I had the opportunity to visit Silver City Idaho this last June for a day. I’m still in a bit of disbelief that this kind of place still exists in today’s modern world.
My friend Bruce and I packed our gear and headed to southeastern Oregon where we explored several places that we’ve been curious about, so on this trip we drove past the familiar scene of the amazing Alvord desert, after a burger and a shake at Fields Station, and headed north in to the Jordan Valley area including The Pillars of Rome and Leslie Gulch. After a side trip in toe Nampa Idaho to get a tire repaired, we made the side trip through the beautiful southern Idaho area to Silver City.
Once we arrived in the little town hidden back in the hills we knew we were some place special. After traveling over an hour on back country, single lane dirt roads of varying condition, we arrived to a large sign stating, “Welcome to Silver City Idaho. All property is privately owned. Please do not destroy or trespass. Violators will be prosecuted. Signed the Owyhee County Sheriff”. Fair warning I thought. 🙂
We traversed the dirt streets past old well kept 19th century buildings, daring not to exceed the 5 MPH posted speed limit, and pulled up to the Idaho Hotel as if we were riding up to the hitching post on our horses after a long ride on the dusty trail. We walked inside and found the proprietor busying himself inside. We were glad to see that he was open for business and sold cold beer. Bruce and I each ordered a cold one and proceeded to engage the keeper in interesting conversation concerning the history of Silver City. Established in 1863 the hotel has changed little in character through the years. The old building showed obvious wear from an untold number of foot falls and activity through it’s 150 year history.
Once we finished our refreshment and a series of interior photos, we left the building to roam the streets, guided for a time by our new found friend. As we explored the town I photographed a few of the details in the quaint little city. There are so many different views and details to be noticed and creatively photographed.
If you are ever in the vicinity of Silver City and feel adventurous enough to travel the old back road to the little town, take a day and go take a visit. Remember that this is a real town and not an amusement park. People live there. They enjoy showing a stranger around but appreciate their privacy.
Below are a few of the variety of black and white photos that I made while exploring the beautiful little “ghost town” of Silver City Idaho.
Oregon Aurora – The Northern Lights in the Pacific Northwest – There once was a day when I was asked, “What would be your dream shot?” I replied that my dream shot or the impossible shot would be the aurora over Mount Hood, Oregon.
Since then Earth has passed into the peak of the solar cycle known as solar maximum and camera sensors have become much more sensitive to light allowing myself and many other photographers to be able to photograph the event when it happens, and it has happened quite a bit the last three years. The first time that I photographed the aurora I had no idea that I had captured it in the shots that I had made the night when I went to photograph Trillium Lake, but when I looked at the photos when I had returned home I noticed a green glow on the horizon. Granted, it wasn’t columns and ribbons of light, but a soft green glow. That was October 24th, 2011. Four years ago.
Since then I have been able to catch the Northern Lights in the area and snap a few photos. It’s not as easy as just taking a chance and going and to get a photo. They only come after a solar storm and typically happen from a day or three afterward. I use an application for my phone called Aurora Notifier that signals me when the Kp level, the strength, of the aurora rises above 4Kp. Once that happens, if it’s a dark night, I grab my gear and go.
Once out in the dark one must realize that at this latitude the light is dim and difficult to see with your eyes, but if it’s a strong enough display you can see the light pillars dance on the horizon once your eyes are adjusted. You must get away from any sky whose darkness is diluted by any affect from town or city light. Even the light from the moon can wash out the northern lights. Choose a dark sky with a view toward the northern horizon. Set your camera on a tripod and set your aperture wide open to allow as much light in as possible. Then set your ISO high, it will vary depending on how dark the sky is or how bright the aurora is. Then set your shutter speed for at least 20 seconds. This long exposure is only for the aurora at this latitude. When photographing the aurora in the northern latitudes where the aurora is much brighter a much shorter exposure is called for.
