Flying in to Brooks Falls at Katmai on July 11th was great! It had been 6 years since I worked there, and it’s hard to believe that much time has passed already. A mother and three spring cubs greeted us on the beach, which was great! After setting up our tents in the campground, we went to photograph the mom and cubs. They didn’t come all that close and we only got a few shots. When a couple of friends and I went on the river, we got some great shots! We had bear after bear going down stream hunting for fish. We had a few bears chase fish right across from us, and many bears had cubs with them. One mother with a spring cub went for a swim, and the cub held on to her side! What a great way to start the trip!
There was a lot of great action our first couple of days. The fish were really running up stream, and bears chasing after the fish. I did go on the viewing platform the first two mornings, and on the second morning I was the only person there for over two hours! That never happens, but a bear jam kept people from getting to the platform and I had it to myself! The platform is neat to see the fish jumping the falls, but I prefer the action of being in the river itself. There were numerous moms and cubs around and always bears around. We really had to watch our backs everywhere because they would appear all of a sudden out of the grass right behind us and we would have to move. We never felt threatened; it was just bears moving around and chasing fish.
On the morning of the 14th a few of my friends flew out, but there were still two with me. While on the river that morning I had a terrible reaction to a grass allergy, that’s all that made sense anyway, and my eye closed up on me while on the river. Definitely not a good thing, and I hurried back to camp to get help. A couple rangers helped me and really washed it out and gave me Benadryl. Luckily my eyeball’s swollenness went down, and over time got better. But my eye stayed swollen for a couple of days, and was so bad at first they thought they might have to fly me out to get help. But I stayed and actually got some of the best bear shots ever!
On the 15th I found a mother bear with four cubs!! I had always wanted to see a mother with four cubs, but it is a rare event for them to have four cubs. I couldn’t believe it, and she was even tolerant of us being across the river! Over the next three days I photographed her and her cubs as much as possible. They were such a great family to photograph and super cooperative and photogenic! The pictures just kept getting better and better, and I was in photography heaven! So glad I got to see them for so long.
I left Katmai on the 17th and flew back to TN to get ready for my gallery exhibit in Nashville. I went from Katmai, to King Salmon, to Anchorage, to Houston, to Nashville, all in one big trip. Everything went smoothly, but when I landed and it was 96 degrees, I wanted to go back to Alaska. I spent the next two weeks preparing for my exhibit. It was a lot of hard work and planning to get everything made in time, but I finished with a day to spare! I was very much looking forward to the exhibit opening on August 1st and showing people my work in the Nashville area in a gallery!
I dropped all the pictures off on the 29th, and it felt great to do that. When I came back and saw all the work displayed in the gallery, it looked great! The opening reception was the 1st from 6-9 p.m., and what a turnout I had! People continuously came through the gallery all night, and at times it was hard to move around. Many friends and family came, which was awesome of them to support me! I actually almost lost my voice that night because I never talk for that long. I had a great reaction from everyone and the opening was a huge success!
For the next two weeks I stayed in TN and hung out with friends and family and got caught up on other photo work. I went to Nashville a few times to meet with prospective clients and to see friends. It was a productive two weeks, but Alaska was calling my name. I was ready to get back in the field and spend long days tracking and photographing animals. On August 14th I flew back to Alaska, and on to Denali.
I had a professional photography permit in Denali starting on the 17th, and I took my friend Tony Bynum with me. On the 16th we explored the area where every one can drive, and found a very large caribou. It was the largest caribou I had ever seen, and he was very cooperative. We photographed him in the morning and in the afternoon for a number of hours. We hiked and followed as he moved, and I even managed to fall face first into a marsh and get soaked. I did have my arm extended up to save the camera though! It was kind of funny how it happened, and I just kept following after the caribou. We got some great shots and were a great way to start my trip to Denali!
The first two days of my permit were spent mostly in a visitor center. The wind, fog, and rain never let up and were just horrible. It finally cleared on the 19th, and it felt great to be dry and see Denali. We found some caribou to hike after and photograph with the mountain out. The next day the mountain was out again and we found some more caribou. We were hoping for moose too, but we only saw two bulls, and one ran away immediately. The other did let us get close to it, and we managed some shots with Denali behind him. It started to cloud up by the afternoon, so we went to look for bears. They were out in one area, and we had great success with a couple of bears. This made me happy because I really needed to upgrade my tundra bear portfolio.
The next three days of the permit were rainy and miserable. We couldn’t get out and hike because the weather was so bad, so we sat in the car waiting way too much. We mostly photographed bears those days because they would come to the road if we waited long enough. We also couldn’t find many caribou or moose, so bears made the most sense. On the 23rd we drove to the front area and did find some caribou. When we tried to leave to look for more, my car wouldn’t start. We tried many things, and it just wouldn’t start. After almost two hours of tweaking things and banging on the starter, it finally started! I really didn’t think it was going to start. We had one more day on the permit, and I wasn’t sure at first if we could use it because I was terrified that if I turned my car off it wouldn’t start. I finally came up with the idea to let it idle all night and when we went hiking and just never turn it off until we got to Fairbanks the next night. So we gassed up and filled the extra gas cans we had and went for it!
I’m glad we did because we had a great last day! It wasn’t raining, and we found two large caribou near wonder lake. They cooperated and let us shoot as they moved around, and it was great when they would get on a little ridge! One was huge, and we got some really nice shots of him. After some more caribou photographing, we went for bears. Bears came and went and we got a real nice shot of a bear on a ridge and a snow-covered mountain behind him. It got real exciting a couple hours later when a male bear was acting funny and slowly approaching a female, and she didn’t know he was there. All of a sudden he took off for her and the chase was on. They were moving across the tundra so fast and not letting up. I sped down the road and caught them in time to see them cross a drainage. They actually turned right to us and we got great shots of them charging our direction! It all happened so fast and was fun to watch and photograph. That was a great way to end our permit week in Denali.
We left the park that evening and drove to Fairbanks. We stayed with a guy I met two years ago camping at Wonder Lake in Denali, and was a really nice guy. I was so glad that worked out! After 30 hours straight of my car being on, I finally turned it off. The next day I found a shop that would take me in that day and get it done. It wasn’t cheap to get the starter replaced, but it sure was necessary. We stayed a couple days and rested and caught up on computer work because it was rainy and nasty in Denali. On August 27th we went back to the park, and that night it snowed in the park.
I was actually looking forward to the snow and hoping to get bull moose in the snow with the fall colors. When it snowed last year, all the moose disappeared, so I really hoped that didn’t happen again. On the 28th we got nothing, but it snowed again that night. We found a good bull that morning and stayed on him. He slowly made his way to the road following some female moose, and we got great pictures! The snow was enough that you could see the snow, but still see the fall colors. It worked out perfectly and I finally had my moose in the snow pictures! It snowed off and on for the next two days, but we didn’t have any more opportunities with a decent bull in the snow. I will be in Denali until mid September before driving back south.