While in Anchorage I stayed with family friends from home who now live in Anchorage. It took a few days of doing nothing, but computer work, to be back to having all my energy. I had a lot to catch up to do after being in Canada almost a month with very limited service. I met up with friends, but other than that I just relaxed and caught up with work on my computer.
On June 24th I met with my guests, who would be on my photo workshop, for dinner. Earlier in the day I felt my first earthquake! It was a 6.2 magnitude and gave a good trimmer. I was excited to have finally felt an earthquake! The group seemed to be a lot of fun and was very excited for the trip. We went over the final details of the trip, and then I went with a couple people to one of their friends’ house for a drink. Two people I had met 6 years ago in Katmai were there, and it was crazy to run in to them again. I just never know whom I might run in to!
We met on June 25th at the air companies building at 7:15 a.m., and by 8 we were in the air on two small bush planes headed to Lake Clark. A couple of people were afraid of small planes, but we had a very smooth flight and they didn’t have any trouble. The flight was beautiful and we got to see all the mountains and volcanoes as we flew in! It was the best flightseeing trip I’d ever had into Lake Clark. A brown bear greeted us on the beach, which was a great way to start. After an orientation and everyone getting situated in their room, we headed right back out to photograph the bears.
It was a good start, as we saw a bear on a slough immediately. While photographing it, a mother and two yearling cubs started heading to the slough, so we moved to get them heading our way. It’s always exciting to see a mother brown bear and cubs heading your direction! They came fairly close, and then settled in and ate the sedge grass near us. It got my group really excited for the week. In the afternoon after photographing some small single bears we came upon the mom and cubs again. They went out on the beach and were very excited. They were really running around and playing with each other and just having a great time! My group was snapping away for sure. Mom even got into it and began playing with them. And then that evening the light was great and we got a couple single bears in the great light! It was a great first day, and made me wonder how I was going to keep the group happy for the rest of the workshop.
I had some real go getters in my group, and we got up and hiked at 5 a.m. The light was good, off and on between the clouds, and we found a pretty blonde bear right by a slough. We got some really great pictures with it reflected in the water, which made it well worth getting up early. It was a slow rest of the morning, but we did get on a sleeping bear. When he woke up he rolled over and I got a picture of him briefly leaning on his paw like a human! It’s one of my most favorite bear poses I’ve ever captured! After lunch and a short break, the mom and cubs were right in front of the lodge. They were in real short grass, and ran from a duck, which was pretty funny. They did a lot of standing up too, which was great for pictures. They then nursed close to us and then took a nap. The most exciting thing the rest of the day was a porcupine walking right up to us.
The next morning they wanted to get up real early again and hike around. We found a large male, but he wasn’t cooperative. A couple of bears did walk out to clam, but it wasn’t a real low tide and the light was really bad. After breakfast, and a lot of searching, we finally found the mom and cubs. Shortly after we got on them, the cubs began to play. They played and played and played! They played for almost 40 straight minutes, which was the longest I’ve ever seen cubs play continuously. We all took so many pictures and everyone was ecstatic! After lunch we found a number of bears near the creek. It finally rained on us too. The 4-wheeler trails were so dusty and affecting my eyes and nose, that I was very glad it was raining! I couldn’t take the dust anymore. It didn’t rain much, but enough to take the dust down. We saw some good bear behavior near the creek, but just a little to far for good pictures. The cubs playing earlier in the day would be hard to beat the last couple of days though.
We slept in until 6:30 this morning, and then headed to the beach hoping to get bears clamming on the tidal flats. Only the mom and cubs were out, and people were in line to see her, so we went back in and had breakfast. When we came back out, they were heading for the sedge flats. They moved on to the woods fairly quickly because so many males were around. One of my guests had her hip pop and she couldn’t move, so that was a sticky situation. Thankfully, we did some pulling on her leg and she got good enough to limp and eventually got much better. We drove around and found the mom and cubs up a tree. They were stressed out from the males, and all were in a tree taking a nap. We waited a long time for them to come down, and when they did they nursed, so it was worth the wait!
After lunch we headed to the north end of the sedge flats and hiked out to Johnson Valley. It’s a beautiful valley, but the bears are more skittish out there. We got fortunate and had a female bear eating on a slough, and she was fine with us there. It was a beautiful setting, and my group had fun photographing her and seeing other bears in the distance. She even played in the water, which was a real treat. We spent most of the afternoon out there. After supper we found the mom and cubs and they nursed right as we got to them. After nursing, one cub stood up and all three were right beside each other! They then lightly played and rolled on each other and it was great! A large male was heading their way so they left, and we headed to him. Most males don’t let you get close, but this one did. He was very chill and we got more great pictures! Each day keeps besting the previous somehow.
We headed out at 6 a.m. on the 29th, our last full day, to make sure we got bears clamming. We had to wait 20 minutes, but then one came out. As we were walking out with it, a female came out with a male chasing her. It was cool to have them running past us with water splashing! They then mated off in the distance. It was a nasty windy, rainy morning for a couple of hours. Once it cleared we finally got some good clamming shots. A bald eagle had caught a fish, so we headed to it. A bear smelled it and headed that way too. We got some great pictures of the bear chasing the eagles off and flying around the bear! We even got pictures of the bears mating on our way in, because by then they had moved closer to us. What a morning of bear behavior!
After a real late breakfast, we got on the same big male as last night and the mom and cubs briefly. We went back out to Johnson Valley, but no bears were close enough to photograph this time. After a snack at 4 p.m., we went back out and got a couple of quick shoots on some bears. After dinner the mom and cubs were in a real picturesque spot, and the mom kept standing and looking around. The ambiance and light rain made for a great shot! The amount of different shots we got each day was incredible!
We flew out on the morning of the 30th back to Anchorage, but we got out and photographed for 1 ½ hours before we left. We got a male in good morning light, and reflection pictures with a bear clamming. My group was a very enthusiastic group, and by going out all the time we were able to have some real special encounters with the bears! The five days went by real fast, and somehow each day felt more productive than the previous day. I’m already looking forward to bringing a group back here next year!
That night I stayed with one of my guests at a hotel in Anchorage. I made numerous phone calls and responded to emails for a few hours. I then crashed and took a long nap. It was an exhausting week, but well worth it for sure! On the 1st I actually flew back to Lake Clark to paint a new building for the lodge I just had my photo workshop at. I didn’t have a plan for the next 10 days, and I needed the cash, so I went back and painted for a week. I’ve painted in worse places, that’s for sure. It rained off and on, but I managed to get the outside painted in 6 days. I flew back on the 8th, and met up with a couple ladies I guided at Lake Clark back in 2013. Then I followed them to their friends place near Matanuska Glacier, and what a view they had from the cabin! Some things just work out, even when I have no idea how they will! I rested and caught up on more computer things than imaginable. I will fly out to Katmai on the 11th to photograph more bears with other photographer friends.
For those in the Nashville, TN area, I will have a gallery exhibit at the Rymer Gallery in downtown Nashville for the month of August! There is an opening on August 1st from if you want to come meet me and see my work.