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.

 

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!

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!

Lake Clark Day 4

               Our fourth day in Lake Clark was our only slow day, if you want to call it that.  By that I mean it was the only day where we didn’t have something amazing every shoot.  We still had plenty of bears and got some nice pictures, it just didn’t feel up to snuff of the other days.  But that is wildlife photography, and there will be good days and there will be bad days. It was by no means a bad day; it just wasn’t amazing like the other days.  My group certainly started to get picky, but I couldn’t blame them because of how much we had already seen.

               Early in the day we were with the mom and three-year-old cubs for quite a while, hoping they would play.  They were pretty tired it seemed, and didn’t do much at all other than eat.  Not long after we found the four-year-old siblings, and we had a great intimate time with them.  They did a little playing, but for the most part they didn’t do much but eat.  But they allowed us to be close and it was a neat time with them because they were so chill.  Once they left my group actually went on a little hill and most of us took a nap.  It was such an awesome nap to just lay there with bears around and get a catnap in.  A couple people couldn’t sleep and watched for bears, but it was such a good nap!

               After dinner we went to the beach, because we had been having real good success on the beach after dinner.  Tonight didn’t disappoint either.  There were some adolescent bears, and a couple didn’t like each other.  After running down the beach, they turned and ran onto the tidal flats.  We got to hear some nice bear growling, and the lighting was really neat.  Just being out in Lake Clark and seeing all the bear behavior we have seen already is so amazing!

Two grizzly bears growl at each other in the evening.

Two grizzly bears growl at each other in the evening.

Amazing Afternoon in Lake Clark on Day 3

           We went out at 6 a.m. again on the 22nd, but there was nothing out this time.  It just doesn’t seem like the bears in Lake Clark are early risers.  After breakfast we found a decent size male and spent some time with him, and we were able to get some reflection pictures wit him from a small pond of water.  We saw some other bears and a couple went to clam, but it was a slower morning for the most part.  However, it was not slow after lunch.

            When we went back out after lunch we found the mom and three-year-old cubs right beside a slough.  It was a real pretty spot for pictures, and we were able to be close to them and get some nice shots! They crossed back and forth across the slough and were calm.  Another group came, so we left them so we could look for other bears further down the sedge flats.  As we were riding, the mom and spring cubs came out! Exactly what we were looking for!

            It was nice to see them in the grass, and we slowly approached so as not to scare them.  The mom was calm, and so were the cubs.  They were in fairly tall grass, so it was hard to get good shots of the cubs.  There were a number of bears out, so we didn’t think they would stay long.  We were right, unfortunately, and another bear came closer and the mom took off.  She stood a couple of times to look at the other bear, and those made for nice shots! She really is a good momma bear.

            We then went for a hike out to the Johnson River Valley.  It really is so pretty out there, and a very different view.  The bears out there are a little more skittish, but I’ve gotten good shots out there before.  It’s a little over a mile out there, but it’s flat and a nice walk.  The first bear took off when it saw us.  We didn’t see any others for a while, but on our way back we found another.  It was calm and just slowly moved and ate.  We spent a long time with it, and it gave us some nice opportunities with the valley behind it.

A grizzly bear moves through the Johnson River Valley.

A grizzly bear moves through the Johnson River Valley.

            When we got back to the trailer, it didn’t take us long to find the spring cubs again, and they were in a much better place this time for photos too.  We got to spend some real quality time with them this time, and it was amazing! When the cubs are this young and new to seeing people, they are so curious and stand a lot to try and figure us out.  The mom was very calm, so the cubs were as well.  They played, and stood and really gave us an incredible shoot!

            After dinner we went back out, and didn’t find the spring cubs, but found the mom and three cubs.  They somehow didn’t notice a large male coming their way, and it got close before they took off running.  They headed for the beach, and we followed.  We also had good light in the evening for the first time, and with them being out on the tidal flats it made for really great shots! With the reflections and the perfect light it really made for a great evening! 

