The bright sun reflecting off the ocean and sand, Gave luster of mid-day to objects on land. When, what to my wondering eyes should appear on Waikiki, But Santa Clause with a cellphone in hand, and stunned sun bathers nearby, trying to understand why.
The sunhad just set as I arrived at my friend’s condominium on Lake Washington near Seattle. Rick was loading camera equipment into his SUV, Ford Escape — a gasoline-electric hybrid, which holds the honor of being one of the first American-built hybrids.
We had a long drive ahead, which required us to drive all night before reaching our destination in the high desert of Central Oregon. It was a cool, but clear, May evening, as the SUV climbed steadily up to Snoqualmie pass. After cresting the Cascade Mountains we descended into a dryer, warmer Eastern Washington. After a few hours of driving the glow from a near full moon was illuminating the desert sagebrush outside the town of Goldendale on the Columbia River.
Wind turbines above the Columbia River are lit by the moon.
Our adventure to John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, was planned to coincide with a full moon for illuminating the surreal Painted Hills. Rick and I use digital cameras, featuring full-sized image sensors and fast optical lenses, which are ideal for capturing low light environments. Taking the opportunity to harness some moonlight as it rose above the Columbia Gorge, we made a stop to photograph wind turbines. These wind gathering monoliths, heavily populate this section of Washington and Oregon. The site is ideal for wind farms, due to the wind tunnel conditions created by compressed airstreams forcefully moving through the constricted Gorge.
Standing next to a colossal tower is a strange experience. These massive wind catchers are the largest machines you’ll probably encounter on land. And the eerie sounds caused from wind moving massive propeller blades takes some time getting use to.
Driving on the Washington side of the Columbia River and continuing into Oregon, you see legions of wind turbine sentinels as they constantly harvest the restless winds. It takes an hour of driving south on the highway before we see fewer and then suddenly… no steel towers flanking our drive.
Now what I become aware of is not seeing any cars traveling in either direction of a deserted looking highway. Eastern Oregon’s vast size can’t be appreciated unless you spend some time touring its sprawling, unpopulated counties.
After traveling all night and encountering some falling snow as the hybrid SUV started ascending the road to the high desert—we finally entered into the realm of the primeval Painted Hills. It’s totally dark now that the moon had set hours earlier, cloaking the desert from our view in all directions. Fatigued from hours of driving, we pull into a remote area to catch a couple of hours of sleep before our video and photography expedition can begin.
The John Day Fossil Bed National Monument is organized into three Units; the Painted Hills is the third Unit, which contains 3,132 acres of wildlife, plants and some unusual geology.
Over millions of years, layers of ash from nearby volcanic eruptions mixed with clay. Through the process of erosion, intense surreal hues and patterns of color explode in every direction.
The following morning was a like waking up in some eye-candy dreamland. The colors just popped out at you like viewing a TV monitor, with the hue saturation cranked up high. Stunned by the startling beauty, I grabbed my video camera on a tripod and began shooting panorama footage. Attempting to capture the details of the environment, an external microphone was used to record the outburst of chattering songbirds, which had woken up to announce the beginning of a new day.
My first impression was of being overwhelmed by sensory overload — it was challenging to take in all the colors, sounds and surreal shapes of the textured topography. What I was seeing, appeared to be out of this world — like viewing some futuristic post cards of a terraformed Martian landscape.
What I remembered from earlier road trips to the Southwest, was how striking the Painted Desert in Arizona was — that location now seemed pale in comparison to the Painted Hills. What makes the geology of this site so vivid is the saturated colors, caused by a series of volcanic eruptions, taking place over millions of years. The accumulation of layers of ash, dust and clay mixed together from relentless years of erosion to form the hills of strata of colors, like some massive layered cake.
What remains buried beneath the volcanic soil is a time-capsule preserving the fossilized carcasses of mammals and plants, which lived in the region during the Cenozoic Era —the Age of Mammals. This era began roughly 65 million years ago, so this National Monument is a target rich environment for paleontologist studying fossils from that era.
After I shot about an hour worth of video from the spot from the spot I started from, it was time to scout other dramatic locations. Not too far into our drive we spotted a family of graceful antelopes, casually grazing in a large field. Apparently, from talking with one of the NPS Rangers, this National Monument is teeming with indigenous wildlife including: bears, cougars and eagles.
Latter in the afternoon we stopped at the side of a gravel road to take in a stunning view of one of the larger hills at the site. The clouds above were opening and closing like a massive shutter on a spotlight — producing lighting effects which were irresistible. We set up tripods along with our video and still cameras to begin shooting right away.
Shortly after we setup shop, a ranger pulled up close to the SUV and was intently watching us. Rick and I shrugged as we looked at each other with a shrug, thinking perhaps we had unknowingly parked in a restricted area. Eventually the ranger introduced himself, he had the impression we were part of a National Park Service video crew, which was schedule to be doing work at the Monument. We were invited to join his walking tour with a group of photographers into a restricted area of the Painted Hills. As it turned out, this special photography tour only takes place one weekend out of the entire year —when the John Day chaenactus (a bright yellow wild flower) begins to bloom, then as quickly as it appears—it begins to fade away.
The photographer’s tour was visually fantastic and can only be experienced under the supervision of an NPS Ranger. The plant life is so fragile here, you’re only allowed to walk inside a dried out creek bed while touring this area. The Ranger was gracious enough to allow me to interview him about the site. Wind is common and unpredictable in this high desert area, so I came prepared with a wind guard on my microphone; but I did experience a few audio dropouts, hopefully you’ll be able to hear the main message clearly enough.
Later that evening we photographed the landscapes using a full moon for our lighting. I’ve never seen greater clarity of the stars and moon from this high desert environment, which created a great backdrop for an unearthly landscape. We photographed throughout the night until the light of predawn appeared.
