Year of the Lynx!

The drive from Skagway to Denali is a long 14 hours. It is a beautiful drive through the Yukon and parts of Alaska, but still long. Twila was with me for the drive and that makes it go by faster and not seem as long. When we got to Denali we set up camp and got ready for the next week of looking for moose and other animals in the fall.

            Before we arrived it had rained every day and for most of the days. Out photo friends who were already there were very tired of the rain and ready to get out and go hiking. We didn’t hike our first day as we were still tired from the drive, but we really didn’t find much just driving the road. It was nicer the next day and we were ready to hike. There is an area where I know caribou to be at more than other places, and as we were hiking to it one went running by us. It had no intention of stopping and ran right by us. We found another caribou not too much longer afterward and it was much calmer. We didn’t get to spend too much time with it as a fly irritated it, but before it left we were able to capture it with Denali behind it! 

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            The moose weren’t really cooperating and the fall colors were late to arrive. That happens all the time in nature, as we can’t control how and when things happen, we just have to be there when it does. We were seeing moose, but only small males and a few females. There was an area I really wanted to hike to and check out, but I had never been there and it was a long hike. After not much success elsewhere, Twila and I decided to do the hike. It was well worth the hike! It was the best day we had with moose. We ended up finding a couple of nice bull-moose in an open area and the fall colors were better in that area too. After spending time with them we kept hiking and ended up finding another nice bull moose. We really did hike all over the place, and hiking in the tundra is hard and tiring, and it was fun finding different moose and getting great photos!

            We were tempted to hike out to the same place the next day, but our legs were very tired and it was raining. It ended up being a great decision not to hike, as some friends of ours found a few great horned owls and a couple of them sat in a perfect yellow fall tree! The owls were awesome and I had never gotten to photograph great horned owls in Denali before. And that they decided to sit in the one yellow tree in the forest was even better.

            Overall there might not have been tons of action going on for our trip, but we found and had some incredible moments. The day after the owls we really didn’t find anything, but that all changed late in the day. A mother and baby lynx!!! The tundra makes it very difficult to photograph a lynx because they disappear immediately in the tundra. After numerous attempts and lots of trouble to continue finding them in the tundra, I had one opportunity to photograph one of the kittens and got it! I, of course, wanted more but getting any shot of a lynx kitten is awesome!

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Driving back to Skagway I just got into a zone and was looking forward to being done driving. Many hours into the trip I saw the back end of an animal go into the woods. I thought it might be a lynx, so we stopped and checked it out. After a few attempts to find it, I walked in at a different spot and our eyes locked. What a moment! Finding a wild lynx sitting still watching me was incredible! Twila was with me and we got some incredible photos! Once it left the area it chased a squirrel and we were able to capture it with the beautiful fall colors behind it. We both got incredible photos, photos you never expect to get of wild lynx! The rest of the way back to Skagway felt like it didn’t take long because we were

Best Denali Trip Ever!

Every year I look forward to going to Denali. Most places I photograph have one or two animals I can photograph in that area, but Denali is different. I will go with a certain animal I want to photograph, but there are also 3-4 other animals I can photograph if I’m not finding the animal I am wanting the most. So it’s exciting because I just never know what I will find.

Denali has some of the largest moose in the world, and it’s always exciting finding a monster. The problem is, the terrain is so vast that these huge moose blend into the environment. The entire first day Twila and I looked and looked for moose and our eyes hurt from scanning the terrain looking for moose. As we were leaving in the late evening to maybe find something else before dark, I spotted a moose off in the distance. It was not in an easy area to get to, but he looked big and we were determined. When we got to him, there was another bull moose there as well, and that was awesome. It may have been my best shoot ever with moose because of the light and the different shots we were able to get!

After getting such great moose shots the night before, I wasn’t too worried finding some the next day. It’s such a great feeling when I am able to get great shots on the first day and I can then focus on other photos I am wanting to get. We still looked for moose, and we found some, but it wasn’t nearly as good as the night before. We spent more of the day looking for bears, and finally had a great opportunity with a mother and her spring cubs coming up a river drainage right to us. Denali is huge, and I haven’t had many opportunities with cubs in the park, so I was excited about getting good cub photos in Denali.

The weather was not good the next morning, so we looked for different animals, and we were rewarded for that decision. I’m not going to write in detail about our incredible experience, and truly an experience I never thought I would get to have, but I will share a few photos of the wolf pups we were able to photograph! It truly was so special and I never thought I would get the chance to photograph wolf pups, but I did!!!

When we weren’t watching or waiting on the wolf pups, we photographed the landscapes of the park. One super early morning we even found a lynx (Twila’s first lynx!) and were able to get a few photos of it before it disappeared.

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This was my best trip to Denali, and I have taken so many trips to Denali. It seemed like every day we were getting shots that were incredible! That is not normal. For a week trip if I can get two days that I get great shots I consider it a great trip, so for every day to be getting great shots, it truly was an incredible trip! I can’t wait to be back in Denali in a couple of weeks for more opportunities.

 

Photographing Along the Coast

The more years I am in Alaska, the more and more I try and go to new places and have new experiences. The day trip I went on after Lake Clark was one of those trips. Having been in this area before, I knew I hadn’t gotten some photos I wanted, and planned the trip in a way that I would hopefully be able to get more of the photo opportunities I was looking for.

We left early in the morning, and the sun was out and we had nice morning light! On the coast it is often cloudy and rainy, so having the sun out was a nice bonus. My main goal for the trip was sea otters, because I wanted more great shots of them. We were able to find a mother and young otter first thing, and it was great! They put on a good show for us before we moved on to larger animals.

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The area we were in also has whales, and I knew we would be able to find some on our trip, but I didn’t expect to get to see what we did. At first there were a few humpback whales in the same area, and then they started to bubble feed! Watching humpback whales bubble feed is awesome. Bubble feeding is when a group of humpback whales swim in a circle around a pod of fish and blow bubbles to confuse the fish and then they all come up from above at once and eat a lot of fish at one time. You never know where they are going to come up at, and that is what makes photographing whales so hard. My arms get tired when photographing whales because I have to be ready at any moment and that means holding my camera up all the time.

