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

Photos from Eastern Oregon and the Wallowa Mountains

The stars recently aligned in a strange and unexpected way. My wife (Julie) and Mike Putnam’s wife (Debbie) both planned trips to take the kids out of town during the same time period, and in an unprecedented move, Mike and I actually got organized enough to plan a vacation of our own. It just so happened that one of our favorite musicians (Josh Ritter) was playing a concert at the Egyptian Theater in Boise so we talked a few more friends (Mike Croxford and Jake Bell) into joining us for a road trip across the Idaho border and then we all headed up north to the Wallowa Mountains in Eastern Oregon. The Wallowa Mountains—also known as the “Oregon Alps”—are quite different from the mountains we have in Central Oregon. While the Central Oregon Cascades are formed by a chain of distinct volcanoes, the Wallowa Mountains are an honest-to-goodness mountain range, like the Rocky Mountains, Sierras, or North Cascades.

Although we had some idea of where we wanted to go when we got there, we didn’t actually formulate a complete plan until we were a few miles outside of Joseph, Oregon. After looking at the map and several guide books, we decided that we would start the trip by heading into Aneroid Lake via the trail along the East Fork of the Wallowa River. We started hiking from near Wallowa Lake in the late afternoon and arrived at Aneroid Lake just before sunset. Mike and I quickly dropped our backpacks and started scouting for sunset pictures. Unfortunately, the light was a little quicker than us and it faded before we found a decent location. We spent the rest of night swatting at mosquitoes and watching Jake catch trout with his newly purchased Snoopy Zebco fishing rod.

Fisherman extraordinaire, Jake Bell with lunker Brook Trout caught at Aneroid Lake in the Wallowa Mountains

Fisherman extraordinaire, Jake Bell with lunker Brook Trout caught at Aneroid Lake in the Wallowa Mountains

The next morning, Mike and I rolled out of the tent about 5 a.m. and headed off in opposite directions in hopes of finding good locations for sunrise photos.

Photo of sunrise over the meadow at the south end of Aneroid Basin in the Wallowa Mountains of Northeast Oregon

Photo of sunrise over the meadow at the south end of Aneroid Basin in the Wallowa Mountains of Northeast Oregon

Mike started circling the lake in a clockwise direction and I took the counter-clockwise approach. Mike shot the image above in a nice big meadow at the south end of Aneroid Lake and I took the image below from the north shore.

Sunrise reflection on Aneroid Lake in Eastern Oregon’s Wallow Mountain Range.

Sunrise reflection on Aneroid Lake in Eastern Oregon’s Wallow Mountain Range.

After the sun got higher, we spent a few more hours fly fishing and then we packed up camp and started heading for Tenderfoot Pass. The hike up and over Tenderfoot Pass went without a hitch, and after a short break at the top, we continued along the trail toward the top of Polaris Pass. I’ve been to a lot of pretty places in Oregon, but I think the view from Polaris Pass is probably one of the best I’ve ever seen. The entire Wallowa Mountain range spreads out before you, with Cusik Mountain and Glacier Lake off to the left and Eagle Cap Mountain and the Lakes Basin off to the right.

Photo from the summit of Polaris Pass in Eastern Oregon’s Wallow Mountain Range.

Photo from the summit of Polaris Pass in Eastern Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness

It’s a spectacular sight, and one that is relatively easy to stay and stare at because, as it turns out, there isn’t really a trail down the back side of Polaris Pass. Oh sure, it looks like there’s a trail on the map and the guide books talk as if there’s a trail there, but don’t be fooled. There is nothing even closely resembling a trail, at least not at the very top. You can see that a trail starts several hundred vertical feet below the summit, but unfortunately there’s no obvious way to get down to it. Determined to find a route, the four of us started precariously making our way down the steep rocky slope, taking short careful steps and always keeping an eye downhill at the edge of the cliffs that were sure to be our death should we slip. We slowly zigzagged our way down the rock slides for the better part of an hour before we finally got to solid ground and were able to remove the handfuls of boulder-sized rocks that had collected inside our boots. The grade eased considerably once we got below the rock slides, but the trail was still fairly spotty and was frequently overgrown with bushes and a huge display of wildflowers. There were meadows clearly visible in the base of the valley a few thousand feet below us, but even after several additional hours of hiking, it seemed as if we weren’t getting any closer to them. The trail would run the entire width of the ridge, and then drop by maybe two or three inches with each switchback. It was unlike anything I have ever seen, and we all started thinking that we were never going to get to the bottom.

Photo of Mike Putnam, Jake Bell and Troy McMullin hiking down the back side of Polaris Pass.  Photo by Mike Croxford.

Photo of Mike Putnam, Jake Bell and Troy McMullin hiking down the back side of Polaris Pass. Photo by Mike Croxford.

