Nov 272014

From Black Friday to Cyber Monday and continuing throughout the holiday shopping season, there are many great sales happening. Some of these deals can be real money-savers for travel and nature photographers.

Photographing The Needles at Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach

Here are some of the holiday specials I know about that are of interest to photographers:

  • Dreamscapes – all of the great ebooks by Ian Plant and other outstanding nature photographers are 20% off through midnight December 1. No coupons or codes needed.
  • Adventures in Light – Joseph Rossbach offers his books and several others at 10% off through Friday, November 28. Use discount code “bf2014″
  • Tony Kuyper Actions and Sean Bagshaw Video Tutorials – Tony and Sean are offering a sweet deal on the combination of the complete set of TK Actions and Sean’s excellent video tutorials on using the actions. Highly recommended.
  • Topaz Labs – The complete Topaz Photography Collection (all 15 products) for only $249.99 from November 28 through December 1. That’s a savings of $180 for the whole shebang. Coupon code for this deal is “BLACKFRIDAY2014″
  • NANPA – From Black Friday through Cyber Monday, new members can join the North American Nature Photography Association for only $50. New and existing members can save $50 on the registration fee for the Summit meeting in San Diego. Gift memberships are also available for $50. Use the promo code “BLACKFRIDAY’.
  • West Coast Imaging – Still have some prized film transparencies or negatives waiting to be scanned? WCI is offering their outstanding Heidelberg Tango drum scans at 40% off for orders placed before midnight November 30. Be sure to write the promo code “Black Friday Scan Sale” on your order form.
  • KelbyOne – Scott Kelby is offering a bunch of deals from now until midnight, December 1st. Among the best: sign up for an annual membership and get the whole Nik Collection of Photoshop/Lightroom plugins for free.
  • Macphun – 40% off plus a $25 Amazon Gift Card with the purchase of 4 of Macphun’s photo processing apps. Hurry on this one, as the deal ends November 29.
  • Visual Artistry Workshops – Instruction and photo tours from Tony Sweet with a 10% discount if you register by midnight, November 30.
  • ProPhotoSupply – The folks at ProPhotoSupply have been my go-to source for equipment ever since I moved to the Pacific Northwest. They have monthly specials in addition to their special Black Friday-Cyber Mondays deals. Their prices and shipping charges are very competitive, even if you live far from Oregon.
  • Frame Destination – Free shipping on orders of $65 or more, through Cyber Monday. This can be a significant savings on large, heavy stuff like frames, glazing and mat board. I’ve been a customer of Frame Destination for years – great service, quality product.
  • – well of course Amazon’s got all kinds of deals on photo equipment, accessories, books, etc., etc.
  • ChronoSync – Econ Technologies’ Chronosync app is one of the best for backing up your computer data, and is so much better than simply copying files from one drive to another. It’s what I use. Get ChronoSync for $10 off the regular price of $40 from November 27 through December 1, 2014.
  • Red River Paper – A Cyber Monday only sale, with savings on many of Red River’s great inkjet photo papers. I print my own photo notecards with 60 lb. Polar Matte and give packs of them as Christmas presents.
  • Craft & Vision – Here’s another one that you have to act fast on: 50% off on books and videos by David duChemin and friends. No discount codes necessary, but the deal ends Saturday, 11/29, at 11:59pm (PST).
  • onOne Software – It’s only for Black Friday, but there are discounts up to 50% on the Perfect Photo Suite and the individual plugins. I’m personally loving several of the plugins that are included in the Premium 9 Suite that I purchased.  It’s a great package whether you just want to improve your “straight” photos or you want to get into applying special effects, textures, frames, etc.
  • NatureScapes – This online resource for nature photographers almost always has some special deals on selected items, but from now through December 29th you can get 15% off on any order of $149 or more. Use the code “SAVE15″.
  • Anne McKinnell – Outdoor photographer and writer Anne has her ebooks on sale through Dec. 1 at 30% off. No coupons or code required.
  • Hunt’s Photo, Adorama and B&H Photo/Video all have holiday specials, and you might want to get on their mailing lists so you don’t miss out.
  • REI – All kinds of great stuff at REI and REI-Outlet, with special Black Friday-Cyber Monday savings through Monday, December 1.
  • Backcountry Gear – Another great source for outdoor equipment and clothing. Besides the holiday deals they often have close-out sales on major brand stuff.
  • Creative Live – Lots of great video workshop tutorials covering just about all fascets of photography. Sale is on through Cyber Monday.
  • Greg Vaughn photographic prints, books and workshops – Yup, I’m jumping on the bandwagon and offering my own specials, all good through December 31st. My fine-art prints and canvas gallery wraps are offered at a 20% discount for my collection at FineArtAmerica; use the discount code “ZBZDCD” when ordering. You can also save 20% on prints from almost any of the photos on by clicking the “Add to Cart” link; select the Prints tab for standard prints or the Products tab for canvas gallery wraps. Use coupon code “HOLIDAY2014″ at checkout for this one. Don’t have my guidebooks Photographing Oregon and Photographing Washington yet? Order an autographed copy directly from me by clicking the “Add to Cart” button on this page and I’ll refund 15% of the purchase price. For a totally unique gift, either for yourself or a friend, book a private photo workshop with me at 10% off my usual reasonable rates.

