I started a recent blog entry with the words, “I always hike with the hopes that there will be a story to tell.” Well, here’s a story that I was never hoping I would have to tell. It’s one in which my trusty old Canon 5D camera was sent plummeting off of a 200-foot cliff to its death.
The day started off like many other photography mission days. It was a beautiful Spring morning, and my loving wife had given me clearance to spend the entire day hiking, biking, skiing or doing whatever I wanted to do. I noticed some great cloud formations stretching across the northern skyline, so I decided to take my trusty friend into the desert canyons near Crooked River Ranch to take pictures. I had scouted these areas several times earlier in the year and I was calculating that the deserts should be pretty close to reaching their peak (i.e., as green as they get and full of balsom root flowers). Based on the positioning of clouds, I figured my first stop should be Steelhead Falls on the Deschutes River. This deep desert canyon has lots of interesting hoodoo formations and traditionally good flowers about this time of year. Add in a good collection of cumulus clouds overhead, and its pretty hard to beat. Unfortunately, when I hiked into the waterfall, I found that the balsom root and Indian paintbrush were still on the early side . . . and, there was a fierce wind moving through the valley, which meant that I had virtually no chance of capturing any decent photographs of flowers anyway (because they would all be blowing around like mad).
I did the best I could with the situation at hand, and then decided to move a few miles farther downstream to the Camp Scout Trail. The Camp Scout Trail is a recently opened section of trail that descends through a steep, rugged canyon to the lushy confluence the Deschutes River and Wychus Creek. I’ve been there a few times since it has opened, and I think it’s one of the best desert hikes in Central Oregon, especially in late-April and early-May. After a level half-mile section, the trail opens up to dramatic, big-Western-style views.
As I followed the trail downstream from the fork, I was pleased to see that the balsom root flowers were much farther along in this area than at Steelhead Falls. I scouted around and took about a dozen photographs that I was very excited about, but then the wind started gusting again and it became clear that I was not going to get any more good photographs from this area. Rather than hiking the entire 3-mile loop, I decided that I would wait and bring the family back here a different day for a more extensive photographic experience.
I hurried back the Jeep, and then drove a few miles down the road to some other new trails along the Crooked River canyon. The Lone Pine Trail, Otter Bench Trail, and Opal Canyon Loop Trail are located just past Crooked River Ranch. Like Steelhead Falls and Camp Scout Trail, they offer incredibly scenic views, but parallel the Crooked River instead of the Deschutes River. My plan was to hike a short ways up Lone Pine Trail for a few quick photographs and then come back and mountain bike the 7-mile Otter Bench/Opal Canyon Loop network.
I left the Jeep and started up the Lone Pine Trail on foot, oblivious to the tragedy that was about to happen. At the first good viewpoint of the canyon, I dropped my backpack and unloaded my camera and tripod as I have done hundreds of times before. I started to compose the shot through my viewfinder, but then realized that the photograph I really wanted to get was going to require me to move a few more feet to my right . . . which, unfortunately, was going to put me dangerously close to the edge of a 200-foot cliff. I nervously inched toward the edge of the rock knowing that the cliff dropped off immediately behind me and to my right. With barely enough room to turn around on, I leaned over to check my lens and saw a bunch of debris clinging to its center. I carefully maneuvered around the tripod leg and started to reach for my backpack to get a clean lens cloth when a surge of wind came gusting up the canyon. The strong wind caught the lip of my cap and as I reached both hands to my head to keep my cap from blowing away, I saw that the wind had also caught hold of my camera. I looked back just in time to see my dear old camera and tripod go somersaulting off the cliff.
It was like one of those moments you see in the movies where everything is moving in super slow motion. Imagine a slow frame-by-frame scene with me on top of the cliff lunging for the foot of my tripod as it tumbles out of view and my mouth opening wide to scream “Nooooooooooooooooo!” That’s pretty much how it happened. After witnessing the unfathomable, I just dropped to my knees in disbelief and hung my head . . . unable to look up. After a few moments of dumbfounded silence, I rolled to my side and then crawled over to the edge to see if I could catch a glimpse of my camera’s corpse on the rocks below. I expected to see it and my tripod in a mangled heap of carnage at the bottom of the cliff, but I didn’t see it anywhere below.
Always an optimist, I decided that I would gather up the rest of my gear and then try to find a way down to the bottom of the canyon to re-collect any pieces of my camera gear that were still intact. It didn’t take long for me to locate a game trail that worked its way down a steep rocky outcropping and into the rattlesnake-infested area at the bottom of the cliffs that I had been standing on a few minutes earlier. As I approached the scene of the crime, I noticed a piece of carbon fiber legging that once belonged to my tripod. A few feet from that piece, I found the rest of my tripod. The tripod was no longer usable in any way, but all things considered, it had actually taken the fall quite well. One piece of the leg was missing and the ball head had broken off upon impact, but otherwise, it looked much better than expected.
My next task was to try to find the camera. Given that the camera is much heavier than the tripod, I figured that it had probably ricocheted farther down the slope. After a few more minutes of searching, I spotted my camera wedged underneath a twisted section of sage brush about 50-feet below the place where my tripod had come to rest. The entire right side of the camera had split open during the fall, and my $1500 lens had disengaged itself somewhere during the tumble. I knew there was no way that my lens would be salvageable, but in trying to give myself at least one small nugget of hope, I thought that maybe, perhaps, through some small miracle, that I might be able to at least re-use my polarized filter, which was attached to the lens before it fell. I searched high and low, under each and every brush pile looking for my lens, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. Using my best CSI skills, I backtracked and zig-zagged the entire area between where I found the tripod and where I found the camera, trying to cover every imaginable scenario. Just as I was about to give up, I caught a glimpse of that signature “L series” red circle. At nearly the same moment that I spotted my lens, it dawned on me that the lens cap was in my pocket before my camera blew off the cliff, which of course, meant that there was no way the polarized filter was going to survive the tumble. Sure enough, the filter was scratched beyond belief.