After more than 10 miles of parched hiking with no fresh water source, we finally arrived at a stream and were able to re-stock our water bottles. Everyone soaked their sore feet in the stream for a while, and then we continued down the evil, never-ending collection of switchbacks until we eventually made it to Six Mile Meadow and set up camp for the night. The next morning, our group took a short hike up to Horseshoe Lake and while the rest of the guys hung out swimming and fishing, I decided to forge ahead for another 11 miles of hiking so that I could see the other parts of the Lakes Basin. I have wanted to see Mirror Lake and the Lostine Valley ever since I moved out to Oregon, and even though I was fairly exhausted from the prior day’s adventure on Polaris Pass, I felt like my trip wouldn’t have quite been complete if I didn’t’ get to visit this part of the Wallowa Wilderness Area.

 Photo of the author, Troy McMullin, backpacking near Mirror Lake and Eagle Cap Mountain in Eastern Oregon.

Photo of the author, Troy McMullin, backpacking near Mirror Lake and Eagle Cap Mountain in Eastern Oregon.

The Lakes Basin definitely held up to the hype. The area contains a beautiful collection of granite-lined lakes and meadows, all set up against the base of Eagle Cap Mountain. Just past Mirror Lake, the trail either drops down into the classic U-shaped, glacier-carved Lostine Valley or returns via the Hurricane Creek drainage. I spent some time exploring each of these areas, and I’m not really sure which one is prettier. They are both fantastic.

Image of Eagle Cap Mountain from the Lostine Valley in Eastern Oregon’s Wallowa Mountain Range.

Image of Eagle Cap Mountain from the Lostine Valley in Eastern Oregon’s Wallowa Mountain Range.

After several hours of backcountry bliss, I started making my way back to Horseshoe Lake. I drug myself into camp just before sunset, and just in time to try out some of Mike’s freshly-caught (and Cajun-spiced) trout. While I was gone, Mike apparently set the world record for the most trout ever caught in a single day . . . while Jake’s Zebco was not quite as prolific this time around. Luckily, someone in camp stayed focused on our photography mission and Croxford was able to document the entire experience with his trusty camera.

hoto of Mike Putnam landing a lunker at Horseshoe Lake in Oregon’s Wallowa Mountain Range.  Photo by Mike Croxford.

hoto of Mike Putnam landing a lunker at Horseshoe Lake in Oregon’s Wallowa Mountain Range. Photo by Mike Croxford.

We all turned in early that night, and then Mike and I got up the first thing the next morning to scout for sunrise photos around Horseshoe Lake. We split up again so that we could cover more ground. Mike set his sights on a nearby pond that had a nice collection of lily pads and I stayed along the main shore side trail. There’s no shortage of scenery in any direction within the Lakes Basin so it didn’t take too long for us to capture a handful of new stock photos for the Pacific Crest Stock site.

Photo of the Wallowa Mountains in the Eagle Cap Wilderness at sunrise

Photo of the Wallowa Mountains in the Eagle Cap Wilderness at sunrise

Sunrise reflection on Horseshoe Lake in the Lakes Basin of Eastern Oregon’s Wallowa Mountain Range.

Sunrise reflection on Horseshoe Lake in the Lakes Basin of Eastern Oregon’s Wallowa Mountain Range.

Then, we packed up camp and started heading back out to Jake’s truck via the long dusty trail that follows the Western Fork of the Wallowa River. Having covered more than 40 miles in 4 days, it’s probably no surprise that we talked incessantly that morning about what kind of food and beer we were going to have when we finally got out of the woods, and sure enough, our first stop involved a pitcher of Red Chair IPA and a couple of half-pound hamburgers from the Embers Brewhouse in downtown Joseph. We then made our way over to Terminal Gravity Brewery in Enterprise, Oregon and finally to Barley Brown’s Brew Pub in Baker City, Oregon. After that, we did a little breaking-and-entering (not really, but we definitely surprised an unsuspecting house-sitter in one of our friend’s houses in Baker City), and then we headed back home the next day . . . putting an end to one of the best road trips I’ve had in a long time.

Posted by Troy McMullin

17 Responses Subscribe to comments


  1. Michael Croxford

    Great story, great pics, great trip! So where’s the pic of you and Mike on the log?

    Aug 07, 2009 @ 8:55 pm


  2. Heather

    Lovely pics! I’ve lived here in Joseph for awhile and haven’t yet been able to reach some of the places you photographed. Thanks for sharing these. I’d like to link your post to our bed and breakfast’s blog as sample of what one can see/do when out here in the Wallowa Mountains.

