Day 1/6

Palouse Falls

Yesterday, after a flight from Alaska, I have been trying to find a couple of things but that proved difficult. Internet is very slow here. I don’t carry maps of Washington/Oregon and haven’t prepared anything either, so I have to do it by head based on another visit here 6 years ago. The first things that come to mind are the National Parks Mt Rainier, Mt St Helens, Olympic and Crater Lake, the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area and Silver Falls State Park.

Yesterday evening it was raining and today will not be different in that respect. The weather in Oregon was predicted to get better, so I had thought about traveling south. Crater Lake looked good, but now I have a look again this morning, the whole west coast is covered in rain. It seems to become the same game again, keeping a long list of alternatives and everytime go for the one that seems to have the best chance for nice weather.

So, I have to go inland. The Palouse is the first on my mind, a trip of about 5 hours if I remember well. There is Palouse Falls, a photogenic waterfall that can be quite spectacular during sunset. Three years ago I wanted to visit it from Canada because the weather was deteriorating overthere, but it would take me 8 hours to get there and another 8 hours to return and went to Yellowstone National Park instead. That was equally far away but there was a lot more to see so I could spend a couple of days overthere. That story is available here. The waterfall would have been only one evening with good light and that I considered a waste of time.

The Palouse landscape consists of beautiful hills that are vivid green in summer, also known of the famous Windows startup screen, with that ultra blue sky above it. Curious how they are looking now, I guess they will be brown. Winter could be amazing for photos as well, lots of white spheres. I have been thinking to plan a visit in winter here. But have to find out how the weather is at that time. Snowstorms are not something on my wishlist. These can hold you up for days.

It’s time to get on my way. After little less than three quarters of an hour later I include a short visit to Snoqualmie Falls. A real tourist hotspot because it’s in the vicinity of Seattle. One bus after another is unloaded and the place is completely crowded. The waterfall is not specifically photogenic because of the buildings that surround it. Additionally there is a lot of water vapour in the air. No reason to stay any longer than necessary. I take a quick shot and leave immediately after.

Snoqualmie Falls

The first part around Seattle is ok, but the rest of it is boring. A long straight road with mown corn and wheet fields. For the first time during this trip I turn on the radio for a bit of distraction.

After driving for about 5 hours I arrive at the waterfall. The weather is nice and warm and a bit humid. Meanwhile the area has been turned into a recreation area for day visitors and now you have to pay 10 dollar per visit. That’s what I call easy money. They apparently have a problem with their budget. If you compare this with the national park pass for 85 dollars with which you can visit all the national parks in the US for a whole year, it’s quite rude to ask so much money for a single waterfall. Nice in particular if you want to visit it both in the morning and in the evening.

I do have a problem though, because I carry notes of 20 USD only. After waiting for a few minutes, someone else arrives and I ask whether he can change. He thinks not but starts emptying all his pockets. Completely crumpled one dollar notes appear from everywhere. I almost start regretting that I asked. He also has a five dollar note and keeps recounting them. Then he gives the whole bunch to me and says “here, 20”. I’m not sure, but I think that I haven’t seen 20 dollar. I return to the car and start counting the money. It appears to be only 15. The guy is a bit weird, but I do get back at him, curious about what he has to say. “This is only 15” I tell him. “Oh sorry, I though I gave you two five dollar notes (+ ten one dollar notes), here is the other one”. If you are so quick admitting, then you tried on purpose, nice try. At least I have 10 dollar now to put in the envelop and can go to the waterfall.

The small river cuts through a canyon and falls over an edge into a wide bowl. I’m standing here well above the top of the waterfall and during sunset, the whole canyon including the waterfall is beautifully illuminated. There is also a kind of organ next to the top of the waterfall. Very photogenic combination.

It will be a couple of hours before the sun will set, so I can take my time and try some compositions. The edge is not fenced and you can drop off easily, about 60 meters I guess. There are a lot spanish speaking people here and there are even rattle snakes. I would not expect any of them so far north.

It occurs to me that parents let their children walk up to the edge of the cliff to have a look down, one misstep or slide and they loose a child. Down at ther waterfall some people are fishing. I notice a path down there, but it’s unclear to me where that begins, has to be somewhere on the right side. Photographically speaking there is no sense in being there, so I leave it.