            After they headed in back to the sedge grass, a smaller bear was nearby.  Momma bear was tired of other bears around and gave chase.  She didn’t just stop after a short run, but decided to really run this bear off.  All of a sudden they came bursting back onto the beach and were running full speed right by us! It was quite exciting and crazy!  Our first three days have been absolutely incredible!  I was afraid of a letdown over the next couple of days because of how much we had seen already, but Lake Clark in the spring rarely lets me down.  There was more to come and I knew it!

Mother bear runs full out after another bear.

Mother bear runs full out after another bear.

Lake Clark Day 2 and Spring Cubs!

           On June 21st we left the lodge at 6 a.m. and went out looking for bears.  There were a couple of bears out on the tidal flats that we walked out to.  Not long after we got to them, another bear came running along and chased them back off the tidal flats, so we went in for breakfast.  When we went back out after breakfast, the mom and three cubs were on the tidal flats and we went to them.  We got a few shots before they started to head back in, and the cubs got playful as they headed in.  A couple of the cubs gave us some nice standing and playing shots, while also being reflected.

Two cubs stand and play on the tidal flats.

Two cubs stand and play on the tidal flats.

            It became a sunny day and we were having some trouble finding bears in the heat.  Going along the trail I saw what looked like bears sleeping across the sedge flats, and maybe even on a log, so we walked to where they were.  Sure enough, the mother and three cubs were sleeping on a log, with two of the cubs right beside the mom.  Two days in a row of bear families sleeping on a log! These photos were really great since we could get a few of them in the same picture! It’s so neat to see them using old driftwood as a large pillow. Once the cubs woke up, they had some energy and wrestled and played not far from us for a long time!

            While we were at dinner one of my clients saw from the window what he thought were new spring cubs.  I popped up to look through a scope before they disappeared, and sure enough it was spring cubs! I was very impressed with how fast everyone ate as much food as they could in one minute, especially since we had just started dinner.  But it was the first spring cubs of the year, and we didn’t want to miss them!  We all hustled and got out to the beach to see them out on the tidal flats.  It’s always so exciting seeing new spring cubs for the first time!

            We waited patiently for them to pick a spot to get clams, and then we walked out to them.  It was the cubs very first time seeing humans, likely, so we went cautiously and didn’t want to scare them.  The mom was a very good mom and kept watch and ate at the same time.  I was impressed that we were able to get in photo range and not make the cubs nervous.  We didn’t get a real long time with them before she saw another bear and went the other way, but it was great experience and photo opportunities in the time we had!  Finishing the second day off with spring cubs was amazing!

First Day in Lake Clark with Workshop Group

           After being at the gallery most of the summer so far, I was ready to get out and lead my photography workshop to Lake Clark National Park.  I left the gallery on the afternoon of the 18th and drove seven hours into the Yukon and slept in my car on the side of the road.  It was nice to finally have some time and be able to think and look back on how things have gone so far this summer.  I finished the drive to Anchorage on the 19th, and met me group for dinner that night.  It’s always neat seeing everyone for the first time and getting a feel for how the group will be and seeing their excitement for the week ahead!

            On the morning of the 20th everyone was on time at 7:30 a.m., and we met at the bush plane airport to take off to Lake Clark.  It was raining in Anchorage, but not long after we took off it cleared up and we had a beautiful flight down to Lake Clark.  Once we landed, everyone was eager to get out and shoot.  It was warm and windy, not a good combination for seeing bears, but we finally found a mom with two, three-year-old cubs.  Normally by now the mom would kick them out and make them be on their own, but these were still with her.  It was neat; because it was a set of cubs we had during my workshop last year.  Not long after being with them they began standing and playing and our first shoot got the trip off to a great start!

Two three-year-old siblings stand and play fight.

Two three-year-old siblings stand and play fight.

