Elemental Duet

The elements: Earth and Water

The mood: Contemplative

Earth:  The Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, in Oregon. Water:  Reflections at Bellevue Botanical Garden and Heronswood, in Washington.























The Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Oregon, is a remarkable visual record of events that began over 30 million years ago. As the mountain range we now call the Cascades was being formed by volcanic eruptions, ash and tuff (rock formed from volcanic ash and cinders) blew eastward and drifted to the ground. It slowly weathered and solidified with pressure. Over millions of years climate changes caused subtle bands of color to form in the deposits.

The reddish layers contain more iron and aluminum, left behind from sub-tropical times when wet weather caused other minerals to leach out, bringing iron and aluminum to the surface. Areas with less color are sedimentary clay, silt and shale – what I like to think of as really old mud, left behind in cooler, drier periods.  The dark patches are areas where tropical plant growth turned into lignite, a kind of peat.

Ultimately, newer, softer soils eroded away and beautifully undulating, multi-hued layers of time were exposed.

Hidden away in this geological stew are a multitude of fossils, making this and its sister sites, the Clarno and Sheep Rock Units of the John Day Fossil Beds NM, important research locations for paleontologists. At least one of my readers has a geology background. He (you know who you are!) can probably explain the processes better than I did.

I appreciate the science, but the bottom line for me is the essential beauty of this landscape, which I visited a month ago. A bonus was the string of amazing small towns in the area that retain a genuine Old West atmosphere and whose residents offer warm hospitality – at least for now. The region is smack in the middle of the August 21st solar eclipse path of totality. One shudders to think what these relaxed, friendly towns will feel like when they’re inundated with thousands of eclipse watchers.  I’m staying clear!

As for the reflections of spring leaves in moving water – that entails some luck. The light has to be right, and you have to be able to photograph the water from the right angle. I balanced on stepping stones for some of them. Then you may need to experiment a bit with camera settings, and again, with processing.

The moving water images struck me as harmonizing nicely with the Painted Hills images. So: a duet, or even a pas de deux, in shimmering hues of earth and water.


    • And if you’re lucky, you’ll get there when it’s not too hot or too cold, and you’ll get more sun that I did – imagine how gorgeous those hills are at sunset. Maybe next time.

  1. Absolutely lovely pairing. I was enraptured as I went through the photos. Gorgeous and lyrical. I like that you saved the info for the end this time. The choice went well with the flow of images. Thanks for sharing!

  2. One is always rewarded with lovely images from your posts; they’re like a balm to the soul, and the pairing of the two themes works really well. It’s so nice when we spend time in areas where time moves at a slower pace… I wonder if the people of that area are enjoying/appreciating the calm before the storm!

    • People who live in those very small towns are working really hard to prepare – lots of meetings. But they just don’t have the resources so i don’t know what’s going to happen. What was more restorative, the scenery or those small towns? It’s s tie! I’m telling you, it was so cool to experience lifelike that for a few days – some of the towns only have one store, and it’ll have everything – I’m sure you’ve seen that. And our cells didn’t work! Drives me nuts when I want to google something but it was a good thing. Thanks Lisa!

      • ha..it would take someone like you a very short time to adapt to the ‘lack of’ and embrace the ‘less is so much more..’ si, in small villages in Latin America, many times there is one tienda that has almost anythingn – I call them ‘the mall’.. or in ecuador they call a mall ‘Shopping.’ hardware store, dollar store, paper goods, basic computer items like blank cds… food, cervesas, batteries, barbed wire – why go to the city?!!!

        it was very nice staying 30 minutes from internet for over a year, though it does present a problem when a disaster strikes, and i cannot send a smoke signal to say that all’s fine!

    • Shucks.
      One is tempted to oversaturate, which is what most people do with these hills – especially when the day is so overcast and dull. But if you play around enough in processing you can do purty good. 🙂

    • I always have a hard time conceiving those vast timelines. There’s an excellent small exhibit and even a working paleontology lab there. If I lived in the area I could back over and over and maybe I’d understand it all better. 🙂

  3. Yes, I know who I am!!! Lovely set of images, Lynn, and a good idea to alternate landscapes and flowing liquid – my favourite is the 2nd one. Strange how I’ve changed over the years – in the early days, it was geology geology geology, and I liked rock etc samples for their geological interest; now I like them for their beauty, irrespective of their intrinsic interest >>> so what is this? >>> growing old, or mellowing, or could all the Belgian beer be a factor????? 😀

    • 🙂 I liked the second one a lot too. I can understand what you’re saying about the changing relationship to rocks – and other stuff! I think it’s more than getting older and mellowing, but that works!

  4. I am amazed about how you visually make the dry landscape and the water come so well together. One would imagine their were worlds apart, but here the two subjects fit perfectly together. It’s really a beautiful series of photos.

    • So nice to hear you say that, Otto, thank you very much.
      One of the nice things about LR is that you can choose your 4 star, or maybe 3 star images and scroll through them. Then relationships pop up unexpectedly. This time I think the hills and water were close enough by date that I picked up on the similarity right away.

