Non-Stop August

            I wasn’t back in my gallery long before I already had the itch to get back out and go photographing.  I had planned on going in a couple of weekends to photograph whales in Juneau, but those plans changed.  That whole week everyone who came in my gallery was showing me amazing photos and videos of humpback whales bubble feeding from their iPhones, so I knew I had to go immediately.  My friend Aaron, from Yellowstone, lived in Juneau and I had been in communication with him about the following weekend, so I was happy he could accommodate me the next day.  My plans became final at 4 p.m. on July 28th, and at 5 a.m. on the 29th I was on a plane to Juneau.  When the wildlife gets hot, you can’t waste any time and have to go immediately.  I was very grateful to have good friends in Juneau that I could crash with, and borrow their truck too.

            They picked me up at the airport at 5:50 a.m., great friends!, and then we went to Mendenhall Lake.  My friend and his girlfriend are glacier guides on Mendenhall, so we first kayaked two miles to the glacier across a fogged in lake, we could hardly see, but as we got closer it started to clear some.  It was awesome being the only ones out there and kayaking to a glacier.  We pulled the kayaks on shore and then put on crampons and walked onto the glacier.  The ice was very blue that morning, and just gorgeous.  I got some real nice shots of the glacier, and then we went and found an ice cave.  Seeing and walking into an ice cave under a glacier is quite the experience.  It’s something I can’t describe except through the photos I have.  It was an amazing, but scary, experience at the same time, and the photos came out great!  We had a great time and then kayaked back.  I was so grateful that they took me out on the glacier for free.

The beauty of and unreal look at the inside of an ice cave under a glacier.

The beauty of and unreal look at the inside of an ice cave under a glacier.

            They both had to work after that, so they dropped me off in town and I went on a whale watching tour that started at 3:30.  There were 50 people on the boat, not my favorite, and we got to see what I came for.  We found a group of humpbacks, they are usually solitary, and they were moving along the shore together.  They did bubble feed a couple of times, but it happened so fast and unexpectedly each time, and I didn’t get much.  It was neat to see, and I would be better prepared for next time.  On the 30th I did a long hike by myself to try and get above the Mendenhall Glacier and get a more aerial shot.  As I got higher I got into the clouds, and they weren’t breaking up.  I didn’t want to sit up there all day and get nothing, so I called a different whale watching company and they had an opening at 1:30, so I hurried four miles back down the mountain.  My friends picked me up as I got there, and dropped me off at the harbor just in time.

            This time I was on a small ship with only 12 people, and it was much better.  I just knew we were going to have success, and success we had!  We went straight out to where a group of whales were bubble net feeding, and what a sight it was.  Seeing a group of 10 whales come up at the same time with their mouths open is quite the site!  My boat even had a microphone under water, and we could hear the different sounds they were making, and would know when they were about to come up.  It was such a better experience than the day before, and I got some great shots!  I was bummed we left as soon as we did, but where we went we found a pod of Orcas!  They were being active and staying close to the surface and being somewhat playful.  There was a baby in the group and it even jumped a couple of times.  What a great trip! And I get to go with the same company tomorrow.  So glad I flew down the mountain to go whale watching.

A group of humpback whales bubble net feed.

A group of humpback whales bubble net feed.

            My first tour was at 7 a.m. on the 31st, and my friends dropped me off on their way to work.  We saw a few orcas and single humpbacks, but nothing great.  I learned from this trip it’s actually not best to be on the first trip of the day, because they have to find where the whales are, and spend more time searching.  I was trying to decide after that tour whether to stay tomorrow morning before flying back to Skagway, because my next tour went out at 2 p.m.  I went back and forth, but ended up deciding to leave after my tour this afternoon so I could be back in the gallery tomorrow, and I had a feeling I would get more shots on my last tour.  My gut was right, and we got to see more bubble net feeding, and I captured some nice scenic shots of them feeding!  By 7 p.m. I was back on a plane to Skagway and home by 8 p.m.  What a crazy three days, but it was more than worth it!  You have to go with your gut in wildlife photography and not look back and just go.  Heading back to the gallery was a great idea, because on the 1st  we had a killer day, and was a great way to kick off August!

