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!

Successful Winter Yellowstone Workshop

            Through the 2016 holidays, it was nice to see family and catch up on many much-needed projects.  The Christmas season is a busy selling time, as well, but I was still able to see everyone I wanted to see back home and many extended family members.  Once the New Year came, I headed back to Canada for a few weeks to be with me fiancé in Canmore.  I was excited to be back with her and scout out the Canadian Rockies for wildlife.  It was cold and snowy while I was in Canmore, but I didn’t have a whole lot of luck in locating much wildlife other than elk. 

            I always enjoy going to Yellowstone in the winter and searching for the wolves, and other animals.  I left Canmore on the 24th to scout for my upcoming workshop that started on the 28th.  I did manage to see some wolves in those three-days and figure out where they were hanging out, but they were very far away when I did see them.  There has been a good amount of snow this year, which was nice because there weren’t any brown spots showing like there has been in years past.  The animals didn’t cooperate for me in those three days to get many shots, but I felt confident I could find them when we come back to the north on my workshop.

            On the night of the 27th I went and stayed with some friends in Livingston, MT, and then on the morning of the 28th I went to Bozeman to get my group.  I was excited for the workshop to start and help them find and photograph the wonders of the Yellowstone Winter.  We headed to West Yellowstone after I had gotten everyone, and that night we went out to shoot the sunset.  The next morning would be our first in the park, and we would go in from West on a snow coach.

This was the very first sunrise of our workshop! So great!

This was the very first sunrise of our workshop! So great!

            Everyone was excited and ready on the 29th, and at 7 a.m. we headed into the park, and my good friend Justin Parsons was our driver guide as well.  It was forecasted to be the coldest morning of our time in West, so we headed toward Old Faithful first thing to try and get frosty bison.  The sunrise that morning was absolutely incredible, and a great way to start the workshop! I wish it had been colder than 5 degrees, but we were still able to find some bison that were covered in frost in the thermal areas.  We spent a long time with the bison and headed back toward the Madison River.  We got there after lunch, and as we were looking for a bobcat, another coach had already spotted one and everyone rushed out.  It is always such a treat to see a wild bobcat!  We were fortunate to watch it across the river for a few hours that afternoon as it stalked ducks and waited for an opportunity to pounce.  It never did jump, but we got great shots of the bobcat! It was a great first day of the workshop!

A bobcat laying patiently waiting for a duck to swim by.

A bobcat laying patiently waiting for a duck to swim by.

            On the 30th we headed to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Hayden Valley in the morning.  It was so nice being the only group at the canyon in the morning, because in the summer that never happens.  It was a nice day, so we headed into Hayden Valley while the light was still good.  We photographed a famous tree there, and then further down the road found a red fox.  It was a very cooperative red fox, and we got to watch it hunt as it moved along the endless snow ridges.  It even decided to come our way and walked right up to us and onto the road! Once it crossed we kept photographing it, and it went on a ridge with the beautiful dark clouds behind it!

A red fox beautifully set against a dark sky.

A red fox beautifully set against a dark sky.

            We had heard otters were near the canyon, and we had great timing because the other groups had come to look for the fox we had and we went to the otters, where 50 people had been.  When we got there we were the only ones there, and the otter pups were so playful.  They played and played and played and ran around and were so fun to watch! A bald eagle flew in after a while and landed on a tree close to the road! It was one of the best otter experiences I had ever had! We went to Artist Point to photograph the canyon, and when we left we found the otters again and had to stop.  A different bald eagle was in a tree nearby this time too.  The otters weren’t as playful this time, but were still active.  One otter went running and sliding our direction down the frozen river, and it was great to photograph!  If he did it again I thought I would take a video of it because it was so neat.  Some time later it did it again, and I videoed it running and sliding on its belly numerous times! I never thought this video would go viral, but nature and wildlife sure can capture people’s hearts!  We even managed to catch a glimpse of a bobcat that evening.  What an incredible first couple of days!

A family of river otters wrestle on the edge of the ice.

A family of river otters wrestle on the edge of the ice.

One of my best bald eagle shots in Yellowstone ever!

One of my best bald eagle shots in Yellowstone ever!

            The 31st was our last day on the snow coach, and we headed to Old Faithful again in the morning.  We followed wolf tracks for a long time, but never saw the wolves.  It was a very windy day, which wasn’t a good sign for trying to find wildlife.  Animals don’t like wind, and will hunker down in the trees and wait for the wind to die down.  We shot some thermal features, but it was hard to photograph in the blowing snow.  On the Madison River we found more coyotes, and even got to watch one try and fish in the river.  Later that day a bobcat was spotted, so we got to see a bobcat again! I can’t believe we got to photograph the bobcat every day of our trip in from West!

            Our time in West went better than I could have hoped, then on the morning of February 1st I drove the group to the Northern Range of Yellowstone.  It was not a fun drive because of the snow and wind from last night that iced up the road.  We made it safely, and then that afternoon went in to the park and checked out the northern range.  We found some big horn sheep and coyotes on our afternoon run, but it was just good to see that part of the park and refigure out where the wildlife were in the north.

