Over the years I have seen many captivating images on blogs and in magazines. Oftentimes, they were from exotic locations that I dreamt of going to, but, in reality, had little likelihood of ever actually visiting. Then, there were images that were more accessible. Images I had seen of the Palouse fall into the latter category. Even though southeast Washington state is a long ways from home, it’s certainly feasible to visit there from Atlanta. The most captivating image I had seen of the area was of Palouse Falls. The shot I saw had it all. The sky was glowing during a brilliant sunrise or sunset. The falls were full and flowing. The exposure was long enough to capture the whirlpool effect that happens in the pool below the falls. All in all, some of the images I had viewed were among the most beautiful image I had ever seen of any subject.
So, when a trip to the Palouse began to look like it might happen, I began to select locations to be on the ‘must visit’ list. Palouse Falls was on the top of the list.
As it turned out, I was able to visit the falls on the first day of our trip. It was a long first day, but productive. After flying into Seattle from Atlanta, we rented a car and headed for Richland. We made a brief stop in Hanford Reach and stopped long enough in Richland to check into our hotel and grab a quick meal. We then headed for the falls. One of the reasons that there aren’t more images of the falls is that they are located in the middle of nowhere. I think that the GPS showed about a two-hour trip time from Richland. The amazing thing is that I couldn’t find another hotel any closer than that. There are campsites at the state park around the falls, but that is the only way I could find to stay near there. That’s odd for a boy from the East. I can’t think of another spot east of the Mississippi that is two hours away from a hotel.
Fortunately for us, the roads were as deserted as the landscape. We were able to cover a lot of ground and made it to the park in plenty of time to set up for sunset. I knew we were headed in the right direction because we had plugged the location into our GPS. What I couldn’t figure out was how the flat terrain we were covering could support a waterfall that seemed to fall hundreds of feet. I knew that we must encounter some elevation change at some point.
Strangely enough, we never did encounter the type of terrain I typically associate with waterfalls. We were in the high desert plateau. There were steppes or buttes that we were weaving through, but no high mountains that generally provide a cliff for a river to stream over. We passed a river close to the park and I assumed that was the river formed by the falls. Even as we entered the park itself, I still couldn’t comprehend how a waterfall would be contained in the landscape. As we pulled up into the parking area near the falls, all became clear. The river was running at roughly the elevation of the parking lot. The falls occurred as the river dropped into a gigantic gorge a couple of hundred feet below us!
Apparently this unusual geologic formation occurred thousands of years ago when a massive flood flowed into this area and the water flowing over the falls carved out the circular gorge that now receives the water from the falls. From another vantage point you can see where the falls originally flowed over the cliff face much higher up and carried a much greater volume of water. I can see how a flow of ten or a hundred times more than the current flow could carve out the gorge and valley below.
No matter how it was formed, the whole scene was spectacular. I had the vantage point I wanted in my mind’s eye. Now I just had to find it. There was one photographer already set up and waiting for the sunset. We drifted over to his location and chatted him up about the falls. As it turned out, he had never been there before and couldn’t give us much information about what to expect. So, we moved further and further around the top of the cliff until we finally found a spot that maximized our view of the falls and would capture as much color from the sunset as possible.
Then, we began to wait. The good news was that there were clouds in the sky. The bad news was that we couldn’t tell if enough of an opening at the horizon would appear to actually light up those clouds. Fortunately for us, the opening did appear and some color did get created. It wasn’t a fantastic, surreal sunset, but it was beautiful nonetheless. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the sunset was that a rain shower was occurring on the horizon. The clouds began to glow with a pink hue, but the rain from the storm was a much more vibrant pink. That is what is causing the pink coloration that extends down from the clouds to the horizon itself.
This image is another five or seven shot sequence blended together in Photomatix Pro. There was simply too much variation between the highlights and shadows to capture it all in one exposure. The combination of the long exposure for the falls and the color in the sky made for a beautiful image. In fact, this is one of my top five favorite images from the entire trip. I hope you enjoy it. I certainly enjoyed the entire experience of making the image.