Best Denali Trip Ever!

Every year I look forward to going to Denali. Most places I photograph have one or two animals I can photograph in that area, but Denali is different. I will go with a certain animal I want to photograph, but there are also 3-4 other animals I can photograph if I’m not finding the animal I am wanting the most. So it’s exciting because I just never know what I will find.

Denali has some of the largest moose in the world, and it’s always exciting finding a monster. The problem is, the terrain is so vast that these huge moose blend into the environment. The entire first day Twila and I looked and looked for moose and our eyes hurt from scanning the terrain looking for moose. As we were leaving in the late evening to maybe find something else before dark, I spotted a moose off in the distance. It was not in an easy area to get to, but he looked big and we were determined. When we got to him, there was another bull moose there as well, and that was awesome. It may have been my best shoot ever with moose because of the light and the different shots we were able to get!

After getting such great moose shots the night before, I wasn’t too worried finding some the next day. It’s such a great feeling when I am able to get great shots on the first day and I can then focus on other photos I am wanting to get. We still looked for moose, and we found some, but it wasn’t nearly as good as the night before. We spent more of the day looking for bears, and finally had a great opportunity with a mother and her spring cubs coming up a river drainage right to us. Denali is huge, and I haven’t had many opportunities with cubs in the park, so I was excited about getting good cub photos in Denali.

The weather was not good the next morning, so we looked for different animals, and we were rewarded for that decision. I’m not going to write in detail about our incredible experience, and truly an experience I never thought I would get to have, but I will share a few photos of the wolf pups we were able to photograph! It truly was so special and I never thought I would get the chance to photograph wolf pups, but I did!!!

When we weren’t watching or waiting on the wolf pups, we photographed the landscapes of the park. One super early morning we even found a lynx (Twila’s first lynx!) and were able to get a few photos of it before it disappeared.

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This was my best trip to Denali, and I have taken so many trips to Denali. It seemed like every day we were getting shots that were incredible! That is not normal. For a week trip if I can get two days that I get great shots I consider it a great trip, so for every day to be getting great shots, it truly was an incredible trip! I can’t wait to be back in Denali in a couple of weeks for more opportunities.

 

Whale Photography

            Seeing my gallery come together was an incredible feeling!  All the hard work and time put in was worth it, and seeing the finish product was a dream come true! Once the gallery was all set up, my attention turned to selling the photos and learning how the tourists think.  My girlfriend flew up at the end of April to fine tune the gallery and be with me when the gallery opened for the first time.  I had done art festivals with a tent before, but this was much different and was way more exciting having my own building.

            The beginning of the season was slow, as there weren’t many cruises yet and sometimes no ships on days.  But I honestly liked that because I was exhausted from the past couple months of preparation and needed to rest.  I loved having my girlfriend here the first few ship days to throw ideas around with her and hear her opinions on how things went.  She had to fly back on May 6th, and my employee got here on the 7th.  Having an employee was crazy for me, because I have always done everything myself. But for the gallery to run while I am gone on different photo trips, I had to hire someone for the summer.

            I was excited to meet him and train him on the gallery.  A lot of the training was not your normal training, and entailed me telling him stories about myself, my travels, and the stories behind each photo.  The story behind the photo can often sell the photo, so the more he knew about me and the work behind each photo, the better prepared he would be to entice someone to buy the photo. It was an adjustment for me not being out in the field all the time, and having an employee.  In all my years in Alaska, I was always out in the field.  So even though I was in my own art gallery, on the nice days I wanted to be out looking for wildlife and taking photos.

All the food we were packing for our week trip.

All the food we were packing for our week trip.

            The season was slow to get going, but by mid May more ships started to come in on a consistent basis. It was exciting when we had the first four boat day in town, and seeing all the people on the street and them coming through the gallery.   It was crazy to see the town go from a small sleepy town, to a hustling and bustling town all of a sudden.  The tourists and locals all had great things to say about the gallery and how much they liked it, which was a great sign.  Once I was able to sell my first large print, I felt really good!  One thing I learned really quickly was that each day is very different here.  I minus well forget anything that happened the day before because all those people are gone and a whole new group is in, which is good and bad.  It was up and down every day, and I had to forget about that and just think big picture and let it average out. 

 A beautiful whales tail from our first morning.

 A beautiful whales tail from our first morning.

            As the season started to get busier, things weren’t working out with my employee.  He was stressing me out badly, and not doing a good job so I had to let him go.  This was not in the plan, and I made an emergency phone call to Jackie, a good friend since 2008, and she was able to come up and work for the month of June.  What a lifesaver!  This was a crazy change of plans, and it all happened so fast.  I had planned a photo trip with my girlfriend starting on June 1st, I was itching badly to get out and photograph, and Jackie only had a few days to plan and get up here by May 30.  So I had one day to train her and then left to a place that had no cell service at all.  This was scary in so many ways, but I trusted Jackie and knew she would do her best and promote me well.

The shelter we found!

The shelter we found!

            I hadn’t gone photographing since February, and that was killing me.  Being in Alaska and not photographing was going to kill me.  So on June 1st, I flew from Skagway to Gustavus, AK for a weeklong photo trip with Twila.  This was our first adventure together, and there would be nothing easy about it.  We would get dropped off on the most densely populated island of grizzly bears in the world, have no other people around, be completely off the grid and contact with anyone, and kayak with whales and other sea life.  I hadn’t ever sea kayaked before, so I wasn’t exactly in my comfort zone either.  Nothing like pushing her into the deep end on our first trip, not my ideal first trip, but I knew she could handle it and that is why she is my girlfriend!

