Fish Creek, Steens Mountain

Edition Size: 45
11" X 14"
16" X 20"
24" X 30"
30" X  40"
40"  X 50"

'Vibrant hillside of fall aspen glows in peaceful twilight'

n the fall of 1999, I found myself in Grand Teton National Park, famous for its fall colors. One of the bonuses of being there that year was the presence of Jack Dykinga (see ‘Evening at Dawn’ image story) and the late Galen Rowell, who were there teaching photography workshops. Both Galen and Jack presented beautiful evening programs at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Musuem. Unfortunately this year, I had to leave before the fall colors had reached their peak. So feeling somewhat disappointed and unfulfilled, I returned home to Bend, Oregon.

Many times through the years I have been blessed to have friends contact me when they see or hear of great photo opportunities. I had always wanted to photograph fall colors on Steens Mountain in southeastern Oregon and this time I knew just who to call. I called Alice Elshoff who lives at the base of Steens Mountain. For over three decades Alice has tirelessly worked to secure protection and a higher level of respect for our public lands in Eastern Oregon. I know of no one more connected to this land.

Alice said, “This is the time.” I hastily loaded up and drove five hours to the mountain. As I drove up the long road leading to the aspens, I was somewhat disappointed at the conditions I observed. The aspens were far past peak, mostly dry and leafless. Just as importantly, it was bright blue sky with a strong wind blowing. Things did not look good.

When I arrived at my destination, things looked pretty grim. Then, as I began looking closer I observed a large hillside in the distance that appeared to have brilliant color. My heart rate quickened as I put the binoculars on the trees. It was true. They were brilliant with a huge range of colors! An island of hope.

Now how do I get there? Will there be vantage point for a clear view? What about this incessant strong wind? What about this brilliant high contrast light? Somehow, these things didn’t matter. What mattered was being able to experience those incredible trees close up, regardless of the outcome.

I grabbed my camera pack and started hiking. I reached the ridge across from the hillside of trees and it was thick with underbrush and trees. I walked the entire length and finally found a way to get to the slope below the ridge top. As I moved down and back across the slope, I caught glimpses of beautiful color. Then I reached a full clearing and was treated to the spectacle you see in ‘Firefall’. But, there were still problems. Wind and sun. I knew my only chance was to wait for the sun to set behind the ridge above the trees. I moved along the slope and selected two different perspectives, finally settling on the ‘Firefall’ view. Now it was a waiting game.

With the excitement I was feeling, it seemed like hours before the sun dropped below the ridge. Finally the sun disappeared and to my great surprise the wind stopped instantly. I thought I was excited before! I photographed as quickly as I could because I knew the beautiful back/cross lighting would soon be gone. My first exposure times varied between 6 and 12 seconds. For the most part the wind stayed calm! There are certain images I just know are going to be special. That evening as I walked back to camp, I could feel I had experienced something so special my spirit was touched deeply.


(Worth the wait!)