Lynx and Lake Clark!

        Where to start… This summer is absolutely flying by and I can’t believe it is mid July already. Lots has happened this summer, and I’m sorry I haven’t had a chance to sit down and write about it. Opening the gallery is always a big task and it took a long time to get everything exactly the way I wanted and running smoothly. I spent most of May at the gallery, and then in mid June I left to go to Lake Clark and lead my two workshops there.

        While on my 14-hour drive to Anchorage, I was ready to stop at night and continue the next day, but I drove a little further, and my goodness am I glad I did. Around 10 p.m. I saw something cross the road a good ways in front of me, and when I slowed down in that area to see what it was, I spotted a lynx! I have been looking for lynx very seriously the past few years and my only sightings were very brief. So I jammed my car in gear and jumped out. It sat there and looked at me for a few seconds before getting scared by some trucks driving by. It was gone way to fast. Thankfully, it didn’t keep running and stopped on the edge of the woods further away. It slowly came back out and allowed me to photograph it for a while in perfect light! Not only was I photographing a lynx, but it was in perfect light! It truly was an amazing experience and one I will never forget! So glad I decided to drive a little further that night!

        The next day I got to Anchorage and did a few errands before meeting with my workshop group. I was excited to get back out to Lake Clark and photograph the bears. On June 15 we left Anchorage at 8 a.m. and flew to Lake Clark National Park. It’s always exciting being back in Lake Clark, and I love just being there photographing and being off the grid. Soon after we arrived we were out photographing the bears. Showing a new group the area and the bears of the area is always a good time.

        Throughout the course of the next 5 days we had some really great photo opportunities. It did decide to rain on us a lot that week, but I had a great group who wasn’t deterred by the rain and we still went out the good majority of each day. I was proud of my group, and we were rewarded by the bears for being out in the rain. Watching a mother bear and her yearling cubs on a daily basis never gets old. We even took an afternoon to go photograph puffins, and we had a great time doing that. And when we came back on the boat, the mom and cubs greeted us and put on a show just off the boat on the shore! I had never gotten to photograph a red fox there before, and a couple foxes gave us a few opportunities.

        There are too many things to write about, so here are the photos from my first week that show what we got to see!

        On June 20th, my next group arrived and my first group left on the same planes. My wife, Twila, was on one of those planes and I was so excited to get to show her and the others the bears of Lake Clark. The rain still didn’t stop for the first couple of days of this week. I was done with the rain and ready for it to be over. It finally did on our third day, and it was nice to not have to wear a rain jacket or put a rain cover on my camera.

        The bears of Lake Clark never get old to me. Getting to be out in the wild photographing bears in their natural environment in a close proximity is amazing! We never know what we are going to encounter when we go out, but almost always it is good. On our last evening we were treated with a scene out of a movie, except we got to watch it unfold. The mother and her two cubs kept moving along a little creek, not noticing a young male. One cub got to close to the male and it moved toward the cub in curiosity. Once the mom and cub saw the other bear, the cub took off and didn’t slow down for a very long time. The mom would run and stand to see if the male was still coming, and it was, so the family would run some more. The family made it safely away, and was quite the scene to get to see and photograph! The wider shot of the scene is Twila's! She did a great job capturing the moment!

        The next morning we flew back to Anchorage and then a few of us took a trip to photograph sea life the next day. I will post those photos in the next blog. Lake Clark was truly a great time with both groups and I am already looking forward to going back next year!

Winter Sheep Snowshoeing

            In early December Twila and I headed off into the Canadian Rockies to look for sheep. We hadn’t had much time to get out and shoot since we got married, and we were really looking forward to our winter camping trip. We had never been to where we were going, so that was exciting too!

            Winter camping in the Canadian Rockies is not for the feint of heart. I’m very excited that my wife enjoys being outside all the time and loves winter! We got to where we were going in the afternoon and did a scouting hike of the area. We found some tracks, but no sheep, but we at least knew they were around. The sun almost beat us down before we got back to the truck. It gets dark around 5 p.m. in the winter, so it makes the part of the day we can photograph much shorter.         

