I am proud to announce that Bend ,Oregon’s premier tourism guide once again has one of our images for a cover shot. The “Visit Bend” guide has established itself as arguably the most informative , attractive and well organized guide in Oregon. Our ongoing relationship with Visit Bend, is an honor that we hope will continue long term. The Visit Bend Tourism Guide cover can be seen below.
Doug, Lynnette, and the rest of the crew are excellent to work with and they are great ambassadors for our city. Visit Bend has done an excellent job of bringing in events such as the 2010 Cyclocross National Championships, The 2010 Road riding nationals, and the 2011 Mountain Bike National Championships. All great events that fit well with the personality Bend.
The above image of South Sister from Sparks Lake is one of my personal favorites. To learn more information about this beautiful landscape photo and to see the whole image, visit my personal website by visiting the following link. Sparks Lake!
Thanks for Reading,
Henry David Thoreau once said, “None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.” If Thoreau was correct, then I think Oregon’s Mount Jefferson Wilderness Area could be considered a virtual fountain of youth, because in my experience, it is almost impossible to visit this area without being overwhelmed with enthusiasm. In fact, anyone who peruses our photo galleries on Pacific Crest Stock probably can’t help but notice that Mike Putnam and I have a great deal of enthusiasm for the meadows and valleys surrounding Mount Jefferson. It really doesn’t matter if you are hiking into Jefferson Park, Coffin Mountain, or the Cathedral Rocks Canyon, there is almost no way to go wrong . . . as long as your camera works when you get there.
A few years ago, I was hurrying around in preparation for a day hike into Jefferson Park. It was mid-August and I knew that the meadows around Russell Lake would be overflowing with flowers. As I ran frantically from room to room in the house gathering up all of my equipment, I set my camera backpack on the kitchen counter. On one of my passes back through the kitchen, I quickly filled a Nalgene bottle, and slid it into the mesh pocket on the side of my backpack. The weight of the water bottle immediately caused my backpack to shift and tumble from the counter top down to the hard slate floor. I lunged to catch the pack, but by the time I had a grasp on its top strap, the bottom of the bag had already crashed into the ground. I said a few choice words and then gave my camera a quick inspection. Everything looked fine. Whew!
I loaded my gear into the Jeep and started making my way to the Whitewater trailhead just up the road from Detroit Lake. I ended up starting the 10-mile round trip hike later than anticipated and after a steep climb to the top of the first ridge, I realized that I needed to run if I wanted to make it to the meadows and still have time to get out of the woods before dark. NOTE: Now is probably a good time to mention that I really despise running. Many of my friends are exceptional runners; they actually claim to love it. But me, I’m just not a runner. Give me a bike or some skate skis, but please never ask me to run.
I reluctantly jogged a few hundred yards up the trail and then I temporarily slowed to a brisk hike as I contemplated whether or not I really had enough time to cover all of the ground in front of me even if I was able to run the whole way. But then, images of Jefferson Park in full bloom consumed my thoughts and convinced me that I could definitely make it . . . as long as I would be willing to run. And with that, I picked up my trekking poles and started the very miserable task of trail running up 1800 vertical feet of backcountry trails with a heavy backpack and worn out boots. Up over the ridges; around the corners; and through the creek crossings. I ran the whole way into Jefferson Park.
As soon as I got to the meadows in Jefferson Park, I could see that my timing was perfect. The purple lupine and Indian paintbrush were in their most glorious states. I rushed through the maze of flower-filled trails that lead to Russell Lake and found the perfect spot along one its tributaries. Mount Jefferson was being gently lit by the westerly sun, and with that majestic mountain looming directly overhead, I carefully set up my tripod, composed the shot, and pressed the shutter button. But nothing happened. I checked the power button; the camera was on. I took the camera off of the tripod and checked the battery compartment; the battery was where it belonged. I took the battery in and out and turned the power switch on and off multiple times, but nothing could bring my camera back to life. Then, as I was spinning the camera around, I noticed that one of the bottom corners was badly dented and I remembered how my camera had fallen off the kitchen counter earlier in the day. Realizing that the camera had been ruined and that I jogged all of the way into Jefferson Park for nothing, I took my cell phone out of my pocket, pointed it at the mountain, hung my head in disgrace and clicked a single low-resolution digital phone picture.
Then, I started walking—not running—back to my Jeep.
NOTE: If you want to see additional images from the Mount Jefferson Wilderness Area, you can browse our pictures in the Mountain gallery on Pacific Crest Stock or search the site for “Mount Jefferson.”
I just made a trip down to the Visit Bend Office in downtown Bend, Oregon to pick up a copy of their new Bend, Oregon visitor’s guide. As I mentioned in an earlier blog entry, one of our photographs graces the cover of this year’s guide and the whole thing looks great! To visit the previous blog entry regarding the cover shot which is of Mt. Jefferson and a gorgeous meadow of alpine wildflowers high up in the Mt. Jefferson wilderness area please click here. Mt. Jefferson cover shot . A sincere thanks goes out to Doug, Lynnette, Laurel, and the rest of the team at Visit Bend for selecting our image for their cover shot and for being great people to work with during this project. They have all proven to be personable, efficient, and talented people to work with and to know. I also mentioned in a previous blog entry that this cover is a special honor because both Troy and myself are both such big boosters of Bend and the entire Central Oregon area. For people like us who love the outdoors, there is no finer place to live and to represent the area we love in some small way is a huge honor.
