In God's Country joseph, oregon

Wallowa County in Oregon is one of those places where the experience of being there will stay with me forever. The weather is constantly changing, making for marvelous cloud displays and the canyon and lake vistas are second to none. In the town of Joseph, our base for a week, everything was less than an hour away. In fact, many places can be reached on foot, leaving a few less car fumes in the atmosphere.

Wallowa Lake State Park. ISO200 f22 8 seconds.

The two shots above and below were made on our first morning in Joseph. I was happy about the cloud cover because I wanted to try some long exposures. The photographs would have been perfectly fine as normal exposures but the water ripples made for poor reflections. Choosing exposures between 8-10 seconds smoothed out the surface of the lake and made it more mirror-like.

Lake Wallowa reflection. ISO200 f22 10 seconds.

Although this is prime hiking country, I have to admit that I did a lot of my sight-seeing by car. Some of it, like Hells Canyon Overlook, is impractical to walk. It's about 40 miles from Joseph and a slow ascent on a winding road, full of extreme bends and unfinished surfaces. When I reached the viewpoint, I found myself alone which, of course, suited me nicely. Visiting these kinds of places at the brink of tourist season usually yields a more intimate appreciation of the scenery.

Plant life at Hells Canyon Overlook.

I sat on a bench just taking in the breathtaking geology and contemplated my insignificance in the grand history of our planet. I find that's a good way to put any problems I may have in perspective.

Hells Canyon

At a depth of a mile and a half and averaging 10 miles in width, Hells Canyon is the deepest gorge in North America. It was carved during the last 2 million years by the Snake River. As I stood by the overlook, a thunderstorm was brewing to the left of me, complete with lightning but it never came overhead. This was pretty typical during the time I was in Wallowa County.

Wildflowers in Bloom

The wildflowers in this area are in abundance from June through early August. While I was there (in late May), the blooms were just beginning but their colors made a sufficiently loud splash on the near and distant hills.

River Rapids

Linda and I noticed that the rivers and streams in Wallowa County seem to flow more quickly than we are used to seeing elsewhere. Further research indicated that this is due to rapid snow melt as the warmer weather takes hold.

The 100-mile round trip drive to Hat Point Overlook was well worth it although we felt like maybe our little compact car might not be able to navigate the rough, steep-grade road to the summit. Arriving at the one-horse town of Imnaha was the easy part. After that it was a 21-mile trek to the top, mostly with only enough width for one car at a time. Sometimes we were so close to the edge of the sheer drop off, I felt like I was in that scene with Lucille Ball in the Long, Long Trailer.

Hat Point Overlook. ISO200 f7.1 1/680

Of course, the views from Hat Point overlook where mind-blowing. It's just hard for me to comprehend the scale of this entire country when I'm standing in my corner of the world looking at something that seems to go on to infinity.

Beautiful light over the Wallowa Mountains on the way to Hat Point Overlook. ISO200 f11 1/180

On my way back to Joseph one day, I noticed how vivid the colors of the grass, mountains and sky were. I saw some cows and thought they'd be a nice foreground subject for a photograph. The colors may look enhanced in this shot but I assure you they are true to life. It's all one big living postcard!

Cows grazing in an idyllic pastoral scene near Joseph, Oregon. ISO200 f11 1/320

Things of Interest

I like to photograph something just because it catches my eye. It doesn't have to have some specific purpose or adhere to a certain criteria. What's exciting to me is that, through decisions of angle, lens choice and exposure, I can transform it into my own vision.

For the most part, I don't like to reposition anything I see in nature. For instance, I could have shifted this pine cone to a more natural setting but it stood out in nice contrast on the gravel road - exactly as I found it.

Natural Composition

This arrangement reminded me of a wreath or something that suggested a time of harvest. These microcosms, so easy to pass by, can have an aura of peace about them. This little gem had that effect on me.

The setting sun spot-lit this tree in a valley close to Joseph. ISO800 f11 1/120

It was relatively easy for me to build up a nice variety of photographs while in Joseph. The ever-changing weather either saturated or desaturated the colors of the landscape. The mood changed dramatically from cloud cover to full sun so it was possible to shoot the same subject over and over without fear of repetition.

The landscape had a rich color palette after a heavy rain. ISO400 f10 1/180
My four deer friends.

One of my favorite places to walk was the Iwetemlaykin State Heritage Site. It's about a quarter mile outside the town of Joseph. The entire area is part of an ancestral home for the Nez Perce Native American Tribe. It's a wonderful nature trail with the Wallowa Mountains serving as an epic backdrop. The trail leads to Knights Pond with a mirror reflection of the snowy-topped mountains and surrounding trees. It's hard to believe this was dug by the original homesteaders specifically to water livestock. I just sat there and admired its stunning beauty.

One of the gifts of photography for me is that it makes me hyper aware of my surroundings. Sometimes the most beautiful things are hiding in plain sight. With eyes wide open, every step I took on this trail became a new opportunity to make a picture...

There are some places I've been to that are hard to leave. As we wound down and prepared to hit the road once more, I almost felt like I was leaving home. Wallowa County is high on my must-return-to list. I hope, as you read this and look at the photographs and as the summer beckons, it will inspire you to get outside and explore. At the very least, I hope it will help you to appreciate even more the treasures contained in this astonishing planet of ours.

Wallowa Lake at sunset. ISO200 f22 27 seconds.

For you techno geeks out there, all photographs were made with a Fujifilm X-T1 camera with either a 10-24mm or 18-135mm lens attached. I also used an 8-stop Tiffen variable ND filter for the long exposures.

If you would like to keep up with my travels, click on the button below and sign up to be notified of new posts. Peace.

Created By
Steven Dempsey

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