The whales were in a great spot, because there was a glacier in the area. We tried for a long time to get them lined up with the glacier, and we got a few shots, but because you never know where they are going to come up at it is hard to position the boat in the right spot. But that’s what makes it fun and the photos that much better when everything comes together. We did get to see a few whales jump all the way out of the water, and that was also exciting.

I did have a new experience on this trip that I wasn’t expecting. I’ve gotten to photograph bubble feeding before, but the whales were closer to the boat this time than before. And not only that, but a couple of times we could hear them directly beneath the boat! Hearing a group of whales singing and being able to hear that was incredible! It was such a neat experience.

We were with the whales for quite some time, and then we went to look for more sea otters. The captain was really good and spotted a mother with a new baby in a cove. We slowly approached and were able to spend some time with them and got some nice shots of them. Then we found a group of otters later that were really playing and were so much fun to photograph.

The biggest surprise of the trip, though, was a bald eagle. Our captain spotted something unusual and we went to investigate. What we found was a bald eagle swimming back to shore. I had never seen a bald eagle swimming before. Once it got to shore, we saw that it had a salmon in its talons. Salmon are large for an eagle, and it likely couldn’t fly after catching the salmon and had to swim to shore. When it got to land, it then flew up to some rocks and began to eat it. So cool!

It was a full day, but an incredible day! We could do this trip 10 more times and not have as much happen as we did on this day. It is days like this that make me love my job!

Lynx and Lake Clark!

        Where to start… This summer is absolutely flying by and I can’t believe it is mid July already. Lots has happened this summer, and I’m sorry I haven’t had a chance to sit down and write about it. Opening the gallery is always a big task and it took a long time to get everything exactly the way I wanted and running smoothly. I spent most of May at the gallery, and then in mid June I left to go to Lake Clark and lead my two workshops there.

        While on my 14-hour drive to Anchorage, I was ready to stop at night and continue the next day, but I drove a little further, and my goodness am I glad I did. Around 10 p.m. I saw something cross the road a good ways in front of me, and when I slowed down in that area to see what it was, I spotted a lynx! I have been looking for lynx very seriously the past few years and my only sightings were very brief. So I jammed my car in gear and jumped out. It sat there and looked at me for a few seconds before getting scared by some trucks driving by. It was gone way to fast. Thankfully, it didn’t keep running and stopped on the edge of the woods further away. It slowly came back out and allowed me to photograph it for a while in perfect light! Not only was I photographing a lynx, but it was in perfect light! It truly was an amazing experience and one I will never forget! So glad I decided to drive a little further that night!

        The next day I got to Anchorage and did a few errands before meeting with my workshop group. I was excited to get back out to Lake Clark and photograph the bears. On June 15 we left Anchorage at 8 a.m. and flew to Lake Clark National Park. It’s always exciting being back in Lake Clark, and I love just being there photographing and being off the grid. Soon after we arrived we were out photographing the bears. Showing a new group the area and the bears of the area is always a good time.

        Throughout the course of the next 5 days we had some really great photo opportunities. It did decide to rain on us a lot that week, but I had a great group who wasn’t deterred by the rain and we still went out the good majority of each day. I was proud of my group, and we were rewarded by the bears for being out in the rain. Watching a mother bear and her yearling cubs on a daily basis never gets old. We even took an afternoon to go photograph puffins, and we had a great time doing that. And when we came back on the boat, the mom and cubs greeted us and put on a show just off the boat on the shore! I had never gotten to photograph a red fox there before, and a couple foxes gave us a few opportunities.

        There are too many things to write about, so here are the photos from my first week that show what we got to see!

        On June 20th, my next group arrived and my first group left on the same planes. My wife, Twila, was on one of those planes and I was so excited to get to show her and the others the bears of Lake Clark. The rain still didn’t stop for the first couple of days of this week. I was done with the rain and ready for it to be over. It finally did on our third day, and it was nice to not have to wear a rain jacket or put a rain cover on my camera.

        The bears of Lake Clark never get old to me. Getting to be out in the wild photographing bears in their natural environment in a close proximity is amazing! We never know what we are going to encounter when we go out, but almost always it is good. On our last evening we were treated with a scene out of a movie, except we got to watch it unfold. The mother and her two cubs kept moving along a little creek, not noticing a young male. One cub got to close to the male and it moved toward the cub in curiosity. Once the mom and cub saw the other bear, the cub took off and didn’t slow down for a very long time. The mom would run and stand to see if the male was still coming, and it was, so the family would run some more. The family made it safely away, and was quite the scene to get to see and photograph! The wider shot of the scene is Twila's! She did a great job capturing the moment!

        The next morning we flew back to Anchorage and then a few of us took a trip to photograph sea life the next day. I will post those photos in the next blog. Lake Clark was truly a great time with both groups and I am already looking forward to going back next year!

Yellowstone and Upcoming Summer

            In late January I headed to Yellowstone. I spent a few days in the northern range of the park scouting before my workshop began. I didn’t come across too much on those days, but I did see a number of animals, just not in good photo range. The best opportunity I had was with moose.

            On the afternoon of January 27th I picked up my photo workshop clients and we headed to West Yellowstone. The next morning we went in early looking for a wolf pack we had heard was around, and after a couple hours of searching we found them sleeping. Not exactly what we wanted, but we could see a number of the pack on the hillside asleep. We left and went to a geyser area close by and shot some beautiful trees that were heavily covered in hoar frost. The trees looked like a ghost forest. We went back to the wolves, but unfortunately they stayed asleep until we had to go.

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             The next morning we searched and searched for the wolves, and we found tracks, but no wolves. After looking for the wolves we went to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Hayden Valley. Our coach got stuck in the middle of the road because of a snowdrift in Hayden Valley, so we had to turn around and headed back to the canyon. After waiting and looking for otters, we were finally rewarded and one put on a show for us for a long time!    

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             On our last morning of the snow coach, we headed to Old Faithful to shoot geysers and hot springs. It’s always neat showing people the thermal areas for their first time. It’s just like nothing they have ever seen before. We also got to photograph bison and coyotes. In the afternoon we tried one more time for the wolves, but the weather was so bad and windy that we had to turn around.

            For the next four days we were on the northern range. There is a lot of wildlife on the northern range and good opportunities. The wolf pack we had been tracking made its way to the northern range. One morning we found tons of tracks on the side of the road and lots of bird activity, but no wolves. We were getting closer, but still hadn’t gotten any wolves close enough to photograph.

