All posts by Tom Dills

Breezing Through The Palouse

Rural scenery in The Palouse area of eastern Washington north of Pullman

On the day we arrived in Pullman, Washington, the weather service had posted high wind warnings for the following day, with blowing dust, falling trees and all sorts of mayhem.  As if that wasn’t enough, when we checked in to our motel we found out that a group of National Guard troops were due to arrive the following day to set up a Covid testing site at the university.  Swell.

Rural scenery in The Palouse area of eastern Washington north of Pullman
Rural scenery in The Palouse area of eastern Washington north of Pullman
Rural scenery in The Palouse area of eastern Washington north of Pullman
Rural scenery in The Palouse area of eastern Washington north of Pullman
Rural scenery in The Palouse area of eastern Washington north of Pullman

For those who don’t already know, The Palouse is a distinct geographic region encompassing parts of north central Idaho, southeastern Washington, and, by some definitions, parts of northeast Oregon.  It has become a destination for photographers from all over due to the rolling hills that come alive in the spring and fall when this fertile land produces a mix of deep greens and brilliant yellows.  Our visit was past the peak time, so for the most part we saw fields of wheat contrasting with areas that had already been harvested, so instead of green and yellow we had yellow and brown.  It still made for some interesting photographs!

Rural countryside along SR 26 in southeastern Washington
Rural countryside along SR 26 in southeastern Washington

I had dismissed The Palouse as one of those photographic cliches that “everyone” does, like the slot canyons in Arizona or the “Boneyard” in South Carolina.  And in many ways it is exactly that.  If you are there at the right time and in the right light, all you really need to so is point the camera at something and press the button.  But the interesting thing is that it isn’t that easy!  In order to make a personally interesting photograph you need to work at it.  Yes, I took a bunch of photos, but when it came right down to it I ended up with only a handful or two of truly “special” photos.

Rural scenery along US-195 near Uniontown, Washington
Rural scenery along US-195 near Uniontown, Washington

We had only planned to spend two nights in Pullman anyway and were prepared to make the most of our time, so we set out in late afternoon of the first day to explore the countryside.  We had no difficulty finding photogenic scenery!  The biggest difficulty was that most of the roads through the countryside are dirt and gravel.  And the dirt is not what we find here in the east.  Because the soil is so rich and fertile, the dirt can be more like a fine talcum powder, and it gets into everything.  Fortunately I didn’t have to change lenses in the field so I didn’t have that to worry about!  The car, however, was a mess!

The next day we had planned to head to Steptoe Butte, a state park with a high point that is supposed to be ideal for photographing the surrounding countryside.  But when we got up in the morning, the winds had arrived as advertised, so we decided to skip Steptoe, reasoning that the higher elevation would make it a very unpleasant place to spend a wind storm.  So we headed west and south toward the Snake River Valley.

Blowing dust along SR 261 near Palouse Falls State Park in southeastern Washington
Railroad trestle across the Snake River near Perry, Washington

How windy was it?  Well, they actually closed I-90 due to dangerous crosswinds and blowing dust.  And on the country roads we were traveling, it got to the point where I had to turn off the car’s anti-collision system, because every time a tumbleweed would blow across the road in front of us the car would slam on the brakes as though it was an object of some sort.  Scary, especially if someone had been behind me!  Fortunately there was hardly anyone else on the road, so it was no big deal.

Little Goose Lock and Dam along the Snake River near LaCrosse, Washington
Little Goose Lock and Dam along the Snake River near LaCrosse, Washington
Fish ladder at the Little Goose Lock and Dam
Fish viewing area at the fish ladder of the Little Goose Lock and Dam

Down along the Snake River, things were a bit less windy and not so dusty.  We stopped at the Little Goose Lock & Dam near LaCrosse, where we talked to one of the biologists there and toured the fish ladder and viewing room.  We saw several species of fish, including Chinook Salmon, swimming through.

“Wheel Fence” at the Dahmen Barn along US-195 in Uniontown, Washington
“Wheel Fence” at the Dahmen Barn along US-195 in Uniontown, Washington
“Wheel Fence” at the Dahmen Barn along US-195 in Uniontown, Washington

I definitely felt that The Palouse was worth the time and effort to go there.  And I’d love to go back sometime and spend more time out and about.  The trick will be to try and find “different” subject matter.  There’s nothing wrong with photographing the rolling countryside, but there is a lot more there too.  It’s just that the countryside is right there in front of you, and makes it a little hard to look for other things.