I then thought about all of the nice photographs that I had taken earlier in the day at Steelhead Falls and Scout Camp Trail, and let out a little smile thinking that since I had found my camera, I would at least be able to get those photographs off of the memory card. But even that small feeling of relief was short-lived because as I looked closer at my camera, I realized that the memory card had also ejected itself sometime after impact. I spent another 30 minutes looking for that tiny (but precious) memory card before I finally had to admit that it had been nearly a complete loss. With one fleeting moment of indescretion, I had lost my camera, lens, filter, memory card, and tripod.
And so with that, I packed all of the different pieces into my backpack and started hiking back to the Jeep, thankful that I still had a perfectly good lens cap in my pocket. . . and that it wasn’t me that had blown off the cliff instead.
Posted by Troy McMullin
Although Central Oregon is probably best known for all of its winter and summer fun, we think it might actually be at its best during autumn. Between the months of September and October, the Central Oregon towns of Bend, Sisters, Camp Sherman, and Sunriver are blessed with reliably sunny days, cool clear nights, and absolutely spectacular fall color. If you haven’t experienced autumn in Central Oregon, you’re really missing out on a special time. To help get you get started on planning next year’s vacation, the Pacific Crest Stock Photography team has pasted some suggestions below with photos from some of our favorite fall-time trails and activities.
Ten Things to Do During Central Oregon’s Autumn Months
1. Go hiking in the lava flows around the Three Sister Wilderness Area. There are many different lava flows to choose from within a short drive of Bend, Sunriver, or Sisters. Most of the lava flows are interspersed with vine maples and other vegetation, which turn beautiful shades of red, orange, and yellow during the autumn months.
2. Go biking through a grove of aspen trees. Some of the best groves of aspen trees are found along the Deschutes River or Tumalo Creek Basin near Bend, the Ochoco National Forest outside of Prineville, the High Desert Museum between Bend and Sunriver, or near Black Butte Ranch along the outskirts of Sisters.
3. Go hiking or biking on the Deschutes River Trail. The Deschutes River Trail is a real gem of a trail that runs through the Deschutes National Forest and connects the towns of Bend and Sunriver. It contains several beautiful waterfalls and large groves of Ponderosa pine, larch trees, and aspen trees. This is a perfect place to hike or bike with small children.
4. Go explore the forest service roads bordering the Mount Washington Wilderness Area. There is a wonderful network of roads that runs between highways 126 and 242 just outside of Sisters, Oregon. The roads provide access to the Mount Washington Wilderness Area and also provide great wide-open views of Black Butte, Three Fingered Jack, and Three Sisters Mountains. In September and October, the roads explode with fall color. For more information and photos from the Mount Washington Wilderness Area, see our previous entry.
5. Go biking or rock climbing at Smith Rock State Park. Smith Rock State Park is always a magical place to visit, but it is especially nice in autumn when the banks of the Crooked River are alive with color. Because of its desert location, Smith Rock also tends to stay a few degrees warmer than the surrounding mountain towns of Bend, Sunriver and Sisters. This makes it an especially nice road trip on cooler October days. For more information and photos from Smith Rock State Park, see our previous entry.
6. Go visit the Camp Sherman Store and the Wizard Falls trout hatchery on the Metolius River. The world-famous Metolius River and the locally-loved Camp Sherman Store are two of the most special places in Central Oregon. The Metolius River puts on one of the most colorful autumn displays in the region, and between the fly fishing and hiking opportunities along the banks of the river, the trout-viewing at the Wizard Falls hatchery, and the awesomely huge sandwiches and well-stocked selection of local microbrews at the Camp Sherman Store, this stop belongs on your list of “must-do” activities. This is also a perfect place to hike with small children, and if your little ones need a little extra motivation, it might be nice to know that the Camp Sherman Store offers a large selection of penny candy (yes, a penny!). For more information and photos from the Metolius River, see our previous entry.
7. Go for a drive over McKenzie Pass. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the drive up and over McKenzie Pass is one of the most scenic drives in North America. It offers a fascinating tour through the middle of a huge lava flow that is surrounded on both sides by touring Cascade Mountain peaks. There are tons of short hikes and explorations that can be accessed from the road over McKenzie Pass. After the highway closes in late autumn, the McKenzie Pass area also becomes one of region’s premier biking destinations. For more information and photos, see our previous entries about McKenzie Pass or the McKenzie River.
8. Go hiking or biking on the North Fork Trail above Tumalo Falls. Although many visitors know about Tumalo Falls, few people venture beyond the top of the first waterfall. The real secret about this area is that there are at least another half-dozen impressive waterfalls hiding just a short ways up the trail. Hikers usually make the trip as an out-and-back adventure. Bikers are allowed only on the uphill section of the trail, so if you’re on a bike, continue past the last waterfall at the 3.5 mile mark, ride through the wide open Happy Valley and then cross over the stream to your right. After crossing the stream, the path continues along a section of the Metolius-Windigo Trail before dropping back down to the parking lot on the opposite side of Tumalo Falls via the Farewell Bend Trail. The entire loop is about 11 miles. For more information and photos from the Tumalo Falls area, see our previous entry.
9. Go fly fishing at one of Central Oregon’s many high alpine lakes or spring-fed streams. Central Oregon is blessed with a huge collection of high alpine lakes and spring-fed trout streams, which makes it a fisherman’s paradise. You could spend years visiting all of the lakes and streams hidden in the woods along the Cascade Lakes Highway, Santiam Pass, or McKenzie Pass, and never have to fish the same place twice. Grab your fly rod and go exploring. You know there’s a lunker waiting for you in the ripple.
10. Go for a drive over Santiam Pass. In autumn, the drive over Santiam Pass looks like something from a fairy tale. The windy, two-lane highway hugs the shoulder of the Santiam Rivers’ North Fork for many miles, and there is a splendid display of bright red vine maples nearly the entire way between summit of the pass (4,800 feet) and Detroit Lake (1,400 feet). This is definitely the route of choice if you’re coming to Central Oregon from Salem or Portland.
NOTE: Many of the activities above involve hiking or biking through our region’s National Forest areas. In autumn, it is important to remember that hikers and bikers are often sharing these areas with big-game hunters. As always, appropriate precautions and good common sense are highly recommended when venturing into the forest during hunting season.