            We got out the cooking stove and make a good pasta dinner, and finished right as it was getting dark. The temperature was dropping fast, now that the sun was down, so we hurried and got everything cleaned up and got in the truck. We had lots of blankets and sleeping bags and got cozy in the truck. It’s hard to keep the face warm in the winter while sleeping, but the rest of us did fine. It’s great to be out camping again!           

            The alarm went off before the sunrise, and it is always so hard to get up in the winter and put cold clothes on. We had made hot water the night before, which was a great call so that we could have hot chocolate to warm us up as we got up! It didn’t take too long to get up and start snowshoeing up the mountain. It was a beautiful morning and we got up the mountain pretty fast. When we got to where we hiked to yesterday, we spotted some sheep off in the distance. After waiting a while, they ended up coming our way and we moved to get in position. It was exciting they were coming to us as there was a large ravine between us and we couldn’t go any closer. They ended up going to the ridge closest to us, and the scene behind them couldn’t have been any better!

            For the next few hours we moved up the mountain on our side of the ravine as they moved. Fortunately, they decided to stay on the ridge for a long time. Blazing a new trail in deep snow while photographing was exhausting. It was fun, and it was the most Twila had ever snow shoed before, but it wore us out. We got really great pictures and had a fun time getting them. We even forgot how cold it was because we were getting nice shots!

           On our way down the mountain that evening Twila managed to find a snowshoe hare. I have looked and looked for them in the daytime for years, and never actually found one. They don’t move in the day much and they blend in so well that they are hard to find. I was very excited to see this hare and for it to not bounce away. It cooperated and just sat there and let us take its picture. So cool to finally photograph a snow shoe hare!

           That night it was considerably colder than the night before. We could see our breath much more prominently, and we knew we would be in for a cold night. It was hard getting out of bed in the morning, but again that hot chocolate was a lifesaver. We think it was colder than 10 degrees when we got up. It makes hiking challenging as well as you can overheat while snowshoeing, but freeze once you get to the top and stop moving. When we got to where we found the sheep yesterday, they were not there, which was not surprising. We ended up snowshoeing and exploring a lot of the area to know more of what to expect the next time we come back. From a higher vantage point we did find some sheep, but they were a very long way away, so we didn’t try to get to them.

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            We got down the mountain in time to drive and explore some more. It was another clear day, and we did find some mountain goats near the road. As the sun went down we also found a couple of real nice scenes over rivers with the sunset. It was a successful winter trip for bighorn, and we look forward to doing it again soon!

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Glacier Bay and the Summer is Flying By!

            The summer sure hasn’t slowed down. Right after my workshop to Lake Clark I drove back to Skagway.  I did get to see some grizzly bears late at night on the drive, and that was really cool.  I was exhausted when I got back to Skagway, but there was no time for that! I needed to catch up on everything from when I was gone, and Twila and my sister and her husbands’ family were coming before July 4th.

Yes I do take iPhone pictures, and this was taken at 12:30 at night!

Yes I do take iPhone pictures, and this was taken at 12:30 at night!

            I was so excited to pick up Twila from the airport in Whitehorse on July 2nd! It had been way to long since we had been together, and the summer time is crazy and we don’t get to be together nearly as much as we want.  On the morning of the 3rd Cara and her family flew in, and it was great to have them here too. It was my sister and her family’s first time in Alaska, which is always exciting. We all took the train into the mountains in the afternoon, and that was fun.  At night we had a fire and roasted s’mores and just had a good relaxing evening. 

            July 4th is always a fun day in Skagway, with lots of festivities.  It decided to rain all day, which put a damper on the day.  But we still went out and enjoyed as much of it as we could.  The next morning we were all flying out of Skagway, but going to different places.  My sisters flight was suppose to leave at 5 a.m. and ours was at 8 a.m. When we got to the tiny airport they were still there because of low clouds and the planes couldn’t fly.  So Twila and I jumped in on the card game and we all waited for the clouds to clear.

             This is fairly common in Alaska, but still frustrating.  They finally got to leave at 9 a.m., but we still couldn’t leave.  We finally left at 11 a.m. and took two flights to get to Gustavus, which is right beside Glacier Bay National Park. Because of our delays we missed our whale watching trip, so instead we had a nice relaxing evening and rode our bikes down to the beach.  It was nice to relax for a little while!

Twila and I riding our bikes down to the beach!

Twila and I riding our bikes down to the beach!