            On the 2nd we left Gardiner at 6:30 a.m. and it was snowing hard when we left.   It didn’t let up, but when we got to Roosevelt Junction, a mother and calf moose were right off the road.  It was still a little dark, but they were right by the road.  We were able to stay with them for a little while as they moved near the road.  It snowed so hard when we were with them, but it made for a dramatic scene.  A great start to the day!  We continued on to Lamar Valley, but it was snowing so hard you couldn’t see anything.  A large bison was on the road, and we were able to get ahead of him and pull into a pullout and let him walk by.  He was beautiful and fully covered in snow.  It had been a very long time since I had seen it snow that hard in Lamar.  The roads were getting dangerous because of how much it was snowing, so we headed to Mammoth hoping it wasn’t snowing as hard.  It was snowing just as hard, but we photographed the terraces anyway, and it made for a neat scene.  We called it a day a little early because it wouldn’t stop snowing and the visibility was so bad.

A moose moves through a meadow during a heavy snow storm.

A moose moves through a meadow during a heavy snow storm.

            We left at 6:45 again on the 3rd and headed into the park.  It was a quiet morning, but when we got back to Pebble Creek we found a small bull moose bedded.  We waited for him to get up, and it was a beautiful scene when he did with the trees fully covered in snow.  It snowed off and on throughout the day, but nothing like yesterday.  My group really wanted to see wolves, as did I, but it is never an easy task.  Most days, if you see them, they are really far away and you have to pray you are in the right spot if they do come close enough.  Around lunch I was able to show them a pack of eight wolves through a scope, but they were over a mile away.  This is what wolf watching is like over 95% of the time in Yellowstone.  Wolves are, in my opinion, the hardest of the large mammals to photograph because they are skittish and hate people.  We saw some wildlife that afternoon, but didn’t have many opportunities other than with moose.

A young bull moose stands in front of heavily snow covered trees.

A young bull moose stands in front of heavily snow covered trees.

            Our last full day was the 4th, and when we went in that morning the wind was absolutely howling.  On the Blacktail Plateau the snowplow hadn’t been up there yet, and I was plowing through 3-4 foot drifts! It was absolutely crazy! I only did it because I knew the road, and was surprised I didn’t get stuck honestly.  It was super windy across the whole park, which almost never happens.  Nothing was out because of the wind, but we did find one large bison fully covered in snow.  The wind blowing created a dramatic scene at times, and we stayed with him a long time because I knew there was nothing else out.  The roads were very dangerous and we had to wait on snowplows a couple of times to clear the road of snow.  We went back to Mammoth because of how dangerous it was, and that nothing was out.  A wolf pack was on a ridge above Mammoth, but again way to far for pictures.  We photographed the terraces in the sunlight and then went in.  There was no way I was driving back out with how dangerous the roads were.

The wind blows snow around this snow covered bison.

The wind blows snow around this snow covered bison.

            On the 5th we put everyone’s luggage in one room and then headed in at 7:30 into the park.  I am dropping them off today, but no one’s flight is until the evening, so we went in the park in the morning.  It was again very windy and very little wildlife was out.  Four large bison were near the road and in a nice scenic spot.  A couple of times the wind kicked up and made for a very nice cold windy scene! A little further down the road we found a moose, and he came close to the road.  Then he turned around and crossed the river! It was a great way to close out the workshop!  We drove to Bozeman and I dropped everyone off by 4 p.m.  A great way to relax after a long, but great, workshop was to watch the super bowl with friends!

A very windy day makes for a dramatic scene in Lamar Valley.

A very windy day makes for a dramatic scene in Lamar Valley.

A moose walks across an open river during the winter.

A moose walks across an open river during the winter.

            Overall I was very excited for how the workshop went! We saw so many different species of animals, and all of those species gave us an opportunity to get good pictures except the wolves.  I know wolves were on the top of everyone’s list, but I can’t define a workshop by wolves only.  They would have been great, but we were able to get great shots on many species, including the elusive bobcat.  Twila flew in the night of the super bowl and I can’t wait to get to show her Yellowstone for her first time!

 

If you haven’t seen my video of the otter sliding on it’s belly that went viral, click on the video below this blog! It got over 70 million views on facebook!

Trying to Relax

            October was just what I needed!  The summer was so busy that I didn’t have time to think about many other aspects of my photography and business.  After closing the gallery, and then photographing the elk rut, I finally had a chance to relax for the first time in months.  I was looking forward to falling back into what I had known as my past, and not having day-to-day responsibilities.  I thoroughly enjoy the freedom my job allows, and the ability to go anywhere at any given time. Before this summer, I was use to photographing, and then taking a break, and then photographing more.  There were no breaks this summer, because when I wasn’t photographing, I was in my gallery in Skagway.  And it will likely be that way for years to come.