Rural countryside along SR 26 in southeastern Washington

 

Weekend In Asheville: A Preview

College Street in Downtown Asheville, North Carolina

Kathy & I spent last weekend in Asheville, NC celebrating our 40th anniversary.  While the weekend was mostly about celebration, we did manage to do more than just eat and drink – I took a few (hundred) photos.  About 770, actually! 🙂

Downtown Asheville, North Carolina
Downtown Asheville, North Carolina
Public art in Downtown Asheville, North Carolina

I did something a little bit different (for me) this time, taking only my X-T4 and 3 prime lenses – the 14mm f2.8, 23mm f1.4 and the 35mm f1.4.  Before heading out the door I would decide which lens to take, then “see” at that focal length during our outing.  I love doing that, as it is a good exercise in visualizing a scene then adjusting with my feet as needed.  I mostly stuck with the 23 and 35 except for our visit to Biltmore House, where I used the 14 and which I will detail in a future post or two.

Asheville City Hall in Downtown Asheville, North Carolina
Pack Square Park in Downtown Asheville, North Carolina
Flatiron Building in Downtown Asheville, North Carolina
Historic buildings in Downtown Asheville, North Carolina

I’m still trying to get through the rest of my photos from our Northwest road trip, so before I spend too much more time with these Asheville photos I’m going to try and get the Northwest photos done first.  So expect a little bouncing around the country as I get through the rest of my Northwest photos. 🙂

Downtown Asheville, North Carolina
Downtown Asheville, North Carolina
Downtown Asheville, North Carolina
Wall Street in Downtown Asheville, North Carolina

A Really Big Deal

October 18, 1980

Kathy and I often refer to important events as “BFDs.”. But since this is a family-friendly blog we’ll use the term RBD instead.

We’re in Asheville, NC this weekend celebrating our 40th anniversary.  That’s a BFD.  And all 40 years to the same person! 😉  And as much in love now as we were then, just with a few added aches and pains. 🙁

This photo is from the archives.  Photos (and stories) from Asheville once we get back home in a few days.

National Bison Range, Montana

National Bison Range near Charlo, Montana

On our drive from Missoula, Montana to eastern Washington we took a small detour to the National Bison Range, near Charlo, Montana.  Thanks to Don Brown for making us aware of this place!

National Bison Range near Charlo, Montana
National Bison Range near Charlo, Montana
National Bison Range near Charlo, Montana
National Bison Range near Charlo, Montana

Theodore Roosevelt established the National Bison Range in 1908 to provide “…for a permanent national bison range for the herd of bison….” The refuge is also home for a host of other mammals, birds, plants and many living creatures.  The diverse habitats found here provide for the specific needs of many different animals.  Today the Bison range is home to 300-400 bison.  In addition to herds of bison, it supports populations of Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep as well as coyotes, mountain lions, bears, bobcat and over 200 species of birds.

National Bison Range near Charlo, Montana
National Bison Range near Charlo, Montana
National Bison Range near Charlo, Montana
National Bison Range near Charlo, Montana
National Bison Range near Charlo, Montana
National Bison Range near Charlo, Montana

The Red Sleep Mountain Drive is a 19-mile, one-way loop road through the range.  The road gains 2,000 feet and there are many switchbacks and 10% grades along the drive. We enjoyed our drive along the route, spotting a number of bison, osprey, antelope and other critters.

Antelope at the National Bison Range near Charlo, Montana
Osprey at the National Bison Range near Charlo, Montana

This is another example of the off-the-beaten-path places that we visited.  It is was an excellent and scenic way to spend a relaxing morning before moving on west.

PHOTO GALLERY UPDATE:

For those looking to see even more photos from our trip, I just added a gallery to my Adobe Portfolio page.  Click here for 2020 Pacific Northwest Road Trip Part 1.  I hope you enjoy the photos!

National Bison Range near Charlo, Montana

Grant-Kohrs Ranch, Montana

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site near Deer Lodge, Montana

I got waylaid in my processing with a few projects around the house, but I’m back in the photo processing groove again and re-living our visit to Montana. 🙂

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site near Deer Lodge, Montana

On our drive from Billings to Missoula we stopped by Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, near the town of Deer Lodge.  That’s not as remote as it sounds, as Deer Lodge lies within sight of I-90, not too far from Helena.

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site near Deer Lodge, Montana
Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site near Deer Lodge, Montana

Grant-Kohrs Ranch has an interesting history, dating to the 1860s when the open-range cattle industry had its heyday.  Many of the herds were built through trade with westward-bound emigrants, who gladly swapped two or more trail-worn cows for a single well-fed one.

