Thursday, July 19, 2007

Oregon Photography Tour: Fossil Lake Sand Dunes

After a night in a campground near the Painted Hills, with rain still forecast for the Oregon Coast, I set my sights for a large area on my Oregon map marked "sand dunes" out by the dry Fossil Lake, near Fort Rock and the town of Christmas Valley. What could be a safer place, I thought, than sand dunes near a dry lake, for a photographer spending a rainy week in Oregon?

Although the woman in the BLM office I visited to get maps said that she had never heard of people visiting the dunes to hike and take pictures (why do we ignore warning signs like that until we remember them later with 20/20 hindsight?), the dunes appeared to be oriented east to west, so I envisioned a sea of dunes that would be warmly lit by the sun at dusk and dawn.

It was going to be a 3-4 hour drive, so partway into the trip to stretch my legs I stopped at Newberry National Volcanic Monument in the Deschutes National Forest. One of the attractions there is the Lava River Cave, a lava tube which extends over a mile underground. Upon reaching one long, straight section, I tried some 30 second exposures. I determined that the gas lanterns rented by the entrance booth were a bit too bright, so I carried a flashlight (red end, white light shining on the floor) and triggered my camera flash multiple timestowards the walls as I rushed out 15 seconds and and then back for 15 seconds.

Having distracted myself from the long drive, I continued on towards the dunes. The drive seemed endless. Although I had a detailed BLM map and the road out to the dunes had been designated a "Scenic Byway" by the State of Oregon, The turns didn't seem to match my maps and the Scenic Byway was very poorly marked.

When I finally arrived at the primitive campground by the dunes, there was a group of maybe a dozen children riding around on tiny ATVs. It gave me the impression of a sort of miniature version of Mad Max. The parents were sitting by their pickup trucks drinking beers and watching approvingly.

Unfortunately the nearby dunes were sparse and widely spaced, overrun with ATV tracks, not particularly photogenic. I hiked out onto the dunes for a variety of sand pattern shots, but it didn't look good for dawn, so I decided to drive a couple of hours more to move on to Crater Lake.

I plotted the course on the map, and tooka a route that might get me to the Klamath Marsh for sunset.