With the New Year starting, it’s fun to think back over the past few months and reflect on what was another great season of adventure in Central Oregon. This past summer started out a little rough (e.g., watching my camera and tripod tumble off of a 200-foot cliff), but it eventually gave way to a reasonably fruitful year. My efforts did not produce as many pure landscape images as I would have liked, but I tried to keep my options open and find a few good photos on every hike. That typically defaulted to me striking a pose in front of various Central Oregon landmarks–which is not exactly the fine art I would have liked to capture, but then again, I have a tough time passing on an opportunity to add to Pacific Crest Stock’s ever-growing Outdoor Adventure Gallery . . . so, here is a brief summary of some of my favorite hikes from 2010.
Mount Jefferson Wilderness Area: This was one of those impossibly challenging cross-country (i.e., “no trail”) treks that I planned (rather poorly) using Google Earth and a hefty dose of optimism. Although the approach looked fairly easy online, I quickly realized that I had been deceived and within a half-hour of leaving the Jeep, I was decidedly happy that I had chosen not to invite anyone else along on this little adventure. Anyone else would have surely killed me for dragging them up and down these remote valleys in what turned out to be a failed attempt to reach a never-before-visited viewpoint of Mount Jefferson. I thought for sure I was going to be killed and eaten by bears before making it out of the Wilderness on this day. About mid-way through the hike, I changed course and headed for the safety of the Jefferson Park area. This viewpoint isn’t quite what I planned, but then again, dying in the jowls of a hungry bear wasn’t necessarily part of the plan either.
Ochoco Mountains: This hike started out as a fairly nice evening stroll up along a wildflower-filled trail in the Ochoco Mountains. There’s a great viewpoint at the top of Lookout Mountain, but if you stay to take sunset pictures (like the one below), you better have a headlamp or be prepared to trail run out in the dark. Guess which one I did. Yep, I found myself sprinting back to the Jeep in total darkness. Real smart.
Smith Rock: These photos were taken on a great mountain biking trip to Smith Rock State Park near Terrebonne, Oregon. If you haven’t ridden at Smith Rock, put it on your list of 2011 Resolutions. It’s one of the most surreal places you will ever ride.
Three Sisters Wilderness: I was fortunate enough to get into the Three Sisters backcountry area on several different occasions in 2010. Each of these trips ranks among my favorites for the year.
Crooked River Canyon: Central Oregon has so many great desert scenes, it’s hard to choose where to go first. I spent quite bit of time this past Spring exploring the peaks and valleys surrounding the Deschutes River and Crooked River. Here are a few photos from some of my favorite desert hikes:
Other Miscellaneous Trips: There were lots of other great days in the past year where I was lucky enough to get outside and enjoy some fresh air. Here are a few miscellaneous photos from some of those days:
I hope that 2011 is as good to me as 2010. Cheers!
Posted by Troy McMullin
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
As is usually the case I made a long list of fall color images that I wanted to capture this year and time flew, weather was uncooperative and I missed many of my dream shots but did get some Oregon fall color photos worthy of sharing. The following group photos have little to with one another aside from the fact that they are all from Central Oregon’s High Desert vicinity. In general, I didn’t find this fall color season to be remarkable. The early snows dampened expectations but some late color did burst out, especially in the riparian areas of lower elevation. The first group of photos is from a location where I’ve never gotten any worthy images and frankly This fall offered the best color I’ve ever seen along the Crooked River. These images are from the Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint, which is located where Highway 97 crosses the Crooked River North of Terrebonne, Oregon.
According to my keen recollection of American History(and the big sign in the parking lot) Peter Skene Ogden was working for the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1825 when he led the first recorded journey into the Crooked River Basin not far from the current Crooked River Bridge. I presume that is why this viewpoint is named after Ogden rather than something catchy like “Pacific crest Stock Scenic Viewpoint”! The yellow fall colors were more vibrant than I’ve ever seen in this location and the reds weren’t bad either! The rock pattern also helps with this otherwise simple image. Facing in the opposite direction and downstream, the Crooked River Canyon carves a deep serpentine path through 300 foot tall basalt cliffs. Some great clouds, the distant Black Butte, and the previously mentoned fall color make this a worthy photograph.