            The trip got off to a rough start because our first plane was almost an hour late in leaving Skagway, and we didn’t have any spare time.  Luckily, we boarded a plane in Juneau as soon as we landed and went to Gustavus and then immediately to the dock, where we got a minor tutorial in sea kayaking.  We had to do that to catch our water taxi to the island.  When we got dropped off the waves were over two feet and scary, and then it started to pore.  So much stress in one little amount of time was not good.  We were incredibly fortunate in that there was a shelter where we happened to get to shore at, and we were able to camp in the shelter and not pitch a tent.  I had no idea that the shelter was there until we were getting dropped off.  Thank goodness for the shelter!  It was a rough start, but Twila handled it all very well.

 A humpback whale jumping!

 A humpback whale jumping!

            It rained almost the entire rest of the day, so we only took a short paddle that day.  I was so happy to have the shelter and be able to dry all our wet clothes and gear.  Twila woke up at 5 a.m. the next morning and couldn’t go back to sleep, and then we heard a whale spout, so we hurried and got ready and got on the water.  It wasn’t raining, and the water looked like a lake.  We paddled out and saw our first whale from the kayak.  It was a great morning and we had a few whales swim past us, and not be that far away.  It is awesome and scary all at the same time kayaking with whales.  With mammals you can see them all the time, but when whales go down it’s anyone’s guess to where they will surface again.  I didn’t want them to surface too close because humpback whales are such a huge animal, and the last thing I wanted was for one to hit our kayak.  The closet one came was 40 yards, but that was plenty close enough.  It was an incredible first morning and we learned a lot on how they move and what to look for.  The rest of the day was quiet and it rained all afternoon, but the morning was fantastic.

Photographing from the Kayak.  It wasn't that easy!

Photographing from the Kayak.  It wasn't that easy!

            On June 3rd we got out on the water around 6 a.m. and not as many whales were around.  We saw a few, but they were a long ways off.  In the evening we saw the mountains for the first time, and what a view we had.  I wanted to get a whale with the mountains in one photo so badly.  The next morning we went out a little later because the tides are always changing.  We saw a couple whales close that morning, but they didn’t stick around and went down the coast.  One thing about sea kayaking in Alaska is that you have to be very mindful about the tides.  Where we were the tide change can be as much as 28 feet, so we had to carry the kayak up and down the beach every day as the tide was changing.  And if you didn’t know how big the tides were, then the tide could easily rise to your kayak and carry it off and you would be stranded.  The wilderness of Alaska is no joke, and you have to be completely prepared for everything when you go out and play in the wilds of Alaska.  But carrying the kayak so far up and down each day was harder than I imagined for both of us.

Porpoises swimming on a beautiful evening.

Porpoises swimming on a beautiful evening.

            On our last evening, the 4th, it was a beautiful evening and the water was real calm again.  We didn’t have any whales close, but a few porpoises hung around.  It was neat spending so much time with them on a clear calm evening.  Being alone with only Twila in remote Alaska with the views and wildlife we had was hard to beat.  I love that peace and quiet and not worrying about the stress of the normal day to day.  We got picked back up on the afternoon of the 5th, and it rained that entire day.  If we hadn’t had the shelter, all of our clothes would have been saturated and we would have been stuck in our tent a majority of the trip.  But everything worked out and we got to kayak with the whales and stay safe.  Twila more than passed the test, and proved that she truly loves a good adventure, and will go with me anywhere and is patient in waiting on the wildlife and loves seeing all the wildlife!

Twila and I on the shore for a little break on a clear evening.

Twila and I on the shore for a little break on a clear evening.

            We didn’t have anywhere to stay that night, and the boat captain was very nice and invited us to stay at his place.  It was nice to be in a dry house, and he even cooked us steak.  The next day we caught the ferry and traveled to Juneau.  I wanted to see where the cruise ships go to be able to relate more to the tourists coming in the gallery.  I was also hoping for more photos along the way, which didn’t really happen unfortunately.  A good friend from Yellowstone, Aaron Lind, picked us up from the ferry terminal and showed us around Juneau.  He is a glacier guide in Juneau for the summer.  It was my first time in Juneau, and we walked where the tourists walked and scoped the art out in town.  We hung out that night with him and his girlfriend, and then caught another ferry to Skagway the next morning. 

            It felt so revitalizing to have gotten to go photographing again, but I wanted more time.  As soon as we got back to Skagway on the 7th, we were back in the gallery and checking on Jackie and how things went.  Nothing major happened while we were gone and she made a few sales.  I know I left her in a hard spot leaving like that, and was very grateful she could help me out.  I took Twila back to the airport on the 8th, and then buckled down and got a ton of work done over the next few days.  I didn’t have long to get everything done because I was leaving again on the 13th to drive to Anchorage for my photography workshops to Lake Clark National Park.  I don’t know when I will get rest again, but oh well.  I managed to get everything done just in time and hit the road on the afternoon of the 13th for Anchorage. 

            The first month of the gallery being open went by very fast, and I learned a lot in that first month.  There is still so much to learn and get better at, and I am looking forward to the journey.