Coulees and the Columbia River

This weekend I met up with Don Hall for a day of exploration in Central Washington.  The two main attractions for us were Douglas Creek Canyon and Frenchman Coulee.  However, as the day evolved many other sites would be seen.  My day started very early:  3:30am.  I awoke, loaded up the car and started the drive to Douglas Creek Canyon.  I was leaving a little earlier than I had planned, but this just gave me more daylight.  As I started getting closer to the Columbia River, I realized I might have an opportunity to shoot the full moon setting at sunrise.  Not having made plans for such a shoot, I was dissuaded by trying to find a subject to go with moon and kept driving.  I decided to stop at Frenchman Coulee on the way to see what photographic opportunities it had: there is a nice waterfall tumbling down the basalt and two narrow U-shaped coulees running east-west.  It isn’t the best sunrise area (should be very nice at sunset), but a nice dawn shoot with some clouds would be nice.

I continued north, through George and Quincy (no John, Thomas or James along the way…sorry for the lame history joke), and reached the final leg of the trip:  Moses Coulee.  I had seen pictures of this and read some nice descriptions, but driving through it was a pleasant experience.  The morning light hit the wall perpendicularly with a strong, warm glow.  The basalt wall to my right was in complete shade, but the green lichens on the basalt created interesting textures.  The walls, rising almost 500 feet, seemed like petrified waves whose undulations were bounded below by huge talus slopes.  This continued on for some time and I know I paid more attention to the coulee’s features than the vacant road on which I was driving.  Had the sky been occupied by any clouds I would have stopped innumerable times to capture the scene.  Having experienced some very nice canyons and grabens in Utah, I’d have to say this sated my appetite momentarily for the red rock country.

Having experience a slice of Utah many miles misplaced, I then experienced a slice of the Owyhees.  Douglas Creek Canyon, though very short was quite impressive.  There were many falls and cascades along the short section that I saw and hiked.  The basalt had been smoothed by the creek’s forces which varied from a burble to a roar.  Unfortunately, others found it a prime place for vandalism.  Random spray paintings were throughout the canyon, in some places so obscure it seemed like they’d have to wade to get there (I assume they go late in the summer when the water is low).  These acts didn’t intrude too much on my photos but it disappointed me that people would deface a place in such a way.

Douglas Creek Cascade

Douglas Creek Roar

Douglas Creek Canyon

Morning Reflection at Douglas Creek

I had arrived at the canyon before Don and did not see him until I drove back down the road to the bottom of the coulee.  I had a nice note placed on my car by a local who seemed very angry that I parked near private property (not on, but near).  Don diffused the situation in my absence and explained that we were there for photography.  The lady was surprised that we’d want to photograph such a place. It is much worth the trip; just make sure you drive all the way to the end of the road.

The day was still young (around 10:00am) so Don and I decided to blaze on through the coulee and head towards the Waterville Plateau.  The drive took us through even more of Moses Coulee where the walls and talus continued to divert my attention.  We came to the turn off to the plateau, left the coulee and entered a frozen wasteland accentuated by a cold and relentless wind.  Don had found many dilapidated buildings throughout this area on Google Earth so we drove around on the few clear roads that were available.  Quickly we found a nice community hall, followed by a caved in barn, complete with old farming equipment.  We took our time working the scene, shooting wide, zooming in and capturing abstracts.  Other buildings followed in and around Waterville.  The view of the Cascades was a big plus, and my EE studies also left me looking at the six large transmission lines from Grand Coulee heading west (I presume to Seattle and Portland).

Fallen Barn

Old Cart and Fallen Barn

Waterville Plateau Dilapidation

All of midday was taken by the Waterville Plateau adventure.  Now it was time to head back to Frenchman Coulee for the afternoon and sunset.  Once arriving back at the Coulee we discovered some of the dirt roads were closed, only allowing hikers.  This thwarted our plans of a quick and more convenient drive in to some locations.  Nice clouds were forming overhead so I took some wide shots while Don focused in on some distant dunes up against the basalt.  A return trip is definitely needed to explore the dunes and shoot the waterfall at sunset (and hope for nice conditions).

Wind turbines lined the hills on the western side of the Columbia River, so Don and I head over there via the Old Vantage Road to get up close to these generators.  Once atop the hill, we were surrounded by the turbines but also by many buildings and power lines strewn about.  What caught my attention most was the silhouetted summit of Rainier.  This was my first time to see the mountain and I was in awe at it’s prominence, even from such a great distance.  We drove on a little to try and get a shot of the mountain.  Rainier is a familiar subject of Don’s since he lives near Seattle.  For myself, I was struggling to get a decent shot against the setting sun that would be interesting beyond a silhouetted hill.  My captures don’t amount to much and certainly don’t convey the prominence that I was viewing.

In all, it was an excellent day trip with many sites seen and photographed.  It has whetted my appetite for my upcoming trip to Seattle and the coast in a few weeks.

Afternoon Sky over Frenchman Coulee

Afternoon Sky over Vantage


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