It’s been bone dry here in Southern California this summer, so I’ve been itching to get to the ever green Pacific Northwest. A few days ago, I finally got the chance to head to Portland; my sisters were competing in a college tennis tournament and invited me to photograph the tournament. Along with lakes and waterfalls, I was excited to shoot the colorful transition from summer to fall that’s scarce for us Angelenos. As far as I was concerned, this was the perfect time to travel to Portland: a time when it’s not too wet, not too cold, and not too crowded. Photographer friends of mine have raved about the endless beauty of the area, so I asked around and came up with a list of must-see destinations within a stone’s throw of the city. The night before our flight, my girlfriend Ashleigh and I finalized a top-five list of day trips that we could make while in Portland and still have time to enjoy the tennis tournament, visit with family, and partake in Portland’s excellent food, micro breweries, and local coffee. Our final list, in order of importance: Multnomah Falls, Trillium Lake at Mt. Hood, Willamette Vineyards, the new(ish) Tilikum Crossing bridge, and Angel’s Rest, a 4.8 mile hike that originates just down the road from Multnomah Falls. As a bonus, we’d visit Mt. Tabor if time allowed, a park located in Portland’s east end that offers incredible views of Mt. Hood at sunrise.
Ashleigh and I landed in town on Wednesday morning and headed straight for Multnomah Falls, about a half an hour drive East of the airport. On the way to Multnomah we stopped at Wakeena Falls, which you arrive at about five minutes before hitting Multnomah (a nice two-for-one waterfall treat, should you head up this way).
Both Wakeena and the more well-known Multnomah have two vantage points: the roadside perch that’s just steps from the road, and the second, a small hike up to the pools at the base of the falls. Multnomah Falls face West, so it isn’t great to hit in the morning, as you’ll find the rising sun cresting the tops of the falls. Pretty to look at, difficult to shoot.
Fortunately, we didn’t get there until around noon, along with a couple bus loads of DSLR-toting tourists. Ashleigh and I grabbed some fudge at the base of the falls as we watched other visitors amble back and forth between various viewing points. Having shot mirrorless for the last year or so, the DSLRs look huge to me these days. I can easily fit two mirrorless bodies and four lenses in my lightweight Mountainsmith Descent pack, so I’m pleased with the switch. I elected to take my shots wide and long, using my Samsung NX500 with a 12-24 @ 12mm f/4 @ 25″, and stopping down until I was satisfied I had enough for a solid HDR image. Ashleigh elected to get a bit closer, photographing Wakeena from the base of the pools and Multnomah from the first vantage point, below the bridge that crosses directly in front of the falls. We trekked up to the bridge for the obligatory selfie and quickly headed back to the car, slightly waterlogged and a bit chilly. All in all, an excellent beginning to our trip.
With perfect weather in the forecast, we decided to forgo a night out in the city and head for Mt. Hood early the next morning. We stopped by a nearby happy hour at the storied Doug Fir Lounge, and turned in before the friendly, heavy-pouring bartender started us down a path we weren’t prepared to take that night. The next morning, the hour and a half drive to Trillium Lake was largely uneventful, save for some construction crews that were blasting away parts of the mountain and some picturesque low-lying fog that was making its way through the forest. We arrived at Trillium Lake at about 9AM to find a lone rower circling around the lake. The lake itself was smaller than we had imagined, and the light drizzle that met us there blotted out the early morning light we had been hoping for. Ashleigh disappeared into the woods with her 200mm to stalk birds while I headed to a small deck on the shore to shoot the rower as he made his way around the lake. The park around Trillium was mostly empty, save for a couple of hikers with an Aussie and a white van searching for the perfect campsite. When it started to rain a bit harder, we headed back to the car and drove around the rest of the park, which consisted mostly of empty campsites and faded information signs. After a while, we headed back towards Portland and spent the rest of the day watching the tennis tournament, and then proceeded into the city for a celebratory dinner at our favorite Portland Vietnamese restaurant, Fish Sauce.
