Saturday, November 13, 2010

Fall Finale

Every fall I plan a photography trip into the Columbia River Gorge.  The Gorge is my most favorite place in Oregon.  It's beautiful in any season, but in the fall it is spectacular.  You just can't beat the colorful leaves amidst the rocky cliffs, waterfalls, and greenery.

Multnomah Falls

The fall colors usually peak by late October.  This year, I watched the weather throughout the last half of October, hoping for a decent day on the weekend.  But the forecasters kept predicting rain, so I'd make other plans.  Then the weekend would roll around and surprise! - the weather would turn out nice after all. 

After two consecutive weekends of botched forecasts, I quit listening to the weatherman. There is only a short window to view the fall colors, and time was running out. I picked a date for my photo safari, and decided I was going, rain or shine.

Multnomah Falls Lodge is dressed up for fall

The first Friday of November dawned, foggy, but dry. Bear and I packed up and headed for the Gorge. As I drove east, the fog began to lift. It looked like I was going to get a good day.

My first stop was Multnomah Falls.  I originally wasn't going to stop here, as this place is usually overrun by tourists.  But it was early enough in the morning that the crowds were still light.  I left Bear in the car, and hopped out for a couple of shots from the parking lot.

Competing beauty

I found the trees around Multnomah Falls in full color mode.  They were absolutely stunning!  I snapped away, trying for the best composition.  The trees adjacent to Multnomah Falls Lodge were a lovely shade of orange, which I tried to capture.

There was a large group of people congregating near a small creek below the falls.  They were watching something in the water.  Curious, I walked over to observe.  Bright red salmon were migrating up the creek!   I'd never seen a salmon run in the Gorge before.  It was very cool.  I tried to get a photo, but those fishies were too fast.

Ponytail Falls with a class of school kids on the trail behind

My next stop was Horsetail Falls.  My plan was to hike up the Gorge Trail to visit Ponytail Falls and the viewpoint just beyond the falls.  Ponytail Falls is a fun waterfall because the trail goes behind the falls.  Always an interesting view when you're behind a waterfall!

While I was set up with my tripod photographing Ponytail Falls, a large group of grade-school age kids came hiking by.  It was fun to hear their enthusiastic comments.  The kids all loved hiking behind Ponytail Falls.  They lingered underneath the waterfall for awhile.  I waited for them to leave so I could get some shots, but soon gave up and included the group in my images.  The nice thing about having people in photographs is it gives a sense of scale.

Bear gives me his "quit taking photos and get hiking" look

After taking way to many photographs (is there such a thing??) I headed further up the trail.  From past hikes, I remembered there was a viewpoint not too far from Ponytail Falls.  I was hoping for some good fall color vistas.  Bear would run ahead and then double back to make sure I was still following.  He's hiked with me enough to know I get distracted by a pretty scene and that leads to an impromptu photo session!

Beacon Rock and a patchwork of fall colors

As I approached the viewpoint, the sun started to peep out of the clouds.  I got glimpses every now and then of the trees below, and they looked nice.  I started to get excited - sunlight and nice colors.  This was gonna be good!

Small pond and trees below the viewpoint

And the viewpoint lived up to my expectations.  The trees below were a patchwork quilt of color - yellow, gold, and green.  Although many of them had shed most of their leaves, there was still enough color left for an amazing scene.  The Columbia River gleamed, calm and blue.  And although the view to the east was somewhat hazy, I could see Beacon Rock in the distance.

The Columbia River, blue and beautiful

Looking across the Columbia River, the Washington side of the Gorge had a scattered speckling of fall color.  There was one lone boat fishing the river.

Horsetail Falls

After spending way too much time at the viewpoint, I finally tore myself away and headed back down the trail.  At the parking lot, I fired off a few shots of Horsetail Falls, framed by yellow leaves.

Elowah Fall's lacy white curtain

Next on my agenda was Elowah Falls, my favorite Gorge waterfall.  Due to a 0.8 mile hike to reach the falls, it is not as popular as other waterfalls in the Gorge.  I've visited Elowah many times, but always in the spring or summer.  I wanted to see what it looked like in autumn. 

Elowah's green grotto

I can tell you now, the fall season is the absolute best time to visit Elowah.  Oh my, it was lovely!  The falls were flanked by yellow-orange leaves, and neon yellow lichen.  Oh - and there was also lots of green moss and ferns to add to the palette.  Wow, wow, and wow!

These rocks are getting a shower

The trick to photographing Elowah Falls is to get as close as you can without getting soaked by the spray.  I got a little too close and had to wipe my lens off between takes.  Some of my photos ended up with water spots anyway.  Oh well, I had fun trying.

My attempt at a self-portrait
I walked over the trail to the opposite side of the falls and set up my tripod for more photos.  I thought while I was set up, why not try and get a couple of photos of myself?  I hit the self timer and ran to my chosen spot.  However, the camera was set up for long exposures and I couldn't hold still long enough for a clear image.  And it didn't help that Bear followed me into the frame.  There was no way he was holding still!  This photo is the best one I got.

Lone leaf on the trail

The entire time I spent at Elowah Falls, Bear and I were the only visitors.  It was sure nice to have the place to myself!  It is truly a beautiful spot in the Gorge.

Crown Point's amazing view

After Elowah Falls, it was time to start heading back home.  I decided to follow the Columbia Gorge Historic Highway as far as I could.  This highway is an amazing feat of engineering.  It was built to be driven slowly so motorists could take in the wonderful views.  With the golden leaves framing the road, I did just that.

The Vista House

The Historic Highway passes many waterfalls, winds around forested slopes, and finally climbs up to Crown Point, a rocky outcrop overlooking the Gorge.  There is a visitor's center, called the Vista House, at Crown Point that is a most interesting building.  The views at Crown Point are breathtaking.  They were especially wonderful that day, with the fall colors adding much to the beauty.

Crown Point as viewed from the Portland Women's Forum State Scenic Viewpoint

The last stop on my tour was at the Portland Women's Forum State Scenic Viewpoint.  This spot has an amazing view of Crown Point and the Gorge looking east.  As I drove into the parking lot, I was happy to see a lot of fall color on Crown Point's slopes.  This would make an already beautiful scene even better!

Vista House juts out over the Gorge

It was late afternoon, and the light was in a good spot.  The sun intermittently peeked out of the clouds and lit up the hillside.  I couldn't have asked for a better scene to photograph.  This viewpoint is one of the best in the Gorge, if not all of Oregon.

My photo trip was a smashing success!  The colors were still out in force, the weather was dry, and I even got a little bit of sun here and there.  The weekend was fall's last gasp, as the leaves began to turn ugly brown and fall off the trees by the following week.  So I'm happy I got out and photographed the fall finale before the dreariness of winter settles in.

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