#1217. Backyard Gems: On the Road Again (Finally)!

By John Wilson | Travel Photography

Jul 25

Yes … it’s been a while! The COVID clouds have parted and it’s been two years since the “6 pack” hit the road into the hinterlands cameras in hand. After a month of planning and discussion we took to the road on May 27 for 12 days exploring south eastern BC. All told with side trips and backroads about 2000 mile of driving. There’s far too much to cover in one post, so this is going to be in at least two instalments.


And whoopee! I have a new toy to show off … I had my old and much loved Fuji X-T1 converted to 850nm Infrared and the two most important lenses in my kit work just fine with it … with some limitations. The 10-24mm works fine across its range but the available apertures get larger as you zoom out. At 24mm (36mm full frame) things are good to about f8. At 10mm (15mm in full frame) anything smaller than f4 begins to develop a hotspot in the center of the image and gets progressively worse as I stop down. But hey, 15mm at f4 means depth of field from sometime last week all the way to the Andromeda galaxy. This instalment is all about shooting in infrared and there was plenty of opportunity for that.

Part 1 – The Joys of Infrared

The first stop on the outbound route east was the town of Hedley on the way to Osoyoos our first stopover. Hedley (pop.242) is an old Nickel mining town dating back to 1870. The attraction for our stop was a couple of old cars in a field next to the highway that Bob and I had photographed a few years ago. But this time we ventured into the town and discovered The Old Trading Post, a treasure trove of art and artefacts; more on that in a later instalment. The cars in the field turned out to be … well … just cars in a field. But there was one old beauty permanently parked next to the building with some appropriately whimsical window dressing and perfect light for infrared.

The Old Trading Post – Hedley
Retirement Colony
Don’t Touch My Car!

Next up the highway was another little town called Greenwood (pop.702). Greenwood was a copper mining and smelting center from 1886 to 1919 when the smelter closed for good due to a collapse in the copper market. Dave has a friend in Greenwood (he seems to know someone just about everywhere in BC) who knows the mayor Barry Knoll and through her good offices he had agreed to show us some of the hidden secrets of the area. The old smelter is still there just up a hill on the north side of the town, but access is restricted. Instead Mayor Barry suggested a collection of abandoned miners cabins (YES!!!) back in the hills south of town. A bit of a drive down some very narrow and sometimes rough dirt roads, but that’s to be expected considering the place has been abandoned for over a century.

Mayor Barry, Grant and Bob sorting out directions
Horned cabin

This forested hillside is littered with a dozen or so log cabins in various states of decrepitude including collapse and, in some cases, just foundations. But underfoot, the mountainside is honeycombed with about 70km of abandoned mining tunnels. Equally startling is the small fortune in recoverable timber in these old structures. Hopefully no one decides to harvest them for the foreseeable future.

After an overnight in Osoyoos we headed off to Nelson (pop.11,106) tucked away in the Selkirk Mountains on the West Arm of Kootenay Lake. Known as “The Queen City”, for its impressive collection of restored heritage buildings from its glory days as a regional gold and silver mining hub. But the real attraction is its murals, graffiti and the abandoned mines and ghost towns littering the area.

South of Nelson on Hwy 6 is the town of Salmo, another former mining boom town. To the east of Salmo off Hwy 3 and up a dirt road, next to the rushing roaring torrent of Sheep Creek, are the abandoned remains of the Sheep Creek Mine. The name “Sheep Creek Mine” kept ringing bells in my brain and it finally twigged why. Back before the dawn of time when I moved to the west coast I shared a bachelor pad with two teachers Rod and Daryl. Rod was an Engineer who taught High School math and Daryl was a Geologist who taught Elementary School. Both worked at their professions in the summer months when not teaching. Daryl used to be the former Underground Geologist for the Sheep Creek Mine and, after he took up teaching, spent the summers working for them. It was just a little eerie poking through the remains of where he used to work half a century ago.