Once you have your camera set take a shot and see how it looks on your preview screen. If it’s too dark raise your ISO or extend your shutter time, from 20 sec to 25 sec for instance. If it’s too bright lower your ISO. That should get you started. There are challenges that you will run into but in time you will get some northern light shots for your own.
Below is a collection of some of my Oregon Aurora photos. I hope that you enjoy them.
The Fortress of the Night Sky – The Dee Wright Observatory at Night
The car doors closes with a thud and the interior light’s soft glow that’s been allowing us to prepare our gear turns off in an instant leaving our senses to rely on sound as all sight goes away in the black of the night. I put my arm out to reach for Darlene as we both let our eyes adjust to the night sky. The summer breeze wisps softly around us as the stars appear as our eyes adjust. Darlene was the first to break the silence when she lets out a sigh as the Milky Way appears in front and above us. “Wow” is all she says.McKenzie Pass Oregon
We lock arms and shoulder our gear, turn on our headlamps and walk into the night and up the path jagged volcanic rock bordered path to the rocky structure that is the Dee Wright Observatory on the McKenzie Pass through the Cascade Mountains in Oregon.
The structure was built in 1937 and is made from the lava rock chunks that make up the surrounding area. The observatory sits amid a barren rocky ancient lava flow very much like the black basaltic a’a lava flows in Hawaii. Because it’s made from the area on which it sits it looks as if it is rising from chaos to be assembled in a wholly organic yet orderly fortress like structure. it was made as a place where people can come to view the beauty of the area from a majestic prominence, and yet we couldn’t see past the light of our lamps.
The arched openings showed the warm flickering light from a candle that was placed inside by another visitor for the purpose of making photographs. How fortunate we think as we walk up to get a view of the Milky way in the south sky shooting up and over the observatory.
I’m fortunate that Darlene likes the night time outdoors as much as I do. We decided to pose her inside of one of the arched openings. We get a few shots until the other photographer takes her candle and leaves at which point we start using a flashlight. We light paint the outside for a while. We go inside and we light paint inside for a while. We’re taking shots, checking them out on the backs of our cameras, adjust and try to perfect it before moving on the the next shot. We’re like kids in a playground.
We finished the shoot on the observation deck at the top of the structure, in the center of which stood a raised pedestal with a 36″ diameter bronze azimuth-like “peak finder” compass. On its face are lines that help the observer find prominent landmarks, such as the incredible volcanic peaks of the Central Cascade Mountain Range. Belknap Crater from which the lava which flowed over the area is where the rock that made the lava flow came from. Then there is North, Middle and South Sister Mountains to the south, the amazing jagged peak of Mount Washington, the scenic Mount Jefferson, Mount Hood, to the north and Black Butte to the east. Several more are marked on the circular bronze disc with an arrow pointing in their direction.
I light paint the disc as a foreground for a Milky way photo and then we decide to just turn off the lights and look at the stars for a few minutes before heading back down the rock path and back into the glow of the light of the car.
It’s a beautiful warm sunny day as you drive up into the mountains seeking cooler air and a needed break even if only for the afternoon. The kind of break that requires a seat next to a lake you think to yourself.
As you arrive you leave your car and stretch your legs you look at the trees surrounding you. You breath in the forest’s essence and walk toward an opening in the trees that leads to the path that you seek. The one that gives you a view to your goal.
As you walk forward the opening slowly reveals a still lake whose surface is broken only by the texture of the effect of a soft breeze. Beyond the lake toward the opposite end lies in the distance the snow capped peak of a glacier laden mountain reflected softly in the lake. You instantly feel a relief of stress in your body.
In the moment that you take to admire and absorb the beauty revealed to you an adult male bald eagle flies past the break in the trees, light shining off of it’s feathers, floating in the breeze only to disappear for a moment behind the trees then to reappear high up in the sky floating off into the distance to a tree branch of a tall Douglas fir tree.
The scene is huge and majestic. There’s so much to see and observe. It’s larger than life itself.
