of which are closed during parts of the year to protect wildlife. There are also several short trails. During my visit last month, I took the 4-mile round trip Chukar and Blythe Lakes hike. The hike traverses the shoreline of Blythe Lake before climbing to a viewpoint above Chukar Lake. If you do take a hike or wander around in the brush taking photos, be sure to do a tick check when returning to the car.
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.
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.
I’ve photographed in the Palouse in spring, summer and fall, but to finish up my soon-to-be release Palouse photography guide, I needed to photograph there in the winter. To be honest, I have shot in the Palouse in winter before, but not when there was snow. So all winter long, I’ve been waiting for snow to coat the Palouse hills (and for some free time for me to make the journey). When I did go last week, I found the Palouse is incredibly beautiful when covered by snow.
Winter in the Washington State has been very mild (that is up until about eight days ago), and snow has been rare in eastern Washington. Finally, several weeks ago, the weather forecasts were looking favorable, so I made plans to do a quick trip over. My plan was to drive over the evening of Thursday, February 8th, shoot on Friday and Saturday, then after a quick visit to my Step-mom in Spokane, drive back to Tacoma on Sunday. It was a good plan, except it didn’t account for the largest snow storm to hit the state in decades. The photography part of the trip went great (though I didn’t get to as many spots as I would have liked), but the driving home on Sunday part was not so good.
The snow coverage in the Palouse was uneven. Down near Uniontown, there was less snow (and in some places, almost none – though earlier this week, I’m sure this changed), while up near Tekoa, the snow cover was much thicker. My journeys on Friday were hampered at times by falling snow, which greatly cut visibility and made scenes look foggy. Saturday provided much better light, but brought its own special challenges – high winds and drifting snow.
Many of the back roads in the Palouse are “all-weather” gravel roads. I found many of these barely passable because of the drifting snow. In my mid-sized, all-wheel drive SUV, I plowed through many snow drifts as long as they weren’t too tall – it was fun. While this allowed me to get to some good shots, it later came back to haunt me. By mid-afternoon Saturday, the light was wonderful, but the wind had really picked up, and even the paved highways were being drifted over.
Throughout Friday and Saturday morning, I had visited spots I thought might look good with snow (as well as a couple new spots). My plan by mid-afternoon on Saturday was to go shoot the Lone Pine grain elevator then try to get up on Steptoe Butte. Lone Pine road was heavily drifted, but we made it in. The vantage point I wanted was a short distance from Lone Pine Road, on Chase Road (another all-season road). Tanya and I turned onto Chase Road and almost immediately stopped because the snow was so thick. But then, a tractor plowing the road crested the hill. It went by us and back up the hill. I figured we could now make it, with the road being plowed. I was wrong. We got about 100 meters or less up the road and got stuck. We were stuck for at least half an hour, even with the farmer, Donovan Chase, helping us out. He finally was able to get us out of there, and I didn’t even get the shot I was looking for (the 30+ mph wind was blowing snow straight at us from the direction of the grain elevator – the shot was not possible).
After freeing us from the snow, he asked us to check in at C&D’s Bar & Grill (which he is an owner) to let them know we made it out okay since the conditions on Lone Pine Road were sketchy. We made it out to Tekoa and stopped at C&D’s to have a drink. We decided it was probably best stop the photography for the day and head to Spokane (we probably couldn’t have gotten very far up Steptoe anyway). However, not a mile outside of town on the highway to Spokane, the road was restricted to one lane by snow drifts and that lane was blocked by a tow truck pulling a car out of a drift. Right then, a Department of Transportation truck appeared and told us the highway was closed. We eventually did make it to Spokane by heading east out of Tekoa into Idaho first before heading north. The normally 50-minute drive to Spokane took about 1.5 hours. On the drive, our car was running rough and making unusual noises.
But we made it to Spokane and checked into our hotel. After dinner with my Step-mom, we decided our SUV should probably go to the auto shop before we drove back across the state to Tacoma. You know how many auto shops are open in Spokane on Sundays in winter? Maybe two. We still hoped to drive to Tacoma Sunday, so I got the car to the Firestone shop when it opened at 8 a.m. Sunday morning. However, with the storm, their power had been out all day Saturday, and they were very backed up. They’d get to my SUV when they could.