To license these or any of our other stunning Central Oregon images, please visit our Oregon stock photos site, Pacific Crest Stock
Posted by Troy McMullin
The shoulder season between Summer and autumn is often a source of frustration for photographers in Central Oregon. Alpine flowers are brown and dead, and fall color is yet to explode. Flat gray skies often highlight an unattractive lifeless environment. The first breaths of autumn always enliven a landscape photographer’ s soul. One of the locations where I often find these first breaths of autumn is along the Cascades Lake Highway southwest of Bend, Oregon.
Sparks Lake and its high elevation and its good southern exposure helps alpine ground cover to ripen to the height of its fall glory a bit earlier than the lower elevation hotspots such as the Metolius Basin, the McKenzie River area and the riparian areas along the Deschutes River. For a small collection of photos from the Metolius River basin, visit this link. Metolius River Photos
Any pre-sunrise visit to Cascade Lakes area should start with a visit to the Ray Atkeson memorial viewpoint along Sparks Lake’s shore. A visit to this location is something of a pilgrimage to a magical landascape photography location. The lake’s surface isn’t always a glassy and reflective as it was in the picture seen above, but you never know if you are going to see the light show of a lifetime and there is no better place to seen it from than Sparks Lake. While the photo seen above doesn’t have any fall color in it, it is somewhat typical of autumn in that there is fresh snow on our Central Oregon mountains.
After the pastel colors of this brief light show had faded, I packed up and went to a different area of Sparks Lake for an entirely different perspective and hopefully some fall color.
While scouting for a sunrise shot I peered down to capture the above image of frost covered alpine foliage. I like how the frosty leaves add detail and texture to the interesting and colorful autumn foliage. Eventually after some extensive frosty scouting and a frightening realization, I set up the shot below. The realization is that hunting is allowed along the shores of Sparks Lake. It strikes me as odd. Sparks is essentially a playground for the city of Bend and hunting is allowed. I recognize that hunting is a popular activity and it should be allowable on public lands, but Sparks Lake? Regardless hunters were blasting ducks out of the air no more than 100 yards from me and a parking lot along the busy Cascade Lakes Highway.
They are subtle but hopefully you can notice the hints of frost covered fall color in the foreground of this image. The stream channels help to break up the foreground and the sunburst adds an extra element for the attractive background of Mt. Bachelor.
Fall color won’t last long in the Cascade Lakes area near Sparks Lake so hurry and take a hike before the snows cover this beautiful alpine area for the rest of the season. for some attractive summer photos of Sparks Lake please visit the following link Sparks Lake Photos.
For more beautiful Central Oregon Photos, please visit our main site at Pacific Crest Stock Photography
Thanks for visiting,
For those of you who haven’t already visited Broken Top via the Broken Top Trail, shame on you! It is stunning, has wonderfully varied terrain, and is right in your backyard if you are a Central Oregon resident. It is truly one of the great alpine playgrounds in Oregon. The Broken Top Trail starts high and offers a very mountainous experience with relatively little suffering. Perhaps the most difficult part about this hike is actually driving there. The famous forest service road number 370 is rugged, narrow and long. It is no place for passenger cars and takes a good 25 minute drive beyond the Todd Lake trail head. For a more detailed trail description of the Broken Top Trail, visit the following link. Broken Top Trail
The following Photograph is the kind that keeps me re-visiting Broken Top year after year. I captured this photo with my 4×5 camera two years ago and
the wildflowers were not as spectacular this year. There were plenty of other worthy spots that I found along the Broken Top Trail this summer. Because the flowers in Broken Top’s lower canyon were not optimal, I visited the upper crater, an arduous hike and caught the next two images.
This image and the next were both captured during an overnight backpacking trip I took with Debbie and Emma, who loved playing in the small streams that wind through Broken Top’s lower crater. The following image is of Mt. Bachelor as seen from Broken Top’s upper crater at sunset.
The lunar landscape in Broken Top’s upper crater make it well worth the strenuous climb to get there. Small streams emanating from the Crook glacier provide moisture for late blooming wildflowers.
Another favorite area along the Broken Top trail is “N0-Name Lake” which is located on Broken Top’s Northern slope. The lake holds ice bergs all summer and is a remarkable turquoise color. The glacier made basin which holds the lake also has an interesting array of late blooming wildflowers such as the red Indian Paintbrush seen in the following image I recently captured at sunrise.
East of the location where I shot the above photo is the outflow stream for No-Name Lake. Because of prominent wind patterns, this end of the lake often holds large ice bergs throughout the summer. Below is a photograph of Broken Top’s pinnacles and the icy No-Name Lake as seen from that corner of the Lake.
The following images of Mt. Bachelor were also taken from along the Broken Top Trail and they are a strong testament to alpine change. I’m consistently impressed by how quickly flower groupings change from one year to the next. These two photos of Mt. Bachelor were taken from approximately the same location but two years apart. Note the huge variation in flower varieties.
Regardless of whether you are a photographer or not, it is hard to argue with the belief that the Broken Top Trail area is an amazing area for exploration. If you are a hiker,backpacker, or trail runner, you might be interested in the more detailed trail description found at the following link. Broken Top Trail
Thanks For Visiting,
Landscape photography is an unpredictable adventure. Sometimes, everything goes as planned and other times, nothing does. This story is about the latter.
It was late summer in Central Oregon, and while the flowers in many of our lower meadows had already burned up, I knew that I could still find some huge stands of monkey flowers in the higher elevation meadows on the north side of Broken Top Mountain. I had been to the meadows a few years earlier, but had problems nailing the focus on this dramatically vertical shot. Armed with a new camera and a wider angle lens, I figured I could go back and perfect the photo if I was given a second chance.
I carefully studied my topography map, and calculated that the quickest way into the meadows would be to find the streams running out of Broken Top Glacier somewhere near the Park Meadow trailhead and then follow them cross-country until I got above the tree line. Based on the sun’s recent positioning, I also figured that I should be able to get some decent evening and morning light, and therefore, I planned on hiking into the meadows in the late evening and setting up camp so that I would be there for sunset and sunrise.
