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

Posts Tagged ‘central oregon landscape’

Eastern Oregon Gems: Painted Hills, Blue Basin, and Strawberry Lake Photos

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.

 

Sunset photo of the Painted Hills in the John Day Fossil Beds.  One of several pictures of the Painted Hills that is available on our Pacific Crest Stock photography site.

Sunset photo of the Painted Hills in the John Day Fossil Beds. One of several pictures of the Painted Hills that is available on our Pacific Crest Stock photography site.

 

 

 

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.

 

Photo of the Blue Basin in the John Day Fossil Beds.  Several additional pictures of Blue Basin are available on our Pacific Crest Stock photography site.

Photo of the Blue Basin in the John Day Fossil Beds. Several additional pictures of Blue Basin are available on our Pacific Crest Stock photography site.

  

 

 

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.

 

 Photo of Cumulus clouds over the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Area in Eastern Oregon.

Photo of Cumulus clouds over the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Area in Eastern Oregon.

 

 

 

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.

 

Picture of Spring sunrise on the Headwall at Strawberry Lake near Prairie City, Oregon.

Picture of Spring sunrise on the Headwall at Strawberry Lake near Prairie City, Oregon.

 

 

 

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 Magic of Smith Rock: A Memorable Mountain Biking and Photography Mission

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.

 

Stock photo of the Christian Brothers rock formations in Smith Rock State Park.

Stock photo of the Christian Brothers rock formations in Smith Rock State Park.

 

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.

Sunset photo of Monkey Face and Asterisk Pass in Smith Rock State Park. One of several Smith Rock stock photos of that is available on our Pacific Crest Stock photography site.

Sunset photo of Monkey Face and Asterisk Pass in Smith Rock State Park. One of several Smith Rock stock photos of that is available on our Pacific Crest Stock photography site.

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.

 

Stock photo of the moon rising over the Morning Glory Wall in Smith Rock State Park.

Stock photo of the moon rising over the Morning Glory Wall in Smith Rock State Park.

 

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.” 


Three Fingered Jack: Beware of the Greener Grass

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. 

 

Sunrise photo of Three Fingered Jack mountain with the wildflowers of Canyon Creek Meadows in full bloom.

Sunrise photo of Three Fingered Jack mountain with the wildflowers of Canyon Creek Meadows in full bloom.

 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.     

  

Winter photo of Three Fingered Jack. The ridge where I almost died is just out of frame to the left.

Winter photo of Three Fingered Jack. The ridge where I almost died is just out of frame to the left.

 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.

  

Happy to be alive! Three Fingered Jack high in the Central Oregon Cascades.

Happy to be alive! Three Fingered Jack high in the Central Oregon Cascades.

 

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.


Welcome to the Pacific Crest Stock Photography Blog

 

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!

Cheers,

Mike and Troy

 

Troy and Mike toasting to Pacific Crest Stock

Troy and Mike toasting to Pacific Crest Stock