Belly Up
My Own Little Grove

To the Northwest of Nelson are the remains of Sandon (pop.6). Take Hwy 31 north up the west side of Kootenay Lake into Kaslo and turn west onto Hwy 31A for 38.5km; turn left onto Sandon Road and follow it into the old town site at the junction of Sandon and Carpenter creeks. Once a bustling silver mining town with a population of 5000 a series of natural disasters and economic downturns eventually destroyed the town physically and economically. Today it attracts over 60,000 visitors a year. One of the main attractions is the collection of decommissioned electric trolly buses from the 1960s and 70s and the 120+ years old power station – the oldest continuously operating electrical generating station in Western Canada.

Trolleybus Graveyard

The northern end on our route was Revelstoke (pop. 8,275). From Nelson, take Hwy.6 West and then North at Castlegar. Further North, Hwy 6 becomes Hwy 23 on the way to Galina Bay to catch the ferry across Upper Arrow Lake to Shelter Bay where Hwy 23 continues North to Revelstoke on the western shore of the Columbia River (yes; the same Columbia River of Columbia Gorge fame).

Revelstoke dates to the 1880s when the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) was built across the country and through the area. The last spike joining the eastern and western sections of the line was driven just east of Revelstoke and the town’s Railway Museum is a tribute to that past and its continuing ties to the railway that connects the nation. Still, like the majority of communities in the rugged mountain country of eastern BC mining and lumber were important early industries. Tourism is now a central part of the local economy and the town sits on the western edge of the worlds largest deep powder skiing area made up of 20k square kilometers of contiguous mountain ranges – the Kootenay, Selkirk, Monashee and Purcells. The skiing and outdoor Revelstoke Mountain Resort was the first resort in the world to offer lift, cat, heli and backcountry skiing from one village base and is the hub of the local winter sport economy. But, like Nelson, the real photographic attraction is the abundance of murals, wall art and graffiti gracing its laneways – not suitable for IR, but great for the second instalment in colour. And some thoughtful planner scheduled the annual local car show for right outside our front door … so thoughtful those Revelstokers. Still, the landscape outside of town does have its attractions.

Arrow Lake Flats

A friendly and kind waitress tipped us off about this location out past the airport. Normally this would be a shallow lake from the overflow from the dam just north of the town. But the chilly spring most of BC was suffering through slowed the slow melt in the surrounding peaks and the flats remain a spring marsh – perfect for IR.

Bovine Heaven

We’d photographed this location from the junction of a side road on the way out with ho-hum results and moved on. On the reverse trip it was as if someone had said “OK, they’re gone now. Lets lay it all out and see if they notice.” Notice we did, for about 15 minutes of framing, chimping and scrambling about to get just the right composition. I’m happy. Your mileage may vary.

From Revelstoke our route headed west to the city of Kamloops (pop. 98,000) at the junction of the Thompson and the North Thompson and South Thompson rivers. The city dates to 1812 when the Pacific Fur Company set up a trading post to trade with the Schwepmec First Nations people. The name Kamloops aptly translates as “point between the rivers” in the Schwepmec language. What we really came for was the “hoodoos” a series of clay spires along the north side of the South Thompson river east of town. Take Hwy 5 north out of town and turn right at Shuswap Road. About a mile east (1.6km) they begin on the left side of the highway. They did not disappoint.

We timed our excursion for mid evening to catch the sunlight from the west along the face of the spires. The route along that side of the river is a two lane road with few places to pull over, but we found four strategic locations with off road space and fabulous views of the spires. The first evening was a bit disappointing with clouds along the western horizon but not a complete loss. The second evening was perfect with light leaking under the clouds to the west and just touching the peaks.