I drove up to the Three Creeks Area, and as I steered my Jeep onto the narrow, rutted road leading into the Park Meadow trailhead, I found three backpackers hugging the side of the road. Knowing that it was a long way to the trailhead (and guessing that they must be from out of town), I stopped and asked them if they wanted a lift. They were somewhat surprised to hear that they weren’t actually on the trail yet, so they happily climbed in. On the drive to the trailhead, I learned that they were here visiting for a few days from Idaho, and that they had read somewhere that Park Meadow was a nice hike. I tried to be polite, but I also felt somewhat compelled to explain to them that the Park Meadow trail is perhaps one of my least favorites in all of Oregon. While the meadow itself is beautiful, the approach is absolutely horrible. Hikers are basically stuck in the woods on a deep, dusty, horse-trodden trail for 4 viewless miles until they finally reach the meadow—which this late in the year probably wasn’t even going to have flowers.
I reviewed several other trail options with them during the drive, and explained that I had found a new way into some different meadows which were equally pretty. I invited them to tag along with me if they wanted, but I also warned them that the route would be almost entirely off trail and that I wasn’t actually 100 percent sure where I was going. They quickly weighed their options and decided that since they only had one day of their vacation remaining, a dusty viewless hike was probably going to be better than getting lost in the wilderness with some stranger. I can’t really blame them for that.
The Idahoans and I wished each other luck and then we parted ways at the parking area. I was still thinking about what a nice conversation I had with them when my views opened up from the back side of Broken Top all the way across to the Three Sisters Mountains. I had walked less than a half-mile, and I was already getting good views confirming that I had indeed made the right choice. In another mile or so, I found the stream that I was looking for and began my cross-country trek up to the meadows.
The stream was much prettier than expected. There were Indian paintbrush and monkey flowers flanking both sides of the stream and although this was not my primary destination, I knew that the scene was just too beautiful to pass up. I swung my backpack around, unloaded my tripod, and then tip toed across the water to a large collection of flowers situated in the middle of one of the upstream forks.
Recognizing that the sun was dropping low on the horizon, I snapped a few quick pictures and then started hiking briskly up toward the meadows. When I arrived in the meadow, I saw the same large stands of monkey flowers that I had found on my last visit. I hurried over to them so that I could get my camera set up before the light faded, but unfortunately, the closer that I got to them, the more confusing the whole scene became. The stands of monkey flowers were at least 3 feet across, but all of their blooms were gone. I just stared at them for awhile, dazed and wondering why in the world someone would pick all of the flowers from the bushes when it finally dawned on me that I wasn’t the first one to find the flowers. Deer had obviously gotten to the stands before me and they had eaten every last bloom off of my precious bushes. I searched around the area and found a few small stands of flowers that the deer had apparently left behind for a midnight snack so I did the best I could with the scene and then started adjusting my plans.
Knowing that it wouldn’t be worthwhile to spend the night in this area, I decided that I would hike across the high alpine meadows and then drop down into Golden Lake, which is a somewhat secret spot located above the Park Meadow area. The hike was longer than I remembered and by the time that I started my descent into the meadows around Golden Lake, the sun had already sank into the ocean on the backside of the mountains. I set up my tent in the pitch black darkness and quickly fell asleep, exhausted and somewhat frustrated that the day had not worked out as planned—but also hopeful that when the morning arrived, I would be able to shoot Broken Top mountain reflecting in a calm Golden Lake.
The next morning, I awoke with a chill. I stepped outside into the below zero temperature and shivered over to the lake’s shore only to find that my reflection picture was not going to happen either. The lake’s surface had frozen solid over night. Determined to find something worthy of shooting, I worked my way down the lake’s outlet stream to a spot that has been reliably good to me in the past, but again, I found that the normally abundant monkey flowers were mostly missing.
The light that morning wasn’t really as good as I wanted either, so I went back to camp, swallowed a few cups of coffee, and then started working my way back to the Jeep via the dreaded Park Meadow trail. The hike out was at least as bad as I remembered and by the time I reached the parking area, I began to wonder whether I had sufficiently described the disappointing nature of the trail to the backpackers that I met on my way in. Then, as I approached my vehicle, I could see something scrawled into the dust on my back window. As I got closer, I could see that it was the panhandle shape of Idaho and that it had a huge smiley face in the middle of it with a note that read “We had a wonderful time. Thanks for all of your help.”
That’s when I remembered just how lucky we are to live in Central Oregon. We have so many wonderful hiking options here that even some of the places that don’t rank among our favorites will still be considered beautiful by people who live in other areas of the country. I climbed smilingly into my vehicle and then realized that actually, I had managed to have a pretty good time too. I didn’t get the money shot that I was hoping for, but I was lucky enough to spend another night in the mountains and that’s nothing to complain about—even if it requires a hike down the Park Meadow trail.
Posted by Troy McMullin
NOTE: After my trip, the road leading to the original Park Meadow trailhead was closed. Hikers are now required to park along Three Creeks Road and walk down the rough, dusty road to the old trailhead. The new trailhead location adds about 2.5 miles of suffering to what is already a very arduous hike, and I suspect this decision will significantly reduce the number of people willing to hike on this trail (or ever recommend to anyone else). If you’re not happy about the new trailhead location, I strongly urge you to contact the Forest Service and let them know how you feel.
We quickly covered the two miles into the Lower Canyon Creek Meadow despite the many down lodgepole pines on the trail. Sadly, this will probably be a recurring theme on this specific trail because of the recent fires and because of the mountain pine beetles which are devastating pine forests across the western United States. We spent the night at the Lower Canyon Creek Meadow which was overflowing with wildflowers and has a couple beautiful streams flowing through it. I spent most of the evening scouting in the upper meadow for the shots I’d work on the next morning. I returned in time for the best freeze dried dinner(aren’t all meals in the backcountry the best ever?) It was Chili Mac with beef made by Mountain House. Delicious! Fortunately, I also returned to the Lower Canyon Creek Meadow for a stunning sunset which is pictured below.
