Critique and Competition in Photography – The Painted Hills in Central Oregon. 

Critique and Competition in Photography

Critique and Competition in Photography - The Painted Hills in Central Oregon.

My son Chris and I took my mom to the Painted Hills this past Sunday. Mom had never been there and was completely stoked by its beauty.

I enjoy taking photo at this location with a long lens. I usually take my 70-200 and shoot little micro scenes of the textures and folds in the hills. I also enjoy the textures of the soil, but I have found that it confuses some people, I'll explain later. On this day I used my Tamron 150-600 G2 and had a great time.

I entered a similar photo to this in a competition once. One of the things that I was gigged for was the texture. I remember that every time that I return to this location. The judge couldn't figure out what the "grain in the foreground" was. I just slapped my forehead and fell back in my chair in dismay. I wanted to yell into the screen that it was coarse soil. I also entered a cool shot of the lava ocean entry and I was gigged due to some "diffusion and lens distortion" that one judge perceived to be an issue. The issue was the steam from the lava. I was taken aback by that one too. All in all I did fairly well in the competition, but after that day I became a bit disillusioned by professional competitions. Their critique gave me no encouragement or advice in how to improve my work, but I suppose that's not the purpose of these competitions anyway.

Call me dumb or closed minded but I got nothing from the critique or comments. I think that competitions are fine, but really, I hate making photography a competition to begin with. I also question the qualifications beyond the certifications of some of those who are judges after the last one that I participated in. I compare them with "book learned" engineers. I'd love to have taken a couple of them out into the field with me and show them how I work.

All of the photographers whom I admire and am inspired by do not enter competitions. For them, I perceive, and I photography isn't about winning. It's not about professional credentials. It's about the experience and inspiring others to follow their dreams and aspirations. I hope that I do this with my own work. In my opinion competitions only encourage the victors.

In the end a photographer's audience will not judge them or their work by the competitions that they win, or the credentials that they earn but, rather, the images that they create that touch their audience in the most personal way, many of which aren't technically perfect. And only you and those who admire what you do can actually honestly judge your work in a positive way.

Critique is fine, but ultimately it's objective. And when the judge's goal is to be critical of the photo, it won't be viewed in the same way as the photographer's fans. And it certainly won't be seen in the same light as the one who created the image.

Create your work for yourself first. Break away from standards that are used to judge photos. That's where creativity and originality starts. If you need advice seek it from someone whom you admire and trust. Take the critique of a stranger, no matter their professional credentials, with less weight than those who are trying to find positive in what you've done. And don't get discouraged.

Critique and Competition in Photography
Critique and Competition in Photography

Turnagain Arm Sunbeams

Turnagain Arm Sunbeams

Turnagain Arm Sunbeams - The Turnagain Arm is a waterway in the Gulf of Alaska and is one of two branches of the Cook inlet, the other being the Knik Arm. It happens to be one of my favorite places for photography.

The Turnagain Arm was named by William Bligh of the HMS Bounty fame who served as the sailing master for Captain James Cook, British Explorer and cartographer, on his third and final voyage on his quest for the Northwest Passage. In the exploration of the Cook Inlet a party was first sent up the Knik Arm only to return reporting that it led to a river. A second party went up the next Arm only to turn back saying that it too was only a river. In their frustration of having to turn back again they named it the Turnagain River, later to be designated an arm of the Cook Inlet, thus the Turnagain Arm.

The Turnagain Arm's geography affects the weather in dramatic ways. On the south side of the waterway lies the Kenai Peninsula with its mountain peaks averaging 3000'-5000' while on the opposite side rise the Chugach Mountain Range with peaks comparable in size to the Kenai Mountains but, because of their position to the Cook Inlet set world records for snowfall with averages 1500 cm (800 in). With the waterway between the weather can be intense, and the sun being low on the horizon most all seasons, the light is incredible an inordinate amount of times throughout the year.

