Regret for Rhyolite Ridge

Rhyolite Ridge Last Ray

Rhyolite Ridge, Esmeralda County, Nevada, currently threatened by an open pit lithium mining proposal

Never put off visiting or photographing a place you’re drawn to if you can help it. I learned recently that a Nevada landscape I was very fond of visiting is in the crosshairs of an open pit lithium mine proposal. I knew some exploration had happened in the dry lake bed down below, and I had heard of a controversy nearby, but I had it confused with a spot on the much less pristine east side of the Silver Peak Range. If this project goes through, the view above will see its lower ridges largely destroyed and chemical processing facilities added to the left.


The proposed mine location is in the northern Silver Peak Range in Esmeralda County, Nevada, in the midst of a string of very scenic and geologically interesting roadless areas: the Silver Peak Wilderness Study Area to the south, the (stunningly colorful) Emigrant Peak area to the north, and the Rhyolite Ridge area itself immediately adjacent. The scenery here is in many ways comparable to Death Valley, though it’s almost completely unknown. The northeast end of Fishlake Valley is generally a quiet place, with a little ranching, a little hot springing and little four-wheeling, but natural and beautiful overall. Nearby areas are known for impressive fossils and petrified wood.

Rhyolite Ridge Face

North face of Rhyolite Ridge

Lithium: we need it. I get that. Any way you slice it, a more sustainable future of renewable energy is going to need lots and lots of batteries and that means lithium. That’s why there are nearly 10,000 lithium claims in Nevada right now, plus a few projects in Utah and California. Although the Center for Biological Diversity has achieved some protections for a rare wild buckwheat species found in the Rhyolite Ridge area,  that agreement has not stopped plans to develop the mine. Even if this mine fails to come together, it will eventually be replaced by some other project in some other beautiful desert landscape, just as we currently get most of our lithium from beautiful landscapes in South America. Our appetites have consequences.

Treehugger

Rhyolite Ridge from the northeast. We used to get our Christmas trees up here. The proposed mine would be downhill and out of this view, but access and natural character of the area would be profoundly affected.

I always wanted to do some serious photography around Rhyolite Ridge, but I always put it off. The images you see here are simply fortuitous grab shots I found in my archives from times when I was passing by. They’re not really up to my standards, and they barely scratch the surface of the area’s photography potential. I wish I could say I was planning a trip to correct my past neglect, but such a journey is not in the cards for me this year.

Always seize what moments you can, especially in desolate and untrammeled landscapes. As we continue the shift to renewable energy, almost every place will become a potential resource, whether it’s for rare minerals or simply as open space to site wind and solar installations. Many landscapes will be lost in the coming years.

Rhyolite Ridge from Fishlake Valley

Rhyolite Ridge area from northern Fishlake Valley. Mining operations would be located in the foothills to the right of the image.

Apparition

Momento mori on a gray January day:

Apparition

Lake Bryan, lower Snake River, Washington

Favorites of 2019

2019: The year of mist. It was an odd year. Things just didn’t come together for us living in Yakima, and then the fall was consumed with moving to our new home in the Palouse. I made a lot of austere photographic sketches in the winter and spring, but most of my photography for the year happened on four backpacking trips in the Cascades. It was a cool, rainy summer in the Northwest, and I spent what felt like ages hiking in mist and cloud while waiting for a glimpse of my surroundings. Perhaps these conditions served as a metaphor for my experience of Washington so far – obscured, but with solid ground starting to appear.

The year began with a rather whirlwind January trip to attend Alpenglow Images‘ wedding in Zion plus a quick Death Valley backpack, a much-needed breath of light and color.

January: Braided Geology, Death Valley

Braided Canyon

Black and white images played a much more important role in my work this year than in the past, as did photographic explorations of darker emotions.

February: Inlet Stream and Ice, Ancient Lakes, Washington

Inlet_800px

February: Winter Lace, Tieton River Canyon

Basalt Lace

In the spring, we headed east to look around and see Palouse Falls at high water. Little did we know that six months later we’d be living out here.

