Two weeks ago, I made the long drive out to southwestern Oregon to run the Illinois River. It had been years since I’d been there, and to say I was excited would be a major understatement. The Illinois is difficult to catch with decent flows. It’s mostly fed by winter and spring rain falling on the Coast Range and the Siskiyous; after a dry spell, you can’t squeeze a boat between its boulders, but after a wet spell it can achieve enormous volume, bumping its already challenging whitewater up into the realms of insanity.
So why would I drive 26 hours one-way for a river trip that might well be cancelled? Because the Illinois is worth taking the chance. A gorgeous and amazingly pristine canyon in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness; turquoise water that seems to glow from beneath; 135 rapids in 35 miles; rare endemic flowers and carnivorous plants (and an outside chance of sasquatches); too many waterfalls to count: there’s just nowhere else like it.
For a New Mexican to travel to western Oregon in April is like a journey to a fairytale kingdom, where verdant pastures carpet the land, water just flows across the landscape willy-nilly, and exotic green membranes shimmer on the end of every tree branch. Spring was just springing in the Illinois canyon, and if there’s a greater delight than floating swift current under newly budded branches, I can’t imagine what it is.
We landscape photographers are connoisseurs of bad weather, always pining for the dramatic skies and light that brings the scenery to life and whining when the skies are blue. But there are a few subjects that do better in some nice direct sun, and clear, luminous, blue-green water is one of them. Drizzle, mist and cloud-wrack were all very well on our first day, but I was quite happy to see the weather clearing on day two and to break out the camera in some sunlight. The Illinois is a spectacular place in any weather, but the water just seems to catch green fire and dance in the sunshine.
More to come, including some whitewater shots.