Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Reopening the Gorge

As most of my regular readers know, Oregon's world-famous Columbia River Gorge was the victim of a massive wildfire in early September.  One of my favorite places to hike, I was devastated to learn many of the trails had been affected.  The Gorge was closed to the public both during and after the fire was finally controlled.  Sadly that meant no Gorge fall color hikes this year.

Latourell Falls

But Thanksgiving weekend brought good news - a small portion of the Historic Highway had been reopened.  Two waterfalls, Latourell and Bridal Veil, spared from the flames, were once again accessible to the public.

Closer view of the falls

After seeing a bunch of Latourell Falls posts from Thanksgiving weekend, I knew I needed to get my Gorge waterfall fix.  So the following weekend, I made an early morning visit. 

And another close-up

Latourell Falls, the closest waterfall to Portland, is one of the Gorge's great cascades.  Plunging 249 feet over the lip of a tall basalt cliff this waterfall is a breathtaking sight.  A short 2.3 mile trail loops around the upper creek, taking visitors to the waterfall's very top and past another smaller cascade.

Latourell Falls is 249 feet high

I decided to see how my new Fujifilm mirrorless camera would perform photographing waterfalls.  From the parking lot, I gathered up my camera bag, backpack, and tripod and climbed a steep path to the first viewpoint.

Creek below the falls

But once at the overlook, I began fussing with my tripod and not paying attention to the open camera bag swinging from my neck.  My brand-new camera rolled out, crashing onto the pavement.  To make matters worse, my tripod then toppled onto the camera.

Another view of this lovely creek

Oh this day was not starting out well!  Luckily, despite the hard landing, my camera still worked.  It's lens hood had taken the brunt of the fall, and the tripod had only scratched the screen.  I fired off a few test shots and then breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Falls and footbridge

This first overlook was definitely bad luck.  Time to pack up and walk to the bottom of the falls.  As I was stowing my gear, raindrops began pattering on the ground.  Wait a minute - this was not in the forecast!  Luckily I'd grabbed my rain jacket and backpack cover.  (This is Oregon in the late fall after all, you never know when it might get wet).

Underside of large auto bridge

At the bottom of Latourell Falls is a lovely mossy creek and picturesque footbridge.  Setting up my tripod on the bridge, I heard a clink.  Another nearby photographer altered me that my polarizing filter had fallen off my lens and was teetering on the edge of the bridge.  Stepping down to grab it, I slipped on the wet deck and almost went over the edge!  Luckily my filter stayed put and after hoisting myself back up I was able to retrieve it. 

Gorgeous moss-covered trees

Oh boy, what else could go wrong today?  After spending a good half hour at Latourell Falls' base, it was time to move on.  A footpath led visitors along the creek past beautiful moss-covered trees.  The path then ducked under an old roadway bridge before switchbacking up to the Historic Highway.

One leaf still hanging on

Crossing the highway, the trail climbed steeply through a lovely forest.  A few straggler yellow leaves still clung to bare branches. 

Collection of color

I was having a good time capturing this most splendid forest when I noticed a red blinking icon in my camera viewfinder.  Low battery? ...... Oh no!

Fall leaves are almost gone

With a little over a mile to reach the upper falls, I definitely wanted to save some battery power to capture them.  So off went the camera, back into its bag and I had to pass by more beautiful sights that I couldn't photograph (about killed me!).

Viewpoint at the top of the falls

At the top of one switchback I noticed a steep side trail leading down to an open spot.  Curiosity got the better of me so I gingerly climbed down to have a look.  The tiny clearing gave a birds-eye view of the top of Latourell Falls.  Although impressive, it was difficult to capture in a photograph.  But the foggy forest surrounding this viewpoint was especially scenic.  (Worth using a tiny bit of precious battery power to capture!)

Interesting trees

For such a short trail, the upper falls seemed to take a long time to reach.  As I finally approached the roaring upper cascade, my friend the rain decided to make a return appearance. 

Upper Latourell Falls

Not wanting to further soak my new camera (it had been through enough already today!) I opted to snap a couple of quick hand held shots of the upper falls and call it good.  Shorter and partially hidden in a shallow cavern, it wasn't as impressive as it's lower cousin anyway.

