I have made several trips to the Columbia River Gorge area over the past few years. This beautiful stretch along Scenic Hwy 30 just East of Portland, Oregon has been a beautiful treasure for hikers, photographers, nature lovers, and tourist for years. Unfortunately, due to extremely careless actions of one or several young teens, reportedly setting off fireworks near Punch Bowl Falls, this area will likely never be the same. Over 33, 000 acres had burned at one count. If you have ever been to this beautiful area and are familiar with some of the beautiful waterfalls and their locations in the Gorge, you can’t help but be devastated and heartbroken as you view some of the fire images.
Fortunately, no lives were lost but 3 homes burned and local business which rely on tourism will likely be devastated as many consider revising vacation plans. Even I had planned a photography workshop in the Gorge for 2018, which is now on hold indefinitely. Undoubtedly, the Eagle Creek fire will cost us all in terms of the loss of some beautiful areas to explore and photograph, but the local economy and small businesses that depend on visitors will likely suffer as well.
I read one opinion that the teens in question are not to blame. Rather, it is global warming, logging and capitalism at fault. Really????? Now I have no desire to rehash arguments, pro or con, about global warming. As far a logging, there is not logging in the Gorge and logging as an industry in Oregon has been greatly reduced over the years due to environmental issues. No, the cause and blame is clear: the carelessness and insensitivity of young kids, who maybe lacked proper guidance or mentoring from adults in their lives. But it goes beyond that. In recent months we have heard of even adults who clearly were aware of their actions, being prosecuted for defacing landmarks in national parks. In some cases actions like these are irresponsible careless acts and in other cases deliberate criminal acts. Either way we must do more to educate our young to preserve and protect the beautiful natural resources we have the good fortune to enjoy. I am 66 years old and will likely never see again see the beauty of the Gorge as I remembered this past Spring.
We as photographers, particularly landscape photographers, often take risks beyond what good judgement would allow, just to get the shot. I have read of several instances where a photographer met an untimely fate by not following simple rules of common sense. I guess some would say that common sense may not be really be all that common. Nonetheless, photographers will take that one extra step, if only to get slightly closer, fine tune that composition, stay just a bit longer along the sea stacks (not realizing one is about to be trapped by a rising tide). I have a photographer friend who a few years ago fell from a height of over 40ft while photographing in the Columbia River Gorge area trying to get into position for a unique shot of Punchbowl Falls. He was very lucky, a couple of broken ribs, a ruptured spleen after hitting the cold water below, and then several days in the hospital after having to be carried out of the gorge in a rescue basket. Maybe there was a little injury to his pride as well. As a side note, his camera and tripod were unharmed. They remained standing on the outcropping from where he fell into the cold pool of water below the falls.
During my trip to the gorge two summers ago, I wanted to photograph an area called Oneota Gorge, a popular area for many hikers and photographers. One can hike this gorge when the water levels are accommodating, much like Virgin Narrows in Zion National Park. But unlike the high red rock walls of the Narrows, the Oneota Gorge has high moss-covered granite walls lining the edges of the creek. If you hike up Oneonta creek a little over a half mile you can reach Oneota falls, another great photographic opportunity.
One challenge I immediately faced when I arrived at Oneota Gorge was this huge log jam blocking easy access to the creek. No problem I thought. I could carefully climb the numerous granite boulders supporting the jam and then hop across the various logs to reach an area I could easily navigate upstream. Easy right? NOT! I slowly climbed atop a few of the boulders, being very careful. Even with good hiking shoes, these rocks were very slick. Okay, now what? As I considered my options of which logs to traverse to the other side, I watched two young couples on the opposite bank appear to easily navigate through and over the logs. They had obviously done this before. Well, if they could do it why not me? Then I think my guardian angel tapped my on the shoulder and said…wait dummy!! You are not 30yrs old anymore. And by the way, have you considered the amount of gear on your back, and its cost? And those logs you are about to do a balancing act on are slicker than the rocks you just climbed. If you break a leg in the process, how long before someone comes by? Okay, I convinced myself to retreat to maybe come back another day. Possibly research other points of access. So I turned and began my route back down the rocks. By the way, has anyone ever noticed how it is much easier to climb up than to climb back down?
After careful effort, I did make it back down safely and managed a few shots of the log jam and the walls of the gorge. I will explore a little deeper on an upcoming visit back to this beautiful area. This time I managed to listen to my guardian angel.