           Over the course of the four days we had great photo opportunities with river otters a few times, moose, bald eagles, big horn sheep, red fox, coyote, bison and elk. We were really seeing lots of wildlife. The wolf was eluding us though. On the last morning, in a different area of the park than the pack we had been tracking, we heard wolves howling back and forth, so we knew they were close. We went to different areas to try and see which area the howling was the loudest from, and hoped for our opportunity. On one of our drives to listen, a black wolf crossed the road not far in front of us and into an open meadow. Everyone got out and got their wolf photo! It felt great to finally get a wolf!

          On the morning of February 3rd I dropped everyone off at the airport, and then I flew to Arizona. I met Twila there for a week trip, and then we went back to Yellowstone together. We spent around a week in Yellowstone photographing and visiting friends. In the park one of our favorite encounters was with a red fox. We waited and waited as the fox sat patiently in the snow, and then it jumped and dove into the snow! I was happy Twila got to see and photograph a fox doing that behavior. We then proceeded to follow it as it walked in the snow close to the road for a long time. It was fun walking along side it as it hunted. We saw lots of wildlife, but the red fox was our favorite.

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         After seeing a number of friends around Yellowstone we headed up to Canada. Over the next number of weeks Twila was busy getting ready for a couple of her shows, and I was busy helping her and preparing for the gallery this coming summer. In early May we headed to Alaska and set up the gallery for my third summer with the gallery!

 

Winter Sheep Snowshoeing

            In early December Twila and I headed off into the Canadian Rockies to look for sheep. We hadn’t had much time to get out and shoot since we got married, and we were really looking forward to our winter camping trip. We had never been to where we were going, so that was exciting too!

            Winter camping in the Canadian Rockies is not for the feint of heart. I’m very excited that my wife enjoys being outside all the time and loves winter! We got to where we were going in the afternoon and did a scouting hike of the area. We found some tracks, but no sheep, but we at least knew they were around. The sun almost beat us down before we got back to the truck. It gets dark around 5 p.m. in the winter, so it makes the part of the day we can photograph much shorter.         

            We got out the cooking stove and make a good pasta dinner, and finished right as it was getting dark. The temperature was dropping fast, now that the sun was down, so we hurried and got everything cleaned up and got in the truck. We had lots of blankets and sleeping bags and got cozy in the truck. It’s hard to keep the face warm in the winter while sleeping, but the rest of us did fine. It’s great to be out camping again!           

            The alarm went off before the sunrise, and it is always so hard to get up in the winter and put cold clothes on. We had made hot water the night before, which was a great call so that we could have hot chocolate to warm us up as we got up! It didn’t take too long to get up and start snowshoeing up the mountain. It was a beautiful morning and we got up the mountain pretty fast. When we got to where we hiked to yesterday, we spotted some sheep off in the distance. After waiting a while, they ended up coming our way and we moved to get in position. It was exciting they were coming to us as there was a large ravine between us and we couldn’t go any closer. They ended up going to the ridge closest to us, and the scene behind them couldn’t have been any better!

            For the next few hours we moved up the mountain on our side of the ravine as they moved. Fortunately, they decided to stay on the ridge for a long time. Blazing a new trail in deep snow while photographing was exhausting. It was fun, and it was the most Twila had ever snow shoed before, but it wore us out. We got really great pictures and had a fun time getting them. We even forgot how cold it was because we were getting nice shots!

           On our way down the mountain that evening Twila managed to find a snowshoe hare. I have looked and looked for them in the daytime for years, and never actually found one. They don’t move in the day much and they blend in so well that they are hard to find. I was very excited to see this hare and for it to not bounce away. It cooperated and just sat there and let us take its picture. So cool to finally photograph a snow shoe hare!

           That night it was considerably colder than the night before. We could see our breath much more prominently, and we knew we would be in for a cold night. It was hard getting out of bed in the morning, but again that hot chocolate was a lifesaver. We think it was colder than 10 degrees when we got up. It makes hiking challenging as well as you can overheat while snowshoeing, but freeze once you get to the top and stop moving. When we got to where we found the sheep yesterday, they were not there, which was not surprising. We ended up snowshoeing and exploring a lot of the area to know more of what to expect the next time we come back. From a higher vantage point we did find some sheep, but they were a very long way away, so we didn’t try to get to them.

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            We got down the mountain in time to drive and explore some more. It was another clear day, and we did find some mountain goats near the road. As the sun went down we also found a couple of real nice scenes over rivers with the sunset. It was a successful winter trip for bighorn, and we look forward to doing it again soon!

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Denali and the End of Summer

            Right before heading off to Denali we finally had a clear day in Skagway.  It has been a very dreary summer in town and the sun hasn’t shown itself much.  It was so nice, I decided to go on a flight seeing tour of the mountains around the area to get some glacier photos from the air. What a great decision! The flight was incredible and the views were even better.  I’ll let the pictures do the talking for me.

            On August 11th I left Skagway to drive to Denali.  It’s a very long drive, 14 hours, and I picked up my friend Tim Auer in Anchorage to take with me.  We camped in the park on the 12th, and then began photographing on the 13th.  With my special photo permit we could drive anywhere in the park, which is very nice.  I love spending time further back in the park where you can get animals with incredible landscapes behind them.  But the terrain is so large that it can be very difficult to find the animals. Our first day was slow and we hardly saw anything worth taking a picture of.

            We found a nice moose on the morning of the 14th, but it didn’t cooperate and left quickly.  Denali Mountain did come out for a little, so we got some nice scenic shots with the mountain, and I was also glad Tim got to see the mountain.  The next day we found some nice caribou in the morning and spent a long time with them.  We still didn’t have anything great, but that evening we found some nice moose that cooperated.  We didn’t know it when we went up to photograph them, but one had a split antler on one side and basically had two antlers on that side.  It was really neat and different, and we had a good time photographing those two moose, and they were both big.

            I had never seen a short-eared owl in Denali before this trip, but we sure found a lot of them.  Most of them we only had close enough to photograph in dark light, but it was still fun trying.  The sun didn’t show itself much for us either, but on the evening of the 16th we had nice light and finally found a caribou to photograph in the light.  We got some real nice photos of it on a ridge with mountains behind it.  Our last day on my permit was the 17th, and that morning we found a mother bear and her two cubs on a caribou carcass.  They weren’t real close, but we stayed most of the day and watched and took photos.