Another unique part of exploring the Turnagain Arm is it's bore tide. A bore tide happens only in a small handful of places around the world. A bore tide is a tidal phenomenon where the incoming tidal flow meets an outgoing flow of the bay or a river. The leading edge forms a wave that travels up the arm on the incoming tides. It's always fun to go to the Turnagain Arm and chase the bore tide.

We always make the Turnagain Arm a primary feature of our Alaska workshops. When the bore tide happens just before a sunset, magic can happen. We had the opportunity on this particular evening to chase and photograph the bore tide and the Alaskan surfers along the Seward Highway, a sunset and as a bonus we experienced Baluga whales breaching just below where were were standing taking in the last light of the sunset.

These experiences are hard to describe, even with a photograph to accompany the narrative. They are things that one must experience in person to appreciate. Darlene and I have a combined total of over 25 years of experience exploring Alaska. If you have ever considered an Alaska adventure please consider signing up to one of our Alaska workshops.

Alaska Grizzly Bears

Grizzly Bears in Alaska

Alaska Grizzly Bears

Another drop in the bucket of things that I have to do in my life, to intermingle with and photograph grizzly bears, has been achieved. Darlene and I have just returned from an amazing trip to Alaska that included a hike on a glacier, a boat ride into the Prince William Sound and a flight over the glaciated peaks of the Kenai Peninsula, but the highlight of the trip was mingling with grizzly bears in the wild.

We drove to a location that we had visited and were unsuccessful at on a previous trip to Alaska. We weren't all that confident but decided to give it a whirl. We did know that the river was full of salmon so it would be possible. The bears come down to the rivers when the salmon are spawning for an easy nutritious meal.

As we arrived at the trailhead a group of fishermen were walking out to their cars. They had been chased out of the fishing holes by a sow and her cubs. Darlene and I got excited. We grabbed or gear and headed down the trail toward the river. As I hiked down the trail my mind was on uber-alert with my bear spray quickly available. The last thing that I wanted was to surprise a momma and her babies. Darlene was singing a song to herself as she walked, hoping to alert a bear before we arrived if one was in our path.

We got down to the river just as the evening light was starting to fade. I had 150-300mm zoom but was wishing that I had a 600mm with me. Primarily to be able to get a shot without walking right up to them and asking them to smile. As it turned out the 300mm worked well, but I didn't get any closeups. - I digress. As we walked along the river we saw a group of people coming out that told of another bear further downstream.

Darlene and I walked with a bit more vigor due to the adrenaline in our veins, but when we arrived the bear had gone back into the woods. We decided to just walk up and down the path for a while until we became tired of that and had a seat to just sit and wait and watch.

We sat there chatting in a low whisper while we sat near the brush next to the river as to not alarm any potential bear who might want to come back for another salmon snack. I told Darlene that it was getting a little dim and that we'd now need to really push our ISO to get anything with an acceptable shutter speed. We discussed being hungry and that perhaps we should leave and find a meal before it got too late when as I looked over Darlene's shoulder toward the river I saw the big sow grizzly lumbering out of the forest toward the river on the bank right across from us no more than 20-30 yards away. I said in a concerned and excited whisper... "Bear! Bear! Bear!". Darlene turned and showed her obvious excitement as we both started to photograph the bear as if we were hidden paparazzi! A moment or two passed and out came a cub, then another and then another. A momma and three cubs. We could hardly believe what we were seeing. I will never forget that moment. The moment when she gracefully emerged from the forest. My first thought was, "this is not the zoo".

We photographed her and the babies until they decided to retreat into the forest. Not long after we heard some commotion down river. All of a sudden I heard the "huff, huff" from a bear. It sent a chill up my spine. A minute later a small group of tourists came walking toward me with a sense of urgency. They said that a male grizzly came out of the woods near them and chased them away. I grabbed my gear, and Darlene and we headed toward where I heard the commotion. My senses on alert I walked slowly as I scanned the trail ahead, the forest to the right and the river to our left.

