The Wallowa mountains are located in the northeastern part of Oregon and are part of the Columbia Plateau. The Wallowa Batholith is formed of granite from a magma upwelling in Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous time. The placement of this rock caused uplift of the surface, which at the time was tropical sea. There is no doubt that the Wallowa mountains offer some of the most amazing scenery anywhere located in the lower 48 states. It has the second largest roadless wilderness in the lower 48 and it boasts 37 peaks over 8,000 feet. There are endless amounts of hiking trails throughout the wilderness and you can expect to see some of the most diverse ecosystems and wildlife anywhere. However, if you want to explore the Wallowa’s, you will want to plan on bringing your A game! The trails are very steep, long and very strenuous. The entire wilderness area is a backpackers dream but if you are only planning a day trip you will want to study your options very carefully since most of the mountain lakes are over a day hike away. You literally will be pushing your athletic limits just to get to your destination and then you have to hike out again. There are some really good books that will show you all of the hundreds of trails available and then you will just need to decide on your route. The most popular place in the wilderness is right near Wallowa lake state park. The park offers one of the best campgrounds and there are several lodges, yurts and cabins. Most of the backpackers start from this spot since there are a lot of parking spots available and it seems to be the most popular place to start. In fact, most of the best trails start from here and when you get back to your car there are plenty of places where you can immediately get some food or find a place to wash up or crash. I’ve camped at the park several times but I have never backpacked so I have spent a lot of time researching the best trails to start from in order to take advantage of the best things to see and do. However, you will want to keep in mind that if you find a trailhead that you want to start from you will want too keep in mind that most of the forest roads that take your desired spot are very rough and you may need a rig that has a high clearance and possibly 4 wheel drive. Again, this is rough country and the only place where you can avoid the need to go off road to find a trail is from the Wallowa lake campground area. The wilderness is like a giant circle of mountains and you can enter from almost anywhere in order to start your hike but you will find that most of the roads leading to your hiking spot is very primitive and hard to get to. The photo that I posted was taken from Aneroid lake and it’s a very difficult 12 mile hike round trip. The elevation gain was 2,950 and you will feel the pain when you get back to your campsite. However, the views are epic and you will come across some of the most amazing scenery that offers too many to list. No matter what trail you decide on, you can pretty much guarantee that your destination will take you to either a lake or a nearby river. This means that you will want to pack a pair of swim trunks and plan on going for a swim if it’s warm enough. However, the rivers can and are pretty treacherous so you will want to be sure that you aren’t swimming anywhere near a waterfall. The rivers are absolutely massive and thunderous and can really ruin your day. However, there are millions of places where the rivers become very slow and calm and will literally be telling you to dawn your swim suite. You will also want to bring as much food as you can possibly carry. You will absolutely burn enough energy to fuel the space shuttle and you won’t want to have to turn around early because your food supply has gotten too low. You also want to be sure and pack a good camera since there are a lot of wildlife that make the Wallow mountains home. Some that you may see are: eagle, hawks, osprey, black bear, elk, deer, moose, fox, coyote and even wolf. I’m sure that I have left some out but you get the picture.
[/caption] The Eagle Cap Wilderness is part of the Wallowa mountains in Eastern Oregon and if you’re looking for some amazing hiking trails and beautiful scenery, I would plan a trip during the summer months. The snow can last as long as July in the higher elevations, so unless you plan on bringing your snow shoes, you may want to wait until late July to Early August before having the ability to hike well into the interior of the Eagle Cap Wilderness area. The water is so abundant that you will find yourself surrounded by raging waterfalls, creeks and rivers well into late summer. And since the scenery is so diverse and overrun with colors, you may want to bring a tripod in order to avoid any blur or camera shake due to your camera sensor having a difficult time choosing a focal point. The meadows are filled with wildflowers, the mountains are craggy and millions of shadowed drop offs create lots of shade and the forest floor are teeming with green vegetation, which would cause most high elevation mountain ranges to be envious.
[/caption] Wagon train mural painted on a historic building in downtown Joseph, Oregon. One of the coolest things to do when visiting the Wallowa mountains and Wallowa lake is to take some time to walk the streets of historic Joseph, Oregon. You are literally transformed back into the 1800’s and you will find yourself immersed in the old west whether you like it or not. There is a large number of historic old buildings in this tiny town but you won’t run out of photography opportunities as you wind your way through the streets. This mural was painted on the side of a historic building right in the middle of downtown. There is a small restaurant that has outside seating just below the mural and there are several relics and old antics littering the courtyard. Joesph is truly a magical place that belongs in the history books as one of the most photogenic small towns in America. It also doesn’t hurt that the Wallow mountains tower over the town and you can get some great shots of the mountains standing behind some of the old buildings.