As you stand there you realize that you came to also snap a few photos. You think how cool it would have been to be able to get a shot of that eagle as it flew past… so you best be ready in case it happens again! You bring out the wide angle lens to get some photos of the scene beyond. Everything must be included you think. The trees surrounding the opening and framing the amazing scene, the bushes in the foreground, the surface of the lake, the occasional boat floating by, the mountain in the background and that darn eagle if he’d cooperate.
You snap a few shots before you walk to the edge of the lake. Excellent, you think to yourself. Another great comp for the wide angle lens but closer to the water. Snap, snap, snap.
In time you set your camera down and you start to relax while casually looking at the details surrounding you. The fresh growth on the tips of the trees, the heat of the sun, the chill of the breeze. The water at your feet is lapping against the shore and the rocks along it. The daydreaming starts and then you realize that you’re staring at the surface of the water and the patterns of the undulating reflection caused by the soft waves along the shallows of the lake. They move around causing an abstract and fascinating hypnotic show.
All of a sudden it occurs to you that you should try get a photo of it just how it appeared to you. A literal graphic interpretation. You get the camera and point it at the water. The first few shots show a very fine and noisy texture from what seems like a long distance away, nothing like your eyes saw as you were staring at it contemplatively. You change lenses and zoom in to about 300mm and shoot a little closer. You snap one and look at the sensor and you see it. It seems to capture the fluid, pulsating movement that hypnotized you. You then spend another 20 minutes taking the shot over and over trying to get it just right, when really one was just as good as the next yet you enjoy every minute.
How many times do you go out to a scene as I described above and then didn’t take the time to look at the details?
Look at nature as a source of patterns, rhythms and a source for your creative abstractions. Take off the long lens and shoot some details. Not just close up macros of flowers, for instance, but also of things like the surface of a lake. It will stretch your creativity and will feed that creative need in you as an artist.
The scene that I described above actually happened this last Saturday at Lost lake while I conducted a private tour with a client. He was stoked, to say the least.
We shot for four days. We shot wide angle scenes to macros. Creeks and waterfalls to mountain vistas. Wildflowers to cherry trees. I was also able to give him some pointers along the way that will certainly help him elevate his work a few notches… this is his word not mine.
Remember Gary Randall Photography for workshops, classes and photo tours. I would appreciate it. 🙂
I slept in today to try to catch up on the lack of sleep lately. Instead of hopping up when my eye lids opened like usual, I rolled back over and pulled the covers over my head for a while. Once I crawled out I made a nice cup of coffee and went out and sat on the front porch with Betty for a little while contemplating life and planning my day.
As I sat there I thought about all of the early hours, late hours and long hours that I used to put in in my last career and decided to call up my old boss to let him know I’m still alive. I still remembered the phone number. We had a nice chat. I asked how everything was going and it sounds as if nothing has changed at all there in the last ten years.
At the time losing that job seemed tragic, but in hindsight it saved my life.
Sometimes we hold onto things that we feel are essential in our lives when we should decide to make changes. Making those changes are difficult and most people won’t make those changes. In my case those changes were made for me. I felt that my life was over at the time when in reality it was just starting over. Now I realize that I’d rather start over mid life than to realize my life is through and to wish that I had done things differently. Regrets are fine if you have time for resolution, but a death bed is not the place to try to straighten out ones life.
I like my present boss. He lets me sleep in if I need to and wake up on my front porch with a nice cup of coffee instead of a commuter mug and a drive to work through city traffic. I may not be making the big bucks, but life is good none the less. I no longer collect “things”. I now collect experiences. I won’t have the things when I’m old, but I’ll still have the memories of my experiences. I think that I’ll have less regret that way. 🙂
Whoa! Why so serious Gary??? 😉
I guess my point is that in life one must embrace change, even if you didn’t make the change. You never know where the new path may take you. You never know if you don’t go. 🙂