September 5, 2016

Nature's Lenses of Color: A Chromatic View of Camp Melakwa

Colorful Waters

~~ A photoessay that explores color at Camp Melakwa in the Willamette National Forest ~~
Three Sisters Area near McKenzie Bridge, OR. 
Cascade Mountain Range, Western side
July 15-19, 2016

There are many ways to see the mountain. You can focus on the grand elements - the ones that draw your eyes to the obvious shapes, like the great peaks of the cascades or the shape of the treeline at alpine vistas. The forest, however, will reveal additional secrets to you if you take a moment to organize your sights in new ways. Camp Melakwa is the canvas for the whims of the Three Sisters' paintbrushes, an enchanting place where these great peaks show their colorful gallery and inspire our imaginations.

Color is one of the great visual elements of nature, and Melakwa has a large palette of colors in its paintbox. This photoessay takes a closer look at some of the dominant hues at Camp Melakwa, my favorite home away from home. I let my mind wander a little bit during a hike this year, and found my mind sorting the colors that I saw with a few chromatic lenses.

Dominance: Some colors tend to stand out

Green hues. So, it's a forest. Green dominates every corner. Photosynthesis is the work of the forest. However, if you fine-tune your green perception a bit, you'll notice a range of shades of the mainstay green which shines some light on the diversify of the forest life.

The old man's beard lichen blankets the trees throughout the forest and brings a lighter shade of green to the trees.

Old man's beard

Old man's beard

Life Lake's lily pool is now one of my new favorite places. I only just discovered it this year. Its polka dots of green in the serene waters compliment its tree border.

Life Lake Lily Pads

Forest landscapes are the original mix of greens.

Treelined hills

Marshy growth

Look a little closer at the trees and see the greens shift along the leaves or needles based on how the sun shines on them.

Pine needles

Green fruits

This little juniper calls the rocky edge of The Point home. Its shallow roots can only go so far in the solid rock. As a result, it's one of Melakwa's many bonsai trees that are full of life despite their size.

Juniper at the point rocks

There aren't a lot of them the Melakwa area, but mossy forest floors bring the dirt to life with verdant shades.

Bruckart mossy ground

Star Lake in the morning is full of gorgeous greens.

Star Lake

Brown hues. It wouldn't be a forest or a mountain without brown. But the earthy tone is not only represented by its namesake dirt.

Logs from years ago line the forest floor, shattered into millions of brown barky pieces. This particular stash of wooden chits spread out their browns over the ground.

A million shades of brown

The Melakwa dry lake bed dominates brown even on the driest day. Its browns really come out though in the morning as the dew soaks the dirt, or after a Cascade hills thunderstorm.

Blooms at dry lake bed

As fall approaches, mushrooms started to push from the earth. There isn't much time, though, in between spring, summer, and fall as blankets of snow cover the area for 6-8 months of the year, so timescales have been geared to run faster.


Years ago, a vicious wood-eating beetle started ravaging the trees of the cascades. When tearing apart forests, the beetle eats away at the cambium, outermost layer of wood before the bark (and where the tree continues to grow). The result over the years has left thousands of standing sentinels throughout the Melakwa forest, ready to fall at any time. The mixture of brown and gray on these tall snags is pronounced as the tree skeleton branches in all directions.

Ladder of snags

Browns also find their way into the features of the camp's lodgepole and jack pines. Aside from the trees' bark, cones await their time to start new pinelife and accentuate the needles.

Pine features

And of course, what would a scout camp be without the familiar browns of a trail? Footsteps in the path show us someone came before us, but with each passing year, nature erases campers' ephemeral effects. It leaves the trail fresh for new discovery for new generations.

Footsteps renewed

Whites. Whites accent the countryside in many of the upwardly views in camp. Formally the reflection of all visible light, some of the camp's signature features are defined by the purest of whites.

Primarily, whites adorn the Three Sisters, the crowning jewels of the camp. The peaks of the Three Sisters show off their glacers, creating a striking distinction between them and the mountain's igneous rock.

Three Sisters

The Middle Sister

Clouds also frequent the camp. This isn't to say that it rains all the time at Melakwa - but instead a reminder of the unique location in which the camp sits. Moisture from the ocean rarely passes over the peaks, often getting trapped along the sisters' borders. Probably a good reason why we see so much snow from year to year. In my trip this year, we were treated with the cloud-trapping effect of Central Oregon's Cascade geology. It's gorgeous to look at from a distance, but sometimes you're in the clouds that produce intense lightning storms, so it always comes with some caution.

