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!