The Visit Bend offices are located at 917 NW Harriman St. in Downtown Bend Oregon. They are a great resource for information about the whole Central Oregon Area so stop by say hello to their friendly staff, view some of their beautiful art work (My Fine art prints are displayed there!) and grab a copy of their new bend area tourism guide with one of our Pacific Crest Stock images on the cover. We hope they are as excited about the cover as we are. Also you can visit their very attractive website at Visit Bend. to see more of our grat landscape images, please also visit our main stock photography site at Pacific Crest Stock. Thanks for visiting!
Bend, Oregon is perfectly situated in the middle of the state where the Cascade Mountains transition into the High Desert. In addition to having great mountains, streams, alpine lakes, and desert rock formations right here in our own backyard, we are also amazingly close to some of the country’s most scenic waterfalls, old growth rain forests, and coastline. A short drive to the west over Santiam Pass, McKenzie Pass, or Willamette Pass offers a mind-boggling range of outdoor activities, including hundreds of miles of rugged alpine and ocean-front parks. With so many gorgeous opportunities for exploration to the west, it is often easy to forget about all of the wonderful and unique geography that lies out in the valleys to our east.
If you want to see Eastern Oregon at its best, I would suggest planning a trip in early spring when the deserts and hills come alive with fresh color. I was fortunate enough to make such a trip last year during a short period of unexpected bachelorhood. My wife and I were planning to go see family in St. Louis, but the flights worked out in such a way that she and the kids ended up flying out a few days before me. Armed with a guilt-free hall pass, I knew there was no time to waste. I kissed her and the kids good-bye at the airport, and then I raced home, launched Google Earth, and began taking a virtual tour around the state in hopes of planning the perfect get away. I knew it was too early in the year for most of my favorite Central Oregon locations because snow drifts were still blocking access to most of our backcountry regions, and after checking the forecast, it looked like the weather was going to be too unpredictable to plan anything off to the west. Then it dawned on me that it had been awhile since I ventured out into Eastern Oregon, so I loaded up my gear and started driving out into the deserts and rolling farmland near the John Day River and Strawberry Lake.
Just past the historic town of Prineville, Oregon, I started climbing up through the Ochoco National Forest on highway 26. This is one of my favorite stretches of road in the state. The narrow two-lane highway winds along a small meandering stream that is surrounded by nice groves of aspen trees and huge, perfectly spaced ponderosa pines. It is an idyllic drive up to the 5,000 foot pass, at which point, the geography immediately transforms from lush open meadows and alpine forests to arid deserted hills. I was fortunate enough to be there on a blue bird day, which means that I was greeted with stunning southerly views of the Ochoco Mountains as I made my way over the summit and dropped down toward the tiny town of Mitchell, Oregon and the Painted Hills. The Painted Hills are part of the John Day Fossil Beds, and without a doubt, they are some of the most unique and colorful formations in the country. As a photographer, it is practically impossible to drive past the Painted Hills without stopping, and my trip was no exception.
Fortunately, I had visited the Painted Hills several times in the past and I knew that Mike Putnam and I already had a fairly large collection of photos from this area available on our Pacific Crest Stock photography site. While the Hills are always spectacular to visit, they are best photographed at sunset or when there are interesting cloud formations off to the east. I didn’t really have either of those conditions to work with at the time, and since I knew I couldn’t add anything meaningful to our existing collection, I just got out and walked around for awhile and then drove back out to the highway. If you’d like to purchase a beautiful fine art photograph of the Painted Hills, visit, Bend Oregon photographer.
Just a few miles down the highway, there is another interesting collection of fossils and strange geologic formations called the Blue Basin. I had only visited the Blue Basin once before, so I was fairly excited to explore this area in a little more detail. I decided to hike around the 3-mile Overlook Trail, which climbs up and around the rim of Blue Basin and provides nice views into the canyon and its surrounding valley. After circling around the higher cliffs, the trail drops down into a valley where it joins the “Island in Time” interpretive trail for awhile before dead-ending at the base of the blue-green canyon. Standing at the end of the trail, staring at these strange hoodoo-like formations, it’s easy to feel like you’ve been transported to a different place in time—if not to a completely different planet.
I had a lot of fun exploring the Painted Hills and the Blue Basin, but as I turned back onto the highway, I recognized that it was getting late and that I wasn’t going to be able to stop at any more trails if I wanted to make it to the Strawberry Mountains before dark. I cranked up the music, and hustled down the highway, through Picture Gorge and past the farmland towns of Dayville, Mount Vernon, and John Day until I finally made it to the charming little town of Prairie City, Oregon. Prairie City is one of my favorite towns in Eastern Oregon–not only because it is close to the Strawberry Mountains, but also because it has one of the neatest little Mom-and-Pop restaurants I’ve ever seen. The Oxbow Coffee House and Restaurant is almost a destination of its own. In addition to the bar and restaurant, the old stone building also happens to be home to the North West Big Game Museum. They have a ton of trophy-sized deer, elk, ram, and other big-game heads hanging on their walls and a beautiful 130-year-old mahogany and rosewood bar. Knowing that the bar usually has at least one beer on tap from Deschutes Brewery, I couldn’t help but stop in for a quick drink.