            Tim flew out on the 18th from Anchorage, and I killed time before Twila flew in on the 20th at my friends Ben and Jen.  It was fun catching up with them! Once Twila flew in we went back to Denali because I had another permit.  This was Twilas first time in the park on a permit, and I was excited to show her the park in this way.  While we were setting up camp on the 21st we noticed a northern haw owl, and we got our cameras out and followed it.  We got some real nice shots and was a great way to start our week!

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            We got up early, 4 am early, and headed into the park.  Tim and I got up this early every morning as well, so I struggled a little as we headed into the park.  I almost even pulled over to take a quick nap because I was so tired, but the photographer in me wouldn’t let me stop because I wanted to see what was around the next corner.  On the last corner, literally, and at a spot I have gone to for 9 years since I first saw moose there and haven’t seen any since, there were three moose! We were immediately wide-awake, and I was incredibly happy we didn’t stop sooner to take a nap.  You just never know where and when you will see wildlife, and that is what makes it so exciting and worth being sleep deprived for!

            There were two females and a small bull in Wonder Lake with some of the mountains showing.  Denali wasn’t out, but enough of the mountains were to create a dramatic shot.  I knew we would be here as long as the moose were.  It really was incredible seeing the moose there because I have waited since 2008 to see moose there again.  The moose stayed for a long time in the lake eating grasses from the bottom of the lake and gave us many different opportunities for great pictures! What a morning!

            That evening back at camp we found a northern hawk owl again, and watched it for quite some time.  I was giving up on finding it again in the woods, but Twila went a little further just in case.  Sure enough, she found it on a branch at eye level only a few yards away.  It didn’t fly away, but just sat there and looked at us! It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had with an owl to get to be that close for over 5 minutes and have an intimate experience with it. What an incredible day!

            On the 23rd we really didn’t find much, but we did find a few more northern hawk owls.  It’s so crazy that we are seeing so many, because in all my years in Denali I’ve only ever seen two or three.  But it’s always exciting seeing owls. We ended up spending the large part of the 24th with a grizzly bear and her two cubs.  They stayed roadside a long time and gave us some nice opportunities. I kept looking for the moose with the split antler, but didn’t find him again until the 25th. He was a very long way up a mountain in very thick brush, but I wanted more pictures of him and we went for it. The effort was worth it as we found him and he was in a spot we could photograph him in.  We may never see a moose like this again, so I really wanted more photos. We got some nice ones and barely got back to the car before dark.

            We hadn’t been seeing many moose in the area I really wanted to see moose, so I almost didn’t drive all the way back to that area on the 26th.  But my wildlife senses told me too, and I’m glad we did.  We found a couple small bull moose, and yes they were small, but they were together and they ended up going to a pond and being reflected together.  We waited and waited for this moment and hoped they would go to the pond, and when they did it was very exciting.  There is a lot more to wildlife photography than luck!

            Twila and I left Denali on the 27th and I dropped her off at the airport in Fairbanks, and I continued driving all the way back to Skagway.  I didn’t make it all the way to Skagway because it is so far.  It was sad to drop her off and be leaving Denali, but I had to get back to the gallery.  My cousin William covered the gallery while I was gone, as my other employee left to go back to school.  After William left on the 30th I was at the gallery by myself until closing on the 14th.         

            It really is hard to believe the summer is already over and to be packing things up.  Where did it go? I had a great time and the gallery ran smoother than last year, which was great, but I was ready for the summer to end and to get married. I left Skagway on the 15th and headed to Canmore to get ready for our wedding on September 31st.  Somewhere in northern BC that night I saw the best northern lights of my life as they danced and danced across the whole sky!

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Glacier Bay and the Summer is Flying By!

            The summer sure hasn’t slowed down. Right after my workshop to Lake Clark I drove back to Skagway.  I did get to see some grizzly bears late at night on the drive, and that was really cool.  I was exhausted when I got back to Skagway, but there was no time for that! I needed to catch up on everything from when I was gone, and Twila and my sister and her husbands’ family were coming before July 4th.

 Yes I do take iPhone pictures, and this was taken at 12:30 at night!

Yes I do take iPhone pictures, and this was taken at 12:30 at night!

            I was so excited to pick up Twila from the airport in Whitehorse on July 2nd! It had been way to long since we had been together, and the summer time is crazy and we don’t get to be together nearly as much as we want.  On the morning of the 3rd Cara and her family flew in, and it was great to have them here too. It was my sister and her family’s first time in Alaska, which is always exciting. We all took the train into the mountains in the afternoon, and that was fun.  At night we had a fire and roasted s’mores and just had a good relaxing evening. 

            July 4th is always a fun day in Skagway, with lots of festivities.  It decided to rain all day, which put a damper on the day.  But we still went out and enjoyed as much of it as we could.  The next morning we were all flying out of Skagway, but going to different places.  My sisters flight was suppose to leave at 5 a.m. and ours was at 8 a.m. When we got to the tiny airport they were still there because of low clouds and the planes couldn’t fly.  So Twila and I jumped in on the card game and we all waited for the clouds to clear.

             This is fairly common in Alaska, but still frustrating.  They finally got to leave at 9 a.m., but we still couldn’t leave.  We finally left at 11 a.m. and took two flights to get to Gustavus, which is right beside Glacier Bay National Park. Because of our delays we missed our whale watching trip, so instead we had a nice relaxing evening and rode our bikes down to the beach.  It was nice to relax for a little while!

 Twila and I riding our bikes down to the beach!

Twila and I riding our bikes down to the beach!

            On the 5th and 6th we took a boat ride into Glacier Bay to see the sea life, but mostly to see the huge tidewater glaciers. We really wanted to see these large glaciers and get some nice photos of them! The weather cooperated, which it has been super rainy this summer, and we were able to see all the mountains around and the sun even came out some both days.  We even had some good wildlife sightings with mountain goats down by the water, a grizzly bear family chasing each other over a salmon, lots of whales and Twila even got one jumping! (and I missed it), sea otters and lots of sea lions.  Our boat went to a different large glacier each day, which was what we were hoping for and we got some really great shots! It was so neat seeing these huge glaciers and the mountains surrounding them.  We both took tons of shots and had a great time!