Do you know of any other holiday deals of interest to photographers? Send me an email or add a Comment below.

Disclosure: the links to Topaz Software, Dreamscapes, Naturescapes, and Amazon are affiliate links. If you order anything from those sites directly after clicking the links here, I’ll get a few cents on the deal, but it won’t cost you anything extra.

Nov 192014
Patagonia Drifter A/C GoreTex trail shoe.

Patagonia Drifter A/C GoreTex trail shoe.

Good footwear is a prime requisite for outdoor photographers, and especially for anyone who puts in a lot of trail (and off-trail) miles in the course of nature and landscape photography. Finding just the right combination of comfort, fit, support, and style can be tricky, and I’m happy to have found a trail shoe that works extremely well for me so I decided to write this review of the Patagonia Drifter A/C.

I’ve long been a fan of Merrell lightweight mid-cut hikers and low-cut trail shoes, but I find that because they don’t have a full length shank there is not enough protection for my forefoot on rocky trails. Searching for an alternative, I’ve tried on a bunch of mid-high boots – Oboz, Keen, Vasque, Salomon, and Zamberlan, and have actually bought a couple of these brands, but until a few months ago I couldn’t find any that really fit my foot (a little narrow but with high instep) and had decent cushioning (something my feet demand).

On a visit to Bend, Oregon, I stopped in to the Patagonia company store, spotted the Drifter A/C, tried on a pair, and was surprised at how similar the fit was to the several Merrell’s I’ve owned. The main difference I noticed was a much a stiffer sole. But even with the stiffer sole, there was a good amount of cushioning on a heel strike. A big plus for the Drifter: the Vibram soles have nice, deep lugs with good spacing, which I judged would work well on loose dirt, mud and wet rock.

My only hesitation about the Drifter Mid was that the waterproofing wasn’t tried-and-true GoreTex. With all the hiking I do in the Pacific Northwest, I need waterproof boots and GoreTex has proven itself over the years. Interestingly, the low cut version of the Drifter is available in a GoreTex version, while the mid cut is not.

Despite my hesitation about the waterproofing. I latched onto a pair of Patagonia Drifter A/C Mid boots, looking forward to a lot of trail miles. And with virtually no break-in period, these boots quickly became my favorite footwear.

So, you want to know, how did they perform?

The clerk in the Patagonia store told me that the Drifters were in fact designed by Merrell. I can believe that, not only because of the right-out-of-the-box comfortable fit, but because the laces constantly come untied, just like those on my last two pairs of Merrells. Do yourself a favor if you buy these boots and replace the laces right away with a good boot lace like those from REI. Either that or always double knot your laces.

Little details that set these boots apart: The speed lacing system works well, with just the right amount of spacing between lugs. The tongue padding isn’t too thick. The loop at the rear of the boot is large enough to easily get a finger through when pulling the boots on. The rubber “bumper” extends about halfway back the boot, which is good for both waterproofing and protection from sharp rocks. I like the conservative colors and subtle styling – I’m not at all a fan of blaze orange boots with the name and model plastered all over them. Workmanship on the boots is excellent.

I did find that the thin foam of the insole collapsed in short order, so I replaced them with ProFoot insoles (which I find much more comfortable than SuperFeet insoles). In Spring, I put the boots to test with regular 3-5 mile dayhikes, and a few 8-15 milers, and was totally sold on the Drifter’s for comfort and support.

