We got totally ripped off in Portland as far as snow goes. Schools were closed, and started late several days. In North Portland where I live we never got more than a 1/2″. This happened twice within a couple weeks of each other. I waited in anticipation. Let down.
My friends Dean and Becky live in between Warm Springs and Madras. They have 800 acres of gorgeous desert landscape that I try to visit at least a few times a year (I believe I’ve actually written about it before). The first storm of the year hit them pretty good but I wasn’t able to make it before the melt. But the second, oh buddy. It kept coming and wasn’t leaving anytime soon so I headed that way for a few days.
Being a Prius driver I borrowed the in-laws AWD and headed out not really knowing what to expect. As much as I love shooting in the snow, I haven’t had much experience doing it living in Portland for my entire photographic career. I haven’t had AWD so my winter travels have been somewhat limited. Getting over Mt Hood was a breeze, but descending into the Deschutes Valley into Warm Springs, it became obvious really quickly that I had taken the appropriate vehicle. I don’t think the Prius would have even been able to get off Highway 26 onto their road. It handles well in snow, but has really low clearance.
My first afternoon was pretty chill. I explored the backroads around their place a little bit before checking in with them. After a couple beers and catching up I did a little exploring up above their place. I kept it mellow, as I had an early day planned for the following, and wanted to get some rest. But I did end up getting a couple shots I liked!
After sleeping very little due to improperly stocking the cabins wood burning stove with logs, I woke up at a fun 4am to head to Smith Rock for sunrise. Normally its about a 30 minute drive from Dean and Beckys, but I knew it would be a little slower and take me some time to find my sunrise shooting spot. Sure enough it was 2 degrees, a total white out of fog, and the roads were solid ice. It took me about an hour to get there, but I was fine taking my time. I was the first person there. There was fog building, and I knew my window could be pretty short so I got right to it. It was a whomping 3 degrees at Smith Rock. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I was in no way prepared for this. My hope was to do some snow shoeing around to find my spot, but I was in pain after just 10 minutes out of the car. I shot for a few minutes and started seeing headlights from other cars arriving.
I jumped in the car to warm up and decided to move spots and try to get a better perspective. My whole idea coming here was to snow shoe around and get some unique compositions of a very photographed spot in Oregon. But the cold, the amount of snow, and thickening fog killed my spirits. I parked and hustled to the pretty standard viewpoint, and got what I could before the fog took over completely. I didn’t even have time to find any decent foreground subjects, as the snow made it difficult in the time I had. But I ended up getting a couple great shots. As we have all seen in the past few weeks, our normal iconic spots look quite a bit different when covered in a white blanket of snow.
I was pretty bummed that the fog was taking over just as the sun was beginning to come over the horizon. It seemed pretty obvious that the other couple photographers there were too. I turned around and quickly noticed that it was making some beautiful colors through the fog, just not on the rock. So I decided to hop in the car and explore the area a bit as the sun came up. The light was becoming truly amazing incredibly quickly, and I was trying to find something without a house in the shot. I came back around past the main parking area for the park, and saw this out my window.
I pulled up around the next bend and it just kept getting better. But changing very quickly. I hopped out of my car and as I was shooting this, noticed one of the other photographers struggling with the fog in front of the rocks. I was shocked that he didn’t turn and see what the light was doing behind him!
The next hour ended up being my favorite shooting of the whole trip. As the sun rose and the fog thickened and thinned, it made for some amazing scenes with the fresh blanket of snow over the entire area. I drove around casually shooting, never needing to go further than 10 feet from my car, so staying warm in the process of capturing my images.
I was thrilled. I didn’t get what I had envisioned of Smith Rock, but it’s always exciting to shoot what I feel is actually better, and significantly more unique. It can be a struggle to captivate people with unfamiliar places vs well know spots, but I feel many will appreciate the beauty of what I captured more than they would of the same old scene. I hoped at some point the other folks shooting were able to see what was going on with the light that morning. As I headed back towards Terrebonne, the nearest town, Smith Rock was completely invisible in the fog so I decided to call it good with the area. It was still only like 730 in the morning, and I was ready for breakfast.
I have recently fallen in love with Sisters, Oregon. So next on my list was to drive that way. There was a couple things I wanted to shoot, the beautiful Ponderosa Pines that surround the town, and there’s a short hike to a great vista at Eagle Rock. On the way I stopped at Cline Falls to check it out. I couldn’t get to the falls with the snow, but got a nice view of some ducks bathing in the rising sun on the Deschutes River.
I carried on to Sisters and started off at a local cafe with some breakfast. I headed to the Eagle Rock trail after, but un plowed roads prevented it from happening. I drove around for a bit looking for the ponderosa scene I was seeing in my head, with no luck. I decided to call it and head back north to where I was staying.
I got back to the ranch and just strolled around for a while. Something about this trailer covered in snow caught my eye. Maybe it was the mud tones on the front, or seeing the two windows as eyes gave it an interesting look.
After this I decided to take my drone for a flight and check out the landscape from above. I hadn’t flown in this cold weather before, so I wanted to do it in a safe place in case the battery instantly depleted. It actually did pretty good. Seeing the view of the vast landscape covered in white, had me excited for the snowshoe hike I would be doing for sunset. This ended up being another one of my favorites from the trip.
Clouds had taken over what looked like a sky with some potential for a sunset. They have an epic view of Mt Jefferson, but it appeared it wouldn’t be seen today. I decided to carry on, and had a great time with the new snowshoes hiking up the hill to a nice vista. I had such a calming, amazing couple days, and this was my last hoorah. The conditions didn’t really pan out, but I still had an absolute blast, sending my wife this selfie, feeling on top of the world. Not the most flattering photo, but I think it shows how happy I was. It had been a long time since I had felt this. My travel had been limited with the birth of my daughter, and I didn’t know how I would take being away from her. As you can see, I was able to enjoy it more than I thought. Though I did look at photos of her on my phone every hour or so!
I hung out next to the fire for hours that night scrolling through my work from the past couple days. Its been a long time since I have been that relaxed and rested. I had a blast, but was ready to get up early and get home to my beautiful family.
The next morning I made my journey. The snow stopped on Mt Hood for long enough to send the drone up one more time. I had been wanting to get some forest shots in the snow for a while, and now I knew the drone could handle a bit of cold I went for it. I didn’t quite get what I was hoping for, but was still proud and wanted to share.
Success! I had gotten away, had some amazing relaxation time, and some great exercise hiking in the freezing cold. And I had some new work I was really excited about. I was ready to get home and see my girls, but also now knew that I could emotionally handle taking these trips that are so necessary to my sanity. It gave me an overwhelming desire to live somewhere that experiences snow at least once a year, but I quickly reminded myself that I can visit Mt Hood (or Dean and Becky) anytime I want and not have to deal with the stresses of living in a snowstorm. It also reminded why I truly love photography. Having not been on a trip in a while, or really alone in a while, it felt great. I am about as lucky as they get, my life is wonderful, but sometimes I need days like these. With nothing to think about, except peace, tranquility, and how ridiculously lucky I am to be surrounded by the people and places I am surrounded by.