            After lunch we headed back out and found two, four year olds that were still hanging together.  We didn’t get many photos from them, but when we went back around we found the mom and three-year-old-cubs again.  Last year we got them sleeping as a family on a log, and they were near this log, so we waited and waited hoping that lightning might strike twice and we would get them sleeping on that log again.  Our patience paid off, and they actually slept on that same log!  I couldn’t believe it! They didn’t sleep together, but they were still on the same log and we got some nice pictures of them sleeping, even though it was raining. 

A large cub gets cozy on a log.

A large cub gets cozy on a log.

            That night after dinner we went to a different area of sedge flats and found a mom and three second-year cubs.  Not long after we were with them they went to the beach, and the fun began.  Those cubs had so much fun running, playing, fighting, chasing, playing king of the log, and just being wild cubs.  What was also amazing was that we were able to walk behind them enjoying this experience and not interfering with them being wild! It was one of my most enjoyable shoots ever, because the cubs were having so much fun and we got to walk and be a part of nature for over a half mile!  They had so much energy and really gave us a show. What a first day!

Bears and Engagement!

            After I got back from Lake Clark National Park I wasn’t able to slow down at all.  My friend, Jackie, who had worked the gallery for the month of June had to leave, and left on the 28th.  I had only gotten back on the 26th from Lake Clark, and barely had time to go over everything with her about how things went while I was gone.  My new employee, who I had actually met in my gallery when he was on a cruise in May, arrived on the 29th from Las Vegas to work for the rest of the summer.  It was a whirlwind of days, and I was exhausted from my trip to Lake Clark and drive back to Skagway.

            My new employee, Rick, had gallery experience from working in Las Vegas, and I was excited that he already had art selling experience.  I only has a week with him before I would leave again to go photograph, so I had to get him trained quickly on how Skagway and my gallery worked.  I’m hoping the third time is the charm with employees and that I won’t have to look for another employee this summer.  It was obvious quickly he was much more comfortable being in the gallery and selling art.  I more just had to tell him how I try to do things and give him backstories on the photos to help him sell them.

            The week went by fast, and before I knew it I was heading back to Whitehorse to pick up Twila, and head on a two-week photo road trip with her!  I felt at ease leaving the gallery with Rick, which was a great thing.  I picked Twila up on the 7th and we drove all the way to Denali that night.  It was her first time on the Alkan highway and seeing any of that part of the Yukon, and being in the main part of Alaska.  Seeing her so excited about the views and drive took me back to when I first drove to Alaska.  It was a very long day, and we had dinner with friends at a random rest stop who were going the other direction, but we got to Denali.  After sleeping in, we met up with my friends Lisa and Eric Plasker, who had flown to Anchorage and drove up yesterday. 

            We would spend the next couple of weeks with them, and it was also Eric’s first time to Alaska.  We did a hike first, and had some nice views and saw one moose, and then took a bus in that evening further into the park and saw more wildlife.  On the 9th we took a bus deeper into the park and had a great day of seeing wildlife, and caught a quick glimpse of some of the Denali mtn.  We packed up camp on the 10th and drove to Seward, a long but beautiful 7 hours from Denali.  Alaska is such a beautiful state, and I enjoyed getting to show it off to Twila.  We pitched camp on a river bar with a mountain straight up in front of us, and it was so peaceful and quiet.  That night we treated ourselves and camped steak over a fire, and I couldn’t think of a better place to do it! 

Nothing like a perfect camping spot in Alaska!

Nothing like a perfect camping spot in Alaska!

            Seward is right on the coast, and on the 11th we went on an all day scenic boat ride.  The coastline around there is spectacular, and the wildlife is abundant.  We got to see a number of sea otters and whales, and went up close to a glacier.  It was a great day, and was Twila’s favorite part of the trip so far.  The next morning we left at 8 a.m. and drove back to Anchorage to catch our flight over to Katmai National Park, the main part of our trip.  We had to repack everything before we went, and did it on the side of the road.  With me you just never know when and where things will take place.  We left at 3 p.m. and had a great flight to King Salmon, and then Twila got to sit up front in the floatplane over to Katmai!  She use to work for a floatplane company and loves float planes, so this was a real treat for her!  Once we got camp all set up we went to the river and got to see our first bears, including a mom and two spring cubs swimming.  Katmai had always been on the top of list for Twila to visit since she was a little girl, and I was excited to get to bring her here and show her all the bears!