Unfortunately, after about 3-4 months of moderate use, the waterproofing on my boots failed. A leak developed just above the rubber above the forefoot flex point, and my left foot got wet just walking through a meadow wet from dew (not actually immersing the boot in water).

I sent the boots back to Patagonia and asked for a replacement. They quickly agreed to replace the boots, but told me they were out of stock and didn’t expect a new shipment for several months. As this was in the Spring and I needed new boots for summer hiking, I opted instead to get the Patagonia Drifter A/C low-cut shoe with Gore-Tex waterproofing. I have now put many miles on those Drifter trail shoes and can honestly say they are outstanding. I’ve worn them on backpacking trips, dayhikes and just as everyday shoes. In the past I’ve worn mid-cut boots when hiking, but these low-cut Drifters have enough support for carrying a pack, they’re extremely comfortable to wear, and they were cooler than mids for summer hiking. Plus, and very importantly, the Gore-Tex lining has kept my feet dry.

Patagonia Drifter A/C Mid hiking boot

Patagonia Drifter A/C Mid hiking boot

I like these Drifters so much that when I found another pair of the mid A/C on sale at an outdoor gear store, I immediately snapped them up. I thought I was set for the fall-winter-early spring hikes, with the mid height providing a little more warmth and protection from wet trails. Unfortunately, the new Drifter mid waterproofing failed in short order. A mis-step while crossing a creek put my foot into water just barely over the lowest lacing point for not even a couple of seconds and my foot was instantly wet. I’ve stepped in rivers and walked on beaches with other similar waterproof boots and stayed dry. Despite the Patagonia customer service rep’s assurance that their proprietary waterproofing is just as good as GoreTex, experience has shown otherwise. I cannot figure out why Patagonia doesn’t offer the Mid with Gore-Tex, but I sure wish they did.

So, after having the waterproofing fail twice, I’m really disappointed in the mid height version, but bottom line, I wholeheartedly recommend the low cut Patagonia Drifter A/C GoreTex trail shoe. I’m wearing them now, and I’ll be on a trail with them again tomorrow.


UPDATE, January 13, 2015:  Patagonia informs me that they are no longer selling shoes or boots. That’s really too bad, as they had some nicely designed products. I still think the Drifters are great trail shoes, and you might be able to find them through online retailers.

UPDATE, July 1, 2015:  REI has the low cut Patagonia Drifter A/C on closeout sale right now. I like these shoes so much that I scooped up a pair as soon as I saw them in the store.


Disclosure: the links in this post to Patagonia and Merrell are for information and convenience only – they are not paid links and I am not sponsored by either company. The links to products on Amazon are affiliate links, and I might make a few pennies if you buy something as a result of clicking on them, but that’s certainly not the purpose in posting this gear review.

Nov 122014
waterfall on the South Fork Alsea River

Alsea Falls, Coast Range Mountains, Oregon.

Shortly after moving to Oregon a number of years ago, I visited Alsea Falls, a pretty little cascading waterfall on BLM land in the Coast Range mountains. I made a photo on that trip that just didn’t quite make it – an okay image but lacking a certain je ne c’est quois. Ever since then I’ve been meaning to return for a better photo, particularly in autumn, when it’s likely the fall color will enhance the scene.

I finally made that return trip, only to find that that fall color had already peaked. Not only that, but a large log was wedged in the lower cascades of the river, rather spoiling the otherwise very photogenic flow. I worked the scene for quite some time, trying to find a composition that would encompass the cascading waterfall and the fall color of the bigleaf maple trees hanging over the tiered falls. Took off my boots and zipped the legs off my convertible hiking pants (yes geeky and not very attractive, but oh so practical for photo trekking), and waded across the rapids trying to find a better angle. Man that water was cold! After gingerly picking my way over slimy slippery algae-covered rocks and logs for a good amount of time, I finally found a composition that sort of worked. Not my pre-visualized shot as I was driving out the to the falls, but a decent rendition of Alsea Falls, and much better than my previous photo.

