Workshops in Lake Clark National Park

  The summer is flying by! By the time I got the gallery set up and everything running how I like, it felt like it was already time to be leaving for my workshops to Lake Clark National Park. It’s exciting every year to be heading to Lake Clark, because it’s usually the first photo trip of the summer, and I can’t think of a better trip to start the summer off than with bears.

            On the evening of June 14th Twila and I met the group for dinner, and everyone was very excited for the next week! When we woke up the next morning, it was raining a little, but it didn’t cause us to leave late for our flight. Bush planes are very dependent on the weather to fly, so it’s always nice when we get to leave on time! Once we arrived in Lake Clark it didn’t take long for us to get out and start photographing. Right away we found a mating pair, and the male was very large. One of the largest bears (if not the largest) I’ve ever seen in Lake Clark or anywhere! They gave us a great first shoot and a great way to start the week!

            Over the next week we ended up seeing them every day many times. It was amazing watching them and seeing how they interacted together. Most of my experiences with mating behavior are the male will stay with the female for a few days and then move on. This male was different, and he never let her get very far away and they were always together for our entire week. They also traveled a lot of miles, because at different points of the day we would find them in very different areas of the meadow. It never got old photographing them, because they gave us many different types of shots and in many different situations! It was fun looking for them each time out and seeing where they were.

            There were other bears out, of course, and any other bear was very aware of where the mating couple was because of the male. Whenever any sub adult bear saw the big male, they would leave the area immediately. There were also a couple other larger males around, which isn’t usually the case in this area. Some years we hardly even get to photograph one male bear, and this year we had a few nice males to photograph. Getting up close to a large male really lets us know just how small we are compared to them.

            After the first couple of days it didn’t rain again and it got sunny and hotter each day. On our last full day a large fog bank moved in and stayed for a long time. We were able to find a bear before the fog got to thick to even see anything. I like photographing animals in different scenes, and this fog was very neat. At time we couldn’t see the bear, and then it would come back into view. This bear was in heat, and a male bear found her in the fog. After they mated, another male bear arrived and pushed the other male bear away. Watching and photographing this in the fog made for some unique shots! I loved the mood that it created and was different than other bear photos I had ever gotten!

            Here are some photos from my first workshop!

 

            On the 20th my groups switched, and my 2nd workshop flew in. There was another fog bank, and it caused a delay. Thankfully it cleared up in the morning and didn’t cause to big of a delay. It was sad to see my first group go, but I was excited to get to guide and show my new clients the bears. The day started off a little slow, but the evening was great! The mating pair was still together, and when the male bear got a little too close to the female she responded and they had a small fight. We were in a great position to photograph the fight and it happened it in good light!

            The sun continued to shine and get hotter and hotter as the week went on. I don’t know if I had ever been in Alaska for so many hot, sunny days in a row. The heat isn’t good for photography, as the bears will go lay down in the shade during the hottest parts of the day. So when we did see bears in the middle of the day they were often by water, or in the water trying to cool off. One morning we had a younger bear come quite close to us and it was a fun experience for everyone.

            A few days in we started covering more distance looking for bears because of the heat. This led us to a different area, and we found a bald eagle perched on a beautiful piece of driftwood. The eagle was very accommodating and stayed perched on the log for a long time! This allowed us to move around and get closer for different shots.

We found some cubs tracks later in the week and started searching hard for cubs. We hadn’t seen any cubs yet on both trips, and it’s always great to see cubs. On our last day we heard someone had seen cubs way off in the distance, and sure enough that afternoon we finally got to photograph cubs! It was a mom and three spring cubs, and spring cubs are always fun! We mostly had them in tall grass, but one cub stood up and gave us a great shot! It felt great to finally have cubs!

On the day we left the fog moved back in, and really stayed around. It wasn’t until 3:30 that we finally left Lake Clark. So much happened in the 2 weeks Twila and I were in Lake Clark and it was a great time!

Here are the photos from the second workshop!

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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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!