“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)