I visited Montana's Glacier National Park in July 2003, timing the trip to coincide with alpine flower displays. The flowers were about a week later than usual that year, causing me to miss the peak bloom, yet my trip did coincide with an unusual event. I didn't realize until approaching the park that I'd inadvertently chosen the same week that a series of forest fires burned within the park. Only a slight amount of smoke was then visible from a distance, but in truth there were seven separate fires in all, bringing about about eventual changes in my trip plans.
The fires were started by lightning during a dry and unusually hot period across the northern Rockies. As I drove across Montana, temperatures hit 106 degrees F the day before I reached Glacier, and moderated only a slight amount by the time I entered the park. My plan was to spend three nights at Lake McDonald on the park's west side, followed by another three nights at St Mary's Lake on the east side. By the third day, fires in the western part of the park had reached almost to Logan Pass and caused the western side of the park to be evacuated. On my second morning at St Mary's Lake, the entire sky was as grey and dull as lead, and ashes fell on the few remaining cars; time to leave the park! Driving home, I gave myself a "bonus" shooting stop at Theodore Roosevelt and Badlands National Parks, which turned out to be an excellent side trip, but that's another story.
Prior to evacuation of the western part of the park, I traveled Going-to-the-Sun Road several times prior to sunrise, and was struck by the "oriental" appearance of the misty and silhouetted mountains. I've been fond of Chinese and Japanese classical art for many years, and I've made efforts to incorporate some of its look into my photographs when possible. Here was an opportunity to add another "oriental" image to my portfolio, and I decided to look specifically for a composition that would work as a vertical panorama, lending even more of an eastern flavor to the image.
The silhouetted mountains looked promising as I slowly ascended Going-to-the-Sun Road, and I stopped in several places along the way. Upon closer inspection, these scenes didn't offer a composition that I liked, so I moved on. Ever mindful that pre-dawn light was fleeting, I didn't linger at any location. Eventually, I passed a small group of tall silhouetted pines backed by soft blue mountains, a deep blue misty valley lying between them. I thought to myself "This is it!", parked at the next pulloff, and hurriedly walked back the short distance to the pines. Indeed, this was the ideal scene for which I'd been looking, and I retrieved and set up my panoramic camera as quickly as I could. Within a few moments I finalized the composition, figured the exposure, and captured the serene image.
Sadly, one of the fires reached this area of the park a few hours later, forcing the park service to close the road west of Logan Pass. I assume that these pines burned in the fire; if a reader knows otherwise, I'd be pleased to hear from you. Ironically, smoke from the approaching fire, combined with heavy morning mist, created the wonderfully soft appearance of the distant peaks as well as the peculiarly intense blue valley behind the pines.
I've never captured another image similar to this one, nor can I remember anything like it by another photographer. Its unique appearance, its beauty, the circumstances of its creation, and the fulfillment that it gave me in my search that morning for an "oriental" panorama have all combined to make it my personal favorite of any photograph I've made, and I suspect it will continue to hold that position for a long time to come.