Posts Tagged ‘dirt roads’

The Caldron and the Laser

11 July 2018

Over the past few weeks, I’ve finally managed to explore a new part of Southwest Idaho and attempt some astrophotography.

I came across mention of the southernmost part of the Snake River and how it was also a mere 40 feet across at that point. Even the name, Caldron Linn, aroused my curiosity. I had to go looking and find where it was and why the name.

A bit of research finally pinpointed where it was on the map: close enough for a day trip. I hit up a friend to see if he wanted to check it out with me and when he found out where it was, he recommended a burger joint in Twin Falls for lunch: the Buffalo Cafe.

Caldron Linn has an interesting history. Linn is an old Scottish word for waterfall. So, essentially the name means Caldron Waterfall. It’s actually a series of waterfalls, three at this time of the year. The best time to go see it appears to be the March-May time frame rather than our late June outing.

Image of Caldron Linn showing the three main falls at the time we were there. For some sense of scale, the bottom falls is 20 to 30 feet.

From the historical roadside sign south of the falls:

In 1811 the Hunt party likened the terrific torrent of the Snake to a boiling caldron, adding the old Scottish word “Linn,” meaning a waterfall. They had lost a man and a canoe in a roaring chute upstream. Finding worse water ahead they abandoned river travel. Next year, another explorer said of Caldron Linn, “Its terrific appearance beggars all description.”

Even with the water low as it was when we visited, it’s still an impressive sight. I could spend all day there just enjoying the place and taking pictures. I definitely intend to return and spend the night. Aside from the wonderful day pictures possible, if I have done my homework properly, the Milky Way rises right up from the waterfalls, or pretty dang close.

Identifying the direction and location of a possible astrophotograph using the Android app Dioptra.

There is no approach to Caldron Linn from the south side, it’s all private land. To get to the falls, you must make the approach from the north. There’s a dirt road that includes a couple of switchbacks as you drop down into the canyon. I would not take a regular car there. Really, I recommend a pickup or SUV with decent clearance instead. Or bikes or quads, of course. Just use common sense!!

Pano of the Caldron Linn area from up on the rim of the canyon. There’s another switchback just left of where this was taken, right where you drop off the rim and start the road down to the caldron.

Now for the laser part….

When I do my astrophotography, one of the difficulties is knowing exactly where my camera is aimed against the black sky and how much of that area is actually going to be covered in the image.

Before I explain my simple technique, let me give you a few, very stern warnings.

First, lasers are dangerous. There’s no question about that. Pointing them into someone’s face risks blinding them or at the very least burning out a section of their sight. Never point a laser device at anyone’s face.

Second, it’s not only dangerous, it’s also illegal to point them at any airplanes. ALWAYS, always scan the sky to make sure there are no flashing, blinking lights moving across your view or near it. If there are, wait until they are gone. If they keep coming and going, just don’t use the laser…better safe than sorry!

Third, do NOT shine your laser through the camera from either end. You risk damaging the optics or the sensor.

The laser pointer is also wonderful for pointing out exactly where in the sky things are. For example, you can point your finger at Cassiopeia and say, “It’s that W on it’s side right there” but with so many stars, which ones make up the W you are referring to? With the laser you can point exactly to each star and draw from star to star, showing them exactly the W you are talking about. Or point out which “star” is Jupiter.

That said, I use my laser pointer to let me see where my camera is generally aimed and then exactly what part of the sky the image will cover. It’s also faster than making an exposure then adjusting the camera until you have what you want.

This is the laser pointer I use. It’s a brilliant green beam from hitting the dust in the air. Red might be better for preserving your night vision, but I’ve not noticed any issues using this green one.

Here’s how I do it:

  1. Eyeball aim the camera in the general direction of my subject by visually aligning the camera lens with the center of the area I want to cover.

  2. Put the laser pointer on the top of the lens and see if it points where I want it to. Adjust as necessary.

  3. While looking through the viewfinder and holding the laser pointer beside the camera, move the laser beam until you see it in the viewfinder.

  4. Move the laser pointer until it points, one at a time, to the four corners of the viewfinder. Hold the laser steady and take a quick look over the camera to see what part of the sky as a whole the beam points to.

  5. Adjust camera as required until the laser pointer, as seen at the viewfinder corners (repeating steps 3 & 4), covers the desired area of the sky.

