Oregon’s Paradise

Wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Late July to early August is the time that meadows across the Cascade Mountain range come alive with wildflowers. Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park is perhaps the most well known location for wildflowers here in the northwest but it’s by no means the only location. A few years ago, I learned of a meadow on Oregon’s Mount Hood that’s home to an amazing display of beargrass, which is a grass like perennial but actually a member of the Lily family. Beargrass “blooms” follow a cycle so the number of beargrass that do bloom each year will vary. Once every so often, a super bloom will occur resulting in an impressive display and 2009 was such a year in a place named Paradise Park on Mount Hood.

Located in the Mount Hood Wilderness, Paradise Park is a four mile hike north from the famous Timberline Lodge via the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s actually quite an interesting hike in a number of ways. A typical wildflower hike starts low and climbs high but trekking out to Paradise Park starts high, loses 1,100′ of elevation, and then regains 1,000′ to reach the start of the meadows. The other aspect of this hike I found interesting was the variety of ecological zones that the hike travels through. The first mile or two traverses across a corrugated alpine pumice landscape followed by a brief re-entry into high elevation forest. This brings you to the rim of the impressive Zigzag Canyon, which is where the Zigzag River has cut down nearly 1,000 feet down through volcanic deposits. The 4,800′ bottom of the canyon crosses through classic western Cascade forest before reversing the experience on the way up to Paradise Park.
Zigzag Canyon, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Zigzag Falls in Zigzag Canyon, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Wildflowers along the South Fork Lost Creek in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
I was ultimately inspired to make my first visit by a hiker’s comment on the Portland Hikers forum (a great resource for hiking in Oregon) which indicated that the wildflowers were at peak condition right now. While there would be no beargrass blooms, I felt a change of pace from the rat race of Mount Rainier’s Paradise was in order (more on that in another blog post). Forecasts pointed to good weather for the most part but always with a “chance” of thunderstorms. My plan was to overnight in Paradise Park one night, hike out the next day, drive around the mountain and do it all over again at another meadow-y setting. Sure enough, I set out under sunny skies with an ever growing cloud above Mount Hood. Temperatures in the upper 70s made the hike a bit toasty, particularly with heavy pack. I’ve tried to pare down the weight of my backpacking set but I think I have a bit more work to do!

Even with 40+ lbs on my back, I found myself an hour later at the rim of the Zigzag Canyon (2.3 miles from my starting point at Timberline). After a break and some photos, an hour later I was crossing the Zigzag River and beginning my climb up to Paradise Park. The mid afternoon sunshine was still cooking so my climb up to Paradise Park took close to another 90 minutes. It seemed like I would never reach Paradise Park but eventually I turned the corner and there it was. Now, before I continue, I feel the need to explain something. Photographers use a lot of adjectives to describe scenes such as amazing, grand and stunning. So much so that they, perhaps, loose their impact.
Wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Despite my numerous outings over the last five years, I will admit that the number of times I’ve been truly moved by the scene in front of me have been few. What’s my definition of “moved”? I’d say it’s the desire to share what you’re experiencing with someone you hold dear. It’s wishing someone was with you at that moment because it’s the only way they can ever truly understand why you do what you do. Rounding the corner as the first meadow of Paradise Park came into view was one of those moments for me (only my second time this year). As picturesque as any meadow I’ve ever seen, I just wanted to drop everything and just stare. The sweat and fatigue of the journey to get here was but it was so, so worth it at this moment.

If I was to get ready for sunset, I needed to get going and set up camp. Not too far after entering Paradise Park is the South Fork of Lost Creek and the first campsites found in Paradise Park. The creek was lined with all sort of wildflowers along with one of the finest campsites I’ve ever seen. As good as it seemed, I decided to keep going, at least until the crossing of the North Fork of Lost Creek. Again, the creek was lined with wildflowers but the campsites were much more exposed. There was still a threat of thunderstorms so the prudent thing to do was to retreat back to the more sheltered campsites along the South Fork. I set up my camp and took a little nap before setting back out to the first meadow for sunset.
Wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Last light towards the west from Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Sunrise and wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Behind the Paradise Park Loop Trail signpost is a way path that meanders up through the meadow towards Mississippi Head and the rest of Mount Hood. The flowers here were thick, in perfect form, and consisted mostly of Lupine, American Bistort, Arnica, and some sporadic Indian Paintbrush. As I’ve grown fond of doing, I brought along my GoPro so that I could also shoot a time lapse series. The only downside of this is that you have to pick a spot and stay there. Sometimes this doesn’t work out to your advantage. At this lower location in the meadow, the focal point are the flowers and Mount Hood; not much else is visible due to the treeline which is literally all around you.

