Alvord Adventure – Chapter 2

One of the fun things when camping in a remote area like the east side of Steens Mountain is waking in the middle of the night to the yipping of coyotes in the hills above camp.  That happened a couple of times during the night I spent at the Alvord Hot Springs camping area.  Helped to confirm the solitude of the place for me.

I left my little tent at 4:15AM – time to get down to the playa for a 5:30 AM sunrise.  As I started down the access road – just past the first fence row – I was welcomed with this image.  What a nice way to start a fresh new day.  The light was just beginning to come up and the tips of some of the vegetation were just catching it.  I was going to write about all the techie camera stuff that went with capturing this image but I decided that it bored me so — enough to just enjoy it.

Playa_morning_firstI drove down the road onto the playa and found a place to set up and wait for the morning light and full on sunrise.  I put on the warmest coat I had – actually think it was warmer than that awful sleeping bag I had.  It was not all that cold but there was a fairly stiff breeze that made it feel much colder.  I found myself retreating to the car from time to time in search of warmth only to turn around and see the color and cloud pattern developing in the sky.  Those are times when you forget you are cold.

The image below is about the full development of the morning color.  When the sun did pop over the distant hills things washed out pretty fast.   (If you click on these shots you will get a bigger, and I think better view on your monitor)

Alvord_sunrise_goodAfter the sun filled the sky and the color dissipated I headed back to pack up camp and think about heading down the road.  I stopped at the store/hot springs for one more view of the Killdeer egg and to bum a cup of coffee from Rose who was so gracious.

After a while I said Good-bye and headed south with the intent of stopping at Andrews which is the site of an old school that served the residents of the Alvord area, I think back in the 30’s.  Have to do a bit more investigation.

After seeing an episode of Oregon Art Beat on John Simpkins, a fine art painter, who lives at Andrews, I hoped to be able to connect with him and see his work.  As I cautiously turned into the driveway I found he and is co-worker sitting on the steps of his house, morning coffee in hand.  I was a bit nervous just driving up on a place like that but they were so welcoming and kind and we struck up a fun and wide-ranging conversation — painting, photography, poodles, winter existence over there and how one gets supplies – they have Wi-Fi and UPS drives by almost every day but grocery stores are a long drive.

The link below is of the Oregon Art Beat episode featuring John and his life and work at Andrews.  It has been nominated for an Emmy award.

When I walked into his studio – the old one room school – my first reaction was “This would bring tears to my friend Lillian’s eyes”  – a huge space – 5>6 times bigger than her studio – outfitted with a wood stove, a bed, tubes of paints,  huge work tables, north light and rows of prayer flags.  He paints large canvases but most were rolled up so I only got to see the one he was currently working on.

I headed back south on the road toward Fields Guard Station and then around the loupe and back north to Frenchglen and breakfast.  Following that I slowly drove down the Central Patrol Road on the Malheur National Wildlife refuge hoping to capture a few bird images.  I am such a terrible bird photographer.  I did see many common birds such as Red-wing Black birds etc. and took a few shots.  I did manage to find one that was a bit unusual and I stumbled my way into a reasonable image of it.

PheasantBack to Burns for the night and then early the next morning I headed west over the mountains after a short stop in Sisters to see my friend Leslie.   (lite snow in the trees on Santiam Pass – that was fun)

Alvord Adventure – Chapter 1

It had been a couple of years since I made a trip to the southeast corner of Oregon to take in the beauty of Spring on the east side of Steens Mountain.  I was not disappointed by the trip this week except of a very lousy new sleeping bag from REI.  It is going back.

It is a long drive from Eugene to the Alvord Desert and then down to Fields Guard Station near the Nevada border.  Once past Burns on Hwy. 78 you turn south onto the gravel road that  becomes the wonderful High Desert Scenic route —  lined with flowers in many places with the snow capped Steens Mountain in the distance.

Into_the_Mountains I have been reading “The Immortal Irishman” by Tim Egan.  He talks a bit about ‘the browning’ of the land in the West as it drys out in the summer months and while I am sure that happens here as well as Nevada, Colorado and Wyoming right now the hills are lush and green and painted with wildflowers.

I made my way down to the Alvord Hot Springs where I had planned on camping for the night.  Things have changed a bit since I was last there – for the better.  Now there is a small store, a bathroom and camping facilities all managed by a remarkable woman — Rose.  As I got out of the car and looked around from behind me I heard a cheerful greeting – Yup – Rose.  She showed me all the improvements and I paid my minimal camping fee, set up my tent and was ready for the night.  We walked down to the hot springs and she showed me something I would have walked right by – a Killdeer egg — so well camouflaged.  However, it is right along the trail leading to the pools – hope no one inadvertently steps on it.  This is about as good as I can do when it comes to bird photography.

Kildeer_eggFollowing a soak to get off the road dust and a sandwich for dinner I headed for the playa hoping for a sunset.  The moon had risen mid-afternoon so I was not hoping to get much help there but the playa is so interesting – some would say lonely but for me it is a wonderful feeling of solitude and warmth that just seems to wrap around me.