A baby orca breaches.

A baby orca breaches.

            For the next couple of weeks I worked the gallery and stayed in Skagway.  As the summer has gone on, I have gotten more comfortable in my own gallery and learned more about what the people are looking for and how to sway them to buy art.  It’s never easy, and each day is drastically different than the day before, but I’m learning a ton. When I’m in Skagway, I’m trying to catch up from all the time I was gone, and then get ahead a little for when the next time I’m gone I don’t have a mountain of work to come back to.  It’s a never-ending cycle, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.

            On the afternoon of August 15th I left Skagway and headed for Denali.  I slept in the car somewhere along the way, and then got to Fairbanks the next afternoon and got some car work done and bought a few things you can’t find in Skagway.  I stayed at a friends that I had met in the backcountry of Denali a few years back, and it was fun to catch up.  The morning of the 17th I picked up my friend, Tin Man, from the airport and we headed to Denali.  I had a special travel permit that started on the 18th, so we went on the 17th to explore a little.  We found some nice caribou and did some short hikes, but didn’t get anything great.  We camped further back in the park and were ready to go the next morning when we could drive the entire Denali road in my car.

We left camp at 4:30 a.m., only to be stopped a few miles away because the road was closed to fix part of the road.  We only had three days of the permit, and this wasn’t how we wanted to spend it, waiting on road construction.  So we waited until 7 a.m., very painful, and then continued on.  Denali mtn. was out, but we were to far away from where we wanted to be, and wouldn’t have been if the road wasn’t closed.  You can never take the mountain being out for granted, and it quickly got covered in the clouds.  So frustrating!  We went to some of my favorite spots anyway, but not much was going on.

          After a while we headed back toward the front, and that turned out to be a great decision! There was a caribou that had just shed his velvet, and had very red antlers.  We were able to stay with him a while and got some great shots!  I’ve been trying for a few years to get a caribou like this.  After him, we decided to hike up a mountain to another large caribou, and he posed for us on the mountainside once we were able to get to him.  Hiking in the Denali tundra is not easy, and Tin Man had never done it before.  It is unrelenting, and very bushy and hard to maneuver through.  I have years of experience in it and can find easier routes, still not easy but easier, but Tin Man struggled.  He pushed through, though, and made it to the caribou in time.  We were even able to spot a huge moose below us that we photographed after we left the caribou.  It turned out to be a great first evening, after a very disappointing start to the day.

A caribou has very red antlers after shedding his velvet.

A caribou has very red antlers after shedding his velvet.

            The road was closed again until 7 a.m. on the 19th, so we slept in until 6 a.m. and then left.  Having two of our three days start way later than we want really stunk.  It is a special privilege to have the permit I had, and not be able to fully use it hurt.  The mountain didn’t tease us this morning and was fully behind clouds and rain.  We didn’t spend much time far back in the park before heading back to where we knew caribou and moose were.  I’m glad we didn’t waste our time back there, because we immediately found a bull moose.  He wasn’t huge, but we got a few shots.  Some really nice caribou were close by, so we went to them.  They stayed in a group and gave us some great opportunities! I love how different all caribou antlers are.  

A couple of large, very different sized antlered caribou check me out.

A couple of large, very different sized antlered caribou check me out.