Landscape photography was unrewarding the next morning because of the heavily overcast skies and the very flat light. It’s the curse of the Oregon Landscape Photographer. Great effort combined with poor light is a frustrating. It was also very windy, making it impossible to shoot any of the amazing flower scenes in the upper meadow. As the photography conditions were poor, the day was dedicated to family. We moved to a great campsite in area of the Upper Canyon Creek Meadow(but not in the meadow) and spent most of the day playing in the frigid waters of Canyon Creek. Below is a picture of Emma balancing above Canyon Creek, an activity that entertained her for hours.
Between the activities of balance beam competitions, chasing frogs, swatting mosquitoes, and lounging in the Alpine glory of Three Fingered Jack, the day quickly passed. The next morning started a little windy and overcast, but the clouds blew over and the wind died down making for a landscape photographer’s nirvana. Amazing wildflowers at their seasonal peak with the awesome backdrop of the towering Three Fingered Jack. Below are a few of the Landscape photos I captured that morning.
I shot the above scene extensively with my large format camera in hopes of capturing a winning fine art print. To see some of my finished large format photographs from this trip to Three fingered Jack hike Canyon Creek Meadow. The film isn’t finished developing but I’m optimistic! The Following scene, was a little simpler, but no less rewarding because of its interesting clouds, excellent textures, colors, and impact.
I took dozens of other photos of the amazing lupine meadows in the Upper Meadow. If you are interested in seeing more of those images, please visit my personal website by visiting, Bend, Oregon Photographer. After I finished photographing the Upper Meadow, we reluctantly packed up camp and headed for home in Bend, Oregon. Below is one last photo of our little family leaving our camp site and hiking back home.
The Canyon Creek Meadows are not always as flower filled as they were this year, but they are always a beautiful destination. If you care to backpack into this wonderful alpine basin, please respect the meadow and wildflowers and do not camp directly in the meadows as they are very fragile and will quickly perish with the pressure of camping. Instead camp in the hills located east of the upper meadow or in the Lower Meadow of Canyon Creek. To view another more recent photograph of Three Fingered Jack, captured in autumn, visit, Three Fingered Jack.
If you are interested in licensing any of the images in this blog entry, or you would like to see more images from Canyon Creek Meadows, please contact us through our Pacific Crest Stock Website.
Thanks For Visiting,
By: Mike Putnam
We at Pacific Crest Stock have always considered ourselves fortunate to live in Central Oregon where it is beautiful and where there is immense environmental diversity. From the badlands east of Bend to the rainforests west of Bend with old growth Ponderosa forests and snow capped volcanoes in between. Bend, Oregon is on the edge of the high desert which is considered to extend from the Cascade Mountain Range to the Rocky Mountain Range. Perhaps, the important thing to remember is that we are on the edge of the high desert and not in the middle of it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have huge trees and many waterfalls near our fair city. We had lots of hits on our website looking for waterfalls and specifically waterfalls of Central Oregon, so finally we’re going to give a little information and several photos of some of those waterfalls. We have great photographs of some of these waterfalls and others, well, we know we need to go back to at some point! Arguably, the foremost waterfall in the minds of most Central Oregonians is the majestic Tumalo Falls. Tumalo Falls is no stranger to visitors and it shouldn’t be as it is quite awe inspiring and very visitor friendly. Located only 10 miles west of Bend, on Skyliners road which is a westward extension of Galveston Road.
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In the winter, the road to Tumalo Falls is closed for the last 2.5 miles and a snow park is located at the closure. In Summer, the road is open all the way to the falls where there is parking, a restroom, and some informational kiosks about the 1979 Bridge Creek Fire which raged through the area. Additionally, Bend’s famed water source Bridge Creek, is nearby.
This photo of Tumalo Falls was taken in autumn several years ago during a driving rain at the height of fall color. In other words, don’t expect the Tumalo Falls area to be this colorful when you visit, because in the hundreds of times I’ve visited it’s only looked this good once! Below is another photo of Tumalo Falls that I captured in summer requiring a long exposure and a total absence of wind in order to keep the purple lupines in the foreground from fluttering about.
I re-visited this site this summer and noticed that most of the purple lupine in this photo have been replaced by native grasses which is too bad for photography purposes. Tumalo has several possible name derivations, one of which is from the Klamath Indian word “Tumallowa” meaning icy water. This is appropriate as Tumalo Creek is largely composed of glacial melt from high off of the Central Oregon Cascade Range. This waterfall has one 97 foot drop and two great viewing points. The lower view point is obvious but the upper viewpoint is a real gem as it gives a real sense of the flow and power of this particular waterfall, making it worth the short 1/4 mile climb to the top of the falls.
Below is an image of Bridge Creek Falls which is located near to Tumalo Falls and is along the aptly named Bridge Creek Trail.
The following waterfall, “Double Falls” is located above Tumalo Falls on Tumalo Creek. It is one of many attractive waterfalls that are upstream of the the more well known Tumalo Falls. Double Falls is located about 1.25 miles up stream along the North Fork Trail which for Mt. Biking purposes is up hill only. It is a relatively easy hike but beware of mosquitoes in summer.
If you continue hiking or biking uphill on the North Fork Trail for 3.5 miles, you will pass several other impressive waterfalls. The next waterfall is about a mile above Double Falls. You will then cross a bridge about half-mile later, at which point you almost get bombarded with waterfalls. There are least 5 more waterfalls within a half-mile of the bridge. Keep hiking because the last waterfall is probably the best.
We plan on some more waterfall blog entries in the near future so stay tuned! If you have an interest in licensing these or any of our other Central Oregon waterfall images, please visit our stock photography website at Pacific Crest Stock.
by Mike Putnam
I made several trips to the Cascade Lakes Highway this spring, as I do every spring. For those of you who haven’t made this short drive(about 20 miles from Bend, Oregon) you should do it. The highway is lined with beautiful lakes such as Todd Lake(the highest of the Cascade Lakes), the famed and very photogenic Sparks Lake, and the often under appreciated Elk Lake. While my father in-law, Kenny Scholz was in Bend earlier this spring, I coerced him to join me in an evening photo shoot which involved Sparks Lake and Elk Lake. One of the earliest and best photography scenes to develop along the Cascade Lakes Highway, is along the exposed shores of Sparks Lake. This area gets lots of sun and in its marshy areas, it usually has a profusion of yellow buttercups covering that area. Well, I think that is changing. This particular marshy area along Sparks Lake is changing rapidly. The buttercups are being replaced by grasses which I assume is part of an evolutionary process. Regardless, I didn’t get my yellow buttercup flowers this year!
