Saturday, May 19, 2018

Emerald Falls

Some months back I did a post about the Columbia Gorge's Gorton Creek Falls, a (relatively) un-touristy spot a few miles east of Cascade Locks. The photoset included one photo of Emerald Falls, a small (10' or so) waterfall along the way to the main event. I neglected to even mention Emerald Falls in the body of the post, but one of the many project rules here at this humble blog is that each waterfall gets its own post. (See for example, Munra Falls on the way to Wahclella Falls, and Shady Creek Falls along the main Multnomah Falls trail.) So here we are. I don't really have any fascinating tidbits to share here; I checked the library's Oregonian database & verified the phrase "emerald falls" has never appeared in the Oregonian, dating back to the paper's founding in 1861. Which is not really surprising, given that it's only ten feet tall and 43 miles away. I did find a couple of good blog posts about hiking to the main falls that mentioned Emerald Falls too, so I thought I'd pass those along.

One thing that kind of surprised me was how much art photography there is of this little waterfall. I imagine the deal is that, beyond just being photogenic, there are practical reasons it's popular. It's a short, flat walk along an uncrowded trail, and Emerald Falls is where the proper trail ends; after this point you're making your way along the streambed, scrambling over rocks and fallen trees most of the way. So if you're lugging a heavy pro tripod and expensive L glass (or whatever the Nikon equivalent is), this would be a good place to stop and shoot. Here are a few semi-randomly selected examples, all of which are better than my one brief attempt above: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15]. From these and other examples, we can derive some tips for getting a really good Emerald Falls photo, almost none of which I observed in mine.

  1. Bring a tripod (or monopod, or Gorillapod, or whatever) so you can get the proper long exposure look. 1/8 second was as long as I could do handheld without blurry results, and the effect is not quite up to par here. It's not that I haven't known this detail for years; it's just that I dislike lugging a bunch of gear around, and am not enough of a perfectionist to do it anyway.
  2. It didn't occur to me to climb down to creek level, but that appears to be the best spot to shoot from.
  3. Wide angle lenses seem to be a popular choice. I do actually own one of those but neglected to bring it along, because gear lugging.
  4. Go when there's plenty of water in the creek, i.e. not in late July when I was there.
  5. There's fall color here if you go at the right time, I'm guessing probably mid-October. If at all possible, be at creek level, use that wide angle lens, and have a fallen leaf or two on rocks in the foreground. Or at least that's what people did in the photos I liked the most.

Unfortunately the Wyeth - Gorton Creek area was affected by the 2017 Eagle Creek forest fire, and the whole area has been closed to the public since then, so at the moment you can't do any of the stuff I just mentioned. As of mid-May 2018, the Wyeth campground is open, but the adjacent trails -- the only reason I know of for using the campground -- are still closed. A KATU story from a couple of weeks ago indicated that the east end of the burned area (which was less severely affected than the central area around Eagle Creek) might be reopened in the near future, but as far as I know we haven't arrived at the near future quite yet. A January OPB story indicated that some parts of the burned area may be closed for years. So we'll see. And it's not as if the burned areas are going to look the same now. In retrospect, if I'd known there was going to be a fire, I'd have put a little more effort into some of the old photos I took back then. Well, that and tried to warn the public about reckless teens with fireworks, only to be ignored, ridiculed, and possibly arrested, like all the other time travelers.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

McCord Creek Bridges

One of the many ongoing projects involves tracking down historic bridges in the Columbia River Gorge. I kind of like this project because it involves making repeated trips out to the Gorge, but then stopping places and taking photos of things that nearly everyone else ignores. Many of the posts in the project come from in the surviving stretch of the old highway between the Vista House and Elowah Falls, more or less; for long stretches further east the route of the old road is directly beneath today's freeway, and nothing survives of the original. This is basically what happened at McCord Creek, the creek that flows over Elowah Falls. A century ago a tall and sort of spindly bridge was built to carry traffic over McCord Creek. Like many of the bridges along this stretch of the highway, it was designed by Karl P Billner. The bridge at McCord Creek was more utilitarian than most of the others, and it was maybe not Billner's most distinctive work, but it still bore a passing resemblance to his Latourell Creek bridge. The bridge was apparently tougher than it looked; it seems it was incorporated into first the US 30 highway and then Interstate 84 when they were constructed, and for nearly 80 years it carried traffic much faster and heavier than its designers could have ever imagined. As far as I know none of the other bridges from the old highway were reused as part of the new freeway, so I suppose it had that going for it. It was finally showing its age by the late 1990s, and the state concluded there was no way to bring it up to modern seismic standards, so it was demolished and replaced by a modern bridge in 1997-98.

The photoset above has a few shots of the replacement bridge, and ODOT has a better photo from an angle I wouldn't attempt, of workers doing a job I also wouldn't attempt. That bridge isn't the main point of interest in this post, though. In 2013 ODOT opened another segment of their Historic Columbia River Highway Trail. For those who aren't familiar with this project, it's not a trail in the same sense as, say, the loop trail around Multnomah & Wahkeena falls. It's more of a fancy bike path along I-84; it's several steps up from riding along the freeway shoulder, which people had been doing (completely legally) for decades before they started building the new trail. But if you're looking for a prime wilderness experience, this is probably not the trail for you. They're trying to reuse abandoned bits of the original highway where they can, but when that isn't possible the trail usually runs right next to the freeway. When they got to building the McCord Creek segment, it seems the 1998 bridge wasn't designed with room for a bike path, so the trail would need a new bridge of its own. Instead of building next to the freeway, the trail jogs south and away from I-84 for a bit to a spot where they could build a smaller and probably much less expensive bridge. They put a bit of design work into the new bridge, and it's done in a style that evokes the old highway's historic bridges but isn't quite identical to them. It has a bit more of an Art Deco look to it, as if they'd somehow continued building Gorge bridges into the 1920s and 1930s.

Beyond the two bridges shown here, there are a couple of others I should at least mention. There's a railroad crossing of the creek just north/downstream of the I-84 bridge; I can't really make it out in my photos, but I think it might be more of a culvert than a proper bridge. And upstream of here, Gorge Trail #400 crosses the creek near the base of Elowah Falls. An old OregonHikers thread has a very old photo of yet another bridge that crossed halfway up the falls, in the manner of the Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls. It's too bad that's gone now, but I can see how a wooden bridge wouldn't last long in that spot.