March: Palouse Falls Rainbow

I spent a lot of time gazing at Mount Rainier this year, though I didn’t actually photograph it much. But its presence was ubiquitous and overwhelming during an overnight summer solstice backpack near the Cascade crest.

June: Ridge and Pine, William O. Douglas Wilderness

Ridge Pine

In July, I took a very damp four-day solo trip into one of Washington’s largest wilderness areas. Many hours of walking and waiting in whiteout conditions eventually yielded some very beautiful moments.

July: Cloudland, Glacier Peak Wilderness

Cloud Land

July: Fog in the Suiattle Valley, Glacier Peak Wilderness

Glacier Peak Breath

July: Alpine Sketch, Glacier Peak Wilderness

Alpine Sketches

A trip into the Goat Rocks Wilderness was not much drier, but did have some clearer patches.

July: Sunlit Mist, Goat Rocks Wilderness

Sunlit Mist

Although I find many aspects of Washington’s plant life to be rather frustrating, the wildflowers here are amazing!

July: Paintbrush, Goat Rocks Wilderness

Goat Rocks Paintbrush

A second round in the Goat Rocks at last gave me some clear weather. The Goat Rocks strongly reminded me of a scaled-down version of Colorado’s San Juan Range.

July: Lupine before Dawn, Goat Rocks Wilderness

Lupine in twilight glow before sunrise, Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington

I love frogs and this one made me smile.

July: Frog with Grass

Grass Snout Frog

Some lucky breaks and two months’ of effort relocated us to the eastern edge of Washington, just in time for some fall color. Golden larches are something I had never seen before, and they turned out to be quite abundant.

October: Hillside and Larches, Palouse

Hill and Larches

One of my best days of photography for the entire year came just before Christmas in the hills of the Hells Canyon region: another day of mists, but a very beautiful one! Though I have shots with golden light and rainbows which I’ll post later, this one with its sense of blue expanse and loneliness is my personal favorite from the day. I’m looking forward to spending a lot more time in this region in the coming year.

December: Floating Mountain, Grande Ronde Canyon

Floating Mountain

2019 Favorites: Eli

Shellrock Ascent Ridge

Above the trees in the William O. Douglas Wilderness, Washington

Once again, the annual collection for family and well-wishers. Despite plenty of challenges, we did a lot. The year began with a crazy January trip combining a wedding in Zion with a backpack in Death Valley. We explored a fair amount of central Washington, hiked in rainforest near the Cispus River and Mt. Rainier, backpacked twice near the Cascade crest, saw lots of wildflowers and frogs, visited friends and moved to an excellent new home in the Palouse region. 2020 is not shaping up to be easy, but we’re loving our new area and looking forward to exploring it!

First Impressions

Red_Barn_Larches_900px

For the second year in a row, it’s been a challenging season, and for the same reason as last year: I have a new home. I am now settled in a small town in the Palouse region of far eastern Washington. It’s been a strange and often surprising journey to get here, but we’re very happy to have arrived and anticipate staying for many years. I’m quite pleased to be relatively close to some of my favorite country in central Idaho, as well as near many places I’ve always wanted explore in northern Idaho and northeastern Oregon.

And it certainly doesn’t hurt that the Palouse region is itself a major and justly-famed destination for landscape photographers! What with all the necessities of moving and settling in, I’ve only begun to scratch the surface and I still have a lot of exploring to do. But I do have a few preliminary observations.

The Palouse is really fun to photograph.
I have to humble myself here and admit that my attitude towards this beautiful region was not always a healthy one. Like almost every American landscape photographer, I had seen many, many images of rolling hills, colorful fields and picturesque barns, and I tended to dismiss the region as cliched and overphotographed. Then I actually came here and could no longer ignore the glaringly obvious, viz. this place is really pretty and shooting it is a blast. It’s going to be an interesting challenge to dig deeper into this landscape and create original interpretations here, but playing photographically with the form, lines, colors and light is irresistibly fun.

