The weather in the Pacific Northwest has finally changed. This means that the weather is getting colder, wetter, stormier and very unpredictable. We can finally start to anticipate the changing colors of the leaves and the stormy clouds to appear. This will ultimately bring a lot of water to the waterfalls and snow to the higher elevations. Now is the perfect time to break out your camera and head to the Columbia River Gorge if you would like to take advantage of all the above. The waterfalls are amazing just as the rain arrives and the struggling foliage will come alive with the leaves falling from their high perch. You can also expect to witness some of the most amazing cloud formations as they move through the gorge like a freight train. I would recommend that you bring all of your rain gear as well as your best lens as well as your tripod, bubble level and remote switch. You may also want to choose the best trail since you will find yourself spending hours taking photos along the waterfalls. Sometimes I will just make a long road trip by starting out in Portland and driving to Hood River and stopping along the way. On my return trip, I will either back track or drive across the bridge of the gods, in Washington State and take some photos from the north side of the river. Either way, you can expect to get some pretty epic photos if you go on a day that is perfect for panoramic shots.
Late Winter and early Spring are the best times to catch a glimpse of a bald eagle almost anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. They have been making such a great come back that I’ve had the privilege to watch them for several months over the past 5 years or so. Many of the juveniles are finally starting to leave the nest and the parents are seen nervously hanging out by the nest as they wait for it to return. It really is awesome to watch the parents standing like statues as they gaze into the horizon hoping to spot the younger eagle. If your lucky you can even watch the young eagle practice their fishing tactic when they swoop down onto a lake or river and then stretch out there talons like they’re about to grab a fish. You really know that the juvenile eagle is getting close to home when the parents start to squawk like mad and then carry on when the juvenile gets closer to them. I took this shot along the Columbia River at Astoria, Oregon. If you want to guarantee an opportunity to see some eagles, I highly recommend that you plan a visit Astoria. There are several eagles within the city and you can pretty much just camp near the river and wait for one to fly overhead.
[/caption] Is it true that the grass is always greener on the other side or is it possible that you might find a 300 foot cliff waiting for you on the other side? This photo was taken at Tom McCall State Park in Oregon. It’s located between Hood River and The Dalles. There actually is about a 300 foot cliff on the other side of this photo, which happens to be the Columbia River.
[/caption] The calm between storms! This photo was taken on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge with Washington State across the river. It had snowed earlier in the morning in the foothills of the Cascades but the skies finally broke and some blue sky arrived but only long enough to feature some pretty enormous clouds coming in from the north. With fall almost over, you many want to get out to the gorge in order to take advantage of some awesome photos and some even more awesome weather watching! Most of the vegetation has now gone dormant, near the waterfalls but there are millions of leaves that create a pretty nice photo opportunity.
[/caption] This may be the last photo showing a sunny and cloudless day along the Columbia River Gorge until next Spring! This photo was taken at the Women’s Forum, which is just above the Vista House and on the Oregon side of the Columbia river. The foothills of the Cascade mountains were dusted with snow and just a few days after I took this shot, the foothills got hammered with lots of snow. There are only a few more days left to view the fall foliage, along the Gorge before the leaves are completely gone, so now is the time to enjoy them.
[/caption] If you’re looking for a great hiking spot along the Columbia River Gorge that offers some of the best views, Angels Rest might be the one place to visit. The hiking trail is only about 40 miles from Portland and there is ample parking available. The trail is about 4.5 miles round trip and there is about 1500′ of elevation gain. The views at the summit are amazing with a panoramic view of the entire area, including views of Mt. Adams and even downtown Portland. However, you can only see portions of the summit of Mt. Adams and you might want to carry some binoculars in order to get a good view of the city. The summit literally looks straight down and you could spend hours taking in the fresh air and the occasional heavy winds. I took this photo from the summit and I pretty much pointed my camera almost straight down in order to include portions of Washington state, the river, sand bar, old pilings and old burned out tree stands on the Oregon side. I didn’t bring my tripod so I had to keep a steady hand an turn on the IS since I wanted to keep the ISO at 100. If you hang out long enough you can photograph some of the massive barges steaming by. You may also want to bring along a backpack full of food since you won’t want to come down anytime soon. The gorge is known for it’s amazing waterfalls but unfortunately you won’t see any on this hike. However, there is a waterfall that you do cross but its well out of sight and you only hike across the foot bridge that crosses the creek. You can view the upper portion of the waterfall but it’s only a few feet high and you want to avoid getting too close to the edge since it looks deceiving and you could fall over. I normally stop to let my dog play in the creek but I always make sure he’s on his leash. You can also hear a waterfall from the 1500′ summit but you can’t see it.
