Bandon Oregon | Face Rock Viewpoint

•August 13, 2011 • 2 Comments

Bandon is a small coastal town on the southern Oregon coast.  Well-known for its scenic beauty, photographers and nature enthusiasts alike enjoy its dramatic coastline, which is reputed to have some of the most striking beaches in the entire Northwest.  Filled Bandon Oregon, Face Rockwith coastal rocks, islands, and rocky outcroppings or “sea stacks” sprinkled throughout the landscape; Oregon photography opportunities are not only endless, but impressive.   A few of the notable formations in the area are Face Rock, Haystack Rock, Coquille Rocks, Elephant Rock, and Table Rock.  Face Rock is one of the most photographed monolithic formations in the area.  As the name implies, you can make out the profile of an uplifted face from the sea.   Visitors can easily find Face Rock by driving along Beach Loop Drive and parking at the Face Rock Viewpoint with access down to the coastline.

Face Rock makes for an excellent starting point as you can walk either North or South and find yourself amongst Bandon Oregon, Face Rockremarkable sea stack formations, tide pools, sea caves, and expansive views of the ocean and sandy beach.  Plan on photographing at low tide as tide pools will unveil themselves, patterns in the sand will be revealed, and you can get close and personal with many of the sea stack formations.  Sunset photos from Bandon are notable due to the depth of interesting formations you can capture in one shot with a wide angle lens –from a rocky pool before you all the way to sea stacks on the far horizon.

The historic Coquille River Lighthouse at the mouth of the Coquille River is located in Bullards Beach State Park which is two miles north of Bandon.  The lighthouse was originally built to serve not only as a coastal light but also as a harbor light because a bar at the Bandon Oregon, Face Rockmouth of the Coquille River made a treacherous obstacle for ships entering the river. The surrounding beach, as well as the lighthouse itself, is open to the public which can be reached by the beach access road in the park.  With 4.5 miles of open beach to explore, recreational and sight-seeing opportunities are endless. Also, on the other side of the river is the Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, sporting a variety of resident and migrating wildlife.

Across the river is the quaint Bandon by the Sea. With a variety of shops, galleries, and restaurants in the town that is called “The Cranberry Capitol of the World,” as well as the “The Storm Watching Capitol of the World.” Bandon Oregon Interestingly, cranberries have been grown in Bandon since 1885, making Bandon  a center of  cranberry production in the Pacific Northwest. More than 100 growers harvest about 1,600 acres around Bandon, raising 95 percent of Oregon’s cranberries, and approximately 5% of the national crop.  Peak harvest season is a popular time to visit Bandon for photography. While the town of Bandon offers fine lodging and dining, the Bullards Beach State park has year-round camping with tent and RV sites, as well as 13 yurts nestled among shore pines. The horse camp features easy access to the beach and dunes for our equestrian campers. Surrounded by grassy fields, sandy dunes, equestrian trails, and the Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, the area is popular with equestrian campers, hikers, bird watchers, mountain bikers, fisherman, and photographers.

Bandon is a top destination in Oregon for photography.  With classic coastal imagery including numerous rock formations, bountiful tide pools, crashing waves, and silvery sand, it offers the essential subject matter for photographers to create remarkable shots.  Adding to the photographic opportunity is the diversity that the surrounding area provides –from the Coquille River Lighthouse to Bullards Beach State Park –count on an abundance of photos and memorable experiences.

For more pictures from Bandon Oregon, visit

Leslie Gulch

•February 27, 2011 • 7 Comments

Leslie Gulch, in remote southeastern Oregon, is a top destination for outdoor enthusiasts seeking towering and colorful geological formations. The area encompasses more than 11,000 acres highlighted by the Leslie, Timber, Slocum, Juniper, Dago, and Runaway gulches managed by the Bureau of Land Management as an area of Critical Environmental Concern to protect the outstanding landscape scenery and habitat of California bighorn sheep and several rare and endangered plant species. The most striking feature of the Leslie Gulch area is its impressive geological formations formed by violent volcanic eruptions and subsequent weathering during the last 15.5 million years. Today, the stunning scenery displays beautifully steep slopes of honeycombed towers, sheer pinnacle cliffs, and deep side-pocket canyons with brilliant colors highlighted by mineral deposits and the volcanic ash of this ancient caldera.

