Smith River, Six Rivers National Forest, California

I hate to say it, but my interest in photographing the Smith River in Northwestern California came as more or less an afterthought to my time spent taking pictures in the redwood forests, not too far west from the river’s most jagged and beautiful valley stretches.  I’d heard the name before and been told, between gasps, how awesome it was and that I simply must go and see it, but I’d dismissed it.  Though I was aware that–like the Grand Canyon, like the Grand Tetons, like the redwood trees themselves–you simply can’t grasp a sight of immense natural beauty fully until you stand there and take it all in with your own senses, my question was this: how in the hell was I supposed to think anything genuinely exceptional was to come from something called the “Smith River?”  In typically unremarkable American fashion–like in using the qualifiers “grand,” “red,” or “{generic last name of your choosing},” the title seems to cancel out any of the prospective, stunning visual scenery the river and its highly textured, primarily sandstone walls actually yield.  (And I’d say you blame the language itself, especially contrasted against any one of the native dialects that have similarly “lent” themselves to helping designate American places or landscapes, but, then, the English have done a better job [I feel] naming theirs with virtually the exact same lexicon at their disposal.)

Anyway, one look from Highway 199 at the coursing of the river and you see, without a doubt, it’s something worth getting out of your vehicle and exploring.  The water itself is often very clear and a remarkable shade of blue in many stretches; the valley depth in many places will draw the eye down, inviting you to enjoy more of the river’s geological handiwork than if the banks were younger and more shallow; the sandstone outcroppings, walls and islands provide the land with its true photogenic rarity; and the native mosses and trees, like anywhere in the world, stamp the entire area with unique, regional identifiers that make the river undoubtedly American, and an indisputable work of art.


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