“Craggy Rocks & Twin Lakes”

Craggy Rocks & Twin Lakes, Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, Wyoming (c) Mike Utley

The Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness is located in south-central Montana, with a small section overlapping into northern Wyoming. This area resides partly in the Gallatin, Custer and Shoshone National Forests. Named after the two predominant and geologically distinct mountain ranges in the area, this region hosts craggy peaks, conifer forests, glaciers and glaciated valleys, alpine tundra plateaus and deep canyons, along with many streams and more than one hundred lakes. The Absaroka Range is volcanic in origin and contains dark rugged peaks and more vegetation, while the Beartooth Range is mostly granite, with sweeping tundra and ground-hugging grasses, wild flowers and lichen.

While driving through this area in August 1996, I was struck by the desolate landscape of the Beartooth Range, bereft of trees in many places, and the patches of snow which linger year-round. I was surprised to find many species of wild flowers that are present in the mountains of my area in southwest Colorado, only much smaller—under five inches in height–miniaturized due to the tundra conditions. This cluster of shark tooth-inspired rock slabs overlooking Twin Lakes in the canyon below caught my eye as an ideal foreground subject for a landscape image. The weather was spitting snow periodically, windy and chilly, and the lighting changed by the minute as thick clouds dragged their shadows across the tundra plateaus. This image isn’t perfect—the lighting was near-impossible to handle due to the brightly lit sky in the distance and rapidly shifting shadowed areas in the scene, hence the inclusion of only a sliver of the sky in this shot. Using a graduated neutral-density filter to attempt to hold back exposure in the sky would have proven futile in this instance—its use would have been painfully obvious, and in nature photography, a natural appearance is of utmost importance. Transparency (slide) film has such a narrow exposure latitude as it is, so I was surprised to end up with a decent image that captured detail throughout in both brightly illuminated and shadowed areas. I like the overall gloomy look of the image, as if portending doom (or just a snowstorm), and I think the jagged rocks in the foreground add so much texture and foreboding personality to the scene. Once again, my beloved 24mm f/2.8 wide-angle lens captured the image I had in my mind, and I was satisfied with the end result of this strange, desolate landscape. (Canon gear, Fuji Velvia ISO 50)

29 thoughts on ““Craggy Rocks & Twin Lakes”

    1. Thanks, Therese. I usually don’t go into much detail regarding settings and gear because I realize most people don’t really care about that sort of thing but I always enjoyed talking about it with photographer friends. I should note that for my landscape images I usually shot at f/22 to get the most depth-of-field to ensure sharp focus front-to-hack. So, some long shutter speeds came into play (even more so with the use of a polarizer). I always loved those grand vistas with an interesting foreground subject and a dominant background subject, so that 24mm lens saw a LOT of use. Anyway, thanks for your kind words. Much appreciated. I’m a fan of your blog–you’ve traveled to many places I’d love to visit someday. Nice work! 🙂


  1. The minute I saw this pic the only thing that came to my mind was WOW, this image is what they say heaven on earth. How cool will it be to come and camp here every weekend, thank you for capturing this beauty for us Mike. I am completely mesmerize by the sight of it. 🤩

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    1. Thank you kindly, Daphny. It’s impossible to see in this photo, but there was a vehicle with a camp trailer parked down in the little wooded area just beyond the shallows that separates the two lakes near the right side of the photo. I have no idea how those people got there, but there must be a dirt road somewhere off to the left of the lakes that winds around the hills. It would be so cool to camp there. The scenery must be gorgeous from that perspective. If you ever go camping there, don’t forget a warm jacket! 🙂

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  2. A beautiful shot, Mike. And the sunlight is doing some amazing stuff here. Beartooth sounds just right. It definitely resembles a paradise that must be savored without being rushed. I hope you were able to enjoy the beauty before or after this shot. Work can be distracting. Haha. 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Terveen. The sunlight was crazy that afternoon with the wind blowing the clouds around. I made a series of images of this scene and they all looked different due to the changing lighting conditions. It’s a gorgeous area, so wild and barren. I was able to visit this area twice on my trip up north. Both times the weather was cloudy and windy and chilly, and it snowed a bit one of those days. I was fascinated by the lichen and miniature wild flowers, as well as the sheer drop-off of the cliffs surrounding these lakes. One misstep and it would have been ka-blooey! 😀 I have another image of this area I may post eventually, a vertical shot taken on a different day in full overcast and brooding weather that highlights some of the colorful lichen in the foreground as the lakes lie in repose in the distance. Anyway, I was able to wander around a bit and take in a little of what this place had to offer, but a revisit would be fun. 🙂

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  3. Wow! This is a stunning picture with an eerie and mysterious atmosphere! The stuff of dreams, but not an inappropriate setting for nightmares as well! 😁 The description adds to the otherwordly beauty of it. 😊👍🏼

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    1. Thanks, Aaysid. It does have a darkly portentous atmosphere, that’s for sure. I can envision a pack of werewolves loping across the tundra plateaus, or the ruins of some ancient civilization that predates human history by several millennia, yet which still buzz with some strange energy. It’s a cool place and the sense of loneliness and desolation was overpowering. 🙂

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    1. Thanks so much, Xenia. It was such a fascinating area. I’d never experienced true alpine tundra before and was delighted by all the miniaturized wild flowers and plants. The lichen was brilliantly colored, although none of it is visible in this shot. The whole plateau held a sense of some forsaken land where the only sound is that of the howling, mournful wind. The snowfields were interesting and seemed incongruous with the season, but then again, it was spitting snow when I was there. Alpine regions such as this have completely unpredictable weather. I’ve seen photos of these lakes where all the show was gone, the sky was blue and the midday sun cast everything in a dull, flat light. I think I much prefer inclement weather since it adds so much character to a nature scene. 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Mark. A geologist would have a fun time in this area. So many types of rocks everywhere. I agree with you–one thing I like about this shot is how the shaded gray slabs of rock in the foreground contrast with the brightly lit rocks on the scree slope beyond them. Also, every time I look at that distant rock formation on the right side of the image beyond the lakes, I’m reminded of Half Dome in Yosemite (a place I’ve never visited but would love to see). The Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness is one of the most rugged and wild places I’ve ever seen. It’s worth a visit if you ever find yourself in that area. 🙂


    1. Yes, I found that desolation to be beautiful in a rugged way, especially the tundra plateaus, which I’d never seen before. I hope you can make it up to Wyoming and Montana soon, too. It’s so worth it! 🙂

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