            We flew out the evening of the 6th and flew to Juneau. The next morning we went on a whale watching tour and had a great trip! It was a very bumpy ride, but a fun one, and worth it when we got to the whales and got to see a group of humpback whales bubble feeding! It was Twila’s first time seeing bubble feeding, and I’ve not seen it that many times.  We got to watch them do it over and over and was so awesome to see! We flew to Skagway that afternoon and then drove to Whitehorse that night and she flew back to Canmore the next morning.  It was so sad to see her go, and our time together went too fast.  I’m so thankful she could come and that we were able to go to Glacier Bay!

            I was in Skagway the next couple of weeks catching up and researching other trips and trying to plan out the rest of the summer.  The summer time is one crazy time that never seems to slow down.  Before I knew it, it was July 19th and I was flying to Knoxville to go to my little brothers wedding.  It was a long flight overnight, and I slept a lot when I got there on the 20th.  Twila flew in that night, and it was great to be together again so soon! The wedding weekend went by real fast, and it was really really hot. My brother decided to get married outside in Tennessee in July, and the temperature decided to be 95 and feel like 111.  I almost passed out during the wedding I was so hot.  But I’m glad I was there and the wedding went great. Seeing so many friends and family was also a great time, and we will get to see them all relatively soon at our wedding! Our wedding will be here before we know it, and we can’t wait!

 At Corbin's Wedding

At Corbin's Wedding

            The wedding went so fast, and Twila and I didn’t have much time together alone, so I flew to see her the next weekend.  She’s been really busy getting ready for a festival where she sells her jewelry at, so I went to help as much as I could and to also do wedding planning.  We ended up doing mostly wedding planning and trying to catch up on that and not fall behind.  I had no idea how much planning a wedding is! We were able to have a little other time where we weren’t working on something too.  We both really hope the next month and half goes by real fast, and by then I will be done with the gallery and I’ll be back in Canmore and our wedding will be right around the corner!

            It is now August, somehow, and it finally decided to be summer in Skagway and get into the 80’s, which I personally don’t like and think is way to hot here.  I’ll head off to Denali for a couple of weeks and can’t wait for that.  The northern lights even decided to give us an early season show, and I got a picture of my BearHead sign with the lights behind it! I was very happy about this and was hoping that I could get that shot! Time is flying by!

Good Bye Lake Clark. What a trip!

            On June 25th we had to fly out at 9 a.m., but we got in one more shoot before breakfast.  I’m sure most people wouldn’t have gone out after yesterday and everything we had seen in the past week, but I’m always looking for the next shot.  I wasn’t worried about not finding anything, because you can’t think like that.  If we saw nothing, oh well, we tried and it was a great week.  But we don’t get to go to Lake Clark all the time, and since we were there, we were going to try one more time for another great shot! Let’s just say we were rewarded for getting up early.

            Immediately we found a different mom that had two second-year cubs, and they were close to the trail.  The tide had been extremely high, and the sedge flats were flooded.  So they ate where they could until the tide went down.  Once the slough was a little lower they swam across and we got some real nice shots in the morning light! Just that moment was worth coming out, and if we didn’t have that moment it would have still been worth it.

 A grizzly bear family about to go for a swim.

A grizzly bear family about to go for a swim.

            We drove around and didn’t see much after that, but right as we were getting to the lodge and be done photographing for the trip, a mom and spring cubs came out.  We didn’t have long, but we weren’t going to miss this opportunity.  We drove to a place where we could then walk out to them, and what a great last shoot we had! This was a different mom and spring cubs, but she was a bear the lodges knew well and was around every year.  She actually walked toward us with the cubs and we had to scoot back to not be in their way! They were in real short grass and even though it was a short shoot, it was a great shoot! The cubs stood and were right beside mom, and mom even stood when they were close to us.  But if we had never taken the initiative to go out, we would have never gotten these shots.

            It was sad to fly back to Anchorage after all we had gotten to see and photograph.  My group was extremely happy with everything we got to photograph, and were still in shock mostly because we really got to see so much! I can’t wait to go back next year with my groups, and if interested let me know soon because one of the two weeks is already full.  The bears of Lake Clark are hard to beat! Still a few slots left on my first tour next year, but hurry and sign up before they are gone.

Epic Last Day in Lake Clark!

             It’s amazing how with a group, the more you see the more they expect.  I understand, it’s just hard to keep meeting their expectations when what they are asking for seems ridiculous.  But my group was great and they knew we had had an amazing trip, but why not ask for more.  On our last full day one guy came up to me and said he knew we had gotten some great pictures, but he wanted something epic.  That’s quite the statement, and he knew when he was asking it was ridiculous, but we had seen so much I held out hope that it would happen.

            Before breakfast we had some great light and the mom and three-year-old cubs, but nothing came together.  The cubs lightly played, but it was always quick and then they would separate.  It was going to be a bright sunny day, so we had a quick breakfast and then headed back out.  We saw three bears together on the tidal flats, and if something epic was going to happen it was going to be with them.  Challenge accepted, and lets go get some amazing shots!

            I could write for a really long time what we got over the next few hours, but I will let my pictures do the talking.  The bears ran, played, fought, rolled around, were in front of a volcano, fought in backlight and in front of a mountain, ran through rivers, and gave us one incredible shoot to remember! And then at the end one bear gave us a real nice shot as a parting gift it seemed. If he wanted epic, that was epic!

            In the afternoon we walked out to Johnson River Valley again, and a saw a few bears this time.  One was real curious and came and checked us out.  We even got to see a wolf, which was my first time seeing a wolf in Lake Clark!  After dinner we were on the mom with three cubs, and we got some nice shots of the cubs jumping a little slough.  We even got her nursing all the cubs in real good light! What a day!

Lake Clark Day 4

               Our fourth day in Lake Clark was our only slow day, if you want to call it that.  By that I mean it was the only day where we didn’t have something amazing every shoot.  We still had plenty of bears and got some nice pictures, it just didn’t feel up to snuff of the other days.  But that is wildlife photography, and there will be good days and there will be bad days. It was by no means a bad day; it just wasn’t amazing like the other days.  My group certainly started to get picky, but I couldn’t blame them because of how much we had already seen.

