It had been more than 20 years since I visited Oregon but my memories of this incredibly beautiful state remained indelible. While I was already dabbling in photography back then, I couldn’t wait to go back for some serious shooting. I admit I was a little concerned my memories had become romanticized over the years and I might be disappointed when visiting again. I was not disappointed.
Our trip began along the Oregon coast. It’s certainly a stark contrast to the gentle sub-tropical Gulf beaches of Florida that I call home. In Oregon, the Pacific surf is relentless. The cliffs and sea-stacks are both breathtaking and formidable. The weather conditions change in seconds. From bone chilling gale force winds, to warm gentle breezes, to fog you could cut with a knife, we were treated to it all.
There were wonderful sights up and down the coast but I think my favorite place for shooting was Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. I wasn’t so happy about the sections open to ATVs but the majority of the dunes are open only to those on foot. Arriving early one morning, just as the sun was coming up, was magical. The sun rising in the east was battling a fog bank that rolled in from the west. The play of light on the textured windswept dunes was a landscape photographer’s dream (just one of many in this incredible state). I was tempted to subject readers to the full set of images but restrained myself and posted just one.
After our days along the coast, we made our way to Crater Lake National Park. I’ve seen hundreds of photos of this park. Even though I had never been there, I thought I knew exactly how it would look. I had it all mapped out. I made plans to be at certain places at certain times to take advantage of the best light. Of course, that’s always a big mistake. I’m not knocking the whole planning thing but one does have to be willing to chuck the plan when things don’t work out as expected. Heavy smoke from several wildfires in the area completely changed the light. The lake itself wasn’t showing off it’s trademark jewel toned blue water. The rim of the caldera on the opposite side was lost in haze. There would be no “postcard” photos this time. Of course, that’s fine with me. I prefer finding the hidden gems anyway. I can always buy the postcard at the gift shop.
After Crater Lake, we made our way towards Bend, located in the high desert of Oregon. Tucked just to the east of the Cascades, Bend enjoys the benefits of the mountains and the desert. Our first evening was spent exploring some of the mountainous areas just east of town.
The following morning, we were up long before dawn to make our way to the Painted Hills unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. I had heard of this place from a friend and fellow photographer. After seeing her photos and hearing her describe her reaction to the landscape, I knew I had to see it for myself. As we neared the Monument, I was wondering if we were in the right place. I wasn’t seeing anything like she described. Then, just as the sun came over a hill, we turned a corner and BAM….there it was. The multicolored hills lit up like someone had hit a switch. The variety of colors was stunning. I spent a few hours shooting, periodically picking my jaw up off the ground as new unbelievably beautiful sights revealed themselves. Eventually, as the sun rose higher in the sky, it’s intensity washed out the color and the peak of the show was over. I plan to visit this place again!
The tail end of our trip was spent along the Columbia River Gorge. This is a great place for everyone, even those who don’t like too much physical exertion. A short drive from Portland and you’re treated to a series of incredible and easily accessible waterfulls surrounded by lush ferns. Turn around and you have beautiful views of the Columbia River and Washington state on the opposite bank.
Oregon is a state of Contrasts. During our ten day trip, we experienced the lush temperate rainforests along the coast, the drama of the Pacific, the magic of a lake born out of the violence of a volcanic eruption, and the hidden beauty of the high desert. Still, there were so many other spots along the way, worthy of a visit, but there simply wasn’t enough time. There will no doubt be another visit to this wonderful state!