    Aug 08, 2009 @ 5:47 am


  3. admin

    Michael,
    thanks for the comment, and for some of the great shots. You managed to make me kook like I know how to fish, which is no small feat! We’re saving the log shot for our next “Meet the Partners of PCS” page. We thought it was such a stunning image that we didn’t want to dilute its impact with the other images in this blog entry! It was a great trip. I hope your travels are great.
    Best,
    Mike Putnam

    Aug 08, 2009 @ 8:44 am


  4. admin

    Heather,
    Thanks for the compliments regarding our photos. You have a beautiful part of Oregon that you live in and we’d be honored to have you link to our site! We had a great trip and captured some great photos in the Wallowas and we be happy to share them with more people, so please do link to us if you’d like. Have a great remainder of the summer.
    All the Best,
    Mike Putnam

    Aug 08, 2009 @ 8:48 am


  5. Oregon Stock Photos and some great new shots of the Wallowa Mountains - Mike Putnam Photography | Fine Art landscape Photography celebrating the beauty of Central Oregon

    [...] Northeast Oregon.  To read the story and see some great photos, please visit the following link, Wallowa Mountains Photos.  I’ll continue to make fine art updates at this Mike Putnam Photography site, but most of [...]

    Aug 08, 2009 @ 9:23 am


  6. smilinggreenmom

    Oh wow- your photos are stunning!!! I have never been to Oregon before and actually never had the desire until now. It looks so peaceful and beautiful- like something out of a book or movie or….it just doesn’t seem possible that something out there looks this amazing. Thanks for sharing a part of the U.S. that I have never seen before. Of course, if I were doing what you were..I would not leave home without my Topricin foot cream. Ugh. I cannot imagine how tired you must have felt! Thanks again!

    Aug 09, 2009 @ 4:30 am


  7. admin

    Smilinggreenmom,
    Thanks for visiting and please know that we are honored to introduce you to Oregon. Where do you live at? We’ve adventured throughout Oregon and truly love our state and the rest of the Pacific Northwest. You can browse through the rest of our site and quickly recognize how diverse our state is. We love it!
    Thanks again for visiting,
    Mike Putnam

    Aug 10, 2009 @ 2:05 pm


  8. MICHAEL ZAROCOSTAS

    Great pics, Mike. Z

    Aug 17, 2009 @ 5:47 pm


  9. admin

    Hey Z, thanks for visiting our little blog. You are the first comment today from someone who wasn’t trying to sell me a Russian bride or some illicit pharmaceutical product!

    Aug 17, 2009 @ 5:59 pm


  10. Kathyl Gordy Jogerst

    Love the travelogue. The photos are spectacular!! As always. I have a son and daughter-in-law who would be in heaven if they could move out of NYC to Oregon. If you hear of any forestry and art professor jobs…let us know! :-) Congratulations on your professional successes! I know there will be many more.

    Aug 17, 2009 @ 6:06 pm


  11. admin

    Kathyl,
    Thanks for visiting our photography blog. I have to admit that Bend and the whole Central Oregon area can be pretty heavenly at times. I know I don’t want to live anywhere else! If you son and daughter-in-law are the outdoorsy types, then they definitely would love it here. The forestry job wouldn’t be too hard to find, but the art professor job might be more difficult to find. Thanks again for visiting and come back often!
    All the Best,
    Mike

    Aug 19, 2009 @ 10:55 am


  12. Cindy Bell

    Hey! My favorite photos of a very favorite hiking place include fisherman son, Jake, with giantious trout; sunrise at Aneroid; Mike C’s pic of hiking down Polaris Pass (great persepctive on the grade of slope);the photo of Troy backpacking near Mirror Pond (really captures the essense of the Wallowa’s); and, lastly, loved the Put-action fishing shot. Thanks for the chrono Troy!Cindy

    Aug 21, 2009 @ 9:54 pm


  13. admin

    Dear Cindy,
    Thanks for visiting our blog. Troy gave a great write -up of a great trip. Doesn’t Jake have the excitement level of a 7 year old with a new bike. It is awesome!
    Take Care,
    Young Mike

    Aug 22, 2009 @ 8:23 am


  14. d.l.doke

    I just threw away my $2000 (really) Payne Bamboo and am heading over to Walmart to check out their $20 Zebco selection. (Not really.)

    Wonderful pix of one of the Blue planet’s special places.

    Darryl

    Aug 23, 2009 @ 4:41 pm


  15. Denise

    Hey, love your photos! I ran across this website by accident and have to say was really happpy to spend some time looking at the various galleries. Beautiful! I had to miss a backpacking trip with friends to the Eagle Cap Wilderness area last month. I will definitely have to get there! Funny to see the “Fisherman extraordinaire” who I recognize, as I have bantered with him via emails! Nice fish! On a Zebco rod & reel no less! Very cool!

    Thanks for sharing the photos!
    Denise

    Sep 30, 2009 @ 2:56 pm


  16. stock images

    great photos and story. makes me feel like i need a vacation and new camera. my favorite photo is the one of the mountain landscape by the water w the backpackers back towards the camera. looks like an awesome spot.

    john
    http://www.cutcaster.com

    Jul 15, 2010 @ 10:40 am


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