Recreational activities include hiking, boating, fishing, plant and wildlife viewing, and photography. A boat ramp in Leslie Gulch provides access to the expansive Owyhee Reservoir. The only camping allowed is near this boat ramp at Slocum Creek campground with 12 tent sites, picnic tables, and a vault toilet. But do not let these amenities fool you into thinking you are in store for a cushy retreat. This is a barren gravel road area with no electricity, cell service, drinking water, or shade. Temperatures in the summer are easily over 100 degrees and the area is barren desert-like in the most remote portion of Oregon. During the time I was at Leslie Gulch, it was mid-July with 105 degree temperatures with no clouds in the sky. Shade is literally nowhere to be found in this area as there are neither significant trees nor man-made structures. In the evenings, I was the only person around for miles and had the place to myself. Your only source of supplies and protection are from what you plan and bring for the trip; a call for help can be unanswered.

A highlight of the Leslie Gulch area is the opportunity to explore and hike the zigzagging side gulches. One of the most impressive gulches is Timber Gulch. The start of the hiking trail to this gulch is not marked, but you can find it by either driving 2.35 miles up from Slocum Creek campground or by driving down 1.25 miles from the Juniper Gulch sign. The hike is just 0.6 miles and up the dry creek bed of Leslie Creek, veering through sandy washes, silver-tipped sage brushes, and through the tight and narrow canyon walls. After scrambling over and under boulders, you reach a large amphitheater-like area wrapped by canyon walls and a wide-open view down the gulch. The view is remarkable and a spot where I decided to wait for sunset with my camera gear to take pictures.

Another recommended gulch to explore is Dago Gulch which is located up the Leslie Gulch road 2.25 miles from Timber Gulch where you can park next to a locked green gate. The hike is up the closed road where you can travel 0.8 miles where you reach a cattle gate and cannot go any further as it becomes private land. Along this dusty road there are abundant photo opportunities and I found myself walking a few hundred feet at time and stopping to take photographs as the scenery progressed into a view back of the towering and sheer upright canyon walls from where the hike began. One side of the gulch is relatively smooth with white, red, and green volcanic ash and a colossal and lone pinnacle anchoring the area, whereas the other side is filled with honey-combed pockets of spires and sheer cliffs weathered and carved into intricate stone lacework due to the passing of time. I decided that I would come back to Dago Gulch on my second night camping in Leslie Gulch during sunset to take photographs and capture the dimming light and the dark shadows it created against the white rock face of this sheer canyon side.

There are no fees to neither enter nor stay at Leslie Gulch as this is BLM land. The drive to Leslie Gulch could be a destination all its own with fantastic scenery of rolling hills, open plains, rocky outcroppings, and magnificant cliffs. There are a few farms and ranches scattered throughout the area with opportunity to photograph ranching life. The landscape is complete with horses and ranching lifestyle that is reminscent of the ranching community that came to this area decades ago and helped shape the economy and culture of Oregon. Once you enter the Leslie Gulch area (noted by the sign), it is easy to find your way as there is only one road in and one road out. During rains, the dirt & gravel road becomes difficult to navigate, so be prepared.

Truly a premier destination for Oregon hiking and photography, Leslie Gulch is more impressive than many State Parks and deserves protection for its fragile environment. Yet its remoteness is likely what has preserved its fragile beauty and keeps it a lesser-known jewel for those seeking solitude.

To see more of Leslie Gulch and the surrounding Malheur County, please see my gallery at

To Get There:

From Jordan Valley, take US Highway 95 north for 27 miles and take a left at the sign for Succor Creek for 8.5 miles on gravel road. You will come to a T-shaped junction where you turn left toward Succor Creek for 1.8 miles further until you see a BLM sign for Leslie Gulch. This is the entrance to the area and the only road is Leslie Gulch road which winds down approximately 15 miles to the boat ramp at Owyhee Reservoir. The road is rough, and although I saw passenger cars while on my trip, a 4-wheel drive vehicle is recommended.

For perspective, Leslie Gulch is 493 miles from Portland, Oregon.

Mount Rainier National Park | Mazama Ridge

•February 6, 2010 • 2 Comments

Mount Rainier National Park is a pristine outdoors recreational area well-known for its old-growth forest, swiftly flowing streams, waterfalls, wildflower meadows, and most of all, its glaciers and vast open snow fields.  At 14,410 feet, the mountain is the highest peak in the Cascade Range and is quite the accomplishment for mountain climbers.  Offering recreation all year, Mount Rainier is a prime destination for winter activities because as a National Park, there is no downhill skiing or snowboarding allowed.  Therefore the Park lacks the commercialization and the crowds that chairlifts and ski lodges can bring.  Snow camping is allowed almost anywhere in the park as long as snow depth has reached 5’ at Paradise and 2’ elsewhere in the park.  In winter, the only two park entrances open are the Nisqually Entrance, in the southwest corner of the park, and the Carbon River Entrance, in the northwest corner of the park. 