            After we had got our fill with the caribou, we decided to head back deep into the park because the weather was improving.  Almost immediately we found a cow and bull moose when we got out there.  They were in a depression with a pond, so we stayed and waited for them to come out.  It was worth the wait, and the bull posed for us on the hillside with the mountains behind him.  It took us a while after to find another moose, but we finally did, and the light was great!  We trekked up to him, but he was not cooperative.  It was a brutal hike through the tundra to get to him, and then he would move out of range.  The light was great and we hadn’t found anything else, so we kept trying.  I’m so glad we did, because eventually he relaxed.  Tin Man had a bad back and couldn’t keep up, but he did make it, which was not easy for him in the type of terrain we were in.  The bull moose decided to pause on a little ridge for minutes with the mountains behind him and great light! I couldn’t believe it!  Then he came to the pond I was near and ate basically right in front of me.  It was absolutely incredible!  I don’t even know how many miles we trekked, but the shots we got were insane!  We finally left the moose at 10 p.m., and didn’t get back to camp until after midnight.  What a day!

A decent sized bull moose on a ridge.

A decent sized bull moose on a ridge.

A large sized moose on a ridge in the evening.

A large sized moose on a ridge in the evening.

The large bull moose eats in the pond directly across from me.

The large bull moose eats in the pond directly across from me.

            After the day before, you would think we would sleep in, right? Wrong! There is no sleeping in if you’re a wildlife photographer, and by 5 a.m. the next morning we were heading back out.  We found a beautiful cross fox first thing, and it was the first fox we had seen.  Only a couple more miles down the road we saw two bull moose on a ridge, and I knew we would go after them.  I had only had four small donuts for breakfast, and was to tired to actually eat when we got to camp last night, but when there are photographs to be had it doesn’t matter to me.  So off we went across even worse tundra to trek through than yesterday. 

A large and small bull moose hang by a pond and have a perfect reflection.

A large and small bull moose hang by a pond and have a perfect reflection.

     When I got to the top of the ridge, there were three bull moose, and they went to pond to eat.  Tin Man unfortunately couldn’t make it because his back was really hurting him.  But I kept going and ended up following these moose for over three hours.  You just never know what or where an animal will go, but you have to have patience to stay with them and wait it out.  When I left the car that morning I would have ever dreamed of the shots I would get a few hours later, and am still excited about the shots I got that morning!  Let’s just say that after miles of following, losing them, and finding them again, I got to photograph all three on a ridge silhouetted against the Alaskan Range and reflected! Those shots will never be duplicated, and those are the shots that all wildlife photographers strive to get and spend months working for.  I’m still ecstatic about that moment and how incredible it was!  When I finally got back to the car, and Tin Man, I felt bad telling him about it and wish he would have been there with me.

The same two bull moose silhouetted, and reflected against the backdrop of the Alaskan Range.

The same two bull moose silhouetted, and reflected against the backdrop of the Alaskan Range.

A bull moose walk the ridge on a beautiful day in Denali.

A bull moose walk the ridge on a beautiful day in Denali.

            We didn’t find anything else deep in the park, so we went to the front and were hoping to find that huge moose from our first night.  Sure enough, high up on the hill he was standing in the willows.  He was a very long way away, and in some nasty terrain.  The threat of rain was also strong, but I decided to go in the end.  When in Rome, or Denali in this case was my mindset.  It was a very hard slog to where the moose was, and I wasn’t positive where he was because he bedded down.  I somehow managed to find his antler between the brush, and not to much longer he got up and began eating again.  He was huge, and I was glad I decided to go.  I got some real nice shots of him, and after a while another bull- moose came from somewhere and joined him.  The way he responded to the other moose was aggressive and interesting to watch.  Glad he didn’t show that aggression toward me.  It started to rain harder, so I went back.  But what a beauty of a moose he was!

The monster moose checks out the other bull moose as it approaches.

The monster moose checks out the other bull moose as it approaches.

            What a three days of the permit! We didn’t take any time off and had 15-18 hour days!  But we were rewarded for our hard work.  On the morning of the 21st we packed up and left by 7 a.m. and explored the entrance area of the park.  We got to follow another nice bull- moose around and got some nice pictures before having to head back to Fairbanks for Tin Man to catch his flight.  After dropping Tin Man off I continued on my way back to Skagway and spent the night in my car along the way and got back on the morning of the 22nd.  It is a 14-hour drive from Denali to Skagway.

