Oregon Part 4 of 4-The Gorge
Horsetail Falls

Horsetail Falls

I finally began to understand the weather in the Pacific Northwest region, I had been dreading the rain for most of the trip but I suddenly realized it was the key to the beauty that laid before me. Water in this region was abundant, it rains 75 to 100 inches a year in some places here making it the largest temperate rainforest in North America. The result is an explosion of life, bulging rivers and raging waterfalls flow through the landscape, moss and plant life thrive, covering the entire forest in a permanent sea of green.

The first waterfall on the list was Horsetail Falls, simply because it was the closest and easiest to access. This waterfall which is literally off the side of the road is the bottom part of a two tier waterfall stream, shooting it can be tricky as it is constantly shrouded in mist, it's silky shape resembling a horse tail earned it its name. We then set out to photograph Ponytail Falls, which was the upper part of Horsetail Falls and also required a 1 mile hike into the forest to access it. The area around this waterfall was stunning, a photographers playground, we spent a couple of hours here shooting behind and around the waterfall and recorded all kinds of content from wide angle landscape to macro photography. Upon finishing our hike we returned to the RV and stripped down to the bare minimum of gear, 1 camera 1 lens and a tripod, we wore light clothes knowing that we would surely get wet where we were going. The objective was a hidden waterfall located a half mile deep into the Oneonta Gorge, the only way to reach it was by hiking directly up the Oneonta Creek. During the summer months many visitors make the trek up stream to have a peek at this beauty however in the fall and winter months the creek can become flooded making the journey a little too risky for most. And as our luck would have it the storm that had been stalking us the entire trip had caused record flooding in the gorge and we had doubts whether we would succeed or not.

I took the lead and was the first to place my foot into the creek, as the fresh mountain water engulfed my foot the frigid temperature sent a slight shock up my spine giving me goosebumps. I hoped the water wouldn't go higher then my legs, just the thought of submerging my whole body in the cold water was making me shiver. Nonetheless we pushed on, and after hiking for a while we entered deeper water soaking us up to our thighs. Finally we reached a natural dam, large pine tree trunks flowed down the creek and became lodged among the narrowing gorge walls forming wooden barriers several feet high. We ran into other hikers who had stopped here and appeared to be looking on into the gorge with uncertainty. " The water is too high" one of them said, being locals they recalled never seeing the gorge so flooded before and decided to turn around and head back. Now we were the one's staring off into the gorge with uncertainty, we tried using our tripods as measuring sticks but they would sink down without touching the bottom. No doubt the water was deep, at least 6 feet we guessed. The 3 of us debated here for nearly 30 minutes unsure weather to venture further or not. To do so would mean to swim up stream with thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment until we reach the shallow area of the creek that lied about 75 feet in front of us. I could see the rocks sticking out of the water, "if I could just get to that spot" I though to myself. I was more concerned about the current then the actual depth of the water, I pictured myself being swept under the giant floating logs and Razz and Chris having to rescue me.

Finally... we just went for it, we gave our cameras to Razz who was the tallest of the three, he put them in his waterproof bag and we hoped his 6' 3" frame would keep them above water. And then I jumped in, holding on to a log I made my way towards the wall of the gorge on my tippy toes with only my head sticking out the water. Once I made it to the wall I was able to walk the rest of the way on a ledge with the water up to my armpits, I looked back and saw Chris and Razz following behind me. I finally reached the dry patch in the gorge where I stopped and waited for my comrades, we were relieved to make it this far but we still had a ways to go before we reached the hidden waterfall. After a brief pause we pushed on, climbing a few more tree dams and wading through waste deep water. We could hear the raging waterfall in the distance, we were getting closer, it's powerful flow was blowing wind and mist up the gorge like a wind tunnel. Our visibility was deteriorating and the wind chill was sinking the cold into our bones, I knew we wouldn't last here too much longer. We finally reached an area where we could see the waterfall just behind the rock wall, this is the farthest we would go, it was very deep beyond and the mist and wind would make it impossible to take photos down there. So we planted our tripods right where we stood, the current so strong it would tip them over if we did not wedge them between the rocks under the water.