            I didn’t realize how much the summer had drained me until I began to fully relax.  I was so caught up in the gallery, and trying to make it successful, that many things fell through the cracks.  I envisioned only needing a short amount of time to be caught up on most things, but I was wrong.  The more I relaxed and looked back on the summer and other needs of my business, the more I realized I had lots to do.  I’m grateful I was able to take a step back and analyze the summer, and my business as a whole, and see how things went and how I would like them to go in the future.

            As my career has changed and progressed, I have enjoyed each new twist and turn.  I’ve never known where I was going to be from year to year, but now that has changed some too.  I will still have many unknown during the fall and winter, but for the spring and summer I will be in Alaska.  I can think of many worst things that being in Alaska, though.

            All that spare time I use to have as I got my business going, is long gone.  I enjoyed all the unknowns and paths that I’ve taken to get to this point in my career, and look forward to the future ones.  I got caught up in this summer, and got away from a couple of thing that has made my career so great.  October allowed me to see that, and to hopefully not have that happen again.  Relaxing and a distressing of the mind were critical for me.  I needed to get back out in nature, and forget about all the other things of the world that catch so many people and don’t let go. 

            I did a fair amount of work in October, but it was the times I didn’t work that made October great.  Exploring new areas and finding new places to photograph is what excites me the most! There is so much area in our great continent to explore and search.  My fiancé recently moved, and spending time with her in the mountains around her area was great!  I did a lot of pre scouting for the winter, and now can’t wait for winter to get here.  It will be exciting to see what winter brings in this new area to me.

A beautiful scene in my new home.

A beautiful scene in my new home.

            On November 10th I hooked the trailer back up and begun the long drive to Tennessee.  I wasn’t looking forward to the three-day drive, but it had to be done.  My truck has started to have a little transmission issues, but I figured I could make it back to TN.  It did fine across the country, thankfully, and after 39 hours of driving I got back to Tennessee.  I have a gallery exhibit in my hometown of Tullahoma that opens on November 19th from 5-7 p.m. at the Fine Art Center.

Canadian Rockies

          As the days of September ticked away, I got closer and closer to packing up the gallery and heading south.  By September 12th I was ready to go, but still had a few days before I would take the gallery down for the winter.  It’s not that I didn’t enjoy having my own gallery, but I was just exhausted from an extremely long Alaskan summer.  I knew going in that it would be mountains of work to properly get my gallery up and running, but it turned out to be even more than I had planned.  It was nice knowing my first year was almost done, and how much better prepared I would be for next year.

            The last day the gallery was open was the 16th, and as soon as it slowed down that afternoon, my employee and I took the gallery down and packed it for the winter.  I left a number of things in the gallery, as I will be back next year, but took many of the prints with me.  It only took a few hours for it to come down, and I hope setting up next year will only take that long.  We got it all packed up, and by that evening I was on the road heading south into Canada.

Standing in front of my gallery the last morning it was open.

Standing in front of my gallery the last morning it was open.

            On the drive south, I finally had time to look back on the summer and evaluate most of what had transpired.  May seems like years ago, because of how much took place over the course of the summer.  It’s amazing to think back on how I thought things would go at the beginning of the summer, and how many things ended up turning out.  I’m sure in the coming weeks I will have more time to sit and think about the summer, but on the drive it was nice to not have to worry about how the gallery was doing for the first time in months.  My brain was ready for a break, and photographing in the Canadian Rockies would be the perfect medicine.

            After over two full days of driving, and almost 30 hours, I got to Canmore, AB, which is where my fiancé had moved.  I was very happy my car made it there with no problems, because it has started to act up a little, but it also has 264,000 miles on it! It has been a beast, and I plan on riding it until it dies!  After only a couple days of rest, we headed out to go photograph the elk rut in the Canadian Rockies.

            Photographing is always where I am the happiest, and also not thinking about the gallery while out photographing was extremely nice.  A number of my photographer friends were out photographing too, and it was fun catching up with everyone.  The elk rut was in full swing, and on our first morning a large bull gave us a good chase.  That was Twila’s initiation into how crazy the elk are this time of year.  She is a quick learner, and that was the only really intense moment we had on the trip.  Soon after he chased us, I ended up getting my favorite picture of the trip.  His females decided to swim a river, so he went after them, and it was very foggy and hard to see, but it made for a very dramatic picture with the elk in the river!

A bull elk stands in a river surrounded by fog and looks for his females.

A bull elk stands in a river surrounded by fog and looks for his females.

        It was nice seeing some of the bull elk I had seen last year back, and them be even larger this year.  Over the course of 10 days, we fully immersed ourselves into the elk rut and got some great photos!  There were two elk that were particularly dominant, and all the other elk would run from them.  I was really hoping to get to photograph a fight, but it didn’t happen unfortunately.  There had been fights before we were able to get to the park, but by the time we had gotten there most of the hierarchy of elk was already established, and the challengers would just run away.  

A bull elk bugles in the last light of the day.

A bull elk bugles in the last light of the day.