On this night, this didn’t work in my advantage. The large billowing clouds from the afternoon had pretty much disappeared by sunset. Minus the clouds, there wasn’t much left to capture and reflect the warm light of sunset. Behind me, though, the skies were filled with pinks and oranges. I worked my surroundings as best as I could before calling it an evening. Clouds seeped back in the darker it got and I pretty much knew that any star photography wasn’t going to be an option. I was tired enough that I didn’t have a big problem with that.
Sunrise and wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Sunrise and wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest
Waking up at 4:45am the next morning, I hiked back to the same meadow for sunrise serenaded by the cooing of a mourning dove. It was quite evident that I was in for a gray sunrise. Still, there was little wind and the no bugs. True sunrise greeted me with a few moments of light rain. This area was so nice that I had been toying with the idea of extending my stay one extra night. The weather (and myself, frankly) wasn’t looking too good so I kept with the decision to hike out and head home. Before breaking camp, I continued furthered up the path to the upper slopes. I found it interesting that the wildflowers (primarily asters) were actually a little bit past prime and somewhat “burned” out. Lower slopes normally burn out before the upper slopes simply because that’s the way the snowpack melts back during the course of summer.

By the time I had packed up camp and hit the trail, the sun appeared. A bit bittersweet but frankly it didn’t last too long. Most of the uphill hike out was graced by cloudy skies which did keep me a bit cooler. Even with dubious forecasts, I crossed paths with lots of people hiking in towards Paradise Park. After returning home, I found that that Timberline Lodge received 2.5″ of rain during the time I would have still been out there had I extended my stay. One thing I sometimes do after a trip is re-examine my “research” on an area to better understand and merge the on the ground reality I experienced and the textual or other information I had leading up to my visit. I discovered AFTER the fact that there were two waterfalls in the Paradise Park area which I could have photographed. Doh! Even with such a quick introduction to the area, I know I’ll be back. Acres of wildflowers that I didn’t have to share with anyone? Why would I NOT return??! I would highly recommend a visit to Paradise Park!
Wildflowers in Paradise Park, Mount Hood Wilderness, Mount Hood National Forest

Lastly, I’d like to give a special hat tip to Oregon photographer Wesley Picotte who generously shared some of his knowledge with me while I was researching my trip. Check out his great work also from the Pacific Northwest. Thanks again, Wesley!

Clackamas River Trail

Another stop on my recent trip south was to hike the Clackamas River Trail. You can almost forget you’re hiking parallel with a highway. Almost. For a river hike, access and views of the river are fairly limited and there’s plenty of ups and downs. Completely unexpected was a short stretch of the trail which travels through a stretch of forest reminiscent of the redwood forests of coast California. It held old growth sized trees with a forest floor of oxalis. So pretty! My destination was Pup Creek Falls which is a short way trail up a side drainage. Again, it’s a rather large water fall in a nice setting. The trail during my hike was fairly brushy coming from the Fish Creek trail head but there’s word on the hiking forum that there will be a work party shortly to brush it out. PortlandHikers lists this hike as moderate in terms of difficulty. I thought this was odd since it only gains 950 feet. After hiking it, however, I think it’s appropriate. The constant up and down nature of the trail earns the rating. Just like my hike to Falls Creek Falls (see my previous blog post), the trail doesn’t offer too many opportunities to actually visit the river’s edge or enjoy unobstructed views. Still an enjoyable hike!
Forest understory along the Clackamas River Trail
Ferns and oxalis along the Clackamas River Trail
Ferns and oxalis along the Clackamas River Trail
Pup Creeks Falls, just off of the Clackamas River Trail

Elusive Mount Hood

I spent a lot of time driving around Mount Hood on my recent trip but not a lot of time actually SEEING it. This first photo came about during my attempt to reach the Top Spur trail head. The winter snowpack still were lingering so I was turned around by snow about a half mile from the trail head. At the point of my turnaround, however, the road is located very near the spine of a ridgeline. I bushwhacked up to the top of the ridge to take a look around. Once on the ridge, I didn’t find a viewpoint of Mount Hood like I had hoped. Actually, the forest here was creepy with no understory and lots of dead limbs on the lower sections of each tree. I was all packed up and ready to head back down when the sun broke free from the persistent clouds and presented me with beautiful god rays. As fast as I could, I got all my gear out of my backpack just in time for the sun faded away before I could snap even one picture. I figured that if it happened once, it would happen again. I waited patiently and, sure enough, another outburst of god rays appeared. This time I was ready! I stayed around long enough for a third episode of god rays before feeling satisfied that I had captured the moment.
God Rays, Mount Hood National Forest (Black and White conversion)
God Rays, Mount Hood National Forest
Earlier in the day, I poked around Lolo Pass Road and encountered some really dynamic conditions. Valley clouds were lifting quickly up and across the road from time to time. This was also occurring throughout the Sandy River valley. Perfect conditions for a timelapse! Here it is:

