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Grant's Getaways: McDowell Creek Park

This week we travel to a park in Linn County, a perfect spot for nature photographers

LEBANON, Ore. — This week – a lovely little creek that invites hikers anytime on an easy two-mile looped trail that brings you face to face with gorgeous waterfalls.

Photographers Lijah and Gabby Hanley “chase the light” for their perfect shots!

The northwest newlyweds – just out of their teens – share a passion for Oregon’s outdoors.

We joined them for a hike and a shoot along in a parkland I’d never been: Linn County’s McDowell Creek Park.

“We are always looking for those off the beaten path photographs,” said young Lijah with a beaming smile. “I’m always trying to get something new.”

Today, the sunshine played peek-a-boo, where “Majestic Falls” – one of several waterfalls in the park - puts on quite a bone-chilling show.

Lijah stepped knee-deep in the creek so to frame just the right shot.

“It is cold out here,” admitted Lijah. “But you know, you have to be in the water to get the foreground. It’s pretty rare when we find a spot that’s totally unique that we haven’t seen yet. This is certainly that and a whole lot more.”

His wife, Gabrielle Gasche-Hanley, added, “We have a bond because we both enjoy getting out – anywhere – and shooting together does that for us. Plus, we run a business together and that’s been really rewarding.”

That much is certain. Lijah picked up his first camera at age 9, and it was a leftover from his mother’s own portrait photography business. From that moment on, he said he was “hooked.” 

“It was awesome! It was my mom’s old Canon Rebel, and I fixed the broken shutter and started shooting pretty much anything in my backyard. From bugs to flowers and anything else that might be around the house. It soon became an excuse to go on longer adventures and explore the northwest.”

At 13, Lijah Hanley won a National Geographic photo contest and the prize included an all-expense-paid trip with a professional photographer to Machu Picchu in Peru.

It was a fine start for a young man on the fast track to become one of the region’s best. He continues to relish the opportunity to travel and shoot anywhere at any time of the year.

Gabrielle is always by his side – in fact, the two just returned from a near year-long honeymoon. During the time, they shot thousands of images across 38 states.

As much as we love the northwest,” said Lijah, “there is so much of the world to see – any chance we get to go exploring, we jump on it.”

His images are beautiful and often show a piercing light that shoots across the scene and seems magical – and yet, it feels just right, too.

“It’s true,” said Lijah. “We are chasing the light more than we are chasing the landscape itself. It’s the light that makes the images – absolutely.”

Both agree that 60-acre McDowell Creek County Park offers a certain “beauty beyond belief” where streamside conifers and moss-draped maples complete a setting that is classic Oregon rain forest.

“For us to capture the essence of a place in an image,” added Gabrielle, "and have people see our image and say, ‘Wow – I know that place – it feels like home.’ For us to bring that feeling to our viewers, it’s just a really wonderful thing that keeps us doing our work. We love it!”

If you would like to visit more of Oregon – consider a walk on the wild side with my latest book: “Grant’s Getaways: Oregon Adventures with the Kids.” You’ll find activities to engage any kid, from archery to clamming on the coast to hunting for thundereggs to zip-lining through trees in an aerial adventure park.

In addition, be sure to check out  “Grant’s Getaways Guide to Wildlife Watching in Oregon.” You will enjoy 48 uniquely Oregon adventures highlighting my fish and wildlife encounters. Scores of colorful photos by “Grant’s Getaways” photographer Jeff Kastner show off some of our finest moments in the field.  

You can also learn more about many of my favorite Oregon adventures in "Grant's Getaways: 101 Oregon Adventures."

You can reach me: Gmcomie@kgw.com

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