Evening Light 1
Evening Light 2
Evening Light 3
Evening Light 4

Two nights in Kamloops was all the schedule allowed before we hit the road for home. But the fun was not over. About 60km west of Kamloops on the Trans Canada Hwy (Hwy 1) just wet of Savona is Deadman Ranch, a recreated ghost town of assorted buildings and artifacts collected from BC and the western US and reassembled on the site. They weren’t fully open, but the owner Matt Sandvoss is a friendly, gregarious fellow who’s delights in talking about and showing off his brainchild and let us in for a happy hour and a half of snapping away in perfect IR conditions.

Out in the weeds
Rattlesnakes and Cigarettes

On the southern leg of the route home we also discovered Kim’s place, a small collection of old and antique cars owned by another friendly gregarious fellow and there’s always the Vulture Garage in Spences Bridge, another favourite stop of ours. But both those are in colour.

More to come. Stay tuned.


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  • Des McSweeney says:

    That was just fantastic. I really enjoyed it from beginning to end. Thank you. Des

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Loved the the travelogue, John! Now I have more travel ideas in Canada. Your included images are so evocative and atmospheric that the viewer feels like they are there, right in the scene. Wonderfully composed and thought out, each and every image is a rare gem – we’d expect nothing less from such a fine photographer as you. I’m definitely looking forward to the second installment.

    • John Wilson says:

      Nancee you’re making me blush. I’m pleased you found then atmospheric and evocative. Basically, I’ve learned to get out of my way and let my reaction to what’s in front of the camera point the way. Most times the results aren’t worth looking at and once in awhile they are “atmospheric” and “evocative”. I’m pleased thet this time turned out to be the latter.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Hi Pascal – I was getting anxious & worried – the silence was disturbing! Please don’t do it again, it’s unnerving!

    And Hi John – great post – you’ve clearly put a huge amount of effort into planning and doing.

    I don’t know who “Dave of Greenwood” is/was, but thank him next time you meet, for steering you onto the forgotten treasures in the backblocks. Who would ever have found the log cabins, without a guide?

    The infra red shots work a treat. In the past, I’ve never really understood the enthusiasm for them – just seemed to paint trees white and everything else black. But yours are fabulous images. I take it the Fuji is MF?

    Vancouver is such a stunning pace that I was puzzled at the start, as to why you would leave it at all – let alone take off on a 2,000 mile drive! But I can see why, now – and I’m looking forward to Parts 2 & 3!

    • John Wilson says:

      Thanks you Pete – Even living in a “stunning” location like Vancouver, after 50+ years the scenery becomes “everyday”. Taking to the hinterlands is one way of renewing one’s vision to the beauties of home. I keep promising myself to do a post on Vancouver, and I will … someday.

      The Fuji is a 16MP first generation APS body dating back to 2014. But it’s a solid camera and I’m familiar with it. Now that its been trumped in my kit by two later bodies and I sold the old Nikon V1 IR camera to Dave it was time to give the X-T1 a new lease on life. It has not disappointed.

      And you’ve hit upon a basic problem with the way a lot of IR images are done. Rather than just turning the trees white, content, composition and technique are still a basic necessity to create images worth looking at. White trees should be an enhancement.

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        Well my D500 is a camera that dates from January 2016, I think – although I did buy mine a bit later than that. And it’s an outstanding camera. Only 20.5MP, but you’d have to do something startling to ever realise that, from the photos it takes. Perfect for my pet photography. And it’s only half frame!
        For many years, off and on, I’ve shot with 120 roll film or larger, so this is all “interesting” and “new” to me. I think that’s half the fun. Like your Fuji, and IR photography I hope SIGMA launches its long-promised full frame foveon sensor before too many more years pass – I’ve been wanting to get my hands on one and try it out, ever since I heard they were planning one.

        • John Wilson says:

          Yes, Sigma keep’s promising and never delivering on that Foveon FF sensor. Guess they’re too busy making pot fulls of money making lenses for anything and everything. Can’t really say I blame them.

