Photographer brings ‘Lakes of Desolation’ exhibit to South Lake Tahoe |

Photographer brings ‘Lakes of Desolation’ exhibit to South Lake Tahoe

Claire Cudahy
Azure Lake is one of the 89 named lakes in Desolation Wilderness photographed by Mike Mullen.
Courtesy / Mike Mullen |

Photographer Mike Mullen knows alpine lakes.

Over the past four years, Mullen has trekked through Desolation Wilderness and Yosemite National Park endeavoring to photograph all the named lakes in the protected lands.

The North Lake Tahoe native took 24 hiking and backpacking trips into Desolation Wilderness as part of his “Lakes of Desolation” project. He turned his 89 photos of the alpine lakes into a book that was released in October 2016.

Now Mullen is nearly a third of the way through his next project, “Lakes of Yosemite.”

Though some estimates put the number of lakes in Yosemite National Park at around 2,000, Mullen is sticking to his criteria of only photographing named lakes. So far he’s photographed around 60 of the 139 lakes.

“It’s really different than photographing Desolation,” said Mullen. “The scale of everything in Yosemite is bigger. It’s the same kind of elements, but magnified: bigger rivers, bigger granite, higher elevations, bigger lakes, more crowds, and more paperwork.”

While Desolation encompasses 63,960-acres of federally protected wilderness, Yosemite comes in at 748,436 acres.

Mullen, who now resides in San Francisco, is showing his “Lakes of Desolation” exhibit, along with some prints from his ongoing Yosemite project, at the Tahoe Mountain Lab starting Wednesday, Nov. 15.

The three-hour event is free to the public and begins at 5:30 p.m. At 6:30 p.m., Mullen will give a brief slideshow presentation about his quest to photograph the alpine lakes of Desolation Wilderness. He’ll be on hand to sell and sign copies of his book, as well as prints of his images. The framed work is also available for purchase.

“For me this started out as a very personal project, but I’m exploring ways to connect it to broader themes,” said Mullen. “What I’m hoping to show is the importance of wilderness.”

So what’s next for the water-loving photographer?

“I’ve been thinking about river drainages, maybe watersheds, or potentially elevation — photographing every named lake over a certain elevation. I’m trying to create a database of all the lakes in the Sierra Nevada.”

To see more of Mullen’s work, visit and or follow along on Instagram at @lakesofdesolation and @lakesofyosemite.

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