NOTE, in no instance in the steps above do I point the laser pointer through the camera viewfinder. I hold it beside the camera, point it at my target, and check to see it in the viewfinder.

Steps 3, 4 and 5 actually involve repeatedly looking both through the viewfinder and over the camera at the sky so that I get an accurate idea of what part of the sky is framed in the viewfinder based on where the laser pointer beam is. That lets me know if the composition is what I want.

This is what my laser beam looks like when seen through the viewfinder. Since this was a long exposure (20 seconds), the beam in the image is fatter and dimmer from not being held steady. Visually, it’s actually a pencil thin bright green line out to whatever you’re pointing at.

Check out the above photo of the laser beam as seen when viewed through the viewfinder and you’ll get the idea. Notice how it goes off the image left? That’s because I am using the laser pointer in my left hand near the top left of the camera.

With the same caveats, this process also works well for aiming your telescope at something in the night sky. It’s especially useful if you’re talking with someone else and one of you is trying to tell or show the other where the object of interest is. With the laser pointer, they can point right at it and held on top of your telescope tube, you can quickly point the telescope to the right spot.

That’s it for this posting.


Splashing around

19 June 2017

Last Friday was fun. Surfing Google Earth earlier that week, I noticed a potential location for doing a photography project I have in mind. So, my son and I headed out to try and scout the spot.

Short story version is that I have to try a different route in. The “road” is blocked about 2 to 2.5 miles from the site. It’s good trail in, so hiking in is quite feasible. It’s carrying in all the necessary gear that makes it a little less fun. Obviously, I’ve got the means to backpack the gear, so we’ll see. It would also take care of removing the vehicles from the photo site.

However, there’s a possible alternate route in as well. Personally, given who (BLM & F&G) blocked vehicle access to the site while allowing horses and hiking, I suspect even that other route will turn out to be blocked. After all, why would two ways way in be blocked (I already know it’s also blocked at the dam) and the third not? Especially since the hiking “trails” are actually the old road system. Gotta check it out, anyway, just to be sure, eh?

Even though the desired goal wasn’t reached, we did have a lot of fun getting in as far as we did.

We took the back route to the park but one spot got bad enough that we both agreed to turn back instead of continuing on. A tight curve, a steep drop, and a large puddle only a foot from the edge with no way to avoid it…doesn’t sound that bad, but it was questionable at best right then. Walking back to my vehicle, I saw track indicating whoever had been there before us made the same decision to turn around. We could see the bridge and the entrance to the park off in the distance from there. Rats! Foiled again!

Once we got back to the main road, we took that to the park and drove through it to the fishing spots on the other side. At the end, that’s where the road was closed by a BLM/F&G gate. Access isn’t prohibited, just vehicles.

Years and years ago a friend and I drove the entire canyon from the park entrance to the dam. There wasn’t a park there at the time but people still went there to get in some good fishing, mostly catfish. We just wanted to see if we could drive the whole way, and we did. Good thing his Blazer had good suspension! Part of that, about a quarter mile worth, was solid boulder field and we were going over them following the track!

Hmmm. I wonder, could someone have tried doing it without good suspension, vehicle clearance, and a 4×4 drive? If enough idiots…excuse me, explorers… in inapprorpiate vehicles did try to go through that boulder field and kept breaking down, that could explain why the area got shut down to motorized use. Or more likely, people kept trying to make different roads all over the place to get past that part.

Ah, well. I’m obviously going to check out the remaining access road, but I’m expecting it to be closed as well. It looks to be a much shorter hike, but it’s down the canyon wall and those tend to be a little steeper than a highway in the same place. The hike in would be fine, it’s the hike back up and out that I wouldn’t wanna be facing at the end of the day. I’ll take the level, twice as long hike over one I have to climb.


16 July 2014

Continuing my explorations of the weekend of the 4th of July…

Friday night I got home about 12:30 AM after shooting the Treasure Valley panorama. By 8 AM I was up and getting ready to head over to Boise to pick up my friend and head for Wickahoney, Idaho.

I had come across WIckahoney while exploring Owyhee county online. I’d been looking at maps (I’m fascinated with them) and saw some ruins marked with linked pictures that looked awesome. One of the pictures was even a night shot with the interior of the ruins lit up. None, though, brought out the stars that had to be visible from that dark sky site. I immediately wanted to go do some astrophotogaphy there, but first and foremost, I had to figure out how to get there. None of the websites I looked at had any details on how to get there.

