Stock landscape and outdoor adventure photos from Oregon, Washington, and the Pacific Northwest

Killer Rattlesnakes and Photos from Central Oregon’s Alder Springs Trail!

One of my favorite  and lesser known Central Oregon destinations for hiking and Photography is the Whychus Creek canyon, which is best accessed from the Alder Springs trail head south east of the city of Sisters, Oregon.  This beautiful area is monitored and maintained by one of my favorite non-profit groups, the Deschutes Land Trust.  It offers classic high desert views of sagebrush seas, the Three Sisters Mountains, and the Whychus Creek Canyon.  Below is an image of the Three Sisters and Broken Top as seen from near the Alder Springs Trail head.

The Three Sisters and Broken top as seen from near the Alder Springs Trail Head

The Three Sisters and Broken top as seen from near the Alder Springs Trail Head



      This area is accessible for much of the year because it is lower in elevation than many of the more popular hiking areas of Central Oregon.  Trail details are available from many different local hiking guides and from the Land Trust’s website.  Parking is available at the trail head and the trail is easy to navigate but is not  handicap accessible.  Initially the trail skirts along a high desert ridge with some views of the surrounding buttes, the distant Oregon Cascades, and Whychus Creek far below.  Below is an image of the Whychus Creek Canyon from the Alder Creek Trail.  

Moody skies over the Whychus Creek Canyon along the Alder Springs Trail

Moody skies over the Whychus Creek Canyon along the Alder Springs Trail



I’ve been to the Alder Springs area many times but I’ve rarely seen the dark and moody skies like those in the above image which help to add interest to this photo.  In addition to the brooding skies, I love the big western feel of this photograph with its raw and rugged canyon zig-zagging into the distance between high desert mesas and the sparse details of junipers and sagebrush dotting the scene.  In early spring during certain years, you might be lucky enough to find a floral gem of the desert, the ephemeral Bitterroot flowers.  Below is one of my favorite groupings of Bitterroot blossoms seen along the Alder Springs trail.  

Bitterroot blossoms as seen along the Alder Springs trail in Central Oregon

Bitterroot blossoms as seen along the Alder Springs trail in Central Oregon



These delicate flowers seem to glow from within as if they have their own inner light source.  They are a favorite of my farrier friend, Big Todd, because I think they appeal to his delicate and sensitive side.  High along the canyon you can find all sorts of surprises.  I’ve made many trips there in early spring to capture the flamboyant accents of Balsamroot in full bloom.  If you want to enjoy these early season beauties, you should arrive before the deer herds as they seem to be a favorite snack for these foraging ungulates.  Perhaps, more importantly, you should only venture off trail to view these flowers with the knowledge that you will have a good chance of encountering Rattlesnakes fresh from their winter slumbers!  In all seriousness, I’ve noted a very strong correlation between these balsamroot being in bloom and Rattlesnakes coming out of hibernation.  On the day that I shot the following photograph of Balsamroot and basalt columns, I was “rattled” twice by the local serpents.  I was hiking off trail along a steep slope near a big drop down into the canyon floor.  As I crossed a rocky area, I heard a faint rattling noise.  A primal impulse triggered my flight or fight mechanism and I quickly chose the flight option!  As panic ensued I quickly leaped out of the area. During my less than grand exit, I spotted the fluttering tail of the rattlesnake disappear into a rocky crevice directly beneath my dancing feet!  Please keep in mind that I am not especially afraid of snakes, unlike my mother who seems to think they are the devil incarnate.  I simply don’t like being surprised by poisonous snakes while crossing rocky and exposed slopes.  After I’d cleared the area and my heart rate dropped to a reasonable level I rounded a canyon edge and saw another rocky slope I had to cross.  I conjured unhealthy visions of Indiana Jones in Raiders surrounded by viscous asps in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I mentally gathered myself and selected the least exposed route across what the dark side of my imagination perceived as a giant rattlesnake breeding ground.  Mid route I stepped on a loose rock which toppled into an adjacent area and sure enough, RATTTTTTLE!  Panic!  To make matters worse, I was unable to spot my angry foe amidst all the plate sized rocks surrounding my nervous ankles.  I blindly bounded out of the area never seeing the offended serpent.  Perhaps, understandably, it took me a bit longer to compose myself after my second scare of the day.  Eventually I gathered myself and captured the following image of Balsamroot flowers backed by some beautiful lichen covered basalt columns high above Whychus Creek.  