I ordered a Mirror Pond Pale Ale and then sat down at the bar next to a big, burly, and long-bearded gentleman. Within a few seconds, I pretty much figured out that he was a “local” and he quickly surmised that I was not. I told him that I was planning on hiking into Strawberry Lake that night and asked him if the road to the trailhead was open yet. He quickly scanned me over from cap-to-boot with his eyes as if he was trying to figure out whether or not I was capable of making the trip, and then in a rugged smoker’s voice he said “Well, that depends. . . What are you driving?” I explained that I had a four-wheel drive Jeep and that I had brought snowshoes in case the road was still blocked with snow. He told me that I could probably make it to the lake, but that I had better finish my beer quickly because the sun was going to be setting soon and there was a good chance that I was going to need my snowshoes. I took his advice, bought his next round, and then hopped back in my Jeep.
The road from Prairie City to Strawberry Lake winds along open farmland for about 5 or 6 miles, and then it climbs more than 1,500 vertical feet up through a dense forest of pine, spruce, and fir trees for another 5 or 6 miles until it eventually dead-ends at the trailhead. As I started driving toward the lake, I noticed a nice collection of cumulus clouds starting to form over the Strawberry Mountain range, and even though I knew I was running short on time, I couldn’t resist the temptation to take a few shots.
Given the great collection of clouds that was forming, it was tough not to stay down low and explore the farm roads for longer, but I still wasn’t exactly sure what kind of adventure was waiting for me ahead, so I hopped back in the Jeep and continued up the gravel road. Within a mile or so of entering the thick forested section, I noticed that there was much more snow starting to accumulate along the sides of the road and before long I got to the point where the road was completely blocked by snow. I parked the Jeep, loaded my gear onto my back, and started snowshoeing in the general direction of the trailhead. Although the road winds around quite a bit as it climbs up to its end, I was able to follow the general direction of the road fairly easily and before long I reached the sign marking the beginning of the trail.
By this time, the sun had started its final descent and the cumulus clouds that I had taken pictures of earlier were just beginning to catch their color for the night. I knew that I was only about a mile or so from Strawberry Lake, but I also knew that I was going to need to find my own way into the lake because the trail was still under several feet of hard-packed snow and ice. I raced past the trailhead sign and forced my way up the steep, slippery hillside following my best guess for where the lake might be located. As I struggled to navigate through the thick and cold forest with a 40-pound backpack, two things dawned on me. First, I was quickly running out of daylight which meant that I might not be able to make it to the lake before the sunlight faded off of the clouds, and second, there was a very good chance that the lake was still going to be frozen from the winter. The latter thought had not occurred to me when I was planning my trip, and since my primary mission was to photograph the mountainous headwall reflecting in Strawberry Lake, an ice-covered lake would be completely devastating.
With these two competing realizations, my mind started fighting with my legs and lungs about whether or not it was really worth it for me to hurry. My mind was basically saying “Look, it’s a really tough climb up to the lake, and you’re going to need to work very hard if you expect to have any chance at all of making it there before dark” . . . and my legs and lungs were countering by saying “But if the lake is frozen, there’s really no reason to push that hard because it will all be for naught anyway.” In the end, I took the optimistic approach and pushed up the steep climb as quickly as I could. I made it to the top of the ridge just as the clouds had started to brighten with shades of red and orange and I found a fully-thawed . . . but ripple-filled . . . lake. My legs and lungs were not at all happy that my mind had not anticipated the chance for a windy, reflection-killing night. But, there was nothing they could do about it now. Since the wind was not cooperating with my plans for a reflection, I dropped my backpack, watched the sun set behind Strawberry Mountain, and then set up camp for the night.
After a cold night of snow camping and listening to the wind howl through the walls of my tent, I awoke the next morning and looked outside to find a perfectly calm lake. I laced up my frozen boots and hiked to the lake shore where I took the following photo.
Knowing that I had completely lucked out and accomplished my goal of capturing the Strawberry Lake reflection, I took it easy the rest of the morning and then I leisurely hiked back down the canyon to my Jeep. I stopped back by the Oxbow Coffee House and Restaurant for brunch and a celebratory beer and then drove back into Bend with a rejuvenated appreciation for all that Eastern Oregon has to offer.
Posted by Troy McMullin
NOTE: Special thanks go out to PremierWest Bancorp, which recently licensed one of my photos from this trip to use on the cover of their annual report.
The Pacific Crest Stock photography team recently received a very special request from one of our biggest fans, Mrs. Jewel Carmody. Jewel is a wonderfully nice 85-year-old lady who used to live in Bend, Oregon many years ago. Although she now lives in Arkansas, she still has a great love and admiration for all of the wilderness areas in Central Oregon and she frequently visits our blog site and main gallery pages in an effort to stay connected to the area. Jewel has sent us several complimentary messages over the last few months, and in a recent correspondence, she mentioned that she would like to see some photos from Paulina Lake and the Newberry Crater area, which was one of her favorite places to visit when she and her husband, Dewey, lived here in the late 1950’s.
For those of you who are not familiar with Central Oregon, Paulina Lake and the Newberry National Volcanic Monument are located just a few miles south of Bend and Sunriver. Although lesser known than nearby Crater Lake National Park, the Newberry Crater area actually shares many similar features with Crater Lake and was also once considered a leading candidate for National Park status. This geological wonderland was formed thousands of years ago when the 500-square-mile Newberry Volcano erupted and collapsed on itself, creating a huge caldera. Today, the caldera contains two incredibly deep and beautiful snow-fed lakes, a scenic creek with dozens of drops and waterfalls, and one of the largest obsidian flows in the North America. Despite its unique characteristics and the fact that I have hiked, biked and camped in the Newberry Crater area many times in the past, I have rarely gone there specifically for photography purposes, and unfortunately, I have a surprisingly small collection of pictures from this area to share with Jewel.
