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  • Writer's pictureAlyce Bender

Wandering Wonderful Washington Pt. 1

Let me start by saying I did not cover the majority of Washington. With only about a week in the state, I concentrated on two locations outside the Columbia River Gorge: the Palouse and the Olympic Peninsula.

If you didn't catch my last article on my time in the Columbia River Gorge, take a moment to read over it, as this article is a continuation of that trip. It also describes several areas on the Washington side of the Gorge that are must sees in Washington.

From Beacon Rock State Park, I headed out to the Palouse to join Nick Page on one of his Palouse workshops (highly recommended!). Born and raised in this area, Nick knows the Palouse and surrounding land like no other. His amazing photographic talent combined with his passion to share and teach others culminates in the quality of his workshops. For four days he lead a small group of other photographers, including myself, around this area of Washington, giving us views of back roads, rolling hills, historic barns, and wildlife. It was an idyllic photographic exploration of the Eastern Washington's hidden gems.

Palouse Falls, the official waterfall of the state, posses a unique challenge for photographers. Tall cliffs tower over the falls with few trails and even fewer railings. When we visited, there was thick cloud cover and a dull sunset, yet the falls itself could not be subdued.

Location tip: This is not a location for those afraid of heights. Be very mindful of the cliffs! There have been multiple deaths here from when people are trying to get selfies and take one step too many. Find someone to take a picture of you once you are safely stable. Never turn your back to the edge either.

Gear tip: This location definitely benefits from an ultra-wide angle lens. If you don't readily have one, make sure you take a multi-layer panorama to stitch together in Photoshop when you get home. The other option is to use a telephoto to concentrate on small sections of the fall basin.

Thank you Nick for a great image of me doing my thing at the edge of, yet another, cliff!

Over the following days, we headed out in search of barns, antiques, horses and hillsides. The Americana roadside subjects few actually stop to take images of when traveling.

Its images like these that remind me how vast our country is and how much labor goes into agricultural production in areas such as the Palouse. These two old two- story farmhouses are not small and yet both are dwarfed by the hills that surround them.

While many of the old farmsteads have fallen victim to time and the elements, there are a few that have been restored and brighten the roadside with their classic features.

One of the highlights for me on the workshop was our time with the ranch horses that were out to pasture. With the storms rolling in and out, the wind was up and the horses had a bit of wildness to them. This one bay was curious and a bit on guard with a line of photographers standing along his fence.

Shortly after this location, while exploring the unpaved county roads, we spotted a crop dusting plane flying low and near the road. Timing is key with these shots. Knowing the habits or patterns of your subject helps tremendously for both action and wildlife images. Nick explained how the crop dusters worked as we witness a few passes. The pilot is able to keep track of where he has already sprayed by dropping a paper ribbon at the end of each spray. Thus, as photographers, once we saw the pattern, it was easy to gauge where the next line would be laid.

The rolling hills of green wheat were just stunning to see in person. The main theme in my thoughts about the area was how immense it all seemed. Endless dunes of green under an ever-changing sky. Millions of acres covered in stalky plants meant to help feed the country.

Interspersed across the hills were wind farms with hundreds of giant turbines rising from the green. For me, it made the most sense to take a minimalist view of them and separate them from the landscape.

Even with all the human impact upon this land, with the constant use of machinery, the hum and movement of the turbines, and the various structures built and abandoned, the amount of wildlife stunned me. We saw everything from deer and turkey to elk and coyotes. My two favorite wildlife images from this trip are here. Blue birds against a stormy sky and coyote pups, disturbed by us happening upon them, running to follow their mom a bit further away from the trail.

Photo tip: Always keep an eye out for wildlife when driving. There were three other people in the vehicle and I was the only one to spot these guys in the grass. Lucky for me Nick was kind enough to stop as soon as he could and I was able to get this image before the family disappeared over the ridge.

After four days spent hanging out with an awesome group of photographers, the workshop was over and it was time for me to move on down the road. My drive had me heading back westward towards the coast. Between the Palouse and the Pacific lie the Cascade Mountains.

Even travelling in late May, as I was, means the passes across the state are just starting to open up after a long winter. Studying the latest weather and talking it over with Nick, my route took me towards Mt. Rainier and through Chinook Pass. I was not prepared for whiteout fog, icy roads, and the amount of snow still encasing the higher altitudes.

Once through the Pass, the Olympic Peninsula was my next destination. I only had two days for the area and I was trying to take in as much as I could in that time. Hitting Forks, WA, I cruised through the town made famous by the young adult reader series Twilight . From there, its not far to La Push, where I was stopping for the night.

Location tip: This is a popular area during certain parts of the year. Try to make reservations in advance if camping. Mora Campground (where I stayed) is the closest formal campground to Rialto Beach, but beach camping is allowed down by Hole-in-the-Wall as well.

After getting checked in at the campground, I drove down to the parking area for Rialto Beach. From there I started the hike out to the sea stacks. One thing I had not realized about Rialto Beach is that it is primarily a rock beach. By that I mean, instead of sand, it has golf ball to fist size rocks covering much of the beach making walking a bit more difficult when under a heavy pack.

When I reached the sea stacks, I scouted the area, looking for compositions that would work as the sun dropped in the sky. In the earlier golden hour lighting, I preferred to have the sun at my back and shoot where the rocks were lit.

As the sun set, the distant outcroppings worked as supporting subjects to the setting sun and the vibrant colors cast in the sky. Note the glow the sea mist is catching between the fingers of land.

Photo tip: Use a telephoto lens to really bring the sun into focus. Be sure not to look directly at it, even through your camera, as prolonged viewing can cause permanent vision damage.

I will honestly say this was the most beautiful sunset I have seen to date. Not only did the sky light up as the sun was setting, but for the 15 or so minutes after, the clouds were perfect and lit up with pinks and lavenders, while the sky behind them darkened to blue with the coming nightfall.

The image below is one of the few that physically hangs in my house, reminding me every day of that evening on the beach. Just absolutely perfect conditions and the luck of being in the right place to capture them.

My last day shooting on this trip found me up early to take in the Hoh Rainforest and the Hall of Mosses. The Hall of Mosses was beautiful and lived up to its name quite readily.

For me, my visit happened after the area lost a good number of trees to bad winter and spring storms so there were more holes in the canopy then previous images had shown. Once again, as I mentioned in my article on the Smoky Mountains, change is inevitable and we photographers must continue to find new points of view and "classic" compositions.

From the Hoh Rainforest, I made my way around the Peninsula to the north, slowly destined for SeaTac. Not only did this allow me to see more of the area, at least from the car, but I made stops at Marymere and Madison Falls. Both have easy trails with the former being a bit longer than the latter. However, that being said, I really loved Madison Falls. A bit of a bumpy ride as it is off an unpaved (at the time of my visit) road, but the trail is well maintained and only about a 10 minute hike to the falls.

Hopefully this brief review of southern Washington has peeked your interest in visiting these beautiful places. I know I will be revisiting the state to cover more of its many unique and inspiring locations.

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