“Mountain Reflections at Saint Mary Lake”

Mountain Reflections at Saint Mary Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana (c) Mike Utley

In August 1996, I made a trip to Montana to see my buddy Jeff. While I was there, we visited Glacier National Park, a sprawling piece of heaven along the northern border of the state. We didn’t have much time—only one day to spend in the park—so making images was a challenge as I was at the mercy of the clock. In the late afternoon of this day, we drove past Saint Mary Lake and, upon seeing the spectacular reflections of the clouds and peaks on the water’s surface, we stopped for a few minutes and I ran across the road and set up my tripod. I wanted to capture the mountain and cloud reflections along with the shaded rocks in the immediate foreground, so my trusty 24mm f/2.8 wide-angle lens was used. The lake was nearly mirror-smooth, and the clouds were sublime. I like the understated personality of the foreground rocks and the overall blue tones of the image. Glacier National Park can’t be experienced properly in one day—indeed, it would take a lifetime to explore—but I did the best with what I was given and I have some good memories of the day. (Canon gear, Fuji Velvia ISO 50)

“Lone Cone & Wild Flowers”

Lone Cone & Wild Flowers, near Groundhog Reservoir, SW Colorado (c) Mike Utley

The Lone Cone is a local icon in southwest Colorado. Located in the San Miguel Mountains about 24 miles from the town of Telluride, its 12,618-foot cone can bee seen from many miles in all directions. It resembles a pyramid on the horizon, and was clearly visible from the farm on which I was raised in southeast Utah. It’s a favorite local attraction of mine and I have several images of this peak. This particular image was made just beyond Groundhog Reservoir, about an hour and a half from where I live. It was early summer of 1995 and the wild flowers (mule’s ears, monkshood and lupine in this case) were just beginning to proliferate in the mountains. This vast meadow leading to the Lone Cone was awash in yellow and purple, and the late-afternoon sun warmed the flowers and the peak while a host of perfect summer clouds caressed the the sky.

This image was selected by the Bureau of Land Management’s Anasazi Heritage Center near Dolores, Colorado for the cover of an archaeology textbook and accompanying CD in the late-1990s. Art Director Wayne Rice used the image as a background and layered several graphic elements on top. The original cloudy sky was removed and replaced with a gradient fill to allow the text to stand out more effectively. I was given proper credit for the use of my photograph on the credits page inside the book.

Textbook Cover–Wayne Rice, BLM

In 2001, this same image was again chosen by the BLM’s Anasazi Heritage Center for a poster commemorating National Archaeology and Historic Preservation Month in May of that year. Once again, Art Director Wayne Rice replaced the sky with a gradient fill and added graphic elements to the image to convey some of the historic aspects of Colorado’s past. A total of 7,000 posters were printed for this project and distributed throughout Colorado. After the release of the posters, I was told that Gale Norton, then-U.S. Secretary of the Interior, had one of the posters on display in her office in Washington D.C. What a thrill this was for me! It’s next to impossible to see, but the last two lines in the credits at the bottom of the poster list my name as the photographer. As a perk for contributing to the project, I received five copies of the poster.

Poster–Wayne Rice, BLM

It was a pleasant experience to work with Wayne Rice at the Anasazi Heritage Center on these two projects, and I was honored to be recognized in the credits of both projects as the creator of the image. Seeing up-close the process of a single image making its way into a finished product was intriguing and satisfying. (Canon gear, Fuji Velvia ISO 50)

“La Sal Mountains & Lisbon Valley”

La Sal Mountains & Lisbon Valley, SE Utah (c) Mike Utley

Lisbon Valley is located in southeastern Utah and lies a few miles north of the farm on which I was raised. It’s a dynamic landscape of red rock desert and snow-capped mountains that rise incongruously out of nowhere. It’s a place of canyons and sandstone formations, sage brush and rabbit brush, cactus, cheat grass and fox tails, pinyon and juniper trees, as well as coyotes, foxes, mountain lions, jackrabbits and cottontails, mule deer, antelope and elk, hawks, rattlesnakes and other typical desert-dwelling fauna. I photographed this scene from a ridge where the landscape drops off into the desert valley below. Upheaval thrusts are visible, and the La Sal Mountains cling to spring’s last remnants of snow. This image was made in April of 1996 on a bitterly cold late afternoon, where the chill made for numb fingers and frosty exhalations. Metal tripods act as heat sinks during cold weather and freeze hands and fingers. Still, I’m fond of this image as it represents the varied landscape where I was raised. I’ve explored Lisbon Valley numerous times and felt at peace in the vast silence, surrounded by the scents of desert vegetation, warm breezes and clean air, as well as the stark, harsh environment of rock and sand and life that struggles to persist. Lisbon Valley is also home to a large open-pit copper mine (not visible in this image, fortunately) that is extremely unsightly and environmentally hazardous. Local ranchers are rightfully concerned about the high likelihood of contaminated groundwater, but corporate profits are all that seem to matter. Aquifers, habitats, wildlife and natural beauty are no match for some faceless company’s bottom line. (Canon gear, Fuji Velvia ISO 50)

“Cimarron Range & Fall Colors”

Cimarron Range & Fall Colors, Owl Creek Pass, SW Colorado (c) Mike Utley

M19-1(S)—Cimarron Range & Fall Colors, Owl Creek Pass, SW Colorado
Several years ago, while exploring the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado near the small town of Ridgway, I came upon Owl Creek Pass. The San Juan Mountains are spectacular as only the Rocky Mountains can be, and Owl Creek Pass was no exception. I’d never driven these backwoods gravel roads and had no idea what I’d stumble upon as I navigated the dusty path. As the evening sun stretched its warm rays across the landscape, I was greeted by the Cimarron Range, located near Silver Jack Reservoir. It was autumn and the fall colors weren’t at their peak, but the aspens tried their best to oblige this day, and the deep blue sky was eager for attention. The blues, greens and yellows played counterpoint to the serrated gray crags of stone, their striations glowing like bands of quicksilver. I like how some of the white aspen trunks are so prominent along the bottom of the frame, and the diagonal split (upper-right to lower-left) between the sky and the earth pleases my eye. Generally, I prefer clouds in a sky to add character, but this sky had such a unique depth and clarity to its hue that it has a fascination all its own. You never know what you’ll find off the beaten path, so when those gravel roads beckon, heed their call. (Canon gear, Fuji Velvia ISO 50)

