Conquer The Northwest

If you've been following me for a while you'll know that I've been planning a road trip through the northwest United States to photograph some of the great landscapes they posses. I'm very thankful that 2 weeks on the road and 3,564 miles later through 4 states that trip was able to happen. I felt it was necessary that I write up a post to share some of the stories and photos with you guys. Originally, this trip was one that I had been planned to take alone. At the last minute however, a buddy asked me if he could come along and of course I agreed. 

The last blog I posted was about my car buddies and I at Waterwerks in Portland earlier this summer. They were all heading down to Portland once again, and on the same day as our departure. So we met up with the boys and after hanging out for a while, we rolled down that direction with them. The first day of our trip was supposed to be exploring waterfalls in the Colombia River Gorge in northern Oregon. Since we ended up heading south later in the day however, we decided to spontaneously head out to Mt. Saint Helens and camp in that area. We didn't do much hiking but arrived just in time to catch the sunset.

I'm sad that my Volkswagen got totaled right when I was starting to get happy with how the build was going. At the same time though, I can be thankful because I got the experience of being in the slammed car scene and now I get to experience something else. The car I ended up getting as a replacement is a 2002 Subaru Forester. I'm really stoked on this car now and it did awesome on this trip. AWD and decent clearance made it possible to go "off roading" and find some pretty sweet camping spots where probably not many others had been. It was also surprisingly comfortable sleeping in with two guys and a dog. Whenever I say we camped, I mean we found a place off the beaten path where no one would find us and slept in the car. 

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On day two, we left Mt. Saint Helens and crossed over the river into Oregon. We hiked to several waterfalls and climbed some epic cliffs. Some of these photos of us were taken on an Iphone 4s. We also got several funny clips on our phones as well as some footage I shot on my 7D which I may compile together into a video at some point. 

After we finished hiking to waterfalls in the gorge, we traveled through Mt. Hood National Forest and camped up in the hills above Trillium Lake. Although it was extremely packed with people the evening before, there were only a few people other than us watching the sunrise early that morning. This was one of the most calm lakes I've seen. The water really was just like glass and, as you can see, the reflection was great. 

Rarely will I elect to convert a sunrise/sunset image to black and white. The high contrast and still waters of the landscape create a whole different mood for the photo though when the color is removed and I love it. 

After sunrise at Trillium Lake we continued through Oregon and began heading south. We traveled through several national forests and then arrived at the beautiful Painted Hills. I've never seen geological structures with colors such as these. They were amazing to witness in person. The sun was about at its peak in the sky during the time of our visit so I didn't have the best lighting. I would have really liked to shoot here during golden hour. One of the goals of this trip was to have no restrictions and take our time. To stay and wait for sunset here though would have left us with nearly a day and half to kill in central Oregon, and we were anxious to reach our next location.

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Lots of long straight road pictures like this were taken and thrown up on Instagram. During the stretch from the painted hills to our next location we saw maybe two cars in three or four hours. We drove through the middle of no where and started getting nervous about the level of gas in the tank. When we arrived in the nearly ghost town of Fields, Oregon we filled up at a super cool old retro gas station which had already closed. But thankfully the girl was still there to help us. 

That next location I mentioned was here. The Alvord Desert. Most of the areas I chose when planning this trip were mountains, forests, and lakes. These are my favorite places to hike and explore by far. Because the Alvord Desert is so different from anywhere I'd ever been before, I was really looking forward to exploring the vast salt flats that continue for miles and miles. We arrived there right at dusk after the sun had gone down. There were clear skies and a full moon that night though which allowed me to capture this beautiful landscape by moonlight.

The salt flats go on for miles and you are able to drive out wherever you want and camp which is pretty damn awesome. Not only was it a full moon that night with good visibility, but temperatures stayed in the low 70's for quite a while before it got cold. I decided I had to do something super epic so me and Piper, my puppy, went for a midnight run through the desert. We ran so far we had to find our way back to the car. 