A young sea otter rests on its back and looks at me curiously.

A young sea otter rests on its back and looks at me curiously.

A humpback whale tale slaps the water.

A humpback whale tale slaps the water.

            On the 13th we went to the viewing platform at the falls first thing to beat the crowds there.  Twila was so excited being at the place she had only imagined for so long! There were a few bears there, but a ton of fish.  One mother bear was just jumping and catching fish almost every time she tried.  The sun came out and the lighting got harsh, so we went and got waiters for her, and Lisa and Eric.  We waded the river for a scouting trip, and the river was super high.  It was very different from last year and almost three feet higher!  We had to be very cautious, and I knew this would change how the bears chased fish and where we could go.  My friend Tim and his fiancé Jenna came in later that day, and it was fun catching up with them and shooting with them that evening.  We even got to photograph a bear at the top of the falls catching fish! I was so excited that Twila got to have that experience.

A brown bear about to catch a fish at Brooks Falls in Katmai.

A brown bear about to catch a fish at Brooks Falls in Katmai.

            July 14th was a very special day!  We went to the falls first thing again, and then headed to the river because it was slow at the falls.  We only had a short time with good light before it got too bright, and had a mother and her two spring cubs across the river.  Once it got too bright we went in a tried to take a nap because we had been going nonstop since we started our trip.  But it was so hot in the tent from the sun beating down on it, that we couldn’t sleep.  That is not normally a problem is Alaska of being too hot.  But we at least relaxed for a while. 

           That afternoon was a huge afternoon as we headed to the river to photograph; I had planned and hoped to propose to Twila on the river.  With the river high, I wasn’t sure how it would go though.  I also wanted to do it with bears behind us, and they were not cooperating that afternoon.  I began to fear it wouldn’t happen that day, when all of a sudden a mom and yearling cub came out of the woods behind us.  I knew it was the moment I had been waiting for, and after I handed Twila’s camera to a friend, I got down on one knee in the river and asked Twila to marry me!!! She said yes, and it was great seeing her excitement and surprised look!!! I knew it would be special to have bears around when I proposed because they are both of our favorite animals, and being in Alaska with bears is just special!  We spent the evening together not photographing, and we were now engaged!

The bears were right behind us after we got engaged!!!!!

The bears were right behind us after we got engaged!!!!!

            It was nice being off the grid and just getting engaged, because we got to enjoy the moment to ourselves for a number of days before we could even tell anyone.  The morning of the 15th was slow, but that evening was great! We found a mom with three spring cubs we hadn’t seen before, and her cubs were so small.  After they left we went up stream and found the mom and yearling I had proposed in front of, and the light was starting to get real nice!  As we were photographing them, a mom and three three-year- old cubs came running by, and it was a crazy scene.  They were running everywhere and there was so much excitement.  One cub stayed back, and the mom with the yearling cub didn’t like that.  She ended up charging the other cub, and what an action scene that was! Nothing happened, but there were lots of great growling and other noises.  We even managed to get a mother and her two spring cubs in the last light of the day.  What a day!

Mother bear charges after another bear that got too close.

Mother bear charges after another bear that got too close.

             We followed up the night of the 15th with a great morning on the 16th.  The mom and two spring cubs were out early and gave us a nice show.  Then two three-year-old siblings came by and started playing, and gave us some great shots.  The bigger one even laid down in the water and was playing with its paws and just chilling in the water.  He was curious about us too, and I had to let him know we weren’t afraid of him. The mother and three spring cubs were out that evening and we got more shots of them in good light.

A grizzly bear relaxes in the river to cool off.

A grizzly bear relaxes in the river to cool off.