While I didn’t have great flowers for this shot, I did have nice clouds, making this photo worthy of this beautiful area of Central Oregon. Mt. Bachelor with a fair amount of snow makes for a pleasant backdrop for this photograph. Next up for Kenny and I was a quick stop at Elk Lake where, years ago , I shot the following photo with my 4X5 camera. To read more about this beautiful image captured along the Cascade Lake Scenic Byway, Visit, Elk Lake Photo.
Unfortunately, this scene no longer exists, as this particular flower meadow has largely been replaced with non-flowering grasses. Instead of visiting this changing meadow, I took Kenny to the Elk Lake Resort. Elk Lake has a long history of boating and particularly sailing, which I understand my photo partner, Troy has taken up since his recent housing move. Below is a photo of the marina at Elk Lake with Mount Bachelor in the background. As you can see, Mount Bachelor was well covered with a rapidly changing cloud cap.
I like the texture and color that the canoes and kayaks lend to the foreground of this Elk Lake photo. The sail boats in the mid-ground also add another attractive element. I’m not sure which sail boat is Troy’s. Kenny and I thoroughly enjoyed our stop at the marina which is a great place to visit for kids and families when driving the Cascade Lakes Highway.
Another of my favorite locations along the Cascade Lakes Highway is Todd Lake. Todd lake is the highest of the Cascade Lakes at 6,150 feet of elevation. It requires a short and non strenuous 1/4 mile hike to view its 29 acres of alpine beauty. It is stocked with Brook Trout and can offer some exciting fishing for 8-10 inch fish. My most recent visit to Todd Lake was made with my daughter and hiking buddy, Emma. She and most kids are fond of Todd Lake because of it’s many streams, and the proliferation of small toads along it’s shore line which I believe are referred to as “Western Toads”. Not a terribly exciting name but they are cute and fun for kids.
Regardless of photographic conditions along Todd Lake, it is a beautiful and simple Lake to explore. During our visit, we found some pleasant clouds hovering about Mt. Bachelor, so that was the object of much of my photo efforts. While were there, it was still fairly early in the wildflower season, so some of the species we saw blooming included Marsh marigolds Jeffrey’s Shooting Stars, and lots of buttercups.
Along the southern edges of Todd Lake, there are often thick stands of marsh marigolds, an early indicator of spring in the Oregon Cascades.
Marsh Marigolds are one of my favorite early spring flowers because of their delicate appearance and because they suggest that dramatic alpine flower meadows will soon start to bloom. If anyone knows what kind of bug is in the above photo, please let me know. After cavorting around along Todd Lake’s shores, Emma and I hiked upward for an overview of Todd Lake. Because of the large number of dead lodgepole pine trees around Todd Lake and all of the Cascade Lakes, it is becoming more and more difficult to capture great photos in this area. These pine trees are being killed by the mountain pine beetle which bore through and under the pine tree’s bark, weakening the tree’s natural defenses. These beetles are considered to be part of the natural life cycle of the lodgepole pine. They are not considered to be part of the life cycle of the ponderosa pine and we are beginning to see a few ponderosa trees killed by this destructive creature. This is a huge concern for foresters and any outdoor advocates that enjoy healthy stands of native trees. Below is a photo largely devoid of any dying or infested lodgepoles. Unfortunately, I anticipate that this rather pristine scene will become less common in the next couple years as the mountain pine beetle continues to infest a wider area.
The following set of photos was captured at Sparks Lake while I was being swarmed by flesh ripping mosquitoes. If you go to Sparks Lake or any of the Cascade Lakes, bring some heavy duty mosquito repellent as they are horrendous this year. The following image of Broken Top Mountain has a foreground of Jeffrey’s shooting stars in the foreground. I’m fond of their vibrant colors and distinctive shapes.
Part of the beauty of exploring Sparks Lake is that one can make a new discovery with every new visit. I had intended to shoot from the Ray Atkeson memorial trail on this particular evening but it was somewhat windy, eliminating any chance of a reflection in Sparks Lake, and there were no clouds around South Sister to lend interest to the scene. Extensive exploring and wading through very cold waters eventually led me to this scene, one I wasn’t expecting but that I enjoyed very much, despite the ongoing mosquito assault on my DEET covered skin. Wading through some of these streams did take some commitment. As any man can attest, wading in cold water beyond a certain depth can become acutely uncomfortable. Well I exceeded that depth! In other words, I earned these shots with some level of physical suffering. The following shot of Mt. Bachelor was captured from the same general area of Sparks Lake. To view a gorgeous sunrise shot that I captured from the shores of Sparks Lake, visit my personal website, Bend Oregon Photographer.
If you have any interest in licensing these or any of our many other images from the Cascade Lakes Highway area, please visit our primary stock photography website at Pacific Crest Stock .
Thanks for Visiting,
By: Mike Putnam
Earlier this spring(2009) My daughter, Emma and I had one of our many Daddy/Daughter days when My wife, Debbie was working . As is often the case, we decided that a hike would be a pleasant way to pass the day. I noticed some interesting clouds in the area slightly northwest of Bend, so I decided that a drive to Tumalo Reservoir would be a worthwhile journey for both Emma and I. The views of Central Oregon’s Three Sisters Mountains are great from Tumalo Reservoir and from some areas of the reservoir, the Sisters are nicely reflected in the water.
The above photo of Tumalo Reservoir taken on a different morning shows the Three Sisters nicely reflected.
Part of the reason that I felt Tumalo Reservoir would be a good destination was because Emma enjoys playing around water and the last time she and I had been there, we had seen several snakes which frightened but intrigued her. She’d been pining to see the snakes again but from a distance.
As we drove into the area, we crossed over a bridge at the east end of the reservoir where I stopped and captured the following image.
