Little Blitzen Gorge, Steens Mountain

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'Wildflowers splash hillsides as sunlight emanates from the gorge below'

n October of 2001, President Clinton was presented a framed print of my ‘Garden of Light’ while signing into law the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Act. This Act secured formal protection for much of Steens Mountain proper.

Rewind back 9 years. In late July 1993, my cousin Dan Fontanini and I went to photograph at Steens Mountain in southeastern Oregon. As we drove up the dirt road that leads to the summit, we were joined by mountain blue birds flying beside us for several miles, as if guiding us to our destination.

The winter snow pack of 1992-93 was huge in much of Oregon and Steens Mountain was no exception. When we arrived, the top of the loop road was still blocked by snow. With deep snow comes the potential for great summer wildflowers, my primary motivation for this trip.

We spent two days scouting and exploring hoping the brilliant sun and high winds would give way to clouds and calm. On our third day, the snow block was finally cleared and we were able to reach the south end where flowers were reported to grow in profusion in a good snow year. We explored the area and found wonderful flowers in several locations. Eventually I found the composition for ‘Garden of Light’ and did a test set up. Yes, this was it! Still, the weather was not cooperating.

Feeling disappointed and running out of time we moved farther down the mountain to camp, with plans to leave the following morning. We awoke to change. Looking up the mountain, we could see a few clouds developing. We looked at one another and asked the question. Shall we? The answer was an emphatic YES, that echoed through the trees. Camp was quickly broken and we were moving up the mountain in anticipation.

I got to ‘the spot’ and set up my camera. My body was pulsing. Then, this astounding sunlight came shining down the gorge. I finished my preparation and just before I began shooting, the sunlight disappeared. I was beside myself. I calmed down and convinced myself it had to come back one more time. I was ready. Then suddenly, the light came back. I quickly exposed one sheet of film and flipped my film holder over to access another. Before I could get the second sheet exposed, the light disappeared.

‘Garden of Light’ is the result of this brief and beautiful blessing, and is my exquisite reward for four days of patience and persistence.


(Worth the wait!)