One of my favorite destinations in the Newberry Crater Area is the Peter Skene Ogden Trail. This wonderfully scenic trail is open to hiking, mountain biking (uphill only), and cross-country skiing. It climbs rather steeply for about 8 or 9 miles along the north side of Paulina Creek, passing many small waterfalls and natural rock waterslides (including the famous “Paulina Plunge” slide and swimming hole). The photo above was taken last year on one of the rare occasions that I happened to have my camera with me. In order to capture this photo, I had to take off my boots and wade out across the slippery rocks with bare feet through a thigh-deep, ice-cold creek. I’m not really sure what compelled me to carry my non-waterproof camera out into the middle of the creek, but I can tell you that I definitely second guessed myself—and the general soundness of my decision-making skills—several times as I was standing in the middle of the frigid water, fighting to prevent the current from sweeping me, my tripod, and camera downstream with it. After a handful of awkward and wobbly shots, I quickly decided that it would be wisest for me to take my camera back to the safety of dry land.
The Peter Skene Ogden Trail passes many impressive waterfalls along its path, but none of the others quite compare to Paulina Creek Falls, which is the final waterfall at the top of the trail. Paulina Creek Falls has an impressive 100-foot drop that comes off the ledge in two different spots creating a “double falls.” The photo of Paulina Creek Falls that is posted below was taken the same evening as the lower falls photo above. When photographing, I always like to find new and unique compositions that no one else has shot before. In this case, I happened to arrive while the fireweed was blooming and so I fought my way across the stream and up along the far edge of the waterfall to create this Pacific Crest Stock “original.” I like the composition of this photo a lot, but I’m not entirely happy with the lighting in the scene. Since we always strive to capture the “best possible” images for our Pacific Crest Stock galleries, I’ll probably go back later this year and try to re-capture this scene when the lighting is a little softer.
Just past Paulina Creek Falls, the Peter Skene Ogden Trail reaches the outlet from Paulina Lake. From here, hikers can enjoy a nice breakfast or lunch at the rustic Paulina Lake Lodge or continue hiking along the 7.5-mile trail that circles Paulina Lake. The mostly-level Paulina Lake Trail is a popular place for trail running and/or hiking. Despite its popularity, the trail can provide some well-earned solitude in the more remote areas of the lake and it frequently offers great shore-side views of Paulina Peak toward the south. There is also a natural hot springs located half way around the lake, which is the perfect place for a short break or a relaxing soak.
The Paulina Lake Trail is also a great place to take the kids for an easy out-and-back family hike. My wife, Julie, and I took our oldest daughter here for a hike when she was a toddler. Ella fell asleep while she was riding on my back in a Kelty Kid Carrier and when she woke up, we realized that Ella’s pacifier had fallen out of her mouth while she was napping. Ella was very distraught at losing her favorite thing in the entire world, and so we quickly diffused the situation my telling her this long convoluted story about how we saw a mother squirrel pick up something from the trail and climb up to her baby, which was sitting on a high branch in one of the trees overhanging the lake. We thought the mother squirrel had a nut in her mouth, but as she got closer to her baby, we could see that the mother squirrel had actually picked up Ella’s pacifier and was trying to give it to her baby. During the transfer, the baby squirrel dropped the pacifier, which landed in the lake and was then immediately swept up by a huge rainbow trout. The trout sucked the pacifier into his mouth . . . smiled . . . and then swam away with it. To this day, Ella makes us tell her that story every time that we hike at Paulina Lake and she asks every fisherman she sees whether they have caught any fish with a pacifier in its mouth. So far, no one has caught that magical fish, but one day we’ll get Ella’s grandpa to bring his fishing gear out here with him. Ella is absolutely convinced that her Poppa can catch that fish because he is the best fisherman in the whole world.
Mountain biking is not allowed on the Paulina Lake Trail, but there are also plenty of biking opportunities in the Newberry Crater area. For the more adventurous types, I would recommend biking from the lake up to the top of 8,000-foot Paulina Peak. The views into the 250-foot deep, azure-colored Paulina Lake below and out toward the Three Sisters Mountains can’t be beat. On a clear day, you can see all the way across Oregon and into California to the south and Washington to the north. If you still have lots of energy in your tank after climbing to the top of Paulina Peak, drop back down a few hundred feet and turn left onto the Crater Rim Loop Trail. This 25-mile single-track trail circumnavigates the entire caldera, including Paulina Lake, East Lake, and the Big Obsidian Flow. The Crater Rim Loop Trail can be fairly exhausting (especially if you started at the Peter Skene Ogden trailhead more than 10 miles below), but this trail provides an absolutely epic day of Central Oregon mountain biking and the final descent back to Paulina Lake is one of the best down-hilling experiences in the entire area.
Well, that’s just about the extent of my photo collection from Paulina Lake and the Newberry Crater Area. I’m not really sure why I haven’t taken more photos from this area in the past, but thanks to Jewel’s request, I think I will try to focus more on this part of the region in the coming year. I guess that illustrates one of the reasons why Jewel loved living in Central Oregon so much. There’s just so much to do here, it seems like you couldn’t possibly cover everything this area has to offer, even if you had two lifetimes to do it.
Posted by Troy McMullin
NOTE: To really experience Paulina Lake at its best or to learn more about the history and geology of this area, I would highly recommend scheduling a day trip through Wanderlust Tours. Their excellent tour guides provide a wealth of fun information and a unique perspective that will leave you with a much greater appreciation for the area than what you would have been able to otherwise experience on your own. I have heard many families say that the day they spent here with Wanderlust Tours was the best day of their entire vacation.