[/caption] This late afternoon shot was taken from the Hood River city park, which is located on the western most part of the city. You can set up your tripod and aim it directly west, which as you can see offers a great view of the river, the cliffs and plenty of vegetation. The best time to visit the park is later in the afternoon and during sunset. The park is very small but the views are pretty amazing and there is enough room to set up for a picnic or just take in the view.
[/caption] The Columbia River Gorge can offer some pretty spectacular scenery but there is nothing better than catching a scene like this. After spending a sunny morning and afternoon along the Gorge a monster of a storm was moving in from the northwest, so I decided to drive up near the Vista House to see what kind of shots I might be able to get. The sun continued to peak out from the fast moving storm clouds so I was able to take some shots as the sun moved down and along the river below. I started taking several photos just as the sun had shined directly over the Vista House and the surrounding trees. You don’t get many opportunities like this so I felt pretty blessed even as I had just taken some of my best photos of the waterfalls earlier in the day. Spring is the best time to take pictures in the Gorge and May is the best month. This shot was taken last year on 5/18/10 and it was about 5:25pm. The sun was actually directly behind me but I was able to take advantage of my position as you can see from this photo. Though very few good photo opportunities arise when the sun is behind you, this was surely an exception to the rule. The sun was low enough to create some awesome cloud shapes as they quickly engulfed the mountains and river below. I was using my Canon EOS T1i along with my Canon 18-55mm kit lens. I attached my warming filter and CIR-PL and made sure that I was using my tripod, bubble level and remote switch. I maxed out the focal length to 55mm but you can see that the field of view was high so I wasn’t worried about any blur. In fact, I had to max out the focal length in order to avoid any of the tall trees near me to show up in the photo. This would have ruined the photo for sure. The camera was in Program/Normal mode and the aperture was at F-7.1 and the shutter speed at 1/125 second. I had the ISO at 200 and the white balance at -0.3. Each time I set the ISO to 100 it was too dark and increasing the white balance wasn’t enough to offset the need to increase the ISO. It’s finally April and now there is only one month until May and I hope to spend as much time as possible trying to get more photo opportunities like this.
[/caption] An early evening view looking across the Columbia River Gorge as an impending storm looms over the Gorge. I was standing near the Vista House parking lot when I noticed that the storm clouds had inundated the Gorge but were allowing some sunlight over parts of the hills. The vegetation was extremely lush since the photo was taken on 5/8/10 and the Spring weather was unseasonably wet and mild during this time of the year. I was more interested in getting the storm clouds in the shot rather than the Gorge but I wanted to include some of the landscape in order to show just how impressive the clouds were. I was using my Tokina 12-24mm wide angle lens along with my Canon EOS T1i camera. I wasn’t able to open the lens to 12mm since the guard rails at the parking lot would have been in the frame so I ended up increasing the focal length to 24mm. It was about 6:20pm when this shot was taken so the light along the River was low but the light in the clouds were overexposed due to the intensity of the sun directly behind me. The photo is looking directly east as the sun is lowering almost directly behind me. Because the storm was moving in from the east there weren’t as many clouds behind me which caused some overexposure in the clouds. However, I was forced to set the ISO to 200 and the white balance to +1.3 in order to prevent the hills from coming out too grainy and underexposed. The camera mode was set at Program/Normal mode so the aperture was set at F-6.4 and the exposure time at 1/80 second. I was also using my CIR-PL and my warming filter in order to calm down some of the glare that was created by the overexposed clouds as well as from the glare from the river far below. The warming filter helped create a great contrast between the clouds and the green vegetation.
[/caption] While driving along the Columbia River, I noticed a sign that ready Eagle Sanctuary. I decided to check it out. There is a small area just off the road where you can view Eagles near the river. There is a small viewing platform and some information about the eagles and when and where to see them. After about 30 minutes of standing in the rain, I noticed that the clouds were starting to make some pretty awesome formations over the Columbia River, looking towards Washington. It was amazing how quickly they were changing shapes and moving east. There was a really fast moving cold front moving from the Pacific ocean towards the valley. I did however manage to take a quick photo of a younger bald eagle from about 50 yards away but it never landed so I wasn’t able to get a good shot. I also did see 4 adult bald eagles but they were too far to get a photo. I was far more amazed to get some shots of these awesome clouds. I used my 18-55 canon lens and set the ISO setting to 200. I did keep my cir-pol lens on but I did increase the AE setting to 2 since it was raining a bit and was thoroughly overcast.