There were many mornings where I woke up early to photograph the sunrise. After missing sunset the previous evening I was determined to catch the sun coming up. When I initially ventured out and got set up the clouds were blocking the entire horizon. I waited patiently and took some shots as it continued to get lighter but eventually gave up hope for any color in the sky and chose to return to my warm sleeping bag. As I laid there though I saw the sky begin to really glow. So instead of getting more sleep I grabbed my camera and went out for another try. I'm sure glad I did seeing as I got to watch the desert floor light up and get the shot I was looking for.

The salt flats of the Alvord Desert met and rose above my expectations. I'm pretty pumped on the photos I was able to get there and I know I will definitely return. This was to be the last stop for us in Oregon. 

A gravel highway road which continues for 45+ miles brought us out of the salt flats and towards the Idaho border. We decided to get a cheap hotel in Boise so that we could rest up and shower. We pretty much just chilled there other than going to a movie. Movie for $3 = win.

When we left Boise we traveled through Boise National Forest and even went swimming in the freezing cold Payette River on our way to the Sawtooth Mountain range. This was one of several places we would end up swimming.  

I only ended up shooting star trails at one location on this trip. Looking back, I wish I had done it more. This ridge was where we blazed our trail and camped our first night in the Sawtooth Mountains. I was never really worried about being harmed by wildlife but as I collected my camera from shooting the stars, we listened to howling wolf packs making their way closer and closer to us. I made sure to not linger out in the dark for too long. 

Day two in the Sawtooth. We hiked across the valley and up the ridge onto some boulders. The Stanley Basin area was probably one of my favorite places I've been. It was a place that provided a strong sense of serenity, yet felt truly wild. There was a serious lack of human contact and that's always a plus in my book.

Old things in black and white rule. 

On the evening of our second day we discovered this old abandoned log cabin deep in the woods. We stayed here three out of the four nights we were in the Sawtooth wilderness. Playing some John Mayer through the speakers, drinking whiskey, and cooking bratwursts over the fireplace were some good times I will not soon forget.

Early morning is my favorite time. When the day is young and all is quiet and still. Every time I woke up to shoot sunrise, Joah kept sleeping so it was my solitary time. Not that I wouldn't enjoy the company, but I'm glad that I got to have some of these experiences alone. On this particular morning, I woke up earlier than I thought I needed too, built a fire in the cabin, and then ventured out into the frost covered meadow and awaited day's first light to hit the mountain peaks. 

The next stop on our journey would be Wyoming territory. It was bitter sweet leaving this incredible place but you can bet I'll be back in the Stanley Basin again. We got another hotel in Pocatello, Idaho before we headed further east.

Grand Teton National Park....where to even begin. This place was slightly different than I had imagined but certainly breathe taking. We stayed here for four nights and did quite a bit of exploring. Every day we were here we went swimming at a sweet spot we found on the river. We also went into Jackson and hit the bar a few nights. 

I've never had the chance to see, much less photograph, wild buffalo until this trip. They're certainly magnificent creatures and watching hundreds of them cross the fields no more than five feet in front of you is something you don't see everyday. 

Out in the meadow at the edge of the tree line where we set up our base camp for a few nights in the Grand Tetons, the stars were more present perhaps than anywhere else I've seen.

I visited so many great places and saw many great sights on this trip. It would be hard to pick out the best one but if I had to, this morning would probably be it. Gathering some time before the sun came up, I joined a group of five or six other photographers who were all great people and who's company I very much enjoyed. This famous place has so much history. I love history and old places where one can visit and think about those who came before. I want to return here and photograph this scene in the winter.

Just as I said the well known barn on Mormon Row was an incredible place to visit, this renowned location gave me quite a unique feeling. Standing at the same spot and photographing the same scene that Ansel Adams wonderfully captured and made so famous was quite a surreal experience.

One thing I wish I had been able to capture more of on this trip was wild life. At the same time however I realize that, unlike these photographers I met in Yellowstone, I simply don't own the ridiculously expensive lenses that are needed to achieve many great wildlife photos. 

Upon leaving Yellowstone, we headed north to spend a few days exploring Montana territory before heading back home. As I have already said, I know I will at some point return to each one of these places. It was a great experience and I believe it helped me grow not only as a photographer but as a person as well. Thank you all for checking out my work. Especially if you actually read this whole post. If anyone is interested in prints I will be doing a sale so feel free to email me. Thanks again for reading. Until next time. - WM