            After being back a day at the gallery, my parents came on the 24th.  They got to experience the difficulties of Alaskan travel when their plan was delayed for hours because of low clouds.  But they made it in, and got to see my gallery all set up!  My parents were in town four days, and spent most of that time in the gallery with me, and exploring the area around Skagway.  I took the scenic train ride with them one day, and had been trying to do that all summer.  It was fun having my parents in town and them getting to see my gallery in action and all the prints on the wall. 

            On the morning of the 28th I flew from Whitehorse to Vancouver to help my fiancé move.  She was moving to Canmore, AB to be more in the mountains and in a much quieter place.  I was glad I could fly down to help her with this move and take some stress off of her.  We hired packers for the move, but there was still a ton to do.  It was neat being there as her life transitions to Canmore and creates a new life there.  She has a great view of the mountains from her deck, and I can’t wait to go back and visit!  I flew out on September 4th to go back to the gallery to close out the summer.

            As you can see I am a man who is constantly on the move.  There is not time to rest in the Alaskan summer, because it is short.  I’d have it no other way and enjoy everything that comes with being in Alaska.  But I am more than looking forward to the fall and winter, to take it a little easier, and finally take some time to relax.  What a summer it has been though!  I’ll wrap up the gallery in a couple of weeks and head south.

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.

            

Whale Photography

            Seeing my gallery come together was an incredible feeling!  All the hard work and time put in was worth it, and seeing the finish product was a dream come true! Once the gallery was all set up, my attention turned to selling the photos and learning how the tourists think.  My girlfriend flew up at the end of April to fine tune the gallery and be with me when the gallery opened for the first time.  I had done art festivals with a tent before, but this was much different and was way more exciting having my own building.

            The beginning of the season was slow, as there weren’t many cruises yet and sometimes no ships on days.  But I honestly liked that because I was exhausted from the past couple months of preparation and needed to rest.  I loved having my girlfriend here the first few ship days to throw ideas around with her and hear her opinions on how things went.  She had to fly back on May 6th, and my employee got here on the 7th.  Having an employee was crazy for me, because I have always done everything myself. But for the gallery to run while I am gone on different photo trips, I had to hire someone for the summer.

            I was excited to meet him and train him on the gallery.  A lot of the training was not your normal training, and entailed me telling him stories about myself, my travels, and the stories behind each photo.  The story behind the photo can often sell the photo, so the more he knew about me and the work behind each photo, the better prepared he would be to entice someone to buy the photo. It was an adjustment for me not being out in the field all the time, and having an employee.  In all my years in Alaska, I was always out in the field.  So even though I was in my own art gallery, on the nice days I wanted to be out looking for wildlife and taking photos.

All the food we were packing for our week trip.

All the food we were packing for our week trip.

            The season was slow to get going, but by mid May more ships started to come in on a consistent basis. It was exciting when we had the first four boat day in town, and seeing all the people on the street and them coming through the gallery.   It was crazy to see the town go from a small sleepy town, to a hustling and bustling town all of a sudden.  The tourists and locals all had great things to say about the gallery and how much they liked it, which was a great sign.  Once I was able to sell my first large print, I felt really good!  One thing I learned really quickly was that each day is very different here.  I minus well forget anything that happened the day before because all those people are gone and a whole new group is in, which is good and bad.  It was up and down every day, and I had to forget about that and just think big picture and let it average out. 

 A beautiful whales tail from our first morning.

 A beautiful whales tail from our first morning.

            As the season started to get busier, things weren’t working out with my employee.  He was stressing me out badly, and not doing a good job so I had to let him go.  This was not in the plan, and I made an emergency phone call to Jackie, a good friend since 2008, and she was able to come up and work for the month of June.  What a lifesaver!  This was a crazy change of plans, and it all happened so fast.  I had planned a photo trip with my girlfriend starting on June 1st, I was itching badly to get out and photograph, and Jackie only had a few days to plan and get up here by May 30.  So I had one day to train her and then left to a place that had no cell service at all.  This was scary in so many ways, but I trusted Jackie and knew she would do her best and promote me well.