Recently I returned to Mount Rainier National Park for snowshoeing and overnight snow camping.  I had planned for my friend and I to snowshoe from Paradise up to the Mazama Ridge and pick out an appealing spot in the open meadow to set up camp.  As a backcountry permit was required, we checked in with the rangers at the Jackson Visitor Center who warned us that a strong Arctic cold front was expected to enter the area overnight and frigid temperatures and strong winds were in the forecast.  The ranger also noted that visitors were having issues making it up to the Mazama Ridge due to the lack of a trail and a steep incline to the top.  I too had been following the weather forecasts and was looking forward to some true winter weather, which to me only adds to the enjoyment of snow camping.

The snowshoe to Mazama Ridge is a moderate shoe with the distance 4 to 6 miles roundtrip and roughly a 1,000 foot climb to a high point of 5,700 feet.  I say 4 to 6 miles roundtrip because once you make it up to the ridge you are in a vast open meadow and can wander essentially for as long as you like searching for a perfect spot to camp, take a break, or add distance to your workout. As a favorite destination for snowshoe trips, the Mazama Ridge has earned its popularity for breathtaking and wide-open views of Mt. Rainier and the Tatoosh Range.  There are multiple ways to reach Mazama Ridge and I decided to take the route where avalanche hazard is at its lowest. The trip started from the Jackson Visitor Center parking lot in Paradise where it was 20 degrees outside.  We shoed downhill on the Paradise Valley Route road for 0.6 miles to the 4th Crossing which was on our left, and began our climb up to the ridge.  The 4th Crossing was not marked at the time we were shoeing and could be difficult to locate.  However, you can see the Mazama Ridge and its tree line from the road, and it became clear to me by looking at the landscape and my map that the only way to make it up to the Mazama Ridge would be to head left up the moderately steep hillside and make our own trail up to the ridge.  This climb up to the ridge is short at 0.5 miles but it is steep, and in this short distance is where you gain your elevation.  Early on we crossed a narrow log bridge over Paradise River and in hindsight, we were quite lucky to find this bridge as there was no trail to guide our way.  After the bridge crossing, we began to climb up to the ridge by making our own switchbacks and after a nice workout we made it up to the ridge and shoed a few yards through the tree line where we finally had a view of the rolling subalpine meadow.  As the foul weather was just starting to roll in, I did not have the highly anticipated views the area is famed for.  I continued to wander through the meadow staying close to the tree line where I found what felt like a perfect place to set up camp under a stand of large pine trees to offer some protection from the elements.

At this time it was getting later in the afternoon and the temperature had dropped down to 18 degrees and things were fairly calm while I was setting up my gear and taking a couple of short side treks to explore the area further.  Around dinner time, the temperature had dropped to about 12 degrees and the winds started to pick up a little.  This made for very cold and crunchy lasagna with red meat sauce because although we got the water boiling, and I kept the packet in my jacket for insulation, it wouldn’t truly cook all the way through.  However, a number of Jubelales warmed me up and come 9 o’clock the wind became strong and was whipping up the snow that was falling.  So we headed to our tents for the night.

This is where the fun began as a little while later I could hear the sound of a freight train slam into my tent every 10 seconds with the strongest winds I have ever experienced while camping.  Confirming recently with the forecast records, the wind gusts were 50-60 mph and every few seconds the wind would slam into my tent and throw me around inside.  If you have experienced strong winds before, there is nothing like that sound where you can hear the slight beginnings of a wind gust and actually hear it intensify and pick up momentum and then waiting a couple of seconds and anticipating it slamming into your tent.  It is a unique experience and becomes almost harmonic after a while. I wasn’t able to fall asleep that evening but for a brief period I emerged from the bottom of my sleeping bag and when I opened my eyes and turned on my head lamp, I saw that my tent was filled up to my sleeping bag with snow that kept blowing under my rain fly and apparently through the sides of my tent.  I was able to snap a quick photo of myself and checked my thermometer which read 8 degrees.  In all honestly, that evening was true insanity being rocked by the winds and pelted with snow.  I kept thinking it would let up, but it never did.  By 7 o’clock in the morning, the wind and snow had not let up at all.  At this time we were practically being blown off the ridge.  I got out of my tent to start to pack up and noticed that my friend’s tent had collapsed on top of him and his rain fly was shredded.  It was an intense scramble to pack up and once we were back on our trail, it took some skill and luck to remain on my feet while I shoed down the ridge to level ground and back to Paradise.  I have to admit, I was hoping the weather would be extreme, and as long as I have the right gear and proper planning, it just adds to the excitement of being in the outdoors and for me makes a routine trip into a true adventure. 

