Dunsmuir’s Ernie Wasson hears it all the time from visitors to the Siskiyou Arts Museum: “We just love your town – it has such a distinct character.”

So Wasson, who runs the art museum and is an amateur photographer, set about putting together a photo exhibit that attempts to capture the town’s “distinct character.”

His “Essence Of Dunsmuir” show is running from April 8 through May 6 at the museum in downtown Dunsmuir.

The “essence” of the town is defined very broadly in the exhibit through a wide variety of subject matter. Wasson himself contributed a photo that celebrates the play of light on the windows of the Dunsmuir Library.

Many of the photographers don’t live in Dunsmuir. Michelle Mattea of Concord submitted a misty, ethereal shot of an old tombstone in the town’s cemetery.

Lillian Ray of Dunsmuir and Kim Harper of Mount Shasta both found inspiration on the outskirts of Dunsmuir, under the I-5 freeway bridge at Tauhindauli Park. (“Lillian Ray” is a pseudonym the Dunsmuir resident uses for her artistic work – we promised not to use her real name.)

Ray’s photo, titled “Belly Of The Bridge,” is a shot of the underside of the freeway. Through Ray’s lens the bridge’s underbelly presents a symphony of angles, curves and shadows. It’s a fascinating example of an artist finding beauty in unexpected places.

With Harper, the emphasis is on the colorful graffiti on the bridge’s underside: One photo shows a face and another some ornate lettering.

“I grew up in east San Jose, which is a hangout for low riders, and I’ve always been drawn to street art, to the rebelliousness of it, the talent that it shows from an untraditional place,” she explains.

John Rogers of Yreka slogged across the Sacramento River to get his shot of one of Dunsmuir’s most iconic sights: Mossbrae Falls. It’s hard to imagine an “Essence Of Dunsmuir” exhibit without it.

Rogers is the co-founder of the Siskiyou Shutterbugs. They go out a couple of times a month on field trips to capture the beauty and interesting features of our region.

When you visit the SAM show, you’ll note that only general locations are given to identify each photo – for example, no street addresses are given for the buildings in the photos. It’s to encourage you to wander around Dunsmuir looking for the subjects of the photos, and at the same time soaking up a little more of the town’s “essence.”

While the photo show features works inspired by the landscape in and around Dunsmuir, there’s an accompanying show in an adjoining gallery that was inspired by a rafting trip two artists took last spring on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

Each day of the journey Kim Solga carefully extracted her painting materials from a dry bag, set herself up on a boulder, and painted “plein air” watercolor portraits of the canyon’s scenery, including boulder-lined Lake Havasu.

Fellow rafter and artist Carol Jenkins used a mixed-media approach to offer a different take on the experience. Jenkins, an abstract painter, employed acrylics, oils, charcoal and graphite to convey the vivid colors, the ancient rock formations, and the “profound emotional experience” of immersing herself in the canyon environment.

Their show is titled, appropriately, “Sinking into Wilderness” and runs through June 3. It also features the sculptures of Ashland artist Wataru Sugiyama.

The opening reception for both shows is from 5 to 7 p.m. April 8.

The Siskiyou Arts Museum is at 5824 Dunsmuir Avenue in Dunsmuir. Gallery hours are Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sundays, noon to 4 p.m. Call 235-4711 or go to www.siskiyouartsmuseum.org for more information.