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Autumn Photos from McKenzie Pass and Proxy Falls: Another Epic Day in Central Oregon

This autumn, Central Oregon has had some of the craziest weather patterns that I have ever seen. In just a few days, we went from sweating in 90 degree heat to sweating while shoveling 6 inches of fresh snow. That huge early season snow storm was quickly followed by even bigger thunderstorms (which are unusual for this region), and then finally, we made it back to our typical sunny, 70 degree days and cool, clear nights. All of that rapidly-changing weather wreaked havoc on my fall-time photography plans for a while there, but things seem to be settling down now, and I was recently able to get out and do some exploring around the McKenzie Pass and Proxy Falls areas.

For those who aren’t familiar with McKenzie Pass, it’s one of the most beautiful drives in the lower 48 states. The narrow winding two-lane road follows an old wagon route through an ancient 65-square-mile lava flow with up close views of the Three Sisters Mountains, Mount Washington, and Belknap Crater before finally plummeting 1,200 vertical feet through a series of paved switchbacks and past a number of stunning waterfalls. My morning drive over McKenzie Pass was a bit too sunny to allow for good waterfall photography, so I decided to take a pit-stop at one of the high alpine lakes to do some fly fishing.

Fly fishing near the Three Sisters Wilderness Area, just outside of Sisters Oregon. Photo available from Pacific Crest Stock Photography

Fly fishing near the Three Sisters Wilderness Area, just outside of Sisters Oregon. Photo available from Pacific Crest Stock Photography

After an hour or so of fishing my way around the shoreline, I noticed that a good collection of clouds had started rolling in, so I got back in the Jeep and continued down the highway with the hopes of hiking into the waterfalls above Linton Lake. The hike into Linton Lake was bursting with color, but unfortunately the creeks feeding the lake were swollen from our recent snowmelt, which made the unmarked hike to the falls much more difficult than I had anticipated. I could have crossed the knee-deep creeks and made it to the waterfalls, but in the end, I thought it might be best if I saved that adventure for a different day.

As I was hiking out from Linton Lake, I remembered that the Proxy Falls Loop was just a few miles down the road. The Proxy Falls Loop is an easy 1-mile loop that crosses a fiery-red, vine-maple-laden lava flow and then passes through a great old-growth rainforest featuring two spectacular waterfalls that plunge over towering moss-covered cliffs. Upper Proxy Falls drops about 100-feet into a shallow pool that oddly enough has no outlet stream. The water cascades into the pool and then percolates its way down through the underlying lava beds. It’s a very odd sight.

 Photo from one of the upper sections of Oregon’s Upper Proxy Falls near McKenzie Pass. Photo available from Pacific Crest Stock Photography.

Photo from one of the upper sections of Oregon’s Upper Proxy Falls near McKenzie Pass. Photo available from Pacific Crest Stock Photography.

As if Upper Proxy Falls wasn’t enough of a destination by itself, the other waterfall on the loop (Lower Proxy Falls) is even better. Lower Proxy Falls streams its way down a 200-foot glacier-carved cliff, spreading out into a collection of silky bands along the way. This is the type of waterfall that landscape photographers dream about.

To see some beautiful fine art Photos of Proxy Falls, please visit Bend,Oregon landscape photographer, Mike Putnam’s website. Proxy Falls Photos.

Photo of Oregon’s Lower Proxy Falls in Autumn. Photo available from Pacific Crest Stock Photography.

Photo of Oregon’s Lower Proxy Falls in Autumn. Photo available from Pacific Crest Stock Photography.

Lower Proxy Falls is a real jaw-dropper when you’re standing below it, but honestly, I have yet to see a photograph that really does justice to its mammoth size. It’s hard to fight the temptation to photograph the waterfall from its base (as I did above), but that vantage point has a way of fore-shortening the actual drop. After taking the photo above, I decided to try to a new angle and photograph the falls from the side. In the photograph below, you can see that Lower Proxy Falls absolutely dwarfs me standing there in the lower right corner. I feel like this perspective finally begins to capture the size of the waterfall. This is definitely one of my new favorite photographs from the year, and I’m really, really hoping that our good friends who publish the local tourism guides will eventually feel the same way J

The author, Troy McMullin, dwarfed by the size of Lower Proxy Falls. Photo available from Pacific Crest Stock Photography.

The author, Troy McMullin, dwarfed by the size of Lower Proxy Falls. Photo available from Pacific Crest Stock Photography.

After leaving the Proxy Falls Loop, I drove a few more miles and then parked my Jeep and jumped on my mountain bike for a quick ride along the McKenzie River Trail. There aren’t enough adjectives in the English language to describe the way I feel about the McKenzie River Trail, but suffice it to say that I think this is probably one of the best mountain biking trails in the entire world. OK, I might be stretching it a bit there, but honestly, if you live in the area, you have to go ride the McKenzie River Trail at least once in your life. It is just about the most scenic ride you could ever hope for, especially in mid-to-late October when the riverbed and forest are overflowing with red, orange, and yellow leaves. Just be careful though because it’s also a very technical ride, especially when the lava rocks and roots are wet and slippery.

I stopped by the McKenzie River Trail because I was hoping to capture some mountain bike photos along the way. Unfortunately, the sun was beginning to set low on the horizon by the time I arrived and there was very little light making its way onto the heavily forested trail. Since the lighting conditions weren’t cooperating with my plans, I just sat back and enjoyed an epic ride and another epic end to a wonderful day in Central Oregon. Mountains, lakes, lava flows, rivers, rainforests and waterfalls all surrounded in awesome fall color and all just a short drive from home. Are you kidding me? How lucky are we?

Posted by Troy McMullin.

NOTE: These photos and hundreds more are available for licensing from Pacific Crest Stock Photography.