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.

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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!

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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!

Yellowstone and Upcoming Summer

            In late January I headed to Yellowstone. I spent a few days in the northern range of the park scouting before my workshop began. I didn’t come across too much on those days, but I did see a number of animals, just not in good photo range. The best opportunity I had was with moose.

            On the afternoon of January 27th I picked up my photo workshop clients and we headed to West Yellowstone. The next morning we went in early looking for a wolf pack we had heard was around, and after a couple hours of searching we found them sleeping. Not exactly what we wanted, but we could see a number of the pack on the hillside asleep. We left and went to a geyser area close by and shot some beautiful trees that were heavily covered in hoar frost. The trees looked like a ghost forest. We went back to the wolves, but unfortunately they stayed asleep until we had to go.

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             The next morning we searched and searched for the wolves, and we found tracks, but no wolves. After looking for the wolves we went to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Hayden Valley. Our coach got stuck in the middle of the road because of a snowdrift in Hayden Valley, so we had to turn around and headed back to the canyon. After waiting and looking for otters, we were finally rewarded and one put on a show for us for a long time!    

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             On our last morning of the snow coach, we headed to Old Faithful to shoot geysers and hot springs. It’s always neat showing people the thermal areas for their first time. It’s just like nothing they have ever seen before. We also got to photograph bison and coyotes. In the afternoon we tried one more time for the wolves, but the weather was so bad and windy that we had to turn around.

            For the next four days we were on the northern range. There is a lot of wildlife on the northern range and good opportunities. The wolf pack we had been tracking made its way to the northern range. One morning we found tons of tracks on the side of the road and lots of bird activity, but no wolves. We were getting closer, but still hadn’t gotten any wolves close enough to photograph.

           Over the course of the four days we had great photo opportunities with river otters a few times, moose, bald eagles, big horn sheep, red fox, coyote, bison and elk. We were really seeing lots of wildlife. The wolf was eluding us though. On the last morning, in a different area of the park than the pack we had been tracking, we heard wolves howling back and forth, so we knew they were close. We went to different areas to try and see which area the howling was the loudest from, and hoped for our opportunity. On one of our drives to listen, a black wolf crossed the road not far in front of us and into an open meadow. Everyone got out and got their wolf photo! It felt great to finally get a wolf!

          On the morning of February 3rd I dropped everyone off at the airport, and then I flew to Arizona. I met Twila there for a week trip, and then we went back to Yellowstone together. We spent around a week in Yellowstone photographing and visiting friends. In the park one of our favorite encounters was with a red fox. We waited and waited as the fox sat patiently in the snow, and then it jumped and dove into the snow! I was happy Twila got to see and photograph a fox doing that behavior. We then proceeded to follow it as it walked in the snow close to the road for a long time. It was fun walking along side it as it hunted. We saw lots of wildlife, but the red fox was our favorite.

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         After seeing a number of friends around Yellowstone we headed up to Canada. Over the next number of weeks Twila was busy getting ready for a couple of her shows, and I was busy helping her and preparing for the gallery this coming summer. In early May we headed to Alaska and set up the gallery for my third summer with the gallery!

 

Yellowstone and Gallery Preparation

            After my workshop, I was ready to get out on my own, and with Twila, and photograph more.  The day after I picked up Twila, February 6th, is when my otter video went viral, and my plans changed.  Instead of getting out in the park and showing Twila Yellowstone, I was at my friends house answering email requests and phone calls about my video for a couple of days.  It was very exciting, but I felt bad because Twila had never been to Yellowstone before, and we didn’t even make it into the park for a couple of days. 

            Once the requests slowed down, we went in the park and I was excited to be back in the park and show Twila how great Yellowstone is in the winter.  The weather really didn’t cooperate with us, unfortunately.  The wind howled for a few days, and actually shut the park road down a couple of times because of zero visibility and drifting snow.  When the roads were ok, we did get to see moose, sheep, bison, coyotes, and distant wolves.  I was hoping for her to be able to see a wolf decently close, but we never saw a wolf except through a spotting scope.

Twila and I enjoying the snow in Yellowstone.

Twila and I enjoying the snow in Yellowstone.

            We went on a snowcoach to Old Faithful on the 9th, but that didn’t go how I had hoped either.  We got to go in for free with a friend of mine, and I was excited to show her the geysers and hot springs around Old Faithful.  However, it was a warm day in February and it decided to rain, and not snow.  I had never seen it rain in the interior of the park in February.  I was bummed it had to happen on the day we went in the park.  We did watch Old Faithful erupt, but it was too wet and nasty to walk around and look at the other thermal features.  She will just have to come back and try again next year.

