The Colombia River Gorge could just as well be called Rivendell. The main gorge is surrounded by smaller creeks with magical waterfalls, large slabs of moss-covered basalt, and an explosion of greenery to rival some rainforests. There are 77 waterfalls in the 420 square mile area, the highest concentration of waterfalls in North America, and of course some of these are quite spectacular. The tough basalt was formed about 12-18 million years ago, when volcanic eruptions covered much of the Pacific Northwest with lava flows. The Colombia River spent 2 millions years grinding away at this basalt, forming what is now the Colombia River Gorge. Of course, like many natural wonders, this area was largely destroyed by dams and highways, and now the peaceful and mysterious waterfalls only barely drown out the sounds of the raging flow of cars along highway 84. Nevertheless, they were well worth visiting!

Being that I’m traveling a lot these next few months, I won’t have as much time at my computer to write up my stories, so they may run a little shorter than the previous ones, but I’ll do my best to share the important adventures! I’ll start out with sharing a little known gem, the one that really is from Rivendell. To get here I met up with some local gorge exploring photographers, and we bushwhacked our way in to this incredible spot. Things of course don’t always go as desired, and the water was a bit high, leading to a little too much ‘white water’, perhaps I’ll have to return another time.

“Rivendell” ~ Colombia River Gorge, OR
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40 @ 19mm, polarizer, tripod
Exposure: iso 800, f/14, 1/4th sec
Notes: In order to get the amount of water blur I wanted I needed to bump the iso up to 800, but with the 5D that results in hardly any additional noise.

Most of the larger waterfalls are on big footpaths, some even paved – after all, this is only an hour from Portland, so there is a lot of foot traffic. This waterfall turned out to be one of my other favorites, mostly due to the large mossy boulders found downstream. Thankfully I had overcast skies, which makes forest and waterfall photography a lot easier.

“Elowah’s Bath” ~ Elowah Falls, Colombia River Gorge, OR
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40mm @ 24mm, polarizer, tripod
Exposure: iso 800, f/16, 1/8th sec
Notes: Again, shutter speed is critically important to get the desired effect. I tend to prefer shutter speeds around 1/8th as they give a slightly blurred and clean look to the water, yet still show the dynamic scintillating streams that make it so fresh looking.

Next I visited a very famous falls, Punch Bowl Falls. Many of these waterfalls have been photographed a lot, and most of them by very good photographers, so it’s tough to find something new, unique, and good. Standing in the frigid cold waters, knee deep (but wearing my neoprene socks), I realized that it’s not only that diagonal log that prevents us from getting a clear view of the falls, but the ice cold expanse of water that separated me from the falls. (The log is a relatively recent addition to the scene, many find it a tragic scar on an otherwise perfect scene, I think it adds some character to the falls). So I composed what I call the “Forbidden Falls”.

punch bowl
“Forbidden Falls” ~ Punch Bowl Falls, Colombia River Gorge, OR
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40mm @ 29mm, polarizer, tripod
Exposure: iso 400, f/8, 1/13th sec
Processing: This is actually two exposures, on for the falls and one for the foreground. This wasn’t because the dynamic range was too great, but rather to increase the depth of field of the image. With this scene it was easy to blend two differently focused images because of the expanse of smooth water, this allowed me to use f/8 to bring up the shutter speed while still achieving critical focus.
Notes: It took a lot of shots to get that little wave in the front to look right!

There was a lot of water this time around, which of course creates a lot of spray. While it’s fun to stick your head in the spray, it’s not that easy to photograph. But this waterfall was just too cool, and I had to try. Here there was no hope in avoiding the spray, so I just had to embrace it. I put on my sacrificial polarizer (one that’d been scratched up a while back.. I knew I’d kept it for a reason!), spent some time composing, then cleaned off the glass, point, and shot before too much spray had accumulated. I find the little dots of spray add to the effect, making it feel like you’re about to get wet!

Water Ghost
“Water Ghost” ~ Colombia River Gorge, WA
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40mm @ 17mm, polarizer, tripod
Exposure: iso 100, f/18, 0.6 sec
Notes: Do realize that when you stick you camera in the spray, it will get wet!

Lastly, my friend Julia (who was kind enough to offer me a roof in Portland to sleep under), and I explored what would happen to Utah if it was a rainforest.. the marvelous green canyon of Oneonta Gorge. The high walls were covered in moss, and the wonderfully colored stones were buried under a few feet of water.. cold water. In fact, there was so much water that we couldn’t make it to the end of the gorge. This, however, may have been a blessing in disguise, as I would have otherwise missed this composition of Around the Corner from Paradise.

“Around the Corner from Paradise” ~ Oneonta Gorge, Colombia River Gorge, OR
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40mm @ 33mm, polarizer, tripod
Exposure: iso 100, f/16, 2.5 sec
Processing: This required two exposures and a bit of blending work to get the green wall on the right to look right.

I hope you enjoyed this ‘stroll’ through the green gorge of Rivendell, next I’ll be heading up into Olympic National Park, for even more greenery. I use quotes on the ‘stroll’, as local pro photographer Marc Adamus claims hiking the gorge can be harder than climbing Mt Hood or Mt Rainier. Now, I have done neither, so I can’t attest to the veracity of that statement, but there sure is a lot of up and down, and bushwhacking adds a whole new dimension of troubles!

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