Three Sisters covered in clouds

Cloudy Peaks

Being early July with a late snowmelt, this year we were also treated to dense-blooming beargrass. These white pom poms decorated the camp's trails and sites.

Beetles and beargrass

Bear grass was in bloom

Combinations: Some colors play together

Green and red

The small forest flora doesn't capture much attention without flowers to grab your gaze. However, look in certain parts of the camp and you'll see some fern-like creeping stalks playing with the oranges and reds of fire. These small fern-type plants were seen around swampy areas in camp, suggesting they thrive on the ever-present moisture in the soil.

Ferns of many colors

Intricate patterns

Baby cones on some of the pines also show some deep red saturation. "Christmas colors" always makes me think of holly leaves and berries, but these trees show that you don't have to look much farther than your Christmas Tree to see the seasonal color combo.

Red cones

In early July, I was also surprised to see a maturing huckleberry. To get the attention of would-be seed spreaders, the berries take a nice contrast to the home leaves of the plant.

Red huckleberry

Of course, wildflowers need to catch the attention of pollinators. My favorite red-green combo in nature is the wild columbine, seen below with its five delicate arms hanging upward. An orange tiger lily is actually in the distance too, suggesting red cousins are also just as effective at garnering bumblebee attention.


Red pom poms also scattered throughout the marshier areas of camp. The bumblebees really liked these pinkish cottony balls, which actually looked more red in person than my camera captured

Red blooms

Blue and green

A bright blue day at altitude provides an easy contrast for the common greens of the forest. Gaze in the right direction and you'll see colors that go on forever.



The lake compliments the forest. They symbiotically share the forest grounds and sustain the other life in the forest. As a result of their dual influence, the greens and blues are ever present - sometimes blending well between the shore and the water, and sometimes stunning viewers with their wavelengths. If the sun's light hits the water in just the right way, you can observe the most vivid of blues. However, sometimes greens or non-colors will emerge from the water based on how the light is scattered.

Shoreline hues

Council bluff, from the trails

Sit for a view


A macro view of the shore-tree relationship reveals some really intense color combos.


Mini pine at the point

Expired beargrass blooms on the bluff


Blue-on-green wildflowers. Blues find their way into the petals of flowers seeking bees' attention, contrasting the continuous green.



Striking: Some colors just stand out 

Before closing this photo experiment, I want to mention some of the unexpected colors that greeted me on my July trip. Some of these are just so striking that they deserve special mention. These colors, of course, are represented by the great number of wildflowers that I spotted in my treks around the camp. We had arrived at camp opening to a late snow melt, so many of the flowers were just unfolding. This is a rarity, as many have already bloomed and faded by the time camp opens. Nature's way of getting your attention seems to work on us as well as their intended recipients, the bees. This color collection was certainly enjoyable.

Blooms at dry lake bed

Dry lake bed flowers

Purple and yellow

Purple and yellow amid green

The complex natural web




The dry lake bed at Camp Melakwa harbored a colorful burst of purple, yellow, pink, and red. Some lupine and what appeared to be some yellow cup-type flowers (I'm too lazy to identify right now, will do so later) adorned the otherwise-barren dusty floor of the dry lake. At closer glance, I think two species of yellow flower actually joined in the color composition of the makeshift meadow.

Blooms at dry lake bed

Blooms at dry lake bed

Blooms at dry lake bed

Above and below: I don't think these are the same species, although they're right next to each other!


Although not as showy as its purple and yellow friends, this pink bloom laid flat and stretched horizontally across the dry lake bed floor. It almost had a succulent appearance.

Blooms at dry lake bed


Some bees really liked a certain thistle that I saw. I was happy to capture the photo at the moment they wrestled for its pollen.

Three bees and thistle

The striking tiger lilies of the camp are rare, but they can be seen from yards away. Their tiger dots are just as interesting as their curled forms.

Tiger lily

Tiger lily

Finally, my hiking crew found a wild rhododendron bush in camp. Normally, these rhodies are found a thousand feet or so downslope, so it was fun to find a wild rhodie in the Many Lakes campsite next to Life Lake.

Rhododendron bush at Many Lakes

Bee and rhody

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