Back past the lower falls

Upper falls now captured on my memory card, it was a quick downhill march along the opposite side of the creek.  A short distance from the parking lot, I got another great view of Lower Latourell Falls, this time from a side angle.

Looking out towards the Gorge

I liked this view of the falls.  Surrounded by a mysterious mossy forest, you could also catch glimpses of the Columbia River through the trees.

Fire damage on the Historic Highway

Driving back on the Columbia River Historic Highway I passed several areas charred by the fire.  It appeared the flames had hopscotched across the forest, torching some spots, while leaving other areas green and untouched.  I pulled over and used my camera's remaining battery power to capture a few shots of the damage.

Scorched rock

Very sad and sobering to see some of the beautiful forests reduced to black scars. 

Blackened hillside

I'm grateful the authorities were able to open a small stretch of the Gorge Scenic Highway.  Although a large piece of the Gorge will likely be closed for a year or two, it's comforting to know at least a couple trails were spared.

(And to continue my day of bad luck, once safely back home, I discovered my lens cap was missing.......Ugh!)


  1. Well, sorry you had such bad luck on that outing! But you still captured some spectacular shots of those falls!

  2. Ah cameras! They can be a bit of a pain at times. The signs of fire look very familiar. i'm still waiting for some of my favourite paths to open two years after fire in the west of the state.

    Cheers (and hope you had a good Christmas) - Stewart M - Melbourne

  3. Que maravilha e aquela cascata é fantástica, aproveito para desejar à minha amiga umas Boas Festas e um excelente 2018.
    Dedais de Francisco e Idalisa
    O prazer dos livros

  4. ...thanks for taking me to thing little piece of heaven. Can we go to the ornament trail again?

    1. Sadly the area of the ornament trail was heavily damaged in the fire and I'm sure it was destroyed. :(

  5. Hi! Sorry for the massive wildfire in early September. Your photos are very beautiful especially Falls's ones.I enjoyed your cool posts very much. Wishing you have nice days this year and next year too.

  6. Hello, sorry about the bad luck happening on your hike. The waterfalls are gorgeous. A beautiful series of photos. I am glad you camera was not damaged in the fall. I did not know the Gorge would be closed for so long, hubby and I enjoyed the ride along the gorge and some of the waterfalls right near the road. I hope you and your family had a happy Christmas! Enjoy your day and the week ahead!

  7. Some days you just can't win. You did get some awesome falls photos and as always a good discussion of your hike and photography.

  8. Sounds like a Murphy's Law kind of day! How sad you must have felt to see some of the burnt areas of the Gorge...but over time it will be nice to see it recovering from the fire as well. Beautiful shots despite the struggles!

  9. Glad your camera survived. What an adventure. Sorry you lost your lens cap though. I dropped my brand new Nikon F3 (wonderful film camera) at one of the falls, might even have been Latourell.. in the rain. Sturdy little thing, as I only dented it. Amazing.
    Great captures of the falls and surrounding terrain. Sorry to see the fire damage, but at least some of the scenic drive has reopened.
    Merry Christmas, hope it was a good one... and Happy New Year!

  10. Thank you for the photos, I wondered how parts of that beautiful area looked after the horrid fires. I am glad you didn't fall off the bridge...what a day you had:(

  11. Oh dear, what an exasperating day, but the photographic results still magnificent. I'm so glad I got to spend time in this area last year, before the devastation of the wildfire.

  12. Beautiful waterfalls! Please be careful out there!

  13. Nice to see part of the gorge open again. You really have beautiful single drop waterfalls over there.

  14. Not quite the day you had envisaged but on a positive note your camera is still taking some superb photos.

  15. Especially sad because it was a human caused fire and not natural, which is easier to take. I'm glad some areas were spared.

  16. Good to see that the area has reopened and you managed to capture some great images - despite adversity!

  17. Such a stunning waterfall! I'm glad the area has recovered quite a bit and can be open to the public again.

  18. If it makes you feel better I nearly dropped my wide angle zoom off the top of a building on a building site many years ago, lucky it stopped in one of the gapes between the scaffold planks. That looks like a beautiful place to visit on a nice day

  19. That is one gorgeous waterfall. sorry for all your almost bad luck.


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