For many years I’ve traveled the miles from McCall to Lewiston Idaho, making my way between the put-in and take-out for the Lower Salmon river trip. It’s a lovely drive through rolling agricultural fields, of fragrant canola and wheat crops. I love the huge wide open skies in equal measure. They so often are a dramatic display of cloud-life. Those vast expanses of land and sky are very different from my own mountain hometown. I used to mistakenly call it the Palouse until I was indignantly corrected by a local. Don’t mess with a Local’s sensibilities of their homeland! It’s actually called the Camas Prairie, named for the lovely blue Camas wildflower that grows so prolifically in the spring there. The Camas flower and it’s tuberous root was a subsistence food for the Nez Perce Indians long ago.
Just north of Lewiston is the Palouse, similar country, our destination for today’s exploration.
Only recently has the Palouse become a well known place for photographers to flock. It’s really a hardworking farmer’s land, it’s rolling hills a carpet of green, yellow or rich dark brown, depending on the season. The picturesque barns, fences, windmills and sometimes old machinery are not posed for the photographer’s lens. They represent generations of many a family’s livelihood bringing food to the American table. I have to admit I felt some degree of guilt as I wandered through with my camera, a stark indulgence compared to the workaday world of these farmers.
I had a blast following whatever road took my fancy. I told a friend afterward, “I never knew where I was, but I was never lost….”. I was delighted with this semi-lost-ness. There are maps to be found online of the area, even ones created for photographers. I started out that way, but then the map ended up on the floor of the car because it was way more fun to follow my nose.
The roads reminded me of the Pennsylvania country lanes of my childhood: narrow, winding, and making sense only to the farmers who use them. There rarely was traffic. So again, as on the Council to Cuprum Road I spoke of in an earlier blog, I would just barely pull off the road, leave the hazard lights going and wander off for an image like this:
But what’s so captivating about this part of Washington, the Palouse, are the lovely flowing lines and curves of the land. There’s one hilltop that has the perfect expansive view of these lines, Steptoe Butte State Park. It’s totally worth the upward circling drive on terrible pavement. The viewpoint is made for the iconic sunset or sunrise light. Way out, the modern windmills taking advantage of Nature’s wind power punctuate the landscape:
I loved that view for showing the folds and curves of the earth’s mantle. The lines created by the farmers in their agricultural endeavors sometimes came through best in a black and white rendering:
Here’s an olde tyme windmill, the likes of which are a photographer’s welcome sight:
And speaking of drama in the open skies, I was treated to a phenomenal display of skill and thrill watching a bi-plane crop duster doing it’s thing swinging to and fro over the fields spraying it’s load. I wasn’t too thrilled to be exposed to whatever was in that spray however!
So the funny thing about this trip. My intention was to photograph the huge fields of yellow blooming canola fields the Palouse is famous for in the spring. I saw a couple of them in the Camas Prairie on my way north. But nothing in the Palouse. Huh? Turns out, they alternate years for planting of this crop to wisely rest the fields. Aw snap! Really? Guess I’ll just have to go back….In the meantime, you can check out a few of them over at my friend Evan Jones’ blog about the canola fields.
I may not have been there for the golden yellow fields of canola blooming, but I surely didn’t mind those lovely landscape lines and expansive dramatic skies. You can check out more of my images from this trip here in the Gallery.
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