On the last full day of my time down around Mount Hood, the weather looked like it might be breaking up as sunset drew closer. I saw the summit for the first time on my trip from near the Mount Hood Meadows Ski Area. I decided to hang out and retreated to the Bennett Pass Snow Park. I shot this peek-a-boo of Mount Hood from there:
Mount Hood framed by storm clouds from the Bennett Pass Snow Park
I had set up my GoPro for another timelapse and everything was going great until the clouds walled up and swallowed Mount Hood once again. Time to relocate! Here’s my abbreviated timelapse:

Hoping to take advantage of the lee side effect, I headed north on Highway 35 and turned off on Brooks Meadow Road (FS Road 44). A few years ago, I stumbled across an old clearcut that offered a great view of Mount Hood. I arrived but still had no mountain. Nonetheless, it was quiet and peaceful so I watched sunset while my GoPro snapped off another timelapse. The mountain never appeared but the clouds sure put on an entertaining show:

I packed up and headed back down to Hood River to make my way back to my motel. While I was driving through Parkdale, I looked up at my rear view mirror and, despite the darkness, there was Mount Hood clear as could be! I immediately pulled over and pulled out my camera and telephoto lens. This was happening during “blue hour” (the hour immediately after sunset) so while I could still see the mountain, it wasn’t possible to use autofocus. Using my Liveview setting, I dialed in focus as best as I could and then began taking several shots. After 15 minutes or so, sporadic clouds began popping up between my location and the mountain. This was a great way to end my day.
Mount Hood during the blue hour from Parkdale, Oregon

Top Ten Photos of 2012

It’s the end of 2012 and time to look back upon the previous year and pick out some favorite photos. They primarily are personal favorites but some of my choices were well received but others who viewed them. As for the year itself, I branched out a little bit, both geographically and subject-wise. I was able to pursue wildlife photography a little more with trips to Boundary Bay in British Columbia for the Snowy Owl irruption and my first ever trip to Yellowstone National Park.

1.) Big Four Mountain – South Fork Stillaguamish River Valley

Big Four Mountain - South Fork Stillaguamish River Valley

Taken from a spring outing, I was hoping to capture some avalanches coming down the impressive 4,000 foot high north face of Big Four Mountain. This conversion to black & white using Nik’s Silver Efex 2 worked well.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

2.) The Tree and the Log – Boundary Bay, British Columbia

The Tree and the Log - Boundary Bay, British Columbia

This was taken in the late afternoon during my first ever visit to Boundary Bay, British Columbia to see and photograph the large gathering of Snowy Owls. The incoming fog white washed the entire scene but this lone tree stood out in stark contrast.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

3.) Early Bird’s Worm – Everett, Washington

Early Bird's Worm - Everett, Washington

A sunrise shot from this fall, I was running a few minutes behind what I wanted and the color was already starting in the sky as I drove to this location. Thankfully, I was able to set up just before the peak display of colors.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

4.) Pinnacles and Tree – Clear Fork Cowlitz River Valley

Pinnacles and Tree - Clear Fork Cowlitz River Valley

This was taken on a spring trip to the Ohanepecosh River valley in Mount Rainier National Park, but is not in the park. This spot is located along U.S. Hwy 12 just a few miles east of the SR-123 turn off for the park. I loved the colors of the lichen on the columnar volcanic rock and the small tree which gave some perspective for size.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

5.) Spreading – Lewis River Valley

Spreading - Lewis River Valley

For the last couple years, I’ve made a side trip to explore the Lewis River valley near Mount Saint Helens on my drive home from the Columbia River Gorge. Near the trailhead for Middle Lewis River Falls, I spied this beautiful Vine Maple growing downslope of the Forest Service road. I loved the vibrant green from the young leaves and how the just gracefully spread around the snag located in front.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

6.) Brilliance at Boundary Bay, Boundary Bay, British Columbia

Brilliance at Boundary Bay, Boundary Bay, British Columbia

Another shot from my visit to Boundary Bay in British Columbia. The next morning after my arrival, I was treated to one of the best sunrises of the year. I felt very fortunate (and lucky!) to have captured this given my unfamiliarity with the location.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

7.) Fall, Meet Winter – North Fork Skykomish River Valley

Fall, Meet Winter - North Fork Skykomish River Valley

This photo was taken during my lone “real” outing for fall colors this year. on a hunch, I thought I should revisit some spots located in the upper drainage of the North Fork Skykomish River here in the North Central Cascades. I remember that one of my wishes for the day was a photo of vine maple color with snow (fresh snow had fallen recently). I was planning on seeking this out near the summit of Stevens Pass along U.S. Highway 2 but I was pleasantly surprised to find these conditions up the Skykomish.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

