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Northwest BY NIGHT


The Oregon Trunk is renowned for its scenery and infamous for its sparse traffic. A BNSF northbound mixed freight slices through the night, leaving its mark on the raw, winding route through the canyon. Train HBARVAW (Barstow, Calif., to Vancouver, Wash.) negoti- ates a double horseshoe curve in the De- schutes River at Beaver Tail, Oregon, at 4:30 a.m. on June 8, 2011. Camping at night on a windswept hilltop, beyond cellular networks and with infrequent radio chatter my only company, the rugged landscapes of the West take on a greater poignancy. Unutterably aware of my own insignificance, the universe is both more beautiful and more terrifying. When my radio broke the silence, I hung on every word as track warrants were issued in the wee hours. I rejoiced with the first hint of morning light in the eastern sky.


nities meant I was about to leave the land that had thrilled me as a youth, and that as an adult I had grown to love so much. I may never fully understand why landscapes affect me so deeply, why I long to be with them almost as one longs to be with a lover. I do know that being alone with the land in the night brings the sharpest feelings — of both intimacy and vulnerability. If this


was to be my last night with the Co- lumbia as a resident of the Northwest, I wanted to savor every moment. Ex- hausted, I reluctantly gave in to sleep and headed to my tent. Outside, trains on both shores wailed through the night. Inside, I slept soundly, content that I had explored a side of this region that made my connection to this place even stronger than before.


Scott Lothes is executive director at


the Center for Railroad Photography & Art (railphoto-art.org) in Madison, Wis- consin. Originally from West Virginia, he lived in Oregon from January 2008 to August 2011.


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