               Early in the day we were with the mom and three-year-old cubs for quite a while, hoping they would play.  They were pretty tired it seemed, and didn’t do much at all other than eat.  Not long after we found the four-year-old siblings, and we had a great intimate time with them.  They did a little playing, but for the most part they didn’t do much but eat.  But they allowed us to be close and it was a neat time with them because they were so chill.  Once they left my group actually went on a little hill and most of us took a nap.  It was such an awesome nap to just lay there with bears around and get a catnap in.  A couple people couldn’t sleep and watched for bears, but it was such a good nap!

               After dinner we went to the beach, because we had been having real good success on the beach after dinner.  Tonight didn’t disappoint either.  There were some adolescent bears, and a couple didn’t like each other.  After running down the beach, they turned and ran onto the tidal flats.  We got to hear some nice bear growling, and the lighting was really neat.  Just being out in Lake Clark and seeing all the bear behavior we have seen already is so amazing!

 Two grizzly bears growl at each other in the evening.

Two grizzly bears growl at each other in the evening.

Amazing Afternoon in Lake Clark on Day 3

           We went out at 6 a.m. again on the 22nd, but there was nothing out this time.  It just doesn’t seem like the bears in Lake Clark are early risers.  After breakfast we found a decent size male and spent some time with him, and we were able to get some reflection pictures wit him from a small pond of water.  We saw some other bears and a couple went to clam, but it was a slower morning for the most part.  However, it was not slow after lunch.

            When we went back out after lunch we found the mom and three-year-old cubs right beside a slough.  It was a real pretty spot for pictures, and we were able to be close to them and get some nice shots! They crossed back and forth across the slough and were calm.  Another group came, so we left them so we could look for other bears further down the sedge flats.  As we were riding, the mom and spring cubs came out! Exactly what we were looking for!

            It was nice to see them in the grass, and we slowly approached so as not to scare them.  The mom was calm, and so were the cubs.  They were in fairly tall grass, so it was hard to get good shots of the cubs.  There were a number of bears out, so we didn’t think they would stay long.  We were right, unfortunately, and another bear came closer and the mom took off.  She stood a couple of times to look at the other bear, and those made for nice shots! She really is a good momma bear.

            We then went for a hike out to the Johnson River Valley.  It really is so pretty out there, and a very different view.  The bears out there are a little more skittish, but I’ve gotten good shots out there before.  It’s a little over a mile out there, but it’s flat and a nice walk.  The first bear took off when it saw us.  We didn’t see any others for a while, but on our way back we found another.  It was calm and just slowly moved and ate.  We spent a long time with it, and it gave us some nice opportunities with the valley behind it.

 A grizzly bear moves through the Johnson River Valley.

A grizzly bear moves through the Johnson River Valley.

            When we got back to the trailer, it didn’t take us long to find the spring cubs again, and they were in a much better place this time for photos too.  We got to spend some real quality time with them this time, and it was amazing! When the cubs are this young and new to seeing people, they are so curious and stand a lot to try and figure us out.  The mom was very calm, so the cubs were as well.  They played, and stood and really gave us an incredible shoot!

            After dinner we went back out, and didn’t find the spring cubs, but found the mom and three cubs.  They somehow didn’t notice a large male coming their way, and it got close before they took off running.  They headed for the beach, and we followed.  We also had good light in the evening for the first time, and with them being out on the tidal flats it made for really great shots! With the reflections and the perfect light it really made for a great evening! 

            After they headed in back to the sedge grass, a smaller bear was nearby.  Momma bear was tired of other bears around and gave chase.  She didn’t just stop after a short run, but decided to really run this bear off.  All of a sudden they came bursting back onto the beach and were running full speed right by us! It was quite exciting and crazy!  Our first three days have been absolutely incredible!  I was afraid of a letdown over the next couple of days because of how much we had seen already, but Lake Clark in the spring rarely lets me down.  There was more to come and I knew it!

 Mother bear runs full out after another bear.

Mother bear runs full out after another bear.

Lake Clark Day 2 and Spring Cubs!

           On June 21st we left the lodge at 6 a.m. and went out looking for bears.  There were a couple of bears out on the tidal flats that we walked out to.  Not long after we got to them, another bear came running along and chased them back off the tidal flats, so we went in for breakfast.  When we went back out after breakfast, the mom and three cubs were on the tidal flats and we went to them.  We got a few shots before they started to head back in, and the cubs got playful as they headed in.  A couple of the cubs gave us some nice standing and playing shots, while also being reflected.

 Two cubs stand and play on the tidal flats.

Two cubs stand and play on the tidal flats.

            It became a sunny day and we were having some trouble finding bears in the heat.  Going along the trail I saw what looked like bears sleeping across the sedge flats, and maybe even on a log, so we walked to where they were.  Sure enough, the mother and three cubs were sleeping on a log, with two of the cubs right beside the mom.  Two days in a row of bear families sleeping on a log! These photos were really great since we could get a few of them in the same picture! It’s so neat to see them using old driftwood as a large pillow. Once the cubs woke up, they had some energy and wrestled and played not far from us for a long time!

            While we were at dinner one of my clients saw from the window what he thought were new spring cubs.  I popped up to look through a scope before they disappeared, and sure enough it was spring cubs! I was very impressed with how fast everyone ate as much food as they could in one minute, especially since we had just started dinner.  But it was the first spring cubs of the year, and we didn’t want to miss them!  We all hustled and got out to the beach to see them out on the tidal flats.  It’s always so exciting seeing new spring cubs for the first time!

            We waited patiently for them to pick a spot to get clams, and then we walked out to them.  It was the cubs very first time seeing humans, likely, so we went cautiously and didn’t want to scare them.  The mom was a very good mom and kept watch and ate at the same time.  I was impressed that we were able to get in photo range and not make the cubs nervous.  We didn’t get a real long time with them before she saw another bear and went the other way, but it was great experience and photo opportunities in the time we had!  Finishing the second day off with spring cubs was amazing!

First Day in Lake Clark with Workshop Group

           After being at the gallery most of the summer so far, I was ready to get out and lead my photography workshop to Lake Clark National Park.  I left the gallery on the afternoon of the 18th and drove seven hours into the Yukon and slept in my car on the side of the road.  It was nice to finally have some time and be able to think and look back on how things have gone so far this summer.  I finished the drive to Anchorage on the 19th, and met me group for dinner that night.  It’s always neat seeing everyone for the first time and getting a feel for how the group will be and seeing their excitement for the week ahead!