Balsamroot flowers and Basalt columns along the Alder Springs Trail near Sisters, Oregon

Balsamroot flowers and Basalt columns along the Alder Springs Trail near Sisters, Oregon

One of my favorite images from this area also involved an adventure into this rattlesnake infested location.  The following image captures some of the most colorful rock formations I’ve ever found.  The brilliant orange and yellow lichen growths are simply stunning and when combined with the vertical accents of the basalt columns they make for a very surreal scene.  I’ve seen few images from this area probably because of the very real threat of rattlesnakes and because of the treacherous locations in which these beautiful rock formations seem to be found.  During the process of capturing the following scene, I was precariously balanced on the very edge of a 50-foot cliff with my left foot  and two legs of the tripod holding my 4×5 camera balanced on loose rocks. On multiple locations my tripod slightly slipped allowing me to experience a different form of terror than that offered by the hidden rattlesnakes!   Eventually I captured the following photo and then took a longer but rattlesnake-free route out of the Whychus Creek Basin.

Lichen covered basalt columns at sunset high above Whychus Creek along the Alder Springs Trai

Lichen covered basalt columns at sunset high above Whychus Creek along the Alder Springs Trail



The stunning color combinations, the vertical accents and the warm evening light make this one of my favorite fine art images.  

     In regards to the Alder Springs Trail, it really is quite special.  From desert mesas to cold flowing springs, beautiful sights are everywhere.  The trail passes through a spring laden oasis of plant life and eventually to the confluence of Whychus Creek and the mighty Deschutes River.  The take home message from this trail is that if the balsamroot have begun to bloom and you are wary of rattlesnakes, you should consider staying on the trail!  If you are interested in licensing any of these images, please visit the High Desert Gallery of our stock photography site, Pacific Crest Stock.  

By Mike Putnam

6 Responses Subscribe to comments

  1. Laura Jo Sherman

    You’re work is wonderful! Thank you for the privelege of seeing it and reading your stories. My sister, Jane Tolve was the person who told me about your site.

    I am a member of a local plein air painters group PAPO. We are planning on an Alder Springs paint-out…I will share your Balsam Root and rattlesnake warning.

    Again, THANK YOU…
    Laura Jo

    Jan 28, 2009 @ 6:30 pm

  2. admin

    Hi Laura Jo,
    Thanks for checking out our website! You’ll love the Alder Springs area for a paint out. I’d shoot for May if I were you. The Whychus creek canyon is always beautiful but in May, the Balsamroot and Bitterroot tend to be blooming and I suspect that would make some beautiful macro subjects for your group. Like I said though, stay on trail if you are afraid of rattlesnakes. We plan on continuing to document our trips in the future here at the Pacific Crest Blog so if you enjoy Central Oregon scenery, please spread the word. Keep up the painting! Art can be so replenishing, can’t it! Please send my regards to Jane. I always enjoy talking to her.
    Thanks for visiting,

    Jan 28, 2009 @ 8:36 pm

  3. Eric

    Very nice pictures. I especially like the Basalt column pictures. It kind of looks like sulfur leaching out of the rocks. It sounds like you and Troy have some wild adventures getting these pictures.

    Feb 04, 2009 @ 8:48 am

  4. admin

    We have a blast, despite the fact that there is a fair amount of suffering involved in capturing our local landscape photos. You should join us sometime. Half the fun is being at these beautiful places and the other half is the work to get there. I hope you are well.

    Feb 04, 2009 @ 9:58 pm

  5. Bend Oregon First Friday Art Hop! - Mike Putnam Photography | Fine Art landscape Photography celebrating the beauty of Central Oregon

    [...] some diverse and beautiful terrain but if the balsamroot are blooming, please beware because the rattlesnakes are out of their winter [...]

    Mar 27, 2009 @ 9:11 pm

  6. Kevin

    Just love the image of the Balsamroot flowers and basalt columns. I’ve been planning on getting to this part of Oregon for a few years, these photographs have me convinced that it has to be one of my next trips.

    Apr 15, 2009 @ 2:16 pm