As I peered out of my window at the cumulus clouds that were beginning to stack up in the skies overhead, I realized that this might be the day that I needed to finally capture one of the photographs that I had been hoping to get at Smith Rock State Park. There had been a string of brilliant red and orange sunsets earlier in the week, and I was optimistically hoping that the pattern would repeat itself again tonight as I was perched on the cliffs along the northern ridge of the park. I hurried to pack up my Canon EOS 5D camera, loaded my mountain bike on the top of the Jeep, and headed out for another trip to the world renowned rock climbing destination a few miles away in Terrebonne, Oregon.
As I got closer to the park, the clouds seemed to be arranged in a perfectly orchestrated position with just the right amount of spacing above the park’s rock spires. Based on the sun’s position, I decided to ride into the park from the Canyon Trail on the south side of the Crooked River, not realizing just how steep and difficult that descent was going to be with a full-sized backpack. As I dropped into the rocky and rutted trail, the pitch immediately forced me backward, but as I was attempting to get my weight adjusted to the rear, the bottom of my backpack got wedged against the bike saddle and me and my camera equipment were promptly ejected over the handlebars. Fortunately, the trail was steep enough that as I went over the bars I was able to simply step forward and land on my feet in a running escape while I watched my Yeti spiral down the hill without anyone attached.
I was in no hurry to repeat that episode, so I chose to walk my bike for a while until the trail leveled out. As I neared the bottom, I noticed that the sunlight coming in over my left shoulder was warming the cliffs on the opposite side of the river so I unloaded the tripod and wandered out through a clearing to get a better view. Happy that the view toward the Christian Brothers formations was a relatively unique one, I set up the camera and shot a few images. It was also at this point that I had two revelations. First, the sun was setting quicker than expected and I needed to cover about 5 more miles in a hurry or I wasn’t going to get to where I needed to be for the photograph that I had been planning, and second, my perfectly arranged cloud formations had already begun to thin out.
After re-packing my equipment, I hustled along the rest of the Canyon Trail, crossed the footbridge to the other side of the river, and pedaled as quickly as I could toward the Mesa Verde Trail on the opposite side of the park. As the trail steepened, I peeked at the sun behind me and realized that I was not going to make it to my planned destination in time. Rather than leaving empty handed, I dismounted my bike and set up the tripod right there. Although not quite the scene that I had anticipated, it was a beautiful sight looking back toward Monkey Face and Asterisk Pass with the rocks reflecting in the Crooked River below. I took a few pictures and then sat there for awhile enjoying a peaceful (if cloudless and non-red/non-orange) sunset.
With the light fading and the temperature dropping, I started my return trip back along the edge of the river, frequently dodging rabbits as they darted from the bushes just inches away from of my front wheel. Worried that one of these little games of “chicken” with the rabbits was going to launch me over the handlebars again, I slowed my cadence and began to focus more on the trail in front of me. In fact, I became so focused on the ground that I almost forgot to look around and enjoy what was becoming an almost mystic riding experience. Here I was . . . all alone in Smith Rock State Park, after dark, riding next to a meandering river under towering cliffs and rock formations. It dawned on me that this was perhaps one of the most memorable mountain bike rides I had ever taken, and then to make things even better, I glanced up and found a full moon rising above the Morning Glory wall. I don’t know for sure whether it was the cool air coming off of the river or the scenery itself, but I suddenly felt chills go up and down my spine. I got off my bike, and in an almost trance-like manner, I set up the camera, took a few deep breaths, and then waited for the shutter to close.
Looking back, this was definitely one of my favorite photographic experiences of all time. It also demonstrates how you might not always capture the images that you are hoping for, but if you keep your eyes open, you can sometimes find an even better opportunity just around the corner. Photographers often say,”The key to good landscape photography is getting there,” and in this case, I feel very grateful that I was able to be there.
Posted by Troy McMullin
NOTE: I would like to thank Matt Lathrop of FOCUS Realty for licensing one of the images from this day for his new website. If you are interested in seeing other images from Smith Rock, you can browse our High Desert Gallery on the main Pacific Crest Stock photography site or search the site for “Smith Rock.”
Sometimes, strange things pop into my head when I think I’m about to die. On one recent close encounter, I muttered the words “Wer sprecht that,” which was a phrase I had not used in more than a decade. This poorly composed German-English hybrid-of-a-phrase was originally coined many years earlier by Eric Poynter–one of my very best friends in college.
Eric was just shy of 6’3.” He had curly red hair and freckles, and he almost always had a big giant smile draped across his face. When I first met him, he was wearing a somewhat undersized baby blue sweatshirt with bright yellow iron-on letters arching across its chest that read “Yo Mamma!” He was the unique kind of guy who could wear a shirt like that through the inner city neighborhoods where our school was located, and actually get away with it. He was also one of those crazy college kids who would chew and swallow plastic beer cups, press his tongue against frozen flag poles, or put a mound of mousse on his head and light it on fire just for laughs. Eric had a ton of hilarious one-liners and in many socially awkward moments (e.g., when certain bodily sounds escaped anonymously from a crowd), I remember him just openly and honestly asking “Wer sprecht that?” Loosely translated, it means “Who said that?”