           One of the nice things about the elk rut is, even though you may not know exactly where the bulls are sometimes, if you sit long enough you would hear one bugle.  The elk bugle is one of my favorite sounds of the mountains, and it is so majestic hearing them call out and hear it echo throughout the valleys.  It is such a powerful sound, and one that gets my heart beating.  I particularly like the cold mornings when you can see their breath as they bugle.  Being in the woods with them during the rut is exciting.  You really have to stay on your toes, because they are pumped up on testosterone and can charge at any second.

On a frosty morning, a bull elk releases a lot of steam.

On a frosty morning, a bull elk releases a lot of steam.

           We were also excited to be back in the Canadian Rockies, because it is where me met exactly a year ago on September 21st.  I was actually photographing a bull elk, and Twila was a tourist who happened to stop that day.  We ended up hitting it off, obviously, and we both have a deep love of wildlife.  But being back in the place where we met was special.  It just goes to show you never know what will happen in the mountains!

My favorite elk comes my direction in the woods.

My favorite elk comes my direction in the woods.

          Over the course of the 10 days I was able to capture some nice behavior, and capture them in many different environments.   When they are on the riverbank or in the river is when I like to photograph them the most, and I had a few opportunities when they were there.  One day a couple friends of mine and I followed a bull elk as he left his cows and went to look for more.  It was a neat experience walking beside him for nearly three miles and just seeing more into what an elk does in the rut.  One of the biggest things during the rut is that they are unpredictable, and I like the thrill of discovering the unknown. 

A bull elk looks over his harem as they cross the river.

A bull elk looks over his harem as they cross the river.

         The northern lights were also out a few nights, and one night we stayed up to look for them.  They came out for us, and we went and watched them over a lake.  It is always a neat experience seeing the lights and watching them move across the sky.  It was a calm night too, which made for some nice reflections on the lake.

The northern lights and the big dipper are reflected into the lake.

The northern lights and the big dipper are reflected into the lake.

         By the 28th I was ready to go and get back to Canmore.  My body was running on empty from my summer and the past 10 days, and I didn’t have the energy I was accustomed to having.  We left after the morning shoot, and the nice thing about living in Canmore is that it is only a short drive away.  I fully realized how exhausted my body was when we got there, because for the first few days I couldn’t stay awake later than 9 p.m.  But again, I wouldn’t change any of it.

          I’m looking forward to just relaxing and hanging out for the next number of weeks and catching up on photos from the summer.   I was so busy this summer I didn’t have a chance to organize and really go through most of my photos.  But I should have some time coming up, and will try and get caught up on my pictures while also relaxing.  It’s crazy to think that my first year of having a gallery is already over.  What a summer it was, and now to relax and look back on the summer and prepare for next year.

 

 

Non-Stop August

            I wasn’t back in my gallery long before I already had the itch to get back out and go photographing.  I had planned on going in a couple of weekends to photograph whales in Juneau, but those plans changed.  That whole week everyone who came in my gallery was showing me amazing photos and videos of humpback whales bubble feeding from their iPhones, so I knew I had to go immediately.  My friend Aaron, from Yellowstone, lived in Juneau and I had been in communication with him about the following weekend, so I was happy he could accommodate me the next day.  My plans became final at 4 p.m. on July 28th, and at 5 a.m. on the 29th I was on a plane to Juneau.  When the wildlife gets hot, you can’t waste any time and have to go immediately.  I was very grateful to have good friends in Juneau that I could crash with, and borrow their truck too.

            They picked me up at the airport at 5:50 a.m., great friends!, and then we went to Mendenhall Lake.  My friend and his girlfriend are glacier guides on Mendenhall, so we first kayaked two miles to the glacier across a fogged in lake, we could hardly see, but as we got closer it started to clear some.  It was awesome being the only ones out there and kayaking to a glacier.  We pulled the kayaks on shore and then put on crampons and walked onto the glacier.  The ice was very blue that morning, and just gorgeous.  I got some real nice shots of the glacier, and then we went and found an ice cave.  Seeing and walking into an ice cave under a glacier is quite the experience.  It’s something I can’t describe except through the photos I have.  It was an amazing, but scary, experience at the same time, and the photos came out great!  We had a great time and then kayaked back.  I was so grateful that they took me out on the glacier for free.

The beauty of and unreal look at the inside of an ice cave under a glacier.

The beauty of and unreal look at the inside of an ice cave under a glacier.

            They both had to work after that, so they dropped me off in town and I went on a whale watching tour that started at 3:30.  There were 50 people on the boat, not my favorite, and we got to see what I came for.  We found a group of humpbacks, they are usually solitary, and they were moving along the shore together.  They did bubble feed a couple of times, but it happened so fast and unexpectedly each time, and I didn’t get much.  It was neat to see, and I would be better prepared for next time.  On the 30th I did a long hike by myself to try and get above the Mendenhall Glacier and get a more aerial shot.  As I got higher I got into the clouds, and they weren’t breaking up.  I didn’t want to sit up there all day and get nothing, so I called a different whale watching company and they had an opening at 1:30, so I hurried four miles back down the mountain.  My friends picked me up as I got there, and dropped me off at the harbor just in time.

