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!

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!

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!