Playa_moonAs the evening shadows of the mountains played out on the playa I started looking for some details and patterns.  I like the color blocks and detail in the cracks of the following image.  Last one before heading for my camp.

Playa_beach_patternChapter 2 coming along tomorrow.  Thought I had better stop here rather than risk boring you even more.



The Painted Hills

When a photographer presents us with what to him is an Equivalent, he is telling us in effect, “I had a feeling about something and here is my metaphor of that feeling.”

Minor White  —  Equivalence: The Perennial Trend

My friend Amy Isler Gibson sent me the article in which the above quote is found and so much of it is typical of the wisdom and philosophy that can be found in Minor White’s writing.  Worth a read and certainly worth spending some time viewing his images. You can decide for yourself the “feeling” I had while gathering these images.

Dave Hill and I headed for Central Oregon early Tuesday morning with the intent of photographing sunset in the Painted Hills near Mitchell, OR.  Instead of a straight through trip we opted for a more circular route —>> Eugene, Sisters, Redmond, Madras, Antelope, Fossil. Clarno down the Service Creek Road to Mitchell.  Found some very interesting landscapes along that route that I hope to post images from later this week.

We checked into an older, quaint hotel, (some folks describe me the same way) The Oregon Hotel, grabbed some dinner at local cafe and headed out hoping for good sunset light.  It did not really happen as a storm was coming in and the clouds got thicker as the evening went on.  There were some minor breaks but overall not a great night.  I did happen to be in the right place when one of those sun breaks opened and the bare branches of a dead tree were silhouetted against a turbulent sky. (This is tough place to make a living if you are a tree.)

Tough_livingI did not get much more as the evening came to an end but I have many more images sort through.  Hopefully like gold mining with a payoff of gold instead of the observation by Mark Twain my brother in law told me about – “A gold mine is hole in the ground with a liar at the bottom.

The next morning found us leaving the hotel about 0500 hours after coffee and a muffin – so nice they put that out for guests.  It was still pretty overcast and I do not think either of us had a lot of hope for a great morning but we gave it a whirl.

In the Spring the hills are covered in part with tiny yellow blooms.  In years past they lined the gullies but the folks at the National Park Service HQ told us much of the seed had washed out and to not expect color in the gullies this year.  Partially true.  The hillsides had lots of blooms as this morning image shows.  I think it is my favorite from this shoot and gives a good ideas the conditions and the landscape.

Spring_hillsideAs I did not see much hope for a sunrise I looked for patterns that could be considered abstracts and  the image below is about a close as I came.  Mite be a good print.

Floral_Abstract2We shot for about an hour and both of us were about ready to pack it in when I turned to the east and walked up a small rise and found the sun coming up between the hills and thick band of clouds.  Really gives you an idea of how spectacular this landscape is.  I read in a brochure that it is one of the 7 Natural Wonders of Oregon.  Works for me.

Sun_Wide_HDR1As I alluded to in a FB post of these images you can get a larger and better rendered view by clicking on an individual image.  Also I have many more images from this trip to process and a cursory look gives me hope for a couple of them.

Enjoy and thanks for looking.  Comments are always welcome. I hope you go over for a visit to Dave’s blog as well.  See the links section.

Dramatic Evening

I’m sure you know. If you’re an artist of one kind, you’re probably an artist of many kinds. Because like light, artistry and passion flood everywhere. They pour through cracks.

Karen Hutton

It seemed as if light conditions improved all day – heavy clouds finally dissipating and some sun breaking through.  Dave Hill and I once again headed for the wetlands and the fields of Camas Lily.  I sure hope you all are not getting tired of seeing them.  I certainly am not tired of shooting them and I look forward to this blooming time every year.

Last night was dramatically spectacular and as sunset came on the colors changed almost by the minute.  The three images below are a bit of a time sequence starting from when we first walked out into the blooms and ending on the way back to the car when Dave exclaimed about the ramp of clouds coming across the wetlands.

Dark_sky_bloomsThe next image I think is my favorite of the night and it was so nice of that white Camas lily to line up for me.😀


And finally the one taken on the walk back to the car.


Be sure to click on these images for a larger view.

T’was a wonderful night. I think we both used that adjective many times in the hour or so we were there.  The blooms are still out there waiting for your visit.

Black & White

It has been a long learning curve for me to begin to ‘see’ in Black and White.  I have found that it takes more that just a simple adjustment in Photoshop to create a solid Black and White image and I have a trash bin full of failures to back up that experience.  You can make simple Photoshop adjustments but I find you get mediocre images.

First comes the need to ‘see’ in the field in Black and White – to visualize the final image and then there are the changes and adjustments made in the digital darkroom – lots of time adjusting and creating an image only to then go back days later and review it.  (I am assuming you have a calibrated monitor of high quality or else all this is for nought)  Then comes the actual printing and that effort is not simply turning on a printer and letting it go – many tries are sometimes necessary and I can assure you that there will be frustrations.  Recently I have been printing B&W images on Hahnemuhle-Harman Gloss Baryta Warmtone paper and I find that it comes as close to traditional wet darkroom prints as I have seen in the digital world – and I have tried a lot of different papers.