            This time I was on a small ship with only 12 people, and it was much better.  I just knew we were going to have success, and success we had!  We went straight out to where a group of whales were bubble net feeding, and what a sight it was.  Seeing a group of 10 whales come up at the same time with their mouths open is quite the site!  My boat even had a microphone under water, and we could hear the different sounds they were making, and would know when they were about to come up.  It was such a better experience than the day before, and I got some great shots!  I was bummed we left as soon as we did, but where we went we found a pod of Orcas!  They were being active and staying close to the surface and being somewhat playful.  There was a baby in the group and it even jumped a couple of times.  What a great trip! And I get to go with the same company tomorrow.  So glad I flew down the mountain to go whale watching.

A group of humpback whales bubble net feed.

A group of humpback whales bubble net feed.

            My first tour was at 7 a.m. on the 31st, and my friends dropped me off on their way to work.  We saw a few orcas and single humpbacks, but nothing great.  I learned from this trip it’s actually not best to be on the first trip of the day, because they have to find where the whales are, and spend more time searching.  I was trying to decide after that tour whether to stay tomorrow morning before flying back to Skagway, because my next tour went out at 2 p.m.  I went back and forth, but ended up deciding to leave after my tour this afternoon so I could be back in the gallery tomorrow, and I had a feeling I would get more shots on my last tour.  My gut was right, and we got to see more bubble net feeding, and I captured some nice scenic shots of them feeding!  By 7 p.m. I was back on a plane to Skagway and home by 8 p.m.  What a crazy three days, but it was more than worth it!  You have to go with your gut in wildlife photography and not look back and just go.  Heading back to the gallery was a great idea, because on the 1st  we had a killer day, and was a great way to kick off August!

A baby orca breaches.

A baby orca breaches.

            For the next couple of weeks I worked the gallery and stayed in Skagway.  As the summer has gone on, I have gotten more comfortable in my own gallery and learned more about what the people are looking for and how to sway them to buy art.  It’s never easy, and each day is drastically different than the day before, but I’m learning a ton. When I’m in Skagway, I’m trying to catch up from all the time I was gone, and then get ahead a little for when the next time I’m gone I don’t have a mountain of work to come back to.  It’s a never-ending cycle, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.

            On the afternoon of August 15th I left Skagway and headed for Denali.  I slept in the car somewhere along the way, and then got to Fairbanks the next afternoon and got some car work done and bought a few things you can’t find in Skagway.  I stayed at a friends that I had met in the backcountry of Denali a few years back, and it was fun to catch up.  The morning of the 17th I picked up my friend, Tin Man, from the airport and we headed to Denali.  I had a special travel permit that started on the 18th, so we went on the 17th to explore a little.  We found some nice caribou and did some short hikes, but didn’t get anything great.  We camped further back in the park and were ready to go the next morning when we could drive the entire Denali road in my car.

We left camp at 4:30 a.m., only to be stopped a few miles away because the road was closed to fix part of the road.  We only had three days of the permit, and this wasn’t how we wanted to spend it, waiting on road construction.  So we waited until 7 a.m., very painful, and then continued on.  Denali mtn. was out, but we were to far away from where we wanted to be, and wouldn’t have been if the road wasn’t closed.  You can never take the mountain being out for granted, and it quickly got covered in the clouds.  So frustrating!  We went to some of my favorite spots anyway, but not much was going on.

          After a while we headed back toward the front, and that turned out to be a great decision! There was a caribou that had just shed his velvet, and had very red antlers.  We were able to stay with him a while and got some great shots!  I’ve been trying for a few years to get a caribou like this.  After him, we decided to hike up a mountain to another large caribou, and he posed for us on the mountainside once we were able to get to him.  Hiking in the Denali tundra is not easy, and Tin Man had never done it before.  It is unrelenting, and very bushy and hard to maneuver through.  I have years of experience in it and can find easier routes, still not easy but easier, but Tin Man struggled.  He pushed through, though, and made it to the caribou in time.  We were even able to spot a huge moose below us that we photographed after we left the caribou.  It turned out to be a great first evening, after a very disappointing start to the day.

A caribou has very red antlers after shedding his velvet.

A caribou has very red antlers after shedding his velvet.

            The road was closed again until 7 a.m. on the 19th, so we slept in until 6 a.m. and then left.  Having two of our three days start way later than we want really stunk.  It is a special privilege to have the permit I had, and not be able to fully use it hurt.  The mountain didn’t tease us this morning and was fully behind clouds and rain.  We didn’t spend much time far back in the park before heading back to where we knew caribou and moose were.  I’m glad we didn’t waste our time back there, because we immediately found a bull moose.  He wasn’t huge, but we got a few shots.  Some really nice caribou were close by, so we went to them.  They stayed in a group and gave us some great opportunities! I love how different all caribou antlers are.  