            It was sad seeing all the snow melt from the strange warm up, and having brown patches appear in the snow.  Just a week ago there was so much snow, and now ground was showing underneath.  It’s amazing how fast nature changes things.  I was getting discouraged, so we went to West Yellowstone to visit, and for Twila to meet, some good friends.  It was nice to relax there a couple of days and to visit with them.  We then went to the Grand Tetons to see the beautiful mountains there, and the wildlife.

            The Elk Refuge is a very neat area, with thousands of elk residing there in the winter.  Twila had never seen so many elk in one place before, and she loved it!  I even got a nice shot of an eagle taking off from a cliff at sunset as she watched the elk.  We stayed with my friends in town, and it was fun seeing them again too. 

An eagle takes off from a cliff at last light.

An eagle takes off from a cliff at last light.

            On Valentines Day we went back to the refuge in the morning, and my car got washed by the big horn sheep licking it.  This thrilled Twila, and she loved every second of it! We, of course, then took a drive to see the beautiful Teton mountains, and they are a very scenic mountain range.  That afternoon Twila spotted a red fox and a great grey owl! I was impressed with her ability to spot wildlife, and it’s great that she loves seeing wildlife so much! We went out in Jackson that night, but we had to leave early the next morning so we didn’t stay out too late.

One of the big horn sheep cleaning my car stops and checks out Twila.

One of the big horn sheep cleaning my car stops and checks out Twila.

           We got up at 5:30 a.m. on the 16th and hit the road back to Canmore, AB.  It was a 12-hour drive, but the roads were good the whole way and we made it to Canmore in one day.  Twila had work she needed to get done for her business, and I needed to start planning everything I needed to get for my gallery this summer.  I was glad Twila made it to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, but the weather didn’t cooperate.  But at least she made it and we had a great time together and next year will be better for her.

            It was nice being back in Canmore and relaxing after the past few weeks of craziness.  I went out and explored Banff National Park some, but didn’t have much success for the most part.  Once I started planning for the summer, I couldn’t stop myself.  There was just so much to think about for everything I wanted to bring back from last year and try to change: what to replace, what do I need more of, what signs to change or make new ones of, what sizes of new pictures, and the list goes on.  The more I did, the more I thought of that I needed to work on.  I’m thankful year one of the gallery is done, and that I now have more experience and knowledge of what my customers are looking for.  It was a very different feel preparing for the gallery this year from last year.

            Working on the gallery was made easier by where Twila is now living.  Last year she was in downtown Vancouver, BC, and now her place is in the mountains and has a great view!  There is just something about looking out the window and seeing only beautiful mountains.  Seeing mountains out the windows even helps me work inside better. 

            We’re not sure where the time went, and before we knew it, it was April.  March absolutely flew by, and that means the summer is getting close.  I feel much more prepared for the gallery this year, and I am looking forward to it.  I will have to do a crazy amount of traveling between now and being in Alaska in May though.  Let’s just say my trailer and pictures are all in Tennessee, and I am in Canada.  Let the craziness begin!

Yellowstone Workshop

           On January 30th, my first winter in Yellowstone photography workshop officially began when Robbie and I picked up our first client at 1:30 p.m.at the airport.  She was from Germany, and then we went and picked up three people from Italy and one guy from Michigan.  We each drove a vehicle to West Yellowstone to give us flexibility during the workshop and more space.  That night we met for dinner and went over the final details and got everyone excited for the week, and particularly for the next day.

           Everyone was ready to go in the morning, and at 6:45 a.m. our snowcoach pulled up, and my buddy Grahm was driving it.  It was 15 degrees, and we were going to spend the day on the snowcoach looking for wildlife along the Madison River, but particularly hoping to find a bobcat.  We found river otters swimming around in the morning, which was neat.  I had never seen them on the Madison before.  We also saw a lot of coyotes and a few red fox, but no bobcat.  There were a few good photographic opportunities for our first day, so that was good!  We will be on the snowcoach three more days, so we will have many more opportunities for the bobcat and other wildlife.