As we approached we could see a bear in the river. Darlene and I found a safe spot to observe and proceeded to watch one of the most beautiful things that I've experienced in my life. In the river was a young bore , perhaps two years old, playing as if he had no care in the world. He walked around in the river picking up fish and tossing them around into the air, wading into deeper pools and just swimming around. He was a joy to watch and to photograph but our light was fading fast. The cameras were having a hard time and I didn't want to hike out in the dark so we grabbed our gear and headed back.

As we were walking out we could see silhouettes of bears in the river. We walked a little quicker and counted ten bears in all on this visit. It was as if they were all coming out of the forest at once. We hurried out while we still had light to show our way.

That night at our hotel we decided to dedicate the next day to getting some great bear photos. I reviewed my shots that night and came to the conclusion that I needed that 600mm. The shots were great, but not close enough as far as I'm concerned and I'll be darned if I'm going to get closer! We decided to drive 150 miles one way to Anchorage to rent a lens. We returned with just enough time to get ready and head to the river.

We arrived with my rented 150-600 zoom lens and walked up and down the trail and spent that evening there with absolutely no success. As the light faded I lamented the fact that we had blown a whole day and the cost of the lens. Darlene suggested that we take our last day in Alaska and come back one more time.

The next day was beautiful. We spent a great day in the Alaska scenery, but I was anxious to return to the bears that evening.

We noted that the time that the sow and her cubs came out of the woods was approximately 7:30 pm. We made sure that we were there early and staked out a spot to sit near where she had been the night that we saw her previously. Sure to form at approximately 7:30 down from the forest she came - Her and her cubs.

The rest is history. This family came down and ate for a while, retreated back into the woods for a while and then returned for an encore. Insuring that I got my amazing bear photos. I was beyond excited. We were so excited when we got back to the car that we felt like kids at after a carnival. I scrolled down through the photos, checked focus etc and then drove back to the hotel fulfilled and in disbelief that the photos on my card were mine. 

Dead Ox Ranch Perseids

Each year come August I start to look forward to the Perseid Meteor Shower. The Perseids are an annual event that comes each year as the Earth passes through the orbital path of the Comet Swift-Tuttle. The debris from the comet’s path causes little pieces of the comet to fall through the Earth’s atmosphere at over 100,000 miles per hour causing an amazing amount of falling stars, sometimes from 100-200 per hour. The Perseid Meteor Shower of 2018 was helped by its occurrence during the dark skies of a New Moon.

Another occasion that’s becoming an annual August event is my Dead Ox Ranch Photographer’s Campout. Last year we dedicated the event to capturing photos of the Solar Eclipse. This year we were there to capture photos of the Perseid Meteor Shower.

The Dead Ox Ranch isn’t as morbid of a place as it sounds. The name was given to the ranch by the chance occurrence of there being a dead cow on the property when it changed hands in a sale in its past. The ranch is over 100 years old and is located east of Baker City near Virtue Flats and ruts from the old Oregon Trail. It’s just an hour drive from Hell’s Canyon and the Wallowa Mountains. It’s also the location for some of the darkest skies in the state.

Disregarding all of the above, the ranch itself is like going back in time to an era of outdoor group socials, picnics and sitting around in the yard in the summertime heat visiting and talking to friends and family with an ice-cold beverage. Once everyone arrives and we are all set up in our camps we mix and mingle and discuss our common purpose for being there, photography.

The only chance that we take is being there in the Summer during the peak wildfire season, and this years has been a bad one. The state was covered with smoke from fires originating not only in Oregon but from fires in both California and British Columbia. It’s been terrible indeed, but we somehow lucked out with clear skies with only traces of smoke that came and went for the whole three-day event. If we would have had smoky skies we would have somehow made the best of it anyway but that wasn’t the case.

Our mission for the workshop was to create what is called a composite image. One that is made from several photos to create one single image. Our goal was to make an image that included a group of meteors gathered over a three hour period of time. To do that we wanted to create the photo using a base layer taken at twilight so we can have focus and definition and yet still have dim and cool light like night time. Then a photo of the sky later at night when the Milky Way was filling the sky. After that we set up our cameras to take 30 second exposures one after the other for three hours to gather photos of as many meteors as possible. Once we gathered all of these photos we then went into our digital darkroom to blend them all together.