8.) Shuksan Arm and Mount Shuksan – North Cascades National Park

Shuksan Arm and Mount Shuksan - North Cascades National Park

One of my perennial visits during winter is Artist Point near the Mount Baker Ski Area in the North Cascades. In this image, I loved the contrast between the warm sunset light on Mount Shuksan and the colder shadows that have overtaken the Shuksan Arm ridgeline in the lower foreground.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

9.) Another Day – Yellowstone National Park

Another Day - Yellowstone National Park

Taken from my first ever trip to Yellowstone, this was my second sunrise and first from the Mammoth Terraces located at Mammoth Hot Springs in the northwest corner of the park. Sunrise wasn’t that notable due to the lack of clouds but I really liked how the direct light really accentuated the details of the terrace.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

10.) Thorton Lakes Fall – North Cascades National Park

Thorton Lakes Fall - North Cascades National Park

Another first visit this year. Thorton Lakes is off by itself and takes a fair amount of grunt work to reap its rewards. I took this photo from the ridge that surrounds the lower lake and isolates some of the fall color located on the bench slopes between the lower and middle lakes.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

There’s my top ten! As I usually do, I’ll throw in two more bonus photos…

11.) Evening Commute – Yellowstone National Park

Evening Commute - Yellowstone National Park

Taken on the last evening of my visit to Yellowstone National Park. Volatile weather during the day made for dramatic conditions at sunset. I decided to try my luck in the Slough Creek side valley near the Lamar Valley. As I turned onto the dusty road up the valley, we were stopped by bison crossing the road. It turns out that every bison in the lower valley would cross the road right next to the first parking pullout. I was faced with the dilemma of photographing sunset or bison using my Sigma 50-500mm lens. I ended up trying to do both. Most bison shots didn’t turn out but I was happy with the sunset related shots, especially given what I was using.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

12.) Mount Jefferson Sunset – Mount Jefferson Wilderness

Mount Jefferson Sunset - Mount Jefferson Wilderness

During my visit to the Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood region this year, I hiked up Tom Dick and Harry Mountain for sunset. As usual, I was running behind time wise and really had to bust my butt to make the summit in time for sunset. The last half of the trail was all snow and a lot of work. I made it but sunset wasn’t anything special with the exception of this little scene some 40 miles to my south. I took this shot with my 300mm zoom at 300mm and I just love the shape of the lenticular clouds above the mountain.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

Still want more? Ok. I selected about 70 photos from this past year and put together this slideshow:

Happy holidays everyone and here’s to looking forward to 2013!

Winds of Change at Mount Hood

Mount Hood from Lolo Pass Road. Three hours until sunset. What do you do?It was three hours until sunset and this is how things were shaping up. What to do? After finishing up my hike to Ramona Falls, this was my dilemma. Although the mountain was fairly socked in, you can see that there is a tall lenticular cloud structure building up behind it. I decided that, when sunset did come, the lenticular cloud was probably going to be highlight. Clearly from this vantage point, I wasn’t going to see much; i needed to move but where? On the first day of my trip, I drove the entire length of Lolo Pass Road to the actual pass and this gave me the knowledge of where I could photograph the mountain, and what to expect. From this simple action, I now knew that I should head to the last viewpoint nearest the pass. It situated me in a more northerly position instead of the northwesterly position that the photo above was taken at. As I drove to my destination, I passed another photographer who had staked his claim not far from where I was previously. I had to smile because I knew that my destination was going to be better suited for what was to come. Boy was I right! The next hour until sunrise was a photographing frenzy. I kept alternating shots between my Sigma 17-70mm lens and my Pentax DA 55-300. The colors from sunset definitely not the best I’ve ever seen but the cloud movement and dynamics certainly were. The wind currents kept changing the view in front of me, almost like shaking an Etch-A-Sketch. True to my hunch, the tall lenticular cloud behind Mount Hood acted like a magnet for any of the colors of sunset. Minute by minute, there was always something to photograph. Like many sunsets, this one just faded away without fanfare. I honestly didn’t expect much of a sunset but I was dead wrong. I’m just glad that I had done a little bit of homework to put me in the best possible position to take advantage of it!
Clouds and Mount Hood from Lolo Pass Road. 53 minutes before sunset
Clouds and Mount Hood from Lolo Pass Road. 41 minutes before sunset
Clouds and Mount Hood from Lolo Pass Road. 22 minutes before sunset
Clouds and Mount Hood from Lolo Pass Road. 20 minutes before sunset
Clouds converging over Mount Hood. 17 minutes before sunset
Clouds and Mount Hood from Lolo Pass Road. 16 minutes before sunset
Clouds and Mount Hood from Lolo Pass Road. 12 minutes before sunset
Clouds and Mount Hood from Lolo Pass Road. 11 minutes before sunset
Clouds and Mount Hood from Lolo Pass Road. 10 minutes before sunset
Clouds and Mount Hood from Lolo Pass Road. 8 minutes before sunset
Clouds and Mount Hood from Lolo Pass Road. 6 minutes before sunset
Clouds and Mount Hood from Lolo Pass Road. 5 minutes before sunset
Clouds and Mount Hood from Lolo Pass Road. 3 minutes before sunset

