Hanging a Left
After a great time exploring Glacier NP, it was time to decide “where to next?”. The RV jello plans I had loosely outlined in my head for this journey had me working my way up the Rockies and finishing this part of the travel in Glacier and then deciding whether to head east or west…well, as I noted in my last post, while driving north, I had decided to hang a left turn…it’s time to head further west.
I backtracked initially to Missoula to map out some plans to get to the Oregon coast – sucked in a lot of bad, smoky air while there (I am sick of smoke) – and, decided to make a couple of stops along the way – first, to the Palouse region of eastern Washington and then on to Bend, Oregon – another one of those adventure towns that I was told I needed to stop in.
The drive out of Missoula along the Clark Fork River and then over the passes into Idaho was a beautiful – and smoky – run ( did I mention I am sick of smoke!)…then on into Washington for a short run south to my destination.
I decided to make Colfax, WA my base to explore the Palouse Scenic Byway and the rolling farmlands that make this region so distinctive – a destination for photographers looking for “graphic landscapes”.
Patterns, curves, color contrasts – all combine to make for some interesting landscape photography. Throw in some old tractors and barns – in varying stages of collapse – and I was told by some ‘tog friends, that have been out here twice, that I was in for a real treat!
I had seen some of the iconic images of the Palouse that were an incentive to spend a few days here- crops that offer up contrasting colors; tractors that leave sweeping curved patterns as their plowing wraps the rolling hills; fields that at different times of the year are yellow, golden, green, brown, and black – from a hillside, long stripes of colors form an interesting array of patterns and shapes. Just do a Google image search on the Palouse and you’ll see what I mean…Outstanding!
Colfax is the county seat for Whitman County – 2,000 square miles of rich farmland generally referred to as the Palouse – so rich that in a good year they can produce up to 100 bushels of wheat per acre; the biggest lentil producer out there; and now producing increasing amounts of ‘garbs – the increasingly popular garbanzo beans. In other words – some very fertile ground here.
The region is now home to the The Palouse Scenic Byway – 208 miles of local roads that swing through sweeping hills and spectacular vistas, expansive wheat and lentil farmlands, and small towns with distinctive, rich history and charm – a nice opportunity to see a way of life that is not easily found in modern day America.
But the region also has a web of gravel and dirt roads that lead to a number of hidden treasures – so, time for some local knowledge
I decided to get a local expert – Jack Lien – to be my photo tour guide – a 30 year resident who now leads photo tours of the area and has access to virtually all the farms in the region. Jack not only took me to some of his “favorites” but also provided me with lots of great insights to the farming practices and rich history of this area- a wealth of knowledge and long list of places to see –a perfect combination
Unfortunately, Washington has it’s share of fires and dry conditions – yup, more smoke and white skies and dry conditions that had prevented the winter wheat from germinating – so, sadly not a lot of typical Palouse color contrasts to work with.
Did I mention I was sick of smoke 🙂
But, sometimes you just have to make the best of it – decided to “see” the world for a couple of days in black and white…simply have some fun seeing some new country…
We covered many, many miles stopping along the way to enjoy the quilted tapestry of the rolling farmland
And we stopped at a number of old barns. Five miles west of St. John, we visited the 1916 Steinke Round Barn – a 12 sided beautiful barn with old planks that form the ribs that support the arch of the roof. The barn was built in a day when up to 32 draft horses or mules might be teamed up to pull the era’s combines and the interior stalls in a ring around a column for hay made it somewhat easier to feed and harness the horses.
It was not only a real treat to photograph the barn, but I had a chance to meet the current owner and farmer – he just retired at 82 ☺ He said life in the Palouse had been good to him!
Over in Uniontown, we stopped at the Dahmen Barn – one that was built by a family that still farms in Uniontown – they built the barn in 1935 for Jack Dahmen and his family who used it for a commercial dairy operation until 1952. It was then purchased by his nephew Steve Dahmen and wife Junette – and, after building a gate of rake tines, friends began contributing wheels to add to the construction of a fence.
Says Junette Dahmen, in a history of the wheel fence, “Every wheel has a story from the smallest to the biggest. There are wheels from every kind of machine, an antique baby buggy, threshing machines, push-binder wheels, sidewinder or delivery rakes, old hay rakes and gears of every kind, large and small.” Today the fence exhibits over 1000 wheels – and, the barn and the surrounding fence have become a landmark – attracting artists and photographers from all over.
We also stopped to see a number of relics – old trucks and tractors – some simply abandoned in fields; some on farms where the owner was trying to preserve/restore some of the rich history of this area – a nice change of pace.
Despite the smoke (yup, sick of it) I thoroughly enjoyed my stop in the Palouse – it’s what this journey of discovery is all about – seeing some of those places that I never thought I would personally visit – sweet!
But time to be moving on – time for a long haul trucker kind of day – a nearly 8 hour run to central Oregon – next stop – Bend, OR