  • PaulB says:


    What a set of fun and adventurous images. You have give me some hope for my own IR images of the Northwest. What camera & filter did you use for these images? My guess is the filter is pretty high (850nm?).

    Now I just need to wait until my list of projects gets whittled down so I can think about some local side trips.

    Keep up the fun.

    • John Wilson says:

      Thank you Paul. The Northwest is a glorious place to photograph including IR. My first IR images were of Eastern Washington and Oregon. A little trick I learned on this trip – set your white balance to auto and it will eliminate the red cast in the viewfinder and the monitor. Now look compositionally at the subject the same way you would look at any other subject you would photograph – except the greens are now white and the sky and water are black with bright punchy clouds.

      My first IR camera was a 720nm and I liked the results but wanted a pure BW image. I got an 850nm conversion for the Fuji, but it has some downsides – you lose 2 stops of exposure and that can be problematic, sometimes calling for the tripod. 720nm not only gives you higher exposure but also the option to have some colour in the image.

      • PaulB says:


        I had my camera, a Panasonic G9, converted to full spectrum about two years ago, and have been using it with a 720nm filter most of the time; I have tried the 850 a few times. I need to just bite the bullet and make a point of using it instead of the 720.

        The Palouse in Eastern Washington is someplace I haven’t been with it, yet. It was great fun the past two years wandering around Tucson Arizona.

        Speaking of Arizona, and a red cast, this past trip I thought I set a custom white balance for each of my filters, so I could just switch on the fly. Well somehow I got the 720 balance so far off all of my raw images have a super hot red cast to them, but since I have my EVF set to show me a B&W image I didn’t notice it in the camera. I thought that this cast was normal until I shared a raw image with a friend and she told me the white balance was out of whack. Which explains my challenges in post processing. Fortunately, Capture One has enough white balance adjustment range to handle it.

        Lenses can also be an adventure in IR. Lately I have been deciding that two of my favorite lenses, the Olympus 12-40 f2.8 Pro, and Panasonic Leica 8-18 act strangely in IR compared to visible light. Both lenses, at their widest setting, seem to have a lot of field curvature in IR which gives a softly distorted vignette that your can’t see in the EVF.

        Keep playing with you X-T1 and sharing the results with us.

        • John Wilson says:

          Paul – the high end lenses generally don’t work in IR. The less expensive older lenses are generally the most reliable in IR and film era lenses work really well. Have a look at the lens database at Kolari vision -https://kolarivision.com.

          • PaulB says:


            I have spent quite a bit of time going through the Kolari lens database. Though, the real treasure of information is in the comments. There are so many people sharing their experiences that you can probably find a comment about anything that might interest you.

            I agree with you concerning modern lenses in general, and almost any brand and generation of fast (f1.2, 1.4, 1.8) lens. My modern fast lenses for M43 are only good in IR to f2 or f2.8, then the hot spots start to show up; this is also true for my fast M-mount and F-mount lenses hot spots develop pretty fast. Which can be a challenge unless you really chase shallow depth of field. I do have one exception to this, which is a Zeiss pre-Milvus 85mm f1.4 Planar

            Since I started working in IR my habit of buying old manual focus lenses that can be adapted to my mirrorless cameras has gotten worse. I keep saying that for anything new to come in, something old has to go. But this does not seem to really happen as often as it should. Part of the problem is I have this itch about adding a full frame mirrorless camera to the mix. So interesting lenses come in to see how they respond to IR.

            The big advantage of the modern M43 lenses is when you use them in almost total darkness. Set the lens to manual focus and the G9 gives you a focus scale in the EVF that shows you approximately where the lens is focused in terms of distance. It is a little coarse, but it is good enough to let you know that depth of field should cover your subject.


    • PaulB says:

      OOPS! I guess I should have taken some time to actually read some of the article, like the first paragraph 😉 , before getting excited about IR and asking what I was already told.

      Nice images John, and a lot of fun to make it appears. Looking forward to your next installments.


