Alaska and Heading South

                The moose were hard to find in Denali this fall.  They were around, but not in good areas and really hard to get to.  I really needed more caribou pictures, so I did many hikes to find them.  Caribou are typically very skittish animals, and I had to be very cautious when approaching them.  It made for great pictures when I found them in the snow too!  The best moose encounter I had, happened on September 3rd.  I finally saw a bull in an area where I could hike, and went for him.  I didn’t know how big he was, I just knew it was a bull and I could hike to him.  He ended up being really big and cooperative!!  I stayed on him a couple of hours and got some really great shots!

A large bull moose moves in the changing fall tundra.

A large bull moose moves in the changing fall tundra.

            I was hoping after that encounter that the activity would begin to pick up, but it didn’t.  I instead continued hiking for caribou and going up the mountain looking for dall sheep.  On one of my three hikes going for dall sheep I got some really great shots, so that made the tough hiking worth it.  For a second year in a row though, I hiked up the mountain in snow and came back empty handed.  One day I will get dall sheep in the snow.  On the night of the 7th I saw the northern lights as I was heading to bed, and decided to drive back into the park.  I was exhausted, but the northern lights are such an awesome sight to see.  They ended up getting bright and moving around the sky and made the little sleep I got well worth it!

            I finally got tired of seeing moose at a long distance and not being able to hike after them, so I hiked in on the 8th.  I walked a long way around the closed area and behind it, and found a nice bull! The colors were great and he was active chasing his females, and it made for a great evening.  I was wiped when I got back to the car that evening, but was glad I went for it and hiked for miles bushwhacking through the tundra.

A bull moose overlooks his far reaching territory in the fall.

A bull moose overlooks his far reaching territory in the fall.

            It began to snow more a few days later, and my friends that drive buses in Alaska were going to go on a canoe trip, so I left on the 12th.  Animals were harder to find this fall in Denali, but I put on the foot miles and managed to get some really nice images.  I really enjoy hiking away from the road and getting on animals alone, or with just a couple other people, and getting shots that no one else has.  It was a different year for sure, but I learned more about where to find particular animals.

               On the 13th I went with seven friends to a park near Wasilla, AK, and we rented canoes and paddled to a cabin we had rented for a couple of nights.  It was great for all of us to relax and not worry about our jobs and to celebrate the end of the summer.  We took it easy getting there, and then hung out late into the night!  We mostly just chilled and played games and enjoyed the peace and quiet.  It was such a great time! We paddled out on the 15th, and it rained the entire time.  It didn’t bother us that much, though, because we had a great time and were just enjoying being outside and relaxing.  I stayed that night in Anchorage, and then hit the road south the next day.

             The drive across Canada is long, but it is a very scenic drive and the fall colors make it spectacular.  Early on day two my brakes began chattering really bad all of a sudden.  As I continued driving, it only got worse and made we wonder if I was going to be able to stop.  It’s not very fun driving through Canada wondering if your brakes are going to fail you.  I had to drive over 1,000 miles after my brakes began acting up before I got to Jasper.  Lets just say it was no fun, and questioned if I was going to stop a few times.  I made it to the Canadian Rockies on the evening of the 18th, and was so glad to have made it!

               It was a weekend, so I had to wait a couple of days to get my brakes fixed, unfortunately.  My first day in the Canadian Rockies was a great day though!  We found a couple of bulls bugling back and forth in the morning, but they lay down in the midday and we left them.  A couple hours later I looked over a hill at them, and another bull had joined the mix and was in the river.  I ran back to my car, grabbed my camera, and took off down the hill.  I ended up running across a river and around 600 yards before I got to them! It was crazy, but I had no extra time when I got to them.  Within seconds, the bull elk got out of the river and fought!! I’d waited three years for a fight, and this was my chance! They really went at it, and I was super excited to be there and photograph it! After three or four minutes one bull won and chased the other off.  What a rush!

Two large bull elk battle for the right to mate.

Two large bull elk battle for the right to mate.

             The loser swam the river, and the bull from this morning was waiting on him.  The other bull didn’t let him get off the rock bar and onto land.  They ended up fighting right by the river, and that was exciting!  I almost felt bad for the bull that had lost the fight.  I now had seen and photographed two fights between large bull elk in the span of 15 minutes!  What a start to my trip in the Canadian Rockies!

            The next day it rained hard the entire day.  A really big bull was near the road, but it was raining so hard I didn’t get out.  Finally, at 3:30 it let up and stopped for 45 minutes.  I managed to get some nice shots of him in that time.  He was a really aggressive bull, and continually charged cars and people.  I enjoyed photographing him charge cars because I parked well out of his way and knew he wasn’t going for my car.  The next morning I photographed him really early and got a great shot with mountains behind him! Unfortunately, shortly after that he swam a large river and never came back.

             A bull was in a meadow when I went back to town, but he didn’t interest me.  A friend and I went off to look for a different elk, and managed to find one.  We followed him a long time before he got in an area where we could photograph him.  It was nice for once to not be with a super aggressive bull elk.  The elk in the Canadian Rockies are really aggressive and they keep you on your toes.  This guy was chill, though, and we could photograph him without having to worry about an escape route.  It was also nice just being with one other person while photographing. 

           I finally went to a town near the Canadian Rockies on Monday the 21st and got my brakes fixed! It would take me a ½ mile to stop at times, which was not good at all.  But I managed until my brakes could get fixed.  It was a great feeling driving back into the park knowing I could trust my brakes again!  My friends had found a new bull, and I went and joined them when I got back.  He was a really tall and thick antlered bull.  At 6 p.m. he finally got active and ran around chasing females and bugling.  We got some really nice shots of him, and made for a good ending to the day.

A bull elk bugles in the woods with grass hanging from his antlers.

A bull elk bugles in the woods with grass hanging from his antlers.

             I hiked into the woods looking for him the next morning.  He would bugle on occasion, and I finally found him.  It was difficult shooting in the thick forest, but he went in a couple good areas and I got some nice images.  I was exhausted from my travels and long days, and took a great nap that afternoon.  Not long before sunset the calmer bull began rounding up his females and was really displaying great behavior.  We stayed with him until almost dark. 

              The beginning of my trip to the Canadian Rockies was very productive!  It did tail off after that, and I didn’t have very many opportunities with nice bulls.  That happens, and I had to get moving south, so on the 26th I drove to Sandpoint, ID.  Some friends I know from Alaska live there, and I just relaxed for the weekend with them.  They have two small kids, and they were fun to play with and helped me relax actually.  I had to keep moving, because I fly out from Denver on October 7th back to TN.  I made a couple of stops in Yellowstone to see friends and pick up my winter gear I had left at a friends place there.  The photography was uninspiring in the park, so I hung out with friends more than photographed.

            What a crazy, but exciting month!  I got some great images, drove all over the place, and met some great people!  Thankfully October won’t be as crazy.  For those that live in the East TN area, I will have a gallery exhibit at Carson-Newman University that opens on October 17th.