The Oneonta Gorge, Oregon

The Oneonta Gorge, Oregon

Mist was blasting us in the face as if we were standing directly in front of the waterfall yet we were a couple hundred feet away. I remember thinking how my camera was sure to suffer water damage as I placed it on my tripod, I desperately tried focusing the lens with my trembling hands and was constantly wiping water off the glass with a drenched microfiber cloth. Still under those conditions we were able to capture a few shots, after a few minutes everything was completely soaked, falling into the creek wouldn't even have made a difference at this point, water was pouring off my camera from the mist and we were all shaking uncontrollably. Satisfied we had captured a few shots we slowly made our way out the flooded gorge, we passed by the previous obstacles we faced on our way in and noticed the water was getting higher, we were the only one's left in the creek and the last one's to hike it that day as daylight was fading. We returned to the RV cold, wet and exhausted, yet nothing could wipe the huge smiles off our faces. It was no doubt an unforgettable experience,  one of the most unique of my life. After we changed to dry clothes we all began examining our cameras and wiping down any remaining moisture. To our amazement the cameras and lenses suffered no interior or exterior water damage, I gained a new respect for Sony cameras that day. They had proven themselves in the blistering cold of Iceland and in the scorching heat of Death Valley and now in the gorge, one of the wettest places in the country.

Lower Oneonta Falls

Lower Oneonta Falls

Chris and I set out to take some drone footage but despite wearing insulated jackets we couldn't stop trembling. It would take a few hours to shake the chill of the gorge out of our bodies. We still made a quick stop at the famous Multnomah Falls before finally heading into the city of Portland for the last supper of the trip . Just as we were leaving the Columbia River area it started to rain, mother nature had held up all day and was now finally releasing it's blessing over the rich land. We had made it out just in time. At dinner we ordered a bottle of wine and ate lavishly requesting the largest lobster and salmon as we toasted to an unforgettable adventure that took us over 1000 miles through all kinds of terrain and gorgeous landscapes. It was now coming to an end, the feeling was both sad and fulfilling.

The next morning we said our goodbyes to the vehicle we called home for the last 8 days and then returned it to the  RV rental company. We then headed to the Portland Japanese Garden to do some final photography, there ware a few hours to kill before our flight was to depart. Ironically it was the most beautiful day of the entire trip, the sun was bright and strong warming the landscape to a comfortable temperature. The sky was blue with some clouds, the clearest we had seen thus far. The garden was in full bloom, Autumn colors flourished among the Japanese trees and plants.  Towards the back of the garden there was a patio with a view of the downtown Portland area, one's eyes could not help but stray towards the large mass towering over the city in the background. Mount Hood stole the attention that day, everyone gazed and gawked in it's direction. It stood there like a shy giant finally revealing itself after hiding in the clouds for nearly a week wearing a fresh snow crown on it's peak. I had told the guys I would not leave Oregon without a shot of Mount Hood and I was finally granted my opportunity.

Although we hadn't accomplished every objective on our list, we still came home with the essence of what we were seeking which was a life changing experience. As landscape photographers adapting to all kinds of weather conditions is part of the skill that's required to produce unique photos. If you are always going to wait for that perfect sunset or those amazing clouds you may let the most memorable and unique photos slip by. Dramatic skies and rain can contribute to the story behind the image, making it more interesting then the traditional perfect sunny blue sky setting.

As our plane took off into the sunset I gazed out the window onto the beautiful Oregon terrain, I would always remember the battle we endured here with mother nature and would gain more appreciation for it's contribution to the most beautiful wonders of our world. It was a 6 hour flight back to New York City, the three of us sat quietly, which is usually the case when returning from exotic expeditions. I broke the silence with one question that would keep us busy doing research for the rest of the flight.  

" Where do we go next?...."