Ranger talks about living and cooking on the range

From the NPS website:

“By 1885, cattle raising was the biggest industry on the High Plains, and foreign investors and eastern speculators rushed to get in on the bonanza. As ranches multiplied and the northern herds grew, there came a predictable consequence: overgrazing. This and the fierce winter of 1886-87 caused enormous losses, estimated at one-third to one-half of all the cattle on the northern plains. Many cattlemen never recovered.

If the snows of ’86-87 foreshadowed the end of open range ranching, the homesteaders, with their barbed wire and fenced-in 160 acre claims, finished it off.

The open-range cattle industry lasted only three decades. Few of its pioneering men and women made their fortunes or are remembered today. But from their beginnings has evolved the more scientific ranching of today, with its own risks and uncertainties. That is the legacy of the Grants and the Kohrs, whose pioneer ranch, complete with original furnishings, is a reminder of an important chapter in the history of the West.”

Old wagon
Blacksmith shop with a sample of t he G-K brand
Branding Irons
Blacksmith Shop
Blacksmith Shop

Walking around the ranch, I felt like I was experiencing the plains of Montana much like the early settlers saw it.  Miles and miles of open range, perforated now by barbed-wire fences but the long range views remain.

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site near Deer Lodge, Montana

This was another one of those places we visited where we were able to steer well clear of crowds.  The few people we saw there seemed to have been mostly attracted by the proximity to the interstate and the availability of restrooms. 😉  For us it was another piece of western history to add to our knowledge of this country.

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site near Deer Lodge, Montana

However You Do It, Vote!

Absentee ballots ready to return to the post office for mailing

Kathy & I requested absentee ballots as soon as they were available, mailed them last week, they have arrived at the Board of Elections and are ready to be counted.  Easy, peasy.  No worrying about long lines, nasty weather or shenanigans at the polls.  And as it turns out, we are in fact going to be out of town on Election Day.  We’ve either used early voting or absentee voting for a number of years, and truthfully think it is a much better process than voting in person at a polling place.  But for a lot of people I guess it’s the way it’s always been.  Sort of like getting the newspaper every day.  But whatever…done is done, a vote is a vote!

No political messages here.  But I will say this: perhaps this year more than ever, be sure and really pay attention to your choices for Congress and the Senate and, where applicable, your governor and state representatives.

I read a quote recently in Of Bears and Ballots by Heather Lende that caused me to look into the source to gain the original context.  With apologies for the length, I think it is worth sharing:

“In the last half of the twentieth century, thankfully, our society began to engage in a serious process of trying to atone for the sin of slavery, and in doing so much emphasis was placed on promoting civil rights. An unintended consequence of this important movement was a heightened focus on individuals and individual exercise of the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution. The civil rights movement came out of community, but the legal expression focused on individuals’ capacity to exercise their freedoms. Some fearful Americans—largely white men who professed a conservative version of Christianity—felt threatened, as if there were not enough rights to go around. They sought to create their own “movement.” This reaction in part fueled the rise of the tea party movement. . . .

But a democracy cannot survive if various groups and individuals only pull away in different directions. Such separation will not guarantee that all are allowed the opportunity for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” All people must be recognized for their inherent dignity and gifts regardless of the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, or their place of origin. And all these gifts need to be shared in order to build up the whole.

So I have begun to wonder if the new task of the first half of the twenty-first century should be a commitment to civil obligations as a balance to the focus on civil rights.

Civil obligations call each of us to participate out of a concern and commitment for the whole. Civil obligations call us to vote, to inform ourselves about the issues of the day, to engage in serious conversation about our nation’s future and learn to listen to various perspectives. To live our civil obligations means that everyone needs to be involved and that there needs to be room for everyone to exercise this involvement. This is the other side of civil rights. We all need our civil rights so that we can all exercise our civil obligations.

The mandate to exercise our civil obligations means that we can’t be bystanders who scoff at the process of politics while taking no responsibility. We all need to be involved. Civil obligations mean that we must hold our elected officials accountable for their actions, and we must advocate for those who are struggling to exercise their obligations. The 100 percent needs the efforts of all of us to create a true community.

It is an unpatriotic lie that we as a nation are based in individualism. The Constitution underscores the fact that we are rooted and raised in a communal society and that we each have a responsibility to build up the whole. The Preamble to the Constitution could not be any clearer: “We the People” are called to “form a more perfect Union.” ”

Reference:

Simone Campbell with David Gibson, A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community (HarperOne: 2014), 180-182.

