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.