Oregon is world famous for its stunning Pacific coastline. Lush, dripping forests thrive in the high rainfall. The surf pounds on dramatic rocky cliffs and beautiful beach towns huddle against the wind.
Fewer people outside the western USA know the dramatic beauty of the volcanic Cascade Range that separates the coastal forests and inland valleys from the extensive arid eastern part of the state. As Pacific storms lift eastward over the massive Cascade peaks most of the moisture is condensed and dropped. This creates a classic arid ‘rain shadow’ inland of the mountains. Even fewer people know the deserts on the east side of the Cascade Range.
In reality the area is certainly not deserted. Central Oregon is a very popular recreation and retirement area. Although the current economy has slowed growth. But further to the east away from the mountains it is easy to find quiet and deserted deserts.
The Deschutes River passes through the area surrounding Bend, Oregon. It drains the melting snow on the east side of the Cascades and is the main river in Central Oregon. Downstream there are challenging rapids. In Bend the river is more tame.
This photograph was taken in Bend. I walked down to the river before dawn. Actually there was more stumbling and scrambling than walking. The brush and rocks along the bank were difficult to get through or over in the dim light.
I found this little niche next to the river and set up my tripod. I was experimenting with lenses, exposures, and shutter times as the light increased. During the several hours that I was there I took hundreds of photos. It was a beautiful clear Oregon morning. This blue sky dawn would be rare on the foggy coast, but here they are the norm.
Oddly enough this was the first photograph I took. Even with all the experimenting and the changing light this is the one I like the best. The other hundreds of photos were not a waste of time because I learned and enjoyed a beautiful morning on the river. But it still surprises me that the first photo after setting up turned out.
A long exposure is a common way to show the effect of moving water. This was a 4 second exposure at f/22. The small aperture also provided a long depth of field and kept the basaltic rock next to me in focus as well as the forest in the distance. But I also tried fast shutter speeds to freeze water splashing up from rapids. And some of those were interesting, especially after dawn when shafts of sunlight shone through the forest to spotlight little violent stretches of rapids.
It was a great morning on the banks of the Deschutes. This forest and narrow band of water don’t look like a desert, but they were deserted at dawn. And it was a visual treat, like dessert.
In a quiet glacial canyon in Les Pyrénées Parc National the tallest waterfall in Europe pounds onto the jumble of rocks at the base of Cirque de Gavarnie.
The Cirque de Gavarnie retains a few remnants of the glaciers that carved the sheer wall. The cirque wall is up to 1,500 meters (~4,900 feet) in height and 3,000 meters (almost two miles) wide. The small glaciers hang in the ledges high above the canyon floor and their melt water feeds the waterfall which is called la Grande Cascade. You can just see the top of the Cascade (white vertical line in the sun) in the distance in this photograph. This view only shows a small part of the eastern edge of the cirque. The stream is called Gave de Gavarnie.
When you are anywhere in the canyon the only things that you hear are the constant crashing of the water on the rocks and sheep bells. For generations sheep have grazed these high mountain pastures and they remain an integral part of the national park.
The small village of Gavarnie is a popular tourist destination and is a great base for mountain hiking. It is not too crowded in September and sometimes the weather can still be great. The close-cropped grasses make great picnicking grounds on the ridges on the sides of the canyon.
The Pyrénées are a rugged part of the Tour de France. These are some of the most difficult high mountain stages of the race. This year the tour starts on July 3 in Rotterdam. After punishing climbs in the Alps the riders will enter the Pyrénées late in the race at stage 14 on July 18. You can be sure that riders are scouting the stages now during June, since the stages change each year through an elaborate selection process.
One of the marquis climbs is the legendary Col du Tourmalet. It is in the heart of the Pyrénées and is near Gavarnie. If you were standing at this point looking at the stream you would just turn around and follow it down the valley to Gavarnie and then drive down through Gedre and turn east at Luz-Saint-Sauveur to reach Le Tourmalet in about a half hour. The roads are very narrow and windy, but it is only 30 km (~18 miles) to the base of the famous climb up Tourmalet. In a perverted twist this year the riders will climb Tourmalet TWICE!
The Tour is one of the toughest and most beautiful sporting events there is. As you watch the race this year and you see the masses of fans along the ridiculously steep road near the summit of Tourmalet, the fat guys with capes and pitchforks, the crazy wigs and costumes, the Elvis impersonators, the club fans, the Breton flags flying proudly, the crush of team cars and motorcycles, the words of encouragement painted on the road, during that brief time as the riders reach the summit and then fly down and away, stop and think about the quiet and remote valleys nearby.
