Oneonta Gorge is a basalt slot canyon where the pure, cold waters of Oneonta Creek flow to join the Columbia River. It's a cool, shady retreat on a hot summer day. The canyon's lush plant growth has a number of species that are found only in the Columbia Gorge area. I first tried a photo here in 2005, but the location I chose was too shadowy to create the kind of print I wanted. I returned in May of 2006 at a different spot, and this time got the result I was seeking. The image on the film jumped off the light table when I got it back from processing, and I knew the print would be something worth exhibiting. I made one in the 30x40 size and included it in the exhibit Columbia Gorge: Our Precious Land that opened in October that year. It turned out to be the centerpiece of the show.
I needed to wade through chilly waist-deep water in order to set up the camera. To be sure my equipment wouldn't get wet during a fall I wrapped everything in plastic bags and used a walking stick to steady myself on the creek bed, which can be slippery. The day I took the photo the air was unusually calm. That was fortunate, as I needed an eight-second exposure. Another challenge of the location is that it's popular with hikers, and there are periods of just a few minutes when no people are visible in the canyon. Just seconds after closing the shutter for this shot a group appeared in the distance. When the light is right as it was on that day, the canyon and water come alive with glowing blues and greens.
I've had a chance to watch many visitors to Oneonta Gorge on my trips there. It's a bit of an adventure to get to the waterfall at the end of the canyon, and many are silently awestruck by what they experience. Others noisily frolic in the cold water beneath the falls. Some people don't enjoy the cold at all but brave it and are glad they did. The great variety of reactions reminds me that we all have different life experiences and our perceptions of the world are shaped by what happens to us and how it makes us feel. Cold water is not enjoyable for me, and I often wonder what it would be like to be a person who can have fun in it. It reminds me that most of us come to our opinions and values honestly through a unique path colored by events and reactions to them. It is a challenge of great effort to understand another person's point of view, and to realize that my own might be quite different had I walked in that person's shoes.
Starting in summer 2006 work is proceeding to reopen a tunnel from the historic Columbia River highway at the parking area leading into the canyon. The old tunnel was closed and filled with rock during construction of the current highway. Once opened, it will become part of a trail for hikers and cyclists. While Oneonta Gorge seems like a pristine place, on many a visit I have removed trash from the stream and there are areas of vandalism—particularly on lichen-covered walls near the canyon entrance.
During storms the flow of the creek can become unpredictable and floods carrying logs from the forests upstream are common. Currently there is a large logjam near the start of the trail that's treacherous to cross and claimed the life of a deer when I visited. It appeared after heavy rains on Thanksgiving Day, 1999 and kept the trail closed until June, 2000. If planning to visit, pick a dry day when the logs are not as slippery, wear good footwear, and carry a stick or pole to steady yourself on the logs and in the stream. Bring a change of clothing and a towel to dry off afterward.