The Palouse is connected.
For all its unique character, the Palouse lies at a nexus of many different landscapes and is in many ways a mingling of all of them. It’s a transition zone between the austere desert of the Columbia Basin to the west and the forests and rivers of the Clearwater and Bitterroot Mountains to the east. The greater Hells Canyon region and the massive and wild Salmon River drainage lie to the south and southeast. The basalt beneath its lush soils represents lava flows that stretched from Idaho to the Pacific and its taller buttes are geologic outriggers of the Rocky Mountains. The fates of local wheat fields and chinook salmon are bound together by the Snake River. I’m really looking forward to getting to know the area in the context of the entire region.

The Palouse is dramatic.
Photos from the Palouse tend to be all flowing curves and lush colors that paint a picture of a kind and gentle land. This depiction isn’t wrong, but it’s incomplete. The bucolic fertility of these windblown hills is a delicate veneer laid above and beside two of the most cataclysmic geologic landscapes in North America. Just below the soil lie almost unfathomable amounts of basalt, frozen lava that once poured from the ground as rivers of fire hundreds of miles long. The Columbia River Basalts are measured in cubic miles, tens of thousands of them, so many cubic miles that they depress the surface of the earth in central Washington. And to the west the wheatfields become increasingly broken by massive scars in the ground, as though a maniac giant struck the land repeatedly with an ax. These are the Channeled Scablands, the erosional marks of the largest floods we know of, floods that stripped the flesh off central Washington with sudden gushes of water greater than the volume of all Earth’s rivers combined. The Palouse hills feel like Tolkien’s Shire, a soft and pleasant land with a much bigger and more violent world lying just beyond its borders.

Hill_and_Larches_900px

The Palouse has surprises.
It would be easy for a jaded landscape photographer to conclude that the view from Steptoe Butte and a smattering of old barns is all the Palouse really has to offer. This would be a mistake. I, for instance, was not expecting to be able to photograph autumn larches within a few miles of my new home. I also didn’t realize that there are many lovely wooded valleys tucked between the wheat-covered hills. There’s also a remarkable abundance of kestrels (I’m going to need a better long lens!). The meandering course of the Palouse river is intriguing and not often photographed, as are the more forested parts of the Palouse across the state line in Idaho, not to mention its sister farming regions south of the Snake and on Idaho’s Camas Prairie.

And with lower Hells Canyon, the Blue Mountains, the Wallowas, the Seven Devils and my beloved Salmon and Selway Rivers fairly nearby, I’ll have no trouble keeping busy.

Kamiak_View_3_800px

Goat Rocks Gardens

 

Lupine in twilight glow before sunrise, Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington

Time: I simply do not have it right now. I’d love to write a thoughtful, intelligent post about the biogeography of the Washington Cascades, but that is not going to happen. So please enjoy some alpine gardens from the Goat Rocks Wilderness.

Split Rock Meadow

Paintbrush Pair

The Goat Rocks are a deeply eroded old volcano, essentially what Mt. Rainier or Mt. Hood will become after a few hundred thousand years of dissection by the elements. The rich volcanic soils, augmented by periodic dustings of ash from neighboring volcanoes, notably St. Helens, is conducive to very lush plant growth, and the wildflowers of the Goat Rocks are stunning. (The area has some striking resemblances to the San Juan Range in Colorado, which has very similar, albeit larger, geology.)

Lupine Sunrise

Summer had not yet fully come on for my first visit in July. The flowers were just getting underway, but were already quite impressive. A few weeks later, the lupine on the drier east side were certainly thriving.

Split Rock Garden

I still haven’t fallen in love with the Washington Cascades, but the flowers and views (when you can get them) are fantastic!

Goat Rocks Paintbrush

Frogs

Grass Snout Frog

While there are many small things that make me happy, batrachians rank high on the list!

Verdure Frog

Clear water frog:

Clear Water Frog

Muddy frog:

Muddy Frog

Frog with tadpoles:

Frog with Tadpoles

Volcanic Etchings

Volcano Etching

A geologic closeup from Washington’s Goat Rocks Wilderness. The Goat Rocks are the deeply dissected remains of an old Cascade stratovolcano, basically what Mt. Rainier and Mt. Hood can be expected to become after a couple million years of erosion. It’s also remarkably similar geology to the San Juan Range in southern Colorado, and San Juan afficionados should feel at home in the Goat Rocks. Persistent mist and rain limited the big views for me this week, but there was a lot of smaller scale beauty to be seen.