[/caption] Wallowa Lake casts a perfect reflection of Chief Joseph mountain. This photo was taken from the road on the east side of the lake and as you can see it was overcast. I was concerned about the overcast skies but it actually turned out pretty good since the reflection is almost perfect and without any glare. I took the shot at about 7:00am and the lake was calm and there wasn’t any wind. Early morning and late evening is the best time to catch the lake at its sleepiest since the winds aren’t around and there are hardly any boats during those times. Just to the right and left of this photo was a bald eagle and an Osprey chilling out in the trees. Plan on taking hundreds if not thousands of photos if you plan on visiting the Wallowa mountains.
[/caption] Wallowa lake creates one of the most spectacular photo opportunities in Oregon. You will have to endure a 370 mile and 7 hour drive from Portland in order to enjoy the beauties of the lake and its mountains but it sure is worth it. Wallowa lake and the Wallowa mountains are truly one of the most epic places on the planet and you won’t be disappointed. The best time to photograph the lake and the mountains in the background is in the early to mid morning. This shot was taken from the north side of the lake and it’s also the only place to shoot if you want to include the entire lake and the mountains in the photo. The town of Joesph and the rolling hills are directly behind the north side of the lake. The sun rises just to the left from where you’re standing, which is northeast and you can see the sun rise over the higher elevations as the backdrop of the mountains start to light up like a roman candle. The reflections of the mountains are at there best during the mid morning and luckily the lake is pretty empty until later in the morning. I’ve actually caught fish jumping out of the water or osprey, hawks or eagles grabbing a fish in their talons. There are dozens of predatory birds that nest right along the lakes edge and you will be amazed at the amount of birds you can photograph. Deer are also in abundance as well as horses and cattle, so if you like to photograph animals you won’t be disappointed. I counted so many eagles and deer that I eventually lost interest in them and tried to focus more on the landscape scenery. I took this particular photo at about 8:00am on 7/18/12. On this particular day I took over a hundred shots of the lake and the mountains reflecting off the lake but decided to post this shot since it gives the best view of the surrounding area. I was standing along the lakes edge in order to get as close to the water without getting wet. I took several photos while wading out in the lake or with the rocks in the foreground and I will soon post some of those as well. I wanted to get the most panoramic photos in most of my shots so I set the focal length at 17mm while using my Sigma 17-70mm lens. The camera was in normal/program mode so the aperture was automatically set at F-5 and the shutter speed at 1/100 second. I attached my CIR-PL and warming filter and set the ISO at 100 and the white balance at 0. I considered attaching my ND4 filter and setting the shutter speed at 4 seconds in order to get the ghosting effect from the lake but the lake was so smooth and glassy that it wasn’t necessary.
[/caption] Aneroid Lake is a 12 mile round trip hike that starts at the Wallowa Lake trailhead and gains a total of 3000 feet of elevation gain. You will experience some of the most amazing and mind boggling beauty that you can imagine. The hike itself is pretty difficult so you will want to bring plenty of snacks and water. It took me about 9 hours to complete the entire hike but I did end up spending several hours photographing the mountains as well as the meadows and wildflowers that surround the higher elevations. There are a few campsites available along Aneroid lake and if you’re a backpacker this is definitely a hike that you won’t want to pass up. Due to the distance of the hike and the elevation gain I decided not to bring my tripod and I’m really glad I didn’t. However, I did bring three of my lenses in order to take advantage of the photographic opportunities. This particular photo was taken just below one of the campgrounds along the lakes edge. 9,702 foot Aneroid mountain and 9,675 foot Pete’s Point mountain is visible behind Aneroid lake, looking south. There are dozens of rivers, waterfalls, ponds and creeks all along the hike. There are also several meadows sprawling with wildflowers so you may want to bring along a macro lens. Since I wasn’t using a tripod I made sure to keep a steady hand and turned on the IS. I kept the camera in Program/Normal mode and attached my CIR-PL and warming filter. I had the ISO at 100 and adjusted the white balance in order to take advantage of the glare and saturation of the bright sun. I set the focal length at 17mm in order to get the most panoramic shot as possible as well as include the lakes edge in the bottom of the shot as well as the blue sky in the horizon. I was concerned that parts of the photo would be blurry or out of focus due to the direction of the shot I took or the fact that I had to position the camera at about a 30 degree angle looking down. Some of my shots did end up blurry and somewhat shaky but overall they turned out pretty good. I noticed that most of my photo that I took vertically were better than most of my horizontal shots.
