Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Summer Solstice in the Owyhee Canyonlands

Antelope Canyon, Owyhee Canyonlands, Oregon
 Olympus E-PM1 micro 4/3, Olympus 14-42
Last month I spent my birthday backpacking with fellow photographer, Jim Davis, through Oregon's Owyhee Canyonlands. The Owyhee's narrow rhyolite canyons, carved into 3 million acres of sagebrush, juniper and and grasslands, make up one of the most remote and inaccessible landscapes in the Lower 48. The Owyhee River meanders for 346 miles from its source in northeastern Nevada, through southwest Idaho and southeast Oregon. On this trip we visited Antelope Canyon, a rarely visited tributary. My first visit to the Owyhee Canyonlands took place last February amidst freezing temperatures. Now, 5 months later scrambling through the warm desert oasis at the bottom of Antelope Canyon my mind drifted back to those nights of single digit temperatures last winter. It's a much friendlier place in the summer. We spent four days and three nights exploring and photographing its ubiquitous caves, reflection pools and secluded meadows. With no easy way out, we were cut off from the rest of the world. Time was measured by the play of light and shadow on the canyon walls; distance, by the next bend in the river. We explored just a tiny fraction of the 1.9 million acres that make up the Oregon portion of the Owyhee Canyonlands. While we barely scratched the surface of this vast landscape, the experience changed my definition of what it means to be in a truly wild place. The feeling was wonderful. These canyons, the surrounding grasslands and sagebrush plateau's belong to the bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, sage grouse and innumerable other wildlife. We were just visitors passing through. 

The descent into Antelope Canyon via Twin Springs Gorge
Olympus E-PM1 micro 4/3, Olympus 14-42
Antelope Canyon
 Olympus E-PM1 micro 4/3, Olympus 14-42
The terrain was a mix of knee deep pools lined with lush vegetation. The cliff swallows were constant companions throughout the trip. 

The water level was very low this year; a more typical year may have involved some swimming.
 Olympus E-PM1 micro 4/3, Olympus 14-42
  Cliff swallow reflection
Olympus E-PM1 micro 4/3, Olympus 14-42

 On dry land we found ourselves thrashing through desert rose thorns and stinging nettles when the going was tough; other times it was a pleasant stroll through gardens of aromatic mint and peaceful meadows. There were a few climbs mixed in to keep it interesting.

The Jim Davis,
Olympus E-PM1 micro 4/3, Olympus 14-42
At night the sky glowed with soft moonlight, but not once did we get a glimpse of the moon itself. From the depths of Antelope Canyon the moon arched at its low summertime angle staying well behind the rim. I learned this the hard way after attempting a moonlight time exposure with my 8 x 10 setup. The east facing cliffs received some moonlight, but our camp remained in darkness all night long. I was hoping for a little foreground detail.
Moonlight in the canyon
Gowland Lite 8 x 10, Schneider Super Symmar 150, 6hrs @ f22
Zen Pool
Gowland Lite 8 x 10, Fujinon 250, 13 sec @ f45

I  focused more on the intimate details as we made our way up the canyon

Reflection Pool
Olympus E-PM1 micro 4/3, Olympus 14-42 

I found these rock patterns underneath a recessed cliff several feet from the creek. In winter and early spring the water can sometimes reach the underside of this 5ft overhang.
Olympus E-PM1 micro 4/3, Olympus 14-42
Enjoying some cold ones after the hike
 Olympus E-PM1 micro 4/3, Olympus 14-42


No comments: