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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Trek In The Wind River Range

David Muench returns to this special area and experiences it anew. The great landscape photographers constantly refresh their vision by exploring familiar places as if for the first time.

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Lupine and mountains, Wind River Range, Wyoming.
From the Big Sandy Trailhead, we rode through lush, flower-rich meadows, edged small lakes and ponds for about six miles. At the Cirque of Towers/Deep Lake junction, we headed southeast, leaving Clear Lake and the comfort of meadows, to reach, about three miles further, the wild, raw country surrounding the lake. Much of the 1,200 feet of elevation gain from the trailhead happens here. Steep granite slickrock leading to the lake gave the horses no traction (and gave us extreme guilt for riding—this is much easier to hike). East and west of the open granite, a few scratchy stands of spruce and fir, some scrubby pads of grass and shrubs, provide a few spots of green. The outfitter dropped our gear off on a bench about 300 feet away from the lake, then high-tailed it out of there after we told him we'd hike back down to the trail junction to meet him for the trip out.

It was a perfect camp. We had a few trees at an appropriate distance to hang our food, a view of Deep Lake and 12,590-foot East Temple Peak and, in the stream issuing out of the lake, all the water one could want flowing past below us.

Hiking to Temple Lake was an easy, pleasant walk of about a mile from camp, gaining 250 feet in altitude along the way. Wildflowers line the trail overlooking Deep Lake. Temple Peak rises 12,972 feet to the south, a glacier extending down its north face. On the ridge above Temple Lake, we found ourselves immersed in vast gardens of lupine, every shade of blue and purple, extending from the ridge down to Temple Lake.

Temple Lake, too, was a marvel of color—steel gray in shadow, green in sun, the water changing as clouds moved across the sky, gray chasing green chasing gray. In sunlight, the green sparkled like diamonds until the gray swallowed it, only to spit it out again, the interplay of color and light playing out its movement across this high lake for all of geologic history.

Ground around the lake lay matted and damp, as if the snow had just melted, although it was already August. Marsh marigold and buttercup colored the tundra-like hillocks. Vibrant fuchsia prairie primrose huddled against a huge granite boulder. Seeing its brilliant color from a distance, David ran to it, as if it would leave if he didn't get there at once.

A sudden storm moved toward us from the direction of the Cirque of Towers to the north. Hurrying down from the ridge, we rushed toward a deep stand of whitebark pine on a high ledge overlooking Deep Lake, reaching it just as the storm hit. A web of dense pine branches protected us from pelting hailstones. Within seconds the ground was covered in white. Thunder crashed near us. Ending as quickly as it began, the storm left the ground covered in white. David ran back up the trail, hoping to photograph the lupine in what seemed a snow-world. As quickly as the storm had come and gone, sun emerged. Melted hail covered rocks with glittering water. When enough time passed that I knew David had found something to photograph and would be gone awhile, I stretched out on a perfect, sun-dried granite boulder and slept. It's easier, when you're not a photographer, to be lazy.

Realizing that David and I literally view the wild landscape differently, I began wondering about the meaning of the landscape, both as it's photographed and as it's felt by the photographer. Obviously, no one who isn't passionate about nature becomes a landscape photographer, although it isn't necessary for a landscape photographer to spend days at a time in backcountry to love nature or to make successful images. Places accessible by road seem, in a photograph, to be a million miles from anywhere. They present a sense of wildness, even if the photographer need only get out of the car to shoot.


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