            Our last two full days were a little slow, but we still saw bears every day and had at least one good encounter a day.  The mom and her three three-year-olds are a sight to be seen, and are very goofy and fun bears to watch.  They always added excitement when they were around.  There was a mom with three spring cubs that hung out near the falls, and it was neat when they would sleep near the platform and see them lie together and climb trees together.  It’s always neat watching bears in any situation!  Our last good moment was when the mom and yearling, I proposed in front of, had a long wrestling match that was fun to watch and photograph. 

The mother and cub I proposed in front of play wrestle along the river.

The mother and cub I proposed in front of play wrestle along the river.

            On the 19th we packed up early and then went to the falls one last time before we got on a floatplane and headed back to Anchorage.  Twila got to sit in the front of the floatplane again.  In King Salmon our flight reservation was messed up, and that was terrible.  You could be stuck there for days before getting out because all the flights are booked full.  It was a stressful couple of hours as we tried to figure out what happened, but in the end we got the air company to admit they had messed up and we got very fortunate to get the last seats on a plane that evening!  We were so glad we got out, because she had to fly back to Vancouver tomorrow, and that couldn’t be delayed. 

A mom and spring cubs rest peacefully together by a tree.

A mom and spring cubs rest peacefully together by a tree.

           It was very sad dropping her off at the airport on the 20th and saying goodbye for a number of weeks.  I was so happy having her along with me for the past two weeks, and we had some great experiences, and we will have many more to come!  After I dropped her off I started my drive back to Skagway, and spent the night in my car along the way again.  It was good to be back at the gallery on the 21st and to talk with Rick about how it went while I was gone.  Trying to juggle running a new gallery, but still getting out to photograph has been a tough and challenging balance.  It’s not my normal Alaska summer, but it will become my normal I’m pretty sure.  Each time I come back it’s still a little surreal that I have my own gallery!

           I thought I would spend the next few weeks in Skagway, but those plans changed.  My plans are always changing, but that’s how I like it!  I’ll write about this unplanned adventure in my next blog.  The summer is flying by and what a summer it has already been!

            

Lake Clark Workshops

            Leaving the gallery for a couple of weeks was scary to think about, but I was looking forward to getting to photograph bears in Lake Clark, and knew I had a good friend I could trust in my gallery.  It is a very long drive from Skagway to Anchorage, 15 hours, so I drove 7 hours after work on the 13th and slept in my car in a pull off, and then finished the drive on the 14th.  I had to do a few things in the big city before meeting with my clients for dinner that night, since Skagway doesn’t have much.  It was exciting meeting them and knowing that tomorrow we would fly out to Lake Clark!

            It was a super clear day on the 15th when we left at 8 a.m., and I saw Denali from the air for the first time.  Denali is over 150 miles from Anchorage, and it was awesome seeing it from the air and the rest of the mountains as we flew down the coast to Lake Clark.  It was by far the clearest sightseeing flight I had ever been on to Lake Clark.  We even got to see a mom and cubs as we landed, and that got the group excited!  We quickly went to the lodge and got settled before heading out for a quick trip before lunch.  It was already starting to get hot, and we did see a river otter, but the bears were already in the woods escaping the heat.  It stayed clear and hot the rest of the day, and we didn’t see much, but I knew better times were to come.

            The next morning it was still clear, and we left at 5 a.m. by foot to catch the first light of the day.  That was a great decision, as the mom and two yearling cubs were out, and as we got to them they crossed a little stream and we had them reflected in the water with the most perfect light on them!  Nothing like walking out and immediately getting incredible shots!  It was the kind of light you only dream of getting on animals!  We stayed with them for a little while and got more shots, but nothing could top the first encounter of the day.  We tried off and on throughout the mid-day looking for bears, but it was again too hot for them to be out.

The incredible natural light we had for our first shoot!

The incredible natural light we had for our first shoot!