Up, Down, and Around Mount Hood

During my recent trip down to Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge, I actually spent more time around Mount Hood than down along the Gorge. Here’s a compilation of photos from several of my Mount Hood related outings-

Tom Dick Harry Mountain Sunset
 I climbed to the top of the mountain in hopes of a sunset at the end of the first day of my trip. I got a late start from the Mirror Lake trailhead but made good time up to the lake. Beyond the lake, I tried keeping the brisk pace but it was wearing me down. The trail was patchy snow for the first half but that snow was sitting on the trail like a huge humps. Just below the 6′ tall rock cairn, the trail was completely snow covered and the slog was on. More than once I thought about abandoning my effort but I kept at it. I ended up topping out about 20-25 minutes before sunset. There was no sunset to be had on Mount Hood but Mount Jefferson to the south was receiving some nice light and had a nice lenticular cloud on its lee side. I stayed until sunset was officially over and then headed down as quickly and safely as I could.

Mount Hood and Mirror Lake from the summit of Tom Dick Harry Mountain
Mount Jefferson and lenticular clouds at sunset from the summit of Tom Dick Harry Mountain
Mount Jefferson and lenticular clouds at sunset from the summit of Tom Dick Harry Mountain
Mount Jefferson and lenticular clouds at sunset from the summit of Tom Dick Harry Mountain
Ramona Falls
My first visit to this waterfall. This area of Mount Hood fascinates me because it seems like it is located in a rain shadow. The trees are a little more spaced with more pine. I arrived at the falls in the afternoon so I had a mix of sun and shade across the falls. To counter this (and to get the silky water effect), I used my 0.6 Graduated Neutral Density Filter. It still requires some extra Photoshop processing to come up with something presentable but it is possible. Abstracts like the ones shown here are probably the primary compositions but I did like my composition with the stump in the foreground and the falls in the background. Again, tricky lighting but still doable!

Ramona Falls
Ramona Falls Detail
Ramona Falls Detail
Ramona Falls Detail

Highway 26 Corridor
This year’s trip was a little later than my previous trips and one of the benefits of this was seeing some Pacific Rhododendron in bloom. These photos are from a stretch of Highway 26 just east of the town of Rhododendron. It was late in the afternoon so I even had a little bit of dappled sunlight through the forest.

Confluence of the Zigzag River and Still Creek, Mount Hood Area
Confluence of the Zigzag River and Still Creek, Mount Hood Area
Pacific Rhododendron in bloom near Rhododendron, Oregon
Pacific Rhododendron in bloom near Rhododendron, Oregon
Pacific Rhododendron in bloom near Rhododendron, Oregon
Pacific Rhododendron in bloom near Rhododendron, Oregon
Old Salmon River Trail
This trail is described as having the most accessible old growth forest in Oregon. Located just a few quick minutes off of Highway 26 near Welches, the trail runs along the Salmon River for several miles and frankly surpassed any expectations I had. My visit was about 90 minutes before sunset and it was a huge mistake! Next year, I’ll devote an entire day to exploring the Salmon River. The forest is so lush and diverse that there’s a lot to take in and observe. Until then, enjoy these photos..

Along the Old Salmon River Trail
Along the Old Salmon River Trail
Scouler's Corydalis along the Salmon River
Scouler's Corydalis along the Salmon River
Salmon River, Mount Hood area
Salmon River Boulder and Big Leaf Maple
Moonrise over the Salmon River at sunset

Columbia Gorge 2012

Mid to late May is the time for my annual trip south to the Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood area. It’s usually a jam packed few days so this year I’m going to group some like minded outings together. This year my Gorge visits were limited to Oneonta Gorge and Elowah / Upper McChord Falls, both of which were first visits for me. I was very fortunate to have both locations all to myself!