            On the morning of the 20th everyone was on time at 7:30 a.m., and we met at the bush plane airport to take off to Lake Clark.  It was raining in Anchorage, but not long after we took off it cleared up and we had a beautiful flight down to Lake Clark.  Once we landed, everyone was eager to get out and shoot.  It was warm and windy, not a good combination for seeing bears, but we finally found a mom with two, three-year-old cubs.  Normally by now the mom would kick them out and make them be on their own, but these were still with her.  It was neat; because it was a set of cubs we had during my workshop last year.  Not long after being with them they began standing and playing and our first shoot got the trip off to a great start!

 Two three-year-old siblings stand and play fight.

Two three-year-old siblings stand and play fight.

            After lunch we headed back out and found two, four year olds that were still hanging together.  We didn’t get many photos from them, but when we went back around we found the mom and three-year-old-cubs again.  Last year we got them sleeping as a family on a log, and they were near this log, so we waited and waited hoping that lightning might strike twice and we would get them sleeping on that log again.  Our patience paid off, and they actually slept on that same log!  I couldn’t believe it! They didn’t sleep together, but they were still on the same log and we got some nice pictures of them sleeping, even though it was raining. 

 A large cub gets cozy on a log.

A large cub gets cozy on a log.

            That night after dinner we went to a different area of sedge flats and found a mom and three second-year cubs.  Not long after we were with them they went to the beach, and the fun began.  Those cubs had so much fun running, playing, fighting, chasing, playing king of the log, and just being wild cubs.  What was also amazing was that we were able to walk behind them enjoying this experience and not interfering with them being wild! It was one of my most enjoyable shoots ever, because the cubs were having so much fun and we got to walk and be a part of nature for over a half mile!  They had so much energy and really gave us a show. What a first day!

Final Gallery Preparations

           The first couple of weeks of April I spent in Canada with Twila, and it was kind of the calm before the storm of the final preparations for the gallery.  I was still ordering things and planning out many details of the gallery, but I knew it would be way calmer than what was coming soon.  Twila and I managed to get out into the parks some and look for wildlife, and it is such a luxury that we can do that right out her front door!  But on April 15th I flew to TN and the preparations for the gallery hit a new level.

            My trailer was at my parents place in TN, and I had been sending my new supplies to their place.  I flew back to organize everything and get the trailer packed.  The amount of things I needed to do in TN in the little amount of time I had was daunting, but I powered through the list.  First I had to make sure everything I had ordered came in, and then I had to go around to different stores to get more little items and think of things to take that I can’t get in Skagway, AK.  Skagway is a small town, with no other towns anywhere near it, so I have to take a lot of extra supplies for things I might need at some point in the summer because I can’t get them while I’m there.

            I managed to get everything done in those few days, and then I headed to East TN to work at my Granddad’s shop.  My Granddad has an awesome carpentry shop with every tool imaginable, and I needed to make some wooden dividers for my gallery.  My Granddad has made wooden things his entire life, he’s in his late 80’s, and both of us couldn’t wait to work on this project together!  As soon as I got to his house we hit the ground running.  There was no time to waste, as I only had a couple of days.  My little brother, Corbin, helped a lot that first day too, and the things I learned from my Granddad and how he knew so much about carpentry was so great!  My dad came later that day and it became a team effort to get them made.  We stopped at 9:30 p.m. and had made great progress for the first day.

 Granddad watching Corbin and I cut some wood from inside his shop.

Granddad watching Corbin and I cut some wood from inside his shop.

            The next morning I thought my Granddad might be tired from our long day yesterday, but he was up and ready to help!  Just having him there and helping made the project well worth it!  The dividers started to come together in the morning, and it was great to see them and how well they came together.  There was lots of sanding and lots of aligning the wood to make sure everything fit and was how we wanted it.  My Granddad again, had lots of good ideas of how to finish the dividers and make them look great!  By the time I left at 4:30 for the weekend with my little brother, they were basically done.  I did some playing with my brother over the weekend, and my dad helped add the finishing touches to the dividers with my Granddad.  It was a true team effort to get them made in a short time and I appreciated all the help I got, especially from my Granddad!

 Holding a finished wooden divider with my Grandparents!

Holding a finished wooden divider with my Grandparents!

            I headed back to my parents place on Sunday and started packing the trailer as soon as I got back.  Packing the trailer is like a large game of fragile Tetris, and it is not easy to figure out.  As the trailer began to fill up on Monday, I started wondering how I had so much stuff.  When it was all packed, I felt like I had more in the trailer than I did last year, which I didn’t think would be the case.  I made a number of changes from last year to this year and I was making more than I realized I guess.  It all fit, though, and the trailer was ready for the long drive to Alaska.

            Now the crazy amount of travel was about to begin. On Tuesday, the 25th, I flew back to Canada and was with Twila only one day before driving to Minnesota.  My parents agreed to drive the trailer to Minnesota to help spare me more driving than I was already going to do.  I slept in my car somewhere in Montana on the 27th, and finished the long drive to Minnesota on the 28th.  My older brother, Aaron, lives near Minneapolis and just had another baby, so I got to see baby Theodore.  My parents also didn’t mind driving to Minnesota to see him as well.  I hung out there all day on the 29th, and it was fun, and then started the drive back to Canada on the 28th.

 Swinging with my little Niece Stella in Minnesota!

Swinging with my little Niece Stella in Minnesota!

            I managed to drive 17 hours on the 29th, which meant I wouldn’t have to drive terribly far the next day.  When I got to Twila’s on May 1st, it was great to know that 2/3 of the driving was done and that I would be able to rest another couple of days before finishing the driving. Last year my dad and I drove straight from TN to Skagway, 3,600 miles in 65 hours over 4 days, and I didn’t want to do that by myself.  Splitting it up helped greatly.  I didn’t do much when I was in Canmore with Twila, because I knew I still had two full days of driving ahead of me.

            On May 4th Twila and I left Canmore and headed for Skagway.  It was great having Twila along to give me company and help the time pass by more quickly.  She had never been on most of the drive too, and she loves seeing new places.  I drove 16 hours the first day, and made pretty good time honestly.  I knew the rougher roads would be the next day, the further we got along the Alcan Highway.  The weather mostly cooperated and we didn’t have bad wind and only some minor rain the whole way.  We saw a bunch of wildlife along the way too, which was great.  I love how much Twila loves wildlife and how excited she gets when see sees bears, moose, caribou and other animals.  At 6:30 p.m. on May 5th we pulled in to Skagway, and so much time and energy went into getting to Skagway, and I was glad to be there.