Back on the river bank, while putting socks and boots back on my numb feet, I noticed a single bigleaf maple leaf caught on the rocks in a shallow part of the river. The flowing water reflected a combination of bright yellow from a bigleaf maple across the stream and the bright blue of the sky above. Cold blue and warm yellow make a striking combination, and the graphic of the mottled leaf really caught my eye.

maple tree leaf in fall color on wet rocks

Bigleaf maple tree leaf at Alsea Falls, Oregon.

It was a joy to work this little scene, refining the composition, getting the right combination of shutter speed to blur the water and aperture to keep all of the leaf in sharp focus. Is the angle better from a little higher, or a little lower? A little to the left, or more to the right? Where do I need to position my auto-focus point for the proper hyperfocal distance? Watch carefully while rotating the polarizer so as to cut glare on the leaf but not kill to reflection on the water. Sometimes it’s amazing to think of all the little decisions we make in the process of making a photograph.  What is your process like when you’re out doing nature photography? Do you have a sort of mental checklist that you follow?


Oct 182014
aspen trees against granite cliff

Aspen trees and granite, Sierra Nevada.

A couple of weeks ago I wandered to the east side of the Sierra Nevada in California to lead a private photo workshop, meet some long-time photographer friends, and make some photos of the fantastic fall color the eastern Sierras are famous for.

The photo workshop was a great success, with my client declaring after the first morning that the trip had already paid for itself; we were treated to a spectacular sunrise at Mono Lake with a fresh dusting of snow on the mountains and colorful clouds floating in the sky. We went on to work Alabama Hills, the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, Milky Way photos from Mammoth Lakes, weathered wood and rusty metal at Bodie ghost town, and, of course, lots of brilliant fall color around the creeks and lakes between Bishop and Lee Vining. I really enjoy sharing such spectacular beauty with others, particularly those who are enthusiastic about developing their photographic skills.

The rendezvous with old friends was also great. I first met a couple of these folks twenty years ago in this same area as part of a meeting of shutterbugs from the old Compuserve Photo Forum. Photographing alongside these people at places like Bishop Creek, Mono Lake South Tufa Reserve and Bodie State Park is wonderful as they are amateurs in the original and best sense of the word: those who do something just for the love of it. Their enthusiasm and joy in being in a beautiful location and exercising their creativity is truly inspiring. What good fun to explore a scene when one photographer is shooting with an infrared-converted DSLR, another alternates between shooting black & white IR, winding film through a Holga and straight captures with a digital camera that he will later process with various artistic and alternative effects. A third photographer works his DSLR with the intention of later producing paper negatives and then contact printing them on his hand-made, hand-coated paper. Hanging out with these folks, I’m motivated to try and be a little more creative in my own photography.

Icing on the cake for this trip was a dinner get-together with photographers Jack Graham and Guy Tal. I met Jack several years ago at a NANPA Summit, and we’ve kept in touch via phone, email and Facebook since then. Jack has helped me out several times, including contributing some of his photos to my book Photographing Washington. If you’re not familiar with Jack, it might interest you to know that he’s been leading photo workshops for over 20 years, and Jack’s workshops are consistently sold out, with a huge percentage of repeat attendees. He is very, very good at educating photographers and helping them attain new skills.

I was most pleased to meet Guy Tal, a man whose photographs and words have both intrigued and inspired me for several years. Few people can craft such wonderful words to go with their photographs. Eloquent is the operative term for both. I sometimes fancy myself a writer, since I have written two books that won awards for editorial content, but my writing is usually a very literal “I went here, if you go there, this is what you’ll see”, and often when I read Guy’s posts on his blog I think to myself, “Damn, I wish I could write like that”.  Guy doesn’t talk about gear much, delve into the camera, lens and f/stop he used, or how he processed a particular image, but he expresses well the reason for making an image and the emotion behind it. Even if you don’t consider yourself an Artist with a capital A, as photographers that’s something that we should all strive for.

One of the things that attracts me to Guy’s photographs is that they are often rather quiet images. Although some have vibrant color, he doesn’t crank that Saturation slider as some photographers are wont to do these days, nor are most of his images composed of bold graphics. Rather, they are highly detailed, quiet studies. The kind of images that you can stare at for a long time, that you wouldn’t tire of seeing on your living room wall. Photographs that invite meditation and contemplation.