Looking back upstream from the same Crooked River Bridge which is closed to cars but open to people( this made me nervous at first!) One sees the obvious yet attractive Rex T. Barber Memorial Bridge. Rex was something of a Hero during world War II. He was born in nearby Culver, Oregon and was drafted into World War II. Rex T. Barber was an ace fighter pilot who is widely credited with shooting down and killing Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto who was the planner of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor thereby initiating WWII. In other words, Rex really was a hero. Rex served in the military for 20 years and after a very successful stint flying P-38 lightnings, he was eventually shot down over China. He survived the crash and five weeks later he was escorted back to allied forces by Chinese civilians. Rex returned to Central Oregon after the war where he was an insurance agent, judge, mayor of Culver and a huge civic booster. I don’t usually get moved by these Memorial plaque tales by this one really was somewhat touching to me. I also am hesistant to include man made objects in my landscape photographs, but for Rex T. Barber I’ll make an exception. Below is the handsome Rex T. Barber Memorial Bridge high above the Crooked River canyon and it’s luminous fall color.
Another High desert Photography favorite , Smith Rock State Park also had some great fall color this year. Below is an attractive sunrise casting a delicate pink glow on one of the main rock formations at Smith Rock. It may not be as stunning as Troy’s sunset image from this same location found in this blog entry Smith Rock Photos but the delicate predawn light works well with the fall color in the riparian areas at the base of Smith Rock’s massive rock formations.
Slightly to the North of this scene lies the famed Morning Glory wall and “the Dihedrals”, favorites of rock climbers around the world. I’ve been to the morning glory wall area many times but I’ve struggled with lighting there. The following image of the Morning Glory Wall and the dihedrals with fall color and cumulous clouds makes for a good stock photo.
On the same pleasantly cloudy day I shifted over a touch and took an obligatory photograph from the main viewpoint at Smith Rock State Park. Normally I avoid this spot as it is a bit cliched but I couldn’t resist because of the great clouds that were floating above the scene.
Finally We’ll leave Smith Rock behind after one more image. This rock formation is referred to as “the Monument” Stunningly vertical, is calls to some like no other rock formation in Central Oregon. I merely think of it as the scene that launched a thousand psychiatric evaluations for my Pacific Crest partner, Troy. To learn more about Troy’s struggles, visit this previous blog entry. Smith Rock Photo phychosis. It’s a good shot but mostly I included this image in this particular blog entry in an effort to torture Troy. He’ll be back at the monument later today nervously composing scenes and incoherently mumbling to himself like Milton in the classic movie, “Office Space”.
I’ve included this next and final photo of aspen trees with some great color not so much because I love the image but because I felt obligated to mention it. I’ve been there so many times that it feels like a distant cousin who I feel obligated to invite to Thanksgiving dinner because they live two blocks away. Anyway, here are my distant cousin aspen trees!
If any of our blog readers have fall color suggestions for next year please let us know. For some of our other fall color images, please visit our main Pacific Crest website by following the following link Pacific Crest Images . Thanks for visiting our photo blog!
All the Best,
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
This winter in Central Oregon has been fairly unpredictable and uneventful for me in terms of photography. I’ve gone out with good intentions on several days, but I just haven’t been able to capture many landscape photographs worthy of including on our Pacific Crest Stock photography pages. After a couple of failed attempts early in the season, I decided to try out some advice that I received from Dan Bryant, a good friend of mine who works in the advertising world. Dan and I have been best friends since we were kids. Today, he owns make-studio in Portland, Maine. Make-studio has worked with some of the country’s best photographers and they have done advertising and branding for many high-profile companies like Simms Fly-Fishing, Orvis, Nike, Nikon, Nordstrom, BMW, MTV, Timberland, Telluride Tourism, and the American Skiing Company. Given that Dan has had a very successful career as an art director, I figure that I should probably listen carefully to any and all advice that he offers. In one of our conversations this year, he mentioned that I should start trying to incorporate the human element into some of my stock photographs.