To composite the photos we made our basic adjustments in Adobe Lightroom and then opened all of the files into Adobe Photoshop as layers. Once we had them in Photoshop it was a matter of creating masks and selecting a blend mode to allow each layer to show through in its place and order. After some final adjustments the whole stack of layers was merged together into a single image. Although this is a general description I felt compelled to explain the process to those who aren’t aware of how these images are made. In today’s world of digital photography certain lines can be blurred between art and photography.

The whole group of photographers had a great time. I’m convinced that when we were out playing at sunset and into the dark we reverted back to kids again. And when we gathered to process our photos, we were all amazed at the results. I included the image that I created as an example of the composite image that the class came to create for themselves.

Even if you don’t create a complex composite image in Photoshop, a beautiful single image of a meteor is reward enough for a night under the stars. Keep this in mind next August when the stars start falling during the Perseid Meteor Shower. Perhaps you can join us at the Dead Ox Ranch for a workshop.

Pathway To The Stars – The Milky Way Over Mount Hood

The Milky way Over Mount Hood Oregon

Pathway To The Stars. The Milky Way Over Mount Hood Oregon - I had a great time hanging around in the dark with my brudda Rob last night. We shot the night sky over Mount Hood from the north side while talking about the Milky Way over Mauna Loa - The night was as warm as a Big Island night - and other places where we've stood and observed the stars.

There are very few things that surpass the brilliance of the stars on a dark Summer night. Since I was a small boy I have slept outside whenever possible, even if only in my backyard. I'm fortunate to have lived in some places that have extremely dark night skies.

I remember great times while I was in school in the Illinois Valley of Southern Oregon when neighbor friends, my brother and I would just lay blankets out in the pasture, set up our sleeping bags and count falling stars and satellites until we fell asleep only to wake up again at sunrise covered in dew.

I was reading the other day that 80% of the people in the United States are unable to see the Milky Way at night. That's a sad figure. I sincerely feel that when we remove ourselves from the natural world we suffer. Taking away the stars in the sky that have caused so many people to dream fantastic dreams and thoughts of wonderment and hope is the last brick in the wall of separation of humanity from Nature. Stand in a city some night and search for anything natural. Even the sky is cloaked in a bath of unnatural light. How can we understand what Nature requires from us if we don't understand her?

Please do yourself and Nature a favor and reconnect your soul to the Earth and all of its natural fantastic wonders. Drive somewhere dark some night and look up. Bring a blanket and a sleeping bag. You may be there for a while.

Robert Randolph and The Family Band in Portland

Robert Randolph and The Family Band

Robert Randolph and The Family Band in Portland - Darlene and I had an opportunity to photograph the Portland Oregon Waterfront Blues Festival with Robert Randolph and The Family Band as a headlining act. We're big fans and had a great time. We were able to meet him after the concert as well as a couple of the band members. I was so impressed at how kind, friendly and humble that they are.

 

 

Night Sky Photography

Mt Hood Milky Way

Night Sky Photography  - Summer is here. For a landscape photographer this time of the year means good weather, green forests, flowers, warmer nights and starry night skies. I enjoy heading out for a sunset and staying until the stars come out, and in many cases, staying out until sunrise. Sunsets and sunrises are always a wonderful time to get dramatic landscape photos, while landscape photos with an amazing Milky Way in the sky above can be unique and dramatic.

Night sky photography is a form of photography that seems mystical and magical. To many people night photography appears to be complicated and left only for those with the most acute photography skill, when in fact once you understand just the basics of the exposure triangle - Shutter speed, aperture and Iso - you will realize that all that’s being done to get these dark night sky photos, in most cases, is to get as much light into your camera as possible.

Set your camera on Manual, set up your tripod and let’s get started.