- Cesar Vasquez Jr

Mount Hood from Portland Japanese Garden

Mount Hood from Portland Japanese Garden

 

THE GREAT PACIFIC NORTHWEST

Oregon is known as the Beaver State, but for us it will always be known as " The Land of Green" for we have yet to see greener landscapes. Ironically we didn't see any beavers!  What we saw were vast forests, colossal mountains and a jaw dropping coastline that rivals the most exotic countries . To see more photos and videos about our Oregon adventures check out this link

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Majestic Coast
Natural Bridges Cove                                                                    

Natural Bridges Cove                                                                    

The sun had just set and we were driving around looking for a place to hook up, which we found in a small rest station near a town. It still rained pretty hard that night, we ate dinner and relaxed and went to sleep early, the next day we would begin our trip north up the entire coastline. At the sight of first light we were already at our first location ( Natural Bridges Cove), what was a last minute location added to the list turned out to be one of the most beautiful of the entire coast. Aqua green water splashes against the arch shaped rocks that extended into the ocean from the mainland, some rocks lay deeper in the ocean forming mini islands with just a sprinkle of a few Douglas Fur trees on the top, a truly spectacular sight to see. The drone was able to capture this location in it's full glory as much of the coast here is inaccessible due to it's sharp cliffs and rocks.

Our next location was Gold beach where we got to see the true unprecedented grandness of the Pacific Ocean at sea level. We indulged the perks of having a mobile kitchen and cooked omelettes and enjoyed coffee while we watched the fog coming in from the ocean .The giant rocks on the coast would disappear and reappear and the sound of the waves crashing against them could be heard faintly in the distance. It was hard to leave this place but we had locations lined up for the entire coast, so we returned to the road until we reached Bandon Beach.  These treeless shores were unique for their bare arched rocks that reminded me of the funny shaped blocks I used to play with as a child. Mother nature finally had some mercy on us at this location granting us a few hours of much needed sun light. We hadn't really seen the full sun since we left New York. It felt so good to feel the warmth of it's light on my skin, we took our time here sitting in the grass photographing and filming, watching the waves splash through the holes in the rocks. By the time we left this place the sun was already getting low and the race to catch sunset at the next location was on. Unfortunately we had just missed it at the Oregon Sand Dunes, we were only able to capture the dim glow of twilight. It didn't really matter to us, we had seen plenty of coastal beauty that day and were pretty exhausted, we all new the next location would be a restaurant where we could get a good classic Oregon dish. We drove until we reached a small town named Florence and after carefully navigating through its small streets with our giant RV  found The Waterfront Depot, a restaurant tucked away next to the Suislaw River. Its small local gems like these that make our travel experiences much more memorable, the outstanding seafood and the warm hospitality of the Oregon people made an impression on us. After a very satisfying meal we returned to the road and drove into the night until we reached the cliffs of Cape Perpetua. The road here was narrow and at night time quite spooky, on one side was the steep rocky mountains and on the other was a 50 foot drop onto the rocks in the ocean. We found a small pullover on the side of road etched into the mountain where we parked the 30 foot RV for the night. I don't think any of us slept comfortably that night as the thought of another vehicle smashing into us and rolling us off the cliff haunted us. There was also the sound of the violent waves of the pacific ocean slamming into the cliffs below ensuring no chance of survival if the worst were to happen. After a while it was the repetitive sound of those waves that actually put me to sleep.

 

Thors Well, Cape Perpetua, Oregon                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Thors Well, Cape Perpetua, Oregon                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