This concept of putting people into my shots is not something that comes easily for me. I’ve always been a nature and landscape photographer, and in fact, I have often gone to great extremes to make sure that I haven’t accidentally framed any people into my photographs. But then again, I haven’t had any other luck this winter, so I figured that I might as well give it a try. Since I’m not really sure what I’m doing at this point, I’ve basically just started dressing myself in a red or orange shirt for every photo expedition, just in case the conditions or locations don’t lend themselves to nature photography. I realize that the whole red shirt concept is a little trite (kind of like the requirement that all canoes used in advertising need to be red), and even though I’m certainly not ready to be America’s Next Top Model yet, I am starting to have some fun experimenting with this idea.
On my first “red shirt day,” I drove over to Santiam Pass in hopes of hiking into the slopes of Three Fingered Jack, but when I got there, the clouds were not cooperating. A large collection of fluffy clouds seemed stuck on the mountain’s pinnacles, so rather than spending six hours hiking through knee-deep snow just to get blanked by low-hanging clouds, I decided that I would take a shorter ski into the backcountry areas near Mount Washington. Once again, the clouds moved in and obstructed my views of Mount Washington, but since I was prepared with my nice shiny red shirt, I decided to set up my tripod in the snow and start experimenting with ways to incorporate myself into the shot. My favorite advertising photos are the ones where there is a hint of someone being there or doing something, but where the picture itself is not necessarily focused on the person. That was the main idea that I played around with while I was skiing, and although I didn’t get anything too magical, the chance to experiment with different positions at least opened up some photo opportunities that would not have otherwise been there on this particular day.
After skiing back to the Jeep that day, I decided to take advantage of the clouds—and our unique Central Oregon geography—by leaving the mountains and driving into some nearby desert rock formations for a few more shots. I found a nice collection of rocks above the Crooked River that provided open views back toward some of Smith Rock’s most dramatic cliffs. I balanced my tripod on one of the larger rocks, set the 10-second timer, and then scrambled out onto one of the other rocks overhanging the river. It took me about 11 seconds to get there on my first few attempts, but with some perseverance, I eventually got fast enough to get fully into frame. I didn’t really capture anything all that original in the desert either, but still, I wasn’t too disappointed since it was just my first day playing with this idea.
One of the nice things that I’m beginning to appreciate about this experiment is that it allows me to get out and photograph on days that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise tried. For example, I had some free time on one cold and rainy weekend in February, and even though there wasn’t really much of a draw to do anything outside, I decided to drive into Lake Billy Chinook and explore around some of the cliffs overlooking the lake. I knew that it was much too early in the season for pure landscape photography, but I loaded up my camera equipment anyway and went out with the idea of experimenting with the human element concept a little more. While I was there, I found several nice scenes that I would like to shoot later this year when the balsamroot flowers are blooming, and before I left, I took a few photographs of myself perched on the edge of one of the steep drop-offs. The composition isn’t quite as interesting as I would have liked, but then again, I didn’t trip and launch myself off of the cliff during any of my hurried attempts to get into the photograph, so I figured that was enough of a success.
One of the other good things about trying to include people in my images is that it opens up some locations that I would not have otherwise gone to because the scene itself would have felt too empty without someone in the picture. For example, there are several areas along the Middle Deschutes where I’ve always enjoyed hiking, but the scenes are not quite “full” enough for a good landscape photograph. They’re absolutely beautiful when you’re there, but they just don’t photograph that well unless you add something else interesting to the scene. The next two photographs were taken in one of those areas on the Deschutes River. I wish that I would have brought my fly rod with me (which I will do when I go back to re-shoot these later in the year), but I think these initial attempts are at least a good start, and they help demonstrate the value of adding the human element to an otherwise average-looking scene.
Sadly, this is just a small sampling of my winter failings. There were many more days this winter where my red shirt ended up being the only interesting thing in the scene. It happened again last weekend, when I tried once more to climb up onto the shoulder of Three Fingered Jack. After 4 hours of climbing up through deep, soft snow I ran out of time and I had to turn around. I was less than a mile from the top, but that last mile was straight up, and I knew there was no way I could make it to the summit and then back to the Jeep before dark, so I just took a couple of bad photographs of me and my red shirt standing in front of the ridge and headed back home.