About 3 hours later, I got a call from Firestone. They had the car up on the lift and the mechanic saw something he had never seen before. Apparently, the total undercarriage of my SUV was coated with over 1 foot of ice. They said they’d need to thaw the car before determining what was wrong. Needless to say, we did not drive to Tacoma that day. Around 5 p.m. Firestone called back and said they had finally melted enough of the ice to check the car out. They thought their might be a problem with the transmission and suggested I take it to a transmission shop in the morning.
So Monday morning, I picked the car up at Firestone and drove it to the transmission shop. It took them a couple of hours to determine nothing was wrong with the transmission. Though they did call me into the shop and under the lift to show me ice still packed into the nooks and crannies under my car and asked where I had been driving. They thawed more ice and sent me on my way. We hit Interstate 90 toward Seattle at around 10:30 a.m.
However, the car was not totally fine. I had a dead headlight (obtained while plowing through snow banks on Saturday morning) and the wiper fluid was frozen. Driving on the interstate freeway in winter without wiper fluid does not work very well. So, we stopped in Ritzville (about an hour west of Spokane) to get the headlight replaced and the wiper fluid unfrozen. It took about 2 hours – they had to thaw a block of ice in the wiper fluid reservoir, the wiper fluid lines, and the wiper fluid motor. But finally we were back on the road.
All went fine until we were about half way up and over the Cascade Mountains on Snoqualmie Pass. It was around 5:30 p.m., was snowing heavily, and very dark with almost no visibility (I was glad I got the headlight fixed). Not surprisingly, the State Patrol closed the road. Unfortunately for us, they closed it about 10 cars in front of us. If we had left Spokane 5 minutes earlier, we could have got over the pass. Instead, we found a hotel room for the night in Cle Elum.
Tuesday morning, we packed up and learned that the pass was still closed and Interstate 90 was closed both ways. We decided to try for White Pass (good thing, Snoqulamie Pass didn’t open until a day later). He had to first take back road east to Ellensburgh because the freeway was closed. But once at Ellensburg, we got back on the freeway and drove east and south to Yakima. There we got on the US Highway 12 to White Pass. The pass was open, but conditions were not good. However, we finally made it over the Cascades. Unfortunately, the highway to Tacoma from Highway 12 was closed due to snow and downed trees, and we had to take the long way around. We finally got home around 5:30 p.m. – a full two days later than we had planned. It had snowed about 13 inches at our house and we needed to shovel the berm created by the snowplow in front of our house to park.
So, was all this worth it for some winter shots of the Palouse? You be the judge and let me know what you think of these shots.
Every year I supply photographs for the promotional calendar at my day job (Robinson Noble). I try to come up with photos that match the month. November is a tough month. What kind of scene says “November”? Not only that, over the years, November is a slow photography month for me. It is usually cold and wet, not my favorite conditions for going out on a photo shoot. But, my stock of November shots (at least those worthy of being on a calendar) is getting very low. So several weeks ago, I decided I need to do a photo weekend. I decided to go to the Olympic coast, and so I reserved a 3-bedroom cottage on the beach at Pacific Beach (I needed 3 bedrooms because Tanya’s mom is staying with us for a few weeks and Tanya wanted to also invite her brother and his wife – they also brought their dog, and we brought Nahla).
I was all set for cold, rainy weather – there aren’t rain forests on the western side of the Olympic Peninsula for no reason. Yet, as our luck would have it, it was beautifully sunny all weekend. That doesn’t happen in November along the Washington coast very often. Of course, being a nature photographer, I have to complain about the weather – it’s never perfect, right? The sun made photography in the rain forest difficult because of high contrast, and the lack of clouds didn’t help the sunsets. But I think I did okay anyway, you be the judge. Are any of these photos suitable for a November slot on a calendar?