Oneonta Gorge in spring. Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon
Oneonta Gorge in spring. Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon
Oneonta Gorge in spring. Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon
Wetland along Historic Columbia River Highway, near Ainsworth State Park
…and on a much rainier day, here are some photos from the Elowah Falls area-

Elowah Falls
Upper McChord Creek Falls
Upper McChord Creek Falls

Tamanawas and Mount Hood

After a day in the Gorge at Ruckel and Gorton Creeks, I spent the following day traveling around Mount Hood. My first destination was Tamanawas Falls which has been on my list for a year or two. Located on the east side of Mount Hood, the falls are an impressive 90 feet tall and plunge over a volcanic rock outcrop. The falls are also situated in a way that allows you to get behind them so that opens up some other compositional opportunities.

The unsettled weather from the previous day continued into the next and I found myself in rain while the sun shined in Hood River. The trailhead for Tamanawas Falls is located right along Highway 35 south of Hood River along the banks of the Hood River. Several miles outside of town, you are treated to your first full view of Mount Hood. Upon my first view, I found that the mountain was acting as a dam for the nasty weather located on the west side. The eastern flanks were basking in sunshine while the divide was being overwhelmed by creeping clouds.

Mount Hood and the East Fork Hood River near Parkdale, Oregon
Spring storm clouds trying to travel over the top of Mount Hood
The sunshine continued all the way to the trailhead. It was clear that the weather wasn’t going to be optimal for waterfall photography. The hike is a pleasant 2+ miles through forest alongside Cold Springs Creek. The forest is unique in that it’s a bit more airy than a west-side forest but it still contains the high diversity of plants that you do find on the west. The cold spring was still thwarting plant leaf out but I still managed to see trillium, fairy slipper, Oregon anemone, and lots of few flowered solomon’s seal.

This hike was a really a great discovery. The creek alongside the trail has a number of interesting scenes that warrant further exploration. The falls are large enough to throw a significant amount of spray so taking a photo of the falls can be a challenge. I admit that I must have been a pretty humorous site huddled behind an umbrella on a sunny day waiting for a quick break in the spray to take my photos.

Tamanawas Falls and Cold Spring Creek
Tamanawas Falls and Cold Spring Creek
After some initial photos from further away, I hiked down to the edge of the creek for some closer shots. The spray was more intense so getting any shots required more gymnastics. I had a couple brief moments of balanced light as an occasional cloud would block the sun. My next stop was up behind the waterfall. I had to travel directly through the main brunt of spray but it was nice & dry once I got closer to the falls.

Tamanawas Falls from the side
Tamanawas Falls from the side
The area behind the falls is a large amphitheater thanks to a seemingly endless supply of calving columnar volcanic rock. It’s very cool to see- until you look up and see all the cracks in the rock high above you. I admit- I got spooked out about spending a lot of time underneath the overhanging rock. I took my shots and quickly moved back out into the safety of the open skies. After reaching the trailhead, I packed my gear and headed for a placed called Brooks Meadow.

Clued into this location by a Oregon blogger, I wanted to visit to check out this 35 acre meadow located at roughly 4,000 feet and a little bit further east of Mount Hood. Sadly, what wasn’t mentioned in the blog post about the meadow is that it is located within the City of Dalles watershed and access is prohibited. Bummer. Looked like a neat spot! All was not completely lost because I spied a location on my drive up that looked to have a nice, commanding view of Mount Hood and the East Fork Hood River valley.

Spring storm clouds over Mount Hood
Spring storm clouds over Mount Hood
Spring storm clouds over Mount Hood. Black & white conversion using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2
The clouds continued to thicken over the west slopes of Mount Hood and were continuing to provide dramatic conditions. I spent a fair amount of watching and taking photos before I had to leave. My last stop of the day was on the west side of Mount Hood and deep into the center of the bad weather- Lost Creek. Located within the Sandy River drainage, I was attracted to Lost Creek due to some photos of the waterfall that is present about 2 miles up the trail which continues on to Burnt Lake.

If Tamanawas Falls was a highlight then Lost Creek was a lowlight and disappointment. The creek was within earshot but just a little too far away and too much effort to be able to quickly pop off the trail and look for photo ops. Now throw in the fact that very little of anything has leafed out to this point and you get a fairly boring, lonely hike in the forest. Once I got to the falls, the second disappointment set in. The viewpoint of the falls is horrible- you’re standing right above them and there’s no safe way to access a better vantage point.

Had I known any of this, I probably would have skipped this one. Live and learn! The one thing that was pretty amazing about this trail was the unbelievable abundance of trillium. It almost reminded me of some of the displays of avalanche lilies you see at Mount Rainier. I think I will return to explore the Sandy River valley a little more since the forests do seem interesting.

Ruckel and Gorton Creek

Last week I made my annual pilgrimage south to the Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood area of Oregon. I don’t need to spend a lot of time describing and praising this area- it has a reputation and a well deserved one for its amazing scenery. Despite holding out a few extra weeks this year, the Dog Mountain Balsamroot blooms just weren’t going to coincide with my visit. Rain and a much delayed spring convinced me to seek other destinations.