The shelter we found!

The shelter we found!

            I hadn’t gone photographing since February, and that was killing me.  Being in Alaska and not photographing was going to kill me.  So on June 1st, I flew from Skagway to Gustavus, AK for a weeklong photo trip with Twila.  This was our first adventure together, and there would be nothing easy about it.  We would get dropped off on the most densely populated island of grizzly bears in the world, have no other people around, be completely off the grid and contact with anyone, and kayak with whales and other sea life.  I hadn’t ever sea kayaked before, so I wasn’t exactly in my comfort zone either.  Nothing like pushing her into the deep end on our first trip, not my ideal first trip, but I knew she could handle it and that is why she is my girlfriend!

            The trip got off to a rough start because our first plane was almost an hour late in leaving Skagway, and we didn’t have any spare time.  Luckily, we boarded a plane in Juneau as soon as we landed and went to Gustavus and then immediately to the dock, where we got a minor tutorial in sea kayaking.  We had to do that to catch our water taxi to the island.  When we got dropped off the waves were over two feet and scary, and then it started to pore.  So much stress in one little amount of time was not good.  We were incredibly fortunate in that there was a shelter where we happened to get to shore at, and we were able to camp in the shelter and not pitch a tent.  I had no idea that the shelter was there until we were getting dropped off.  Thank goodness for the shelter!  It was a rough start, but Twila handled it all very well.

 A humpback whale jumping!

 A humpback whale jumping!

            It rained almost the entire rest of the day, so we only took a short paddle that day.  I was so happy to have the shelter and be able to dry all our wet clothes and gear.  Twila woke up at 5 a.m. the next morning and couldn’t go back to sleep, and then we heard a whale spout, so we hurried and got ready and got on the water.  It wasn’t raining, and the water looked like a lake.  We paddled out and saw our first whale from the kayak.  It was a great morning and we had a few whales swim past us, and not be that far away.  It is awesome and scary all at the same time kayaking with whales.  With mammals you can see them all the time, but when whales go down it’s anyone’s guess to where they will surface again.  I didn’t want them to surface too close because humpback whales are such a huge animal, and the last thing I wanted was for one to hit our kayak.  The closet one came was 40 yards, but that was plenty close enough.  It was an incredible first morning and we learned a lot on how they move and what to look for.  The rest of the day was quiet and it rained all afternoon, but the morning was fantastic.

Photographing from the Kayak.  It wasn't that easy!

Photographing from the Kayak.  It wasn't that easy!

            On June 3rd we got out on the water around 6 a.m. and not as many whales were around.  We saw a few, but they were a long ways off.  In the evening we saw the mountains for the first time, and what a view we had.  I wanted to get a whale with the mountains in one photo so badly.  The next morning we went out a little later because the tides are always changing.  We saw a couple whales close that morning, but they didn’t stick around and went down the coast.  One thing about sea kayaking in Alaska is that you have to be very mindful about the tides.  Where we were the tide change can be as much as 28 feet, so we had to carry the kayak up and down the beach every day as the tide was changing.  And if you didn’t know how big the tides were, then the tide could easily rise to your kayak and carry it off and you would be stranded.  The wilderness of Alaska is no joke, and you have to be completely prepared for everything when you go out and play in the wilds of Alaska.  But carrying the kayak so far up and down each day was harder than I imagined for both of us.

Porpoises swimming on a beautiful evening.

Porpoises swimming on a beautiful evening.