A couple of large, very different sized antlered caribou check me out.

A couple of large, very different sized antlered caribou check me out.

            After we had got our fill with the caribou, we decided to head back deep into the park because the weather was improving.  Almost immediately we found a cow and bull moose when we got out there.  They were in a depression with a pond, so we stayed and waited for them to come out.  It was worth the wait, and the bull posed for us on the hillside with the mountains behind him.  It took us a while after to find another moose, but we finally did, and the light was great!  We trekked up to him, but he was not cooperative.  It was a brutal hike through the tundra to get to him, and then he would move out of range.  The light was great and we hadn’t found anything else, so we kept trying.  I’m so glad we did, because eventually he relaxed.  Tin Man had a bad back and couldn’t keep up, but he did make it, which was not easy for him in the type of terrain we were in.  The bull moose decided to pause on a little ridge for minutes with the mountains behind him and great light! I couldn’t believe it!  Then he came to the pond I was near and ate basically right in front of me.  It was absolutely incredible!  I don’t even know how many miles we trekked, but the shots we got were insane!  We finally left the moose at 10 p.m., and didn’t get back to camp until after midnight.  What a day!

A decent sized bull moose on a ridge.

A decent sized bull moose on a ridge.

A large sized moose on a ridge in the evening.

A large sized moose on a ridge in the evening.

The large bull moose eats in the pond directly across from me.

The large bull moose eats in the pond directly across from me.

            After the day before, you would think we would sleep in, right? Wrong! There is no sleeping in if you’re a wildlife photographer, and by 5 a.m. the next morning we were heading back out.  We found a beautiful cross fox first thing, and it was the first fox we had seen.  Only a couple more miles down the road we saw two bull moose on a ridge, and I knew we would go after them.  I had only had four small donuts for breakfast, and was to tired to actually eat when we got to camp last night, but when there are photographs to be had it doesn’t matter to me.  So off we went across even worse tundra to trek through than yesterday. 

A large and small bull moose hang by a pond and have a perfect reflection.

A large and small bull moose hang by a pond and have a perfect reflection.

     When I got to the top of the ridge, there were three bull moose, and they went to pond to eat.  Tin Man unfortunately couldn’t make it because his back was really hurting him.  But I kept going and ended up following these moose for over three hours.  You just never know what or where an animal will go, but you have to have patience to stay with them and wait it out.  When I left the car that morning I would have ever dreamed of the shots I would get a few hours later, and am still excited about the shots I got that morning!  Let’s just say that after miles of following, losing them, and finding them again, I got to photograph all three on a ridge silhouetted against the Alaskan Range and reflected! Those shots will never be duplicated, and those are the shots that all wildlife photographers strive to get and spend months working for.  I’m still ecstatic about that moment and how incredible it was!  When I finally got back to the car, and Tin Man, I felt bad telling him about it and wish he would have been there with me.

The same two bull moose silhouetted, and reflected against the backdrop of the Alaskan Range.

The same two bull moose silhouetted, and reflected against the backdrop of the Alaskan Range.

A bull moose walk the ridge on a beautiful day in Denali.

A bull moose walk the ridge on a beautiful day in Denali.

            We didn’t find anything else deep in the park, so we went to the front and were hoping to find that huge moose from our first night.  Sure enough, high up on the hill he was standing in the willows.  He was a very long way away, and in some nasty terrain.  The threat of rain was also strong, but I decided to go in the end.  When in Rome, or Denali in this case was my mindset.  It was a very hard slog to where the moose was, and I wasn’t positive where he was because he bedded down.  I somehow managed to find his antler between the brush, and not to much longer he got up and began eating again.  He was huge, and I was glad I decided to go.  I got some real nice shots of him, and after a while another bull- moose came from somewhere and joined him.  The way he responded to the other moose was aggressive and interesting to watch.  Glad he didn’t show that aggression toward me.  It started to rain harder, so I went back.  But what a beauty of a moose he was!

The monster moose checks out the other bull moose as it approaches.

The monster moose checks out the other bull moose as it approaches.

            What a three days of the permit! We didn’t take any time off and had 15-18 hour days!  But we were rewarded for our hard work.  On the morning of the 21st we packed up and left by 7 a.m. and explored the entrance area of the park.  We got to follow another nice bull- moose around and got some nice pictures before having to head back to Fairbanks for Tin Man to catch his flight.  After dropping Tin Man off I continued on my way back to Skagway and spent the night in my car along the way and got back on the morning of the 22nd.  It is a 14-hour drive from Denali to Skagway.

            After being back a day at the gallery, my parents came on the 24th.  They got to experience the difficulties of Alaskan travel when their plan was delayed for hours because of low clouds.  But they made it in, and got to see my gallery all set up!  My parents were in town four days, and spent most of that time in the gallery with me, and exploring the area around Skagway.  I took the scenic train ride with them one day, and had been trying to do that all summer.  It was fun having my parents in town and them getting to see my gallery in action and all the prints on the wall. 