This year I finally had nice, cloudy skies (yes- I said it) so I ended up returning to Ruckel Creek. There is a trail that begins alongside the creek but it quickly climbs away from the creek. This leaves any exploration as off trail bushwhacking. It’s actually not that bad so long as you don’t mind getting your feet a little wet (or just wear some 16″ rubber boots). My first visit here was 2 years ago and on that day, I had lot of sunshine. I also did not have much time so my exploration was cut short.

Since this was somewhat of a last minute decision, I neglected to do additional research before heading down. My fuzzy memory was telling me that there should be another waterfall upstream a bit. Technically, I wasn’t wrong but it turns out that it’s much further upstream and I probably was expecting. Nonetheless, I had DRY weather and nice, even lighting so you can’t ask for much more!

Ruckel Creek from the end of the streamside portion of the trail
Ruckel Creek - Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
Ruckel Creek - Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
Ruckel Creek - Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
Ruckel Creek - Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
Ruckel Creek - Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
I pushed upstream further but I saw no signs of a waterfall. I decided to stop at this particular spot where the creek had a nice sweeping arc around a moss covered log jam. It was a bit of a challenge to capture some of these scenes because I felt they needed a higher, downward looking perspective. In order to accomplish this, I had to stand up on logs or the stream bank and set up my tripod with the legs closer together (which isn’t completely stable)…

Ruckel Creek - Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
Ruckel Creek - Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
Ruckel Creek - Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
Once I got back to my truck at the Eagle Creek trailhead, I still had some time left in the late afternoon. I decided to head a little further east to something that’s been on my list for a few years but I’ve never been able to fit it in: Gorton Creek Falls. Starting at the Wyeth Campground, most of the hike to the 80 foot waterfall is pretty straightforward along an old roadbed. The last 100 yards require a lot of climbing up, around, and over boulders and stream bank along the left side of Gorton Creek to reach the base of the falls. I took my climb during the scramble part and did not find it too difficult. I would recommend caution because a slip a few locations would cause an injury of some sort and create a situation where rescue personnel might be needed to carry a person out. In a few minutes, I was at the base of the falls and enjoying the whole scene all to myself.

Small waterfall along Gorton Creek near the end of the official trail
Gorton Creek Falls - Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
Gorton Creek Falls - Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Sean Bagshaw Image Workshop Review

Nearing sunset at Tumalo Falls outside of Bend, Oregon
This past weekend found me in Bend, Oregon attending two workshops put on by Oregon based nature and landscape photographer Sean Bagshaw whose work has long stood out to me amongst the deep pool of talent here in the PNW. Last fall, I discovered he was offering classes in processing of digital photographs and I became curious about the classes. Sean is based out of Ashland in Southern Oregon and so the timing and distance prevented me from signing up.

More recently, Sean announced that he was going to offer the same classes at the new Cascade Center of Photography in Bend, Oregon. Being much closer, I decided to sign up. The first class was “Fine Art Digital Workflow For Nature Photographers” and focuses on the entire process from import to printing of your digital photographs. The second class, “Processing For Extended Dynamic Range” was focused on how to process scenes which are beyond the ability of digital SLR sensors to capture in a single image (such as shooting into the sun at sunset).

Class size was capped at a maximum of 18 students (my classes actually had 10 people Saturday and 14 people Sunday). The format of the classes is presentation style, where Sean works through specific examples using Lightroom and Photoshop CS5. Since people learn at different paces, Sean provides each attendee with a CD containing several hours of video tutorials covering the material he presents. The CD also includes the same sample images so you can follow along and perform the same tasks.

Tumalo Creek, downstream of Tumalo Falls outside of Bend, Oregon
In the Digital Workflow class, Sean lays out a checklist style process for editing of photos. This is something that I’ve tried to look for in the past. At best, I have only managed to find random thoughts in photography forums so I found this very useful. Prior to diving into the workflow, Sean explained the benefits of using RAW photos instead of JPEGs along with strategies for organizing and prioritizing your files.

A good discussion of adjustments and options found in Lightroom/Adobe Camera RAW definitely helped me better understand all of the various possibilities and which ones to tweak (and which ones NOT to). From this introduction, we moved onto the heart of the matter- working with your images in Photoshop. The concept and use of layers is critical in Photoshop so Sean spent enough time explaining the various types of blending modes and how they affect what you create. Once again, I learned that I wasn’t doing anything “wrong” per se but that there are more efficient ways to get certain tasks done.

Layers bring with them the concept of adjustments. Before you are able to creatively apply adjustments, you need to learn how to specify where to apply them. Sean went through the various methods of making selections along with the pros and cons of using each. Now that we had a basic knowledge of moving around Photoshop and using its tools, it was time to learn how to tackle the situations we face as nature & landscape photographers.