My snowshoe trip to Mazama Ridge lived up to my expectations.  I am pleased to add my own experience for my fellow outdoors enthusiasts to read and I encourage you to make your own adventure. 

To Get There:

The park is 150 miles from Portland and is easy to find due to the frequent signs to Mount Rainier National Park.   From Portland, take Interstate 5 to Highway 12.  From the town of Morton, take Highway 7 to the town of Elbe and take Highway 706 to the Nisqually Entrance and follow the road to Paradise.

Be sure to visit the National Park Service website for Mount Rainier National Park to read and understand the park’s regulations, guidelines, and current road status and weather.

Fall Mountain Lookout Cabin

•October 21, 2009 • 1 Comment

Fall Mountain Lookout Cabin | Eastern OregonThe Fall Mountain Lookout Cabin is a former Oregon Forest Service lookout built in 1933. Back in the day, before satellite surveillance technology, lookout personnel monitored the forest from this perch for signs of smoke, alerting fire guards at times of peril. The lookout is located approximately 14 miles southwest from John Day, Oregon on Fall Mountain in the Malheur National Forest. At an elevation of 5,949 feet, the approximately 25 foot high lookout tower offers 360-degree views of the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness, and the surrounding valley including the distant towns of Seneca and Mt. Vernon.

As this cabin is currently available for rental use through Recreation.Gov, I planned an overnight trip to the lookout cabin. It was the first week of October, and although Fall had just begun, it was surprising to experience weather that was reminscent of the middle of winter. Once the truck was above 4,000 feet there was a fairly respectable dusting of snow. Fall Mountain Lookout Cabin | Eastern OregonAfter reaching the lookout cabin at nearly 6,000 feet, the snow was steady and the temperature dropped down from 45 to 28 degrees. The drive to the Fall Mountain Lookout cabin can be reached along gravel forest roads by a passenger car all the way to the tower itself. However, in inclement weather, four-wheel drive is a must. Upon arrival at the lookout tower, the wind was howling and the snow was beating upon the tower’s steep and frozen steps to the cabin.

The Fall Mountain Lookout cabin is noted as the only recreational tower in Oregon to have electricity and certainly does have its comforts. The 14×14 foot cabin has a futon, table and chairs, electric heater, stove, and refrigerator. Two can sleep on the futon, but there is space on the cabin’s floor for a couple of sleeping bags. The lookout has glass windows on all four sides offering 360 degree views of the surrounding area and a catwalk on the outside of the cabin to walk around. Fall Mountain Lookout Cabin | Eastern OregonThere is no water located at the facility or any water in the surrounding area. This is a “pack it in, pack it” out location. The Forest Service has built a very nice single person vault toilet (outhouse) within 50 feet of the cabin. Located a few distant yards from the lookout tower is an old shed and a couple of radio and electricity towers. Cell phone reception is crisp and clear thanks to a nearby cell tower.

The expansive Strawberry Mountain Wilderness and 125-plus miles of hiking trails are just a 30 minute drive from the lookout tower.  The Strawberry Mountain Wilderness area comprises 69,350 acres, including many mountain peaks and several alpine lakes.  The area is home to the Strawberry Mountain Range with the highest point being Strawberry Mountain at over 9,000 feet. A very popular hike and higly scenic route to reach the summit of Strawberry Mountain, is the 6.5 mile long hike from the Strawberry Basin. This route passes Strawberry Lake, Strawberry Falls and many meadows, ridges, and viewpoints along the way which are perfect to take a rest and photograph. This route to the summit of Strawberry Mountain starts at the Strawberry Campground.  This campground is a convenient place to park your vehicle at the trailhead.  The campground gets heavy use, especially in the peak Summer months, and  Strawberry lake is popular for fishing and swimming.

The Fall Mountain Lookout cabin is an excellent base camp for hiking, fishing, hunting, or exploring the vast wilderness in the surrounding John Day area.  Fall Mountain Lookout Cabin | Eastern OregonOn a clear day, the lookout offers great views for photography and sightseeing and the 360-degree views from the tower are a perfect place to experience sunsets and sunrises, stargazing, and the many summer thunder and lightning shows that Eastern Oregon is well known for. Plus, the lookout cabin is like a giant tree house, and well, that has an appeal all its own.