            On the morning of the 28th I flew from Whitehorse to Vancouver to help my fiancé move.  She was moving to Canmore, AB to be more in the mountains and in a much quieter place.  I was glad I could fly down to help her with this move and take some stress off of her.  We hired packers for the move, but there was still a ton to do.  It was neat being there as her life transitions to Canmore and creates a new life there.  She has a great view of the mountains from her deck, and I can’t wait to go back and visit!  I flew out on September 4th to go back to the gallery to close out the summer.

            As you can see I am a man who is constantly on the move.  There is not time to rest in the Alaskan summer, because it is short.  I’d have it no other way and enjoy everything that comes with being in Alaska.  But I am more than looking forward to the fall and winter, to take it a little easier, and finally take some time to relax.  What a summer it has been though!  I’ll wrap up the gallery in a couple of weeks and head south.

Bears and Engagement!

            After I got back from Lake Clark National Park I wasn’t able to slow down at all.  My friend, Jackie, who had worked the gallery for the month of June had to leave, and left on the 28th.  I had only gotten back on the 26th from Lake Clark, and barely had time to go over everything with her about how things went while I was gone.  My new employee, who I had actually met in my gallery when he was on a cruise in May, arrived on the 29th from Las Vegas to work for the rest of the summer.  It was a whirlwind of days, and I was exhausted from my trip to Lake Clark and drive back to Skagway.

            My new employee, Rick, had gallery experience from working in Las Vegas, and I was excited that he already had art selling experience.  I only has a week with him before I would leave again to go photograph, so I had to get him trained quickly on how Skagway and my gallery worked.  I’m hoping the third time is the charm with employees and that I won’t have to look for another employee this summer.  It was obvious quickly he was much more comfortable being in the gallery and selling art.  I more just had to tell him how I try to do things and give him backstories on the photos to help him sell them.

            The week went by fast, and before I knew it I was heading back to Whitehorse to pick up Twila, and head on a two-week photo road trip with her!  I felt at ease leaving the gallery with Rick, which was a great thing.  I picked Twila up on the 7th and we drove all the way to Denali that night.  It was her first time on the Alkan highway and seeing any of that part of the Yukon, and being in the main part of Alaska.  Seeing her so excited about the views and drive took me back to when I first drove to Alaska.  It was a very long day, and we had dinner with friends at a random rest stop who were going the other direction, but we got to Denali.  After sleeping in, we met up with my friends Lisa and Eric Plasker, who had flown to Anchorage and drove up yesterday. 

            We would spend the next couple of weeks with them, and it was also Eric’s first time to Alaska.  We did a hike first, and had some nice views and saw one moose, and then took a bus in that evening further into the park and saw more wildlife.  On the 9th we took a bus deeper into the park and had a great day of seeing wildlife, and caught a quick glimpse of some of the Denali mtn.  We packed up camp on the 10th and drove to Seward, a long but beautiful 7 hours from Denali.  Alaska is such a beautiful state, and I enjoyed getting to show it off to Twila.  We pitched camp on a river bar with a mountain straight up in front of us, and it was so peaceful and quiet.  That night we treated ourselves and camped steak over a fire, and I couldn’t think of a better place to do it! 

Nothing like a perfect camping spot in Alaska!

Nothing like a perfect camping spot in Alaska!

            Seward is right on the coast, and on the 11th we went on an all day scenic boat ride.  The coastline around there is spectacular, and the wildlife is abundant.  We got to see a number of sea otters and whales, and went up close to a glacier.  It was a great day, and was Twila’s favorite part of the trip so far.  The next morning we left at 8 a.m. and drove back to Anchorage to catch our flight over to Katmai National Park, the main part of our trip.  We had to repack everything before we went, and did it on the side of the road.  With me you just never know when and where things will take place.  We left at 3 p.m. and had a great flight to King Salmon, and then Twila got to sit up front in the floatplane over to Katmai!  She use to work for a floatplane company and loves float planes, so this was a real treat for her!  Once we got camp all set up we went to the river and got to see our first bears, including a mom and two spring cubs swimming.  Katmai had always been on the top of list for Twila to visit since she was a little girl, and I was excited to get to bring her here and show her all the bears!

A young sea otter rests on its back and looks at me curiously.

A young sea otter rests on its back and looks at me curiously.

A humpback whale tale slaps the water.

A humpback whale tale slaps the water.

            On the 13th we went to the viewing platform at the falls first thing to beat the crowds there.  Twila was so excited being at the place she had only imagined for so long! There were a few bears there, but a ton of fish.  One mother bear was just jumping and catching fish almost every time she tried.  The sun came out and the lighting got harsh, so we went and got waiters for her, and Lisa and Eric.  We waded the river for a scouting trip, and the river was super high.  It was very different from last year and almost three feet higher!  We had to be very cautious, and I knew this would change how the bears chased fish and where we could go.  My friend Tim and his fiancé Jenna came in later that day, and it was fun catching up with them and shooting with them that evening.  We even got to photograph a bear at the top of the falls catching fish! I was so excited that Twila got to have that experience.

