Until recently, I had never had the chance to visit Oregon, but this year I’ve been there twice…and it has made quite an impression on me:
It is a beautiful state.
It is a diverse state.
But it is an also odd state, where the government thinks adults are intelligent enough to use marijuana responsibility but they don’t trust you to pump your own gas (seriously, they have a state law that requires gas stations to have an attendant to pump your fuel)….but then again, I live in Florida and perhaps I shouldn’t be calling other states odd.
As a photographer, Oregon’s big attraction is waterfalls. They have tons of them. And the ones they have are among the most photogenic in the country…if not the world. Take a look at any Top Ten list of Beautiful Waterfalls and you will likely find at least a couple that are in Oregon.
Most folks like waterfalls, and others, like my son Ryan, absolutely love them. So when Ryan and I planned our trip across the Pac NW earlier this year, he made sure that we included more than a few waterfalls. The first we explored turned out to be one of our favorites of the trip: Toketee Falls.
Tokatee Falls is located in Central Oregon and isn’t as well known as the more publicized waterfalls in the Columbia River Valley. But we had seen some photos on-line that got our attention and since it was only about 30 miles from Crater Lake National Park (where our trip had started) we decided to take a morning and check it out.
The name, Tokatee, is a native Chinook word meaning “pretty” or “graceful”…and it certainly is well named. It is a beautiful, classical waterfall that drops 120 feet in two stages thru a wall carved from ancient columnar basalt.
Oddly enough, the thing that might have been the most memorable, wasn’t the waterfall. Even before we got out of our car in the parking lot, this grabbed my attention:
This is a 12′ wide redwood aqueduct that diverts a good portion of a major river (the North Umpqua) to a hydroelectric plant. What is really amazing is that it was built in 1949 and is still in use! It runs right alongside the trailhead parking lot and as you get out of your car you will immediately notice the leaks. Since it holds a massive amount of water under high pressure those leaks become jets of water, some shooting over 15’…much to the delight of every child (and childlike adult). Makes for a nice way to cool off on a hot day! Check out my amateurish 15 second You Tube video if you want to see more: https://youtu.be/kyc0MStQtpw
The half mile hike to the falls was easy…there is a bit of elevation change (200 steps) but it was shaded and the woods were beautiful. At the end of the trail there is a new observation deck that has a killer view Toketee.
This is the same image you will see in 99% of the images on Google. And with good reason…it is impressive. Nearly all tourists and photographer snap a few shots here, then turn around and go back. Which is exactly what I planned to do. Except, when I finished my shots…Ryan was gone. After a few confused minutes of looking around, I finally noticed him…all the way down at the base of the falls. Since I knew his mother would never let me rest peacefully if I returned without him, I strapped the tripod to my back and started looking for the way down. Mistake. There is no way down. At least not an official one and the only “path” was what locals call “a scramble.” What I would call it is not printable. Let’s just say it is little more than a slippery, controlled fall down a steep muddy slope. After a couple minutes that voice in the back of my head started whispering: “This is stupid…You are going to get hurt…You are smarter than this!!!” But I’m really not that smart…plus my fear of my wife is a heck of lot louder than that silly little voice. So off I went.
I managed to get down without injury…and without loosing control of my bladder (which was kind of a close thing a couple times).
From the base of the falls, after my jackhammering heart slowed down, I raised my head and took in the view.
It was humbling. Over the ages the waterfall has carved a deep gouge in the solid rock wall. And below it blasted out a huge bowl in the basalt. Standing at the bottom of this ‘bowl’ you are surrounded by tall columns of the volcanic rock that reflects and amplifies the sound of smashing water. To say it is loud misses the point… more like you can feel your ribcage reverberating within your chest. Truly visceral!
See that fully grown tree on the right? Now you are starting to get an idea of how massive the columns of basalt are that make up the wall of this gorge!
Ryan and I spent nearly an hour soaking in the view. Not another soul made their way down to the base of the falls (clearly they had better sense than we did.) Although we saw a lot more waterfalls over the next week, Tokatee was one of the most memorable. It has a wonderful balance of size, power and pure aesthetic beauty. I hope you get to visit and photograph this treasure in the future.
Just for the record. Although I used humor when I wrote about getting to the base of the falls, I want to clearly state that I do NOT recommend that you try to do so. The ‘trail’ is not safe in its current condition. I have no doubt that someone will be seriously injured (or worse) trying to reach the falls. I wish that the powers-that-be would invest the funds necessary to make an ‘official’ trail to the base, but that hasn’t happened yet. Listen to that little voice in your head: No photograph is worth serious injury.
Tips for my fellow photographers:
1) When to visit? Spring is the best. Snowmelt makes for impressive volumes of water and everything is green. However, most the shots in this blog were taken in June and as you can see, the water volume was still adequate and the vegetation vibrant.
2) Be there in the morning so you can photograph the falls while in the shade. The falls face west and as the day progresses, you will get direct sunlight on the face of the falls which makes photography more difficult.
3) If you are shooting from the observation platform with a full frame camera, you will need about a 60mm lens to get a nice full image shot of the falls (about 40mm on a cropped APS-C sensor camera). If you decide to shoot from the base (assuming you ignore my warning) you will need a 27-40mm for most shots (15-20mm on crop sensor). There is a lot of spray at the base, bring some microfiber cloths to dry your lens between shots.
4) You will need your tripod. Since you will want to photograph while the falls are in the shade, you will need a tripod for longer exposure times, especially if you want the waterfall to have that ‘silky’ look. My first shot in this blog, for example, was a 4 second exposure. Most of the other shots were HDRs.
5) Don’t forget your polarizer. It will help reduce glare and make the colors ‘pop.’
6) How to get there? At milepost 58.6 on Highway 138 east of Roseburg Oregon, turn north on Road 34. Stay left at the Y and cross the bridge. A well-marked trailhead is 200 feet on the left.
7) If you do go to the base of the falls, take a rope and a first aid kit. Don’t go alone. Leave an address for your next of kin on the dash of the car.
This is a beautiful location…enjoy!
Tokatee Falls Photography: Guide, Tips and a Warning
Tokatee Falls Photography: Guide, Tips and a Warning