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.

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.

Motivation, Purpose, and Reason – 2017 Solar Eclipse

The Dead Ox Solar Eclipse Crew

2017 Solar Eclipse

Motivation, purpose, and reason. Why do we do what we do, especially when it’s doing something that we love? To me photography is more than taking photos. It took me a while to understand this as it applies to my own work and how it affects my life but the realization was life changing.

I just returned from an event in Eastern Oregon where 25 photographers gathered at a ranch just east of Baker City to photograph the total solar eclipse. I organized and conducted a solar eclipse workshop and campout. During the organization phase of the event I had no idea how it would all turn out. There’s always so much to worry about it seems. Will the clouds show up and blot out the eclipse? Will there be enough water? Will there be enough porta-potties? Will there be something that I’ve forgotten? Will everyone be happy? When it comes to worry I seem to be a pro.

The day of the event comes and the photographers start arriving. There were young, old, men, women, children, varied races, nationalities and ethnicities. People who, if they were in their own element, may not even meet let alone sit and share a campfire, food, drink, dance and conversation. Our lives were diverse. Our common catalyst is photography. Our reason for gathering is the eclipse. A perfect formula.

The event could have formed into smaller social groups defined by our differences but instead everyone came together into a hive of gracious sharing. We created our own village there of people who concentrated on their one common goal, in this case something as simple and as innocuous as getting a photograph, albeit a very special photograph. Everyone helped those who were less skilled or prepared. We all shared our experience, expertise, equipment, food and drink, anything freely and selflessly. Even the children ran and played completely disconnected from their electronic devices as if it was 1965. I saw no conflict that the children weren’t able to resolve themselves. It was an amazing convergence of love, happiness and cooperation.

I describe this event only to make a simple point that has taken me some time to realize. The secret to happiness and mutual cooperation, I think, is not finding our differences but, rather, to find our common interests. It doesn’t have to be photography. It can be a myriad of other things but if we stop for a moment and realize how much we help ourselves when we help others the world would be a better place.

I don’t mean to preach, nor do I mean to act as if I’ve discovered the secret to world peace, but I would like to express how much I have realized that photography for me is the tool that opens doors to the things that make me happy. It’s the tool that allows me to affect others in a positive way and the more that I receive the recognition and gratitude of others the more that I realize it’s more than the photography or vanity that could come with notoriety. It’s about affecting people's lives in a positive way with what I love to do.

I have a lot of people ask me what is the most important element or method of my photography that allows it to stand out so that they too can learn how to do it themselves. I’m convinced that what will make anyone’s photography stand out can’t be taught but must be discovered through a journey of practice, mistakes, realization and discovery. It’s a process that allows you to be able to see the world through your heart and soul and not your eyes and practical mind. A realization that will bring a feeling of relief and relaxation that will allow you to do what you do in a much more creative way.

My personal realization of these principles has completely changed my approach to everything that I do that involves how I approach my work. It has brought me happiness where there once was frustration. It has brought a new inner peace that translates through my photos. It has even brought a certain amount of success that i wouldn’t have had otherwise. I feel that it all comes from sharing what I love.

I may not have discovered the secret to world peace, but what I’ve discovered is helping me with my own.

 

Solar Eclipse Composite
Solar Eclipse Composite

Oregon’s Alvord Desert

An Alvord Desert sunset

Alvord Desert Sunset - I had a great time shooting these amazing mud tiles at the Alvord Desert with my friends Jason Brownlee and Matthew Grimes.

I had an excellent time visiting with about 40 of the Pacific Northwest's best photographers this last weekend. It was an honor to have been invited to your get together folks!! I'm sorry that I left a bit early. I couldn't fathom enduring the heat any longer without some sort of acceptable shelter... like a travel trailer. I think I need one of them. 😀 Does that make me old? Sleeping in the back of the PPV seems to be getting harder and harder lately. lol

If I could have handled the heat better the photo ops at the Alvord would have been incredible. There was a reflection in the last of the standing water lake on the playa. There were amazing cracked mud tiles. The stars are completely unencumbered by light pollution. They are some of the most amazing star filled skies in the state. The nearest town with a light bulb is 200 miles away. We're talking remote. And completely awesome.

After this trip I am more motivated to save up for a 500mm lens to take wildlife photos, especially birds. The incredible variety of birds that I saw non the drive there blew me away. And I have lived among millions of birds while living at Midway Island. I got to see a pair of Sandhill Cranes. I think that I saw some great egrets but they could have been white herons. I saw blue herons too. I saw yellow headed blackbirds and red wing blackbirds. I saw kerlews and sandpipers and pipits. I saw pigeons and mourning doves. I saw vulchers and some hawks and crows of course. I also saw antelope and wild horses and various rabbits and rodents.

It really is one of my favorite places, but I like it when it's not over 100 degrees fahrenheit. 😀

Eastern Oregon Dirt Road

Eastern Oregon Dirt Road

Wake me when we come to a curve in the road.

This is an Eastern Oregon dirt road near Jordan Valley, Rome and Leslie Gulch, just north of the Alvord Desert. Somewhere that has no name. A place that needs no name, but if I were to name it I would name it freedom.

I love that whole southeastern Oregon area. I wouldn't mind at all living out there in a shack surrounded by sagebrush, invisible canyons and a sky as big as the whole wide world. In a place where everything is in the open and nothing is hidden by trees and mountains. A place where the coyotes sing all night long. A place where the wind runs free with the critters that dwell there.

I must admit that population density is a huge appeal for me. In the Owyhee country of southeastern Oregon it's from 1/2 a person to 6 people per square mile, where in Multnomah County it's from 81 - 203 people per square mile. :O Now don't get me wrong. I love people, but I like people like I like beer, in metered amounts and in a relaxed situation. Too much of a good thing is just still too much. 😀

Eastern Oregon isn't the only place that I get that feeling of freedom. Southern Utah is a place where I could hole up in a shack somewhere hard to find, and for the same reasons. Alaska is another place that I get the feeling of freedom in my soul. It's the "Last Frontier".

My soul is usually troubled when I'm in a city. My stress level increases to an uncomfortable level. It all feels so totally unnatural to me. I feel controlled, monitored and judged. The total opposite of a feeling of freedom.

I suppose cities have their place, but they aren't my place. My place is where I can walk surrounded by natural beauty. A place where I have to stop breathing to hear the sounds that surround me. A place where I can close my eyes and feel surrounded by a peaceful presence. A place where the roads have no corners.

#oregon #easternoregon #randallpics

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