            On the 5th and 6th we took a boat ride into Glacier Bay to see the sea life, but mostly to see the huge tidewater glaciers. We really wanted to see these large glaciers and get some nice photos of them! The weather cooperated, which it has been super rainy this summer, and we were able to see all the mountains around and the sun even came out some both days.  We even had some good wildlife sightings with mountain goats down by the water, a grizzly bear family chasing each other over a salmon, lots of whales and Twila even got one jumping! (and I missed it), sea otters and lots of sea lions.  Our boat went to a different large glacier each day, which was what we were hoping for and we got some really great shots! It was so neat seeing these huge glaciers and the mountains surrounding them.  We both took tons of shots and had a great time!

            We flew out the evening of the 6th and flew to Juneau. The next morning we went on a whale watching tour and had a great trip! It was a very bumpy ride, but a fun one, and worth it when we got to the whales and got to see a group of humpback whales bubble feeding! It was Twila’s first time seeing bubble feeding, and I’ve not seen it that many times.  We got to watch them do it over and over and was so awesome to see! We flew to Skagway that afternoon and then drove to Whitehorse that night and she flew back to Canmore the next morning.  It was so sad to see her go, and our time together went too fast.  I’m so thankful she could come and that we were able to go to Glacier Bay!

            I was in Skagway the next couple of weeks catching up and researching other trips and trying to plan out the rest of the summer.  The summer time is one crazy time that never seems to slow down.  Before I knew it, it was July 19th and I was flying to Knoxville to go to my little brothers wedding.  It was a long flight overnight, and I slept a lot when I got there on the 20th.  Twila flew in that night, and it was great to be together again so soon! The wedding weekend went by real fast, and it was really really hot. My brother decided to get married outside in Tennessee in July, and the temperature decided to be 95 and feel like 111.  I almost passed out during the wedding I was so hot.  But I’m glad I was there and the wedding went great. Seeing so many friends and family was also a great time, and we will get to see them all relatively soon at our wedding! Our wedding will be here before we know it, and we can’t wait!

At Corbin's Wedding

At Corbin's Wedding

            The wedding went so fast, and Twila and I didn’t have much time together alone, so I flew to see her the next weekend.  She’s been really busy getting ready for a festival where she sells her jewelry at, so I went to help as much as I could and to also do wedding planning.  We ended up doing mostly wedding planning and trying to catch up on that and not fall behind.  I had no idea how much planning a wedding is! We were able to have a little other time where we weren’t working on something too.  We both really hope the next month and half goes by real fast, and by then I will be done with the gallery and I’ll be back in Canmore and our wedding will be right around the corner!

            It is now August, somehow, and it finally decided to be summer in Skagway and get into the 80’s, which I personally don’t like and think is way to hot here.  I’ll head off to Denali for a couple of weeks and can’t wait for that.  The northern lights even decided to give us an early season show, and I got a picture of my BearHead sign with the lights behind it! I was very happy about this and was hoping that I could get that shot! Time is flying by!

Good Bye Lake Clark. What a trip!

            On June 25th we had to fly out at 9 a.m., but we got in one more shoot before breakfast.  I’m sure most people wouldn’t have gone out after yesterday and everything we had seen in the past week, but I’m always looking for the next shot.  I wasn’t worried about not finding anything, because you can’t think like that.  If we saw nothing, oh well, we tried and it was a great week.  But we don’t get to go to Lake Clark all the time, and since we were there, we were going to try one more time for another great shot! Let’s just say we were rewarded for getting up early.

            Immediately we found a different mom that had two second-year cubs, and they were close to the trail.  The tide had been extremely high, and the sedge flats were flooded.  So they ate where they could until the tide went down.  Once the slough was a little lower they swam across and we got some real nice shots in the morning light! Just that moment was worth coming out, and if we didn’t have that moment it would have still been worth it.

A grizzly bear family about to go for a swim.

A grizzly bear family about to go for a swim.

            We drove around and didn’t see much after that, but right as we were getting to the lodge and be done photographing for the trip, a mom and spring cubs came out.  We didn’t have long, but we weren’t going to miss this opportunity.  We drove to a place where we could then walk out to them, and what a great last shoot we had! This was a different mom and spring cubs, but she was a bear the lodges knew well and was around every year.  She actually walked toward us with the cubs and we had to scoot back to not be in their way! They were in real short grass and even though it was a short shoot, it was a great shoot! The cubs stood and were right beside mom, and mom even stood when they were close to us.  But if we had never taken the initiative to go out, we would have never gotten these shots.