For pictures of John Day, Oregon and the surrounding landscape, visit

To Get There:

From John Day, travel south approximately 11 miles on Highway 395 to Forest Service Road (FSR) 3920. Continue on FSR 3920 to the junction with FSR 4920 and turn right on FSR 4920. Travel less than ¼ of a mile and turn right onto FSR 492067. Follow FSR 492067 approximately 1 mile to the lookout where you can drive up to and park next to the tower. There are fairly easy to follow “Fall Mountain” signs along the way and passenger cars shouldn’t have a problem in optimal conditions. Anything beyond that, four-wheel drive is a must.

Black Lake at Anthony Lakes

•September 5, 2009 • 2 Comments

The Anthony Lakes area is an alpine wilderness in the Elkhorn Range of the majestic Blue Mountains in Eastern Oregon featuring prime Oregon hiking, photography, and outdoor recreation. The area contains approximately 15 lakes, including some of the more notable ones: Anthony, Grande Ronde, Mud, Dutch Flat, Lilypad, Hoffer, and Black.

The Anthony Lakes area offers a wide variety of activities, including hiking, hunting, fishing, mountain climbing, photography, skiing, snow shoeing, and developed and backcountry camping. The geology and landscape is highly akin to the prominent Wallowa area and one of the top destinations in Oregon for hiking: the Eagle Cap Wilderness in the northeastern portion of Oregon. With comparable granite craggy peaks and alpine wilderness, the Anthony Lakes area is a top destination in Oregon for photography and hiking. Additionally as the area is not quite as far as the Eagle Cap Wilderness, it is more accessible for many in Oregon.

This alpine wonderland created by the Elkhorn Mountains is situated in the central portion of the wide-ranging Blue Mountains that extend from Southeast Washington into neighboring Oregon. The Elkhorn portion runs approximately 23 miles near the Union, Granite, and Baker county lines. With the Elkhorns being the highest subgroup of the Blue Mountains, most of the higher peaks rise at least 5,000 vertical feet over the floor of Baker Valley. Rock Creek Butte is noted as the highest point at 9,106 feet.

Traveling to Anthony Lakes is truly a highlight of the trip. The astounding Elkhorn Scenic Byway encircles the Elkhorn Range and for those who enjoy an excellent drive, the very well-paved and meandering road through the backwoods carries you from the low agricultural elevations up through and to the high subalpine areas of the northern peaks of the mountainous range. Full of countless photography opportunities, the roads lead you through numerous historical sites of Oregon’s pioneering gold and silver days of the late 1800s with trains, early pioneering ghost towns, and old mines visible from the road. The byway also leads you to the Anthony Lakes Ski Area which is a small ski resort but boasts fresh powder and the highest base in Oregon.

The short hike to Black Lake begins at the Anthony Lakes Campground, which in turn, is home to the most developed lake in the area, Anthony Lake, at an elevation of 7,140 feet. It is popular for picnicking, photography, swimming, and fishing. There is a small boat ramp and facilities in the well-developed campground with plenty of tent spaces available. However, Anthony Lake is by no means a “commercialized” body of water. It is small and remains fairly pristine given its popularity for swimming and fishing. There is an easy one-mile path around the lake which takes you through wildflower meadows and pockets of subalpine firs. Clearly in view is Gunsight Mountain at 8,342 feet (the peak has a notch that looks like a gun sight), and there is a more difficult 8.2 mile loop around Gunsight Mountain which gains 1,330 feet of elevation and takes you along the Elkhorn Crest Trail. As Anthony Lake is often crowded in the summer months, the true jewels are the other lakes scattered throughout the area. If you have the motivation to hike a few miles, you can escape the sounds and activity at the Anthony Lake Campground and find some solitude.

As Anthony Lakes can be crowded at times, a short one-mile backpack to Black Lake to search for a nice spot to set up your tent and enjoy greater privacy is highly recommended. The trailhead is well signed and easily spotted near the boat ramp’s turnaround. Anthony Lakes OregonThe hike is fairly easy, although rocky, as it gains a slight elevation before reaching Black Lake after a mile. The area has some prime primitive camp sites along the shoreline of Black Lake. It is very pretty and probably half of the size of Anthony Lake. Surrounded by firs, wildflower meadows, rocky outcroppings, and a clear view of the back-side of Gunsight Mountain, it is a fine destination, especially given its close proximity to Anthony Lake. As Gunsight Mountain is a focal point, photographing is best with a sunrise rather than sunset, as in the morning the early sun lights up the back-side of Gunsight Mountain with a soft glow. Trout frequently jump in the pristine and shimmering water and there is plenty of wildlife throughout the area. Anyone planning to set up a small tent in the camp spots at Anthony Lake should consider instead a short hike to set up a tent at Black Lake for a much more peaceful wilderness experience.