The next morning we woke up early and were eager to leave our bird nest on the cliffs and get to our first location for sunrise. By the time the sun rose over the horizon we were already photographing the exotic landscape of Thor's Well. One of the most amazing places I have ever been in my life, we had the location all to ourselves and we took our time enjoying the tranquility of it's desertion. Finally as humans began to arrive we moved on to the next on the list, unfortunately it would rain and remain cloudy for the rest of the day. We did a quick stop at Seal Rock and stopped again at Neskowin where it began to rain forcing us to relax in the RV for a while. We kept driving again until we reached Cape Kiwanda, another one of Oregon's most beautiful locations in my opinion. Made mostly of sand this location was stunning to look at even on a cloudy day and especially from the top of the 200ft great sand dune of Cape Kiwanda. This location's beauty is cursed with danger, most of the rock here is made of hardened sand and over time the sinister waves cause large sections of cliffs to collapse. Although the edges of the cliffs have barriers a few people still have fallen into the ocean and have had to be rescued, some never made it out. The wind began to pickup and the darker clouds were rolling in, we knew it was time to go so we packed up our gear and began making our way back to the safety of our mobile home. After a quick meal in the RV we drove in the rain for 63 miles north until we reached the Cannon Beach area where we found a nice RV park and hooked up for the night. We enjoyed the amenities here such as good Wifi and nice showers, I must have taken an hour in the shower that night. It's funny how you take the small things for granted until you experience life without them, in the RV we only had a 5 gallon water heater for all 3 of us. This meant 2 minute showers with barely warm water if you were lucky, not to mention the shower in the RV was the size of a refrigerator. The rain continued so we stayed in the for the rest of the night relaxing and celebrating the progress of our trip with some drinks and snacks. We spoke about our favorite locations and our experiences so far and how we looked forward to the next morning at Cannon Beach, all we needed was for it to stop raining by morning. We went to sleep optimistic, but to our dismay awoke to torrential rain and howling wind. It was some of the worse rain we had seen the whole trip, the windshield wipers struggled to keep up as we drove closer to the beach but it was worse here. Curtains of rain just poured down from the sky, it reminded me of the thunderstorms we would get in New York in the middle of the summer, they only happened rarely but when they did they were severe. It was 6AM and there was nothing we could do but wait, instead we tried to kill time by having some breakfast at a local diner, even ordered desert and sipped several cups of coffee. But the storm would not let up, we were now back at the RV and it was already 11am, we thought about abandoning this location as we could not waste a whole day waiting for more preferable conditions. And in fact we did decide to abandon it, we were to relax for 30 minutes and then get back on the road but just as we were getting ready to leave Chris noticed that the rain had slowed down, so we went outside to investigate. Not only had the rain slowed down but it seemed the sun was trying to break it's way through the clouds, we couldn't believe it. By the time we repacked our gear and arrived on the beach front the sun was casting it's rays across the landscape and the rain had stopped completely, whatever fog was left burned away in the sunlight. Another jaw dropping scene to behold, another experience burned into my memory, never to be forgotten.

Cannon Beach, Oregon                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Cannon Beach, Oregon                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

We spent about 3 hours here, the location was as beautiful as everyone said it would be and we captured some great content including drone footage. Once again it felt refreshing to feel the sun again, we had been missing it for most of the trip. We left Cannon Beach satisfied and refreshed, ready for the next location which was the shipwreck of Peter Iredale for sunset. Of course when we got there it was mostly cloudy again with the faintest gold glow coming from the horizon. Despite the clouds, it still looked beautiful, the skeleton ship wreck sitting on the shore, waves splashing against it, the horizon was now a pinkish hue as the day came to an end. Even as darkness fell we stayed at the shipwreck playing with lights and exposures, experimenting with photographic ideas. We returned to the RV feeling a sense of accomplishment along with a slight feeling of sadness, we knew this was our last location on the coast and that our coastal adventure was coming to an end. The good news was that we still had one of the best locations in Oregon left to explore, and so after a good dinner and some coffee we began our drive back east towards Oregon's mainland. We arrived in the outskirts of Portland late at night and found a RV park in a suburb area where we hooked up for the night. Exhausted and worn out from travelling we didn't waste any time in going to sleep, we knew the next day there would be a lot of hiking and possibly even some swimming in our itinerary, we were excited, we crossed our fingers hoping it wouldn't rain. It felt like I had just closed my eyes when the alarm went off in the morning, it was 7am and the guys were already up making coffee. As I sat up and looked out the window I was greeted with a fresh cup of steaming Oregon coffee which was just what I needed to shake off the morning chill. To my amazement, no rain but it was however very foggy, still we were glad to have any kind of dry weather. About an hour later we were almost at our first location in this region and the landscape we were driving through was just stunning, we had heard and seen many things about this area but still nothing could prepare us for the ultra green beauty of the Columbia River Gorge area of Oregon. The fog was starting to give way, revealing some of the greenest mountains I have ever seen. As I stared out the window I couldn't help but smile, I knew it was going to be a good day....

