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?

Jun 042014

cover of "Photographing Washington"

I am very happy to announce that my book Photographing Washington won Silver in the Travel category in the Independent Book Publishers Association annual Benjamin Franklin Awards.

The IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards, which includes fifty-two categories recognizing excellence in book editorial and design, are regarded as one of the highest national honors for independent publishers.

This makes the sixth time that my publisher, PhotoTripUSA, has been honored by the IBPA in the Benjamin Franklin Awards, including my Gold award in Travel for Photographing Oregon.

For more information about my books, and links to purchasing options, please visit this page:

Apr 302014
Sierra Nevada mountains and clouds in sky above Owens Valley California

Sierra Nevada Mountains from Owens Valley.

Landscape photographers love the Sierra Nevada range not just for the majestic mountains but also because the skies are often filled with dramatic cirrus and cumulous clouds.

I drove for miles on US Highway 395 in the Owens Valley looking for a great foreground subject that would lead the eye to the mountain peaks, then suddenly realized the sky and clouds needed to have prominence in my photo for this vista.

The Sierras in general and skies like this in particular really lend themselves to black & white photography, à la Ansel Adams. Digital processing tools we have today make it easy to experiment and select a tonal balance from myriad choices. Sometimes I miss the old wet darkroom days, but I know I would have spent hours hovering over the chemicals and wasted many sheets of silver-laced paper trying to make a print of this image. In Lightroom it is easy to try different apps and presets in a short amount of time. For this photo, I tried several presets in Silver Efex Pro, Perfect Effects, and Topaz Adjust. In the end, I settled on the Orange Filter 2 B&W Preset that Michael Frye includes with his excellent Landscapes in Lightroom 5 tutorial for the right combination of dramatic sky and tonal contrast in the mountains.

Apr 192014
wildflowers along Dalles Mountain Road in Columbia Hills State Park, Washington.

Lupine and balsamroot, Columbia Hills State Park, with the Columbia River and Mount Hood in the distance.

Want to photograph wildflowers at their peak in the Columbia River Gorge? Now’s the time.

I’ve been wandering the Oregon side of The Gorge between Hood River and the Deschutes River the past few days, and just about all the regular known locations for wildflowers are looking very good right now.

In Hood River Valley, the apple trees in the orchards are covered with delicate white blossoms. The view from Panorama Point is quite striking with the trees in the lower valley looking frosted while Mount Hood still has a nice cap of snow. Orchards in the upper part of the valley will probably hit their peak in a week or so. Wander the backroads a bit with an eye to the north and you’ll find superb views of the orchards with majestic Mount Adams as a backdrop.

At The Nature Conservancy’s Tom McCall Preserve at Rowena Plateau, the balsamroot are absolutely gorgeous. I wouldn’t call it a carpet of color, but there are many areas with good, thick clumps of bright yellow blossoms in their prime. The lupine are just starting to show, so there is probably another couple of weeks of great conditions here for these showy favorites for landscape photography.

Further east, a short hike up river on the trails at Deschutes River State Recreation Area will lead to some nice views of lavendar lupine among the silvery sagebrush.

Over on the Washington side of the Gorge, the hills are alive. Not with the sound of music, but with a glorious carpet of bright yellow balsamroot and purple lupine just off Dalles Mountain Road in Columbia Hills State Park. Drive a little beyond the old ranch buildings for a stunning view across the fields of flowers to the Columbia River and distant Mount Hood.

Those of you who are really into wildflowers and macro photography will find several other species blooming in this area right now, and the bloom will continue through May, with peak times depending on location and elevation.

Are you heading to The Gorge soon for some wildflower photography? Let others know what you find in the Comments below, and if you know of someone who might be interested in photographing the flowers, please share this post via email or your favorite social network.

Mar 302014
Rowena Loop Road, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

Rowena Loop Road, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

What is it about road trips that makes them so alluring? Reflecting on past trips brings back a flood of memories, and thinking about the next one brings excitement and anticipation. What will you see, learn and experience on the journey ahead?

Like many Americans, Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley, and William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways were a major influence on me in my formative years, and these classic road trip books remain personal favorites.

Family vacations when I was young were always road trips. We definitely fit the stereotypical image of Mom, Dad and two kids traveling the highways and backroads on a summer road trip. And visiting National Parks, crossing the country (southeast one year, midwest to New York another), definitely were educational experiences.

Highway 101 Cape Sebastian Oregon Coast

Highway 101 at Cape Sebastian on the Oregon Coast.

I suppose it’s no surprise that a road trip is one of the things I enjoy most. Heading out with a pack full of camera gear, a full tank of gas and a vente latte in the cupholder puts a smile on my face.

Sometimes the trip is about exploring new places. I love to study maps and pick out roads I haven’t been on before, wondering what I might find. Sometimes it’s about re-visiting a favorite place from a previous trip. Sometimes, it’s just about getting somewhere I need to be, but wanting to enjoy the journey as well.

Leslie Gulch, Southeast Oregon.

Good advice on the road to Leslie Gulch in southeast Oregon.

And sometimes I just need to hit the road. When I’ve been office-bound too long, when my hands and eyes hurt from too many hours on the computer, when the inanity and insanity of the world get to be too much, I just have to get out, and a road trip, whether for a few hours or as many days as I can manage, is what I need to restore some balance in my life.

Often times on long drives, my mind wanders, comes up with an idea, and then wonders. The road trip gives me time to figure out if the idea might work. Sometimes ideas and inspiration come from listening to podcasts and audiobooks, something that I never seem to find time for when I’m home. 

Rainbow over Volkswagon Westfalia camper van

Hours behind the wheel, moving miles down the road, gives me the opportunity to think, to contemplate, and to reflect. A road trip gives me time to cogitate on where I’ve been, where I’m at, and where, both literally and figuratively, I want to go.

Where will your next road trip take you?