The Story Behind Cloud Mountains

During the summer of 2012 forest and brush fires raged throughout the western U.S. It was a perfect storm everywhere hot, dry August met thunderstorms and lightning strikes. Midday on August 12th I flew our Husky east across Idaho toward a noontime sunrise just peaking over 10,000' mountains in the Bitterroot Range. Somewhere below was the expansive Frank Church "River of No Return" Wilderness.

Pilots see things others may not, like sunrise at high noon, including areas of destruction where Lodgepole pine beetles in Salmon-Challis National Forest had been busy killing forests and providing fuel for multiple fires. The Halstead Fire west of Salmon, the Mustang Complex of five fires to the north of us, and the Trinity Ridge Fire engulfed hundreds of thousands of acres of forest land, the air-quality index reached a choking purple.

We became aerial guests and were treated to this spectacular sight! Yellow-stained smoke settled into the valleys and filtered sun made rosy pinks on the higher slopes. From a design standpoint (line, shape, form, texture, pattern, color) the scene laid out before me had it all. It was an immediate and visceral response. I loved the way the Salmon River carved diagonal slashes through this wild, rugged land. Faint in the far distant background you can see the highest peaks on the Idaho-Wyoming border with 10,620' Homer Youngs Peak in Montana at center stage for the noonday sun. A pilot embraces many things: the physics of flight, living geography, flowing along with the column of air and weather--and for me there is always the next photograph!