  • Lad Sessions says:

    John, This is a fabulous post, on at least two counts:

    One, the travelogue is wonderful, sharing a delightful trip, with great experiences along a little-traveled route. The map was quite helpful. I do hope you had a 4wd vehicle!

    Two, the images are simply amazing! You are incredibly skillful no matter in color or monochrome, but I was utterly bewitched by the IR shots. Compositions, lighting, exposures, subjects, and on and on. I would hang some of these on your wall, if you haven’t already.

    In sum, I thoroughly enjoyed this post, and I look forward to the next one!

    • John Wilson says:

      Thanks You Lad. That is indeed high praise. Glad you enjoyed them. We did have AWD SUVs, but surprisingly there wasn’t that much off roading required to get to any of the locations. The cabins in the woods were about the longest drive, but not all that bad.

  • Michael Ulm says:

    Wow, what a thrilling (and different) look at the ghost town topic. I’m so happy to see sites that still hold this type of possibility. A recent two week tour through ghost towns in southern New Mexico yielded way too many of them either too far gone to see anything or, most suprisingly, being redeveloped into residential communities. I don’t have strong views on either direction beyond the fact that the essence of ghost town is lost.

    Very, very nice work. You have inspired me to dig out my IR converted Oly and give it another go.

    • John Wilson says:

      Glad you enjoyed it Michael. You’re right about the ghost towns … we’ve through Washington and Oregon and there are some remains, but usually just a building or two. We seem to have more “well preserved” locations like Bradian, Sandon and Barkerville to mention a few. And the farther north you go the more there seem to be; like this one just suggested for our next road trip.

      Visiting Canada’s $50 million 1980s ghost town

      I remember it well from my time with the Federal Govt.

  • Claude Hurlbert says:

    John, I have to agree with everyone above. You really are using IR to advantage. Your photos have presence. To be honest, or to be confessional, I often skim over IR photography when I encounter it on websites. It just doesn’t grab and hold my attention. But not yours! There is that other worldliness about IR photography that, while usually making photos look exotic, makes yours evocative. IR photography works for you, rather than against. Instead of the medium being the message, you make the medium convey your message. It’s a matter of control, technique and experience, I suppose. Also, let me say that I enjoyed reading the story of your trip and the photo of your friends–good reminders of the need to get back not the road with my camera.


    • John Wilson says:

      Thank You Claude. I had a good role model in Nick, one of the “6 pack”. Pre COVID we did a trip down the Washington and Oregon coast. Nick had brought one of his IR cameras with him. By the end of the trip Ron and I had ordered IR cameras and Bob was seriously contemplating having a spare body converted. Dave has since gotten into the game. That leaves Grant, the newest member of the gang. He too will succumb … eventually; we’re doing our best to infect him with the IR bug.

  • Lani Edwards says:

    Just wow.

    If I had to pick my top 3 images then ‘Trolleybus Graveyard’, ‘Bovine Heaven’ and ‘Out in the Weeds’ are right at the top of the list.

    Marvelous post, John! I really enjoyed traveling a bit through Canada via your lens. Looking forward to the next instalment.

  • Bill Bentley says:

    Fantastic images and travelogue John. These have been handled with great care. And I must say, the whimsical border actually looks good on a few of them 😉

  • John Wilson says:

    Thanks Bill. See you next month.

  • Pascal O. says:

    John, I am afraid this comment will bring little if anything new to the long list of compliments thus far.
    Your post is a superb blend of technical information (I knew nothing about infra red or close and your post has most definitely tickled my imagination), geographical discovery, and last but not least, an absolutely spectacular array of shots. As Lani says, just wow! Thank you, John, it was well worth the wait, and I am greatly looking forward to episode number two. This post made my day.

    • John Wilson says:

      Thank You Pascal. Your comments are more than welcome and highly appreciated. I’m more than flattered, given the quality and skill of the company I find myself in.

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