Flowers and Views

Lupine in Log

Washington does have its bright sides. We finally got out for a good overnight ridge ramble west of here, in the William O. Douglas Wilderness. Views were excellent, flowers were good and poised to get better.

Morning Crescent

Connoisseurs of Washington landscapes will have to forgive me for indulging in straightforward photographic play for a while. I’m new here, and just beginning to build an actual relationship with these places.

Flower Crag View

Some entirely gratuitous and unremarkable pictures of Rainier and Adams at sunset. I assume my official Washington Photographer Certificate is now in the mail.

Orange Blue Rainier

Rosy Adams

Rainier has such a dominant presence, even from a distance, it’s impossible to ignore, either in real life or in the viewfinder. If you don’t exclude it entirely, it pretty much has to be treated as a major element of the composition.

Windswept

View towards Mt. Adams and the Goat Rocks:

Crag_View_900px

Ridge Pine

First Light Flower

It still feels like a foreign country to me up here after so many years in the southwest and the Rockies, but it is thoroughly beautiful!

Ridgetop Garden

 

Views from Dark Places

Sinking

Sinking

Moving to Washington state has not been easy for me. After living in the beauty of Deep Springs Valley, almost any change would have been difficult, but nevertheless it feels like we have faced constant headwinds and disappointments since the day we chose to come here. This has been true for my photography as well. Washington was the last state in the west in which I had not lived, worked or spent significant time, but I felt that my experience in neighboring states and my decade-plus of serious photography would ease the transition. But honestly, I have been stunned by just how foreign Washington feels, even here east of the Cascades, and by how difficult it has been to feel any real connection to this landscape. I have felt voiceless up here and it has a times been intensely frustrating and depressing.

Inlet_800px

Inlet, Ice

During last winter and spring, I made a conscious decision to tackle my disconnection by attempting to make images with darker sides. Nature photography has a reputation, sometimes deserved, for offering only saccharine feel-good images of flowers and sunsets. I’ve always tried to look deeper in my work, but this year I’ve really leaned into expressing harsher emotions. I’ve been quite jealous of musicians’ ability to evoke frustration or sadness with just a few bars, as well as of painters’ option to assault a canvas with pigment in a physically expressive way. I can’t find a direct equivalent in photography, handling a camera angrily achieves nothing (if your experience is different I’d be interested in hearing about it!). Instead I’ve been doing lots of experimentation and searching for subject matter and compositions with harsher or more austere aesthetics and darker symbolism.

Basalt Lace 2

(I should probably add before going further: I’m alright. Frustrations certainly continue, but none of my personal friends reading this should feel any need to be alarmed or to intervene, though emails, phone calls and blog comments are always welcome and appreciated. And any artists who find that this resonates with them should be sure not to neglect getting any support and help they may need!)

Island and Isthmus

Minimalism is always a promising approach to this sort of work.

Sticklace

Dormant

Seeing how minimal I could go:

Driftlace

Drifted

A more traditional landscape, but in a very minor key:

Orchard Winter Light

Winter Orchards

Winter is a natural season to work the dark side, but I found spring surprisingly productive in this regard too. Coming to the Northwest, even the to the rain shadow, was a huge change from the clean beauty of the desert, and the riotous growth certainly lends itself to tense, chaotic visuals and symbolism.

Glimpse_800px

Glimpse

Underwater

Underwater

Thicket

Thicket

These two images in many ways epitomize my experience of the last eight months. Tangled, thwarted, patternless obstruction, nothing worthwhile visible on the other side. I tried these in black and white, but felt that treatment gave them an elegance I did not want, so I left them in muted, unattractive color.

Barrier

Barrier

Choked

Choked

I’m know this kind of work is not to everyone’s taste, but I appreciate your looking: regularly scheduled programing of flowers and mountains will resume shortly. Have any of my readers attempted to wrestle with negative emotion through nature and landscape photography, either as creator or viewer? I’d be very curious to hear other people’s observations on the subject.

Basalt Lace