Pleasant clouds and an interesting shoreline had already made this a worthy day-trip. Only one thing troubled me. There was a mother and two children playing along the shores of the lake, occasionally interfering with my landscape photography. They seemed to be pleasantly playing but they weren’t helping my cause. Emma and I hiked along the southern edge of the reservoir until the mother and children were out of the way. The photos from that part of the hike were not inspirational but we did have a bit of excitement. First, I’ll give you a bit more background. My daughter, Emma is definitely a Girly-Girl. I mean this in the sweetest way possible. She loves clothes, she loves dolls, she fusses with hairstyles constantly. To sum up, she is no Tom-boy. Despite her girly ways, she does enjoy controlled adventures. Well on this day, the banks of the Reservoir were especially muddy. While I was taking pictures of the Three Sisters, Emma got bogged down in mud and lost a shoe. We were both entertained and decided it was best to not get too close to the water’s edge. After I’d gotten the photos I wanted, we worked our way back to where we’d parked. Along the way, I scouted some more photos. While taking one last shot, I heard a feminine screech, which could only come from one person and it could only mean one thing. Emma had seen a snake! She was simultaneously terrified and thrilled. Unfortunately, I was too slow with my camera and I missed this hilarious photo opportunity. With my moral support, she wanted to find another snake. She soon got her wish! As this snake wasn’t a surprise, there were no shrill screeches to fill the air!
As we approached the canal at the east end of the reservoir, we once again saw the Mother and her two children, the oldest of which was a little girl about Emma’s age. They were on the opposite side of the muddy canal when the older child said what I thought was “should I catch them a snake, Mommy?” Knowing that my ears had deceived me, we continued on towards the car. The little girl began scurrying along the the shore and in the water with a flurry of activity. Emma and I were intrigued. The little girl then proceeded to wade waste deep across the mud bottomed canal. The same canal that held shoe-sucking quick sand and flesh eating snakes! She was absolutely intrepid and totally indifferent to any aquatic obstacles in her way. As she neared us, Emma’s eyes widened to unprecedented widths! The little girls hands were full of sticks, No……They were full of snakes!
Keep in mind that I don’t have any kind of snake phobia, but I don’t like them surprising me either. Well this enchanting and fearless little girl was completely unfazed about the snakes writhing around her arms. As she shared her find, the snakes became completely calm in her hands. She explained that they were very friendly and that we should hold them. Emma almost had a heart attack! Eventually I worked up the courage to hold one snake and indeed it eventually calmed in my hand. Emma took a little more cajoling. Below is a photo of Emma building the courage to touch one of the snake charmers’ pets.
Obviously, Emma is excited and hesitant while the snake-handling nymph is completely at ease with the snakes. I was astounded! After many minutes of confidence building exercises, Emma eventually summoned the courage to hold a solitary snake.
I was very proud of her and I was simply amazed by the unknown little girl who was fearless and charming at the same time. For entertainment purposes, scroll up to the snake charmer and back down to Emma to assess their different comfort levels.
If anybody who reads this blog entry happens to know who the snake charming nymph of Tumalo Reservoir is, please contact me as I’d like to thank her and her mother for sharing with us. She was enchanting, charming, polite, personable, fearless, and entertaining. She truly brightened our day and the whole event was something that Emma and I will remember forever. Thanks!
To view more Central Oregon landscape photography of the Three Sisters and Tumalo Reservoir, please visit our stock photography site, Pacific Crest Stock Photography
by: Mike Putnam
I’ve often struggled with photos of our very own Three Sisters Mountains. Although they form the dominant and very scenic backdrop for the city of Bend and the Central Oregon area, I’ve found it difficult to make more of a thin panoramic out of this iconic Central Oregon Photo subject. A friend, Veronica, recently tipped me off that there were some nice lupines blooming along the shores of Tumalo Reservoir. I immediately took a drive there and she was certainly correct. I would like to thank her for the tip and if any of you readers have any other given locations that are particularly stunning, please let us know so we can quickly take a visit.
As you can see, the view of the Three Sisters is pretty stunning from this area of Central Oregon and the flowers aren’t bad either. As these are desert lupines, they are a bit small, but very attractive. There is some great hiking and horse back riding in this area and there’s no better time than now, before the trails get too dry and dusty, as they will later in the summer. Next up is an image from the bridge at the east end of Tumalo reservoir. My timing was good on this shot, in that there was some very attractive pre-dawn light filling the scene, and the shrubs in the foreground add some form and texture to the scene.
I’ve been to Tumalo Reservoir countless times but I’ve not seen a pre-dawn sky so pink and pleasant before. In the following image, you’ll seen a solitary grouping of yellow flowers which have a short but vibrant life along the banks of Tumalo Reservoir. After a bit of research, I’ve concluded that they are probably tansy leaved evening primrose. They are a small beautiful flower that will only be around for a short time before the harsh desert heat cooks the life out of them, so go visit them soon.
Finally is one last photo of our beloved Central Oregon volcanoes, the Three Sisters as seen with what I think are Tansy leaved evening primrose in the foreground. If any botanists are reading this blog entry and happen to know that I’ve mis-identified this flower, please contact me and let me know.
The above photo, another of the Three Sisters Mountains of Central Oregon, has nice balance between the floral foreground and the alpine background. All of the images in this blog entry and many others are available on our primary Stock Photography site, Pacific Crest Stock .
OK, I know that the title of this blog entry doesn’t totally make sense, but hopefully you get the idea. We’ve recently taken some new Smith Rock State Park Photos that I’m very proud of and we haven’t been able to find a simple way to fit them into our blogging schedule. These images haven’t ben shared with the public and therefore they’ve never been licensed and seen in print. I strongly suspect that you will soon see some of these images in local ad campaigns and tourism offerings as they are great pictures of a special and unique Central Oregon Location. First I’ll start with a couple of my images.
For quite some time now I’ve wanted to add a “Monkey Face” photo to my fine art print collection. The above image is definitely my best effort to date. I plan on printing it in a large format version and adding it to my fine art offerings. Mike’s Fine Art Prints I’ve seen hundreds of different Monkey face images but most offer washed out noonday light and plain blue skies. Those are fine for snap-shots but not for fine art prints or great stock images. I knew I wanted a shot with interesting clouds and warm late evening light. I also got the Crooked River in the scene as a bonus which adds another attractive element. The above image was captured with my large format 4×5 camera in hopes of making it into a fine art print. I also shot many other great images on that beautiful evening with my canon 5D camera. The following picture is a closer view of Monkey Face with some interesting cloud formations to liven up the scene.