Happily, Wickahoney is still on the map and Google is your friend. Surprisingly, even though it’s way out there in the middle of nowhere, it’s actually also in the National Registry of Historical Places. Using several sources, and collaborating with my friend, we worked out the directions and distances for the drive out to Wickahoney and back. Then we made a plan and set a date for a run to the ruins. That date was Saturday, 5 July 2014.

Trust me when I say it’s out in the middle of nowhere. You need a vehicle with clearance to get to it. I’m not nervous or scared to be out there, but I am very respectful of the Qwyhees and try to always err on the side of caution. It’s a wild place, a lonely place, and it can be dangerous, even fatal. I’ve been out there many times now, and have explored only a very small part of the county. I know what I need to bring when I go so that if I am forced to stay out there overnight or a few days waiting for help, I have the necessary supplies to survive. I’m aware of the symptoms of hypothermia and heat stroke and watch for them, both in myself and anyone with me. I almost always take a friend with me so that if something happens to me (for example twisted ankle, heat stroke, snake bite) then I have someone there to provide aid and help get me out. I also leave information with someone about where I’m going, what route I’m taking, and when I expect to be back. Then I stick to that plan. I can’t plan for everything, but I can prepare the best I can, use common sense, and be careful. I don’t go out there for thrills, I go out there to explore and take pictures.

It took us an hour to get to the turn-off to the dirt road, and another hour and half to get to Wickahoney. It was hot all day, as well…99F to 110F, somewhere around there. Your vehicle had best be in good shape and you better know how to read a map.

View out the windshield of the distant horizon, a dirt road, more a track, extending off forever under a blue sky with white clouds.

Typical road on the way to Wickahoney in Owyhee County, Idaho.

Even with our directions worked out, we still had quesions identifying where we were in the field. Both of us were experienced with maps, so we never needed to break out the GPS and the topo maps on my laptop. Some of our measurements found online were wrong, but the visual image of the map tended to help us properly identify each turn we needed to make to ensure we were on the right track.

We saw no other traffic once we left the highway and there’s no cell service out there.

A two wheel dirt track out the windshield of the vehicle, with the ruins of Wickahoney visible in the lonely distance.

The final drive to the ruins. The “road” peters out when you arrive at the ruins proper and resumes on the other side of the creek.

Finally, the ruins came into view. You could see them from a mile off. The pictures I saw online were nothing compared to the reality. I thought they looked cool when I saw the pictures, but when I actually saw the ruins of this old home, stage stop and post office it was just like seeing the ruins of old cathedrals or castles (sorta) you can find in England. I had expectations of what I would see, but the reality exceeded all such imaginings.

Image of the ruined building seen from off one corner as described later in the text.

The ruins of the old Wickahoney home, stage stop, and post office.

Plus there’s no shade at all at Wickahoney, other than that from your vehicle or the ruins.

Image of ruined building with 1992 Chevy Silverado Blazer in front and freind with bright red shirt standing at rear of open vehicle.

View of the Wickahoney ruins with my Blazer and friend for scale. We’re parked some 40 or 50 feet away from the ruins.

That’s not quite right. There is a creek that runs nearby, and there are some low trees and the remains of an orchard near the creek, but in general you might not want to hang out there too much, given all the cowpies laying around.