A brown bear about to catch a fish at Brooks Falls in Katmai.

A brown bear about to catch a fish at Brooks Falls in Katmai.

            July 14th was a very special day!  We went to the falls first thing again, and then headed to the river because it was slow at the falls.  We only had a short time with good light before it got too bright, and had a mother and her two spring cubs across the river.  Once it got too bright we went in a tried to take a nap because we had been going nonstop since we started our trip.  But it was so hot in the tent from the sun beating down on it, that we couldn’t sleep.  That is not normally a problem is Alaska of being too hot.  But we at least relaxed for a while. 

           That afternoon was a huge afternoon as we headed to the river to photograph; I had planned and hoped to propose to Twila on the river.  With the river high, I wasn’t sure how it would go though.  I also wanted to do it with bears behind us, and they were not cooperating that afternoon.  I began to fear it wouldn’t happen that day, when all of a sudden a mom and yearling cub came out of the woods behind us.  I knew it was the moment I had been waiting for, and after I handed Twila’s camera to a friend, I got down on one knee in the river and asked Twila to marry me!!! She said yes, and it was great seeing her excitement and surprised look!!! I knew it would be special to have bears around when I proposed because they are both of our favorite animals, and being in Alaska with bears is just special!  We spent the evening together not photographing, and we were now engaged!

The bears were right behind us after we got engaged!!!!!

The bears were right behind us after we got engaged!!!!!

            It was nice being off the grid and just getting engaged, because we got to enjoy the moment to ourselves for a number of days before we could even tell anyone.  The morning of the 15th was slow, but that evening was great! We found a mom with three spring cubs we hadn’t seen before, and her cubs were so small.  After they left we went up stream and found the mom and yearling I had proposed in front of, and the light was starting to get real nice!  As we were photographing them, a mom and three three-year- old cubs came running by, and it was a crazy scene.  They were running everywhere and there was so much excitement.  One cub stayed back, and the mom with the yearling cub didn’t like that.  She ended up charging the other cub, and what an action scene that was! Nothing happened, but there were lots of great growling and other noises.  We even managed to get a mother and her two spring cubs in the last light of the day.  What a day!

Mother bear charges after another bear that got too close.

Mother bear charges after another bear that got too close.

             We followed up the night of the 15th with a great morning on the 16th.  The mom and two spring cubs were out early and gave us a nice show.  Then two three-year-old siblings came by and started playing, and gave us some great shots.  The bigger one even laid down in the water and was playing with its paws and just chilling in the water.  He was curious about us too, and I had to let him know we weren’t afraid of him. The mother and three spring cubs were out that evening and we got more shots of them in good light.

A grizzly bear relaxes in the river to cool off.

A grizzly bear relaxes in the river to cool off.

            Our last two full days were a little slow, but we still saw bears every day and had at least one good encounter a day.  The mom and her three three-year-olds are a sight to be seen, and are very goofy and fun bears to watch.  They always added excitement when they were around.  There was a mom with three spring cubs that hung out near the falls, and it was neat when they would sleep near the platform and see them lie together and climb trees together.  It’s always neat watching bears in any situation!  Our last good moment was when the mom and yearling, I proposed in front of, had a long wrestling match that was fun to watch and photograph. 

The mother and cub I proposed in front of play wrestle along the river.

The mother and cub I proposed in front of play wrestle along the river.

            On the 19th we packed up early and then went to the falls one last time before we got on a floatplane and headed back to Anchorage.  Twila got to sit in the front of the floatplane again.  In King Salmon our flight reservation was messed up, and that was terrible.  You could be stuck there for days before getting out because all the flights are booked full.  It was a stressful couple of hours as we tried to figure out what happened, but in the end we got the air company to admit they had messed up and we got very fortunate to get the last seats on a plane that evening!  We were so glad we got out, because she had to fly back to Vancouver tomorrow, and that couldn’t be delayed. 

A mom and spring cubs rest peacefully together by a tree.

A mom and spring cubs rest peacefully together by a tree.

           It was very sad dropping her off at the airport on the 20th and saying goodbye for a number of weeks.  I was so happy having her along with me for the past two weeks, and we had some great experiences, and we will have many more to come!  After I dropped her off I started my drive back to Skagway, and spent the night in my car along the way again.  It was good to be back at the gallery on the 21st and to talk with Rick about how it went while I was gone.  Trying to juggle running a new gallery, but still getting out to photograph has been a tough and challenging balance.  It’s not my normal Alaska summer, but it will become my normal I’m pretty sure.  Each time I come back it’s still a little surreal that I have my own gallery!

           I thought I would spend the next few weeks in Skagway, but those plans changed.  My plans are always changing, but that’s how I like it!  I’ll write about this unplanned adventure in my next blog.  The summer is flying by and what a summer it has already been!