Interestingly, of all the photos that I made myself during this trip to the Sierras, the one that pleases me the most at this point is not one with the brilliant oranges and yellows of sunlit aspens in their peak of fall color glory, but rather a photograph made in the shade, with aspens that weren’t quite in their prime. Tree trunks and leaves against the texture of a granite wall. A rather quiet image, and one that resonates with me and reminds me of what I enjoyed about my wander in the eastern Sierras.

Sep 282014
Aspen grove at Conway Summit, US Hwy 395.

Aspen grove at Conway Summit, US Hwy 395 on 9/28/14.

For the past couple of days, I’ve been traveling south from north central California to the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, with an eye out for fall color. Starting from Mount Shasta, I drove southeast on California Hwy 89, through Lassen Volcanic National Park, down to Lake Tahoe and then continuing over Monitor Pass to the eastern Sierras. I continued south on US Hwy 395, arriving at Mammoth Lakes this afternoon.

While I have seen a bit of fall color, there hasn’t been much that compelled me to stop for photographs of golden leaves. It’s still a little bit early, but there are signs that the good stuff is coming soon.

From Shasta to Lake Tahoe, there was just the occasional aspen tree showing a hint of yellow, but just below Monitor Pass there is a nice grove that is looking good. I assumed I’d soon see a lot more, so I blew on by. Wrong choice.

The cottonwoods bordering the highway between Topaz and Walker haven’t started to turn yet, and there wasn’t much but green on the road up towards Twin Lakes out of Bridgeport.

As you can see from the photo above, the big grove of aspen seen from the viewpoint at Conway Summit has a little color, but it has a ways to go yet. I’m guessing that by next weekend it will look quite nice.

Heading up to Virginia Lakes from Conway Summit, there are few scattered aspen with some color, but they are mostly small trees. It snowed last night up at Virginia Lakes, and the frosting on the pines was lovely. Surprisingly, the leaves have almost all fallen off of the little aspen trees up at the lakes.

I ventured up Tioga Pass Road, Hwy 120, just a few miles and saw that the aspen groves near the lower campgrounds along Lee Vining Creek were still solid green. Not even a hint of fall color there yet.

On the June Lake Loop, there are some aspen along the road near Silver Lake that are looking nice, but the groves on the hillsides are just barely starting to turn. Looking high up the slopes, there are some nice bright yellow areas, and I think the color will move down within a week or so.

The good news is that for the past 2-3 days the Sierras have received some very much needed rain, and the upper reaches got some snow the past couple of nights. More snow is predicted tonight, and with clear skies predicted for the next several days, the mountains should look great. The cold snap should also help get the fall color going, and I’m guessing it’s going to be looking very, very nice in the eastern Sierras by the end of this week or very soon thereafter.

During the next couple of days I’ll continue south, checking out the McGee Creek, Rock Creek and Bishop Creek drainages. Reports from and Michael Frye’s blog indicate that the color is already very good in the upper Bishop Creek area.

Have you been in the Sierras photographing recently?  If so, share what you’ve found in the comments below.

Sep 222014

a forest of oak trees

After a long, hot and much drier than normal summer in western Oregon this year, the seasons are changing right on cue with the Autumn Equinox. Photographers, and nature lovers in general, are eagerly anticipating the time when leaves go from green to gold and the arrival of fall color.

The last days of summer are a time of transition. Daytime temps are still warm, but the nights and early mornings are turning a bit cool. Many photographers are grateful that the days are not so darn long now – we no longer have to get out of the sack at 3-4am to catch the dawn glow or stay up until all hours to get the dusk sweet light.

Personally, I’m a bit sorry to see the end of summer – there just weren’t enough family camping trips, enough time for leisurely kayaking Cascade lakes, whitewater rafting, hooking a trout, or even enough BBQ’s with friends and soulmates on the deck. At the same time, I’m excited about the advent of fall color, and have my plans for photographing the colors of autumn in several locations.

However, there’s a lot of opportunity for great nature photography right now, too. After days of office work, computer time, processing recent (and not so recent) shoots, and the day-to-day stuff we all have to deal with, I needed a break. Much as I wanted to jump in the Westy and take off for the mountains or desert or coast, that just wasn’t in the cards, so I headed to my favorite quick nature break, the Mount Pisgah Arboretum and Howard Buford Recreation Area here in Oregon’s southern Willamette Valley.

