14. Redfish Lake, Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho.jpg

Redfish Lake, Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho

Redfish Lake is the headwater of central Idaho’s Salmon River, which flows into the Snake River and continues to the Columbia River and Pacific Ocean. Up until the late 1800s, 4,000 sockeye salmon annually returned to the lake — their birthplace, 900 miles from the ocean — to bear the next generation of sockeye. It is the longest such pilgrimage in North America.

During their run, splashing sockeye used to keep ranchers awake at night. The lake shimmered with their radiant color, transformed from silvery-blue to brilliant red during mating season. And there were so many of them, apocryphal stories recounted walking across the lake on their backs. With no energy remaining after spawning, the sockeye died providing nutrients to the lake, and its forests and animals.

Commercial fishing, mining, logging, and ranching decreased their population, though the biggest impediment to their migration was hydroelectric and irrigation dams. By 1992, around the time this photograph was made, only one salmon – nicknamed “Lonesome Larry” – completed passage. Today, through mitigation efforts, the returning number of these endangered sockeye has begun to increase.

Once wild and colorful with breeding and birthing salmon, on this August morning the lake was mirror-still as fog lifted and dissipated.

- James Baker