As most photographers know when you use a long exposure you will need a tripod. Your tripod will keep your camera still during the exposure. You will want to insure that no movement takes place at all during the exposure. Another device that helps with this is a shutter release. The shutter release will keep you from moving the camera when you press the button. If you have no shutter release you can usually set your camera timer to take the photo a few seconds after you click the shutter button.

Your exposure setting will need to be extended, in most cases, up to 20 or sometimes 30 seconds. This will depend on how dark the sky is. Remember that the darker the sky, the brighter the stars, therefore a night without a moon will give the best starry sky. The only negative consequence will be less light on your subject or foreground. Many times just a slight sliver of a moon will allow a more defined foreground while still allowing the stars to shine.

Concerning shutter speed, the only consideration that you must have is that the longer the shutter is open the more movement you will detect in the scene. Even in the stars as at some longer focal lengths the stars will streak slightly when you extend the exposure to 30 seconds. These star streaks turn into star trails if allowed to streak long enough, sometimes up to 30 minutes. This method will create amazing surreal images of steaks and circles of light above your subject. To do this requires another method, not explained here, to pull off.

The next thing that one must consider is how the aperture will block or allow light to pass through the lens and into the camera. When light is dim or it’s dark outside you will want to allow as much light through as possible, and to do this you must use a wider more open aperture - A smaller number. Without getting into the math involved just remember that when you open your aperture you will be allowed a quicker shutter and a lower Iso. Both are desirable, which I’ll explain later. A good quality lens will allow an f/2.8 aperture setting.

Next is your Iso setting. What is Iso? You know that the longer that you keep your shutter open the more light will pass through the lens and into the camera. We also know that an aperture that’s open wider allows more light in. In digital photography we have no film but we do have electronic film in the form of the image sensor. The image sensor’s sensitivity to light can be adjusted. The higher the Iso number the more sensitive to light your camera becomes. Iso 1000 will be more sensitive to light than Iso 100, for instance. Therefor you will need to raise your Iso to get your starry night photos. It’s easy to think that all one needs to do is raise their Iso, but there are negative effects in the form of noise in the image. In film it’s called grain. To get a cleaner image you want to keep your Iso as low as possible. Extending your shutter speed and opening your Iso allows you to do this.

One thing that one must remember when setting up is that in the dark it’s more difficult, or in many cases impossible to use your light meter to determine your settings. Therefore one must take a couple test shots before they get the exposure right.

Another important and in many cases the most difficult part of getting setup for the shot is focus. Unfortunately on a zoom lens when you set the focus to infinity the stars will not be in focus. And at night when it’s dark it’s difficult to manual focus. I recommend taking your camera out in the daylight and setting the focus to an object far away and then marking the lens. I have used tape where when I line up the edges of the tape it’s in focus. There are other methods, but this is the simplest until you gain more experience.

And so once we understand this we can let more light into the camera using these three settings, we can start taking photos in low light. Tripod, long exposure, open aperture and a higher Iso. The next thing to do is to go out and practice. Once you do this a few times your photos will get better and your understanding of what settings to start with will become more second nature.

For more in depth instruction I'm alway available for private one-on-one in field workshops or post processing in person or via Skype.

Crystal Crane Hot Springs Milky Way
Crystal Crane Hot Springs Milky Way

The Bridge to Beautiful

Pont du Parayre, Le Ruisseau d'Audiernes, Peyrusse le Roc, France

Pont du Parayre, Le Ruisseau d'Audiernes, Peyrusse le Roc, France. Meaning, "Bridge Parayre, The Stream of Audiernes, Peyrusse le Roc, France".

This is one of my personal favorite photos. Perhaps due to the emotion that I feel when I think of the day that I spent with friends getting this shot at such an historic culturally rich location, but certainly this little bridge had a lot to do with it.

The story behind the photo.

I was perusing the interwebs one day looking at medieval castles and stonework - Doesn’t everyone? - when I came across a rather primitive photo of an arched bridge in France. It was just a simple snapshot, but for some reason it captured me. I did some research and found out the location, as well as a few more photos.

