It was almost like I had heard Jeff Curto’s words in my head, although I didn’t actually hear them until we got home. Jeff’s most recent podcast talks about it isn’t necessary to travel long distances or to exotic locations to make interesting photographs. Give it a listen if you don’t already subscribe. And you know you should. 😉
Kathy and I decided to spend a nice late-fall Sunday afternoon at Latta Plantation Nature Preserve, a county park near Huntersville, North Carolina and about 8 miles from our house. We packed a picnic lunch, laced up our hiking shoes and spent a couple of hours wandering the trails along Mountain Island Lake, the lake that we live close to, but not at. It’s not Lake Superior, but it’s what we’ve got. 🙂
We’ve been to Latta a number of times over the years, and I’ve made lots of photographs there. But it had been a while. There are things to see and photograph at all times of the year, but I have often sold it short since it is – as Jeff alluded to – in our “back yard.”
Kathy & I had already decided that we’re going to stick close to home for the next few months, and are planning to get out and explore our own area. I’ve said for years that I like to be a “tourist in my own town” but have never sat still long enough to give it a chance. Sounds like now is as good a time as any!
I’ve always had a thing for boat bows, especially reflections of bows in the water. Shelter Cove Marina is of course full of boat bows. Other boat parts, too! Here are a few from our evening there that I found notable.
Spent some time walking around the harbor at Shelter Cove this evening. An opportunity presented itself…others as well but this is one. The processing is perhaps a bit heavy but it seems to be none the worse for it. 😉
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Update 10/27/20: I’ve added a gallery of more photos on my Adobe Portfolio site for anyone who wants to see more.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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’!