May and June are probably the most popular months for photography in the Palouse. But in preparing my up coming Palouse guide (to be published by Snapp Guides sometime next year), I thought I should visit the area in all seasons. The area is not known for fall colors, but there are a fair number of cottonwood, aspen and other trees to provide color in the area. So Tanya and I headed over to the Palouse in mid-October to see what we could find.
I only had a day and a half to explore and look for fall color. Not really enough time to cover the area, but from my previous explorations, I had a good idea where to look. I found that some of the cottonwoods were in prime color, but others had already lost most their leaves. Most the aspens were looking good, though some had lost a lot of leaves, and many smaller shrubs and scrubby trees had color as well.
Of course, most of the area is covered by agricultural fields and barren of trees. Many of the beautiful golden fields I found in August had been plowed under, and some already replanted with next year’s crop. A few fields were just starting to sprout green wheat seedlings, but overall the main color scheme was brown and dusty yellow.
I made a visit to Steptoe Butte for sunset, it was good as always. However, because of the active plowing of many fields, there was a lot of dust in the area. I’d suggest the view from Steptoe would probably be clearer in the morning on most October days.
Overall, I was happy with what I came home with, and would have liked to spend a few more days there. However, I think the photo opportunities don’t quite rank up there with what is available in May, June, and August. That said, if you want to get something truly unique from the Palouse, October is a great time to go.
The featured photo above is a 3-shot panorama of a scene along State Route 272 east of Colfax. More photos are below. Leave a comment and let me know what you think of autumn in the Palouse.
Road access to North Cascades National Park is extremely limited. The North Cascades Highway doesn’t actually travel through the park; rather it travels through the Ross Lake National Recreation Area. The road south from Canada to Hozomeen also only enters Ross Lake National Recreation Area; besides it is currently closed. There is a road from Stehekin that extends a couple of miles into the park, but of course, Stehekin has no road access itself. That leaves the Cascade River Road, which ends at the Cascade Pass trailhead. In my opinion, the view from the end of the road is amazing; the view from Cascade Pass is better (in their description of the trail to Cascade Pass, the Washington Trails Association says “perhaps no other trail in the state delivers as much reward for the effort”). But if you want to go this season, you better hurry. The Park Service announced yesterday the road will close five miles from the trailhead starting tomorrow for a minimum of two weeks. Following that, there is no telling when it might close due to snow.
I had the opportunity to hike to Cascade Pass last week when in the area for work. My business done at noon, I drove up the Cascade River Road and into the park. The trail is 3.6 miles one way and climbs about 1,700 feet. It starts out of the parking lot with 31 switchbacks, climbing through forest with occasional “peek-a-boo” views of the surrounding mountains. But with less than a mile to go, past the last switchback, the trail levels out and comes out of the trees for impressive views of glaciers, fields, mountains, and valleys. Wildlife sightings are common – a fellow hiker reported a bear near the trailhead, though I did not see it.
For continued views, the trail extends from the pass up Sahale Arm. For the atheltic hiker, the trail east down out of the pass continues about 30 miles, all the way to the aforementioned town of Stehekin. And for the truly adventurous, the Ptarmigan Traverse (a high backcountry route) climbs over the mountains south of the pass (some of my photo buddies have done this route and brought back amazing pictures). For me, at least on this day, I chose to travel up the Sahale Arm trail mile or so before turning around to get back to the car before sunset.
The fall colors were amazing, even if slightly past their peak on my hike, as I think you can attest by the accompanying photos. The featured shot above is a 3-shot vertical panorama looking back at Cascade Pass from the Sahale Arm trail. Captions explain the other photos (below).
Last January, a new Seattle landmark opened – the Amazon spheres. Located in downtown Seattle on the Amazon campus, the spheres are three spherical conservatories created to give Amazon employees a bit of nature in which to work and relax. The spheres contain over 40,000 plants from cloud forests throughout the world. The spheres are three to four stories tall and formed by more than 2,600 panes of glass.
Last week, Tanya and I had the opportunity to visit the inside of the spheres as part of Amazon’s Take Your Parents to Work Day – our daughter Janelle works for Amazon. At the time, I only had my smart phone with me and all the images shown here from inside the spheres were captured with my phone. As it turned out, the following day, Tanya and I visited downtown Seattle again. This time I took my regular camera, and while Tanya did some shopping, I visited the spheres for some outside shots.