Before attempting to explain the attack that I survived near North Sister in Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness Area, I feel like I should warn you upfront that this frightening experience is going to be somewhat difficult for me to put into words. Not for emotional reasons, but mostly because I’m not exactly sure which letters best represent the sound of a huge mountain lion. To adequately follow this story, you will need to do your best to imagine the meanest growl you’ve ever heard in your life every time that I type the letters “GRRROOOOWWWWL.”
OK, now that we’ve established the rules for reading, I’ll get on with it. This experience started late one winter when my wife made the mistake of leaving me home alone for a week while she visited family in St Louis. After a few days of living like a drunken bachelor, I decided that I was ready for a little winter photo adventure. I have always had a hefty dose of affection (some might call it an affliction) for North Sister, and so I decided that I would try to do some exploring around the Millican Crater area. I had been off trail in this area once before, and I remembered thinking that there were some pretty wide open views of North Sister along one of the ridges to the East. I figured I could probably find my way back to that general area and get some nice stock photos of the mountain around sunset. It was still wintertime up in the higher elevations of the Cascade Mountains, so I packed up the camera and snowshoes and headed out for a solo exploration.
Not long after leaving the Jeep on snowshoes, I found the ridge line and started trekking cross-country into the forest of Ponderosa and Lodge Pole pines. I climbed along the cliff band, zigzagging over downed trees and in and out of snow for about an hour or so before I was finally forced to admit that the mountain views were not as open as I had remembered. I was very close to the mountain, but I couldn’t find a photo composition that wasn’t at least partially obstructed by tree branches. Determined to find an open spot along the ridgeline, I continued deeper into the woods until I realized that the weather was beginning to turn on me.
The light was fading quickly and the wind had started to pick up. As the wind whispered through the trees, it would occasionally release an eerie, screeching sound as the taller pine tops rubbed against one another. The screeching sounds were kind of creeping me out, and the farther I went into the forest, the more nervous I got about whether or not I was going to be able to find my way back to the Jeep in the dark because the patchy snow melt meant that I was not going to be able to simply follow my snowshoe tracks out of the woods as I had originally planned. With darkness settling into the trees and the air getting noticeably colder, I decided that it was probably safest for me to abandon my photo expedition and head back home.
Just then, as I started to reverse direction, I heard the loud “GRRROOOOWWWWL” of a mountain lion standing directly behind me. I spun around as quickly as I could, and with eyes the size of ping pong balls, I began frantically scanning the woods for the source of the sound. Finding no hairy beasts behind me, my mind jolted to a story that I had recently heard about some people who spotted a cougar perched in the trees while hiking on Pilot Butte. I jerked my neck toward the sky, focusing my gaze from branch to branch in the trees overhead but I still couldn’t make eye contact with whatever it was that had just growled at me. The fear was now pulsing through my bloodstream, and as I started mentally re-tracing my actions, I came to the realization that I had made several fatal mistakes. With my wife out of town, I had gone into the woods alone without telling anyone where I was going or when to expect me back. Even if I was to survive the imminent attack, I figured there was very little chance for rescue.
I decided there was no time to waste. I picked up my hiking poles and held them like two aluminum spears as I started making my way back to the truck. Panicked, and panting very loudly, I moved slowly through the dark woods using a sort of spinning motion every few steps to make sure that nothing could sneak up on me from behind. Unfortunately, with all of the spinning, I didn’t notice that I was approaching the edge of a nearby embankment. My snowshoe slipped off of its edge, and in a split second, I was sliding helplessly down the slope. To make matters worse, the lion let out another fierce “GRRROOOOWWWWL” at the exact moment that my weight slid out from under me. I rolled to the bottom of the hill and landed in a fetal position. Laying there, curled up in the snow, I knew that I probably looked like a small child to whatever huge creature was stalking me, and having just heard the second ““GRRROOOOWWWWL,” I fully expected to feel the weight of the cougar pouncing onto my back at any moment. I quickly rolled over, and as I fought to get back onto my feet, my snowshoe broke through the crusty snow below me releasing an eerily familiar “growling” sound. I paused for a second, and then I twisted my other snowshoe through the crust . . . again simulating a “growl.”
And that’s when it occurred to me that there never was a mountain lion. It was simply my mind playing tricks on me. The entire episode was just a by-product of my imagination, and probably at least partially related to the fact that subconsciously, I must have been a little panicked about being so far back in the woods alone after dark without any back up disaster plan. As I re-played the episode in my head, I realized that the first growl occurred as I shifted directions in the snow and the second happened as my foot slipped down the slope. Convinced that the all of the sounds had simply come from my snowshoes breaking though the crusty snow (and not from a huge hungry cat), I let out a nervous chuckle and thought to myself, “Wer sprecht that?”
Posted by Troy McMullin
NOTE: If you want to see additional pictures of North Sister, you can browse the Mountain gallery on Pacific Crest Stock or search the site for “Three Sisters.” If you want to see pictures of the stalking mountain lion, you can visit the Atlas Snowshoe site.
Everyone has heard the saying about how “The grass is always greener on the other side.” Well, this overly optimistic outlook is one of the problems that I often struggle with when I’m out scouting for pictures. On one recent expedition, it almost cost me my life.
I wanted to do some scouting around Three Fingered Jack in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness Area, so I hiked into Canyon Creek Meadows (alone). When I arrived in the upper meadow, it was absolutely gorgeous.
But for some reason, that wasn’t enough. Despite standing in one of the most spectacular spots in the whole world, I couldn’t help but wonder what the views were like on the ridge to my immediate left. I just knew that if I could find a way to get up on that ridge, I was going to find some unique and dramatic landscape shot that would be better than any that I have ever taken before. The urge to climb that ridge was just overwhelming, and so I threw my camera gear into the backpack and started trekking toward the tree line.