            On our last evening, the 4th, it was a beautiful evening and the water was real calm again.  We didn’t have any whales close, but a few porpoises hung around.  It was neat spending so much time with them on a clear calm evening.  Being alone with only Twila in remote Alaska with the views and wildlife we had was hard to beat.  I love that peace and quiet and not worrying about the stress of the normal day to day.  We got picked back up on the afternoon of the 5th, and it rained that entire day.  If we hadn’t had the shelter, all of our clothes would have been saturated and we would have been stuck in our tent a majority of the trip.  But everything worked out and we got to kayak with the whales and stay safe.  Twila more than passed the test, and proved that she truly loves a good adventure, and will go with me anywhere and is patient in waiting on the wildlife and loves seeing all the wildlife!

Twila and I on the shore for a little break on a clear evening.

Twila and I on the shore for a little break on a clear evening.

            We didn’t have anywhere to stay that night, and the boat captain was very nice and invited us to stay at his place.  It was nice to be in a dry house, and he even cooked us steak.  The next day we caught the ferry and traveled to Juneau.  I wanted to see where the cruise ships go to be able to relate more to the tourists coming in the gallery.  I was also hoping for more photos along the way, which didn’t really happen unfortunately.  A good friend from Yellowstone, Aaron Lind, picked us up from the ferry terminal and showed us around Juneau.  He is a glacier guide in Juneau for the summer.  It was my first time in Juneau, and we walked where the tourists walked and scoped the art out in town.  We hung out that night with him and his girlfriend, and then caught another ferry to Skagway the next morning. 

            It felt so revitalizing to have gotten to go photographing again, but I wanted more time.  As soon as we got back to Skagway on the 7th, we were back in the gallery and checking on Jackie and how things went.  Nothing major happened while we were gone and she made a few sales.  I know I left her in a hard spot leaving like that, and was very grateful she could help me out.  I took Twila back to the airport on the 8th, and then buckled down and got a ton of work done over the next few days.  I didn’t have long to get everything done because I was leaving again on the 13th to drive to Anchorage for my photography workshops to Lake Clark National Park.  I don’t know when I will get rest again, but oh well.  I managed to get everything done just in time and hit the road on the afternoon of the 13th for Anchorage. 

            The first month of the gallery being open went by very fast, and I learned a lot in that first month.  There is still so much to learn and get better at, and I am looking forward to the journey.

Skagway Gallery!

              After months of hard work and planning, and years of taking photographs, my first gallery is now open in Skagway, AK!  Opening the gallery has been of the best and most challenging things I have ever done.  I'm use to preparing for months of the road and living out of my car, but planning to have a storefront with my images was way harder.  There were so many little things to think of that make a huge difference in the look and feel of the gallery and how the images are displayed.  After months and months of preparation, I was just ready to get all of my images to Alaska and set up and be done with the preparing part.  

               On April 18th, my dad and I left Tullahoma, TN and began the very long drive north to Alaska.  In all it was 3,500 miles, 65 hours, and 4 full days of driving to get to Skagway.  We were both exhausted when we arrived, but began setting up early the next morning.  It was a bumpy ride across Canada on the Alkan highway, and over half of my framed pictures had corners broken.  I figured a few might be dinged, but over half?  We found an all around handy fixer rope with corners, and amazingly it was able to fix all of my frames! This was a huge sigh of relief, because I wasn't sure what I was going to do otherwise.  

              As the gallery came together more and more each day, my excitement grew.  My dream was becoming reality of opening my own gallery.  From the beginning of my photography career, I always enjoyed the fine art side of photography more so than the editorial or photojournalism side.  In the past few years I began to look around towns and scope out areas that I thought might be a place where I could have a gallery.  I didn't think it would happen this year, but I found a great opportunity and went for it, and now I have a gallery in Alaska.  The summer will continue to be a learning experience of things to change, prove on, and what works and doesn't work for a gallery store.  I'm excited to learn those things and see how the summer and my first gallery go.  I'm very excited about this next phase in my photography career!

What my gallery space looked like when we showed up.

What my gallery space looked like when we showed up.

Finished gallery view from the front.

Finished gallery view from the front.

Finished gallery view from the back.

Finished gallery view from the back.

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!