Sometimes the most important thing is just getting out there, enjoying nature and not worrying about creating the perfect photograph. Like most accomplished nature photographers, the vast majority of my photographs are taken with the camera firmly attached to a tripod. This day, I purposefully left the tripod behind, limited myself to a 70-200mm zoom lens, pumped up the ISO, turned on the handheld VR, and decided not to worry if everything was tack sharp. I wasn’t looking to make iconic landscape images for wall-sized prints, nor was I intending to produce agency-acceptable stock photos, and I knew the light wasn’t going to be all that great. The experience was fun, liberating, invigorating and at the same time relaxing and inspiring, and I highly recommend you give it a try.

bullfrog sitting on lily pad in pond

My usual MO when needing some nature time at Mount Pisgah is to strike out on one of the more challenging trails, looking for some aerobic activity to get my mind off the day-to-day. This time, I took a leisurely stroll to the wetland ponds. I’m always hopeful of spotting the rather rare Western Pond Turtle there, but I knew at this time of year the ponds were likely to be mostly dried up due to the lack of recent rain. I was delighted to spot a couple of bullfrogs, lazily sitting on pond lilies, hoping for a meal to fly by.

yellow and brown mottled maple tree leaf hanging on tree

Bigleaf maple trees are one of the most obvious harbingers of fall color in western Oregon, and I was fairly certain I’d find a few leaves with characteristic lemony yellow leaves along the trails at Mt. Pisgah. As well as elsewhere west of the Cascade Mountains crest in the Pacific Northwest, these maples are just starting to turn, with the real color still several weeks away.

oak trees and grasses with some fall color

Much of Mount Pisgah and the Howard Buford Recreation Area is oak savanna, a habitat characterized by grasslands with open stands of oak trees. Some of the Oregon white oak here are huge, and while the leaves of these oaks don’t turn bright red or gold, they do show some nice, subtle fall color.

Queen Anne's Lace flower gone to seed

The grassy meadows are now a pale straw color, and what were the bright white flowers of Queen Anne’s Lace just a month ago are now curled seedheads packed with the tiny burrs that almost seem to jump onto your socks and pants when you walk by.

poison oak with berries and red leaves

Both the invasive Himalayan blackberries and the poison oak have given up, for a few months anyway, their attempts to take over the trails. Poison oak leaves have lost some of their shine but have turned to an eye-catching red. The once plump and juicy blackberries now shrivel on the vine with the heat and lack of rain.

blackberry fruits on the vine

I hope that everyone who reads this has an equal opportunity for a quick getaway wherever they live. If you’re not aware of such an opportunity, search it out or get busy advocating for it in your community.  We all really need to get out, breathe, reflect and reconnect with nature.

Where do you go for a quick escape?

brown and yellow leaves


Sep 132014
Covers of Photographing Oregon and Photographing Washington books

Photographing Oregon and Photographing Washington, now available as ebooks.

For those who have been asking if my books Photographing Oregon and Photographing Washington are available as ebooks, I’m happy to announce that complete versions of both are now available in Kindle and iBook formats.

Both books have won honors for editorial and design excellence in the annual Benjamin Franklin Awards, and both continue to receive very positive reviews at, as well as on a number of websites and in print publications.

For more information about the books, including links to order or download, please go to



Sep 032014

September 3, 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the signing The Wilderness Act. This landmark legislation established a system and protocol for preserving public lands in the USA, both for the use and enjoyment of people, and also for the protection of unique flora and fauna and their habitats.

Many areas in the country are now designated as Wilderness, but there are many more that deserve the same protection. Hopefully those areas also will be preserved for generations to come.

Enjoy the slide show and get out and enjoy some wilderness yourself as soon as possible.


Aug 302014
trail through the forest

Salmon Lakes Trail, Willamette National Forest.

Mention any place in Oregon you visited with “Waldo” in the name and anyone who knows the central Cascades will ask, “How bad were the mosquitos?”

Waldo Lake, one of the most beautiful lakes in the Pacific Northwest, with water purity matched only by Crater Lake, is notorious for the hordes of mosquitos that have spoiled many a summer camping trip or hike at the lake. Naturally, the mosquitos don’t limit themselves to Waldo Lake, and are thick throughout any moist area of the western Cascades throughout most of the summer.