 

- Cesar Vasquez Jr

Shipwreck of Peter Iredale, Warrenton, Oregon                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Shipwreck of Peter Iredale, Warrenton, Oregon                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

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Valley of Death - Part III

As we drove 200 miles south we passed many contrastive terrains, from forest to desert to mountain. We pulled over many times to capture the views with our camera sensors. Between the 3 of us we alternated driving every hour to prevent falling asleep at the wheel as we were all exhausted from 3 nights of camping and sleeping in the car the previous night. A hot shower and bed was only about an hour away at a oasis called Motel 6.

Finally, we see the number 6 off the highway. The next 5 hours felt like the best sleep in the world, I admit that when the alarm went off the thought of telling the guys to go without me crossed my mind. But heading into the desert at midnight to photograph the Milky Way was an adventure that I couldn't forfeit. So off we went into the darkness, the further we drove into the desert the hotter it got. Within an hour we had reached 107°F and still had another 30 minutes to go. We finally reached our destination, Badwater Basin, Death Valley, California. The lowest point of North America -282 feet below see level.

It's now 1:30am and the car thermometer read 115°F and once again we were the only car at the trail head parking lot. I turned the car and lights off, complete blackness and we could hear the wind howling outside. We looked at each other, opened the door and stepped into the darkness. We were immediately greeted with a sudden gust of wind that forced us to close our eyes and turn away. First thought was how are we supposed to photograph in these conditions? Suddenly the wind was gone, leaving behind only an eerie silence. And then there was the darkness, a darkness I will never forget, only possible on a moonless night. Our headlamps struggled to light our paths as we trekked towards the vast basin to investigate. The radical wind gusts would come and go sporadically getting worse as we walked further.

Razz took the lead, he was about 100 feet in front of me, I could barely make out the small glow from his head lamp. I was about to yell for him to slow down when a gust of wind almost knocked me off my feet. It was as if a tornado had landed on top of us for a minute and then disappeared. I readjusted my headlamp and pointed it ahead to try to see where he was. I was relieved to see him running back towards me. I noticed the look he had on his face as I asked him if he was ok, he said " Dude, I am over 6ft tall and over 200 pounds, I have never had wind lift me off the ground before". We estimated that it must of been at least a 80mph gust of wind. We looked up into the ocean of stars that floated above us, and noticed  dark clouds rolling in. As hard as it was, we made the decision to abort the mission. The gail force winds were one thing but the possibility of being caught in flash flood rains or a dust storm was a risk we were not willing to take. Mother nature had defeated us again. We decided to retreat to the edge of the desert where we'd hope to find calmer weather and clearer skies. We drove about 50 miles back out and finally found a calmer climate. We pulled over and were able to capture some beautiful Milky Way images, and then it was time to head back to the motel. 

The next day we headed back into the desert, our destination this time was the Mesquite Sand Dunes. Was a bit cloudy when we arrived which was not a bad thing considering the temperature was already at 110°F, any additional sun would be sure to raise the temperature. We walked far into the sand until we reached some tall smooth dunes. At the top of one we stopped to take a break to admire a 360 degree view of the landscape. The desert had such a barren appearance, a true no mans land. The slight howl of the wind and the silky sound of moving sand filled the air, such an extreme yet beautiful place. And then the sun came out in full force over the desert, ants under a magnifying glass is the best way to describe the heat. It was unbearable, we began trekking back towards the car.

We pulled over a few more times to capture some extreme terrains on our way out of the desert and then began our 3 hour drive back to Las Vegas where we would indulge in some much needed R&R. On our drive back I couldn't help but to reflect on the adventure that was coming to an end. If it were not for photos I might not believe I had been to these amazing places. We went from the tall mountains of Yosemite where thousand foot waterfalls flowed off the landscape, to the barren lands of Death Valley where heat and sand ruled. Such destinations deserved to be seen in person, I tried my best to describe the way we experienced them. This adventure only left us craving more, the world is vast and there is so much to see. For us the next adventure is always around the corner, stay tuned....

 

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