We get to explore a lot of lesser-known locations with our Meetup group, some two hours away, some requiring four-wheel drive. This gets us off of the populated trails, away from what everyone else with their cell phones are shooting, and into some really beautiful nooks (all the better to photograph, my dear).
Hike: Opal Creek
Distance: 6 miles
Photographer Distance: 12 miles
Features: waterfalls, mining machinery, rusty vehicles
Be sure to Bring: tripod, ND filter, fast lens for depth-of-focus shots
Photo op Rating: 5/5
We kicked the hiking season off this year with a visit to Opal Creek. We had a great turnout (almost 20), but there was plenty of room for all of us. We did it right with 12 miles of gentle hiking, making the trek all the way to Jawbone Flats, stopping for lunch (it still winds up being a squashed sandwich), and looping back on the other side of the river.
We stopped at many points along the way to photograph the stunning waterfalls wending through lush green moss and to marvel at the crystal clear water. The river was a glorious teal blue. We could have been on a rocky beach in Hawaii if the water wasn’t so cold.
For some, this trip was all about the waterfalls. Personally, I enjoy looking at waterfalls, but I don’t get particularly excited for them. Photographing waterfalls is pretty simple (tripod + long exposure), so I don’t find much challenge. Most people get the same shot, and that isn’t very interesting to me. I was rather indifferent; I didn’t feel any of the rush I usually get with unique subjects or breathtaking scenes.
Sometimes I just know when I’ve captured an amazing photograph, and that fills me with anticipation for pulling it up in Lightroom at home. I didn’t get that with these. However, once I did open them on the big screen, I was pleasantly surprised! Maybe waterfalls are worth shooting after all. Perhaps there’s a hidden challenge in there for me to find some way to make these cookie-cutter waterfall photos unique. Challenge accepted!
The hike had plenty to offer to me as well. I particularly liked the meadow of rusty mining equipment. Here, you’ll see wayward rails and an old steam engine originally salvaged from a turn-of-the-century battleship. I loved the rustic feel of the clearing, the details and the texture of the decaying metal.
I was also drawn to a dilapidated building, literally held up by a single tree.
Though my feet were sore by the end of the hike, we took one final detour we spotted near the trailhead on our way in. The path descended gently under mossy boughs and through a bubbling stream to the river below. My feet weren’t happy, but my camera was! We found another wide waterfall and a couple more abandoned mine shafts, lined up and suggesting they may have once bridged the water.
Hunger brought us into Salem afterwards, and it is actually worth mentioning this restaurant, Kwan’s. Here we were, 16 starving hikers, showing up at a Chinese restaurant late on a Sunday. They graciously sat us all together in a back room, checked on us frequently, and even managed to have all of our meals out together (including our gluten-free modifications). While we waited, the hostess (later identified as the owner’s wife) kindly chatted us up about hiking and all of the wonderful things the Northwest has to offer its visitors.
Kwan, himself, even came out (chef’s hat upon his head), informing us of the best dishes and how long he’s been cooking. He mentioned he speaks several languages. Upon mentioning Japanese, one of our party excitedly told him I know Japanese. Um… Only a little bit! That didn’t stop him from subsequently asking, “Ogenki desu ka?” Panicked, I didn’t know how to respond, until it sunk in: I understood what he said! He was asking about my health. “Hai! Genki desu. Arigatou gozaimasu!” I never thought I’d need to call upon my Japanese in a Chinese restaurant in Salem.
The food didn’t disappoint, and we happily left with full bellies, but the people were almost more worth the visit than the food!
We finally rolled into home around 11pm, making this a new record for longest single-day meetup. My legs and my eyes felt it, but I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the day than out in the fresh air on an awesome photogenic hike.