            It was sad to fly back to Anchorage after all we had gotten to see and photograph.  My group was extremely happy with everything we got to photograph, and were still in shock mostly because we really got to see so much! I can’t wait to go back next year with my groups, and if interested let me know soon because one of the two weeks is already full.  The bears of Lake Clark are hard to beat! Still a few slots left on my first tour next year, but hurry and sign up before they are gone.

Epic Last Day in Lake Clark!

             It’s amazing how with a group, the more you see the more they expect.  I understand, it’s just hard to keep meeting their expectations when what they are asking for seems ridiculous.  But my group was great and they knew we had had an amazing trip, but why not ask for more.  On our last full day one guy came up to me and said he knew we had gotten some great pictures, but he wanted something epic.  That’s quite the statement, and he knew when he was asking it was ridiculous, but we had seen so much I held out hope that it would happen.

            Before breakfast we had some great light and the mom and three-year-old cubs, but nothing came together.  The cubs lightly played, but it was always quick and then they would separate.  It was going to be a bright sunny day, so we had a quick breakfast and then headed back out.  We saw three bears together on the tidal flats, and if something epic was going to happen it was going to be with them.  Challenge accepted, and lets go get some amazing shots!

            I could write for a really long time what we got over the next few hours, but I will let my pictures do the talking.  The bears ran, played, fought, rolled around, were in front of a volcano, fought in backlight and in front of a mountain, ran through rivers, and gave us one incredible shoot to remember! And then at the end one bear gave us a real nice shot as a parting gift it seemed. If he wanted epic, that was epic!

            In the afternoon we walked out to Johnson River Valley again, and a saw a few bears this time.  One was real curious and came and checked us out.  We even got to see a wolf, which was my first time seeing a wolf in Lake Clark!  After dinner we were on the mom with three cubs, and we got some nice shots of the cubs jumping a little slough.  We even got her nursing all the cubs in real good light! What a day!

Final Gallery Preparations

           The first couple of weeks of April I spent in Canada with Twila, and it was kind of the calm before the storm of the final preparations for the gallery.  I was still ordering things and planning out many details of the gallery, but I knew it would be way calmer than what was coming soon.  Twila and I managed to get out into the parks some and look for wildlife, and it is such a luxury that we can do that right out her front door!  But on April 15th I flew to TN and the preparations for the gallery hit a new level.

            My trailer was at my parents place in TN, and I had been sending my new supplies to their place.  I flew back to organize everything and get the trailer packed.  The amount of things I needed to do in TN in the little amount of time I had was daunting, but I powered through the list.  First I had to make sure everything I had ordered came in, and then I had to go around to different stores to get more little items and think of things to take that I can’t get in Skagway, AK.  Skagway is a small town, with no other towns anywhere near it, so I have to take a lot of extra supplies for things I might need at some point in the summer because I can’t get them while I’m there.

            I managed to get everything done in those few days, and then I headed to East TN to work at my Granddad’s shop.  My Granddad has an awesome carpentry shop with every tool imaginable, and I needed to make some wooden dividers for my gallery.  My Granddad has made wooden things his entire life, he’s in his late 80’s, and both of us couldn’t wait to work on this project together!  As soon as I got to his house we hit the ground running.  There was no time to waste, as I only had a couple of days.  My little brother, Corbin, helped a lot that first day too, and the things I learned from my Granddad and how he knew so much about carpentry was so great!  My dad came later that day and it became a team effort to get them made.  We stopped at 9:30 p.m. and had made great progress for the first day.

Granddad watching Corbin and I cut some wood from inside his shop.

Granddad watching Corbin and I cut some wood from inside his shop.

            The next morning I thought my Granddad might be tired from our long day yesterday, but he was up and ready to help!  Just having him there and helping made the project well worth it!  The dividers started to come together in the morning, and it was great to see them and how well they came together.  There was lots of sanding and lots of aligning the wood to make sure everything fit and was how we wanted it.  My Granddad again, had lots of good ideas of how to finish the dividers and make them look great!  By the time I left at 4:30 for the weekend with my little brother, they were basically done.  I did some playing with my brother over the weekend, and my dad helped add the finishing touches to the dividers with my Granddad.  It was a true team effort to get them made in a short time and I appreciated all the help I got, especially from my Granddad!