The spheres are a popular attraction, but if you want to visit the inside, you will need to do a little planning ahead. Visits are restricted to Amazon employees and their guests on Mondays through Fridays. The spheres are only open to the general public on the first and third Saturdays every month from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Further, reservations are required. Reservations can be made up to 30 days in advance at this website. Times available for the next opening on October 6th are already about half full; so if you want to visit, be sure to make your reservation well in advance.
The sphere website states that photography inside the domes is for personal use only and that flash and tripod use is prohibited. However, I asked one of the Amazon security personnel yesterday about tripods, and she said they are okay. I guess it pays to ask.
Though clear now, the skies of Washington State, and indeed most of the Pacific Northwest, have been very smokey almost the entire month of August. The smoke is from wildfires, both in the United States and Canada. I fear, with climate changes, this may be our new “normal” for August, as smokey skies have been prevalent in August the past several years.
As long as the smoke is not too thick, smokey skies can have some advantages to landscape and travel photography. Though I tend not to, some people like the sunsets provided by smokey conditions. I do, however, appreciate that smokey conditions can soften light and can extend golden hour conditions by changing the color of sunlight. On the other hand, they can also dim sunlight so that the light during the actual golden hours is weak.
In my opinion, the disadvantages outweigh any advantages gained. I am fond on blue skies and wide vistas. Smoke can suck the blue out of the sky and obscure views with haze. I also like to use telephoto lenses to pull in distance subjects. Obviously, this does not work so well if there is a lot of smoke.
On my trip to the Palouse last month, the skies were quite smokey. Not smokey enough to totally ruin the trip, but I certainly did not have ideal conditions. The Palouse is known for its blue skies with great clouds. On my last trip, the sky, though clear, was more of a dusky gray. It was also cloud free on except for one day. So much for the wide sky shots I often favor, such as this one I posted on instagram. I found myself following several techniques to minimize the effects of the smoke.
1. Limiting distance in my compositions – instead of including distant hills and vistas in my compositions, I selected relatively close subjects, or chose compositions where the distant background was less important. For example, on my August visit to the Palouse, I did shoot one evening from Steptoe Butte. However, with the smokey haze, I chose one of the lower viewpoint instead of going to the top, and I mostly shot compositions with subjects relatively close to the butte rather than subjects thousands of meters away.
2. Eliminating or limiting the amount of sky in my compositions – with the sky not the blue color one expects, in many cases, I tried to either totally eliminate the sky from my composition or at least limit the amount of sky in the shot.
3. Processing using the Dehaze slider in Lightroom – I often use the dehaze slider in lightroom, and not just to remove haze; I like the microconstrast it adds to images. However, smokey conditions are what the dehaze slider was made for. While processing images from the August Palouse trip in Lightroom, I found myself adding more dehaze than I normally would.
4. Adding blue back into the sky in Lightroom – I typically do not do selective color corrections in Lightroom. Typically I’ll set the color balance for the entire photo and let well enough alone (saving selective color adjustments for Photoshop if I want to do them at all). But with new masking tools for the gradient and brush tools, I found it relatively easy to add some blue back into the sky in Lightroom. Typically, I’d make a fairly tight gradient (or perhaps the brush too) and apply it to the area of the photo containing the sky. Then, using the range mask tool in color mode, I select a wide portion of the sky. This usually masks most of the non-sky areas, but to be sure, I’ll check the Show Selected Mask Overlay checkbox (which uses a red tone to indicate where the gradient is effective). Depending on the image, I may or may not need to do some cleanup of the mask with the eraser brush). To correct the sky, I’ll move the temperature slider toward blue, typically move the exposure slider down about 1/2 to 1/2 a stop, and move the clarity slider down as well. Depending on the image, I may also increase the dehaze slightly. Sounds complicated, but it is fairly easy with a bit of practice. This technique does a nice job on restoring sky color (see the examples below).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.