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

McKenzie River Photos: The Summer’s Life

I was driving around the other day scouting for some new winter photographs and listening to my iPod when a song shuffled on by The Shaky Hands, one of my favorite local bands from Portland, Oregon.  The song is called “Summer’s Life.”  It is a happy little tune that leads off with simple strumming, some well-timed handclaps, and the following lyrics:

The summer’s life is good . . . We ran down on the path in the woods . . .

To that old swimming hole . . . where we laugh and sing . . .  and stories are told.

We lived like children do . . . . kind  . . . . and so brand new.

With my thumbs drumming along on the steering wheel, I started thinking back to last October when I hiked into Tamolitch Pool, perhaps the most scenic swimming hole in all of Oregon.  It’s also the day that I met Jim Blanchard, an older retired photographer who was genuinely living a youthful “summer’s life.” 

That day, I had checked online and saw that it was raining in the Willamette Valley.  Knowing that the fall foliage always looks best when it’s saturated with rain, I loaded up my camera gear and headed over to the McKenzie highway hoping to get some new fall-time pictures.  Mike Putnam and I usually make this trip at least once each year.  If you look at Mike’s collection on Pacific Crest Stock, you can see that he has been quite prolific at capturing Autumn’s colors—some might even say he’s a little bit obsessed with it.  In fact, Mike has so many colorful shots from previous years that I could probably just slip my name onto some of his cull shots rather than worrying about getting any photos of my own. 


One of Mike Putnam’s autumn photos that I plan on stealing when he’s not looking.

One of Mike Putnam’s autumn photos that I plan on stealing when he’s not looking.


The rain was flooding off my windshield wipers as I veered onto Highway 126.  It was raining so hard that I could barely see well enough to drive–much less effectively scout for stock photos.  I could tell that tons of color had started to emerge along the roadside, but I couldn’t really make out any of the shapes or textures through my fogged up windows, so I decided to pull off the highway and take a closer look at one of the lava flows just north of Clear Lake.  This particular lava flow has a nice smattering of vine maples and lichen-covered Fir trees, and while it normally has plenty of potential this time of year, the rain was coming down so hard that I opted to not even take my camera outside with me as I scouted around. 


A great autumn photo of vine maples and lichen-covered trees.  This photo is temporarily credited to Mike Putnam, but if all goes well, it will soon have my name attached to it.

A great autumn photo of vine maples and lichen-covered trees. This photo is temporarily credited to Mike Putnam, but if all goes well, it will soon have my name attached to it.


Cold and soaking wet, I climbed back into the Jeep, and drove another mile or so down the road until I spotted another potential shot along the bank where the McKenzie River crosses under the highway. I got back outside and braved the weather for awhile, but after scouting the scene closer, I decided that the bank’s pitch was going to be too steep and slippery to get to where I needed to be for a satisfactory shot. As I started back toward my truck, I spotted an older gray-haired gentleman hiking out from the other side of the highway.  He had a heavy backpack and a big, bright yellow umbrella and I thought to myself, “Wow, this guy is hardcore.”  We had a brief conversation outside in the rain and then I offered him a ride down the road.  Given the current downpour, he accepted my offer.

In the dry confines of the Jeep, we started talking about the weather outside and at some point, it became obvious that we both happened to be there on photography missions.  That is when Jim introduced himself, and told me that although he is partially retired, he still occasionally teaches photography through Oregon University’s Outdoor Pursuits Program.  In addition to decades of experience working as an outdoor photographer, Jim tells me that he also teaches a variety of backcountry survival and mountain rescue classes, and in the summertime, he leads tours though the Alps.  I remember thinking, “Holy Cow! I want THIS guy’s job.”

Given all of his years of experience in photography Jim asked me my name (as if he was going to recognize it).  I kind of laughed and explained that I was actually just an amateur hack of a photographer, but that I did occasionally hang out with some non-posers like Bruce Jackson and Mike Putnam.  He knew Mike’s work and explained that Mike’s fine art website is one of the sites that he references in his Outdoor Photography class.  I then mentioned the fact that Mike and I were hoping to start Pacific Crest Stock, and I explained our general mission of trying to offer only the highest quality images—rather than uploading thousands of mediocre shots like most stock agencies.  He offered me some good advice about the stock business and gave me a few helpful hints about how to effectively photograph in adverse weather conditions (e.g., to keep one of those little hand warmer packs in your bag next to your camera so that your lens doesn’t fog up every time you remove the cap).