Yellowtail Dam – Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area

Yellowtail Dam in Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in southern Montana near Fort Smith

Even though Kathy & I had considered Wyoming and Montana to be “visited” in terms of our 50 state quest, we knew that we had short-changed both states on our previous visit.  Since we needed to traverse both of those states on our way to the west coast, we decided to rectify that shortfall with a few more stops.  Bighorn Canyon National Recreation fit that bill, as it straddles the border between both states.

Yellowtail Dam in Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in southern Montana near Fort Smith
Yellowtail Dam area in Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in southern Montana near Fort Smith

The southern end of the park lies in northern Wyoming, and was the subject of my previous post.  There are more places that we didn’t get to due to time constraints, and we spent the better part of a day on the northern end of the park, in southern Montana.

The upper side of Yellowtail Dam and reservoir.
The upper side of Yellowtail Dam and reservoir.
The upper side of Yellowtail Dam and reservoir.
The upper side of Yellowtail Dam and reservoir.

Yellowtail Dam is another one of those places that you can’t really appreciate until you have seen it.  I’ve not been to Hoover Dam or Glen Canyon Dam, but this is certainly the biggest dam I’ve ever seen!  An exchange I had on Instagram with Paul Maxim describes the relative size of some of the “famous” dams in the US:

Yellowtail is 525 ft. tall and 1480 ft. wide. Glen Canyon is 710 ft. tall and 1560 ft. wide. So Glen Canyon is bigger (185 ft. taller). But the only dam in the U. S. bigger than Glen Canyon is Hoover Dam, which is 726 ft. tall. All of them, of course, are big. We’ve got nothing in the east that comes close!

The park is surrounded by Crow Indian land, and there are several references to Crow history throughout the park, including the remains of a medicine wheel that we didn’t get to.

Exhibit describing the role of the medicine wheel in Crow Indian culture and history.
Exhibit describing the role of the medicine wheel in Crow Indian culture and history.
Exhibit describing the role of the medicine wheel in Crow Indian culture and history.

It is rugged and scenic territory, and with all the red rock and lack of trees, far different from what we see in the east, or even in other parts of Wyoming and Montana.  Another example of how unique but also how uniquely beautiful the different parts of our country can be.

Yellowtail Dam area in Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in southern Montana near Fort Smith
Yellowtail Dam area in Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in southern Montana near Fort Smith
Yellowtail Dam area in Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in southern Montana near Fort Smith
Yellowtail Dam area in Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in southern Montana near Fort Smith

An Unexpectedly Scenic Drive

Scenery along Alt US-14 through the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in North central Wyoming

One of the things that maps don’t always tell us is what the terrain is like on a given road or in a given town.  We’ve been surprised by this numerous times when we get to a place and it is either hillier than we expected or not hilly at all.  One such place came up on our drive through Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming.

Scenery along Alt US-14 through the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in North central Wyoming
Scenery along Alt US-14 through the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in North central Wyoming
Scenery along Alt US-14 through the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in North central Wyoming

We had spent the night in Rapid City, SD and wanted to get to Billings, MT via Lowell, WY in order to see the southern section of the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation area, which stretches from Fort Smith in southern Montana, where the Yellowtail Dam is located, to Lowell, WY, the southern end of the reservoir.  That route took us on 60-ish miles of Alt-US 14 – known as the Bighorn Scenic Byway – through Bighorn National Forest, from near Sheridan, WY to Lowell.  And I have to say that it was one of the most stunning drives of any I have ever taken, including Trail Ridge Road in RMNP.  The terrain was rugged and beautiful, the road was wide and smooth, and the views were amazing.  In hindsight, that might have been a bigger highlight than Lowell, but at the time, who knew?

Scenery along Alt US-14 through the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in North central Wyoming
Scenery along Alt US-14 through the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in North central Wyoming
Scenery along Alt US-14 through the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in North central Wyoming

How rugged is the country in Bighorn National Forest?  The road is closed in the winter, as the elevation reaches 9,033 feet at Granite Pass.  That’s getting up there, as the highest point on our side of the Mississippi is a “mere” 6,684 feet (Mount Mitchell in NC).  By comparison, the elevation difference between the valley near Dayton, WY to Granite Pass is nearly that whole amount – almost 6,000 feet!

Scenery along Alt US-14 through the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in North central Wyoming

I hadn’t paid much attention to this area before, but now that we’ve been there I am anxious to get back.  There are a lot of interesting things to see and do in the area.  Perhaps a few days in Sheridan on our way to or from Yellowstone or Grand Teton, when we decide it’s time to visit that part of the country again.