Think of Gavarnie and all the other glacial basins at the top of the Pyrénées. And just over the top of that mountain is Spain. It is a beautiful part of Europe and one of the highlights of the Tour de France.
We visited Gavarnie in the fall after the busy season. The massive glacial basin of the Cirque de Gavarnie is an easy walk from the village. The cirque is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The national park not only permits sheep grazing, but it also honors the traditions of the mountain shepherds and culture of the movement of the herds from villages to the high mountain pastures and back.
We were able to be in Luz-St-Sauveur for the festival of the return of the herds. It was a day of music, sheep-shearing, friendship, singing, wine, and celebration. The mountain cycle was completed for another year.
Gavarnie is a small village that is very convenient for day hiking or longer mountain walks. There are mountain huts and well-marked trails. We got lucky with the weather and found beautiful, empty, mountain meadows with commanding views of the cirque basin and La Grande Cascade. The Cascade is the tallest waterfall in Europe and is fed by glacial melt water in the eastern part of the cirque.
These quiet meadows were perfect places for picnics. We could easily carry bread, cheese, yogurt, fruit, and a small bottle of red wine on the steep trails. The weather was warm and the breezes helped carry the sounds of the Cascade and the sheep bells from the high meadows across the canyon.
On our walk to a picnic site on the west side of the canyon we came across the painter in this photo. He had composed a beautiful scene from that stream-side vantage point. The old stone bridge made an interesting feature in the foreground and the blue sky of the Pyrénées complimented the lush green pastures and forest. The stream is the runoff from the Cascade. The Pyrénées are a beautiful and interesting part of France. It is a place to celebrate mountain culture. Photo: 1/350 s at f/3.4.
I admit that is an eccentric question. But I stood in this spot for hours and the roar of this rapid was amplified by the narrow river canyon. I think that I can still hear it.
I arrived before dawn and waited for a little light before I climbed over the rocks down to this ledge next to the Trinity River in northern California. The clouds hung in the canyon all morning and kept the focus of this scene on the river and the rocks. The longer exposure helped to portray the speed of the river and may help you imagine the sound.
It was my first photo excursion with a new camera. And because I wanted the river to fill the foreground of the photograph, the tripod legs were sitting on the edge of the rocks to keep the camera close to the water. I kept a hand on the tripod most of the time. I kept imagining the camera tipping it over, plop, into the river!
I kept the aperture very small so that the rocks next to me would be in sharp focus as well as the rocks in the rapids and the trees across the river. The lichen on the rocks in the foreground added color to this subdued scene.
The Trinity River comes from snowmelt and rainfall in the ‘Trinity Alps’. It was very busy during the California gold rush and still has active mining claims on it. California State Highway 299 travels next to the river for many miles and makes the drive from Redding to Arcata very scenic. The Trinity River is an important salmon and steelhead stream and is popular for kayaking and rafting. Photo: 3.2 seconds at f/22
I climbed this little tree in the middle of the stream and tried to balance while taking this time exposure. It was hard to hold the camera still, especially when the branch broke….
OK, that is a lie. But sometimes it is fun to make up stories to answer the question, “How did you take that photo?”
The combination of vantage point and composition can hide the real answer and create curiosity. One of my favorite curiosity photos is of an observatory in a granite spire overlooking Mont Blanc (to see that photo enter Chamonix in the search box above). Like this photo of a creek, it hides enough to cause the viewer to wonder about where the photograph was taken from. What is not shown is as important as what is shown in the photo. It is also interesting that being a little above a scene can make a distinctly different photograph. I often use a small step stool or ladder to change the perspective.
This photo was taken on the first excursion with a new camera. I had spent a cold, misty morning in the rocks next to the Trinity River in northern California. After spending hours at that one location and photographing as the light changed, hoping for an early morning kayaker to pass by, I decided to look around the area. I drove up a nearby logging road a mile or so but did not find anything of interest. On my way back I looked over into the forest and saw an old deserted highway bridge over Big French Creek. The old road was narrow and the bridge was low. It provided a nice view into this red alder (Alnus rubra Bong.) grove growing on a gravel bar in the middle of the creek.
I can imagine that this view is similar to what a bird’s view would be sitting on a branch over the creek. This might be a good spot for a kingfisher. This little gravel bar might also be a refuge where an entire lifetime passes for small mammals or insects. It is a small, separate world.
It was early spring, so the flow was pretty high for this creek and made an interesting longer exposure. And, yes, I did have to use a tripod. I wanted the tree bark, branches, and gravel to be sharp, but also have some motion in the water. That would not be possible balancing on a branch. Photo: 1 second at f/20.