The Summer is Here!

            Where has the past few months gone? I feel like just the other day it was Christmas, and now I’m already back in Alaska for the summer and starting to get into full swing at the gallery. After the New Year, Twila and I spent time at home recovering from the crazy year we had in 2018. It was great in many ways, but we were non-stop to many corners of North America. It was both of our best year ever in photography, and in 2019 we are looking forward to the trips we already have planned, and the ones that will happen that we don’t know of yet!

            Toward the end of January I headed to Yellowstone to lead my photography workshop. I look forward to going there every year, not only for the photography, but to get to see the many friends I have that live around the park. The first few days I was on my own scouting and finding where the animals were before picking up my group and heading to West Yellowstone to start the workshop.

The first few days of the trip we went in from the west side on a snowcoach, and it’s always great having our own private coach to be able to go where and when we want to go somewhere. The highlight of the three days was a cold morning (-15 degrees) we spent waiting on a bison to wake up. If you’ve never stood outside for 2 hours in -15 degrees waiting on an animal, you should try just to experience it. Anyway, when it finally got up it was worth the wait because he was covered heavily in hoar frost, as were the trees around him. Capturing a bison covered in heavy frost is something you can only get on cold mornings, and I was happy we were able to have that opportunity!

For the next few days we were on the northern range of the park on the lookout for animals. We did manage to find a wolf pack, but they weren’t close enough for photos. But it is always neat to see them in the wild. We saw a number of coyotes, a few moose, a golden eagle, and some very cooperative bighorn sheep. The sheep gave us a good show a couple of times and we were all able to get some nice shots! I really enjoyed the group I had this year and it’s always sad when the week ends and we say goodbye. But I’m confident I will see most of this group again!

After the workshop ended I spent some time with my friends before heading back up to Alberta. I had some car issues (my car does have 320,000 miles on it!) but I got it fixed and made it back home no problem. For the most part my car has been incredible and I trust it to get me anywhere and everywhere! Shortly after getting home we went camping in the Canadian Rockies. Most of the winter was fairly mild, but February was not. We picked the warmest days (in reality it wasn’t warm, it just wasn’t as cold), and camped in -5 degrees. Crazy to think that was the highest low for the month! Like I said, it was a cold month. We had a great time in the Canadian Rockies and got some really nice big horn sheep photos.

_5184824.jpg

When we got home we thawed out and relaxed a little before preparations for the summer begun. We couldn’t believe that it was already time to start planning for the summer. It really does take a long time to get everything ready for the gallery each summer. Many hours are put into making decisions on what will hang in the gallery and how many to print. And then we also have to complete most of our summer trip plans before the summer because places fill up fast in Alaska in the summer time.

This year we got everything packed and ready to go and left at the beginning of May. It takes a couple days to get there, and driving a trailer that far for that many hours is not very enjoyable. However, along the way we usually see some wildlife, and this year we had a first and got to see wolves! I’ve always wanted to see wolves on the Alaskan highway and hadn’t gotten that chance until this year. We even managed to get some good shots of one the wolves that were curious about us!

_5185434.jpg

It’s always exciting to set up the gallery every year and see the new photos from the previous year printed. As it goes sometimes, a number of my photos got lost in the mail and didn’t show up for weeks after I had opened. It was painful waiting and not knowing when the photos would get here, but they finally did and I was able to set up the gallery how I envisioned before the summer! It feels great to be back in Alaska and we are ready for the busy, but fun, summer ahead and we have some great trips planned that I look forward to showing you the photos from those trips!

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.