“Chimney Rock & Courthouse Mountain”

Chimney Rock & Courthouse Mountain, Owl Creek Pass, SW Colorado (c) Mike Utley

M20-1(S)—Chimney Rock & Courthouse Mountain, Owl Creek Pass, SW Colorado
Years ago, I was exploring near Ridgway, a tiny town in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado. I had photographed the famous Sneffels Range prior to that and was driving along and noticed a sign that said “Owl Creek Pass.” On a lark, I took the road and sort of stumbled across this scene in the Cimarron Range. I’d never heard of Chimney Rock and Courthouse Mountain and was surprised I’d never seen it in any of my photography books, magazines or calendars (this was during my pre-internet days). It’s a startlingly majestic place. I was there just as the leaves were turning, but it was a bit early as far as capturing the brilliant fall colors of that area. This is a place I’d love to revisit to observe its changing personality during different seasons and weather. The San Juan Mountains are world-renown for stunningly beautiful landscapes that would take a lifetime to photograph. (Canon gear, Fuji Velvia ISO 50)

“Rock, Sheep Mountain & Trout Lake”

Rock, Sheep Mountain & Trout Lake, SW Colorado (c) Mike Utley

W39-1(S)—Rock, Sheep Mountain & Trout Lake, SW Colorado
Trout Lake is located about ten miles from the small tourist village of Telluride in southwest Colorado. Situated at nearly 10,000 feet elevation in the Lizard Head Pass area, it’s my second-favorite spot on the planet, just behind Heceta Head Lighthouse on the Oregon Coast. This mid-’90s autumn image was taken after most of the leaves had turned and fallen and a dusting of new snow blanketed the mountain. It was bitter cold when I made this image. My hands were frozen and my fingers were numb, making the operation of the camera difficult. I was hand-holding a rectangular two-stop soft-edged graduated neutral density filter in front of my 24mm f/2.8 wide-angle lens to hold back exposure on the snowy mountain to balance the scene (the filter mount didn’t work properly on wide-angle lenses, resulting in vignetting in the corners, hence the hand-held improvisation). I was shaking and trying not to cloud the lens with my breath. The tripod’s legs were in the water in order to get the rock where I wanted it in the frame. It took several minutes to finally get the shot, but when the slides came back a few days later, it was all worth it. This image is among my favorites. I wanted the essence of simplicity for this shot, a Spartan approach to evoke a sense of loneliness with just the basic elements of the rock, the water and the mountain. The varying shades of blue add to the austere nature of the scene. There is silence here, and contemplation, and a feeling of being part of the scene for me, not just someone behind the camera. (Canon gear, Fuji Velvia ISO 50)

“Grand Tetons & Snake River at Sunrise”

Grand Tetons & Snake River at Sunrise, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming (c) Mike Utley

NP39-1(S)—Grand Tetons & Snake River at Sunrise, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
In August 1996, I took a trip up north to see my buddy Jeff in Montana. During that trip, I visited several national parks and monuments in Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota, including Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and Devils Tower National Monument. On my way home, I spent two nights at Schwabacher Landing in Grand Teton National Park sleeping upright behind the steering wheel of my little truck in bear country (no tents allowed) and woke up both mornings to this very sight. Shortly after making this image, a bald eagle flew lazily across the sky, then three moose decided to stand right smack in the middle of the river for about an hour, watching me. Later that day at another Grand Teton location I saw a black bear. It was incredible. Sometimes nature can be wonderfully generous.

“Sheep Mountain & Wild Flowers”

Sheep Mountain & Wild Flowers, near Trout Lake, SW Colorado (c) Mike Utley

M10-1(S)—Sheep Mountain & Wild Flowers, near Trout Lake, SW Colorado
Sheep Mountain is located near Trout Lake, about ten miles from the small tourist town of Telluride in southwest Colorado. This image was made a couple of miles from the lake one summer evening. Due to the contrast in lighting between the sunlit mountain and the open shade of the meadow and distant forest, a soft-edged two-stop graduated neutral density filter was used to balance the exposure of the scene. This image was made before digital photography became mainstream, so all technical effects had to be made in-camera at the time of exposure without having any way to review the final image until the slides arrived in the mail later. Digital photography makes exposure-balancing effects such as this much easier with post-processing tools such as HDR (High Dynamic Range), which can balance the lighting in a scene by combining multiple exposures of the same subject. When this image was made in 1995, photographers had to know how to do all the tricks in-camera before pressing the shutter button. (Canon gear, Fuji Velvia ISO 50)

“Autumn Colors & Early Snow”

Autumn Colors & Early Snow, near Groundhog Reservoir, SW Colorado (c) Mike Utley

FC4-1(S)—Autumn Colors & Early Snow, near Groundhog Reservoir, SW Colorado. Groundhog Reservoir is one of my favorite locations. You can achieve perfect mirror-image reflections of the Lone Cone on its surface at times. Most people go there to fish, hunt or camp, but I always went there to work on photography. The roads are not maintained in the winter months, so it’s only accessible during the summer and fall. This image was made on the way to the reservoir and gives a good idea of what it’s like in my general area. (Canon gear, Fuji Velvia ISO 50)