Washington's Palouse Country 2015 Trip Report

By Kevin McNeal, Photos By Stuart Westmorland on Jun 30, 2015

Our June 2015 photo safari to Washington’s Palouse Country began in Spokane where, after a brief introduction, we got to know each other a bit better over dinner and a few laughs. Afterward, several participants were already sharing some of their images. It was going to be a good trip.

The next morning we were up for an early breakfast, packed our vans, and made our way south to the Palouse. We kept our cameras ready for any photo opportunities along the way. It wasn’t long before we reached Sprague and were greeted by the small town atmosphere of our first “official” Palouse location. The surrounding rolling hills immediately seduced us with vibrant green color and undulating curves that had everyone shooting nonstop. In every small town we passed we saw the iconic symbols of the Palouse, including the old homesteads, silos, and barns that make the area so stunning for photographers. Our morning was already filled with photo opportunities before we even took a break for lunch. At a small family restaurant in the quaint town of St. John we were treated to a hearty home-cooked meal as well as tales of the proprietors’ journey from Alaska to the Palouse. What a nice first taste of that small town experience. As we continued our drive it was not long before we stopped at an abandoned homestead—a quintessential symbol of the Palouse. We photographed that homestead from almost every angle and even had a chance to shoot inside the building. Later that afternoon we also found a few wildlife photo subjects, including a moose, barn owls, and some very friendly mules.

Exhausted, but very happy with the day so far, we checked into our temporary “home on the road” in Colfax. Following a relaxed dinner with lots of laughs, we were ready to head out again for sunset photography. The canola fields outside of town kept us busy shooting until we lost the light. The combination of bright yellow canola and farm silos made for a great subject and finish to our first day.

We photographed in the area around Colfax for the next few days, finding several different fields of yellow canola with classic red barns. The two subjects together made for some fantastically vibrant and unforgettable Palouse images. Each morning began with sunshine and cumulus clouds that were perfect for shooting the light and shadows on rolling fields of wheat and canola. We took short breaks for lunch to refuel and reenergize for our sunrise to sunset photography. Participants really grasped the essence of the Palouse and captured some very creative compositions. They used the patterns of layers in the landscape to depict vivid stories of vanishing family farmland through their images. The group also experimented with different neutral density filters. With positive outcomes everyone continued to try new and creative ways to photograph the Palouse and show its fundamental spirit.

Our travels took us near Steptoe Butte where we photographed a couple of stunning solo oak trees with the butte in the background. Catching the early morning light we framed Steptoe Butte with one of the solo oaks. We even named a few of those oaks so that we would never forget each tree! On several days we drove up Steptoe Butte for a high vantage point that offers a stunning 360-degree view of the Palouse agricultural fields. We shot early in the morning and late in the evening to capture the fields in perfect light. On one memorable morning we were so bowled over by such spectacular displays of clouds that even the trip leaders could not keep on their feet—yup, I did a face plant with camera in hand.

After exploring the Palouse in Washington we crossed the Idaho border near Moscow, an area often overlooked when photographing in the Palouse. We found some excellent viewpoints overlooking the fields from higher vantage points in the Moscow Hills. As we traveled the area we all kept our eyes open for the yellow tone of canola fields. We drove the backroads, creating new adventures and often finding treasures that had never before been photographed. At the end of our week we made one of the most unique discoveries of the trip—a man who restored old classic cars and gas stations. He had a huge collection of over 50 cars on his property and a vintage gas station that looked like a movie set from the 1950s. We even got a chance to get a bit dirty by photographing from the ground to capture unique compositions. It was a nice way to end our time in the Palouse. As we made our way back to Spokane we discovered a few more final treats along the road, including isolated falling down barns and a church sitting photogenically atop a green rolling hill.

At our final dinner in Spokane, we had a chance to talk and trade stories from the week. After dinner we headed out for one more photo session at Spokane’s historic Davenport Hotel. The ornate interior of the 100-year-old Renaissance style hotel made it a special photo opportunity. It was the perfect way to end our week of photography. Finally, when the clock neared midnight, our satisfied group at last called it a night. Everyone said their good-byes, and the following morning we left with images and connections that would last a lifetime.