Monday, May 13, 2013

White River Falls

One late April weekend, I decided to take a trip.  I'd always wanted to visit the John Day Painted Hills, deep in the heart of Central Oregon.  But they're a long drive from Portland.  Long enough that an overnight stay is required to properly see everything (unless you want to travel all day and night).

The winding canyon below the falls

White River Falls had also been high on my "must visit" list for several years.  Like the Painted Hills, these falls are located in a very remote canyon of North Central Oregon.  Looking at the map, I realized if I planned my route strategically, I could hit both places in the same trip.

Upper White River Falls

So Friday morning had me on the road, navigating the bleak, grassy, rolling hill landscape south of The Dalles.  Near the hamlet of Tygh Valley, I turned down a dusty secondary road in search of the little-known cascade.  After a very long drive from Portland, I arrived at the White River Falls State Park under a high midday sun, and ferocious wind.

Abandoned power plant below the falls

Lucky for me, the roaring upper tier of the White River greeted me from the parking lot's overlook.  Gazing over the edge, I was instantly rewarded for all the time and trouble it took to get here.  The falls were sensational!  Swollen with snowmelt, the twin tiers plunged 90 feet to the canyon below.

Run down old building

Mother Nature was against me that day.  I attempted to set up my tripod to catch some longer exposure shots, but the strong wind kept trying to knock it over.  I ended up anchoring my backpack underneath the legs to stabilize things.  Wind wasn't my only issue.  The midday sun didn't help my photo taking either, casting everything in a harsh light.  Still, after driving so far to get here, I wasn't about to give up.

Interesting stone walls

A rough trail led from the overlook to the canyon below.  The ruins of an old powerhouse sat at the river's edge.  Reading a park brochure, I learned that a hydroelectric power plant located at the falls base, produced electricity between 1910 and 1963.  As I traversed the steep, rocky path to the canyon's bottom, rubble from the long-neglected facility littered the slope.  I spotted one piece of masonry inscribed with the date "1910."

Lower view of the falls

A ledge above the powerhouse provided a great view of the entire waterfall.  A second tier, not quite as tall as the upper cascade, was equally impressive.  White, foamy water churned through the narrow rock walls, to the canyon base below.

White River below the falls

After many attempts to photograph the falls in their entirety, I picked my way down the rest of the slope to the riverbank.  Perched on the water's edge, the old powerhouse building with its rock masonry walls made an interesting photo subject.  However, the structure itself didn't look all that sturdy.  I wisely kept my distance.

Scenic canyon downriver

The trail continued downriver beyond the powerhouse, so of course, I couldn't resist a little more exploration.  I bushwhacked through sections of dense sagebrush until popping out onto a rocky ledge overlooking the river.  Yellow desert parsley was blooming through cracks in the rock, and the adjacent canyon walls were bright green with new vegetation.  An especially scenic spot!

Desert parsley was blooming

I traveled about half a mile beyond the powerhouse before the trail became extremely rocky and rough.  Realizing there was still almost three more hours of driving ahead of me, I made the decision to head back. 

Rocky shelf abloom with desert parsley

But not before one last stop below the falls at the canyon's very bottom.  Near the edge of the powerhouse building, I shot this parting image, capturing all three tiers of White River's powerful cascade.

Final view of the entire waterfall

This region, located in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains, is very arid.  So it's quite surprising to see a waterfall of this size in the middle of a dry grassland.  A hidden jewel, far off the beaten path, it's North Central Oregon's best kept secret.

On the road again - destination the John Day Painted Hills!  Stay tuned - my next post promises many images of this truly amazing place.


  1. Wow! Those falls are truly amazing! I had no idea.
    Oh yea, that dreaded mid day lighting and wind too...I love them both (not).
    Great post and photos! Looking forward to seeing the Painted Hills.

  2. Gorgeous shots, Linda. I have only visited this place once myself, and it was under equally inopportune conditions. Yours are much better than mine were. I also didnt go down to the powerhouse, so thanks for that! Im looking forward to your painted hills shots. I havent been since I was a kid!

  3. Linda, I do like this location! I love abandoned buildings on any hike, but I can't say I've seen anything as big as the powerhouse on a walk? I'd be exploring all day!

  4. Gorgeous waterfall and what a fun discovery on a solo roadtrip. How peaceful.

  5. Sounds like you didn't have ideal conditions for taking photos, but they turned out really great! The place looks so pretty. I really love the shots of the desert parsley. It looks lovely shooting up from the rocks like that. Awesome shots!

  6. Well worth the trip Linda. Even the weather was not cooperating with your tripod you got wonderful pictures. I loved the stone wall and the abandoned buildings. The falls were breathtaking!

  7. My kinda hike, Linda! Wayne's a electrical company worker so we would have taken some risks to explore, I'm sure.

  8. Hi Linda, I love an adventure, these are fantastic shots and the falls are beautiful.

  9. Quite a contrast between the later pictures of the wild looking river and falls and the ruined buildings at the start. The falls shot is really nice.

  10. Beautiful shots - especially the falls.


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