A trip to the Anthony Lakes area is highly rewarding for Oregon hikers and nature enthusiasts. With dense forests, vast areas opened up by recent forest fires, craggy mountain peaks, alpine lakes, and abundant wildlife, it encompasses everything that one desires when photographing, backpacking and Oregon hiking. Along the way, the drive is spectacular, with countless photography opportunities to get sidetracked exploring the historical sites in the area. Plan on visiting the small town of Granite, established by gold miners in the 1860s, where you can stop in at The Outback’s bar to have a beer with the town’s population of 24. I encourage you to explore Oregon and make your own adventure.

For more pictures of the Anthony Lakes area and surrounding landscape, visit

To Get There:

The Anthony Lakes Campground is located on the well-paved Road 73, 35 miles northwest of Baker City, or 17 miles west of North Powder. It is easy to follow the “Anthony Lakes” signs after taking the North Powder exit 285 from Interstate 84.

For my trip, I chose an alternate route from Portland, by taking Interstate 26 to John Day and then continued past Prairie City and took easily navigable roads through the small towns of Bates, Sumpter, and Granite.

A Northwest Forest Pass is required (permits can be purchased at the trailhead) to park at the Elkhorn Crest Trailhead. There are fees for camping at Anthony Lake.

North Fork John Day Wilderness

•June 28, 2009 • 18 Comments

The North Fork John Day Wilderness along the North Fork John Day River Trail deep in Oregon’s Blue Mountain gold rush country is prime backpacking country. The 25 mile-long trail follows the John Day River downstream through a rimrock canyon featuring forests of Douglas Fir and lodgepole pines, rocky outcrops, smooth meadows, and decaying log cabins of Oregon’s gold rush pioneers. The North Fork John Day drainage was a bustling gold and silver mining area in the middle to late 1800s. Old mines, log cabins, water-worn rock, dredged ditches, and other traces are still visible of people who mined an estimated $10 million in gold and silver in the early days of Oregon.

The North Fork John Day Wilderness was established by the Oregon Wilderness Act of 1984 and is comprised of 121,800 acres. A 39 mile segment of the North Fork John Day River has been designated as a Wild and Scenic River. The river is “Wild” meaning it is undammed along its entire length and is the third longest free-flowing river in the lower 48 of the United States. The area’s fish population includes large numbers of Chinook salmon and steelhead, with runs that peak in August. This area is well known for big-game animals, which currently include a herd of Rocky Mountain elk estimated to number beyond 50,000 and a herd of mule deer that reportedly exceeds 150,000. The wilderness also has its fair share of black bears and mountain lions and in the fall, the North Fork John Day River Trail is a prime trail for big-game hunters.

Hikers can access roughly 133 miles of trails, three of which, Elkhorn Crest, Winom Creek, and North Fork John Day, are National Recreation Trails. Interested in Oregon hiking, and a scenic tour of the wilderness along the John Day River, I planned an overnight photography and backpacking trip with my friend Spencer. We planned to start at the North Fork John Day Campground which is located southeast of Ukiah, Oregon and 9 miles north of the small town of Granite, Oregon. The campground is the trailhead location for the North Fork John Day River Trail #3022 which runs 25 miles down the river. We planned to hike roughly 6 miles downstream to find a nice place to camp along the river and return back along the trail to the trailhead the following morning.

We set off from the trailhead which is at an elevation of 5200 feet, and after just 200 yards through a wet meadow we turned right to cross a wooden footbridge across Trail Creek. From here, the North Fork John Day River Trail #3022 follows the river deep into the wilderness. The hiking trail shared by hikers and horses, is well defined, is narrow in places, and certainly is a rugged and rocky trail. It is easy to follow however, since the river is usually in sight. We hiked through tall Douglas Fir a fair portion of the way and stopped to look back on the views of the river upstream. Early into the hike we came across old miner’s cabins along the trail. There are short paths up to the cabins and you can explore them. I would say we saw approximately 5 of these cabins scattered along the trail. A couple of them could make for a decent day use or overnight shelter, while the rest were very well dilapidated, although still standing. Along the way we saw a couple of signs posted on the tall pines noting the names of some mining claims from the past.