It was a fascinating conversation, and before I knew it, I had driven many miles farther than anticipated.  I think Jim started to feel a little bit bad about me abandoning my goal of shooting that day, and with the rain letting up a bit, he politely offered to hike the rest of the way downstream.  We shook hands and wished each other luck.  Then, I turned around and backtracked up the road to a place where the McKenzie River Trail bisects one of the forest service roads.  I knew that Tamolitch Pool was a just a few miles upstream from this spot so I finally got out of the truck and started hiking.

Tamolitch Pool, which is also known as the “Blue Pool,” is one of the most unique places in all of Oregon.  After cascading over several famous waterfalls (Koosah Falls, Sahalie Falls), the McKenzie River actually disappears and runs underground for awhile before finally re-surfacing at this spot.  I suspected there would be good color around the shores of the pool, and with it overcast and raining hard all day, I knew that the blue water and fall colors would be completely saturated.  However, as optimistic as I was about the picture, I was also quite worried that the rain was going to be hammering down into the pool, keeping me from getting a decent reflection of the trees that surround the pool.  Without the reflection, I knew the picture would be incomplete.  But still, I started hiking through the drizzle hoping for the best. 

Within a few minutes of leaving the Jeep, the drizzle turned to downpour, and my hopes for Tamolitch Pool began to fade.  There were many other pretty spots along the trail, but with the heavy rain, I was reluctant to even pull my camera out of the backpack.  I continued along the waterlogged trail, trudging through ankle-deep puddles and over slippery roots and rocks until I finally made it to the pool.  I was sitting on the cliffs above the pool, catching water on my tongue as it dropped off the brim of my cap and wondering how much longer it was going to rain when the magical moment finally arrived.  The rain stopped and the trees’ reflection began to take shape in the pool. 


Tamolitch Pool (aka: The Blue Pool) on the McKenzie River

Tamolitch Pool (aka: The Blue Pool) on the McKenzie River


Altogether, I had less than 5 minutes of dry time, and then, the rain started again just as quickly as it had stopped.   But that was enough of a break.  I captured the image above and grinned all of the way back to my vehicle. 

I was still feeling fortunate about my timing at Tamolitch Pool when a few miles down the highway, I looked over at the trail and noticed that big, bright yellow umbrella again.  I swung the Jeep around and saved Jim from another cold, soaking rain.  We talked about the photos we had taken in the last few hours and then I dropped him off at the McKenzie Ranger Station.  I drove away inspired, thinking about what a lucky life Jim was living.  He was in the golden years of retirement, and even on this rainy October day, he was out taking pictures and living the “summer’s life.” I can only hope that I am lucky enough to have someone rescuing me from rain on this same hike another 30 years from now.

Posted by Troy McMullin

NOTE: If you want to see additional images from the McKenzie River area, you can browse the pictures in the Trees gallery on our Pacific Crest Stock photography site or search the site for “fall foliage.”

2 Responses Subscribe to comments

  1. Michael Hatten

    Hello Troy,
    Finally got to read your adventure on the McKenzie. Sounds like perfect timing. On all fronts, and I know what you mean about going out to do a day of photography and finding the weather not cooperating, but in the end as you well know if you have patience then you get a gift. Alot of times when I hit the Gorge I know that the weather will always be different. No matter what the NWS says. I find it easier (for me) to just go without an expectation of how and what I’ll shoot. Kinda like Zen photography. This way I get the suprise without the disapointment..

    Excellent collection!


    Feb 15, 2009 @ 4:03 pm

  2. Troy

    Thanks Michael. You are definitely right about the need to stay flexible when heading out on photography missions. There are so many things that happen out of your control when shooting that it would often be disasterous (or at least disappointing) otherwise.

    Mike and I plan on using this blog page as a way to share some of the more interesting adventures that we’ve gotten ourselves into while photographing in the backcountry. I hope you will check back from time to time and stay in touch.

    Feb 16, 2009 @ 8:08 am