That day at Three Fingered Jack would have been much better from a photography perspective (and probably from a safety standpoint) if someone else had been there hiking with me. The more I play with this experiment, the more I realize that it’s really difficult trying to be the photographer AND the model. My 40-yard dash time isn’t quite what it used to be, and there are many times that I simply can’t shoot the scene the way I would have liked because I can’t get to where I need to be in the 10-second time lapse before my shutter releases. If you live in the area and you feel like you would like to get in touch with your inner Zoolander, please send me an email. It would be really nice to have someone else to work with as a model. I suspect that it will involve a fair amount of suffering, and I can’t promise that you will end up on the cover of Outside magazine anytime soon, but I am fairly confident that we will at least have some fun. All you need is a red shirt.
Posted by Troy McMullin
As I peered out of my window at the cumulus clouds that were beginning to stack up in the skies overhead, I realized that this might be the day that I needed to finally capture one of the photographs that I had been hoping to get at Smith Rock State Park. There had been a string of brilliant red and orange sunsets earlier in the week, and I was optimistically hoping that the pattern would repeat itself again tonight as I was perched on the cliffs along the northern ridge of the park. I hurried to pack up my Canon EOS 5D camera, loaded my mountain bike on the top of the Jeep, and headed out for another trip to the world renowned rock climbing destination a few miles away in Terrebonne, Oregon.
As I got closer to the park, the clouds seemed to be arranged in a perfectly orchestrated position with just the right amount of spacing above the park’s rock spires. Based on the sun’s position, I decided to ride into the park from the Canyon Trail on the south side of the Crooked River, not realizing just how steep and difficult that descent was going to be with a full-sized backpack. As I dropped into the rocky and rutted trail, the pitch immediately forced me backward, but as I was attempting to get my weight adjusted to the rear, the bottom of my backpack got wedged against the bike saddle and me and my camera equipment were promptly ejected over the handlebars. Fortunately, the trail was steep enough that as I went over the bars I was able to simply step forward and land on my feet in a running escape while I watched my Yeti spiral down the hill without anyone attached.
I was in no hurry to repeat that episode, so I chose to walk my bike for a while until the trail leveled out. As I neared the bottom, I noticed that the sunlight coming in over my left shoulder was warming the cliffs on the opposite side of the river so I unloaded the tripod and wandered out through a clearing to get a better view. Happy that the view toward the Christian Brothers formations was a relatively unique one, I set up the camera and shot a few images. It was also at this point that I had two revelations. First, the sun was setting quicker than expected and I needed to cover about 5 more miles in a hurry or I wasn’t going to get to where I needed to be for the photograph that I had been planning, and second, my perfectly arranged cloud formations had already begun to thin out.
After re-packing my equipment, I hustled along the rest of the Canyon Trail, crossed the footbridge to the other side of the river, and pedaled as quickly as I could toward the Mesa Verde Trail on the opposite side of the park. As the trail steepened, I peeked at the sun behind me and realized that I was not going to make it to my planned destination in time. Rather than leaving empty handed, I dismounted my bike and set up the tripod right there. Although not quite the scene that I had anticipated, it was a beautiful sight looking back toward Monkey Face and Asterisk Pass with the rocks reflecting in the Crooked River below. I took a few pictures and then sat there for awhile enjoying a peaceful (if cloudless and non-red/non-orange) sunset.
With the light fading and the temperature dropping, I started my return trip back along the edge of the river, frequently dodging rabbits as they darted from the bushes just inches away from of my front wheel. Worried that one of these little games of “chicken” with the rabbits was going to launch me over the handlebars again, I slowed my cadence and began to focus more on the trail in front of me. In fact, I became so focused on the ground that I almost forgot to look around and enjoy what was becoming an almost mystic riding experience. Here I was . . . all alone in Smith Rock State Park, after dark, riding next to a meandering river under towering cliffs and rock formations. It dawned on me that this was perhaps one of the most memorable mountain bike rides I had ever taken, and then to make things even better, I glanced up and found a full moon rising above the Morning Glory wall. I don’t know for sure whether it was the cool air coming off of the river or the scenery itself, but I suddenly felt chills go up and down my spine. I got off my bike, and in an almost trance-like manner, I set up the camera, took a few deep breaths, and then waited for the shutter to close.
