Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Storytelling and the Creative Process

This past summer we went on a short family trip to Oceanside, a quaint town along a beautiful stretch of Oregon coastline. It's always been a favorite destination for us. I made a few images one morning while we were out walking the beach. It was overcast, the air was saturated with the fragrance of the sea and the seagulls were calling - it was a classic morning on the Oregon coast, shared with my two loves. I casually made a few pictures as we strolled along the tide line hunting for agates and shells.

Upon returning home and going through my images, I thought it would be fun to sequence certain photos and present them as a short story. Lately I've been enjoying the idea of using multiple photos that share a common theme and presenting them together. It's a been a good practice in staying sharp creatively. In this case, any one of these images works well by itself, but my goal here was for the images to support each other in a way that flows and feels consistent. 

'Hunting for Agates'

'Look There'

'Look at Her Glow'

My creative process as a landscape photographer tends to follow a certain formula. While this has led to some success, it isn't all that conducive to growing, changing, evolving and, ultimately, taking ones photography to the next level. Consistency is good to a point, but when ones mind gets locked onto a certain kind of photograph all the time, opportunities are missed. For myself, I'm finding that exploring situations such as this brings my style of landscape photography full circle and ultimately infuses fresh ideas into my work. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Tapto Lakes

A good friend and I recently got back from an excellent, albeit rainy 4-day backpacking into the Whatcom Pass-Tapto Lakes area of North Cascades National Park. I was first inspired to visit this particular spot after seeing photos some years ago by, Marc Adamus, one of my all time favorite photographers.

The two most common routes into this remote area of the North Cascades are via Hannegan Pass and Little Beaver Valley. Our time was limited so we opted for the shorter and easier hike up Little Beaver. To get to the trailhead we hired a water taxi from Ross Lake Resort which took us 7 or so miles up Ross Lake to the lakeside trailhead. From here it was 17 miles to Whatcom Pass and another mile with some decent elevation gain to Tapto Lakes. I'd heard the last section of trail from the Little Beaver trail-Big Beaver trail junction to the pass was brushy and overgrown. I guess we lucked out as the trail crew had been working in this area recently and did an awesome job clearing the way. I was really grateful because the climb up to the Whatcom Pass was hard enough as it was.

Our second night was spent at Tapto Lakes. We arrived just as the weather was turning. Fortunately we had ample time to hike around and explore a little bit before the rains came.

I made this 3-photo series showing the area in the evening, night and morning. Neither one has anything too dramatic going on but I did like the quiet beauty of the sequence when viewed together.

'The Calm I' 
'The Calm II' 
'The Calm III'

The weather went downhill pretty quickly the following morning so we decided to abandon our plan of staying two nights at the lakes and head back down into the shelter of the forest along the Little Beaver Trail.

'Rained Out'
My buddy, Nate, sporting his old school A-frame tarp. Thankfully he stayed 'dry enough' and didn't have to crawl in with me. Neither one of us wanted that...

It was a beautiful descent back down into Little Beaver Canyon. It felt nice to get out of the cold wind and rain. The gray, misty conditions provided the perfect light for viewing the emerging fall color from above. What a beautiful canyon!

'Little Beaver'
The 100mm lens I used to make this image was accidentally left at this off trail viewpoint. Poor me...fortunately it was inexpensive. It'd been a lightweight workhorse for me for a decade... 
Our last night was spent along the Big Beaver Trail. I thoroughly enjoyed going back this way instead of following the same trail back. It also saved us some money on the return water taxi. Some of the giant cedar groves along this section were the highlight of the trip for me. They're pretty magical.

'Happy Place'

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Owyhee's: Get Lost Here!

When the days grow longer and summer solstice nears, my thoughts tend to wander to our wild places. Where I'm from this list might include the rainforests of Olympic National Park; the glaciated peaks of North Cascades National Park; or the emerald waters of Opal Creek Wilderness. Over the years the sculpted landscape of Oregon's, Owyhee Canyonlands has joined this list. In fact, when I want to completely unplug from the noise of civilization, the Owyhee's has become my go-to place to decompress and reconnect with nature. Its dark night skies and deep canyons - accessible year round -  provide the ideal setting in which to experience the epic solitude that can still be found. The pulse of the earth is strong here and it's that pull that keeps me coming back year after year. My hope is that we can give this yet to be protected landscape the protections it deserves. It's truly world class. This is the largest intact ecosystem left in the lower 48 and it's only a matter of time before foreign oil and gas companies begin exploiting it for short term gain. The time to act is now. 

View From Camp
In late June of this year a good friend and I embarked on a hiking/packrafting trip I'd been eying for quite a while. The loop appeared to bring together some of the best of what the Owyhee's has to offer, all in a manageable 2-5 day timeframe. We'd start by hiking up the Middle Fork Owyhee and then cross over to the main stem of the Owyhee via North Cross Canyon and South Cross Canyon. At this point we'd trade in our hiking shoes for a small raft, put our feet up and begin the 16 mile float back along the main Owyhee. It sounded like a classic to me.  