  5. Have you visited the Palouse? Your earth photos remind me of that place: particularly the first. There’s a painterly quality to the landscape that is just remarkable. The inescapable limits of life suggest I’ll never get to either place, but it’s wonderful to see them through your eyes.

    • 🙂 Thank you – I keep doing them whenever conditions are right. Often there’s not enough light or color or contrast, but when there is, it’s a delight.

  6. You certainly captured the magic of one of my favorite spots in Eastern Oregon. Did you stop at Blue Basin? That was my favorite trail. Sounds like the park is a good place to avoid in August. It’s hard to imagine those small towns absorbing the expected crowds.

    • Somehow I didn’t realize you had been over there, though being a long time OR resident and explorer, of course you would have checked it out. I think our favorite aspect of the trip was those small towns. This was the first overnight trip since the stroke and we were taking it easy, so no “real” hikes. We did go over to Blue Basin, walked a little, and I continued on on one of the trials for about a mile by myself – I loved it. Eventually I’ll post a few photos from the trip. Have a good week!

      • Chuckles…. I did a flurry of posts re our (2014) visit to the Blue Basin and you even commented on them! Seemed as though there was a motorcycle convention happening while we stayed in one of the small towns near John Day, though I can’t remember which one it was at the moment. I’m so glad your partner is back to doing even a tentative hike! Hopefully they’ll continue to get more “real” as time goes on!!! Can’t wait to see YOUR take of Blue Basin!!!

  7. Wonderful contrast of water and land, Lynn. What a great post and I am happy to learn about this beautiful park. It reminds me a bit of the Badlands. Thanks for the information and the spectacular set of images.

    • Thank you Jane! At some point I’ll post a few more photos from that trip. I’ve never been to the badlands, but the area in general is high, rolling, dry hills, mostly used for cattle. A very traditional West feeling. It was too bad there was no sun the day we were at painted Hills, but at least it wasn’t baking hot! 😉

      • Don’t worry – I may be over-reacting. I’m acclimated to Seattle coolness, and becoming intolerant of heat! 😉 Your friends in Bend should have a good idea of what to expect over there, weather-wise. I would really avoid any time around the eclipse though – those towns are going to be a mess, and traffic will be awful.

  8. I can’t help thinking I might be glad that the sun was not out when you photographed these hills. I love the subtle colors. I love the shapes of these hills, too. I’ve never seen anything like them. In photos 3, 5, and 7 I like that I don’t have a good sense of scale; I’m just enjoying the abstract quality of the photographs. (That’s not to say that I didn’t also drool over the other three photos.) And thank you for the geology lesson. . . . I wonder what your pairings might have been if you’d had sun or a sunset. These water photographs are very nice, and they absolutely go with the hills. . . .

    • I’m glad you like them this way, Linda. I purposely zoomed in on sections for just the reason you mention – the pure forms are enticing, and enough on their own. And good point about the water photographs working well with the subdued colors of the Painted Hills. You see a lot of super-saturated pictures of the Painted Hills online, done at sunset. That’s the popular look, but I do like these quiet colors a lot. I just wonder sometimes if others will like them, since they don’t shout from the rooftops. But of course we have only smart people here, who appreciate a subtle approach – like you! 🙂

  9. I very much enjoyed these shots and love the title you chose…elemental duet…how perfect. Sometimes I think certain attractions are inherent in photographers just generally. Doing thing like pointing camera at the pretty distortions of reality that water movement causes and the stylistic art it creates. I often end up pointing my camera to the liquid stuff myself. Another great love of mine is geology though I am not well trained in it, only when I do research. I LOVED Colorado’s Garden of the Gods and there as with your images, you just are in a state of wonder over the forces at play in our planet. A few years ago I was charmed by an elderly geologist who turned me onto a book I loved, no link but in case you were interested the title is: Memoirs of an Unrepentant Field Geologist: A Candid Profile of Some Geologists and Their Science, 1921-1981 written by FJ Pettijohn. Very interesting and personal account of the science itself and the young adventurous geologist developing his career.

    Thanks for the wonderful views, they look very fluid and painterly, good captures of nature’s art.

  10. I love the title–elemental duet– Two of my fascinations as well….the watery distortion of reality that makes a surreal art by nature….and the ancient geology of the earth, more art and mysterious hints of forces which formed the earth. Geology was one of my first loves along with Archaeology.

  11. Wanted also to share a tip if you like geology at lot. I once met a charming elderly geologist who did geology in Guam during the war as I recall. He turned me onto a book he thought captured some of the character and characters of his time period in the field. No link but here is the title: Memoirs of an Unrepentant Field Geologist: A Candid Profile of Some Geologists and Their Science, 1921-1981 by FJ Pettijohn. I really got a kick out of reading it.

    • Judy, thank you so much for taking a look, and for your comments. I love rocks in general, the amazing forms they take, the solidity – I’m drawn to opposites a lot, since I also love very diaphanous, ethereal subjects. I haven’t even been to Colorado – there are so many great rock formations in the West. I will look into that book, thanks!

      • I just noticed the duplicated entries. I do remember fighting my computer…feel free to clean them up and delete extras!! Sorry for that.

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