[/caption] One of the best panoramic views of the Wallowa mountains can be found along the northern banks of Wallowa Lake. There are numerous miles of hiking trails that travel deep within the mountains but if you’re short on time or energy you can get some fantastic photos by driving just south of Joseph, OR and then stopping along the lake for some great views. I would recommend spending a few days in this part of Oregon since it’s very hard to get to and the drive from Portland is over 6 hours. However, you will be amazed at the sheer beauty and solitude of the Oregon, cowboy and very western feeling, part of the state. You can expect to see a lot of wildlife such as black bear, deer, elk, bald eagle, hawk and maybe even a wolf. You don’t have to travel to the Rocky mountains to see some of the most amazing and isolated mountains in the country.
[/caption] All of the Cascade mountains still have so much snow that they look as though its the middle of winter after a huge snow storm. Photos like this, that was taken on 4/30/, is why we love the Pacific Northwest and especially the Cascade mountain range. From the summit of Tom McCall point you can see Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams as they loom over the surrounding topography. I took this shot of Mt. Adams at about 4:15pm and the sun was pretty much directly behind me which didn’t allow for and shadows in the photo. It pretty much lacks any character because of this but at least you can see the entire mountain without any dark areas. This isn’t my best photo of Mt. Adams, especially since I wasn’t using a tripod and the focal length was almost maxed out at 229mm. It also didn’t help that the wind was blowing at 40 mph and I had no cover to help block the wind. I was forced to crouch as low as possible and try to keep a steady hand. This is where IS and photoshop helps tremendously. Because the sun was blinding me from behind I made sure to attach my warming and CIR-PL filters. I was using my Canon 55-250mm telephoto lens and set the camera to Normal/Program mode. Luckily the shutter speed came out to 1/200 second and the aperture was at F-5.6. This allowed me to keep the ISO at 100 and even adjust the white balance to +0.3. Mt. Hood was more difficult to photograph since it was due south and it was directly below the sun. Early morning and late evening would be the best time to visit the summit in order to get the best photos. Your photo opportunities at the summit offer some of the most epic opportunities. These include: Two snow capped mountains, wildflowers, The gorge, cliffs, wildlife, rolling topography, farm land, the historic and winding Columbia river highway and small ponds.
[/caption] The trail that takes you to Bonny Lakes is found in the eastern part of the Wallowa range and is more isolated and less crowded. You have to drive on a fairly rough gravel road once you turn off the highway but you can drive a low clearance car. Just make sure you drive slow and look out for pot holes. The hike along the trail is truly magical. I have never been to a place that is so peaceful and full of so much splendor. It’s like hiking in the Rocky mountains but with Northwest vegetation. You will hike along dozens of creeks, waterfalls and dozens of wildflowers that grow along the creeks and in the meadows. There are panoramic views of the area and the trail is well maintained. Once you get to Bonny Lakes you will be very impressed. The trail passes through each of the two lakes which takes you to a marble outcrop. You can view the meandering marshy meadows that feed into the shallow lakes. If you look closely in this photo you can see the white marble in the lower right corner of the photo. If you look closely and be patient you will probably see some deer and elk feeding in the meadows. I was hoping to hear or even see a pack of wolves since there was a posting at the trail map suggesting that you report any wolf sightings. This photo was taken with my Panasonic DMC-FZ30 and I was using my screw on ultra wide angle lens that I purchased. The focal length was 7mm and the only filter that I was able to use was the UV filter. Unfortunately you can’t use any other filters when the wide angle lens is screwed on the lens. Since I was trying to get as much of the landscape in the photo as possible I attached the wide angle lens. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attach my warming or CIR-PL filter and you can see that the sky is overexposed and grainy as well as the lack of color in the vegetation and dark colored rocks. The sun was also very harsh and I wasn’t able to find any shade to reduce the sun glare. This shot was taken on July 17 at about 2:20pm and the sun was directly overhead. Due to the harshness of the sun the aperture was set at F-2.8 and the shutter speed was 1/20 second. I set the ISO to 80 and the white balance was at 0. Now that I’ve upgraded to a DSLR and have added several lenses and filters I hope to visit the Wallowa mountains again. I still haven’t visited an area more beautiful and scenic than this part of eastern Oregon.