            As the day began to cool off we were out near the beach when we spotted a mom with three spring cubs! We all got very excited and went their direction.  It was possibly the first time these cubs had seen people, and they were leery of us.  We kept out distance and let them move around where they wanted.  It was a beautiful evening, though, and the mountains 55 miles across the water were very clear and created a great backdrop.  Watching them walk the tidal flats and play was great!  What an incredible day we had!

A mother and her 3 cubs move across the tidal flats on a perfect evening.

A mother and her 3 cubs move across the tidal flats on a perfect evening.

            On the morning of the 17th we got up real early again, but nothing was out early.  After searching a long time we finally found the mom and three cubs again.  They were out clamming, but the tide was starting to come in.  Mom waited too long to come in, and got surrounded by water.  The cubs were anxious and nervous, and as mom left they all tried to cling to her.  She didn’t like that at first, but then relented and let them on.  We were a long ways off and the light was bad, but seeing a mother bear with three cubs on her back was a sight to be seen.  It was a little scary because the cubs were terrified, but such a neat experience to witness.  We had some good encounters throughout the day, but seeing the cubs on the back was something few people ever get to see.

The 3 cubs clinging for life to their mother's back.

The 3 cubs clinging for life to their mother's back.

            Lake Clark is great because you never know what you will get to see, and the bears are very photogenic there.  The 18th was a nasty, wet, dreary day, but my group was willing to wait in it and see what would come out.  We were rewarded when the mom and three came out of the trees near us and went out to dig for clams.  It was very grey out, and we were all cold, but we followed.  The cubs were playful and gave us a lot of different pictures, and didn’t mind we were there.  After a while of being out there they wanted milk, and mom laid down close to us and let them feed.  The cubs had the memory of yesterday on their mind when they were done feeding and didn’t want to walk back, because the tide was coming in.  Two cubs clung to mom as she got up, and she didn’t like that at all.  She even stood and shook to get the cubs off, and that was an awesome shot to see the cub hanging on for dear life!  This family really has shown us some behavior most people never get to see!

Mother bear tries to fling one of her cubs off her back.

Mother bear tries to fling one of her cubs off her back.

            We went in and warmed up and dried off after they left.  We were really soaked and cold, but excited with what we had captured!  In the late afternoon we were watching from the lodge when we spotted a mom and two spring cubs! Spring cubs always gets people excited, and we sprung up and got all our rain gear on and went to photograph them.  These cubs were not as playful, but still spring cubs.  We were about to leave after being with them a while, when the mom and two yearling cubs came out of the woods.  This made the little spring cubs nervous, and they ran.  Mom even stood up beside them to look at the other bears to assess the danger.  After waiting so long and getting nothing, we all of a sudden had great images! You just never know what you will get to witness.

            Some days are slow, like the 19th, but that is why you spend a number of days in places.  For many days it might not be happening, and you have to wait a day or two for the action to pick back up again.  We saw some bears, but didn’t get any great action.  The weather was nice again on the 20th, and we went out early.  The mom and 2 yearling cubs were out, but they were a non-active set of cubs.  But then a male was following a female close by and they took off and stood to check the situation out.  They continued to run and stand in the great light, and gave us a show!  I had more clients coming in later that morning, and I told the group that was already with me to not tell them of all the great viewings we had already had.  I really hoped we had more to come, but I didn’t want the new group hearing about what we had gotten already.  Every week is different and exciting, and I wanted them to be excited about what we saw for their week.

A mother and her cub stand to look at a male bear nearby.

A mother and her cub stand to look at a male bear nearby.

            We got off to a great start with the new group when we found the mom and two spring cubs on a beach further down.  A few of the people in the new group were with me last year, and we didn’t get spring cubs, so being able to show them spring cubs on our first trip out was fantastic!  They moved around and dug for clams and gave us some nice shots with the close mountains behind them.  The rest of the day we had bears, but no special behavior happened.

