Driving the Back Roads of Whitman County

DSC_0296“CAUTION: PRIMITIVE ROAD”  When you see one of these warning signs in your travels through the Palouse, better  take that “Caution” seriously.

The road will look something like the ones pictured above and below: dry Palouse clay dirt, often rutted and not infrequently littered with chunks of basalt large enough to tear up the bottom of a low-riding vehicle.

And if it rains?  You’ll discover the phenomenon known as “Palouse Sucking Mud,” as I once did while hunting deer up in Green Hollow near Colfax.  My station wagon got pulled into a mess of it and my hunting partner and I had to abandon the car for a couple of days until the road dried and we could rock it out of a deep rut.  No fun, hiking across muddy stubble fields in the rain to the nearest farm house, over a mile away, looking like tramps, begging to use the phone to ask my compliant (if not wholly sympathetic) spouse to come pick us up and drive us home.  But I digress.

When the weather is dry and the roads passable — travel on them is forbidden between November and March — these primitive roads can lead an adventurous photographer to all sorts of wonderful opportunities: deserted farmsteads, buildings being reclaimed by weeds and critters, abandoned vehicles left to rust in the sun, and landscapes: sweeping seas of wheat and barley, lentils and garbanzos, alfalfa and canola, begging to be photographed, carefully and lovingly.

MAPS & RESOURCES: If you’re ready to answer the call of the back roads, arm yourself with a copy of Martha Mullen’s Reflections on the Road and a recent map of Whitman County (view or download free here) along with plenty of bottled water and road food, chart your course and begin your exploration.  Make notes along the way, especially wherever you stop to take pictures; you’ll find them handy when you start going through all your photographs. You might want to print out this Palouse Photographic “Hot Spots” map (no longer in print) and make additional notations based on your personal experience.

Another fabulous resource: photographer Otto Stevens’ thoughtful 14-page essay on photographing the Palouse, that includes the locations and history of a variety of photographic subjects and their locations. Click this link to read or download: “THE PALOUSE: JEWEL OF THE INLAND NORTHWEST.” It’s a great companion for your visit to the Palouse!

In future posts, I’ll be sharing some favorite drives provided by one of my favorite Palouse photographers. I invite you to bookmark this site or follow it (link at upper right column) to get email updates, to prepare for your upcoming Palouse photo safari.

Good shooting!

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