           It was -25 degrees when we woke up on February 1st, so we decided to head toward old faithful and look for frosty covered bison.  When it is that cold, and bison are hanging out in the thermal areas, there fur will become covered in frost.  It was very foggy in the thermal areas, and that was great for us!  We found a number of groups of frosty bison, but I finally saw a group I really liked.  We walked out 100 yards to them and got great shots of them as they moved around!  They moved on, and we photographed some of the beautiful landscape on the cold morning.  We spent the entire morning with frosty bison and got great pictures!  The afternoon was spent on the Madison again, but still the bobcat still eluded us.  The morning was terrific though!

A bison heavily covered in frost moves my way on a -25 degree morning.

A bison heavily covered in frost moves my way on a -25 degree morning.

           The next morning it was -29 degrees, but we decided to spend the morning on the Madison looking for wildlife.  It’s very nice having the snowcoach when it is that cold.  You can get out for a little to photograph, but also know there is a warm coach right their if you get to cold.  It was a very quiet morning and we didn’t see anything.  All the animals must have stayed in bed because it was so cold.  We decided to go to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and check out the landscapes of winter.  I love winter in the interior because there are so few people.  We were actually at the canyon by ourselves, which is not possible in the summer.  It was a beautiful day, and nice to see the canyon on a clear day! After we were done there we went back to the Madison for the late afternoon.  We again saw many coyotes, and this time we got good pictures of them. 

Catching the sun for the 20 seconds it was out between the clouds cast this gorgeous light on the little geyser runoff stream.

Catching the sun for the 20 seconds it was out between the clouds cast this gorgeous light on the little geyser runoff stream.

           February 3rd was our last day on the snowcoach, and was much warmer than it had been.  The morning started out slowly, but then Grahm spotted a wolf briefly crossing the river.  This was exciting, and we spent time scoping places out and looking for it again.  30 minutes after we gave up we spotted it, but only for a couple of seconds again.  We parked down the road thinking it would head that way, but it never came out.  We were so close to getting shots of a pretty black wolf.  There were a lot of red fox out in the valley, but they never came close for a great shot.  The bobcat never did show itself either, but we gave it the best effort we had.  It might not have shown, but we did get many other great shots and our time in the interior of the park was well spent.  The frosty bison were the highlight for me, and for most of our clients!

           On the morning of the 4th we loaded up and left at 7 am to drive to Gardiner, Mt, where we would base out of for the last three days of our workshop.  Our hotel rooms were luckily ready at 10:30 am, and we unpacked and then put all the photo gear back in and headed for the park.  We drove out to Lamar Valley, and a wolf pup was close to the road eating on an old bull elk carcass.  That was a great way to start!  We spent time there, and then went to a newer carcass hoping coyotes or wolves would move in.  They never did, but bald eagles were flying around and eating on the carcass.  We stayed there until dark and then headed in.  Not a bad first afternoon on the northern range.

A black mangy wolf crosses a river in the winter.

A black mangy wolf crosses a river in the winter.

           We got up and left at 6:15 the next morning to get out to Lamar Valley early.  It paid off, and as we were going around a corner a wolf was right there.  He unfortunately had mange, but was still a black wolf only 40 yards away.  Everyone got images of him before he wandered further away across the valley.  Another pack actually killed his pack mate not long before we showed up, and he was running from them.  We saw some bighorns after that, and they were nice enough to get up from their sleep and wander over our way, and my clients got some real nice shots!  The mid-day and afternoon were slow, but the morning was fantastic. 

Some of my clients shoot the bighorn rams headed our way.

Some of my clients shoot the bighorn rams headed our way.

           The 6th was our last day of the workshop, and we left at 6 in the morning.  There wasn’t the morning activity like the day before, unfortunately.  However, we made up for it in the mid morning when we were looking for wolves on a ridge, when all of a sudden a wolf came darting out of the woods chasing an elk.  It happened so fast, and then the chase went behind a hill.  The wolves did get the elk, but we couldn’t see it happen.  It’s only the 3rd time I’d ever seen a wolf chase!  We spent most of the rest of the day in that area, and saw wolves, but none came closer for us to photograph.  But what a way to end the workshop with a wolf chase! 

           Most of the people flew out on the 7th, so we took them to the airport in the late morning.  I went back to Gardiner to watch the Super Bowl and to relax after the airport drops.  It was a long week, but a good week.  I really enjoyed all the clients, and was glad I could put them on some good shoots.  Yellowstone is such a large place, and even a week in Yellowstone doesn’t seem like much time because there is such a variety of wildlife and so much terrain.  I’m glad the workshop was a success and look forward to doing more in the future!