Scenery along Alt US-14 through the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in North central Wyoming

 

 

Wide Open Spaces

US 183 in north central Nebraska

Kathy & I have been a little surprised by the questions and comments we’ve gotten from people since we returned from our western road trip.  Questions like, “did you have any trouble finding places to stay?”  “Where did you eat?”  “Are there a lot of people on the road?”  And comments that begin with phrases such as “One of these days…” and “When this is all over…” and “If it’s ever safe to travel again…”  Yeesh.  Of course we’ve gotten our share of “Good For You’s” and “That’s Great.” and we really appreciate that.

US 183 in north central Nebraska

When we tell people that we were in Oregon, we sometimes get a shocked look and some kind of question about “how bad was it?”  The News would have you conjure up images of us driving down some rural highway with flaming trees falling across the road as we passed.  Yes, there were fires nearby.  “Nearby” as in 40-50 miles and in another valley and over a ridge or two.  Yes, there was sometimes a lot of smoke and at times it got stinky.  The fires have been devastating for a lot of people, but for those of us just passing through it was just an inconvenience.  Mostly it was like driving in the fog.  Yes, in some towns the restaurants and wineries with outdoor seating had decided to close.  Who wants to eat or taste wine in the smoke?  But there was plenty to see and do and we just had to adjust a bit.  There is nothing like a road trip to teach you to be flexible!

US 183 in north central Nebraska

My message is that the world is still out there.  It’s a big country, and you don’t have to sit at home and watch The News telling you how bad things are.  Everything – or just about everything – is open.  We stayed away from the “famous” places like Yellowstone and Glacier, mostly because this trip was not about seeing those places.  This trip was specifically intended to take us off the beaten path.  We’ll get to those famous places at another time.

Passing Zone

Restaurants on the road are operating just like they are at home.  We carried a cooler with breakfast and lunch, to give us the flexibility to not have to go in search of food in the middle of nowhere.  Hotels have scaled back their services a bit but they welcomed us everywhere.  Gas is readily available everywhere and we had very little trouble finding a restroom when we needed one.

US 183 in north central Nebraska

Not everybody has the travel bug but we do.  And if you do, this is really not a bad time to travel by car.  Trains, buses, planes and cruise ships?  Not yet.  But car?  No big deal.  It’s fall color time – get out there!  Figure out how you can travel in a way that makes you comfortable and go.  Try an overnight, a weekend or a week.  But go!   Someday is today, and times a-wastin’!

US 183 in north central Nebraska

An Unexpected Treat

Rock Island Railroad Depot in Fairbury, Nebraska

Kathy & I like to seek out train stations during our travels, especially ones that appear to be historically significant or that have some amount of architectural uniqueness.  That’s what took us to Fairbury, Nebraska on our recent trip.

Rock Island Railroad Depot in Fairbury, Nebraska

When I photograph these train stations, they are usually locked up tight, so I mostly walk around the outside, documenting interesting features and taking overviews of the building and surroundings.  Since most of these stations are in fairly busy towns I get my usual curious looks from passersby, but for the most part no one pays any attention to me.

Rock Island Railroad Depot in Fairbury, Nebraska
Rock Island Railroad Depot in Fairbury, Nebraska
Old Diebold Safe

The station in Fairbury houses a museum, but I knew when we were on our way there that – even if the museum wasn’t observing a Covid-related closure – that we would arrive well after their normal business hours.  But as we pulled up, a good 30 minutes after closing time, a woman was coming out of the building on the opposite end of where I parked.  I got out and started my usual walking around.  The woman drove down to the end of the building where I had parked.  I said hello and told her – as if she hadn’t made the assumption – that I was just a train station buff out to take a few photos.  Then she said, “would you like to see the inside?”  Uhhh, sure (it didn’t take me that long to say yes)!

Timetable
Rock Island Railroad Depot in Fairbury, Nebraska

As it turns out they were having some kind of meeting there that evening, and she had been there to make sure things were set up.  With evidently nothing else to do she talked to me and Kathy for about 30 minutes while I wandered through and took a few pictures.  She told us that a local train club was in the process of building a model train layout in one of the upstairs rooms and apologized for that room being locked, but otherwise I had the run of the place.

Self-Explanatory
Telegraph Equipment
Old radios and typewriters
Old radio equipment

Not wanting to overstay our welcome and knowing that we still had several hours of driving left, we politely said our thanks and goodbyes, and headed off for the rest of our adventure.  It was a special and unexpected treat to be able to get inside this old station, if only for a few minutes!

You never know what you’ll find!