In time I was fortunate to have been invited to France by my dear friend Frederique. (Truly one of the most beautiful and kind people that I've ever met, and an excellent photographer and guide.) During a conversation with her prior to travelling there we talked of photographic possibilities and I asked her about this bridge and if she knew where it was. She replied that she did indeed know where it was and that we would go there on my trip. I could hardly believe it and I got excited every time that I thought about it until the day that we arrived there.

It was a perfect day for the visit. We arrived early in the day after a drive through the beautiful south central French countryside in a soft rain. It's what I would expect for a January day in France, and not much different than a typical January day here in Oregon. The creek was full of water fortunately as it can dry up in the summer months. The foliage was sparse due to the time of the year, but the scene was wet and luscious.

The the village Peyrusse le Roc, founded around 767 AD, whose original name was Petrucia, was a substantial town with a population of around 3500 people at its peak, while today the little town has no more than a couple hundred residents. The town was supported by local silver and lead mines until they closed up around 1400. Abandoned and in ruins there, are no less than twelve impressive medieval stone structures including the ruins of the Notre-Dame-de-Laval Church, a 14th century king’s tomb, two amazing bell towers and several other incredible stone structures in various stages of ruin.

The ancient village was built on the side of a wooded canyon with fairly steep but negotiable pathways connecting each of its levels, structures and features with the main village being at the top. The trail itself being, most likely, older than the village itself, makes its way down to the creek where this little roman style arch bridge resides. The area surrounding the bridge has some faint rock ruins here and there that tell of a day when a small mill of some sort existed there, but this bridge stands alone as a testament to the skill of its skilled builder. The bridge itself shows no sign of collapse or structural weakness, but does show worn grooves in its roadbed rock indicating wear from countless carts, beasts of burden and the footfall of people travelling over it in the last thousand years.

As I stood there I leaned on the rock of this bridge and wondered if the bridge was a conduit of connection between the builder and I. I could visualize him standing there proud of his work, leaning against the same stone and wondering if some day, perhaps a thousand years in the future, if someone would take the time to think about him.

To visit a location such as this that’s so rich in such ancient human history was incredible to me. I feel this way every time that I’m in an historic location with such a rich cultural history. I have sat in the doorways of ancient Anasazi ruins in remote canyons in the American southwest and have had the same feelings of connection to those who had been there before me.

As it was, I was hesitant to leave this amazing place as I kept turning and looking back until I could no longer see this little bridge, but left feeling satisfied and happy.

Each year since then, over the last five years, I have pulled this photo out to try to, in some way, process it into the image that my mind and memory evokes of that day, but I hardly ever feel that I do it justice. I have a feeling that my exercise may be more a melancholy reminiscence than an exercise to perfect a photograph, but what artist should feel so lofty in their confidence to claim to be able to do nature or memories their justice anyhow, but why not make it a goal?

I will return to this location again someday. And when I do I will know just how to shoot it next time. Perhaps I won’t be so overcome in the experience of being there to not take the time to stop and be thorough and find that special comp, or to wait until the light is right. Perhaps then I’ll be able to claim that I’ve done this little bridge the justice that it deserves. Until then I’ll pull this photo out once a year and process it one more time, remembering that special day every time that I do and questioning the reason that I am.

My Latest Release – Rhododendron Gateway

Rhododendron Gateway

I love Spring and early Summer. I love photographing the wildflowers that bloom around my home here near Mount Hood, especially the rhododendrons.

This is a view of Mount Hood from the northwest on a hilltop above Lost Lake.