At a little over 2,000 feet in elevation, the high desert can produce cold, bone-chilling weather and as mentioned—windy conditions. I recommend warm clothing and gloves to help keep your hands comfortable from wind-chill. For photography, the higher altitude is a great benefit, especially for optical clarity if your focus is on night photography of stars and landscapes.
I definitely plan to go back to the Painted Hills as soon as possible… it’s a dreamlike setting I have rarely experienced, which captivates the senses, with its splendor of stunning colors contained within an unworldly environment. ~
Paine Field’s, General Aviation Day takes place in mid-May, located next to a vast aviation center— including the world largest building (by volume), where Boeing/MacDonald assembles most of its commercial aircraft. Included in the aviation center is an ultramodern Future of Flight museum, all clustered around an international airport.
General Aviation Day 2013, is on, Saturday, May 18th, Hours: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. For details please visit: http://www.painefield.com/
General Aviation Day 2012, is on, Saturday, May 19th, for details please visit: http://www.painefield.com/
Wow, I knew to expect a great event from the warbirds appearing at the General Aviation Day, but I had known idea it would be so fantastic! This dynamic annual aircraft exhibition held at Paine Field in Everett, WA has one of the best settings for such an event and is becoming a major “aviation mecca.”
A surprise appearance of a Boeing Dreamlifter has photographers scrambling to get a shot.
Aerial view of Paine Field Airport, in Everett, WA, looking north. The airfield in managed by Snohomish County.
Paine Field’s, General Aviation Day takes place in mid May, located next to a vast aviation center; including the world largest building (by volume), where Boeing/MacDonald assembles most of it’s commercial aircraft, along with an ultramodern Future of Flight museum, all clustered around an international airport. Located next to these aviation assets are Paul Allen’s, (cofounder of Microsoft and commercial space visionary/developer) Flying Heritage Collection and John T. Session’s (Seattle attorney and entrepreneur) Historic Flight Foundation.
It’s remarkable this quality of event has such minimal admission fees, yet it offers the public a rare opportunity to walk right next to these historic World War II airplanes; to look inside at flight controls and touch the aircraft aluminum skin of these fierce flying machines. Only minutes later these same vintage World War II fighters, bombers and scout planes are beginning to fire up their inline and radial engines; which sounds like a monstrous dragon clearing it’s throat until there’s just a steady roar that grabs everyone’s attention. As one airplane after another takes off and returns making multiple passes, spectators are lining the edge of the airfield and to watch in awe.
Formation flying over a navy blue warbird with her mighty wings folded.
At midday the participating, Historic Flight Foundation open house began. Within the Foundation’s grounds were scores of World War II aircraft, along with dozens of people in army uniforms of the era; I had to remind myself… this was not a movie I was watching, nor a dream… but an actual live event. Even Steven Spielberg couldn’t have outdone the staging or realism for this assortment of warbirds, soldiers in uniform and military equipment of the era.
Is that Steven Spielberg wearing an aviation hat in the background? No, it’s John T. Sessions, founder of Historic Flight Foundation.
Having taught history of photography courses, I added some postmodern sepia to photos from the event.
Constructed in 1936, Paine Field was a works progress administration project during the great depression. Most of the vintage collections began flying shortly after the Field started operating, so it’s fitting the warbirds are now roosting here. Inspired by history and the original purpose for these aircraft; I employed digital post production techniques for the images in an attempt to recreate a photographic “look” of the 1930’s and 1940’s. In particular, sepia-tone as well as early Kodachrome transparencies inspired my recreated images.
This image looks so authentic, as if it could’ve been taken 60 years ago.
Another birds-eye view of the warbirds.
It’s rare to see such multigenerational enthusiasm for a public event. Especially seen within children and adolescent’s eyes were genuine looks of awe and wonder from what these aircraft inspire. Seeing the kids excitement resonated with my own memories about aviation when I was a youth. The fact that these historic fighters and bombers were not just static displays — but actually flying at “tree-top-levels” — whose roaring, rumbling engines you could feel, hear, and smell –captivated every age-group’s attention.
Cub Scouts enjoying the day, viewing vintage aircraft making fly-overs.
One particular image in the photomontage series below, captures the wonder within faces of a group of youth standing underneath the wing of a Historic Flight Foundation bomber, just as an aircraft roars nearby. The adage –“a picture, tells a thousand words” applies to this one; but also simply put… a face can sum it up with just one… wow!
Hope for the future, by remembering the past.
Female pilot inspects the B25 she’s ready to take into the sky.
Here’s my flying quote of the day — “Both optimist and pessimists contribute to our society. The optimist invents the airplane and the pessimist the parachute.” ~ Gil Ster
Look, up in the sky it’s a tight formation of warbirds.
Yes, that tough cat really does have claws.
“Navy blue” ready for takeoff with a ribbon of Cascade Mountains in background.
Looking and touching is encouraged for a great live interactive experience.
An awesome flyby with two fighters accompanying a B25 bomber.
Up close and personal views of warbird taxing for takeoff.
Plane spotting groupie at Paine Field’s GAD vintage airshow.
This warbird isn’t shy and knows how to be a crowd pleaser!
Never a dull moment for a full house, and plenty of flybys to see.
For over three generations these warbirds still inspire awe on the faces of youth and elders alike.
Something for the entire family to enjoy, learn and share from.
Another target rich environment for photographers.
Inspired by the wings of flight.
A target rich environment for airplane spotting photographers.
This vintage navy warbird gets ready to fly by modern Boeing airliners.
Mom and dad with kids in tow to see a great show.
A sunshine halo encircles vintage warbirds returning home from a successful flight.
Father and son with a birds-eye view from top of the world.