After 2.6 miles from the trailhead we reached an old prospector’s cabin called Home Mine. This cabin is open for public use if you should choose. Nicknamed the “Bigfoot Hilton”, it is the cabin featured in William L. Sullivan’s adventure narrative, Listening For Coyote. William L. Sullivan has explored Oregon throughout and written many Oregon hiking guides, most of which I own and use as part of my research for finding top destinations in Oregon to hike and photograph. Unfortunately, although the Bigfoot Hilton has a celebrated history, its better days have long past. There is an old wood stove, and some metal framed bunk beds you can put your pad and sleeping bag on. Although you could spend the night there, judging the place by the piles of rat droppings, I would rather sleep outside.

From here, the Bigfoot Hilton makes for a good turnaround point for a short day trip and a 5.2 mile roundtrip hike. Or if you carry on, you enter deeper into the wilderness and in my opinion the scenery becomes far more beautiful. We decided to carry on as planned and crossed Trout Creek which flows right behind the Bigfoot Hilton. To cross Trout Creek, you have two options: to wade the creek and get wet, or to cross the creek by very carefully walking across two unstable logs laid over the creek. It wasn’t tough crossing the logs, but if we did slip we would have fallen approximately 12 feet into the creek.

At this point, we planned on hiking no more than 4 more miles along the trail and to find a perfect place to camp along the way. I knew that if we reached the point where the John Day River met the Crane Creek Trail junction, we would have traveled those 4 miles. So from the Bigfoot Hilton, we set off along the trail to where the John Day River meets Crane Creek. The trail passed through a couple of meadows and the views opened up tremendously. The hiking trail diverged away from the John Day River at points and gained a little bit in elevation. As a result, the few hundred feet in elevation gain had opened up our view and made for some great opportunities to photograph the river and the rimrock canyon gorge. Fortunately at this time too, a day which had been mostly cloudy brightened up and this added light lit up the canyon and enhanced not only our views but warmed up our day too. My map noted that after approximately 3 miles, we would be in the vicinity of the Thornburg Mine. I have to say that although I kept looking for the mine, I am not sure I truly saw it. We did reach a spot along the trail where on the right side there were piles of old quarried rocks discarded into piles, and I believe at this point is where the mine may be located and possibly the entrance is obscured for safety reasons. A quarter of a mile after this point we reached a short couple of switchbacks along the trail and climbed in elevation a little bit before the trail quickly took us back down near the banks of the river. At this point, we figured we went nearly 4 miles and spotted a prime camp spot along the river. The area was flat and opened up with a few scattered trees, meadow grasses filled with Columbine flowers, and plenty of dry firewood around. It looked like the perfect place to spend the rest of our afternoon and evening.

We set up our camp with our tents a few feet from the riverbank and explored the surrounding area a bit. I saw a few bear tracks close to our camp and although it was not alarming, it did add to my heightened sense of awareness that we were in a wilderness and wild animals abound. Spencer built a nice-sized fire and I boiled up some water on my backpacking stove to make some Lasagna with red meat sauce for dinner. We also enjoyed a few Seagrams 7 and Cokes, chilled in the river. During the day the temperature was in the 60s and by 11:00 PM it had dropped to 40 degrees. It was a perfect evening; as there was not a cloud in the sky or any breeze whatsoever. When we woke early in the morning, the temperature was 28 degrees, it was snowing, and there was nearly half of an inch of snow blanketing the ground. We waited a bit in our tents to see if the snow would stop, and when it appeared it would continue indefinitely, we decided to pack up our camp. The river had swollen an additional few feet overnight and it was moving even faster than it had been the day before. It was a good thing that we did not have to cross the river as it was clearly out of the question. With our tents and gear frozen wet, we headed back on the trail. Roughly 15 feet of the trail apparently had washed away down a cliff and into the river below making that part of the hiking trail impassable. So we scrambled a few feet above the slide to get to point where the trail did not wash away. We carried on the trail and now were extremely wet as we were sloshing through melting snow and reached once again, the log bridge to cross Trout Creek near the Bigfoot Hilton. With the two logs wet and covered with snow, we did not wish to cross the logs; so we instead crossed the small creek which now was knee-deep and icy cold. We tried to dry off a bit at the Hilton and made our way back the 2.6 miles to our car at the trailhead. What went from perfect weather to near imperfect weather only heightened our experience and showed us that we truly were in a wild wilderness.

After seeing quite a bit of Oregon now, I would highly recommend the North Fork John Day Wilderness as a top Oregon hiking and photography destination. The wilderness is rugged and pure, with wildflowers and wildlife. Not likely to be crowded, you can find your solitude. I encourage you to explore Oregon and make your own adventure.