Looking back, this was definitely one of my favorite photographic experiences of all time. It also demonstrates how you might not always capture the images that you are hoping for, but if you keep your eyes open, you can sometimes find an even better opportunity just around the corner. Photographers often say,”The key to good landscape photography is getting there,” and in this case, I feel very grateful that I was able to be there.
Posted by Troy McMullin
NOTE: I would like to thank Matt Lathrop of FOCUS Realty for licensing one of the images from this day for his new website. If you are interested in seeing other images from Smith Rock, you can browse our High Desert Gallery on the main Pacific Crest Stock photography site or search the site for “Smith Rock.”
Approximately mid-way through this hike, I began to think that it might have been optimism that killed the cat rather than just curiosity. After all, that cat must have been more than just a little curious. I suspect that he—like me—was simply a bit too optimistic that somehow the reward was going to be worth the risk.
Any time that thoughts like these begin to creep into my head, I know that I must be having fun, and indeed, I was definitely having a blast on this beautiful winter hike along the Crooked River canyon that runs through Terrebonne, Oregon. Suspecting that the desert rock formations were going to be blanketed with snow, Mike Putnam and I decided to make a quick trip to Smith Rock State Park in hopes of expanding our High Desert Gallery on our new Pacific Crest Stock website. The sun was higher than expected when we arrived, so we decided to split up in an effort to maximize the limited amount of remaining good light. Mike would work around the ledges on the top of the canyon, and I would go explore around the Crooked River and the meadows in the bottom of the canyon.
My unexpected adventure started about 50 feet from the truck when I realized that I was not going to be able to find the normally easy trail that traverses down from the top of the cliff because everything on the ground was covered with several inches of fresh powder. After spending a few futile minutes searching for the trail, it became obvious that I would need to find my own way down the 30 percent grade, all of the while trying to carefully pick my route through the hidden rock fields. It took much longer than expected to reach the river’s edge and on more than one occasion, I found myself in an awkward telemark-like position, using my poles for balance as I clumsily boot skied down the slippery slope.
After I had safely made it to level ground and was able to look around, it was absolutely beautiful. I was surrounded by towering cliffs, all of which were draped with a light snow that was trying desperately to cling to the near vertical faces. I realized right away that this was one of most spectacular days that I have ever spent at Smith Rock, and I began thinking about how pretty the snow must be upstream near the currents across from the Monument (one of my favorite rock climbing formations in the park).
I have hiked up near the Monument many times in the past, and as luck would have it, my current level of excitement seemed to have obscured my memory of just how difficult it was to access—even when there was no snow or ice. As I struggled to make my way over the huge slippery boulders lying upstream, I began having strange conversations with myself about cats and curiosity and then flashes of Mike’s recent blog entry about a wintery boulder-filled hike along the Deschutes River filled my head. Unfortunately, by the time that I remembered reading about all of the dangers that he had encountered, I was already trying to navigate my way through my own ice-covered rock garden. Each step seemed to present new challenges, and on more than one occasion I found myself knee deep in what had been a previously snow-covered crevice. With a little bit of luck (and a whole lot of optimism), I managed to avoid getting myself tangled into an eternal figure-four-leg lock and I arrived at my final destination with a huge smile on my sweat-drenched face.
The boulders along the river’s edge were stacked high with bright new snow and the rocky spires rising on the other side of the river seemed magnified against the backdrop of a brilliant clear blue sky. Standing there, I realized that all of my optimism had been fully rewarded, and the hike was already worth the risk, even if I didn’t end up with a single photograph for the website. Of course, I also knew that Mike and his unique brand of humor would embarrass me beyond belief if I was to let that happen, so I quickly scurried around the icy river bank framing various angles and water patterns, and then I started my way back–following my previous zigzag of foot prints until I had made it to the safety of the wide open meadow.
In the time that it took me to negotiate less than a mile of rough terrain, Mike had thoroughly covered the upper ridges extending along the entire border of the park. Altogether, we captured at least a dozen stock-worthy images. While driving home along Highway 97, we talked optimistically about the future of our new stock agency and we began planning our next adventure into other local snowscapes. We’ll keep you updated.
Posted By Troy McMullin
NOTE: If you are interested in seeing other images from this day, you can search our Pacific Crest Stock website for “Smith Rock” and “Snow.”