As we continued on into the next tunnel, it was wetter, darker, icier and longer. The tunnel is illuminated from above in tiny three-foot slits in the cement wall to the left side. These slits look out towards Highway 80 and Highway 40 winding down the hill from Donner Summit.

Osceola Refetoff photographs a winning image.                   photo by Christopher Lasngley

Osceola Refetoff photographs a winning image.                   photo by Christopher Lasngley

We come to an opening between this and the next tunnel and it is a magnificent view. The wind is cold and coming steadily and also in gusts. I wish I had brought my sweatshirt, which I left back in the car. The clouds are heavy and bode more precipitation. The snow of a couple of days before is rotting in the above freezing temperatures, pouring down the hills all about in miniature water falls, happy to be liberated from the icy chains that had imprisoned them. 

Highway 80 with steady traffic glides through the twists, turns and shallow valleys across the way in an elegant, graceful style. The movement outlines the contours of the land, both scarring it yet signaling its beauty. The ceiling of the next tunnel has water seeps, accentuated by the melting snow. There are deposited salts and mineral in repeated marbled patterns of chocolate browns and ochers. It reminds me of castle walls in Europe although I have only seen pictures of them. The photographer’s struggles to capture these patterns severely tilting his tripod and swiveling his camera upwards is a challenge but worth the effort I predict.

Most of the cement walls have been colored in great swaths of non-pictorial design but the colors remind me of very modern Hispanic art and the mural size remind me of the famous Mexican painters Diego Rivera and Orozco. I am entering an arcane art museum of the people. When we come out again, we see the same altered landscape but from a different perspective. The landscape has been altered by explosives, land moving, and wall construction. We have already seen the famous Chines wall, and I will write more about that next time.

All about us this staunch and sturdy granite peaks, cliffs and piled talus have been challenged. Perhaps these workers held in mind the suffering the Donner party whose name is all about to keep that awful memory before us of how much the pioneers paid in human blood, sweat, tears in some cases flesh.  There are tunnels blasted through solid rock, curvilinear asphalt ribbons ripped into the rough land. Tall power lines arch across the edges and hills, spotted but what I think are microwave towers. There are rock walls, supports and a canter levered bridge across the terrain. Have these engineers, pioneers, highway builders and construction foreman pledged the Donner Party experience would never be repeated here, never again.

Now the sun is shading the land in sliding patches as the storm continues to collect itself. I feel icy wind spitting droplets at me that are getting more and more common.  Osceola is shooting across the valley, just beyond the famous lake.  He is determined to get a winning picture or pictures for the one day annual Shirley Miller Award.

That evening he does just that winning both first place in the Nature category and then best in show the Judges choice for the best photograph in the event.  The photograph is brilliant capturing the view from just beyond the tunnel of the altered landscape of the Donner Summit but still breathtaking in its natural beauty in his infrared exposure.