On the left side you can walk along the canyon wall and then I see a path down there as well and it’s not that far away. Several people are walking overthere and it seems like the river can be crossed. Let’s investigate.

After walking for a while along the right side of the canyonwall I end up at a slope with loose rocks and a path going down. This provides for a nice overview, have to shoot a couple of photo’s from here later.

On the valley floor I discover that the strips of water between the rocks are a lot wider than I though they would be. If I have to I can get on the other side, but carrying all the photo equipment, I think it’s a bit too hazardous. Further downstream I see another patch of rocks in the river and it seems to be easier overthere. There is enought space on the other side between the rockwall and the river to walk back to the waterfall.

But in the end I decide not to continue. The route to the spot where I can cross the river is treacherous and covered with sharp stones and rocks. A leg can be broken in an instant overhere. And when I would reach the other side, it’s at least another half hour back to the waterfall where I will be looking into the light. What was the reason I wanted to go there? Ah yes, just out of curiosity “what will it be like overthere?”, a question that has brought me very often to places I didn’t intend to go to, but sometimes delivers beautiful photos as well.

Above all, I didn’t take water with me, because my first intention was to only walk to the canyon edge, not a sensible thing to do with this heat. Thus, back to the top. Now I have some time for a couple of photographs of the canyonwall and the valley I was just walking in.

Palouse Falls

The Palouse River is visible right in the middle of the photo and directly behind the bend to the right is the waterfall.

Palouse Falls

Back at the waterfall I start trying out some compositions for later. There is a lot more cloud cover than earlier. The wind has started blowing harder as well. So close to the edge I’m bombarded by dust clouds. The trick for around sunset will be to have the waterfall in view on the left side and to reserve the illuminated canyon wall for the major part of the photograph with the sun shining from right.

In order to get this composition I have to be very close to the edge. I shuffle the tripod, while sitting on my knees, step by step to the edge. This doesn’t come easy with that hard wind. I have put the tripod in it’s lowest position possible for the wind to have the least bit of effect on it.

I also notice that it’s getting darker rapidly and that the sky is almost completely covered by clouds now. So I can forget about that beautiful sunset. I better shoot some photographs now, because I don’t know how the weather is going to develop. That sky doesn’t look good at all.

I bend forward to be able to look through the viewfinder. Did I hear that right? Was something ripping apart? I feel the backside of my trousers but don’t find anything. I bend forward again and again hear the same sound. Something is ripping apart there indeed. I feel again, but now better and now I do find a big rip in my pants. Shit! How is that possible, did I get a bigger ass by eating all that fish and chips in Alaska? No, I don’t think so.

First continue shooting photos, I will deal with the pants later.

Palouse Falls
Palouse Falls
Palouse Falls

The sky is getting darker really fast now. I walk all the way to the right for the last series and while doing that it starts raining.

Palouse Falls
Palouse Falls
Palouse Falls

The sky has turned almost black now and it’s really time to get back to the car. I pack everything quickly and start running. I throw everything into the car and dive in myself after that. I didn’t manage to stay dry. It’s raining really hard now with big drops. Had I started running only a minute later, I would have been soaked to the bone.

In the car I check that rip in my pants and it has become really big. Nice, that’s a sewing job for tonight as well.

In the end my waterfall plan has failed as well. At first I intend to drive to Moscow, a place in the center of the Palouse, but I encounter a Best Western much sooner and decide to stay. The rip has become bigger even meanwhile. Shit, my whole hand fits in now. The guests in the hotel are a bit posh and now I arrive on the scene with dirty clothes, a one week beard and a huge rip in my pants. Hmmm, I would almost feel shame. Luckily they have a room and I can go upstairs. On closer inspection, that rip is even bigger than I thought, the pants are completely ruined. I’m still unsure what caused it, maybe that the jungle fungy of Costa Rica have eaten it or something.

In the evening I have a big piece of salmon with rice in pants number 2, that is still usable and then I finally have time to write Alaska day 20, the story of the bears.

Maps, Charts & Downloads

GPS Map with color coded altitude information

Color coded distance/altitude chart

Color coded distance/altitude chart, Washington & Oregon Autumn 2013, Dag 01

Download the original gpx file here.