We began our journey at Three Forks, a spectacular area where the North and Middle Fork Owyhee flow into the main Owyhee. After hiking for a few hours along the open flats of the Middle Fork, it eventually narrowed into spectacular slot canyon.

Owyhee 'Backpacking'
We encountered numerous pools of surprisingly cold water, but only one required taking our packs off. Chuck, being the taller of the two, was gracious enough to ferry both our packs across.

Middle Fork Slot
The canyon was full of life. Fish darted about through the pools; vibrant flowers grew in dense clusters around life giving seeps and shaded crevices; and ferns glowed neon green under the intense afternoon sun. We were literally hiking through an oasis in the desert. After scrambling and wading all day we were still unsure as to how far we'd actually gone. With no trail, no horizon and only a slice of sky visible from the canyon depths, distance was difficult to gauge. Did we miss our exit route and cross over into Idaho? We had no idea...but what a beautiful thing to feel slightly lost in these canyons even if I didn't feel that way initially. We came upon an inviting spot late in the evening that was lush with tall grass and overhanging trees. Feeling pretty worn out we decided to make camp. We shared a few beers while the Middle Fork gurgled past and the evening winds whipped through the trees. Life was good!

For me, landscapes such as the Owyhee Canyonlands tap into a reservoir of wonder and curiosity that bring a lot a peace and clarity to my life. The best way for me to express and share this is through my photography. I would like for my son to experience this place someday as I have. This is a big reason why wilderness preservation is important to me. It's okay to let some places be, and in order for that to happen in today's world protections need to be put in place.

I like how Edward Abbey attempts to describe wilderness in his book, 'Desert Solitaire':

                                         "....the word suggests the past and the unkown, the
                                          womb of earth from which we all emerged. It means
                                          something lost and something still present, something
                                          remote and at the same time intimate, something
                                          buried in our blood and nerves, something beyond us
                                          and without limit. Romance - but not to be dismissed 
                                          on that account. The romantic view, while not the 
                                          whole of truth, is a necessary part of the whole truth.
                                          But the love of wilderness is more than a hunger for 
                                          what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression 
                                          of loyalty to the earth, the earth which bore us and 
                                          sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only 
                                          paradise we ever need"

Lost Oasis
Before night settled in I went for an evening climb out of the canyon to photograph sunset and, hopefully, gain some perspective on the landscape and our location. While on top I found a beautiful band of rimrock glowing under the late evening light - a nice contrast with the darker clouds gathering overhead.

Above the Canyon
In addition the great light, I was able to see our exit route through North Cross Canyon. We were camped just short of it.

Ride the Sky
The Middle Fork becomes very narrow upstream from where we hiked out via North Cross Canyon the next morning. Beyond here is the Idaho portion of the Owyhee's - perhaps a future adventure. Together, Oregon, Idaho and Nevada share this 9 million acre Owyhee desert ecosystem. The Oregon portion, at 2.5 million acres, represents the largest conservation opportunity left in the lower 48. Idaho protected their portion of the Owyhee's in 2009. This place is big, vast and lonely. There is a lifetime of adventure out here. Nothing brings this home more than being high above these canyons and seeing not the slightest sign of human development anywhere. I would love for this ecosystem to remain intact. I would love for ranchers to continue grazing out here as they have for over a century. Industrial development and the pressures of a growing population would change this for everyone if we don't work together on a compromise that establishes some form of protection. Future generations deserve it.

Middle Fork Owyhee and Idaho Country

After climbing out of North Cross Canyon the following day, we spent the next few hours crossing over a fairly unexciting stretch of grazing lands until we arrived at the start of South Cross Canyon. Rather than descend into the canyon we opted to stay high and follow it out to the rim of the main Owyhee. We were pretty keen on camping above the canyon at least one night. I'm glad we did because it provided some of the best views of the trip. The  light ebbed and flowed through the canyon, mirroring the play of clouds and low angled sunlight to the west. Radiating out from the eastern horizon were faint anticrepuscular rays, a meteorological phenomenon that is similar to crepuscular rays but seen opposite the sun.  As a landscape photographer, I live for photographing these spectacles.

Forever Wild

Watching the full moon rise over the juniper dotted landscape on summer solstice was a treat.

Strawberry Moon
The next morning we scrambled down to South Cross Canyon and followed it to the Owyhee. We found a couple different routes down from the rim, but the one we chose brought us very close to the South Cross/Owyhee confluence. Very little time was spent in South Cross Canyon, but it looked spectacular. Ropes appeared to be a necessity in at least one spot. From here we began the 16 mile float back to Three Forks. This was my first backpacking trip in which I used a packraft for more than just a river crossing. The flow rate was a little low, but good enough to get us downriver as long as we kept paddling through the slow sections.

Lets Float
Owyhee Bend

Packrafting at its Finest
We took our time and made camp on a large sandbar at the halfway point. It was exhilarating to camp deep within the canyon in an area inaccessible from the rim. 

Bass Fishing for Dinner 
Leaving Camp
With each new adventure a seed is planted for the next one. It's comforting to know that there is  unlimited potential here for adventure and exploration. I'm sure we'll return again soon to see what is around the next bend.

Overlook Sky