As I approached the base of the ridge, the pine trees grew more and more dense until they became almost impassable. The trees were only about 10 or 12 feet tall, but they had grown so close together that it was almost impossible for anything bigger than a rabbit to walk between them. I began grabbing low hanging branches and with as much strength as I could muster, I started pulling myself through the wall of trees. My backpack and tripod must have gotten hooked around a thousand different branches, and I swore that there was no way I would ever go back through this part of the forest again. A few hundred vertical feet later, I finally popped out of the trees and found myself standing on a steep rocky slope. I attempted to traverse the slope, only to find that the boulders were incredibly unstable. As they slipped and rolled under my feet, I started scrambling on all fours until I eventually made my way up to more solid ground. From there, I could see a rock tunnel that spiraled up to what appeared to be an easy route to the top, so I did my best spider-man impression and wedged myself up through the winding rock tunnel.
It was at this point that I should have remembered the other saying about how “appearances can be deceiving” because once I made it through the tunnel, that apparently easy route to the top completely disappeared. I was now standing on a ledge that was a little more than one-square foot around. The ledge was too small to turn around on; the way down was much too steep to go back; and the only way up was via another ledge that was sticking out about 5 feet away. In a bit of a panicked haste, I decided that my only option was to jump up and over to the other ledge.
To lighten my load for the leap, I took off my backpack and tossed it and my hiking poles up to the ledge above me. I then took another look at the distance, and this is when I began to have some serious doubts about whether or not I could actually make the gap, especially since the fear running through my body was causing my legs to grow weaker and weaker by the minute. On level ground, I wouldn’t have thought twice about jumping up and over to the other ledge, but with a few hundred feet of vertical relief below me, the whole idea of it was becoming rather unsettling.
I stood there, trembling on the tiny ledge for several excruciating minutes trying to find another way out of the situation. I looked down at the route I had taken up to this spot and started to imagine what it would feel like to have my body ricocheting down through the rocks. I even remember staring down at the rock slide below me trying to calculate where my body might stop rolling if I couldn’t hold on to the ledge after jumping. None of these thoughts were all that comforting, and as I started contemplating calling for an emergency rescue rather than attempting to make the jump over to the other ledge, I realized that a rescue call was no longer an option because my cell phone was already resting comfortably in my backpack on the other ledge. That was the final straw and when I realized that I really had no choice at this point but to jump. I focused my eyes on the exact spot where I thought I needed to land, and then I crouched down and quickly lunged across the gap reaching out as far as I possibly could. I didn’t breathe for a few seconds until I finally realized that my fingers had firmly grasped onto the ledge above me and that my feet had found a hold on the side of the rocks. Immensely relieved, I scrambled on to the top of the rocks, rolled over to my back, and swore that I would never again climb up something that I couldn’t safely climb back down.
The trip was rather uneventful from this point. After a few more relatively easy scrambles, I made it to the top of the ridge. The views from the top certainly weren’t worth dying for, but they were pretty spectacular–with the pinnacles of Three Fingered Jack towering directly overhead and wide open views of Mount Jefferson to the north, and Mount Washington and the Three Sisters Mountains to the south. I found several interesting compositions up on the ridgeline, but unfortunately, the light was too harsh by the time I arrived to really do them justice with a camera. Plus, to be honest, I felt like I had kind of lost my appetite for exploring any more on that particular day. After 4 hours of hiking and climbing up to this spot, I probably spent less than 10 minutes on the top of the ridge, and then I turned around; found an easy way back down to the meadow; and hiked out to my truck—just happy to be alive.
Posted by Troy McMullin
PS: Although I haven’t returned to the ridge since nearly being stranded on that ledge, I have a photograph in mind that I hope to capture later this Spring. With any luck at all, it will soon be posted on our Pacific Crest Stock photography website. We’ll keep you updated.
The Oregon coast is an absolutely extraordinary place, especially if you happen to enjoy taking pictures. With a tide table and a little bit of luck, a photographer can find endless opportunities to capture that perfect shot. I recently had one such opportunity while visiting the quaint little town of Oceanside, Oregon.
Oceanside, which is located along the Three Capes Scenic Loop just west of Tillamook, has one of the most unique beaches on the coast. While it may seem relatively ordinary from the main parking area, a short walk reveals a rock tunnel that cuts through the huge headwall at the northern end of the beach. On the other side of the tunnel, photographers are greeted with gorgeous views of the Three Arches Rocks and another big collection of sea stacks that are part of the Oregon Islands. If the tide is low enough, you can also climb around the northern-most part of the Islands to another hidden beach that is normally blocked by the tide line.
I’ve been to Oceanside many times in the past, and although I’ve made it to the hidden beach a few times before, I’ve never had the timing that I needed to really get the photo that I was wanting—until recently. On my last trip to the coast, I checked the tide tables and noticed that there was going to be a negative tide (-2 feet) occurring in Oceanside around the time that the sun would be setting. If everything worked out well, I knew that I should be able to get around to the hidden beach and shoot the sea stacks as they were silhouetted against the setting sun.
My mother happened to be out visiting from St Louis, Missouri and since she had never been to Oceanside before, I thought it would be a nice place to take her. She and I packed up my two older kids and we made the short trek from our beach house in Pacific City up to Oceanside. As we arrived, I noticed that the clouds had started to form out at sea and I became very optimistic that I was finally going to get the photo that I had wanted since the first time that I set foot on this beach a few years earlier.
There was about an hour remaining before sunset, so I spent a little bit of time playing with the kids and taking pictures of them as they splashed around the tide pools . . .
. . . and then I put on my “serious photographer” hat and went to work. I grabbed the tripod, and in a very organized fashion, I began methodically moving my way up the beach looking for interesting ways to frame the ocean and the various rock formations.
As the sun got lower and lower, I got farther and farther up the beach until I had finally reached a spot where all of the sea stacks lined up in a way that gave me a nice balanced composition. I positioned my tripod in the sinking sand and tried to steady it as best as I could for what I knew was going to be a very long exposure. I clicked the shutter button and waited patiently until the image was finally revealed on my camera’s LCD panel. I looked at the image and then let out a big smile and a sigh of relief, satisfied that I had finally captured my long-awaited image.
Not long after looking at the image above, a wave came up and tickled my toes. It kind of caught me by surprise and when I looked back along the shoreline, I noticed that the tide had started coming back in. My previously wide open beach was getting progressively narrower and narrower and I realized that if I didn’t start making my way back toward the tunnel, I was going to get trapped on this side of the rocks. But as I hustled back down the beach, the sunset was getting more and more dramatic, and I just couldn’t resist the temptation to take a few more photographs. At one point, I climbed up on a rock with the intent of using it as foreground material when a sneaker wave rushed in and completely surrounded me with water. I was now standing on a rock, thirty feet out into the ocean, with thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment and a rising tide. Slightly panicked, I stood my ground and watched as several more waves rushed in and swirled around my little island of a rock. The waves would come in, crash up against the shoreline, and then just as one wave was about to subside, another would come in to take its place. I was trapped.
Eventually, I began to recognize the timing of the wave pattern. I waited for the right moment, and with a big breath, I leaped out into the receding water and then high-stepped it back to dry land while holding my camera and tripod over my head. That little episode was enough of a wake-up call for me, and without any further ado, I packed up my camera and jogged around the rock wall and back through the pitch-black tunnel.
The sun was completely under water by the time that I made it back to the parking area, and as I approached the Jeep, I could see my mother waiting there and two tiny shadows racing toward me on the beach yelling “Daddy, Daddy!” My children have started doing this every time that they see me returning from a photo expedition, and it always brings a huge smile to my face and reminds me of just how lucky I am. As happy as I was to have gotten some beautiful photos on that night–and to have escaped the rock incident without soaking any of my camera gear–neither of those compared to the joy that I felt when I saw my children running up with excitement as I returned. Without a doubt, that was the most rewarding part of the entire experience, and the one that I will remember long after the photo files have faded.
Posted by Troy McMullin
NOTE: If you want to see additional pictures from Oceanside, you can browse our Pacific Coast gallery on the Pacific Crest Stock photography site or search the site for “Oceanside.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
I’m amazed that I don’t see more pictures from the Mount Washington Wilderness Area, which is located just outside of Sisters, Oregon. It is one of my favorite places in Central Oregon; a virtual Mecca of possible explorations.
Perhaps one of the reasons that few photographers have experience with Mount Washington is that there are almost no trails leading into its base. To get to the cover shots, it takes a moderately good fitness level, some very good navigation skills, and a ton of patience. For example, two of my favorite approaches into Mount Washington require 10-mile cross-country slogs through a maze of beetle-downed lodge pole pine trees. To say that the terrain is “littered” with downfall is a gross understatement. There are sections where you literally hike for an hour on nothing but downed trees. With every exhausting stride, you are either stepping up onto a fallen tree or down off of a fallen tree. One gap in concentration, and you run the risk of twisting a knee and being stranded in the very dense (and non-cell-phone- friendly) forest.
But still, the rewards are totally worth it. In all of my trips into the backcountry surrounding Mount Washington, I have never seen another soul. I’ve occasionally heard the voices of climbers on the upper slopes, but I’ve never run into anyone. I think it is one of the most isolated and beautiful settings in all of Oregon.
In some ways, this area is even more inviting and easier to access in the winter or early spring because huge snow drifts cover most of the fallen trees. Each year, I like to wait for the forest service roads to melt off a little (so I can drive in as far as possible), and then I snowshoe or ski into the Eastern or Northern faces of Mount Washington. This time of year, snow and ice still cling to the mountain’s huge rocky face giving it an even greater sense of awe. Standing at its base, the Teton-esque vertical rise from the valley below is nothing short of spectacular.
Posted by Troy McMullin
NOTE: If you want to see additional images from the Mount Washington Wilderness Area, you can browse the pictures in the Mountain Gallery on our Pacific Crest Stock photography site or search the site for “Mount Washington.”
After countless days of hiking together and talking about starting a new stock photography agency, Mike Putnam and Troy McMullin have finally started to make some serious progress. The Pacific Crest Stock website is nearing completion, and with this entry, our photography blog has become a reality. We hope that you will sign up for the RSS feed or check back regularly as we will use this blog to share new stock images and a variety of interesting stories from our adventures as landscape photographers. From stories about being stranded high on the cliffs of Three Fingered Jack to near-death mountain lion attacks, this blog will hopefully be an entertaining way to stay abreast of what’s new and exciting in the lives of a few hard-working photographers trying to start a new business.
For a sneak peek at the Pacific Crest Stock website, follow one of the gallery links on the right-hand side of the blog page.
Thanks for visiting, and please stay tuned!
Mike and Troy