On the enlarged version of this photo, you can actually see climbers in the mouth of “Money Face”. Cool! I like how my relatively wide angle lens slightly distorted the scene giving it an abstract feel. I also like how the hiking trail in the foreground leads the viewer to the base of Monkey face.
The following Smith Rock State Park picture was taken on a different evening but helps to show the diversity of our Smith Rock portfolio. I took the following shot at the end of a long photography day during which I chased clouds all over Central Oregon.
It may have been good fortune that allowed me to catch this scene with the colorful cloud formation hovering over Smith Rock’s summit but I certainly don’t mind being lucky! I’ve seen countless photos taken from the viewpoint at Smith Rock, most of which are uninspiring, but I couldn’t resist on this evening.
Now for the grand finale of our mini Smith Rock State Park tour. I’d like to give you a preview of what I predict will be the next great cover shot for the Central Oregon tourism industry. My good friend, Troy McMullin took the following outstanding Smith Rock State Park photo. I think it might be the best Smith Rock photo I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen thousands of them! I’ll be very surprised if it isn’t licensed for a cover shot in the very near future, and whoever licenses it will have the good fortune to associate themselves with this stunning image.
There are countless reasons why I think this image makes a great landscape photo but I’ll just cover a few of them. 1. Great subject matter. Smith Rock is veery recognizable and obviously stunning. 2. excellent composition. 3. lots of interesting elements including the impressive rock formation, awesome clouds, great color in the sky, the gently arcing Crooked River below and the distant South Sister to the left of the rock formation and Mt. Jefferson to the right. Wow! Like I mentioned, I’ll be very surprised if this image isn’t licensed in the near future. Please leave any comments in the comments section at the end of this entry, and don’t forget to tell your photo editor and graphic designer friends that you’ve just seen the next great Central Oregon cover shot! For some more great Smith Rock State Park Stock Photos, please visit our new Smith Rock gallery at Pacific Crest Stock.
Posted by Mike Putnam
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!
I have genuinely loved Bend and the Central Oregon area ever since moving here more than 10 years ago. I enjoy our Central Oregon mountains, the Deschutes River, the high desert, old growth ponderosas, Drake Park, the local trail systems, Downtown Bend, the restaurants, and the breweries (not necessarily in that order). The natural beauty of Central Oregon is what inspired me to take up photography on a professional level. To have so much geographical diversity in the same region is truly wondrous. My partner in Pacific Crest Stock, Troy, is also a big fan of Bend. Many friends have suggested that we should be on the payroll for the Bend Chamber of Commerce or one of the tourism boards because we are both such big boosters of Bend and the whole Central Oregon area.
When we first conceived of Pacific Crest Stock, we both thought it would be a tremendous honor to have one of our stock photos appear in one of the Central Oregon tourism publications because it would be an honor to represent the area in print. Well, with that thought in mind, we have a big announcement to make. It has recently been formalized and one of our landscape images will grace the cover of the Visit Bend‘s tourism publication, which is due to be released this spring. The exposure of having the cover shot will be great, the link on Visit Bend’s very attractive website which has been promised will certainly be helpful, but most of all, it is an honor to represent Bend and Central Oregon in a more formal way. Having met with Lynnette and Laurel at Visit Bend several times, I can confidently say that it is a well run, personable and efficient organization. Lynnette is clearly a skilled Web master, and graphic designer. She was courteous enough to provide me with the following image file, which will be the cover of their glossy magazine style publication.
Yeah that’s my Mt. Jefferson Photo and yeah I’m pretty excited!
Mt Jefferson is one of the most photogenic mountains anywhere and because it is visible from much of the city of Bend, it has long been one of my favorite photography destinations. This image, like most great images, required lots of work. I’ve been to Jefferson Park and the Mt Jefferson Wilderness many times before and have always been moved by its beauty, but. I had often been frustrated in that I always thought there was a shot I was missing in this beautiful area. The year I shot this photo, Troy and I went backpacking in the Jefferson Park area and we captured lots of good Stock photos including the following shot of Troy’s ,which is a fan favorite on Panoramio and Google Earth.
It is clearly a great shot. Mt Jefferson towering high above the mid-ground clouds with a stunning foreground of Troy’s favorite flower and the only one he knows the name of, the Red Indian Paintbrush. During our trip, we scouted and shot on and off trail from many different locations including the one that will serve as Visit Bend’s Cover shot. When we arrived at the “cover location” the light was harsh and the alpine wildflowers hadn’t quite peaked for the year but the location was clearly special and I knew I had to return in a few days so I did. To see more great Mount Jefferson images, please visit our stock site’s Mountain Gallery.
On my return trip, I made a day trip of the outing carrying my heavy pack nearly 10 miles and several thousand feet of vertical gain to the same location as a few days before. I quickly set up my tripod and my 4×5 camera and composed a beautiful scene at a stunning location when something unexpected happened. A small wisp of clouds appeared over Mount Jefferson’s summit and it gradually evolved into the awesome lenticular cloud cap that you see in my cover shot from that second day. The scene went from a great one to one of the best fine art landscape shots I’ve ever taken. It is one of my favorite images because Mount Jefferson’s amazing presence, the outstanding wildflower combinations (the equal of which I’ve yet to find in Oregon) and the mystical cloud cap which really brings the whole image together. I hiked out the last six miles with my headlamp beaming and my mind reeling with excitement about the great shots I’d just captured. Without the cloud cap it’s a great stock photo, but with the cloud cap, it becomes a great fine art print. So I worked hard and I got Lucky. I’ll take that combination any time!
My thanks go out to Lynette at Visit Bend for the image file and to my loving wife for letting me go out and take photos in places I love.
To view my fine art prints, including the soon to be cover shot, please visit my fine art site at Mike Putnam Photography where you’ll see this lucky Mt. Jefferson Photograph and many others.
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.
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
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