For more pictures of the North Fork John Day Wilderness and Oregon photography, visit

To note: It is possible to create a loop out of this trip, rather than returning the same way we came. After 6.6 miles the John Day River meets up with Crane Creek and at the trail junction you can ford the John Day River and then hike 4.1 miles along the Crane Creek Trail to the Crane Creek Trailhead. Then from the trailhead, hike 2.6 miles on the North Crane Trail back to your car at the North Fork John Day River Trailhead. However, to make this loop, you have to cross the John Day River as mentioned. In late summer, the river is reportedly knee-deep. Being mid-June and with some rain and snow, the river was far too deep and fast for us to cross safely. So we knew ahead of time that we would not be making the loop trip. You can judge your ability to cross the river at the beginning of your trip, since you can see the river close to the trailhead and it is the same river you cross 6.6 miles downstream.

To Get There:

From Portland, take Highway 84 to La Grande. Continue on Highway 84 for 24 miles and take the North Powder Exit 285. Follow the “Anthony Lakes” signs 21 paved miles to the Anthony Lake area. Continue on Road 73 for another 17 paved miles to a four-way junction. Here Road 73 meets Road 52 and you can see the entrance for the North Fork John Day Campground. There are primitive tent sites, no water, an outhouse style bathroom, and parking for trailers and horses. Drive through the campground to the end where you see parking for the North Fork John Day River Trailhead. A registration book and regulations are posted at the trailhead. A Northwest Forest Pass is required for parking.

Elowah Falls | Columbia River Gorge

•April 5, 2009 • 5 Comments

Elowah Falls and Upper McCord Creek Falls in the Columbia River Gorge are prime locations to photograph waterfalls. I feel that both of these waterfalls are hidden gems as I have visited many of the falls in the area and these two stand out as favorites. In visiting both falls, my roundtrip hiking distance was 3 miles with some parts of the trail fairly steep, yet overall, it was a very comfortable hike and one that I will remember for its beauty.

Elowah Falls is the first waterfall along the trail and is the better one for photography; since the trail takes you right up to the fall’s large punchbowl and the area is wide open to explore and find the perfect vantage point to shoot from. On a warm day, the area surrounding the falls would be an ideal destination for a picnic. The cliffs on both sides of Elowah Falls form a stone-like amphitheater around the waterfall and are flanked with brightly colored green-yellow lichen which add interest to the scene. I found that with the magnitude of water pouring from the waterfall, as well as the constant spray, photography near the punchbowl was not going to yield any pleasant shots, so I hiked back down the trail and scrambled down to McCord Creek to take shots from the creek and looking up towards Elowah Falls. Here I found a couple of prized vantage spots and spent the next couple of hours taking photos intermittingly testing various shutter speed and my graduated neutral density filter.

Pleased with my experience at Elowah Falls and hopeful that I got a good shot, I hiked back up along the trail I came to the sign which gave the short distance to Upper McCord Creek Falls. After a few minutes of hiking, I was very surprised to see that the trail continues through steep solid rock as the trail makers must have blasted out the rock to create a ledge that continued for a couple hundred feet. At this point it was very steep with water dripping on me from the rock ceiling. There are a couple of good vantage points to take photographs of the Columbia River from this point and there is a metal railing to keep you safe, as the drop is a straight one down countless feet.

I reached the viewpoint to Upper McCord Creek Falls where I was shocked to see the size and magnitude of the waterfall. I took a few photographs of the falls and then continued shortly up the trail to where the trail ends. At this point, you are above the falls and next to McCord Creek. I really did not find a very good vantage point from which to shoot the falls as the trail does not take you down the base of the falls. Rather, the view is from a distance looking slightly down and I would be hard pressed to find a unique shot of the waterfall. I did take, however, a picture of Upper McCord Creek from above the falls and I like this photograph because it captures the movement of the creek yet the colorful creek bottom is entirely in view. I like the simplicity of the photo as the image has no true subject; just capturing the smooth flow of the water is what I was after.

I recommend the short trip to Elowah Falls and Upper McCord Creek Falls as both a top destination in Oregon for landscape photography but also as one to hike and explore. The varying scenery and trail make it an interesting and fun hike with just the right amount of distance and elevation gain. Both falls make for a perfect family hike too.

For more pictures of the Columbia Gorge and Oregon photography, visit

To Get There:

Drive east from Portland on Interstate 84 and take the Dodson exit (exit 37). Just after exiting the highway, turn left and take a frontage road for 2 miles to John B. Yeon State Park. The trailhead is 37 miles east of Portland. Be careful as this State Park is just a few parking spaces right alongside the road and there are numerous car break-ins in this area.


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