            On the 21st we got up at 5 a.m. and didn’t find anything until we came back to the lodge, and a younger bear was playing with moose antlers.  It just goes to show you never know where the bears will be.  The day for the most part was a dud because it was so hot and no bears were out.  As the day got later, I really hoped we would find a bear in the good light.  The mom and two spring cubs were on the other side of the river, and then a male and female came running and scared them.  I thought our chance of seeing them again was gone, but they ran to the beach.  After we made our way out there and found them, we had an incredible evening.  They played on the beach, and then went in the water and played around in the perfect light.  We even got them nursing in the perfect light.  It’s not often you get the wildlife and the good light both at the same time.  We couldn’t have asked for a better evening!

Mother and her her spring cubs playing in the ocean late in the evening.

Mother and her her spring cubs playing in the ocean late in the evening.

            The 22nd was another hot, clear day, and we had the mom and two yearling cubs early, but it was slow after that.  The mom and two spring cubs did come out, but only two people went to photograph them as the others stayed in and didn’t care to shoot in the bright light.  We found the mom and two spring cubs in the evening, but a male bear scared them and they never came out of the woods.

Mother bear stands to make sure there is no threat to her cubs.

Mother bear stands to make sure there is no threat to her cubs.

            My group really wanted to photograph the spring cubs in the grass, and I was fearful it might not happen.  They would just run to a tree if in the grass near the woods.  Our luck changed on the 23rd, as they were further out in the grass and not near the woods.  We slowly approached, and they were calm and just continued to eat.  I was so glad to finally get my clients pictures of them in the grass.  We had a nice long shoot before they left.  After lunch we found them again, and they were napping out on the tidal flats.  As we approached they didn’t wake, and they were very cute all cuddled up to one another.  As they changed positions and moved around we got some great shots of them together!  Cubs can be so cute!  I was already pleased with the day when we found the mom and two yearling cubs.  As we got to them they decided to sleep on a log.  The mom put her head over the log, and the cubs laid on it!  I couldn’t have set it up any better myself.  It was like they were posing for us!  We were all clicking away and just enjoying the moment.  This was the cherry on top, and we still had one full day left.

A mother and her cubs begin to wake from their nap and are very cuddly.

A mother and her cubs begin to wake from their nap and are very cuddly.

A mother and her cubs sleep together peacefully on a log.

A mother and her cubs sleep together peacefully on a log.

            The next day, the 24th, we found the mom and two spring cubs in the grass again!  It is nice to get them in a more natural setting than on the beach.  The cubs have gotten calmer since we’ve been here and don’t mind us being around.  They eventually went to the beach, and we left to go find other bears.  We found the mom that had three cubs, but now she only had two.  Nature is tough on bear cubs, and less than 50% make it sadly.  The two cubs were still just as playful as before, and really gave us a good show.  That evening the two yearling cubs really gave us a special showing though.  They had been very non-active cubs, but that changed tonight.  They were running everywhere and standing and play fighting like crazy.  It’s like they finally had some sugar and were ready to play.  They could really move across the sedge flats and cover some ground in a hurry.  It was hard for us to keep up with them because they were moving so much!  What an incredible last full day!  I didn’t know how I was going to be able to keep finding better photographic opportunities for my group, but they continued to come.

Two yearling cubs go after one another.

Two yearling cubs go after one another.

            Before we left on the 25th a few of us went out and were able to get the two yearling cubs playing some more.  I’m glad those cubs were finally coming to life.  After 10 days of going hard, I was exhausted.  I got some absolutely incredible photos, and was so glad to be able to put my clients in some great situations!  Even though I was exhausted, I didn’t have any time and had to get back to Skagway.  I did my best to not think about the gallery while in Skagway, but it still was on my mind.  We were off the grid, so I couldn’t check, which was nice in a way.  After taking a nap in Anchorage I got on the road and drove half way, slept in my car, and then finished the drive the next day.  Summers are busy in Alaska and there is no time to rest.  I was happy to hear how the gallery went while I was gone and that my friend had made some sales while I was gone.

I’m so glad Lake Clark was an absolutely fantastic trip, and was looking forward to going through all the great shots I took while there.