Three years ago, I set out on August 15th to hike the Salmon Lakes Trail in the Willamette National Forest to Waldo Meadows, a place that Oregon hiking guide author Bill Sullivan promised was “hip-deep in wildflowers”. While only a few miles west of Waldo Lake, the meadows and Salmon Lakes are more easily reached via the Salmon Creek drainage east of Oakridge, Oregon.

I’d barely opened the door of my van at the trailhead before the skeeters attacked me. Not to be deterred, I sprayed, slathered and smeared good old Ben’s insect repellant all over me. I usually try to avoid DEET, but when the bugs are really bad, I get out the Ben’s and rely on its 30% DEET formula to keep the mossies from biting.

But this time, it was the mosquitos that were not to be deterred. I hiked with hands and arms constantly in motion, waving hat and bandana, trying to keep the swarms of buzzing bugs away from my face, only to be met at the first meadow with clouds of the obnoxious insects totally intent on finding some square millimeter of my body that wasn’t doused in DEET.

Call me a wimp, but by the time I reached the meadows, I wasn’t really in the mood to photograph the flowers, and after about five minutes I packed up the gear and headed back to the trailhead.

On August 15th of this year, I tried Salmon Lakes Trail again. With an unusually dry and warm spring and summer in Oregon, I’d guessed that mosquito season in the high Cascades was coming to an end early this year, and I was quite pleased that that seemed to be the case as I readied for hike at the trailhead and headed down the path without hearing a single buzz.

The first part of the hike passes through classic western Cascades forest of Douglas fir, western hemlock and red cedar, with some of the trees approaching old-growth status. A couple of hundred yards from the trailhead and Wilderness Permit box, I veered right at a fork, opting to save the climb to Waldo Mountain Lookout for another day. Salmon Lakes Trail is an easy hike, with only minor ups and downs, following the contour on the south side of Waldo Mountain.

Cascade aster flower

Cascade aster in Waldo Meadows.

A couple of miles in, the trail crosses the boundary for Waldo Lake Wilderness, and shortly after that breaks out of forest and into the first of several meadows. And yes, the wildflowers are hip-deep and more. This year, the unusual weather also meant that most of the flowers had already bloomed and the corn lily leaves were starting to wither, but I there was still some very beautiful Indian paintbrush and lots of the lovely lavender-petaled Cascade asters. And no mosquitos to interrupt the joy of photographing the flowers and reveling in the beauty of the mountain meadow!

At 2.5 miles from the trailhead, a junction in the middle of a meadow gives the option of continuing east towards Waldo Lake (or making a loop to include the lookout at the summit of Waldo Mountain). I headed south instead, reaching Upper Salmon Lake, headwaters for Salmon Creek, in an easy ½-mile stroll.

I was hoping for a nice swim in a mountain lake as part of my hike, but both Upper and Lower Salmon Lakes are the type of shallow western Cascades lake surrounded by mucky marsh, with a muddy bottom where you sink in up to your knees when trying to wade out to swimming depth.

Upper Salmon Lake

Upper Salmon Lake, Waldo Lake Wilderness.

There is a very nice backpacker/equestrian campsite with a view of Upper Salmon Lake, but on this visit I was disgusted to find that it was totally trashed by some low-lifes who left piles of garbage, cans, jars and bottles. I cannot fathom how someone can pack in three miles to a pristine wilderness lake and then trash it.

Sullivan’s hiking guidebook noted that there was a waterfall just 150 yards downstream from Upper Salmon Lake. Bill doesn’t give much description of the falls, just noting that it is about 20 feet high. He didn’t mention that it’s a beautiful cascade, with Salmon Creek tumbling over a jumble of rock into a little pool, all surrounded by lush, green vegetation – exactly the type of waterfall that landscape photographers love.

waterfalls below Upper Salmon Lake

Waterfalls on Salmon Creek, Waldo Lake Wilderness.

Almost all waterfalls are best photographed on overcast days, else the contrast of the scene is just too harsh, and this one is no exception. I was there on a bright, sunny day, and while there was a brief moment of softer light when a cloud passed in front of the mid-day sun, I wished I was there very early in the morning when the falls would be in shade, or on a day with more clouds and overcast (which also would be better for forest scenes and the wildflowers in the meadows).

As far as I could tell, there is no established trail to Lower Salmon Lake, and getting to it requires a bit of bushwhacking through a lot of blowdown timber. I worked my way through the dense brush and trees at the edge of the lake and found a log to sit on for an enjoyable spot for lunch, listening to the birds and watching the dragonflies and damselflies.