 When Twila and I made it to Alaska with the trailer! Before a long descent into Skagway.

When Twila and I made it to Alaska with the trailer! Before a long descent into Skagway.

            We got to see my new apartment for the first time, I got a different one from last year, that we got to Skagway with no car issues was great.  There was no time to relax, as the next morning we started unloading the trailer and getting the gallery ready first thing.  Once we had the trailer unloaded and realized nothing was broken from the long trip, it was a big relief.  A number of pictures were damaged from the trip last year. I was opening on the 9th, and only had a few days to get the gallery ready to go.  Having Twila there for the first couple of days was a HUGE help, and I was very sad to take her to the airport in Whitehorse, Yukon to fly out on the 8th.  I wish she could stay all summer, but it just won’t work out that way this summer. 

            By the 9th I was ready to open, but it was more work than I was expecting.  I knew I was making changes to the gallery, but they took longer to 100% get right and make the gallery look how I wanted to look.  But I was happy I made the changes and the gallery looks great!  I continued to finish all the small things as the gallery was open for the first few days, but most guests wouldn’t have noticed what I was working on or didn’t have up yet.  The first few days the gallery did well and gives me hope for a good season.  My employee will arrive on the 12th and the season will go by fast like last year.  It really is a ton of effort on many peoples part to get the gallery open on time, and I’m thankful I have family and friends that are willing and able to help!  The gallery is now ready and let the summer begin!

 The new look of the Gallery!

The new look of the Gallery!

Yellowstone and Gallery Preparation

            After my workshop, I was ready to get out on my own, and with Twila, and photograph more.  The day after I picked up Twila, February 6th, is when my otter video went viral, and my plans changed.  Instead of getting out in the park and showing Twila Yellowstone, I was at my friends house answering email requests and phone calls about my video for a couple of days.  It was very exciting, but I felt bad because Twila had never been to Yellowstone before, and we didn’t even make it into the park for a couple of days. 

            Once the requests slowed down, we went in the park and I was excited to be back in the park and show Twila how great Yellowstone is in the winter.  The weather really didn’t cooperate with us, unfortunately.  The wind howled for a few days, and actually shut the park road down a couple of times because of zero visibility and drifting snow.  When the roads were ok, we did get to see moose, sheep, bison, coyotes, and distant wolves.  I was hoping for her to be able to see a wolf decently close, but we never saw a wolf except through a spotting scope.

 Twila and I enjoying the snow in Yellowstone.

Twila and I enjoying the snow in Yellowstone.

            We went on a snowcoach to Old Faithful on the 9th, but that didn’t go how I had hoped either.  We got to go in for free with a friend of mine, and I was excited to show her the geysers and hot springs around Old Faithful.  However, it was a warm day in February and it decided to rain, and not snow.  I had never seen it rain in the interior of the park in February.  I was bummed it had to happen on the day we went in the park.  We did watch Old Faithful erupt, but it was too wet and nasty to walk around and look at the other thermal features.  She will just have to come back and try again next year.

            It was sad seeing all the snow melt from the strange warm up, and having brown patches appear in the snow.  Just a week ago there was so much snow, and now ground was showing underneath.  It’s amazing how fast nature changes things.  I was getting discouraged, so we went to West Yellowstone to visit, and for Twila to meet, some good friends.  It was nice to relax there a couple of days and to visit with them.  We then went to the Grand Tetons to see the beautiful mountains there, and the wildlife.

            The Elk Refuge is a very neat area, with thousands of elk residing there in the winter.  Twila had never seen so many elk in one place before, and she loved it!  I even got a nice shot of an eagle taking off from a cliff at sunset as she watched the elk.  We stayed with my friends in town, and it was fun seeing them again too. 

 An eagle takes off from a cliff at last light.

An eagle takes off from a cliff at last light.

            On Valentines Day we went back to the refuge in the morning, and my car got washed by the big horn sheep licking it.  This thrilled Twila, and she loved every second of it! We, of course, then took a drive to see the beautiful Teton mountains, and they are a very scenic mountain range.  That afternoon Twila spotted a red fox and a great grey owl! I was impressed with her ability to spot wildlife, and it’s great that she loves seeing wildlife so much! We went out in Jackson that night, but we had to leave early the next morning so we didn’t stay out too late.

 One of the big horn sheep cleaning my car stops and checks out Twila.

One of the big horn sheep cleaning my car stops and checks out Twila.

           We got up at 5:30 a.m. on the 16th and hit the road back to Canmore, AB.  It was a 12-hour drive, but the roads were good the whole way and we made it to Canmore in one day.  Twila had work she needed to get done for her business, and I needed to start planning everything I needed to get for my gallery this summer.  I was glad Twila made it to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, but the weather didn’t cooperate.  But at least she made it and we had a great time together and next year will be better for her.

            It was nice being back in Canmore and relaxing after the past few weeks of craziness.  I went out and explored Banff National Park some, but didn’t have much success for the most part.  Once I started planning for the summer, I couldn’t stop myself.  There was just so much to think about for everything I wanted to bring back from last year and try to change: what to replace, what do I need more of, what signs to change or make new ones of, what sizes of new pictures, and the list goes on.  The more I did, the more I thought of that I needed to work on.  I’m thankful year one of the gallery is done, and that I now have more experience and knowledge of what my customers are looking for.  It was a very different feel preparing for the gallery this year from last year.

            Working on the gallery was made easier by where Twila is now living.  Last year she was in downtown Vancouver, BC, and now her place is in the mountains and has a great view!  There is just something about looking out the window and seeing only beautiful mountains.  Seeing mountains out the windows even helps me work inside better. 

            We’re not sure where the time went, and before we knew it, it was April.  March absolutely flew by, and that means the summer is getting close.  I feel much more prepared for the gallery this year, and I am looking forward to it.  I will have to do a crazy amount of traveling between now and being in Alaska in May though.  Let’s just say my trailer and pictures are all in Tennessee, and I am in Canada.  Let the craziness begin!