The next morning, we headed into the city to photograph bridges, old and new. Our first stop was one of Portland’s oldest bridges, the Hawthorne Bridge. We walked along a path adjacent to the Willamette River, drawing inquisitive looks from the early-morning runners and power walkers as we setup our tripods. We watched as a coxswain shouted a team of rowers up the river amid the already-bustling marine traffic while our long exposures took in the pre-dawn light. Satisfied with the Hawthorne, we packed up and drove over to Portland’s Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), where the Tilikum Crossing bridge ends (or begins?). We got there just in time to capture the five minutes of sunlight that made it over the horizon that morning, before a thick bunch of clouds moved in on the fun. The photo of Tilikum here is an HDR composition of four shots, with the longest exposure at about fifteen seconds. The color is nearly true to form, the khaki-white bridge glowed a bright golden-yellow in the morning sunlight.
After a tasty breakfast at Portland’s staple eatery Zell’s, we stopped for a coffee downtown at Stumptown. If you’re a print-press-wielding leathersmith who loves hops and coffee, hanging out at a Stumptown is the place to be. Feeling energized and optimistic, we got back in the car and headed south to Salem to catch some of the morning hours of the tennis tournament. Both of my sisters made it to the championship rounds, so the day proved long and emotionally trying, but victorious on all accounts.
At the end of the day on the way back to Portland, we stopped in at Willamette Vineyards, an expansive property that lies just outside Salem. Our visit to the winery brought the good fortune of encountering an entertaining and knowledgeable taster named Evan, and our photo journey dreams got put on hold for Willamette’s grand views and a particularly charming 2012 Chardonnay. We did, however, manage to grab a shot of a cluster of Pinot Noir grapes on the way out as the sun set over the hills. Mission accomplished.
We saved the best trip for last (even though it was technically last on our priority list). The next morning was Ashleigh’s birthday, and we wanted to do something special to start the day. We set out bright and early for the trailhead, about a half an hour outside of Portland. The trail up to the Rest is a popular local hike in the Columbia Gorge (near Multnomah) that ends with a brilliant view. The hike is about 4.8 miles round trip, which sounds easy enough, but it’s a grueling ascent if you’re not fit or prepared. I’m an active, athletic guy, and I was soaked by the time we summited. When we arrived, there were just two other cars in the parking lot, presumably other hiking diehards that had set out before sunrise.
We took our time on the way up, stopping to photograph the moss, towering trees, a small waterfall, and a stream. We arrived at Angel’s Rest two hours later, welcoming a brief break while enjoying the view and wringing out our shirts.
The breathtaking views ushered us on, and we decided to continue up the trail for another couple of minutes. At the top of the trail, there’s an incredible view that you can enjoy from large boulders on a shale-laden hillside called “Devil’s Rest”. Further still, there’s a tiny, hidden trail that leads to a small rock outcropping that yields an even better view of the gorge below. The trail is pretty hidden, and you have to get on your hands-and-knees to scramble up it, but the view is well worth a little extra mud on your boots. I captured this panorama from the edge of a rock at the top of the mountain. Unfortunately for us, a new batch of fog crept in just as we crested this little trail, quickly transforming the expansive view of the gorge into a flat gray nothingness that yielded only a few dark details in the distance. We attempted to bracket our way to clear photos through the fog, though I later discovered that that idea was a total failure. Regardless, we finished drinking in the views and began our descent.
On our last morning in Portland, we set out for Mt. Tabor to enjoy the acclaimed sunrise view of Mt. Hood. We stopped and parked about halfway up the mountain, where a few picnic tables seem set up for just this moment. I unfurled my small drone from its case and we snapped a few shots from 400 ft., enjoying the Kurosawa-esque beauty of the mountain-and-sun. We hurriedly setup a few different shots as the fiery-orange sky bloomed from behind Mt. Hood. As the sky evened out it normal sunrise colors, said our goodbyes to Portland, and made our way back to the airport.
Ascending to cruising altitude on the way out, we caught a nice view of the nearby Mt. Jefferson. A photo finish to a trip that delivered more than expected.
Until next time, Portland.