A friend overseas asked what I feel in places like this. Obviously I feel the heat but interestingly enough the 100 degree heat out there is more tolerable than the 100 degree heat in Nampa or Boise. It’s a different type of heat. The ruins impressed me both visually and emotionally. It was simply awesome to see them, standing out there alone in the middle of the high desert. There’s a loneliness to the ruins, but it also gives me a lot of respect for the people with the courage to settle there. I’ve read about the life of people in places like this and I like to try to imagine what the building was like and the fun the kids had growing up and the tough, but in its own way good, life the family had. I see the fruit orchard they planted and think of the work watering it from the nearby creek, picking the fruit, making pies and jams, and enjoying them. I think about the work rounding up their cattle for branding, slaughtering one or two for food, driving the rest a hundred or more miles to sell them. I admire the way they tried to care for each other and strangers passing through. For example, one of the sons that inherited the place from his father eventually built a 6 foot tall cairn on top of a ridge some 1,000 yards away from the house just so people on the other side that might be lost or trying to find Wickahoney would see it, recognize it’s not natural, and hopefully know that it’s a cairn with perhaps food and water that they might desperately need. From the cairn a person could see Wickahoney and find their way to safety. The idea that people then would do something like that just because it might maybe help someone…I admire that since it would be a lot of work and they had a lot to do just to keep that place going. I also wonder if perhaps he was creating a landmark in a place of no landmarks for his own family so they could more easily find their way, too. I try to imagine Indians, cowboys, city slickers passing through and how eager the people living there might be for news. I imagine them coming out to greet the stagecoach or approaching riders. I think about how the people died of things that could so easily be treated now and try to imagine what it must have been like for the mother there when she lost her son to a bleeding ulcer on a cattle drive to Elko and then a few months later the husband hung himself because he couldn’t get a loan to buy hay for his cattle at the start of a hard winter, and how that drove her to take rat poison herself because she had nothing else to live for. I think about the agony of losing a baby during childbirth there because the nearest doctor was 100 miles away and the nearest other mother easily 15 or more miles away. I think about the family sitting around in the evening laughing, talking, relaxing from a hard day’s work. I wonder what the Indians thought when they saw the family building the house there. I wonder what it was like before anyone came through there to settle…did the Indians camp by the stream as they passed through? Did they continue to do so after the Dunning family settled there and began raising cattle?

There’s a lot of history and a lot of unknowns. And a lot of respect from me for everyone that lived out there, whether Indian or white man.

Rusty, corroded metal marker listing Joshua Dunning, Margaret A. Dunning, Baby Dunning, and an unknown miner along with their dates.

The only remaining trace visible of the graves at Wickahoney.

One of the neat photography things about places like this is that you learn where the best photo shots can be found. Looking at my pictures of Wickahoney, it dawned on me that the best images of the ruins I had were all off-center, almost but not quite directly off the corner. It may be me, but I think those images reveal more of the personality of the old building than the pictures that are taken 90 degrees to a wall. Every time I go on one of these adventures, I learn something new.

While we were there, we found the skeleton of a cow. Picked clean and sun-bleached, it was scattered over an area some 20 feet by 50 feet or so. Finds like that are fascinating to me, not so much for what they represent (a dead cow) as the beauty of the bones themselves, the brilliant white against the brown ground, the symmetry of the bones on the ground, the complexity of the spine and ribs…the visual beauty. The pictures I take of such finds are as they are when I find them. I amuse myself trying to find the best image of the bones to present their artistic properties, but I also do not re-arrange them. That makes it fun as well as teaching me to try and see things from various angles. I also enjoy, sometimes, playing forensic detective and trying to determine how the bones got to where they are. I’ll never truly know, of course, but it’s fun trying to imagine what happened. I do understand not eveyone sees bones in the wild that way, and I respect their various perspectives.

Two white cow femurs on the brown ground in a T shape to each other with my khaki colored hat nearby for scale.

Two cow femurs with my hat for scale. The picture doesn’t do justice to how starkly white they were under the overhead sun.

We were sitting there thinking of getting ready to head back when we noticed a herd of wild horses making their way down the steep hillside behind the trees. There were several colts from this year and a surprising number of white horses. Naturally we both grabbed our cameras and started taking pictures.

A herd of 20 or so horses making their way down the steep brown hillside behind Wickahoney. Three white horses are visible along with several other brown and dark brown horses.

It amazes some people how many herds of wild horses roam Owyhee County.

Eventually they disappeared behind the trees and we wondered if they were going to make their way down the creek near us. They didn’t. Instead, after a whle they made their way back into view heading up to where they came from. Later on, re-examining the maps and online images I discovered that behind the trees where the herd had gone is a small reservoir, so they had no need to come to the creek proper, just to the spring. The next time I go out there I’m going to have to check that out.

By then it was getting on towards late afternoon so we packed up and headed back.

Already, I have images in mind that I want to create, some landscape astrophotography using the ruins as the foreground object. Due to the location, this won’t be an instance where I head out in the late afternoon and back in the early morning hours. The road is easy enough to travel, and you do have to be careful in some spots, but the long 2.5 hour drive isn’t one I want to make while short on sleep. Any kind of accident or poor driving, for example, could be not only dangerous but also lethal. This will be an overnighter, going out one arfternoon and coming back the next day. It is also a chance to automate the entire night, a chance to try for my first Milky Way time lapse, a chance to experiment with astrophotography landscapes, and above all, a chance to learn.

And a chance to live high on my friend’s Dutch Oven cooking.