America’s Public Lands – Takhlakh Lake

The journey to Takhlakh Lake began unexpectedly, about a month earlier, standing on a dike above the Columbia River in Kennewick, Washington. There to photograph the rise of the full moon over the Cable Bridge, I met another photographer who was there to capture the same. Both of us had plotted out the moon’s trajectory in relation to the bridge and had arrived plenty early in order to prepare and readjust, if necessary. Waiting for the moon to rise is a common theme for me, since the exact time it breaks over the horizon is dependent upon the elevation of said horizon. This uncertainty leads me to arrive and set up generally at least an hour before the moon.

Full moon rising over the Cable Bridge in Kennewick, Washington. Moonrise Over the Cable Bridge

With our tripods in place and cameras pointing in the direction of the bridge, we started to chat while we waited. The usual question “Where are you from?” started us off. This is always a tricky one for me because there is no cut and dried answer. Born in Wyoming, having lived most of my adult life in Northern California, neither of those is an honest response to the underlying premise of the question, which is “Where will you return to when you leave here?” And so began the conversation. Me explaining that I have no permanent home and had intentions to travel west to the Columbia Gorge after leaving eastern Washington. As a resident of the Tri-Cities area, my new friend was a frequent traveler to the gorge. He was happy to share suggestions for things to see and photo opportunities. That’s how I found out about Takhlakh Lake.

Full moon reflecting in the Columbia River over the Cable Bridge in Kennewick, Washington. Full Moon Over the Cable Bridge

Once I got to the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, I knew I wanted to find Takhlakh Lake and try for a photo with a reflection of Mount Adams. Google Maps told me it was approximately 60 miles to my northeast, situated within the huge Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Located in Southwest Washington State, the Gifford Pinchot National Forest encompasses 1,368,300 acres of forests, mountains, river valleys, waterfalls, and lakes. Pacific Northwest weather being what it is, I waited for a day without rain. The wait lasted two weeks. Finally, a break in the rain came, but the sky was still overcast. I decided to set out anyway, and just settle for lake photographs if Mt. Adams was not visible.

Big Spring Creek, below the falls, in Washington's Gifford Pinchot National Forest. This area of temperate rain forest in the Pacific Northwest is perpetually lush and green, the perfect setting for imagination and fairytales. Fairyland Fantasy

Sixty miles sounds like a relatively short drive, but when it’s comprised mainly of forest service roads, some paved, some not, it takes a while. Despite the gloomy weather, the drive was beautiful. A few miles from the lake, I spotted a sign that read “Big Spring Creek Falls.” Well, I’ve never been one to pass a waterfall without stopping, so a short detour was in order. The falls were spread out over three tiers, and the forest was much too thick to get a shot of the entirety of all three in one frame. The weather that was threatening my lake reflection shot was, however, perfect for waterfall images.

Big Spring Creek Falls is actually a three-tiered waterfall in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, set in a shady fairyland glen, covered in moss and ferns and very green, even in October. It's not possible to photograph all three tiers in the same image, so it's more like three small unique waterfalls. Big Spring Creek Falls – Middle Tier

After a longer than expected side trip to the waterfall and several more miles of gravel road, plus a brief snow flurry, I finally arrived at Takhlakh Lake. It was every bit as beautiful and secluded as my friend in Kennewick had described it. From the parking lot, there was access to a lakeside trail that followed the shore. I set out to find a location from which to shoot some images of this pristine alpine lake. When I found a fallen tree with its top pointing in the direction of the far shore, that was it. I set up the tripod and started to decide which settings I would use, when I noticed it was getting lighter. I looked up, and couldn’t believe what I saw. Mt. Adams was appearing before my eyes as the clouds began to lift! And thanks to the stormy weather, there was a pure white blanket of fresh snow on the mountain!

"Takhlakh Lake with Mount Adams" by Loree Johnson Photography. This image is part of the artist's specially selected Premium Collection of distinctive images. As the remains of an autumn snowstorm slowly clear, majestic Mount Adams, wearing a fresh blanket of snow, is unveiled by the retreating clouds. The gorgeous, mirror-like reflection in Takhlakh Lake, would seem unreal if not for the mist rising from the far shore. Takhlakh Lake with Mount Adams

Days when everything comes together perfectly are rare, and this was one of those rare, unforgettable days, more than a month in the making. America’s public lands are truly our greatest national treasure. Thank you for visiting them with me in this series of articles. And I hope you will join me in supporting those who are dedicated to keeping them public for generations to come. See you on the next adventure!

Mount Adams reflected in Takhlakh Lake in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Fresh snow has just fallen and the trees are still frosted. Mount Adams Doubled

 

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