Prints of this photo can be purchased at this link. As always, I appreciate your kind support.
https://gary-randall.com/product/rhododendron-gateway/

Rhododendron Gateway
Rhododendron Gateway to Mount Hood Oregon

Leslie Gulch and The Owyhee River in Eastern Oregon

Leslie Gulch in Eastern Oregon

Leslie Gulch and The Owyhee River in Eastern Oregon - Oregon is truly an amazing place. In terms of variety of the landscapes available within an easy day’s drive, who really needs to travel outside of the state to find what they want to experience? From my perspective, that of a landscape photographer, I speak primarily in regards to the natural world. Oregon has views of the ocean, rolling hills and valleys, forests, mountains, glaciers, sagebrush desert, mud playa desert, you name it. I tell people that in Oregon there’s a view of a canyon that’s deeper than the Grand Canyon - Hells Canyon on the Snake River.

Leslie Gulch in Eastern Oregon
Leslie Gulch in Eastern Oregon

Considering the variety of terrain that we have to choose from here, I seem to gravitate to Eastern Oregon. Perhaps it’s because I live in trees and relish a clear view of the sky and clouds, but I seem to breathe more freely in the open spaces and expansive views that I find there.

My latest trip east included a stop at a place that I can never get tired of exploring, Leslie Gulch. Leslie Gulch is on Bureau of Land Management land located about an hour from the little town of Jordan Valley near the Oregon and Idaho border. Named for a

poor fellow named Hiram E. Leslie who was struck by lightning there in 1882, it’s a part of a larger area that is a part of the many canyons that make up the Owyhee River drainage. It’s a canyon with towering rock spires and formations made of ancient volcanic tuff, a rock very similar to what’s found at the popular Smith Rock State Park, but times ten as there are huge formations surrounding you all the way through the canyon and up side canyons.

Owyhee Country in Eastern Oregon
Owyhee Country in Eastern Oregon

The canyon has a 15 mile dirt road that takes you down into and through to the end where it meets the Owyhee Reservoir where there can be found the 8-unit Slocum Creek - Leslie Gulch Campground (Open from March - November) and a boat ramp. Many people come here to fish. A bit of caution must be expressed here. The road can be treacherous in rain, and the area can be prone to flash floods so be warned. When adventuring in remote areas always be prepared and make sure that your vehicle is up to traveling for miles on dirt. Please don’t go unprepared.

Once you’re in the canyon you’re surrounded by castle like pillars of rock formed by ancient volcanic ash, sheer cliffs and honeycomb type rock formations. The rock features are jagged and more reminiscent of a place in southern Utah or Arizona, but it’s all Oregon. In the Springtime wildflowers bloom, but as Summer approaches the grasses turn yellow and the canyon can be prone to grass fires. Although elusive, there is an abundant amount of wildlife there including bighorn sheep which was established there in 1965 that number close to 200 animals. As you sit at camp you’re serenaded by birds including chukars, which are a type of partridge, and coyotes in the evening, while consumed by the aroma of sage and juniper. Oh - And there’s no cell phone service there so you have no choice but to relax and take it all in.

Cliff Along the Owyhee River in Eastern Oregon
Cliff Along the Owyhee River in Eastern Oregon

While in the area take note of some other places nearby that are also worth visiting. There are many other places to get a view of the Owyhee River as well as camping places. Succor Creek is another spot that I’d recommend. Consider also visiting Silver City Idaho, a remote “ghost town” at the end of a rough dirt road that still has a few hearty residents holding on there and a city ordinance that prohibits modern improvements. Take a day and explore the old town and its old buildings including the Idaho Hotel. The little town of Rome and the Pillars of Rome and views of the Owyhee River as well as the Alvord Desert - A mud lake much like Death Valley in California are nearby. The Steens Mountains, considered the Alps of Oregon tower up from the Alvord Desert, and also the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge north of the Steens is an amazing place to sit and birdwatch.

The Owyhee River in Eastern Oregon
The Owyhee River in Eastern Oregon

Prior to my time in Eastern Oregon I must admit that from all that I had heard I felt like there was nothing there but sagebrush and coyotes, but once I decided to go it was immediately obvious to me that I had found the solitude that I love and an expanse of land to explore and discover. It may not be for those who want luxury in their free time as there aren’t many motels but for those who want to get away from the luxurious, forget a shower for a few days and spend time in the natural world, I would recommend Leslie Gulch.

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