Lower Salmon Lake

Lower Salmon Lake, Waldo Lakes Wilderness.

Returning the way I came, I noticed several different kinds of mushrooms popping up along the trail (there had been summer thunderstorms several days previous to my trip, which tends to bring up the mushrooms).

All in all, the Salmon Lakes Trail is a very pleasant hike, which numerous possibilities for landscape and nature photographers (and nature lovers in general). If you want to make it a loop trip and add the climb to Waldo Mountain, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of Waldo Lake and the surrounding forest from the fire lookout at the summit.

To reach the trailhead for Salmon Lakes Trail, travel Oregon Highway 58 to the town of Oakridge, then turn north onto Fish Hatchery Road on the east end of town. When the road crosses the railroad tracks and reaches a T intersection in about a mile, head east on Forest Road 24 for 11 miles, then veer left onto FR 2417. In six more miles, fork right onto FR 2424, and continue for 3.7 miles until you see the hiker sign on the right and a parking area on the left.

A note on the processing of the photos for this post:  As mentioned above, waterfalls are best photographed on overcast and cloudy days, and the same is generally true of forest scenes, where there is otherwise too much contrast for a pleasing photo. This particular trip was more about the hike than waiting for the best light, and these photos were all taken in the middle of a blue sky sunny day. I was able to tame some of the contrast by using OnOne Software’s Perfect Effects 8 plugin as part of my Lightroom workflow. The “HDR Look” filter has several options, from very slight to heavy grunge. For these images, I chose the “Subtle” option, which helped to bring up shadow detail and tone down highlights, but overall retained a quite natural look. In the case of the wildflowers, I simply leaned over the flower, shading the area with my body, while making the photos.

Jul 162014
A calm stretch on the Wild & Scenic Rogue River.

A calm stretch on the Wild & Scenic Rogue River.

Southern Oregon’s Rogue River has long been a favorite of whitewater rafting and kayaking enthusiasts, fishermen, hikers and wildlife lovers.

After a couple of inflatable raft trips running the 40-mile length of the Wild & Scenic designated portion of the river, and a short hike on a section of the Rogue River National Recreation Trail, I’ve become a huge fan myself and highly recommend the Rogue for anyone looking for adventure in a beautiful, unspoiled setting.

inflatable raft going through rapids on the Rogue River

Down the chute at Rainie Falls.

My most recent trip was with a bunch of guys celebrating a bachelor party for a very good friend. Three days of fun, games, thrills and spills. Most of these guys were experienced whitewater rafters and kayakers, and the group included several professional guides and EMT-trained firemen. Couldn’t ask for a better group to go with, and have confidence that I’d make it through the Rogue’s famous rapids.

inflatable raft coming out of whitewater rapids

Was that one fun, boys?

The scenery in this deep gorge cut by eons of river flow is incredibly beautiful. The Wild and Scenic stretch of the river, between Grave Creek and Foster Bar, runs through the Wild Rogue Wilderness. Miles of pristine forest and unusual rock formations unique to the ancient Siskiyou Mountains. Douglas fir and large, beautiful madrone trees sometimes cling to bare rock cliffs rising hundreds of feet above the river.

Rafts, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards on a quiet stretch of the Rogue River.

Rafts, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards on a quiet stretch of the river.

In between the gnarly rapids, calm sections of the river offer time for conversation, story telling, and in our bunch a good bit of joshing and revelry. Drifting through these areas is also great for wildlife viewing. We saw black bear, deer, bald eagles, mergansers, Canada geese, belted kingfishers and ouzels. Late on the first day, some good sized steelhead jumped and came down with a splash in a pool fronting our campsite.

Stand-up paddle boarding has become extremely popular wherever there is water, and we had great fun paddling and even surfing the smaller rapids with a couple of inflatable SUPs loaned to us by the good folks at Hala Gear.

Going down the Wild and Scenic part of the Rogue River is not for novice boaters. There are class IV and V rapids that are dangerous and can be challenging even for experienced rafters. If you want to give it a go, and I highly recommend it, book with a reputable company like O.A.R.S. or Ouzel Outfitters, where several of our group were former guides.

Have you done the Rogue? What was your experience?