Sheepeater Art

A wonderful rock art panel from last week in Idaho, made by the Tukudeka (Sheepeater Shoshone) people. The Tukudeka were renowned as hunters, and it certainly shows on this panel. They made bows by curing sheep horns in hot springs until pliable, and were famous for using two animals’ brains to tan one animal’s hide.

The Tukudeka were a fascinating group who inhabited a fascinating and amazingly rugged place. I highly recommend the short film River of Return about reconnecting Shoshone-Bannock children with their ancestral lands on the Middle Fork of the Salmon.

An Unexpected Sunset

It had been a long time since I’d seen a really good alpine sunset and I wasn’t expecting much. We’d spent a beautiful day on the high ridges before being chased into the basin by a thunderstorm. The skies were still gloomy and looked like they’d stay that way. I shot a couple images of alpine flowers, but I wasn’t feeling it. In retrospect, I should have had higher hopes for the little low gap over the peaks to the west.

But just as we were crossing the pass back toward our camp, the light broke through…

…and the world turned golden.

And more golden still.

And as if that weren’t enough…

This sunset kept going and going, filling the entire valley to the east with light and color.

There were more rainbows in there, but I wasn’t quick enough to catch them. But the sky took its sweet time turning from orange to pink.

It had been a near-perfect day in the mountains, but I had been thinking I’d go home with only a few daytime images. How wrong I was and how glad that we lingered up high!

Dappled Alpine

Dappled light on dappled woods and meadows lying on dappled geology under dappled snowfields – could anything be finer? I could have rambled through these basins in the Wallowa Mountains forever.

One Fine Day

The Palouse is always a beautiful place, but some times are exceptional. A stormy day of much needed rain when the wheat is green and the canola is gold is such a time.

It was kid-in-a-candy-store conditions earlier this week. The canola fields were certainly attention hogs, but the green slopes and clouds playing the higher hills were pretty amazing as well.

I walked some muddy roads and ran into one local who invited me onto his piece of land, which had some great views of Kamiak Butte and east into Idaho. People here in Whitman County are very friendly as a rule, but some farmers have become very justly frustrated over the years with photographers trespassing, walking on crops and blocking farm traffic. Everyone who comes here to shoot really needs to be on best behavior and make every effort to behave as a guest ought.

We’ve had a really dry spring by local standards (though as a southwesterner, I have to laugh at what Washingtonians consider dry, even on the east side of the state), and it’s going to be a lousy year for the farmers. But the Palouse still puts on an amazing show. Being here can feel quite surreal at times, like living in a computer graphic world or a giant art installation. I’ll be heading for higher country soon, but it’s been an amazing week to live here!

Snakeskins

Looking down from a high cliff, I was fascinated by his harsh but interesting light reflecting off the surface of the Snake River in Hells Canyon.

The interplay of wind-blown ripples with boiling river currents was mesmerizing, and the bright silvery sheen of the reflections made the Snake’s surface gleam like metal.

Light in Saqánma

We had perfect spring weather for backpacking in the bottom of Saqánma (Hells Canyon) a couple weeks ago: moody and dramatic but never seriously stormy. The light shows began the moment we first arrived at the river the evening before our hike. I parked, grabbed tripod and camera and headed straight for a view, hoping nothing would rattle at me in the tall grass. Nothing did, and the reflected sunset on the Snake was a wonderful welcome.

Kirkwood Ranch is a pretty decadent backpacking destination, with picnic tables, a flush toilet and a homestead converted to museum by the Forest Service. It won’t be mistaken for deep wilderness, but it’s a stunning place, and the dramatic light continued to show off.

The river trail here only seldom approaches the river, but that’s fine by me. The views of the spring green canyon crags and river bends from several hundred feet up were consistently outstanding. I made several breathless morning and evening trips up the steep trail above Kirkwood to enjoy the light and weather.

Saqánma is simply a stunning place, especially while it’s green and cool. I’m hoping to manage another visit soon to somewhere much higher up the canyon walls.

Forest Floor

St. Joe National Forest, Latah County, Idaho: It’s easy to take leaf litter for granted, but spring snowpack acts like a lightbox, hinting at the richness of the life above.

Early Crop

The year’s wheat crop has just started sprouting on the Palouse, but it gave me my first harvest of local spring images last week. Everything will look even lusher in a few weeks, but I like the early-season interplay of of brown earth, lime green of the fresh shoots and deep greens of the larger winter wheat.

These folks sure have a beautiful spread:

All these images were shot without moving my tripod for than five feet or so. One of the joys of shooting the Palouse is how much fun it is to play with different compositions and textures in the same view.

Palouse Swiftwater

The Palouse is a peculiar little river. Its headwaters seep out of a few damp, wooded mountains in northern Idaho. It rambles unassumingly through a maze of bucolic hills and wheatfields. It picks up a little speed once it enters the broad basalt canyons of the Channeled Scablands. But just a few miles above its mouth, its character changes dramatically.

The lower Palouse has one of the most remarkable geologic histories of any river in the West. Its lower canyon formed in a geologic instant as the giant floods of the Ice Age blasted a hole in its valley wall and sent it tumbling rapidly downhill to meet the Snake via a new route. (Its old course is now a dry dusty valley in the sage desert.) On the way it drops over one of Washington’s most famous waterfalls, but its canyon up- and downstream of the falls is also full of beautiful whitewater and cascades.

Palouse Falls State Park is a popular place, and my friend Aaron Cowan and I had lots of company while I shot these images on an early spring afternoon. This place is not deep wilderness. But however much the Palouse has been tamed, cultivated, polluted and photographed, the river still cuts a window into the landscape’s wild geologic core.

Bloom with a View

It’s been a challenging spring for me to find time to get out and photograph, but I managed a quick trip yesterday evening to some new-to-me views of the Potlatch River Canyon in Idaho in prime spring condition. It’s getting quite nice out there, though we could really use some rain at this point.