The two images below were from an early morning ramble through the forests along the Coast Fork of the Willamette River in Mt. Pisgah park and while they are of the same grouping of trillium they are two very different images and developing and printing them was a completely different experience.

Stacked_blooms_BW_wideStacked_blooms_BW-EditTo fully experience these prints it would be best to see them in person but lacking that a simple clicking on the images will enlarge them on your screen.

Thanks fo looking.

Morning amougst the fields

Dave had a great suggestion yesterday that we head out along Camp Creek road to a grouping of barns in the fields next to the Mckenzie River.  We both hawked the weather forecast yesterday and it seemed to indicate some clearing in the early morning which we hoped would give us some sunrise light.  That did not happen but there was soft light and fog along the fields that both of us thought could make for some interesting shots.

The first shot below shows that fog hanging in among the trees lining the edges of the farmers fields and running up over the adjacent hills.  (Click on any image for a larger and hopefully a more pleasing view) Tree_line_fog_BWA bit further on we came to a single old oak tree standing along side the road.  There are quite a few of these oaks in the valley and this one just seemed so iconic with the fence line and the road.

Oak_fence_fogFinally I walked up to near the base of that oak and found some spring blooms to contrast with the tree and the fog.

Country_Road_oakHope you can get out and enjoy Spring where ever and how ever it finds you.



Spring Color in the Valley

Went up the Old Mckenzie River highway this morning just to see how the spring colors along the river were developing and hoping to re-shoot a stand of hybrid poplars out by Marcola that unfortunately were not quite ready.

Prior to leaving I read the most recent Guy Tal blog posting and this part in particular really got me to thinking, looking and feeling as I drove along the side roads.

“Allowing yourself the privilege of giving visual expression to your most intimate and personal inspirations, as part of experiencing something unexpected and emotionally moving, may open your eyes to great personal revelations, and to what I believe to be the most elevating rewards that photography has to offer.”

The colors of the spring growth just raised my spirits and opened my eyes and heart to an emerging and beautiful time of the year.  The image below is a small panorama that said “Spring in the Valley” to me – a personal and intimate image to share with you all.  Be sure to click on the image to get a larger view of what caught my eye.  Thanks for looking and visually joining me on my morning outing.


Cottonwood Canyon

If you live or have recently lived in Oregon you no doubt have seen ads for Oregon’s newest State Park – Cottonwood Canyon.   It is located about 38 miles southeast of Biggs Junction and the facilities wrap around a bend in the John Day River.  Seeing a rain storm on the agenda for the next few days I headed for the park on Thursday evening with the hope of getting a shot of the sunset over the hills with the river below.  I am/was a bit disappointed in what I found.  The ad for the park clearly shows a dramatic horseshoe bend with an overview that seems to be a hundred feet or more above the river.  After a chat with the Park Manger, who really did not know what I was talking about or where such a place was I gave up and started hiking downriver looking for a composition that showed the river, hills and sunset sky.  Not the best but I think this shot will give you an idea of the country.

The hills adjacent to the highway coming out of the town of Wasco are just peppered with wind turbines and while I really don’t like them very much it might be sort of fun to shoot them in action with morning or evening light.

John_Day_Rv_good Spent the night in Biggs Junction – truck stop central – and the traffic noise was constant.  I left before sunrise and followed Highway 97 south toward Redmond, cutting off there to Sisters and then home over Mckenzie Pass.  Was greeted by the morning light getting stronger and more interesting as I went south. As I got down to Grass Valley I found the shot below. A waning moon over the hills of central Oregon with Mount Hood in the distance just beginning to light up.

Moon_HoodAbout 20 miles further on and a lot more light I came to an overview and there was the same moon (obviously) framed over Mount Jefferson.


Across the highway the morning was lighting up.


I really enjoyed the morning trip down Hwy. 97 – good road and light traffic.  Sure did beat the drive up I-5 and I-84 the day before.  If I go back I will stay off the freeway as much as I can.

As always if you click on an image you can get a large view on your screen.

Thanks for looking.


February Thaw

Seems like every year we have a week of warm spring like weather that has come to be known as the February thaw.  I know the folks on the east coast and in the center of the country are still pretty cold but I did hear that they too were starting to warm up.

The thaw was in full force this morning and after the gym and some errands (including putting a coat of stain on a new black walnut mantle piece) and with the forecast of rain for the next couple of days I decided to head out to the wetlands.  It was so nice to spend time out there – quiet, alone, great sky developing and camera in hand.

Mid_day_pano Mid_day_singleI walked down the path a bit and was taken by a row of trees reflected into the lake along with the clouds.

Treeline_reflections As you can see there is a storm on the way so I was glad to get out and catch a few images before it it upon us.

As usual these can be seen larger if you click on any of the images.


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