Holding a finished wooden divider with my Grandparents!

Holding a finished wooden divider with my Grandparents!

            I headed back to my parents place on Sunday and started packing the trailer as soon as I got back.  Packing the trailer is like a large game of fragile Tetris, and it is not easy to figure out.  As the trailer began to fill up on Monday, I started wondering how I had so much stuff.  When it was all packed, I felt like I had more in the trailer than I did last year, which I didn’t think would be the case.  I made a number of changes from last year to this year and I was making more than I realized I guess.  It all fit, though, and the trailer was ready for the long drive to Alaska.

            Now the crazy amount of travel was about to begin. On Tuesday, the 25th, I flew back to Canada and was with Twila only one day before driving to Minnesota.  My parents agreed to drive the trailer to Minnesota to help spare me more driving than I was already going to do.  I slept in my car somewhere in Montana on the 27th, and finished the long drive to Minnesota on the 28th.  My older brother, Aaron, lives near Minneapolis and just had another baby, so I got to see baby Theodore.  My parents also didn’t mind driving to Minnesota to see him as well.  I hung out there all day on the 29th, and it was fun, and then started the drive back to Canada on the 28th.

Swinging with my little Niece Stella in Minnesota!

Swinging with my little Niece Stella in Minnesota!

            I managed to drive 17 hours on the 29th, which meant I wouldn’t have to drive terribly far the next day.  When I got to Twila’s on May 1st, it was great to know that 2/3 of the driving was done and that I would be able to rest another couple of days before finishing the driving. Last year my dad and I drove straight from TN to Skagway, 3,600 miles in 65 hours over 4 days, and I didn’t want to do that by myself.  Splitting it up helped greatly.  I didn’t do much when I was in Canmore with Twila, because I knew I still had two full days of driving ahead of me.

            On May 4th Twila and I left Canmore and headed for Skagway.  It was great having Twila along to give me company and help the time pass by more quickly.  She had never been on most of the drive too, and she loves seeing new places.  I drove 16 hours the first day, and made pretty good time honestly.  I knew the rougher roads would be the next day, the further we got along the Alcan Highway.  The weather mostly cooperated and we didn’t have bad wind and only some minor rain the whole way.  We saw a bunch of wildlife along the way too, which was great.  I love how much Twila loves wildlife and how excited she gets when see sees bears, moose, caribou and other animals.  At 6:30 p.m. on May 5th we pulled in to Skagway, and so much time and energy went into getting to Skagway, and I was glad to be there.

When Twila and I made it to Alaska with the trailer! Before a long descent into Skagway.

When Twila and I made it to Alaska with the trailer! Before a long descent into Skagway.

            We got to see my new apartment for the first time, I got a different one from last year, that we got to Skagway with no car issues was great.  There was no time to relax, as the next morning we started unloading the trailer and getting the gallery ready first thing.  Once we had the trailer unloaded and realized nothing was broken from the long trip, it was a big relief.  A number of pictures were damaged from the trip last year. I was opening on the 9th, and only had a few days to get the gallery ready to go.  Having Twila there for the first couple of days was a HUGE help, and I was very sad to take her to the airport in Whitehorse, Yukon to fly out on the 8th.  I wish she could stay all summer, but it just won’t work out that way this summer. 

            By the 9th I was ready to open, but it was more work than I was expecting.  I knew I was making changes to the gallery, but they took longer to 100% get right and make the gallery look how I wanted to look.  But I was happy I made the changes and the gallery looks great!  I continued to finish all the small things as the gallery was open for the first few days, but most guests wouldn’t have noticed what I was working on or didn’t have up yet.  The first few days the gallery did well and gives me hope for a good season.  My employee will arrive on the 12th and the season will go by fast like last year.  It really is a ton of effort on many peoples part to get the gallery open on time, and I’m thankful I have family and friends that are willing and able to help!  The gallery is now ready and let the summer begin!

The new look of the Gallery!

The new look of the Gallery!