Tumalo Falls outside of Bend, Oregon
Using the right blending modes and scene selections, Sean showed us that it can be fairly easy to balance photos with a bright sky and dark-ish foreground. I used one of these techniques to darken the sky in the first photo of this blog post and it was easy! I should note that Sean is a big advocate if non-destructive editing, which, simply put, are edits that do not permanently alter the original pixels of your photo. The advantage is that you always have the original photo to fall back on should something go wrong.

From here, we moved on to a few different ways of working along complex edges (such as trees against a sky), addressing color casts, dodging and burning, and adding “glow” effects using techniques such as the Orton Effect. The day ended with the use of vignettes to subtlly emphasize parts of a composition. Sean threw A LOT of information and techniques but it paid dividends. I could immediately think of several photos in my library which I could re-work into a better image simply by using these techniques.

The second day (Sunday) was entirely devoted to Extended Dynamic Range (coined XDR by Sean). XDR has become quite a fad throughout photographic circles thanks in large part to HDR software such as Photomatix, HDR ProStudio, and HDR Efex. While some people are able to get great looking photos out of these HDR programs, Sean feels they haven’t quite matured and still are more using a gun to kill a fly. The adjustments they make are too broad and often you end up sacrificing one part of an image for another. The total control offered by using custom masks in Photoshop produce a much better, MORE NATURAL photograph and Sean’s photo galleries are proof of that.

Once again, Sean starts small and simple by discussing methods of working single exposures such as using the adjustment layers, layer masks, and blending modes (all of which was reinforcing what we were exposed to the previous day). From here, we got deep and really spent a lot of time learning about using channel (or luminosity) masks. There are times when targeting specific color channels can help you focus your adjustments on specific features such as the sky.

There’s a lot to digest on this topic and it all leads to a greater appreciation for someone like Tony Kuyper who figured out how to automate the creation of channel masks (and makes them available for a fee through his website). It was really good to walkthrough the process manually in order to understand and appreciate the photoshop actions that Tony has developed.

From here, the class gets more elaborate with processing a single RAW twice (once for highlights and a second time for the shadows), double exposure blends, and even triple exposure blends. It got even crazier with a four image blend of a night scene. The last thing Sean showed us was a comparison of output from various HDR programs compared with Sean’s manual blend efforts. It really does show you that the total control of a manual blend produces a much superior image!

So were the two classes worth it? Without hesitation, I can say YES. From the minute you first meet him, Sean is friendly and engaging without any elitism or arrogance. He is just a guy who is passionate about nature and photography and who doesn’t love that? Before becoming a “pro” photographer 8 years ago, Sean was a middle school teacher and that really shows in his ability to teach and explain concepts. I know that from my own experience, it can be difficult explaining technical topics to an audience that may not be as technically savvy.

Sean would be the first to acknowledge that he doesn’t know everything and is still eager to learn new things and that was evident by our interactive discussions during the course of the days. Even during the two lunch breaks, Sean graciously joined us for lunch allowing us even more time to pick his professional brain. If all that isn’t enough, now throw in copies of the video tutorials he has available on his website and I think you have one heck of a value!

Is there anything I would change about the classes? Yes- but these would be relatively minor things. For this particular weekend, both classes were offered as independent classes. Now, many people decided to take both classes but the second class about processing for XDR had an additional 4 or 5 folks. There were a few instances where our overall progress was slowed due to questions from the XDR only class attendees about topics that were addresses quite thoroughly during the preceding day’s class on digital workflow. This is naturally bound to happen and my suggestion was to offer future classes as a bundle instead of ala carte. I’m convinced of this because I strongly believe that the XDR class really builds off of everything that is taught during the digital workflow class.

My only other “nit” was a desire to see an image processed all the way through from first steps to final save. I felt I understood both day’s instruction individually but would have benefited even more from the integration of both into one example. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, the tutorial videos he provides do offer an example that basically does this. In the end, there really isn’t enough time in the day to completely address everything. I believe that Sean hasn’t offered these classes for very long so I have every confidence that he will take our suggestions into consideration and further refine the future offerings.

I left Bend armed with a lot of valuable information. I’m not completely sure how I will implement much of it but I feel very strongly that I will look back a year from now and recognize that my decision to take these classes helped push my photography up to the next level. Currently Sean does not have any future dates planned for his classes but I would keep tabs on his website news and announcements for future dates. I don’t think you’ll regret it!

Sean Bagshaw Website
Sean’s Video Tutorial Info (including sample videos)

[NOTE: In the interest of full disclosure, I’d like to mention that prior to taking these classes, I had never met Sean before. I did not receive any compensation for this review and the opinions given here were mine and mine alone]

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